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Thursday, July 12, 2007

What it is, is Porches!

Modern life is missing something and I just happen to know what it is. I've noticed a disturbing trend in the home-building industry around here in East Texas. New communities are springing up like dollar weed in springtime all over the rural landscape around here. People move in, stay a while and then move out. They live at the mortgage lenders, negotiating for a new and better house.

They add dens and mudrooms, jacuzzi's, pools and decks. They get a second floor loft or a home office or a three car garage and they aren't happy.

I'll tell you why they're not happy. There are 10 essential things that make a bunch of houses in a pasture into a neighborhood. It's not that they all have the same color brick, the same shape roofs, the same two car garage and 8 foot cedar privacy fence. It's not that the whole neighborhood looks like a theme park - Welcome to Gray Brick and Haystack Roof Land, the happiest place on Earth.

Those aren't communities. Those are houses in a pasture. No wonder people worry about property values all the time. They move in planning to turn around and sell it when they can make a little money on it. It's little wonder nobody feels like they belong in a neighborhood. Most people don't even know more than one of their neighbors, if that many, and that's only because their dog poops in her yard and it pisses her off.

So, here are Tom's 10 Essential Ingredients for a proper Neighborhood.

1. Sidewalks. People around here are getting old. One in four East Texans will be over the age of 65 by 2010. We're having a little baby boomlet around here. All those yuppies that waited to have kids are running out of time. Kids and old people need sidewalks so they can walk, ride bicycles or cruise the neighborhood in Grandma's Hover-round. Sidewalks encourage people to get out of their houses where they can meet people.

2. The sidewalks should go somewhere. Every community should be built around something. A church, a day care center, a school, a drug store or a Little League ballfield. Every community needs a center or people living in it will find their center elsewhere. Then the community becomes a pasture full of boxes where people in boxes with wheels come to sleep at night.

3. Trees. I just love it when developers bulldoze a forest of beautiful old oaks and build row houses (starting at $200,000) with sweetgum saplings stuck in the ground in identical holes strategically placed in every yard so as to offset the identical arched front windows of every other house down the street. That's just wrong, okay? Where are you supposed to put the treehouses?

4. Chimneys that work and burn real wood - not just propane or natural gas. Fireplaces are not about the flames. They are about the gradual combustion of logs. They are about the crackle and the breakup of logs as the fire burns low. They are about the woodsmoke you smell as you huff along on your evening walk, blowing steam out your nose and breathing in the scent of oak logs burning.

5. Porches! And I DON'T mean those 3 foot wide strips of concrete in front of your door where you stand getting drowned in a rainstorm while waiting for someone to answer their doorbell. Those are NOT porches, I don't care what kind of chair or swing you set on them. A porch is not a porch unless it's got a wooden deck, a roof over it, a low railing you can see over while sitting and it has to be on the front of the house where you can see the neighbors walking by blowing steam out of their noses and breathing in the scent of oak logs burning.

6. Old people. You need old people to sit on some of those porches to watch out for the neighborhood, to keep track of the neighborhood boys who are up to no good you can bet and to wave at you and say howdy and ask, "How are you doin'" and "How's the family?" as you walk by blowing steam out of your nose and breathing in the scent of oak logs burning.

7. Water. You need a lake or a pond or something big and wet so that folks can sit and watch the sun go down and skip rocks into it. If you're not going to take the trouble to dig a hole for some water to collect in, you shouldn't be given a license to build more than one house at a time and in a neighborhood that someone else designed.

8. Individuality in design. There should be an ordinance that says to people right next to each other shouldn't accidentally walk through each other's front doors because they can't tell their houses apart. That's only for city dwellers and those folks seem to like having the same house as everybody else - makes 'em feel secure. Everybody ought to decide what their house should look like for themselves and quit allowing themselves to be bullied into a gray brick, steep roofed McMansion that looks like 300 other McMansions in this same cow pasture.

9. Terrain. Neighborhoods should not be flat. The hills should roll and the roads should wind. When it rains, the water should run in the gutter or bar ditch deep enough for a 7 year old to float his boat down the street for at least 3 blocks before it goes over the mini-Niagra Falls and sinks in the pond (see item #7).

10. Banjo players. Now this "essential" is admittedly controversial, but I maintain that every neighborhood needs a "colorful character". Where better to find such colorful characters than amongst the ranks of banjo players. They should give them free houses, just to add some local color to the neighborhood. They could cruise the banjohangout website looking for likely candidates. I myself could be persuaded....

Just one man's opinion.

Tom King

Monday, July 09, 2007

They Just Don't Get It - The Stink Bait Ain't Workin'.

The president is baffled; the Democrats and Republicans befuddled; the media can't explain it. The American public doesn't seem to trust anyone anymore. You can check out the polls. They tell a story of a massive lack of public confidence in the very people and institutions who are supposed to be looking out for the best interests of the American people. Instead what we get is one betrayal after another by so-called public servants, who may be serving someone, but I'd be willing to bet it's not the public.
We don't trust the Congress.
We don't trust the President.
( ).

The congress, the administration and the media establishment are all like a bunch of fishermen who have brought the wrong tackle with them on a fishin' trip. They keep casting out shiny, colorful lures - the kind of bait they would just love themselves if they were a fish (or a voter in this case) and they can't get the unwashed masses to bite.

It's the dangdest thing.

To carry the fishing metaphor a little further (at the risk of sinking this entire essay in a bucket of stink bait), imagine politics as just that - fishing for votes. Now if you're going to fish for fish there are just two philosophies.

1. You try to understand the fish, what it wants to eat, where it likes to swim, what attracts its attention. Then you go where it lives, use bait that makes the fish happy and wiggle it in front of them so it looks like lunch.

2. Take whatever lures or bait or tackle that YOU like, fish where YOU want to fish and dangle the bait in a fashion that amuses YOU.


Now I want to admit up front that I am a member of the second philosophical group where fish are concerned. My sympathies always lay with the fish. I just like throwing lures in the water and cranking them in. There's a sort of Zen quality to it that I find relaxing. Actually catching fish interrupts the "flow" for me.

That's probably why politics never was terribly interesting to me.

Now, my question is, if getting elected or re-elected is the point of politics, then why do politicians seem to be doing what would be counter-intuitive if they want to be re-elected.

The general public has some pretty clear ideas of what we need in this country. They want security, a healthy economy and not to have to pay a lot of taxes for all this security and prosperity. Over 80% want our borders closed. Seems to me someone would be talking tough on that subject if they want to win the next election. Why aren't they? How did they get the Immigration Bill so wrong? Why are they doing so many things that have alienated voters? Who are they fishing for?

Maybe the analogy to politics is more like pro fishing or commercial fishing. The fish isn't the real target. For pro fishermen, it's less about how many you catch, but what kind. When you come down to it, pros are often fishing for sponsors rather than for fish. Commercial fishermen are fishing for canneries or markets. They have to have the funding to go where the specific fish they want are and the gear to harvest them in the largest numbers.

So, let me suggest a third "Fishing Philosophy".

3. Fish in such a way that you catch enough fish to make your sponsor happy by using his brand of tackle, or his brand of boat or by catching his particular "target" fish demographic or by attracting the kind of customer he wants to sell to.

I think politicians looking for voter support have stopped really trying to please voters. Always, they have to have one eye out for the sponsor and what the sponsor needs or wants. Really, the folks providing the money for the nets and gear and boats become your first priority in this analogy. You have to make them happy. The fish, like the voters, become just a crop to be harvested using the most efficient method money can buy.

Maybe that's the problem with politicians (and the media for that matter). Perhaps, they're not working for you and me. Instead they're working for their sponsors. Maybe rank and file voters have become merely a crop to be harvested and the politicians and the media have begun working for the ones who pay for the advertising. Ironically, it's the same companies and people that pay for all the advertising that keeps the media afloat that also funds the candidacies of both political parties.

Now knowing who everybody's actually working for (and it's not us), is it any wonder the American People don't have a lot of confidence in these guys?

No matter what they say, professional politicians and media guys are pretty much working for the people who pay for the commercials.

Me, I think I'll sit in my boat and drag my big old noisy bass lure through that school of crappie over there. I like makin' me happy!

Just one man's opinion....

Tom King

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Who Are the Jedi Anyway?

The History Channel has been running a special on the political and social ramifications of Star Wars lately. It's fascinating - especially the part where they compare George Bush and the Iraq War to the Evil Emperor and the betrayal of the Jedi.

Well, you knew that was coming. The problem with that is that the Star Wars Rise-of-the-Evil-Emporer / Rise-of-George-Bush metaphor breaks down really quickly when you take a look at it. Here's how.

1. The Evil Emperor is for larger government.
Republican George Bush keeps talking about shrinking government.
Now who is it that wants to increase taxes, expand the bureaucracy and insinuate the government into everything from health care to education to what you can say on the radio?

2. The Evil Emperor started out as a senator, is an expert politician, discredited and marginalized former chancellor Valorum and skillfully maneuvered his fellow senators into granting him unlimited power.
President George Bush started out as a governor, not a Washington insider, has been derided as stupid, transparent and has been skillfully marginalized by political opponents and the media to the point that Democrat senators keep trying to call for a vote of "no confidence" at the least or to impeach him at worst - kind of like what happened to the Old Republic's Chancellor Valorum.
Now just who was behind discrediting the Republic's chancellor in Star Wars and who is behind discrediting the Republican President in the US Congress?

Starting to become clearer?

3. The Evil Emperor started up a war to deliberately draw attention away from his own lies and machinations back at home and to lead the Jedi into a trap and reduce their numbers.
While George has been charged with the same thing by his opponents, let's also remember that he's a true believer that terrorism must be fought where the terrorists live instead of waiting for them to come over here again - an idea that makes a strange kind of sense when you think about it.
BUT, who was it that when he got caught lying, all of a sudden decided to start up a little war in the Balkans - entirely coincidentally, of course to draw attention away from his own perjury and foolin' around with the White House help? AND isn't it interesting how quickly some folks came up with the idea that Bush was using a war to consolidate his power. It's like there's a script out there and everyone of them is saying the same thing like mindless drones, accusing a president who's been trying to respond to the most devestating terrorist attack on the United States in history of playing cheap politics. These guys have even accused him of staging the attack himself? And who was that who came up with that ludicrous scenario? The same guys that ran Vietnam out of the White House and hamstrung our troops in the field so badly, that the most powerful Army in the world was reduced to impotence against a far less powerful bush league peasant mob. The same guys that have proven devestatingly adept at creating crises for the purpose of getting elected.

4. Finally, the Jedi! Who are they? These are wise and powerful knights who protect the Old Empire, defend freedom and promote independence and limited government. They are respected by ordinary people, but are badly outnumbered by the forces of evil who seek to silence them forever.

Now who is it who leads the fight for the constitution, the Republic, freedom and limited government, even against those who once believed as they did and have fallen away, seduced by the power of the dark side, uh I mean the power of being a big deal in government. Who holds an almost mystical power that holds back the power of those who would make government bigger, more intrusive, more controlling of all aspects of our lives. Who would the forces of darkness like to silence. Who would they like to take all the power away from? Who is the target of the Fairness Doctrine Proposal - a law that would make a certain type of media financially impossible to maintain?

Oh, my...

I think I know.

The Jedi Knights are.....................................................Talk Radio!

Who woulda thunk it?

Sir Rush, Sir Sean and Sir Glenn - the US's own Jedi. These boys better watch their backs, that's all I can say. The Clone Wars have already started.

By the way, have you noticed how much all the presidential candidates are alike. Nobody really stands out from the pack. Clones, that's what they are!

Hey, if they start pinching interns on the butt, we'll know who the template was.

Now, if we can just get Sir Fred to run....

Just one man's opinion.....