Heroes wear firefighter uniforms

Popular culture is fond of bandying about the word “hero.”

We ascribe that title to athletes and to movie stars who play heroic figures on the big screen.

One of our communities caught fire in recent days. Fritch, in Hutchinson County, has been battling wildfires. You want a definition of a real hero? Look to the people who plunge into the fire to battle it face to face.

We know all this, of course. We know about the heroism our firefighters exhibit all the time. The same can be said of police officers, who answer calls that should be “routine,” but too often prove to be anything but.

Today, let’s single out the firefighters for hero recognition.

I ran into one of them just yesterday. He was mowing a lawn two doors west of where my wife and I live. I walked over just to visit with him and to get a price on lawn mowing services. He said he’s been cutting grass part time for 22 years. His real job? He’s an Amarillo firefighter stationed at the River Road station just north of Thompson Park.

The fellow has had his hands full in recent days, battling the Fritch fire along with firefighters from other departments all across the northern Panhandle.

It’s good to understand, too, that those rural firefighters — the folks who work in our small farming and ranching communities — are volunteers who don’t get paid to suit up and plunge into the inferno.

The 9/11 tragedy nearly 13 years ago educated many Americans about the heroism our firefighters exhibit. Remember the stories of those individuals running upstairs into the Twin Towers to rescue those who were trapped?

Does that define a hero? You bet it does.

The fire season has arrived a bit early this year. Our firefighters are going have a busy time of it, particularly if the region remains as dry as it’s been.

They will put their lives on the line as they fight to protect people from the flames. They are heroes who should make us proud.

Godspeed, y’all.

'Dr.' Rove issues HRC diagnosis

When did Karl Rove get his medical degree?

Oh, he didn’t? He sure could have fooled me, given that the man aka “Bush’s Brain” has speculated aloud that former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has suffered a serious brain injury.

Rove made that speculation a few days ago when he wondered why Clinton — a possible, if not probable candidate for president in 2016 — was wearing eyeglasses after taking a fall in 2012.

He said something about Clinton spending a month in the hospital and then reappearing with the specs, which he said suggests she suffered a brain injury when she took the spill.


Rove is engaging in a cheap and ghastly form of smear.

Clinton didn’t spend a month in the hospital; she spent four days. She wore the glasses to correct a bout of double vision she was having as a result of the fall she took.

Rove knows Clinton is considering a run for president. He also knows that she’s cleaning the clocks of any possible Republican contender, according to recent reputable polling data. Rove also understands the value of plant negative thoughts in the minds of voters who might be undecided about who to support for president two years from now.

He’s found a tantalizing opportunity in raising these questions, which seem to be specious at best and malicious at worst.

I’ll stick with White House press secretary Jay Carney’s response to “Dr.” Rove’s diagnosis. Carney said when asked about Rove’s assessment that Rove was the “last person in the country” to accept that President Obama had been re-elected in 2012. You’ll recall his outburst when his Fox News Channel colleagues called Ohio as going for the president when only a few votes had been posted. Why, he just couldn’t believe it. So, the Fox news anchors went to the network’s computer gurus’ headquarters off camera to confirm that they had called it correctly.

Rove is a talented Republican political strategist who helped elect and re-elect George W. Bush president of the United States. He’s also a fierce partisan who is letting his GOP loyalty get in the way of whatever common sense he’s got left.

Everyone gets that presidential candidates are fair game. We need to know if they’re physically able to do the world’s most difficult job. Speculating, though, on matters about which Karl Rove knows nothing is simply shameful.

Shut … up, Donald Sterling

Donald Sterling is now the living, breathing embodiment of what many of us have known for a long time.

You don’t have to be smart to be rich.

The disgraced Los Angeles Clippers owner spoke the other day to CNN’s Anderson Cooper and revealed to the world that he is as clueless as they come.


He ridiculed a professional basketball legend, Earvin “Magic” Johnson, taking note of the HIV condition to which Johnson admitted more than two decades ago. He derided Johnson’s efforts to educate the world about the illness.

Why in the world does this man continue to drag Magic Johnson’s good name through the mud?

He said he was “baited” into saying those despicable things about African-Americans to his so-called girlfriend, V. Stiviano. It’s as if she purportedly “tricked” him into revealing the poison that afflicts his heart.

None of this makes any sense.

Sterling has been banned for life from the NBA. His fellow team owners are working — quickly, it is being reported — to remove him as owner of the Clippers. Sterling’s estranged wife, Shelly, wants to keep possession of the franchise. Others have expressed interest in buying the Clippers from Sterling.

Meanwhile, Sterling likely is going to keep making idiotic statements.

The more I hear from this clown, the less interested I become in anything he has to say.

Will you please just shut the (bleep) up, Donald Sterling?

What's up at Amarillo City Hall?

I posted a blog recently about the Amarillo Animal Control Department troubles and suggested that the verdict may be in on the fate of the two top animal control officials who have been put on “administrative leave.”

Let them go, I argued.

Then I got a comment from someone who said the city manager should take the fall for what’s going on at City Hall.

I’ve been thinking about that and my critic may have opened a possible discussion point that’s worth examining.

What about City Manager Jarrett Atkinson’s time at the City Hall helm? It’s been a bit of a rocky ride over there. Let me stipulate that I’ve known Atkinson for a number of years. I respect his knowledge on key issues, such as water management.

However …

I can count four significant missteps on Atkinson’s watch.

* Airport manager Scott Carr quit his job suddenly in 2010. The circumstances of his departure were a bit mysterious. He left while Atkinson was serving as interim city manager after Alan Taylor had retired. The city paid Carr a substantial amount of money even after he left the city’s employment and Atkinson did not say at the time whether Carr was asked to quit. What gives with that?

* After Taylor Withrow retired in 2011 as city traffic engineer, Amarillo hired a new traffic man who, it turned out, had gotten into some serious trouble at his previous traffic engineer post in Florida. Jihad el-Eid didn’t tell the city about any of that and no one at the city apparently bothered to do its due diligence to check the individual’s work history. It turned out he was indicted in a bribery scandal and he fled Amarillo. The city fired el-Eid and then instituted a stricter vetting process for city employees.

* Amarillo sought in 2013 and early 2014 to develop a new logo. It paid a local public-relations firm to craft the design. The city then rejected the proposal submitted by the firm and turned to a city employee, who submitted a logo proposal. One problem emerged: The logo was a virtual copy of a logo already in use by a private company based in the United Arab Emirates. The firm threatened to sue for copyright infringement. The city, which wrote a letter of apology to the firm, scrapped the logo, then took part in a community-wide contest to produce a new design. Local artist Tyler Mitchell’s proposal was accepted. The city still hasn’t revealed the identity of the employee who turned in the copied logo.

* Animal control officials Mike McGee and Shannon Barlow were placed on administrative leave after officials revealed that abandoned/unwanted/stray animals were being euthanized improperly. The Randall County Criminal District Attorney’s Office is deciding whether to proceed with indictment proceedings in the case; a grand jury is expected to decide any day whether to issue criminal indictments. The city then disclosed that it has revamped its euthanasia policies.

That’s four significant items. All of them occurred while Atkinson has been running the city. Under the city charter, the city manager is in Big Man on Campus at City Hall. He runs everything. The city pays the manager handsomely to have his hands on all the levers, ensuring the city runs well.

These kinds of mistakes shouldn’t have occurred. Are they firing offenses?

Well, I’ll leave that to the City Council decide. The council hires one individual, the city manager, who it entrusts to make all other key personnel and administrative decisions. I do believe, though, that someone on the council needs to start asking the city manager some tough questions about how these mistakes keep occurring.

What’s more, I am trying to imagine these kinds of errors and embarrassments happening on, say, the late John Stiff’s watch. It’s been said Stiff ran an airtight operation at City Hall.

Has the place sprung some leaks?

No more 'Hump Day'

This is the latest in a series of occasional blog posts commenting on impending retirement.

Here is a brief conversation that occurred this morning as I was leaving the Amarillo Town Club after my regular morning workout.

ATC attendant: Have a good day, John; I’ll see you tomorrow.

Me: Sure will. See ya.

ATC attendant: Hey, tomorrow is Hump Day!

Me: I reckon.

Then it occurred to me as I walked toward my vehicle: Hey, I don’t have a “Hump Day” any longer.

My sister and I have joked for some time now about the absence of deadline pressure in retirement. She and her husband have been retired fully for a while now. She laughs when people say, “Have a good weekend.” Her response? Yeah, whatever. For them, they enjoy a continual “weekend.”

I’m now beginning to understand it all.

I do work a couple of part-time jobs, one of which I do mostly at home. Back when I was a full-time working stiff, though, I rarely uttered the term “Hump Day,” only because it sounded so … so cliché.

This morning, though, I realized I crossed another barrier en route to full retirement. It is the realization that I have taken nearly full possession of my time.

My wife and I have made several key decisions in recent months about our future. The latest decision was determining when I will start drawing my full Social Security, at which time I will join her as an SSI recipient.

Hump Day? It’s now a part of my past. My next step just might be to stop wearing a watch on my wrist. That, I admit, will take some serious soul-searching.

If you don't like the weather …

“I cannot believe I’m getting cold.”

So said my wife just a little while ago as she plunged deeply into the back of her closet for her winter bathrobe. She had donned a lighter summer robe that had been moved to the front of her closet.

Why the change in wardrobe planning?

Well, those record highs the Texas Panhandle was experiencing a few days ago — when temps soared into the high 80s and low 90s — have now been overtaken by what’s forecast tonight as a possible record low.

We’re proud of the saying here on what I like to call the Texas Tundra: If you don’t like the weather, just wait 20 minutes, it’ll change.

OK, so the weather didn’t change in 20 minutes, but it surely has changed rather, um, dramatically just in the past few days.

Oh, have I mentioned that damn wind and the dirt it picks up as it roars in from almost any direction on our vast horizon?

The drought is projected to stay with us for a while. Some doom-and-gloomers think it will stay well past the foreseeable future. I have no clue as to when it will break. As of today, we’ve received a little more than an inch of rain all year recorded at the National Weather Service station at Rick Husband Amarillo International Airport. At this pace, we’ll finish the year with, oh, about 3 inches total.

The drastic change in temperature is quite another story. It’s approaching the middle of May, for crying out loud. Summer is just around the corner. The weather guys are calling for possible snow just a bit west of us in Union County, N.M.

Does any of this make you think of the issue that some folks seemingly refuse to accept as a reality? You know … climate change?

Bundle up, folks.

Fire season off to early start

Summer officially is about six weeks away and already fire season is upon us in the Texas Panhandle.

Oh … my … goodness.

A wildfire in Hutchinson County has left hundreds of people homeless and destroyed about 100 homes. The wind is whipping furiously; the native grass is tinder dry; burn bans are in effect all across the Panhandle.


Remember the Summer of 2011, when thousands of acres of land went up in flames? Remember the misery, the heartache, the death and destruction? We might be headed for another one of those episodes.

Most of this circumstance is beyond our control. We need two things to happen: the wind to stop blowing and for rain to come. Only the Almighty can make either event happen.

We can, however, control our own urges, such as tossing cigarette butts or stogies our the car window. We can stop outdoor grilling. We can ensure that we take every precaution possible to prevent a tragic outbreak of fire.

There also needs to be highly strict enforcement of these burn bans. Let’s leave it to counties to make double-darn sure residents are heeding the dire warnings about the fire hazards that exist all around us. And that means simply to play by the rules and not light fires in this hideous wind.

The Fritch fire well might serve as a warning to us all. It’s still mid-spring — when the region is supposed to be drenched in those unpredictable rainmaking thunderstorms. Many of us can hardly remember the last time we experienced any such “normal” weather event.

Instead, we’re enduring this stifling drought and the wind that comes with it.

If this is a harbinger of the usual fire season, we’d better get ready for a wild summer.

Oh, and let’s all keep praying for rain.

Time for change at Animal Control

Amarillo city officials are facing a key question.

Should they dismiss the top two administrators at their troubled Animal Control Department, even though no formal charges have been brought? I believe they should go.

Randall County prosecutors are examining whether to recommend indicting someone — anyone — at the animal control shelter for alleged mistreatment of animals. The city has been pummeled by yet another serious public-relations mess. This one is as serious as it gets, in the eyes of many residents.

Mike McGee and Shannon Barlow — the top two administrators at Animal Control — have been placed on “administrative leave,” which means they’re still getting paid even though they’re not on the job.

I believe they should be cut loose. Is that premature? Hardly.

The two were placed on leave after it was revealed that animals were being euthanized using improper methods. The city has instituted serious changes in the procedure it uses to carry out that grim duty. It has conducted a thorough review of those procedures and has determined — to my way of thinking — that the department was not functioning a it should.

Who bears responsibility for that? The top of the chain of command.

That means McGee, the top man, and Barlow, his chief deputy.

The grand jury is expected to decide this week whether to issue indictments. Randall County District Attorney James Farren’s office is leading the investigation. I agree that McGee and Barlow both deserve a presumption of innocence and I’m not suggesting for one instant that I believe the grand jury should indict either or both of them.

However, the verdict appears to be in on whether they’ve performed their duties properly. Given the changes already implemented by the city, it looks for all the world as if they haven’t.

Sterling 'baited' into saying those things?

I’m going to need some help processing this “apology.”

Donald Sterling, the disgraced Los Angeles Clippers professional basketball team owner, says he’s sorry for saying those racist things to his — what shall we call her? — girlfriend/assistant/”silly rabbit.”

He said he was “baited” into uttering those disgusting remarks. Baited? Does that mean he was lured into saying things he didn’t mean? Was there some promise or payoff if he declared in a phone conversation that V. Stiviano — the said “silly rabbit” — shouldn’t be seen in public with African-Americans? Did little ol’ V. put a gun to his head and make him say those hateful things?


Well, now he tells Anderson Cooper of CNN that he’s sorry. He declares “I am not a racist,” which of course is the usual dodge from those who actually do have racist tendencies.

The National Basketball Association has banned him for life from the game. He can’t take part in any basketball-related operations; he cannot attend Clippers games; he cannot attend league meetings; he’s going to be pressured to sell his team. He’s a pariah.

The players want him gone. His fellow owners want him out.

This is a disgraceful episode that so far has produced only one bright, shining moment: the swift and decisive action by brand new NBA Commissioner Adam Silver to banish Sterling from the NBA.

The timing of the “apology” also is suspect. He was revealed to have said these things about three weeks ago — and now he offers his mea culpa?

This individual said some truly awful things. That’s no longer in doubt. There will be plenty of explanation required now to persuade many of us that he didn’t really mean what he said.

I do not believe this “apology” is going to fly.

Wind velocity is relentless

This item came to me the other day from a longtime Amarillo friend.

Linda has lived in Amarillo all her life, she told me, adding that her mother grew up in southwest Kansas.

Neither of them, she told me, had seen it blow as it did on Tuesday, April 29. That event is sort of becoming our version of “Black Sunday,” which occurred during the — gulp! — Dust Bowl of the 1930s.

This is worth mentioning as we’re battling the wind and airborne dirt yet again today. It’s not as bad it was the other day, but my friend’s assessment of the severity of that wind-and-dirt event is still quite striking as we continue to pray for rain to end this merciless drought.

I should add that my friend’s mother is old enough to have some memory of the Dust Bowl. So, to learn that she believes the April 29 dirt storm was the worst she’d ever seen … well, that’s saying something.

OK, are we in the midst of Dust Bowl 2.0? Another friend, Richard, told us today at church that as bad as it has been — and as bad as that particular day had become — it was, after all, just a daylong event. This friend also is a lifelong Panhandle resident. He’s a man of the soil. Unlike me, a city slicker if there ever was one, Richard has worked the land on and off for most of his life.

Thus, I’ve heard two varying reports of the severity of what we’re enduring these days. One of them, from the latter friend, seeks to put this misery into some perspective. Yeah, it’s bad, he says, but think of having to go through these dirt storms for days, even weeks on end! That’s what occurred during the Dust Bowl and it’s a far cry — so far, I should stipulate — from what we’re going through today.

Whatever perspective you want to place around the Spring of 2014 weather, I’m still alarmed to hear others who’ve lived here a lot longer than we have say this is as bad as it’s ever been.

I’m more than ready for rain.

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