Handshake line gets bruised

Over many years I’ve grown tired of all the fighting in professional hockey.

Therefore, I’ve lost interest in the game. I always have liked, though, the tradition that is unique to that sport: the handshake line.

It’s when opposing players line up to shake each other’s hands and, presumably, wish them well with a “Good game, eh?”

Then something else happened this week after a Montreal Canadiens-Boston Bruins game. Boston player Milan Lucic decided he hadn’t expressed his hard feelings sufficiently at the opposing team, so he took it out on them during the handshake at the end of the game.


Several of the Canadiens, who had eliminated the Bruins from the Stanley Cup playoffs with a 3-1 win, reported that Lucic threatened at least one of the players.

What a disgrace.

We’ve lost civility on so many levels in contemporary society: so many of our various art forms have become coarse and crass; certainly our politics has become far less congenial; professional sports is known for its show-offs, showboats, its trash-talkers and its violence (e.g., professional hockey).

Isn’t the time-honored pro hockey handshake line immune from this kind of behavior?

Obviously not.

VA mess … now there's a scandal

Internal Revenue Service vetting of conservative political action groups’ claims of tax exempt status?

Pffft. Big deal.

Benghazi … Shmenghazi.

Sure, it’s a bigger deal, but it doesn’t rise to the level of “scandal.”

The Department of Veterans Affairs and allegations that it delayed veterans’ health care so long that vets actually died while waiting? Now that is a hyper-serious matter that needs to be resolved thoroughly.


Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki — a Vietnam War combat veteran and a former Army chief of staff — says he is “personally angered and saddened” by the allegations. He’d better be. Shinseki is now fighting to keep his job after the American Legion — in a rare statement of outrage — called for his resignation in light of the growing scandal.

At issue is the death of at least 40 veterans who were awaiting health care at the Phoenix, Ariz., VA hospital. Many of the vets’ names were on a secret waiting list that reportedly was designed to conceal lengthy waits that didn’t meet VA standards.

As a veteran myself who a year ago enrolled as a Veterans Administration patient at the hospital here in Amarillo, I have a number of concerns. The most notable of those concerns is whether such delays are being orchestrated at the Thomas Creek VA Medical Center in the city where I live. There was a time I wouldn’t have dared ask that question out loud, but given what has happened in Phoenix, is it possible that other such disgraceful activities are occurring across the Department of Veterans Affairs’ vast health care network?

The situation at the VA clearly is FUBAR, which in military parlance means — and this is the cleaned-up version — “fouled up beyond all recognition.”

President and Mrs. Obama have made veterans care a signature issue as the administration winds down the Afghanistan War, having already ended U.S. involvement in the Iraq War. Michelle Obama, along with Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Biden, have been champions for the cause of ensuring that our veterans receive the best health care possible.

One only can imagine what the response to this mess has been inside the West Wing of the White House, not to mention in the living quarters upstairs. I’m hoping the president has tossed some furniture around and is demanding answers to what has happened in Phoenix.

Gen. Shinseki, you have some serious explaining to do.

Health always an issue for national candidates

Rich Lowry is a smart young man.

His essay, published on Politico.com, states clearly an obvious truth about the upcoming presidential campaign. It is that Hillary Clinton’s health will be an issue.

I get that. Indeed, Americans always should have assurances that the commander in chief will be in tip-top shape when he or she takes the reins of government.


Lowry, smart conservative that he is, defends fellow Republican Karl Rove’s assertion that Clinton might have serious “brain injury” stemming from a fall she suffered in 2012. That’s where I part company with Lowry.

To his fundamental point about the health of candidates, let’s flash back a few election cycles.

Wasn’t Ronald Reagan’s health an issue when he ran for election the first time in 1980? He was nearly 70. When he ran for re-election in 1984, he stumbled badly in his first debate with Democratic nominee Walter Mondale, fueling open discussion that he had “lost it.” President Reagan quelled that talk immediately at the next debate when he said he “would not make my opponent’s age an issue by exploiting his youth and inexperience.”

Sen. John McCain faced similar questions about his health when he ran against Sen. Barack Obama in 2008. Let’s remember that there was some ghastly whispering going on about whether he suffered too much emotional trauma as a Vietnam War prisoner for more than five years. Plus, he had been treated for cancer. His health became an issue.

Hillary Clinton will be roughly the same age as Reagan and McCain when they ran for president. Let’s keep these health issues in their proper perspective. Igniting mean-spirited gossip about potential “brain injury” isn’t the way to examine an important issue.

Rain isn't heading off water-use restriction

They’re talking openly now in Tarrant County about imposing mandatory water-use restrictions.

And this is in light of recent rainfall that has damped the ground and lifted spirits in the Metroplex.

Meanwhile, way up yonder — here in the Texas Panhandle — we’re still bone dry and there’s no serious talk about mandatory restrictions.


Are we in that good of shape regarding our water resources?

Amarillo city officials keep talking about us having 200 to 300 years of water available. They have some voluntary plans in place. Gosh, I don’t mean to be a spoil-sport, but these voluntary measures aren’t getting the job done.

City water use is still exceeding the goals set by the Utilities Department. That means Amarillo residents aren’t taking the hint: Don’t use so much water, because we’re draining our aquifer much more quickly than it can recharge.

I am willing to adhere to mandatory restrictions. My yard already is looking pretty dismal compared to most of our neighbors, given that I don’t own an automatic irrigation system. Frankly, I’m not that competitive about appearances.

So, bring on the mandate, City Hall.

By the way, I’m still praying for rain.

Big Dog defends his wife

Karl Rove, you have messed with the wrong politician.

Remember when Bill Clinton told us in 1992 that if Americans elected him we’d get “two for the price of one,” meaning that we’d get his wife as part of the package?

Americans did elect the Arkansas governor and his wife has emerged as a political force of nature in her own right. Thus, it became quite problematic for Rove to suggest that Hillary Rodham Clinton — the wife of the former president — had suffered a potentially seriously brain injury when she took a spill in 2012.


Enter the ex-president, who has come roaring out in defense of his wife. When you are critical of one Clinton, Mr. Rove, you’d better be ready to take on the other one.

“First they said she faked her concussion and now they say she is auditioning for her part on ‘The Walking Dead,’” Clinton said Wednesday in remarks to Gwen Ifill of PBS.

Ah, yes. The “faked” injury. You’ll remember that one, too. She took the spill and Republicans said the then-secretary of state staged some kind of bogus accident to divert attention from the Benghazi attack.

Rove now has denied saying what he said. He denied saying Hillary Clinton had suffered “brain damage.” No, but he did wonder why Mrs. Clinton reappeared after the fall wearing eyeglasses, which he said suggested she had suffered a “brain injury.” Brain “damage” or “injury,” to my mind the terms mean essentially the same thing.

President Clinton has put it all in perspective. “You can’t get too upset about it, it’s just the beginning,” he said. Hmmm. Is that a harbinger of an announcement from his wife that everyone expects … that she’s going to run for president in 2016?

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.

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