Godspeed, Scott Carpenter

And then there was one.

Of the seven men chosen initially to explore space on behalf of the United States, only John Glenn remains with us. Scott Carpenter, the second American astronaut to orbit Earth, died today at age 88.

Now only Glenn is left. The former U.S. senator from Ohio, in 1998, became the oldest man to fly in space when he took part in a mission aboard the shuttle Discovery.


Carpenter had just one flight into space. It was on May 24, 1962 aboard Aurora 7, the tiny Mercury capsule that made three orbits around the planet. Carpenter’s capsule splashed down off the Puerto Rico coast, but missed the mark by a couple hundred miles. The world waited as Navy ships searched the ocean before finding Carpenter safe and sound after his harrowing mission.

Those were the days, of course, before we took space flight for granted. That was before it all became “routine,” as if soaring off a launch pad atop a flaming rocket, accelerating to 17,000 mph ever was like walking your dog through the neighborhood.

My mother and I would get up early in those days to await those launches. We’d wait literally for hours on end in some cases. In the case of Glenn’s flight, we waited several days as one glitch after another resulted in the flight being “scrubbed” for the day.

Carpenter, and the six men chosen with him, embodied the can-do spirit of the time. We were involved in a space race with the Soviet Union, which had launched the first satellite in 1957 and put the first man into space in 1961. We were still playing catch-up when Carpenter took off. But we got to the moon first and, well, the rest is history.

Speaking of “can-do spirit,” recall that Donald “Deke” Slayton was one of the Mercury Seven, but he was grounded because of a heart murmur. He remained on active flight status until 1975 when he finally got the “go” sign from NASA and he took part in the joint Apollo-Soyuz mission that hooked up with the Soviet spaceship 200 or so miles above the earth’s surface.

Scott Carpenter and his fellow space travelers helped bring a generation of young Americans — such as me — along for a glorious ride into the unknown.

John Glenn is the last of that illustrious corps of explorers.

Just as Carpenter famously said “Godspeed, John Glenn” as his colleague took off in February 1962, let us now wish Godspeed to Scott Carpenter on his own final journey.

Worse than ‘dog poop’? Really, Rep. Grayson?

So … just how frustrated are members of Congress getting these days?

U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Fla., took the floor of the House of Representatives on Wednesday and said congressional Republicans’ standing in the polls ranks them below “dog poop and toenail fungus.”

Oh, please.

An Arizona state legislator recently compared President Barack Obama directly to Adolf Hitler, which ought to qualify as the supreme insult to civilized human beings everywhere. She has refused to take back her nasty reference.

Grayson’s outburst on the House floor isn’t new for the Florida blowhard. He served a single term in the House before losing his seat in 2010. He was elected once more in 2012 and has picked up where he left off, blustering with hyperbolic references to his political foes.

Grayson fits into that category of national politician who is in love with the sound of his voice and just cannot get to a TV camera quickly enough.

The government shutdown is dragging on. Polling data suggest Congress’s public standing indeed has reached record-low levels. While Grayson and other gasbags are making headlines with idiotic references to their political foes, there appears to be some movement to ending this shutdown and lifting the federal budget debt ceiling — which is the really big deal in all of this bluster.

These times require serious men and women to speak seriously to us about how they intend to govern. Alan Grayson does not fit that category of public official.

Is it true? Can there finally be a budget breakthrough?

I try to remain optimistic on most matters, even those things relating to politics, policy and the federal government.

Therefore, the glimmer of hope we’re seeing late Wednesday about a possible budget breakthrough strengthens me enough to want to face another day.


President Obama is meeting Thursday with key congressional leaders of both parties to start hammering out a deal to reopen part of the government and avoid the cataclysm that would occur if the government fails to increase its debt limit.

Turns out the chairman of the House Budget Committee, former GOP vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan, may have a way out of this mess. It involves a short-term spending resolution that is supposed to buy the principals time to hammer out a deal on “entitlement reform.”

Will there ever be a long-term funding solution that avoids this kind of ridiculousness in the future? That remains to be seen.

At least everyone is talking to each other.

Let’s get this deal done.

GOP fails to heed the message

Two new polls should turn congressional Republicans downright apoplectic.

The Associated Press/GFK poll puts congressional approval at 5 percent. That’s bad enough. Now comes a new Gallup Poll that says 28 percent of Americans have a favorable view of the GOP, a record low for the Gallup organization.


To be sure, Democrats aren’t faring much better. Public opinion surveys are blaming Congress — not the White House or the president — for the government mess that now threatens to blow the economy to smithereens.

And by Congress, I mean members of both parties.

However, since Republicans control the budget-writing arm of the legislative branch — the House of Representatives — they are going to get bulk of the blame if the parties fail to agree on a way to reopen parts of the government and increase the nation’s debt ceiling.


Some of us keep harping on the obvious: The GOP strategy, which has been all but abandoned, of trying to link defunding of the Affordable Care Act to approving a new budget is a sure loser. Smart Republicans keep harping on that to the wild-eyed crazies comprising the tea party wing of their party.

Now they’re messing with the debt limit, even suggesting that defaulting on our nation’s financial obligations isn’t that big of a deal.

I do believe it is a very big deal.

Failure to resolve this matter is going to wipe out what’s left of the GOP’s paltry support.

Where have privacy and etiquette gone?

I consider myself to be a fairly modern man.

However, I do find some aspects of modern culture more than a bit off-putting. I’ll give you an example of something I witnessed this morning. Maybe you’ll agree. If you disagree, well, too bad.

My weekday mornings usually start with a workout at the health club to which I belong. I am up before the sun rises over the Texas Panhandle Caprock and I head down the street, turn the corner and am at the gym in five minutes. I like to get my exercise in at that time of the morning because no one ever calls me; nothing gets in my way. I have no pressing business before the crack of dawn. I usually leave my cell phone at home.

I finished my workout this morning, was getting dressed in the locker room and I heard some young man blabbing on his cellphone — as he was sitting in the hot tub, presumably to relax or relieve tension or do something therapeutic. But he was chatting up a storm, in a voice loud enough for everyone in the locker room to hear.

It occurred to me at that moment that the young man had no sense of, shall we say, privacy. I cannot remember a single thing he said this morning on his cell phone, but it strikes that telecommunications technology has removed much of modern society’s sense of doing some things in private.

Having a personal telephone conversation used to be one of those things. No more. Now mundane, inane, profoundly meaningless conversations become everyone’s business — or at least the business of those who are within earshot in places, such as health club locker rooms, where one doesn’t necessarily need to hear these things.

You want more ranting? Here it comes.

This demonstration of the loss of privacy is just one aspect of cell phone technology that has coarsened society.

How many times have you walked into a restaurant and witnessed a table full of individuals in which everyone at the table is holding a device and texting someone who is not sitting at the table? No one is talking to each other. They’re all communicating with someone far, far away.

And I think at this point I’ll mention as an aside that many men no longer remove their hats when they sit down to eat. I always thought that was mandatory in polite society. Wasn’t it?

My wife and I recently spent some time at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla., where we witnessed more than one young parent sending text messages on their devices while their kids were tugging on their clothes, trying to get their attention, seeking some assurance that their wait in line was about to end.

Ah, modern society is great. I’m trying to adjust to it. I’m getting a handle on a lot of what technology is throwing at me. I think I’ll cling to what I still consider “normal behavior.”

Yapping on a cell phone while sitting in a public locker room hot tub doesn’t qualify as normal.

Immigrants’ tuition becomes key issue

I am appalled at the four major Republican candidates for Texas lieutenant governor.

First, state Sen. Dan Patrick runs an ad alleging he is the “only” candidate for that office who opposes in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants. Not true, say the other three.

The incumbent lieutenant governor, David Dewhurst, says he’s never supported in-state tuition for these students; Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples, who served in the Senate and voted for the issue in 2001, now says he opposes it; Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson has called Patrick a liar and says he never backed the issue.


These guys make me sick.

The only prominent Texas Republican who stands out on this issue is Gov. Rick Perry.

Perry and other immigration reformers have supported granting in-state tuition privileges to Texas high school graduates and college applicants who happened to have moved here as children of parents who came here illegally.

It wasn’t their fault that their parents entered the state without legal documentation. They merely grew up and came of age as Texans. They attended high school, they graduated and applied for entrance into a Texas college or university. They have been accepted and plan to continue their lives as productive residents of the only place they’ve known as home.

Why punish these young people because of something their parents did?

Yet, we hear now from the four GOP candidates for Texas lieutenant governor that none of them supports this compassionate measure. They’re trying to out-menace each other at the expense of young Texans seeking to make good lives for themselves.


Bring ‘CR’ to a vote … and reopen government if it passes

President Obama laid it out there for all to see and hear.

If the speaker of the House of Representatives is right, that a continuing resolution to fund the government lacks the votes in the House, then put the issue to a vote to decide this matter. Period.

Speaker John Boehner keeps insisting the continuing resolution doesn’t have enough support to pass. With that, we’re supposed to take his word for it. Never mind that some independent analysts have suggested at least 22 Republican House members would vote “yes” on a CR, putting the issue over the top assuming all Democratic lawmakers would vote for it.

The president held a news conference today and spelled out as plainly as possible: Put the issue to a vote and let’s find out who’s right.

It cannot be that hard for the speaker to bring the matter up for a vote of the full House. He is the speaker, the Man of the House, the guy with the gavel. Do it, Mr. Speaker.

Then he and the rest of his gang can get back to an even more serious matter: raising the debt ceiling to enable the U.S. government to keep paying its bills.

Obama used some strong language today in excoriating what he called a “radical” bunch of GOP lawmakers. He accused them of extorting the government to get their way.

We’ll raise the debt ceiling, but only if we get everything we want. That’s how Obama framed their argument. Is that wrong? Isn’t that what they’re demanding? Has he misrepresented their argument? I think not on all counts.

If they don’t get what they want, the nation defaults on its obligations, it refuses to spend money already appropriated by Congress, its credit rating gets downgraded — again — and the markets are going to react very badly, taking a lot of retirement account balances into the crapper.

First things first. Vote on the continuing resolution to determine who’s got the votes. If it passes — which I’m betting it would — the government can get back to functioning fully.

Bring on the red-light cameras

Amarillo city officials are about to expand the use of those pesky red-light cameras in use to catch those who ignore the command to stop at red lights.

Go for it, City Hall.

I’ve been all for the cameras since their initial deployment about six years ago. Too many motorists these days seem to believe the red light hanging from the power lines over the intersection is a suggestion, or a request, to stop their vehicle. No, it’s an order. Where I come from, lawful orders are meant to be followed.

The city will impose a grace period that will last until Nov. 1. After that date, the city gets serious with the new cameras.

I’ve long thought that public knowledge of the red-light cameras has enhanced motorists’ awareness. If a motorist knows — or believes — an intersection is being patrolled by an electronic device, he or she is likely to be more obedient when the red light glows at them from above.

No, the cameras aren’t the perfect solution. Indeed, the city is deploying the new devices because of continued law-breaking by motorists. The city has used the revenue generated to help pay for the additional cameras as well as enhance other areas of traffic management — which state law requires of cities that use these cameras.

Past city commissions have shown a tendency toward passivity at times when issues like this arise. The current commission has taken on the challenge, just as those who sat on the commission immediately prior to them.

One bit of good news comes from City Traffic Engineer Jerry Bird, who says recidivism is low, meaning that those who get cited by the city aren’t repeating. Fine. Keep them deployed.

Flooding produces some benefit

I truly do not wish bad things to happen to my fellow Americans in nearby states.

However, I noticed something the other morning on a local TV news broadcast that suggests that the Texas Panhandle has received some benefit from the misery inflicted on our neighbors northwest of us in Colorado.

The deluge that destroyed so much property and took those lives north of Boulder a few weeks ago has produced a dramatic rise in the levels of Lake Meredith, about 50 miles north of Amarillo. KAMR-TV, the local NBC affiliate, runs a weather crawl when it broadcasts local news in the morning. Until the flooding inundated Colorado, the Lake Meredith water level as shown on the crawl had bottomed out at something just below 27 feet.

Monday morning, the lake level registered on the crawl put the water at 33-plus feet. That’s a nearly 7-foot increase in the water at Lake Meredith.

OK, it’s not much of an increase, given the lake’s historic high of 100-plus feet in the early 1970s.

It’s a start — perhaps — to a change in fortune at the manmade reservoir.

The water has rushed down the Front Range of the Rockies, onto the High Plains, into the Canadian River, which feeds Lake Meredith. Perhaps even better news would be that whatever water hasn’t flowed into the lake has seeped into the Ogallala Aquifer, which also has been depleted over many years.

I just wish now that the Almighty would grant us some more moisture — without inflicting such pain upstream.

I think I’ll pray some more.

Patrick tells only part of in-state tuition story

State Sen. Dan Patrick of Houston has launched his first TV ad touting his candidacy for Texas lieutenant governor.

Wouldn’t you know it, he distorts a critical issue in this still-developing campaign. He said he is the “only candidate to oppose in-state tuition for illegal immigrants.”


Good for him.

Except to say in-state tuition applies to all “illegal immigrants” ignores a key provision that’s been supported by the likes of former Gov. George W. Bush, current Gov. Rick Perry and other reasonable Republicans. The provision applies to those immigrants who came to Texas as children, those who were brought here by their parents, those who have grown up as Texans.

Back in late 2011, when Perry was running for the GOP presidential nomination, he got in trouble with the far right of his party when he spoke out in favor of granting in-state tuition to those immigrants. He stood firm against the criticism, to his great credit.

I see nothing wrong with granting those Texans who came here as children and who qualify academically for entrance into our many fine public colleges and universities the same tuition rates as granted to other Texans.

They have grown up as Texans and Americans. Give them the education they deserve at a price they can afford.

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