Good bye, Mr. Simmons … and good riddance

Harold Simmons is dead at age 82.

His death has drawn a lot of attention in political circles. The billionaire Texan was a big contributor to Republican candidates and causes. That’s fine. I don’t begrudge that one bit.

What I do begrudge, though, is the $4 million he gave to a particular GOP effort.

It occurred during the 2004 presidential campaign between President George W. Bush and U.S. Sen. John F. Kerry. Simmons kicked in the big dough to a group dedicated to smearing Kerry’s reputation, which he earned while serving in the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam War.

Swift Boat Veterans for Truth thought it would smear Kerry’s war record with lies, suggesting he didn’t really earn the medals for valor while serving during that long-ago war.

It was a disgraceful display of rotten politics — which can be pretty rotten even without this kind of defamation.

Simmons played a hand in that slander, which must not go unnoticed as the political world bids good bye to 2013 and to this individual.

I’m quite aware that both parties are awash in lots of money, much of which is used as ammo to smear candidates from the other side. None of it is appealing. None of it is fair.

The “swift boating,” of John Kerry, though, will stand for a long time as an example of how politics can stink to high heaven.

MSNBC jokesters toss a bomb at Romney clan

MSNBC went over the line.

With both feet.

Check out this link, taken from, about a disgraceful display of bad taste exhibited on MSNBC, having to do with Mitt Romney’s family and the presence of an infant sitting on the former Republican presidential candidate’s knee.

MSNBC talk-show host Melissa Harris-Perry is an interesting, intelligent individual who hosts a weekend show on the cable network. For the life of me I cannot fathom why she allowed this discussion making fun of Mitt Romney’s adopted grandson, an African-American infant named Kieran, to make some point about the Republican Party’s difficulty with minority voters.

I’ve long held to the belief that one should not poke fun at family members, or make fun of people’s appearance or the sound of their name. For the network to use a baby to make a cheap political point simply is beyond disgusting.

As the commentators noted on this CNN link, adoption should be saluted as something wonderful and grand. That’s all should have mattered when MSNBC showed the photo of Mitt and Ann Romney with their grandchildren.

Obama most admired man in U.S. Who knew?

The Gallup Poll has just released a survey that is going to surprise more than a few folks. It surprised me, for example.

It says President Barack Obama is the most admired man in America — by a comfortable margin at that.

The most admired woman happens to be former first lady/Sen./Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Why is this so surprising? I see a couple of interesting things here.

The first one is obvious. President Obama has had a rough year, particularly as it relates to the unveiling of the Affordable Care Act. The debut of the ACA was a disaster, technically speaking. The rollout came on top of a barrage of criticism of the ACA from Republicans who managed somehow to win the argument.

Despite all the bad press, the president continues to stand fairly tall in the minds of millions of Americans.

Much the same can be said of Hillary Clinton, who left public office at the beginning of the year as a controversy over her office’s handling of an uprising in Libya drew fire. The consulate in Benghazi was attacked, four Americans died in a ferocious fire fight and Clinton took lots of heat over the way her office handled the initial response.

Yet, for the 12th year in a row, she remains America’s most admired woman.

The second factor is interesting as well, in that Gallup isn’t exactly known for favoring so-called “liberals.” The poll long has been viewed by observers as tilting a tad to the right. Still, the poll is deemed reputable.

The lesson here might only be that we need not pay too much attention to the chattering class that so often seems to outshout the rest of the us.

Phil back on ‘Duck Dynasty,’ curiosity aroused

Having declared that I’ve never watched “Duck Dynasty,” I now might — let me reiterate might — catch an episode or two now that Duck daddy Phil is back in the game.

A&E lifted Phil Robertson’s short-lived suspension after the 67-year-old guy said some things to GQ magazine about how he believes homosexuality is a sin, according to the Bible. His comments raised an uproar with the LGBT community and with folks who were offended that someone known to be a devout Christian actually would say what he believes.

A&E knew what it was getting when it hired the Robertson clan to do this show, which I guess features them huntin’ and fishin’ and living in the great outdoors, aka the Louisiana swamp.

A&E made the wrong call, in my view, in suspending ol’ man Phil. It’s not that agree with the way he expressed himself. He spoke crudely to GQ, but that’s part of his shtick, or so I’ve been led to believe.

And the network knew all that.

All he did was encourage the audience that is drawn to the show. Those who Robertson offended aren’t going to watch anyway.

As for those of us out here who only have read about the show and followed the kerfuffle created by Duck Daddy’s remarks, many of us are quite likely now to watch just to see what all the fuss has been about.

I’m giving this some serious thought. I’ll let you know what I learn.

Bin Laden is still dead, al-Qaida is growing

President Obama has sought to quell the thought that some had back in May 2011 that Osama bin Laden’s death would doom the terror organization he led.

Thus, it shouldn’t be a surprise that experts now say that al-Qaida likely is gaining strength in the Middle East and in North Africa.

Navy SEALs killed bin Laden in Pakistan. The president announced it to the world that evening. It brought cheers in this country and throughout the world and shouts of “USA! USA! USA!” by crowds that gathered in front of the White House. But the warning came out — from the White House and from other quarters — that the war on terror must continue.

It has.

Drone strikes have taken out dozens of al-Qaida leaders; others have been captured and are awaiting justice. The nation has maintained its aggressive stance against al-Qaida and other terror groups ever since the 9/11 attacks.

We well might have entered a war without end.

That doesn’t mean we don’t keep fighting. It does mean the nation perhaps has entered a period of what could be called some form of a “new normal.” It is that we cannot ever let our guard down for a moment against those who would harm us.

The new normal requires the nation to be on high alert. Always.

Legalize marijuana? My wheels are turning

Some people get more crotchety in their old age.

Others get more, um, reflective; they are more able to see the big picture.

I think — at least I hope — I am in that latter group.

I’ve spent a lifetime to date believing we should maintain marijuana’s illegal status. People should be punished for using the devil weed. That was how I used to think. I’m beginning to feel differently about that — and a lot of other things — as I grow older.

The states of Washington and Colorado are about to effectively legalize its use. A recent “60 Minutes” report declared that there are now more medical marijuana dispensaries in Denver that McDonald’s and Starbucks combined. It’s going to be taxed and regulated by the state. Coloradoans will be able to purchase the stuff essentially over the counter.

My home state of Oregon also has liberalized its marijuana laws. Other states have followed suit.

Meanwhile, still other states have continued to drop the hammer — as has the federal government with its minimum sentence policy — on those caught carrying and/or consuming small amounts of weed. Texas is one of them, where state police patrols are picking up drivers of vehicles loaded with grass on those so-called “routine traffic stops.”

I’m now wondering aloud whether history is finally forcing a serious change in societal attitudes toward marijuana.

Full disclosure here: I have smoked it. A very long time ago, when I was quite young, before my sons were born and mostly before I got married. My dad once asked me straight up: Have you smoked marijuana? More disclosure: I didn’t have the courage to say “yes.”

That was then. Dad is gone now and wherever he and Mom are, they know the truth. I haven’t touched the stuff in more than 40 years and, oh yes, I did inhale.

Is it sane to keep prosecuting people for consuming a substance that is no more addictive than, say, nicotine or alcohol? How do I know that? Well, I never became hooked on it, nor on alcohol. I did get hooked on cigarettes, but managed to quit cold turkey nearly 34 years ago.

That’s just me. I am aware, however, that millions of others can make similar claims.

I’m aware that I’m late getting into this discussion. What’s fascinated me over many years has been the advocacy of marijuana legalization by prominent conservatives: William F. Buckley, the economist Milton Friedman and former Secretary of State George Schultz, to name just three, all have spoken in favor of legalization. The conservative movement’s godfather, the late U.S. Sen. Barry Goldwater, did as well.

It’s not just the flaming liberals out there calling for this sea change.

It well might be time to catch this wave.

A comeback for Carlos Danger? Please … no!

Reports are circulating that Anthony Weiner, aka Carlos Danger, might be pondering a political comeback.

This can’t be happening. Can it?

Weiner’s congressional career came to a screeching halt when it was revealed — no pun intended, honest — that he had emailed photos of one of his body parts to female acquaintances. Once the word got out, Weiner at first denied it, then admitted it, then quit the House of Representatives.

He sought — he said — to heal his marriage. Weiner went into hiding, more or less.

Then he returned to run for mayor of New York. Weiner professed to be cleared of his addiction to this kind of disgraceful behavior.

But wait! Then reports surfaced that, yep, he was doing it again — under the name of Carlos Danger.

Late-night comics went ballistic. Once their jokes took off into the stratosphere, Weiner’s poll numbers tanked.

He finished far back in the pack of the New York Democratic Party primary.

And then he was gone again. Or so some of thought — and hoped.

He wrote this on Facebook: “What’s next? I’ll keep you posted on my plans. But I hope we keep the band together.” He thanked his friends, apparently leaving the door slightly ajar for yet another foray into public life.

Spare the country, please, of the bad jokes and puns. Please?

U.S. airlines don’t make the grade? Imagine that

This might qualify as the least-surprising survey finding in the history of surveys.

OK, maybe I exaggerate, but not by much.

Business Insider has rated the top 20 airlines in the world. None of them — zero — is based in the United States of America.

I looked at the list and counted four airlines on which I have flown: Cathay Pacific, Thai, Japan Air Lines and Lufthansa.

I’ll stipulate that I do not consider myself a seasoned world traveler, but I have been blessed with opportunities to fly abroad. Some of the air travel has been quite pleasant; some of it has been, well, quite unpleasant. Almost without fail, the unpleasantness has occurred aboard U.S. airlines.

I won’t detail the terrible service I’ve experienced. I’ll tell you two quick stories.

My wife and I flew to Copenhagen, Denmark in June 2006. We stayed there a week and then flew home. Our first leg on the return flight was aboard a British Airways flight from Copenhagen to London Heathrow Airport. The service was fabulous, top-notch; the flight crew was gracious, kind, attentive, cheerful … all the things you expect on a flight.

We disembarked at Heathrow, then caught a cab to Gatwick Airport across town, where we boarded an American Airlines flight from London to Dallas-Fort Worth. The service then was, well, not nearly at the level I just described on that first leg. The flight crew was decidedly less gracious, kind, attentive, etc.

Welcome back to reality, right?

The second quick story involves a flight from Delhi, India, to Tokyo, via Bangkok. This was in 2004. I boarded the flight in Delhi, flew six hours aboard a Thai Air flight to Bangkok. The crew could not have been more gracious. I changed planes in Bangkok and boarded a Japan Air Lines flight to Tokyo.

I took a sleeping aid to help me catch some shut-eye for the next six- or seven-hour flight. I settled back in my seat. The plane took off. After a while, the flight attendants began serving a meal. I declined my meal and went to sleep.

When the pilot announced we were beginning our descent into Narita Airport in Tokyo, I awoke to discover a pillow under my head and a blanket tucked under my chin. I have no recollection of how they got there — therefore, I only presumed the flight attendant tucked me in.

I do not believe that would have happened on a U.S.-based air carrier.

Thus, the survey doesn’t surprise me in the least.

Mount St. Helens pictures stir scary memory

The story attached to this blog has brought back some chilling memories of my own relating to Mount St. Helens.

I’ll share them here.

The story tells of pictures that the late Reid Blackburn took in April 1980, a month before the mountain blew apart. He was a staff photographer for the Vancouver (Wash.) Columbian. Blackburn died May 18, 1980 when the north side of the volcano exploded.

I’ve got my own Mount St. Helens story that I don’t tell too often.

It involves an acquaintance I made when I was working for the now-defunct Oregon City (Ore.) Enterprise-Courier just south of Portland.

I wrote a feature story about a young man who, along with his father, refurbished old airplanes. He took me on a flight aboard a bi-plane he had fixed up. We were airborne for maybe 30 minutes. We landed and then I asked him for a favor. Media were reporting that Mount St. Helens was about to erupt and would he take to the mountain in the event of an eruption — or some activity that lent itself to pictures?

He agreed.

In late March (I think it was the 27th) the wires began reporting that earthquakes had started rumbling through the mountain and that smallish craters were forming around the summit. I called my “new best friend.” He was available. I drove quickly to his place in the country, and climbed aboard a single-engine, two-seat Cessna. We took off and headed straight north.

The flight lasted about 45 minutes. We got to the summit, I had gotten my camera out and we buzzed the summit repeatedly, watching the craters forming; ice would fall into the newly formed fissures.

Back and forth we flew. I guess we were in the air over the mountain for maybe 20 minutes. I snapped dozens of pictures.

We flew back to his landing strip just south of Oregon City.

A point of information: We had no radio aboard. Thus, we were not advised that the Federal Aviation Administration had declared the airspace several miles around the summit to be off-limits.

The statue of limitations now allows me to confess to breaking federal aviation law that day.

Happily, no one ratted us out. My pal never got into trouble. I got some memorable pictures, which we published in the next day’s paper. And I will keep those memories with me forever.


One post script: I told my dad about what we had done and he gave me a royal butt-chewing.

Then we laughed.

Air fare glitch helps someone else … again

So help me, I need to get in the good graces of the god of Air Fare Glitches.

Delta Airlines posted some ridiculously low air fares online this week and some customer snapped up the fares. The airline company fixed the mistake, but said it would honor the fares purchased before it caught the mistake.

Why can’t I ever get in on that action?

Understand, of course, that Delta Airlines doesn’t fly in and out of Rick Husband Amarillo International Airport, so this goof wouldn’t benefit me in the least. But other airlines have had similar problems — United, American and Southwest, for example, which do fly out of AMA.

I’m always caught flat-footed, never getting wind of these mess-ups until after they’ve been resolved.

Heck, my wife and I can barely redeem frequent-flier miles when we’ve earned enough of them to travel somewhere for “free.” I get on the website, look to book a redeem the mileage and learn that all the seats set aside for those with such awards have been taken up already. Crap!

We did hit the jackpot once, redeeming miles for a free flight to Buffalo, N.Y., to celebrate our 40th wedding anniversary at nearby Niagara Falls. OK, so I’m not a total loser in this regard.

I’ll hand it to Delta, though, for honoring its mistake. I just wish I could have been one of the honorees.