Category Archives: local news

Grading smart phone proficiency

One of my three part-time jobs enables me to do a lot of people-watching.

So I do.

What I have discovered watching customers at the car dealership where I work — as well as my colleagues in all departments — is the ubiquitous nature of smart phones. Everyone seems to have one. Heck, I even have one.

Just yesterday, one of my colleagues said, “Hey, look over there. Two customers are on their smart phones, and so is their salesman. No one’s talking to each other.”

Yep, that’s the way it is these days.

I see sales representatives racing through the showroom chatting on their phone, or sending text messages to someone. Service department personnel? Same thing. Parts guys? Them, too. Our business department? Yes.

Years ago I once proclaimed my goal in life to be the last person on Earth with a cell phone. After some time resisting the temptation, I finally decided to declare victory — and then I bought my first cellular telephone. I made a bit of noise about it publicly at the time. Some friends tried to say they’d never owned a cell phone; a family member said the same thing. My response? You cannot prove it beyond a reasonable doubt. So my victory declaration stands.

Here we are in 2015. I’ve upgraded to a smart phone. It’s got a lot of those gizmos one uses to do all kinds of things.

As I watch people through the day using their smart phones, I am struck by the degree of proficiency they exhibit.

I’ll call the experts the “one-handers.” These are the individuals who can send text messages with one hand, while holding the hand of a child in the other. They’re adept at using these devices. My fear is that they do so while driving a motor vehicle — but I won’t go there.

Me? I’m a two-handed guy. I haven’t yet mastered the dexterity it takes to do all these functions with just a single hand. I’ll speak for my wife and say that neither is she.

I prefer my relative clumsiness with these devices. I don’t want anyone to think I am so smug that I can manipulate a smart phone with just a single hand.

I’ll prefer to remember what a young friend, who at the time was working as a barista in an Amarillo coffee shop, told me when I informed him I had just purchased my first cell phone. He said I reminded him of his grandfather, who would hold his cell phone up close to his face so he could read the numbers whenever he made a call.

Yes, that’s me.

I’ve already declared victory in my quest to be the last man on Earth with a cell phone. Will I ever ascend to “expert status” using my smart gadget?


Blog streak looks like it's about to end

This blog post is going to be — and I’ll be fairly brief — about my blog.

High Plains Blogger has been on a roll of late.

It has set seven consecutive records for monthly page views and unique visitors. I’m quite proud of that streak, and I’ve been none too bashful about sharing the good news with my social media friends.

April isn’t looking so good. Just six days into the month and I’m sensing a trend that suggests my streak is going to stop at seven. That’s all right. I’ve enjoyed a good run and I’m hopeful it will resume soon.

This blogging adventure has pretty much consumed my life for the past, oh, couple of years.

I don’t have a full-time job. I’ve three part-time jobs — and I enjoy them all immensely. Two of them involve writing: One of them is for Panhandle PBS, based at Amarillo College; the other one, which I just started in early February, is for KFDA-NewsChannel 10, the CBS-TV affiliate in Amarillo. They’re both blogs. The PBS blog discusses public affairs programming; the NewsChannel 10 blog looks at on-going news stories in our region and the station is good enough to broadcast an on-air report based on the blog I’ve posted on the station’s website.

The third job is as a customer service concierge with a Toyota dealership here in Amarillo.

But writing is what I love to do. I was blessed to pursue a fulfilling career in print journalism. It was a 37-year run that ended in late August 2012. My work with public and commercial TV stations allows me to continue to working on my craft.

My first post-newspaper-career passion, though, is my own blog. I truly enjoy venting, ranting, raving, commenting, critiquing public affairs on my blog. Occasionally I veer into what my wife and I call “life experience.”

I guess the purpose here is to ask you to keep reading High Plains Blogger. If you think you want to share it with your friends, well, have at it. I’m anxious to reach more people and to have them comment on my musings.

Do not worry about hurting my feelings if you disagree with my particular political slant. Most of my neighbors and most of the people I encounter daily disagree with me. That’s the nature of living in this part of the world.

Let me know what you think.


Ode to spring: I'm glad it's arrived … finally

People I meet as I go through life occasionally comment on their favorite season of the year on the Texas Tundra.

Surprisingly — to me, at least — most of them seem to prefer the fall. Leaves changing colors. Our landscape brightens just a bit. The cooler days. All that stuff seems to appeal to many people.

Me, too.

But this is my favorite season of the year. Bring on the spring, man.

The terrain out there can get pretty bleak in the winter. We’ve had a good bit of snow in these parts during the winter of 2014-15. For all I know, more might be on the way. Hey, it’s only early April.

It’s the renewal aspect of the season that I find so joyous.

Those bare trees are beginning to blossom. Some of them go from naked to “fully clothed” in green seemingly overnight. That’s all right. The greenery is a sign of that spring has sprung.

It also has a good bit to do with my faith. We’re going to celebrate Easter tomorrow along with billions of other Christians around the world. We’ll go to church, listen to the pastor praise the new life that Jesus promises us. We’ll sing joyful hymns celebrating The Resurrection. We’ll have a nice dinner later in the day with family and friends.

Indeed, Easter is all about renewal and rebirth.

It’s all around us.

The signs of spring are unmistakable. They’re quite welcome in our home. Very soon, summer will arrive. Temperatures will rise and, oh yes, we’ll commence the gripes about the triple-digit heat and wish dearly for the return of autumn.

My friends and acquaintances will cherish autumn’s arrival and say, once again, how it’s their favorite season of the year.

Me? I’ll just wait for next spring.

First things first. I plan to enjoy the current spring to the max.


Candidates go on the air

Panhandle PBS general manager Chris Hays sent this email out to media representatives, so I want to share it here.

I’m excited to inform you about a special edition of “Live Here,” as individuals running for office in the upcoming City of Amarillo elections join us for a Candidates Forum. The special airs tomorrow at 7. 

The 16 mayoral and city council candidates will participate in this exclusive forum with members of Amarillo media-television, radio, print and online-asking the questions. 

Viewers have the opportunity to see the candidates respond, listen to their answers and decide for themselves which ones deserve to represent them. Share your thoughts on each candidate’s answers on Twitter using the hashtag #LiveHerePBS. 

Here’s Panhandle PBS blogger John Kanelis’ preview of the forum. 

That’s public television truly serving the public. Be an informed voter before you head for the booth (and you will head to the booth, right?). Tune in Thursday, April 2 at 7 p.m. for this special edition of Live Here…”City Elections 2015: A Candidate’s Forum.”

OK, I just left in the part about the blog I had written about that Panhandle PBS posted earlier.

But the crux of this post is to drive home an important point that I’ve sought to make on High Plains Blogger as well as the blog I write for Panhandle PBS. It is that the local elections matter more than elections at any level.

Sixteen residents of Amarillo have offered themselves as candidates for Amarillo City Council and for mayor of our fine city. Their commitment to doing something positive for the city is demonstrated merely in their declaring their intention to run for public office. The offices of council member and mayor are essentially volunteer positions; we pay these folks $10 per weekly meeting, plus whatever expenses they might incur doing business on behalf of the city.

Why not, then, demonstrate our own commitment to the city simply by listening to what they have to say at the televised candidate forum and then voting on the candidates of our choice when the time comes?

Once more, for the record, I’ll simply point out that the message of turning out for local elections should resonate far beyond Amarillo’s corporate border. Wherever you live, in whatever city, you need to pay attention to what your fellow neighbors have to say when they seek public office.

Do not let your next-door neighbor, or the folks across town, decide this election for you.

Citizenship works better when more people — not fewer of them — get involved in the government process.

It starts with voting.


Your vote really does count; honest, it does

Do me a favor.

Take a couple of minutes to watch this video. It’s an instructive lecture from the general manager of Panhandle PBS on why your vote matters, especially at the local level.

If you live in the Texas Panhandle or far away from this part of the United States of America, this message is for you.

Chris Hays put this video together to promote a public affairs program to be broadcast Thursday night on Panhandle PBS. The “Live Here” segment airs at 7 p.m. and it features a candidate forum for the 16 people running for all five seats on the Amarillo City Council.

The video, though, speaks to voters across the country. Many voters don’t take part in their local elections, thinking apparently that their vote doesn’t matter and that the people who run for these offices don’t really do anything to affect citizens’ lives.

Wrong, wrong, wrong.

It’s the local elections that matter most to us. We ought to be voting on the people who set policies for our households, as well as for our children’s education.

Texas communities are conducting elections in early May. The turnout for most of them is expected to be paltry, dismal, shamefully low. Amarillo has had its share of tumult in recent months, so there might be a slight uptick in voter participation here.

What about where you live? Are you going to hand these critical decisions over to someone else, let your neighbor decide how much you pay in local property taxes?

Don’t do it. Your neighbor, or the folks across town can’t speak for you. Only you can speak for yourself.

One way to speak is to cast a vote for the candidate of your choice running for local office in your hometown.

Before you decide to sit this one out, take a peek at the video here. Maybe it’ll change your mind.


Those signs look different to us now

ADRIAN, Texas — It’s weird how economic trends can make one look at virtually everything a little differently.

Often, we long for the old days. Not today when my wife and I noticed a sign on an abandoned gasoline service station on the south side of Interstate 40 in this tiny town just this side of the New Mexico border.

A Shell gasoline dealership went dark I’m guessing about a year ago. How do I know that?

The sign for regular unleaded gasoline read “$3.89.” That would be the price per gallon of gasoline.

Let’s flash back for a moment to the time when gas prices were skyrocketing into the ionosphere — or some layer far above Earth’s surface. You’d see a sign in front of a vacant gasoline station and it would advertise a price of, oh, let’s say $1.89 per gallon of regular unleaded gas. You’d long for the day when prices would return to that level.

Well, today we received a signal that sent precisely the opposite message. We do not want to see prices return to the total posted on that empty Shell station perched on the farthest western edge of the Texas Panhandle.

We rolled into Amarillo a little while later and were pleased to see that prices hadn’t spiked too terribly while we were away for a week out West.

Perhaps we ought to preserve these relics just to remind us what can happen to the price of fossil fuel when we get careless with the way we use it.



Sullivan threw out the bait; I took it

Michael Quinn Sullivan runs an outfit called Empower Texans. He sent out a mailer to Texas Senate District 31 residents which contained a bit of red meat of which I took a bite.

It implied that state Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, opposes a Senate bill that would provide $4.6 billion in tax relief for Texans. Dumb me. I fell for it.

Seliger called this morning to remind me that he voted for Senate Bill 1, but simply declined to sign on as a sponsor of the bill.

The antipathy between Seliger and Sullivan is as strong as ever. Indeed, I happen to stand with Seliger in his distaste and distrust of Sullivan, who sees himself as a kingmaker, seeking to elect legislators and statewide officials who agree with his brand of ultraconservatism.

I also happen to agree with those who believe the state should hold off on tax cuts until it takes care of some essential needs, such as infrastructure improvement and restoring money to public education.

Lesson learned: Read everything that Michael Quinn Sullivan sends out — carefully.


Drug-bust stories becoming … um, boring

“Police grab drugs in ‘traffic stop.'”

You hear and read these headlines all the time. I almost always chuckle when I see these stories. Why? Because the traffic stop, such as it is, usually is something of a ruse. The police pull motorists over expecting to find contraband hidden away.

Texas Department of Public Safety troopers have gotten really good at this.

The Interstate 40 corridor across the Texas Panhandle usually is among the most lucrative for DPS traffic troopers of any district within the state police network.

How do these troopers do it? As I understand it, they “profile” motorists as they blaze their way along I-40. If the motorist or a passenger looks suspicious when they pass a DPS trooper, the officer will give chase. Then they just might find something in the trunk of the car, or stuffed under the seats, or duct-taped to the undercarriage a “controlled substance” of some sort.

The War on Drugs, which has produced mixed results — and that’s the best thing I can say about it — has made law enforcement officers quite proficient at intercepting drugs on our major highway corridors.

Have these “traffic stops” done anything to curb the manufacture, sale, distribution and use/abuse of these drugs? Not one bit.

However, I continue to marvel at how good the police have gotten at this endeavor.

To be sure — as any cop on the beat will tell you — none of these “traffic stops” ever can be called “routine.”

Texas grand jury system under review

The Texas criminal justice system has this strange idea about how to select trial juries and grand juries.

Grand jurors are chosen in most counties by jury commissioners, who are selected by a presiding judge; the commissioners then look for people they believe are “qualified” to serve on a panel that determines whether a criminal complaint should result in officials charges brought against someone. The issue is whether a grand juror can commit to meet over the course of several weeks to make these determinations.

Trial jurors are selected at random. District clerks go through voter registration rolls to find people whose names are put into a large pool of potential jurors. The only qualification is that they be residents of the county and be of sound mind, etc.

Here’s an interesting aspect of the selection processes. The state believes it is fine to select someone at random, and then ask that person to determine whether some lives or dies if that individual is convicted of a capital crime. But a grand jury requires more of a screening process to find individuals who can serve on that panel.

Texas legislators are considering a bill that would make the grand jury selection system look more like the trial jury selection method.

I say, “Go for it, lawmakers.”

Back in 1984, when I arrived in Texas, the newspaper where I worked at the time, the Beaumont Enterprise, was involved in an editorial campaign to change the grand jury selection system. There had been questions raised about whether a particular grand jury had been chosen because grand jurors had a particular bias. The paper raised all kinds of heck with the two judges in Jefferson County with criminal jurisdiction. We argued vehemently that the system needed to be changed. Over time, the judges heeded our calls and changed to a random selection method.

State Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, thinks the state should require a random method in all 254 Texas counties.

He says the system needs total confidence in all its working parts. As The Associated Press reported, the current system is ridiculed as a “pick a pal” system in which friends pick friends to serve on a grand jury.

Now, for the record, I once served on a grand jury in Randall County. I was asked by a friend, who was serving as a jury commissioner for the 181st District Court, presided over by Judge John Board.

I agreed. Board chose me along with several other people and we met regularly for three months. We confronted no controversy during our time and our service ended without a whimper of discontent.

That particular grand jury worked well. The threat, though, of dysfunction created by potential bias has created a need for the Texas Legislature to change the selection system.

If the random selection method is able to seat people who then can determine whether someone should die for committing a crime, then it will work to select people who can decide whether to charge someone with a crime.


State senator incurs power broker's wrath

State Sen. Kel Seliger is no fan of Michael Quinn Sullivan … and vice versa.

A piece of mail arrived at my home this week from an outfit called Empower Texans, a political action group headed by Sullivan, a would-be state political kingmaker. Its subject? Seliger absent on tax relief efforts.

It seems that Sullivan is on board with the tax cutting frenzy that many conservatives seem to prefer at the moment. Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick have put forth an agenda of “reducing property and business taxes,” which Sullivan said has been “set as a priority for conservative lawmakers for the legislative session.”

Senate Bill 1 would provide $4.6 billion in tax cuts. Only two Republican senators oppose it. One of them is Seliger of Amarillo. My strong hunch is that the other GOP senator to oppose it is Kevin Eltife of Tyler.

This disagreement highlights one of the critical difficulties facing the Texas Republican Party. Does the party keep cutting taxes while the state has the money on hand to do things, such as fix roads and bridges? Or does the state do what Eltife and, presumably, Seliger want to do, which take is care of some vital needs before cutting taxes?

I happen to agree with the Eltife approach (as mentioned in the blog post attached to this item).

That’s not the case with the folks who are calling most of the shots in the Legislature. Eltife, wrote the Texas Tribune’s Ross Ramsey, “wants the meat and potatoes before dessert. Most of his colleagues, however, have their eyes on the pies.”

I should add that Sullivan found a candidate to run in 2014 against Seliger, former Midland Mayor Mike Canon. Sullivan backed Canon to the hilt, only to fall short when the votes were counted throughout the sprawling Senate District 31.

Are you having fun yet, Sen. Seliger?