Welcome back, Mr. Schieffer

The phone rang this past Thursday.

It was Tom Schieffer of Fort Worth, Democratic candidate for his party’s nomination for Texas governor.

He said, in effect, “I’m back.” Well, he had called to remind me that my column of July 12 was in error, when I expressed concern that he might not return to Amarillo after he made an earlier visit.

http://www.amarillo.com/stories/071209/opi_13913363.shtml

I laughed when he told me he was back in Amarillo. I then begged him for a moment while I “wipe the egg off my face.”

Schieffer was back in town for a fundraiser, which is what candidates do when they’re preparing for the big race. They never tell us how much money they raise. Democrats, of course, have a much steeper fundraising hill to climb (so to speak) in heavily Republican Amarillo than their GOP friends.

But I’ll stick with my notion that — as a rule — statewide Democratic candidates don’t spend much time, money or fuel campaigning in a region with so few payoff opportunities come Election Day. For that matter, statewide Republican candidates take this region for granted and, thus, don’t spend much time here, either.

What’s your emergency?

Amarillo residents soon will have a much friendlier emergency service to call when they’re in trouble.

By “friendlier,” I mean simpler. One-stop calling will get you to your emergency responder, instead of the current system that requires the caller to be transferred to as many as three numbers before getting to the right responder. The person who is stressing out over a potentially life-threatening emergency doesn’t need to repeat himself or herself to different dispatchers.

The Amarillo Emergency Communications Center will be online soon at the old Atmos Energy office at 8th and Pierce. The city and the Potter-Randall 911 office are mighty proud of this new center, and with good reason. Officials unveiled the new call center this afternoon.

Mayor Debra McCartt and other officials noted time and again today that callers should see a dramatic reduction in the response time to their emergencies once the system becomes operational. Plans call for the system to go online the week of Oct. 26.

And for the individual in distress — whether they have a medical, police or fire emergency — that is the best news possible.

Now it’s the ‘November Classic’

I am a baseball traditionalist.

I hate the designated hitter. I despise domed stadiums. I loathe the sight of hitters digging in wearing battle armor on their arms and shins. I prefer that pitchers throw complete games, instead of coming out once they’ve thrown their 100th pitch. I’m not even a big fan of free agency, which has all but destroyed the notion of players of staying with a single team their entire career; I enjoyed following Mickey Mantle’s Yankees, Stan Musial’s Cardinals and Ted Williams’ Red Sox when I was a kid.

Don’t even get me started on the steroid scandal.

And I don’t think the World Series should be played in November, which is what likely will happen this season. I just heard that tonight’s Yankees-Angels game will be played in 35-degree weather at the “New” Yankee Stadium. Imagine what the weather will be like two weeks from now in the Big Apple if the Yankees win the American League pennant. The Northeast already is getting ready for the first “nor’easter” of the season.

That’s why I’m rooting for the Los Angeles Dodgers (who are playing the Philadelphia Phillies) to win the NL pennant and the LA Angels to prevail in the AL. There’s a decent chance the weather will hold up in Los Angeles, enabling the fans to watch the games in relative comfort.

I know what’s going on here. MLB wants to extend the season with multiple playoff series. It’s all about the money. The divisional playoffs are best of five series; the league championship series are best of seven, as is the World Series. If we’re going to insist on all these playoffs, why not shorten the first series to best of three, the next one to best of five and save the longer series for the Big Show?

As it is, the baseball season now will overlap not only with football (the traditional sport of autumn), but with pro basketball and hockey (the traditional winter sports).

Enough already!

Who’s your boss, Mr. Vice President?

I just finished reading a lengthy Newsweek article about Vice President Joe Biden.

In it, he says the following about his job as vice president: “This is the first time I’ve had a boss in 37 years.”

Oh really?

Let’s review the vice president’s public service career. Biden was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1972, where he served continuously until he was elected vice president in 2008. First time with a boss, eh?

He had about 875,000 bosses back home in Delaware. They were the residents to whom Sen. Biden was responsible. Biden won re-election in 2002 with 58 percent of the vote. Surely those who voted for him in 2002 were his bosses. Indeed, so were those who voted against him. And even if a youngster who wasn’t old enough to vote chose to call then-Sen. Biden on the carpet for a policy decision, that person also was his boss.

OK, so he ran his Senate staff. He had a number of folks who reported to him. But he surely never was without a “boss” during his three decades-plus in the Senate.

RIP, Judge Justice

Now here is a bit of irony: Conservative Panhandle residents owe a debt of thanks to one of Texas’ more prominent, and controversial, liberal judges.

Judge William Wayne Justice has died at age 89. The connection with the Tyler jurist lies in a controversial 1980 federal court ruling in which he declared the Texas Department of Corrections to be violating the U.S. Constitution by packing prisoners into cells. The ruling sparked a prison-building boom throughout Texas. The William P. Clements and Nathaniel Neal units in Amarillo were products of that boom.

The prison units produced several hundred jobs for Panhandle residents and helped improve the state’s prison system, which had been sued by inmate David Ruiz in 1972, citing unsanitary conditions and hazards to inmates’ health. Justice presided over the federal trial that resulted in the ruling that changed the Texas prison system forever.

One might argue with Justice’s liberal leanings. Perhaps he was something of a so-called “judicial activist.” But on this one landmark ruling, the Amarillo economy benefited right along with the Texas corrections system.

Park is going to the birds

It’s going to be tough going as we move deeper into autumn and then into winter, but one of Amarillo’s newest parks is getting a good bit of use.

McDonald Lake — at the corner of 45th and Coulter — is playing host to plenty of Canada geese as well as a lot of human beings who are, um, flocking to the park to enjoy the great outdoors.

The park took some time to develop. It changed incarnations in its planning stages. The City Parks and Recreation Department dredged the old playa lake, deepened it, refilled it and then landscaped the terrain around the lake. The trees scattered throughout the property are beginning to take root and the grounds turned green as spring and summer came and went.

It is gratifying, though, to see so many people strolling along the walkway around the lake — often with dogs on leashes — and to see clusters of folks gathered at the southern end of the lake for picnics and assorted activities.

I must admit to harboring some doubt as the park project progressed during its construction. But those doubts have been eased a good bit as folks from my neighborhood are putting the park to good use.

And the birds are welcome, too.

Now, about that sign on top of the tower

An acquaintance of mine commented recently on my blog posting regarding the Chase Tower in downtown Amarillo.

I had said the tower is looking pretty spiffy these days. The response dealt with the burned-out lights at the top of the 31-story building. They annoy him. In truth, they annoy me as well.

His point is well-taken. The inside of the bank tower is looking mighty nice these days. The lights at the top of the place, though, need more work. The sign atop the building for months had beamed “Cha,” but this morning only part of the “C” was lit up.

That’s a nice place to play football

I will make an admission: I don’t follow high school in the Panhandle very closely. My sons didn’t attend school here; they graduated from high school in Beaumont and were close to completing their college educations when my wife and I arrived here in early 1995.

But we attended our first high school game in Amarillo this past Thursday at Dick Bivins Stadium. My impression of the venue? Very impressive place.

The field is spectacular. The grounds are immaculate. The men’s restroom is spotless; I did not use the women’s facility, obviously, so I am not qualified to speak about its cleanliness. The food is perhaps a bit overpriced but a hot dog has this way of tasting like a filet mignon when you’re sitting in an outdoor sporting event.

What took us to this game, Amarillo High vs. Monterrey Lubbock? We wanted to see a young friend perform as a cheerleader. His parents, Jay and Lonna, are good friends of ours who are dedicated Sandie parents. Brolin is a delightful young man. So, we went to cheer for the cheerleaders — to be honest. But the weather was too cold and wet for the kids to throw each other around on the sidelines. We didn’t do much cheering for the cheerleaders that night.

We cheered for the Sandies’ team, who won 21-6 in a fairly ugly game under cold, wet and windy conditions.

But I have to say that the Amarillo school district has developed a first-class venue on the west side of the Tri-State Fairgrounds — unlike the Dilla Villa baseball park at the other end of the complex. I’ll hold out hope that Potter County gets its money’s worth from the outfit that is promising to invest money to improve the baseball stadium.

It will have to go some to come close to equalling Dick Bivins Stadium’s quality.

What has he done lately?

Make no mistake, I was flabbergasted this morning when I heard on NPR that President Obama had won the Nobel Peace Prize.

And not in a good way.

Then came this little tidbit: The deadline for submitting nominees was Feb. 1 — 11 days after Obama had assumed the presidency.

What gives here? The Nobel Committee has rewritten the rules by which it hands out this most prestigious award. They’re now awarding the Peace Prize for the potential of the recipients. Obama indeed holds an enormous amount of potential. He well might achieve all that he hopes. But he hasn’t done it yet.

My feeling is this: The scrap heap is piled high with politicians who never fulfilled their potential. President Obama well might be tossed onto that scrap heap when his days in office are over. I hope that doesn’t happen.

But I also know that the prize ought to go to those who actually have accomplished something. And the list of non-winners with an actual record of accomplishment is quite stunning. Three names come to mind immediately:

Mahatma Gandhi, who sought a peaceful declaration of independence in India — and died in the effort; Ronald Reagan, who pressured the Evil Empire into tearing down “this wall” in Berlin, a move that marked the beginning of the end of communism in Europe; Bill Clinton, who has launched his Clinton Global Initiative and teamed up with former President GHW Bush in providing relief for the victims of the southeast Asia tsunami in 2006.

I hope President Obama actually earns the Peace Prize he has just won. But as this is written, he doesn’t deserve it.

A nation of immigrants, indeed

A nation of immigrants must look to its makeup as a source of strength, said Alberto Gonzales, former U.S. attorney general — and a son of migrant farmworkers.

Gonzales spoke today to the Rotary Club of Amarillo and hit a home run with at least one grandson of immigrants — me — with his comments on the subject of immigration.

“We are strong because we are a nation of immigrants,” he said. Gonzales did draw a bead on those who are here illegally. “When people fail to follow the law, then that breeds disobedience,” he said.

Then he added, “State and local governments shouldn’t have to pay for the federal government’s failure” to enact a reasonable immigration policy.

He scoffed at the notion promoted by some in Congress that we should round up all 13 million illegal immigrants and deport them. “It is impossible to locate all those people and deport them,” he said, “so why do people keep trying to pass laws that do that?”

Gonzales’ statement about the strength of this nation, though, rang the loudest with me. I’ve grown weary of those who believe that the nation has enough immigrants, that we should slam the door shut on those still seeking entry into the greatest nation on the planet.

My sainted grandparents — all four of them — surely would disapprove of such a thought.