Concussion plague could doom football

I’m not predicting it, but the snowballing of news about concussions among professional football players could signal an end to the game as we’ve known it since its inception.

Former Chicago Bears quarterback Jim McMahon — one of the game’s more colorful characters — is suffering from early-onset dementia likely caused by the many hits he took while playing the game.

He’s not alone. Many others have reported suffering similar symptoms. Their ranks are growing right along with the numbers of tragic consequences.

Should the game be declared too dangerous to continue? No. But oh brother, the debate over how to compensate these athletes is just now getting revved up.

The National Football League this week announced a settlement that provides $765 million in relief to battered players. The PBS program Frontline is set to explore the subject in detail in a two-hour special to be shown on Oct. 8 (at 8 p.m., on KACV-TV).

The concussion problem likely isn’t new. It’s been a part of the game since its founding. These days, though, the players are bigger, faster and stronger than ever. They hit harder. Human skulls, however, haven’t gotten more durable. They’re the same as they’ve always been: susceptible to damage caused by repeated blows to the head.

This national discussion is not going to fade away any time soon. Nor should it.

The men who play professional football, it now seems apparent, are putting their lives on the line when they suit up. Yes, they’re big and strong and they play the game likely understanding the consequences of getting hit repeatedly by their equally big and strong colleagues.

That doesn’t make it any easier to hear stories like the one Jim McMahon and many others are telling about their slow decline toward death.

‘Energy independence’ gets a little closer

Let’s look back about, oh, two years.

Gasoline prices were rocketing skyward. The U.S. government was under fire for failing to do more to encourage domestic oil exploration and production. Republicans across the land were lampooning the Democratic president for his abject failure to draw us closer to the day when we wouldn’t have to depend on foreign sources to run our industries and fuel our vehicles.

Now comes word that the Gross Domestic Product grew at an annual rate of 2.5 percent, which is greater than what economists predicted. The cause of that spike in GDP growth? Domestic oil production.

Interesting, don’t you think?

Domestic oil production is at a 17-year high, according to White House economists. Are they being objective? Well, no neutral observer has questioned the numbers.

There’s plenty of anecdotal evidence in West Texas to make the point. The Permian Basin boasts the lowest jobless rate in the state. The reason? The huge demand for oil-related jobs.

I’ve been talking to friends and acquaintances with business interests in the Midland-Odessa area and they all say the same thing: You can’t get housing there; hotel rooms are booked up; those high-rise Midland skyscrapers, the ones built in the 1970s that went vacant when the oil industry crashed in the mid-1980s, have filled up again with tenants.

But don’t rely on that kind of chatter. There appears to be plenty of hard evidence of a turnaround.

All of this bodes pretty well for the United States as Americans watch with intense interest in developments in the Middle East. Egypt looked on the verge of exploding once again. Syria remains a serious question mark for the United States. No one can predict with any certainty what will happen in a region of the world from which we still get a lot of our oil.

Meanwhile, the pump jacks are still working hard here at home. North Dakota is becoming the next “Texas” and/or “Alaska.” Reports indicate an oil field discovery there that will dwarf the reserves known to lie under the Saudi sand.

And I haven’t even mentioned all the “alternative energy” sources being developed, such as the Panhandle wind farms.

Why are the critics so quiet these days?

On the agenda at Amarillo 101: water

The more I think about it, the more I like the idea of being invited to attend an upcoming primer on Amarillo City Hall.

It’s going to last eight weeks and it will cover a lot of ground. I’ve seen the agenda for the next several weeks and I’m struck by the amount of time we’re going to spend on water issues — which for my money rank as the most critical long-term issue facing the city.

One session will take place at the Osage Water Treatment Plant. It’s going to cover water production, treatment and transmission, wastewater treatment, surface water treatment and the ever-important conservation program called “Every Drop Counts.”

I’ve toured the Osage plant. About two years ago, City Manager Jarrett Atkinson — no slouch on water management issues — and Utilities Director Emmitt Autrey took me on a comprehensive day-long tour of virtually the entire city water infrastructure. We looked at new wells under construction as well as the water treatment plant.

I was amazed then at how much water is processed each day. I can’t recite the amount at this moment, but the volume was simply staggering.

My hope during this early October session will be to get an answer to what I believe is the threshold question for the city: What circumstances would have to occur to require the city to mandate water conservation measures for every resident and business in Amarillo? A follow-up question would be: Are we getting close to that point?

The city’s water-rights-acquisition campaign has secured a lot of water for Amarillo. I keep hearing that we’re positioned well for the next 100 or so years. But then what?

I’m not inclined to spend too much time worrying beyond my own lifespan or even that of my kids and grandkids. The thought of Amarillo drying up because we weren’t far-sighted enough right now, however, does give me the nervous jerks.

I am hoping for some answers as to whether we’re looking that far into the future.

Syria strike mission must send clear message

It took Dallas Morning News editorial writer and blogger Todd Robberson some space and time to make his point, but his fundamental message on a potential strike against Syria is spot on.

We’ve got to hit the Syrians know that gassing their civilian population is unequivocally, without a shadow of a doubt and utterly wrong — and never must be repeated.

President Obama has laid down the marker. He said Syria crossed the “red line” when it used chemical weapons on civilians, namely women and children. He’s called it a violation of “international norms.” Secretary of State John Kerry called it a “moral outrage.”

The British Parliament has voted against Great Britain taking part in a military strike, which leaves the United States with the option of pursuing this mission basically alone.

Critics here at home, on the left and the right, are questioning the wisdom of such a strike.

But as Robberson says in his blog, U.S. credibility is on the line if it doesn’t do what it seems to be preparing to do.

Robberson writes: “Some warn that we shouldn’t intervene in Syria unless and until we have a clear military objective. We actually do have a clear military objective: To hit key Syrian military outposts, cripple their air force and send an unmistakable message to Assad that he will suffer severely if he ever contemplates using chemical weapons again. We’re not talking about putting troops on the ground or helicopters and planes overhead. Nor are we talking about lobbing a few cruise missiles into an open field the way we did in Afghanistan.

“We are talking about very precise, very loud and very destructive missiles capable of delivering an unmistakable message to a mass murderer.”

The commander in chief has a capable military apparatus at his disposal. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has said his warriors are ready when they get the order to strike.

We must hit the Syrians hard.

‘No doubt’ about chemical weapons

I’m hearing it already, the talk that compares the impending strike against Syria to the March 2003 invasion of Iraq and the faulty intelligence — some call it outright lying about it — that supposedly justified the toppling of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

Let’s hold on a minute.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said this week there is no doubt, none, that Syrian government forces gassed civilians, including infants. President Obama says that he has no intention of getting into a ground war, that he would use airstrikes only to punish Syria for using the chemical weapons in violation of “international norms.”

How does that differ from a decade ago? Well, the Bush administration said it had intelligence confirming that Saddam Hussein had chemical weapons. President Bush’s military high command assembled an invasion force to enter the country, to occupy it and to get rid of the weapons. It turned out the weapons didn’t exist. U.S. forces eventually found Hussein hiding in a “spiderhole.” He was tried for crimes against humanity in an Iraqi court and hanged. But we stayed on, and on, and on — fighting to gain control of the country before handing it over to the Iraqi government.

It’s good to ask: Does anyone really believe the Obama administration, knowing what happened when it was learned that the intelligence gathered before the Iraq War was so bad, that it’s going to repeat that horrible mistake this time around? Is it going to risk the most intense worldwide condemnation imaginable if it isn’t certain that Syrian dictator Bashar al Assad’s forces used the chemicals on innocent civilians? I hardly think so.

The Iraq War was launched on false pretenses. The Syrian strikes — if they come — are certain to be based on much stronger evidence than we ever gathered before marching headlong into Iraq.

And we’re worried about Miley and the next Batman?

Allow me to chime in on a growing chorus around the country that’s becoming fed up with the all-consuming nature of our fascination with pop culture.

My network of social media “friends,” professional and personal acquaintances and even some folks I barely know are chiming in with messages saying something like this:

Why should we care one damn bit whether Miley Cyrus gyrated like a porn star on national TV or that Ben Affleck has been selected to play Batman in the next movie of the same name? Why should we care when Syria is threatening to explode all over the Middle East, or that some folks in government want to shut Washington, D.C. down in order to deny money to a controversial health care plan or that the economy is continuing to produce jobs at too slow a rate?

I’ve already said my piece — on Facebook — about Miley Cyrus and I won’t type another word about her … starting right now. The next Batman? I personally don’t care who plays Gotham City’s hero, given that I haven’t seen any of other Batman flicks to come out in the past 15 years — or however long it’s been.

It does bother me greatly, though, that popular culture does gobble up so much of our time. By “our,” I mean the media, which reflects the public’s taste. The Internet Age has spawned an infinite array of websites devoted to pop culture. They have their fans who are entitled to consume whatever they wish from those sites.

If I’m reading my social media network correctly, my assorted acquaintances seem annoyed with the so-called “mainstream media” obsession with these stories that amount to so little of actual importance. If that’s their concern, I’m with them.

These stories have worn me out. I don’t mean to come off as a snob, but I prefer to save my emotional energy for issues that really matter.

Going back to school to study Amarillo 101

I’m heading back to school, so to speak.

Sad to say I’ll miss the first day of class, but I’ll pick it up on Day Two and then go with it the rest of the way. It ought to be an interesting endeavor.

Amarillo City Hall has invited me to be part of a class called Amarillo 101. Its aim is to teach its students about the basics of what makes City Hall tick. I’ve been able to watch our city government up close in my job as a daily journalist, which I did in Amarillo for nearly 18 years before leaving that job in August 2012. I’ve been a freelance blogger and part-time employee in other pursuits ever since.

Frankly, I’m flattered that City Hall would ask a washed-up journalist to take part in this exercise. I don’t claim to know everything about how the city provides service to its 195,000 or so residents. I know a good bit about it. What I don’t know I’ll learn.

The first session is going to go over a lot of the city organizational structure, its history, charter, the City Commission, open meetings, the Amarillo Economic Development Corporation and the Public Information Act. The second session will cover some hands-on duties, such as driving a trash pickup truck, a bus, operating a knuckle-boom truck and operating a backhoe.

There’ll be other sessions covering how the city spends our tax money and we’ll get a tour of the city’s newly rebuilt Rick Husband Amarillo International Airport. We’ll also talk about the Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone and public improvement districts.

I did something similar years ago when I went through an 11-week Citizens Police Academy. That gig, I’ll tell you, was a serious blast.

I might be too old to do a lot of things, but as they say, you’re never too old to learn something.

I’m looking forward to peeking under the City Hall tent.

That settles it: Australia, here we come

This is another in an occasional series of blog posts commenting on the onset of retirement.

Honest to goodness, my wife and I declared some years ago that our first overseas trip after retirement would be to Australia.

A recent study listing the world’s most livable cities confirms our choice to be a wise one.

The Economist Intelligence Unit cited Melbourne as the world’s most livable city. Also on the top 10 list of desirable cities were Sydney, Adeleide and Perth.

With that, I’m quite certain now that we’ll head way, way west and way, way south for our first trip abroad once we decide to quit working for a living.

It takes a good bit of time to get there by airplane. I hear it’s about a 24-hour journey all told, counting stops in, say, Los Angeles and perhaps Honolulu en route.

Even better news is that we have a friend who lives in Adelaide who I am hoping will extend some hospitality our way when the time comes. We used to be acquainted with a fellow in Perth — in Western Australia — but we’ve since lost touch with him. Too bad, I guess.

Our overseas travel plans also include a return to Israel, where we have several friends we want to see again; we hope to return to Greece, where we visited together twice in 2000 and 2001 — and where Kathy once described as one place on Planet Earth she could see again and again; we’ve also acquired friends in The Netherlands and Germany who already have extended invitations to us.

Australia, though, has been a Land of Mystery to me since I was a kid. I have wanted to see it up close since the time my father actually considered taking a job opportunity in a coastal city, Rockhampton. I was about 13 or 14 at the time and I read volumes of material about Australia thinking — no, hoping — Dad would take the job. He didn’t.

“We feel immensely proud that Australia’s fastest growing city has again been recognized as the most livable city in the world,” Agent-General for the Victorian Government in Britain Geoffrey Conaghan said in an emailed statement to

The Economist Intelligence Unit survey cited the city’s health care, infrastructure, culture and environment as factors contributing to its livability. That’s good enough for me.

The least livable cities in the world? How about Damascus, Tripoli and Cairo — all torn to shreds by civil war and bloodshed?

I will need no persuading to stay away from any of those hellholes. We do, after all, have our travel vehicle set to take us to view the splendor of our very own continent.

March on DC event lacked bipartisan flavor

I watched a lot of the 50th anniversary celebration of the March on Washington event this week and came away with a single disappointment.

There was no sign of leading Republicans at the speaker’s podium.

Of course, leave it to the likes of Fox News loudmouth Bill O’Reilly to claim falsely that “no Republicans were invited” to speak.

Turns out there were invitations extended. Former Presidents George H.W. Bush and his son, George W. Bush, got invited but declined — understandably — for health reasons. House Speaker John Boehner and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor were invited, but couldn’t attend because of “scheduling conflicts.” Same is true, I suppose, for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

The scheduling conflict dodge does bother me. All of these individuals knew long ago that this event was on the calendar. If they wanted to attend this event, they certainly could have had their schedulers ensure they would be available to take part — don’t you think?

Absent their presence anywhere near the DC Mall this week, many of the speeches were tinged with a bit too much partisan rancor from those who argued against legislation to make voting more restrictive, which is a largely Republican initiative being pushed on Capitol Hill and in state capitol buildings throughout the South — and that includes Texas.

There once was a time, about 50 years ago, when Democrats and Republicans locked arms for a single cause, which was equality for all Americans. I was hoping the two parties could put aside their differences to mark the 50th anniversary of one of the great days of the American civil rights movement.

Maybe next time.

Too bad Hasan got his wish

Nidal Hasan got his wish.

A military court has sentenced the Fort Hood mass murderer to death by lethal injection. The one-time U.S. Army major and Muslim extremist who killed 13 people in that horrific Fort Hood massacre in 2009, wants to go out as a martyr, which is what he perceives his faith entitles him.

Hasan acted as his own attorney during the trial. He didn’t question witnesses. He didn’t object to a single point the federal government made. He admitted to shooting those helpless victims because, as he said, he opposed U.S. war policy in Afghanistan — where the Army was about to send him before the shooting occurred.

Now, I guess he’ll get that chance if the Army ever carries out the sentence.

I wish the court had given him life in prison with zero possibility for parole.

It’s not that Hasan doesn’t deserve to die. It’s simply that the U.S. military has given Islamic extremists all over the world a reason to cheer the day the Army psychiatrist leaves this world for wherever he’s headed.

Now that the court has ruled, maybe the Pentagon brass can come up with a way to execute Hasan and then dispose of his remains in a manner that won’t create some kind of shrine that attracts religious perverts.

I keep thinking of the way the U.S. Navy took care of Osama bin Laden’s remains after the SEALs killed him in that daring May 2011 raid. They wrapped him up and threw him into the Indian Ocean. Isn’t there a similar option available for Nidal Hasan?