It was 20 years ago today

I cannot believe it’s been 20 years.

Two decades ago, I ate one of the more memorable Thanksgiving dinners of my life. It wasn’t that the food was all that great. It wasn’t. It was the place. And it was the big-hearted spirit of the people serving it that made it so special.

In November 1989, some journalist colleagues and I boarded vehicles in Phnom Penh, Cambodia for what would be a grueling daylong road trip to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. It was Thanksgiving Day. We were touring Southeast Asia on a factfinding trip that began in Bangkok, Thailand; it took us to Hanoi, then to Ho Chi Minh City, then to Phnom Penh and then back to Ho Chi Minh City (which used to be called Saigon). It was thrilling beyond belief to be there at that time.

Cambodia had just come out of a decade-long war with Vietnam, which had invaded Cambodia to rid that nation of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge butchers who eradicated a fourth of that country’s population. Cambodia’s infrastructure had been destroyed during the Khmer Rouge reign of terror — and the war that followed — and we were among the first foreigners to see it up close.

That Thanksgiving morning, we headed back to Saigon. Our caravan stopped at the Mekong River, where we rode a rickety raft/ferry across — along with villagers traveling with goats and pigs. I actually feared the ferry would capsize and that headlines around the world would announce the deaths of this traveling group of Americans. It didn’t, so our trip continued.

We eventually crossed the Cambodia-Vietnam border after a considerable delay.

We arrived that evening in Ho Chi Minh City, and checked into our hotel.

And then we gathered for dinner.

The hotel staff had prepared a Thanksgiving meal for their American visitors, knowing that we were celebrating this uniquely American holiday. It consisted of what my dear friend — and former Amarillo resident — Tommy Denton describes to this day as “road kill duck,” mashed potatoes, peas (that had a kind of rubbery texture), and a kind of cobbler for dessert.

It wasn’t a gourmet meal. But we all were moved by the wonderful intentions of our hosts. The United States didn’t yet have diplomatic relations with Vietnam; that would come years later. But our hosts rolled out the red carpet for us and showed us an amazing bit of sensitivity and compassion, serving up a meal to mark a holiday that only we celebrate.

My personal journey to Vietnam would reach its climax a couple of days later, when Tommy and I ventured to Da Nang, where we each re-traced paths we had traveled two decades earlier as young soldiers.

But that particular Thanksgiving holiday, half a world away from my wife and sons, remains one of the highlights of my life.

The people who served us that meal have my everlasting gratitude.

Why, I never …,0,2649186.story

Check out the link here. It’s from the Los Angeles Times. It goes to a column that recounts the story of the screaming boy, who along with his mother was kicked off a Southwest Airlines plane as it departed Rick Husband Amarillo International Airport.

You’ll recall the story, right? The tot wouldn’t stop screaming, as in really screaming. The flight crew tried to quiet the boy down. Alas, it was to no avail. Attendants then ushered the two of them — mom and son — off the plane to a rousing ovation from relieved passengers.

But the writer of the essay in today’s LA Times just had to say something unkind about Amarillo.

The La La Land snob …

Dobbs for president? Please, no!

Say it ain’t so, Lou.

The word now is that Lou Dobbs, the former CNN loudmouth — and native of Childress — is pondering a run for president in 2012. That’s president of the United States of America.

Hoo … boy.

It’s one thing for someone with lots of opinions to bloviate on the air about what’s wrong (in his view) with the country. It’s quite another for that someone to translate all that hot air into solid policy and then demonstrate actual leadership.

Dobbs quit his CNN anchor job recently. His announcement was a surprise. But it apparently was welcomed warmly by Hispanic groups that had grown weary of Dobbs’ incessant haranguing over illegal immigration. The guy had gone through a remarkable transformation — from fairly non-descript business reporter to snarling pundit. He thus joined the ranks of Olbmermann, O’Reilly, Hannity, Maddow, Beck and heaven knows who else out there shilling for whatever cause gets their dander up.

But this guy wants to take it a step further … maybe.

I can hear it now. “Well, Ronald Reagan was a B actor before he entered public office,” some will say. Sure enough. But he did serve two successful terms as governor of California before running for the White House in 1980. And The Gipper’s presidency turned out just fine.

Dobbs doesn’t have that kind of credibility.

I hope the ex-Panhandle resident thinks better of it all.

F-100 jet to ‘land’ at memorial

The Texas Panhandle War Memorial is getting a valuable addition early in the coming year.

It will be a refurbished F-100 fighter. It will be mounted on the memorial grounds, next to the Randall County Courthouse Annex at Georgia Street and the Canyon E-Way.

This is a big deal. Indeed, Randall County Judge Ernie Houdashell — himself a pilot — could hardly contain his enthusiasm this past week as the plane was getting ready for its move from English Field to a spot near Tradewind Airport, where it will be prepared for installation at the memorial. The move took place this past weekend, with officials having to take great care to ensure the plane made it safely on its arduous trip along Loop 335.

The war memorial only recently has been added to the signage on Interstate 27, enticing motorists to pull off the highway to visit the site that honors those who have fallen in all our nation’s armed conflicts dating back to the Spanish-American War. It contains stone tablets with brief narratives of the conflicts along with lists of those who have died in defense of the country.

Soon, a jet fighter will be part of the exhibit.

I’m just as qualified as she is

Here’s the question of the day as former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin conducts her book tour: Is Palin qualified to be president of the United States?

The question was put today on a news talk TV show to Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, one of the Republican Party’s brighter bulbs. “Well, she’s constitutionally qualified,” Barbour said.

That’s it? That’s how you answer a straightforward question about someone being touted as her party’s possible standard bearer/savior in 2012?

Well, I’m “constitutionally qualified” to serve as president, too. I was born in the United States. I’ve never been convicted of a felony. I’ve been married to the same woman for 38 years. I have reared two fine sons. I pay my taxes on time. But I’ll never be president.

I think the former governor’s many fans — and she has a lot of them right here in the Panhandle — need to come up with something better than her being qualified under the rules set by the U.S. Constitution.

I’ll welcome any recommendations on her real qualifications.

Here’s what you call a terrorist

I was talking to Rep. Mac Thornberry the other day about the decision to try Khalid Sheik Muhammad in New York City on charges that he masterminded the 9/11 attacks on the United States.

The Clarendon Republican lawmaker then threw me a bit of a curve. He referred to Muhammad as “KSM.”

Since that conversation, I’ve heard other officials and even a few commentators use the term.

I don’t get the initials being used to refer to this guy. Customarily, we Americans refer to folks in such a manner who have a considerably higher standing than a man who reportedly has confessed to killing thousands of innocent people. You know who I’m talking about: JFK, LBJ, FDR, TR, RFK. These are presidents or, in RFK’s case, someone who was running for the office. They’re generally iconic political figures. We often use nicknames — some flattering, some not — such as Honest Abe, Tricky Dick, Condi, Ronnie, Dubya, Goodhair, Ike, or Give ‘Em Hell Harry while referring to our leaders.

But I truly prefer to save the initials and informal monickers either for American leaders or public figures, or those for whom we have something other than utter loathing and contempt.

To the right of Dick Cheney

Former Vice President Dick Cheney’s conservative credentials are unquestioned. He’s now lent them to U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison in her bid to unseat her fellow Republican, Gov. Rick Perry.

Cheney came to Texas this week to endorse Hutchison, buttressing her own reportedly shaky standing with the base of her party.

It now becomes clear that Perry is going to have to get to the right of Hutchison and Cheney, although it stretches the imagination to figure out how he does that.

The governor already has raised the secession issue with angry Texans. How does he get to the right of his wink-and-nod over the notion that Texans could get mad enough to want to leave the Union? Surely he wouldn’t actually advocate such a thing — would he?

Meanwhile, Hutchison — who doesn’t enjoy the full-fledged trust of many hardened Panhandle Republicans — has enlisted an important ally. Dick Cheney has become the poster boy for the conservative movement.

All this seems to mean that the fight for the hearts and minds of Texas Republicans is going to be fought on the far right fringe of the party, which is beginning to look as though it is gobbling up more and more of the GOP pie.

This is the best they can do?

This just in: The presumed frontrunner for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination is not qualified to serve as commander in chief, according to recent polls.

Yet there she is, the subject of water cooler talk all across the nation as she hypes her book, “Going Rogue.” I’m talking, of course, of former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who quit her statewide office halfway through her first term.

Slightly more than half of all Republicans think Palin is qualified. A fraction of Democrats would say she is capable of serving as president. Independents split somewhere between partisans on both sides. All this comes from a CNN/Opinion Research Dynamics survey, which is generally considered to be one of the better political polling outfits in the country.

Republicans have no shortage of potential candidates who are actually qualified to serve if elected. Former Govs. Mitt Romney (Mass.) and Mike Huckabee (Ark.) come mind.

But their standing pales in comparison to Palin’s — at the moment.

Thank goodness that nothing is permanent in politics, which is something Palin is likely to find out the longer she lingers under the glare of the public spotlight.

“Go at throttle up …”

The shuttle Atlantis has just launched, with six more shuttle missions to go before NASA retires the fleet.

So help me, ever since Jan. 28, 1986, I still freeze at the 73-second mark of these shuttle flights. That’s when the mission communicator tells the shuttle, “Go at throttle up.”

It was at that point during that January launch nearly 24 years ago that the shuttle Challenger blew up, killing all seven astronauts on board and sending the nation into a prolonged period of profound grief over its loss.

Atlantis has entered orbit. All is well. And I’ve cleared the lump in my throat.

It will return at the end of the mission, when the ship re-enters the atmosphere en route home. History reminds us that on Feb. 1, 2003, Amarillo’s very own Rick Husband and his crew died when the shuttle Columbia broke apart over Texas on its way home.

These space flights perhaps have bored millions of Americans. That’s too bad. They surely are never “routine.”

Godspeed, crew of Atlantis.

String the lines away from the canyon

A utility company is considering some routes to string power lines across the High Plains.

It is my sincerest hope that they do not stretch them across Palo Duro Canyon.

The company is Sharyland Utilities. It will conduct two public hearings this week, Tuesday night in Wildorado and Thursday night in Panhandle. They’re giving residents a chance to comment on proposed routes for the lines that will carry electricity generated by wind turbines.

I’m becoming more of a fan of wind energy all the time. It’s clean, it’s renewable and it’s ours. Man, we’ve got plenty of it throughout the High Plains.

But we have to be mindful here of protecting one of the true treasures of Texas. Palo Duro Canyon should not have its horizon blighted by transmission lines. Surely the company can find routes that take the lines away from the canyon rim.

The canyon panorama is just too spectacular to be soiled with sight pollution.

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