All posts by kanelis2012

French onto something with pageant ban

The French have been whipped pretty hard in the United States since, oh, about the time of the 9/11 attacks. Some Americans have resented the French for failing to support our war efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Remember those “freedom fries”? Good grief!

I have not joined that chorus. I will, though, applaud the French senate for voting to end children’s beauty pageants.

I’ve long thought of these kiddie pageants as being — how to say it — vaguely perverted. The sight of these little girls prancing around provocatively, with their hair pulled up and their eyes laden with makeup frankly makes me want to hurl.

It is unnatural, unwarranted and unappealing.

Forgive me for saying this, too, but every time I witness a kids’ pageant, a certain name keeps popping into my head: Jon Benet Ramsey, the Colorado girl who also took part in these events and was murdered in a case that drew international attention. Some folks speculated that the killer might have held some disgustingly lustful urges before killing that little girl.

I have no clue as to whether France’s idea of outlawing these pageants ever will become law in that country, let alone catch fire in the rest of the world.

I hope it does.

So long, champ

My pal Jon Mark Beilue hits it right on the button — like a left hook to the jaw — when he laments the passing of a great heavyweight fighter and the decline of a once-great sport.

Ken Norton died this week at the age of 70. He’d been in declining health and he died of congestive heart failure.

What made Norton so special? Well, in the spring of 1973 he broke the jaw of another pretty good fighter, Muhammad Ali, and handed The Champ the second defeat of his legendary boxing career. Ali would go on to reclaim the heavyweight title the following year and would fight Norton twice more: later in 1973 and in 1976, when he was still the heavyweight champ. Ali won both those fights.

Boxing meant something back then. There was an unwritten code that to be heavyweight champion was to be deemed the baddest dude on Planet Earth. I heard someone once say that title Heavyweight Champion of the World was the most honored of all sports titles.

No more.

Ken Norton wore that crown for a time in 1978. The World Boxing Council bestowed it on him when it took it from Leon Spinks, who had defeated Ali for the title in 1978. Norton would lose the title to Larry Holmes in a grueling 15-round fight.

Norton was a very good fighter. Was he great? Did he attain the level of some of his peers, such as Ali, Joe Frazier, Holmes or George Foreman? Probably not.

However, he fought at a time when being champion meant something. These days, with so many governing bodies granting titles left and right, with so many weight classes — super and junior middleweights, welterweights, lightweights, featherweights, etc. — no one can name any of the champions in any of these classes. They’ve even added a super heavyweight division — on top of the “normal” heavyweight class. Heck, I remember when the late heavyweight champ Floyd Patterson, who weighed all of 185 pounds, would fight guys 30 or 40 pounds heavier … and would beat them like a drum!

Yes, Ken Norton represented a much-missed era in professional sports. It’s been cheapened and become almost farcical now.

Rest in peace, Champ.

Help me understand this budget fight

A lot of things go over my head. I’ll admit to being a bit slow on the uptake at times.

Take the budget battle that’s building into a donnybrook — yet again — on Capitol Hill. I’m puzzled over why the Republican congressional leadership has allowed the tea party wing take it over and threaten to hijack the government because it dislikes a duly enacted law that’s been upheld by the Supreme Court.

The Affordable Care Act has become a bargaining chip in the budget battle. The right-wing crazies in Congress say they’ll approve a continuing resolution on the budget only if it defunds the ACA, President Obama’s signature legislative achievement. If they don’t get the resolution approved in about 10 days, the government shuts down.

Think about this for a moment. We’re still at war in Afghanistan; Social Security checks will need to go out to those who need them; so will veterans disability payments; roads are crumbling; Colorado residents are digging out from horrific weather events in their state … and there might be more weather-related misery occurring in Texas as storm clouds migrate north from Mexico.

You get the picture, yes?

Meanwhile, House Speaker John Boehner, a so-called “establishment Republican” who’s been whipsawed by the tea party cabal within his caucus, says the GOP-led House has “no interest” in shutting down the government. Who’s he kidding?

Everyone who hates “Obamacare” has forgotten that Congress passed the law, the president signed it, it survived a Supreme Court challenge when the high court ruled that the law indeed is constitutional. It has been settled.

What’s more, the Affordable Care Act hasn’t even been implemented fully — and still congressional Republicans have declared it a “failed policy.” Aren’t there independent studies out there showing that premiums have increased at a slower rate than predicted and aren’t there 30 million or so Americans who are about to have health insurance?

The moronic push to defund the health care law would deny those folks insurance. That’s a good thing for the country?

While our so-called “leaders” wage budget war, a lot of other pressing needs are being ignored. Does anyone remember immigration reform?

I don’t understand a lot of things. This battle is really pushing me to the limit.

Dangerous on-ramp discovered in Amarillo

A lot has been written, spoken, tweeted, Facebooked — you name it — over many years about the quality of drivers in Amarillo and the engineering of some of the traffic infrastructure around town.

I found a location this morning that deserves some comment here.

I hauled some goods to the Salvation Army warehouse and store about 11 a.m. The warehouse/store is at 27th Avenue just a little east of Llano Cemetery. I dropped the stuff off and headed west toward Interstate 27; I turned north to catch the freeway toward downtown.

I then discovered something that had gotten past me the many times I’ve driven along that stretch of road: The on-ramp is very short and is located quite close to a lane in which the motorists all have to exit the freeway to catch another on-ramp toward Interstate 40.

The traffic was heavy at that particular moment. I was driving my big Dodge pickup, aka Big Jake. I had to come to a complete stop on the on-ramp, as traffic was not yielding, meaning no one was moving into an inside lane to give me room.

Why is that? Well, they had to stay in that lane to connect to I-40. Therefore, I understand why they couldn’t yield to little ol’ me.

I waited for what seemed like an eternity for a break in the traffic. When one occurred, I had to pounce on the accelerator to get enough speed to merge into the traffic that was approaching. I didn’t want to get in anyone’s way as they (a) headed toward downtown or (b) sought to make the exit onto I-40.

As I was stopped at the intersection, I thought of my wife. Yes, I love her dearly and I think of her often, but this time I recalled a terrible accident in which she was rear-ended by a driver while — yep — she waited on an on-ramp to merge into traffic. That was nearly a year ago. She was quite lucky she wasn’t hurt more badly than she was — or worse. That on-ramp, just west of Georgia Street, merges into the westbound I-40 lanes. It, too, provides little time or space for vehicles to merge. She had to stop because the traffic was too heavy. Then she got clobbered — by an individual traveling at an estimated 60 mph.

I’m wondering at this moment if it isn’t time for the Texas Department of Transportation and the Amarillo Traffic Engineering Department to do a comprehensive study of the safety of some of these access lanes and on-ramps to determine what they can do to improve them.


Security, not gun control, becomes the focus

As authorities start building a motive for why Aaron Alexis opened fire at the Washington Navy Yard, killing a dozen people, I’m beginning to believe that the issue of gun control will not rise to the level it has in the wake of previous massacres.

After all, if the deaths of 20 precious children and six educators in Newtown, Conn., couldn’t produce meaningful gun control reforms, I’m believing that nothing will. A dozen innocent victims at a military installation doesn’t hit Americans with quite the emotional impact — as tragic as it was — as the deaths of those babies.

With that, I’m guessing security issues will be the red-flag issue that emerges in the wake of Alexis’s rampage.

How does a guy with apparently visible mental anguish keep a security clearance into a highly classified military installation? How do authorities ignore the signals that this individual was “hearing voices” or acting strangely in other ways?

Alexis was a civilian contractor who apparently had clearance to enter the building. He was packing an assault rifle and a shotgun, in addition to a pistol he likely could have concealed, into a common area, where he opened fire from a floor above a crowd gathered below him.

Police reportedly killed Alexis in a fire fight to end the carnage.

But still, the questions must be dealt with head on about how this Fort Worth resident was able to obtain — and then keep — this security clearance. Where are the safeguards?

Sen. Davis good to go … for governor?

I’m wrong about these things more often than I’m right, but it’s looking to me as though Wendy Davis is going to run for Texas governor next year.

The Fort Worth Democratic state senator will make her plans known on Oct. 3.

What’s interesting to me is the suspense she is building into the announcement. See the link here:

If she were to announce that she is going to seek re-election to her Senate seat, my hunch is that she’d just say so: “I’ve decided, after careful consideration and prayer, that I will not be a candidate for governor and will seek re-election to Senate District 10 and will seek to continue to serve my Fort Worth constituents.”

There. That would be it. Over and done.

But she’s asking her supporters to spread the word to others who they think would like to be the “first to know” her plans.

That feels to me as though a run for governor is in the wind.

All the excitement in this contest so far has been on the Republican side. Attorney General Greg Abbott is the odds-on favorite to be nominated by the GOP over former state Republican Party chairman Tom Pauken of Dallas. (Full disclosure: I’ve known Pauken personally for more than 25 years and I am pulling for him to at least make a contest of his party’s primary fight.)

It could be that the excitement quotient is going to shift dramatically toward the Democratic primary if Wendy Davis answers the bell. Davis burst onto the national scene with her dramatic filibuster of an anti-abortion bill in the waning hours of the Legislature’s first special session.

Will she win next fall?

That remains the multimillion-dollar question, given that’s how much it’s going to cost the next person who will become governor to succeed Rick Perry.

Texas remains a deeply ruby-red state, in the vise grip of Republican officeholders. Texans have shown a propensity in recent election cycles to elect Republicans over more qualified Democrats just because of their party affiliation. But, hey, Texans did the same thing in reverse back when Democrats were the top dog.

Sen. Davis would surely energize a moribund political party that’s been whipped so often it’s lost much of its will to win.

Please, though, don’t hold me to any of this. We’ll just wait for Wendy to give us the word.

Insanity may result in government shutdown

The insane wing of the Republican Party is having its way, or it would appear, as the government inches toward a shutdown.

Will someone ever be able to slam some sense into those thick tea party skulls?

House Speaker John Boehner, one Republican who doesn’t want to shut the government down over objections to the Affordable Care Act, is now hamstrung by the conservative cabal that has hijacked the once-great political party. They’re insisting on defunding “Obamacare,” and are willing to risk shutting down the entire federal government to do so.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has adopted an apt term for the tea party wing. He calls them “anarchists.”

The Washington Post reports: “None of the Republicans are willing to stand up to these anarchists,” Reid told reporters. Of the law known as Obamacare, he added: “They’re obsessed with a bill that passed four years ago, a bill that was declared constitutional by the Supreme Court of the United States. They can’t get over that.”

I keep waiting for some leading Republicans, the folks who’ve been around the nation’s capital for some time, to talk some sense into these yahoos. I’m thinking of, oh, people like Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Clarendon, who’s been through a government shutdown and knows the political price his party will pay if they go through with this idiotic notion.

Thornberry, though, doesn’t raise a ruckus. I know it’s not his style to be drum-thumper. I’m kind of wishing he’d rethink his back-bench mentality and take the lead on this one.

If he doesn’t, or if someone in the leadership doesn’t wrest control back from the GOP’s insane wing, there will be hell to pay.


Righting a wrecked ship is truly amazing

The Costa Concordia, which ran aground off the Italian coast, is now sitting upright in shallow water.

Sometimes acts of engineering and technology can be simply amazing. This is one of those acts.

The Costa Concordia ran into some rocks off an island near the Italian coast in January 2012. The wreck killed 32 people, with two individuals still listed as missing. It tipped over on its starboard (right) side, where it laid until this morning. Italian engineering crews took 19 hours to right the ship and begin the equally arduous task of now getting it ready to be towed to a dry dock where, I’m guessing, it’s going to repaired and prepared to set sail once again.

I’ve got to hand it to the Italian engineers and environmentalists who worked together on this project. There had been fear that toxic substances would spill into the Mediterranean Sea, which is why the environmentalists got involved.

The sheer size of the ship, more than 100,000 tons, made this a monumental ordeal.

Now comes the harder part: Prosecuting the captain of the ship who allegedly abandoned his post while the ship was taking on water and listing so severely it couldn’t be saved.

Capt. Francesco Schettino has been charged with manslaughter in the deaths of the passengers aboard his ship. As captain of the ship, everyone on board is his responsibility. Schettino’s excuses and denials seem ridiculously lame in hindsight. No doubt he’ll hire a good lawyer to defend him.

If they thought getting the Costa Concordia off its side was difficult, convicting this captain — who, from all that I’ve read was derelict in his duty — could present an even tougher challenge.

Lt. gov. debate takes load road

State Sen. Dan Patrick got under Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst’s skin the other day at a debate that featured the four leading candidates for Dewhurst’s job as head of the Texas Senate.

Patrick, R-Houston, chastised Dewhurst for appointing too many Democrats to Senate committee chairmanships. Dewhurst’s response? He said he’s been reducing the bipartisan leadership ratio since becoming lieutenant governor and besides, he said, the Democrats who chair committees lead panels that aren’t “critical.”

That drew a sharp response from one of those inconsequential committee chairs, Leticia Van De Putte, D-San Antonio, who chairs the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs and Military Installation.

She wrote Dewhurst a blistering note criticizing the demeaning tone of his response to Patrick’s barb.

I guess my own view is that Patrick is wrong to lambaste the bipartisanship that still exists to some — but a shrinking — degree in the Senate. I’ve long thought of the Texas Senate as a place where Democrats and Republicans could work together and could share leadership roles on key committees.

Isn’t a panel that deals with veterans and military installations ostensibly a non-partisan group? Doesn’t it deal with issues that should wipe away partisan differences?

For the lieutenant governor, though, to try to outflank the loudmouth Patrick is equally shameful. I would have much preferred Dewhurst defending the bipartisanship that is demonstrated by handing out committee chairmanships to senators from the other party.

But no. He tacked far to the right to appeal to that right-wing GOP fringe that likely is going to determine who gets nominated next spring.

Very disappointing, Lt. Gov. Dewhurst.

There goes another good man

Just as I was trying to recover from the shocking death of a man I admired and for whom I had deep affection, another event hit me right in the face.

Buddy Seewald’s death this past weekend in an early-morning auto accident in Amarillo hit me hard. Buddy was a friend and a frequent contributor to the newspaper where I worked for nearly 18 years before leaving that job a year ago.

And for years Buddy would joust with another gentleman in a feature we called “Point/Counterpoint.” They would pick an issue on which to disagree; Buddy would write the liberal argument while his “opponent” would argue the conservative view.

The foe was Amarillo resident Virgil Van Camp, who died this past weekend at the age of 87.

First it was Buddy, then it was Virgil — another man I considered a friend — who would leave this world.

My goodness, what a profound coincidence.

Virgil was a dedicated World War II veteran who saw action in the South Pacific. He was immensely proud of his service in the Army Air Force and he continued his interest in aviation well into his senior years. He flew airplanes and gliders. Virgil became active in the Civil Air Patrol. He offered more than once to take me gliding. I accepted his offer, but sadly never collected on my friend’s generosity.

Virgil and Buddy could not have been more different in any conceivable way you can mention. Buddy was an unabashed liberal activist; Virgil was a rock-ribbed conservative. Buddy was openly gay; Virgil was married to the same woman for 50-plus years. Buddy was involved in political causes; Virgil didn’t pick up the bullhorn, choosing instead to go about his life more quietly.

Here, though, is the lesson both men taught me over my many years knowing them both: They could differ on issues of the day, but they remained friends and, as near as I can tell, they each had a mutual affection for each other.

We would meet every quarter or so for lunch. Virgil, Buddy, myself and my administrative assistant, Debbie Dudley, would go through topics they could debate in print. We’d settle on the issues, they might tussle a bit at lunch over why they were right and the other guy was wrong. We’d finish in about an hour; we’d stand up, shake hands and go our own ways.

Buddy and Virgil both were gentlemen and gentle men. They were wedded to their ideologies but their zeal never got in the way of their friendship.

Oh, how I wish we could have just a touch of that to soothe today’s poisonous political climate.

At this very moment, I am absolutely certain Buddy Seewald and Virgil Van Camp have ascended to the Great Beyond and are picking up right where they left off. I am likely to think of them both the next time I hear a clap of thunder.