You want pictures? I have pictures!

I’ve been traveling some in the past few weeks. We returned home on June 14 and now I have some photographic proof of where I spent five weeks.

Our Group Study Exchange team departed West Texas on May 9. The exchange, sponsored by the Rotary International Foundation, ended on June 7. I stayed over a few extra days to vacation with my wife.

But check out the link that accompanies this blog post and see a little of the Holy Land.

I was told repeatedly that this would be the “trip of a lifetime.” It turned out to be every bit of that — and more.

To see all photos, click here.

Why did the goose cross the road?

The world has no shortage of Canada geese.

A recent letter to the editor complained about how Amarillo Animal Control officers sought to round up the feathered visitors near Duniven Lake, between Olsen Boulevard and Interstate 40. Seems the geese are congregating there lately.

A couple of days later, I was driving east on Olsen when, lo and behold, I had to stop to allow about three dozen geese to cross the street. Among the birds were several goslings not yet big enough to fly.

I was heartened to see other motorists yielding to the birds as well.

But the sight of the birds did bring to mind the complaint that the letter writer made, which basically was: What were the Animal Control officers thinking? You can’t round up these birds, which aren’t domesticated.

Frankly, I don’t mind slowing — or even stopping — for these birds. It gives me a nice diversion from the hustle and bustle of getting somewhere.

Turn out the lights …

Do you know how to build relationships within your neighborhood?

Turn out the lights.

How do I know this? My house was one of several hundred in southwest Amarillo that went dark for several hours Thursday evening while crews worked to restore electrical service. An automobile wreck cut service in much of that part of the city.

How did many of us on our street spend the time when our homes were dark? We went outside. Some of us worked in our yard. At the west end of our street, perhaps three or four households all had poured onto their front yards, with the young children playing with each other as dusk settled in over the Panhandle.

Air conditioning and rear-entry driveways have helped damaged neighborhood fellowship. The AC keeps us cool during these hot summer days and early evenings. The rear-entry drives mean we don’t have much interaction with neighbors when we get home after work.

So, when someone blows out the power for any length of time, go outside and enjoy your neighbors’ company. At least we will all have something to talk about.

Jackson had an impact, all right

I’m steeling myself for the next few days of non-stop tributes to Michael Jackson, and the impact he had on American pop culture.

Nothing will persuade me of that fact more than my memory of an extraordinary event in a community where I once lived. That event tells me all I need to know about what Jackson meant to American youth.

It was the summer of 1984. I had just moved to Texas, settling into a new job way down yonder in Beaumont. Jackson was at the peak of his popularity. “Thriller” had come out and billions of kids around the world — including my then-10-year-old son — began moonwalking their way across the planet.

The operators of Parkdale Mall — Beaumont’s version of Westgate Mall — had this bright idea: Why not stage a Michael Jackson Impersonator contest? So, they announced plans to invite every Michael Jackson wannabe to the mall to participate in this competition.

The Jackson knock-offs came, all right. Hundreds of them, in fact. Then the mall operators’ worst nightmare began to unfold before their eyes: They didn’t have enough room to accommodate the impersonators and the crowd of spectators, numbering in the thousands, that had come to witness this event.

We can’t go on, the mall gurus said. So, they announced to the huge crowd that had packed the common area inside Parkdale Mall, that the event would have to be postponed until they could locate a larger venue.

All hell broke loose! The crowd rioted. The police were called in to quell the disturbance. The Beaumont Police Department arrested several rioters.

And this was because of the crowd would be deprived of the chance to watch a bunch of Michael Jackson pretenders strut and kick and dance their way across a stage.

I shudder to think what would have happened if Jackson himself had canceled a concert in Beaumont. They would have burned the place to the ground.

Did this guy have an impact on pop culture? You bet.

Oh, and my son — who turns 35 in a couple of weeks — can still moonwalk with the best of ’em.

Glass houses can, and do, shatter

Enough, already.

South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford’s announcement today that he cheated on his wife brings down yet another high-profile Republican politician who once stood foursquare in favor of “family values.”

He joins Nevada Sen. John Ensign, who admitted to something similar just the other day. Then we have Louisiana Sen. David Vitter, who consorted with a hooker in Washington, D.C. Florida Rep. Mark Foley embarrassed his party when he sent lurid e-mail messages to young male pages in the U.S. Capitol.

I agree that Democrats are guilty as well of this foolishness. Former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer took a tumble with a hooker; former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards admitted to cheating on his wife, Elizabeth, while she was battling breast cancer and then we have that former president who messed around with the intern while serving as Leader of the Free World.

But pardon me for sounding extra harsh on these latest announcements. Sanford and Ensign have held themselves up as paragons of virtue, only to be exposed as anything but. And that’s the problem with the party under which they serve.

Can we now call a halt to these lectures on morality?

Ware preaches Patriotism 101

Potter County Judge Arthur Ware wears his patriotism on his sleeve, right next to the Marine sergeant’s stripes he wore while serving in Operation Desert Storm.

Ware doesn’t want to remove the M-60 tank that’s been parked next to the county courthouse since 1993. He calls it a memorial to those who have served, and fallen, in defense of the country. The tank, which Ware said is on loan from the Department of Defense, might have to move to another location. Where? That’s not clear.

The county is restoring the courthouse, largely with money obtained from the Texas Historical Commission. Ware doesn’t like being dictated to by the THC about what he believes is a local matter — namely the tank. But if the THC digs in its heels and orders the county to relocate the tank, then it will cost money that Ware believes should be spent on restoring the courthouse. Ware doesn’t want to spend the money on tank removal. He wants the tank to stay where it is, as a testament to those who have defended the nation.

Ware sent me an e-mail this morning, which he said included an inscription on a C-ration box found at Khe Sanh after the heroic Tet offensive siege of early 1968. “Freedom has a special meaning for those who have fought for it, that the protected will never know,” the message said.

I get that.

But it’s worth wondering whether this is a battle worth waging. Wherever the tank goes, it should stand as a fitting memorial.

We can’t hear you, commissioners

Potter County commissioners are meeting these days at the top of the Santa Fe Building, while the county courthouse is being restored down the street. The new digs — in the refurbished auditorium on the 11th floor of the Santa Fe Building — are nice.

But, man, the acoustics in the room are terrible.

Commissioners chatted among themselves, and to staff members Monday — and the audience was left in the dark. And when County Auditor Kerry Hood — she of the soft voice — spoke to County Judge Arthur Ware about a matter under consideration for county action, members of the public couldn’t understand a word she was saying.

“Speak up, Kerry. We can’t hear you,” came a plea from the audience.

The room is a giant echo chamber. Add to that echo the incessant hum of the air conditioner, you get a situation that needs improvement if these public meetings are going to conduct business in the open.

Commissioners will be meeting at the Santa Fe Building until mid- to late 2011, when the courthouse project is expected to be completed. There’s time to fix the acoustics, gentlemen of the commissioners court.

Rest in peace, Jim Holston

I’m saddened today.

A good man has passed away and Amarillo has one less gentle soul among its ranks.

Jim Holston was involved in hospice care for decades. He battled openly and courageously for years against prostate cancer. I recall seeing him one day at a downtown lunch spot and he spoke matter-of-factly about the struggle he was having with the disease.

Perhaps it was his hospice training that enabled him to talk so crisply — even cheerfully — about a potentially fatal illness.

But Jim was great conversationalist no matter the topic, and he always had a good word to pass along whenever our paths crossed.

Jim’s family and friends will gather at 2 p.m. Saturday at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church to celebrate his wonderful life.

I’m guessing that Jim would want it to be a happy event. It won’t be hard to keep smiling. It will be difficult, though, to keep my eyes dry.

Who’s the pest, the fly or PETA?

I will admit that I cannot prove this, but — so help me — I saw this complaint coming the moment I saw the president kill that pesky fly.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has griped that President Obama shouldn’t have killed the fly that was annoying him during a televised interview in the White House.

PETA, which makes its annoying presence felt in the Panhandle from time to time, said Obama instead should have captured the fly and released it into the great outdoors. Even flies, PETA said, deserve to be treated with respect, love and compassion.

The president, of course, didn’t do as PETA had wanted. He waited for the fly to land on his arm, then he took it out — thwapp!! — with a single blow. “I got that sucker,” he boasted to MSNBC’s John Harwood.

Good for you, Mr. President.

The world now has one less fly. But rest assured, our planet has no shortage of them.

Recycling becomes a way of life

Keep Amarillo Beautiful needs to hire some of the kids I saw in Jerusalem recently.

I was sitting in a sidewalk cafe in the Old City. Then I looked up and saw two boys patrolling empty tables, looking for plastic bottles. They grabbed all the bottles they could find and tossed them into a bag.

Recycling is a way of life in Israel. Israelis recycle plastic bottles, glass bottles, newspapers, aluminum cans — and water. It’s the water recycling that is most interesting. You can see Israeli homemakers pouring water they had used in cooking their vegetables onto their gardens.

The recycling emphasis reminds me of my former home state of Oregon, which in the 1970s enacted a “Bottle Bill” that pays money for bottles and cans returned to grocery stores.

Keep Amarillo Beautiful, the brainchild of Dusty McGuire, does a decent job of promoting these efforts here. But it hasn’t sold it yet on the population at large, which still is tossing a large quantity of these materials into the trash can, only to be hauled off to the landfill where it is buried forever.

What the city needs are a few dedicated kids to take these bottles, cans and newspapers to the nearest recycling bin.