Robo-calls flood my inbox

We arrived home Monday afternoon after spending a wonderful weekend with our granddaughter and her parents, celebrating little Emma’s first birthday.

After walking into the house we heard the beep of our answering machine. Five messages had come in while we were away.

We started playing them back.

All five of ’em were political robo-calls, those automated messages designed to persuade you to vote for a particular candidate or political cause.

In our case, they are an instant signal to delete the message without ever listening to them.

My favorite robo-call came from Sen. John Cornyn, in which he introduced himself by saying: “Hello, Kathleen, this is John Cornyn …”

We deleted that right after hearing “Cornyn.” My wife, who never uses the name on her birth certificate, declared that Sen. Cornyn’s greeting would never get her to listen to anything he had to say over a recorded message. “He obviously doesn’t know me,” she said, laughing.

Robo-calls are intended to reach as many people as possible with the fewest man-hours spent as possible. I get why candidates use them. However, I’ve ever met anyone who’s heard a robo-call, listened to it and then decided how they were going to vote on a race based on the automated phone call they had just heard.

The robo-call season is about to end — for now — once the primary election ballots are counted. The calls will rev up again for the May 27 runoff that’s expected in several of the statewide Republican races; I’m thinking of the lieutenant governor’s contest for starters.

Be forewarned. The calls that come to our phone won’t be heeded.

Same-sex couples jumping through hoops

Let’s see if we can sort this story out a bit.

The Amarillo Globe-News reported Sunday about a same-sex couple seeking a “family membership” at the Amarillo Town Club. The club has denied the couple such a membership, citing the state’s ban on same-sex marriage.

The couple, two women, were asked to provide a marriage license. They aren’t yet married, but plan to wed soon presumably in a state that recognizes same-sex marriage. The club informed the women that the marriage license had to be issued in Texas to make their marriage legal. Well, the state doesn’t recognize same-sex marriage, so that’s out.

The couple is petitioning the Town Club to grant them a family membership and to allow them to proceed with their weight-loss plan.

Here’s where it gets a bit sticky for the couple: The Amarillo Town Club is owned by Baptist Community Services, a faith-based organization. It’s not a public institution, funded by taxpayer money. Its members pay the freight with membership dues. Thus, the Town Club is within its rights to set admission policy any way it so chooses, as long as it doesn’t discriminate.

You want it to get even stickier?

Here goes.

My wife and I joined the Amarillo Town Club more than a decade ago. We, too, have a family membership. We signed up as husband and wife.

No one at the Amarillo Town Club — either at the main facility at 45th and Cornell or the one at Hillside — ever asked us to produce a marriage license. I cannot recall precisely, but perhaps they asked us to show them driver’s licenses to prove we were who we said we were.

A marriage license? The issue never came up. Were we even legally married? No one ever asked that question.

For the record, my wife and I were married — legally — on Sept. 4, 1971 in a little Presbyterian Church in southeast Portland, Ore. That’s in case anyone is interested.

All of this leads me to conclude that it appears some discrimination involving the two young women at the center of this story may have taken place.

Yes, indeed. This story is going to get quite complicated.

Hoping for a Seliger blowout

Of all the local races that have piqued my interest, one stands out.

The Texas Senate District 31 contest between incumbent Kel Seliger of Amarillo and former Midland Mayor Mike Canon had the earmarks of a true test of ideas.

It’s turned into an onslaught of half-truths and talking points from one of them, Canon.

Seliger is the Amarillo Republican who’s represented the sprawling Senate district since 2004. He turned into a quick study, learning rapidly the art of legislating, the language of the Senate — and he has shown an affinity for working with Democrats as well as Republicans, a trait that has gone missing among many members of both legislative houses in recent years.

Canon, meanwhile, has conducted a campaign that refers to Seliger as some kind of closet liberal, implying that he is misrepresenting the people of District 31.

I had the pleasure of taking part in a candidate forum sponsored by Panhandle PBS. I asked the men whether they supported term limits for legislators and to explain why or why not.

Canon offered the true-blue talking point that we need fresh ideas and a brisk turnover in the Senate. He owed to serve just two terms before bowing out.

Seliger, meanwhile, offered the nuanced answer I’ve come to expect from him. He said elections have a way of determining whether a legislator is doing his or her job properly and he wouldn’t commit to setting a term limit for himself.

Seliger gave the more honest and courageous answer given the tenor of much of the debate these days.

I just returned from the Dallas Metroplex, where I saw lawn signs scattered all over creation touting the virtues of “conservative Republican” candidates. What in the world differentiates Texas Republicans these days?

Canon is running as a “conservative Republican” candidate for the state Senate. Seliger is running as an accomplished incumbent who knows how the political system works.

My hope Tuesday is that Seliger scores a blowout win.

He’s done the job his constituents have sent him to do.

Yes, cell phones do have their purpose

Most members of my family and even some of my friends know that I have a love-hate relationship with cell phones.

It’s mostly a hate relationship, I must confess, particularly when I hear people flapping their yaps on them in a voice loud enough for everyone to hear them talking about nothing of importance.

However …

I have discovered that cell phones have at least one redeeming quality. I discovered it today on the road back from Allen, where my wife and I had just helped our granddaughter Emma — perhaps you’ve heard me mention her on occasion — celebrate her first birthday.

We were driving home on U.S. 287, blazing through Quanah when a warning message flashed on the dashboard of our 2010 Toyota Prius. It said, “Oil Maintenance Required.”

My wife was at the wheel. Given that we’ve owned the vehicle only a few months and we haven’t acquainted ourselves fully with all the bells and whistles that it contains, we were uncertain about what we were supposed to do. Do we keep going? Do we stop and check the oil level?

We decided to stop in Childress, but before we did my wife said, “Why don’t you call the Toyota dealership and ask them what it means?” Why not, indeed? I work part-time at the dealership where we bought the car; I know the phone number.

We pulled into the parking lot, popped the hood on the car and I called the service department using my handy-dandy cell phone. “Hey, what do I do when the message flashes that tells me ‘oil maintenance’ must be done on the car?” I asked the service technician who answered the phone.

“It just means you’re due for an oil change or a tire rotation,” he told me, assuring me the car wasn’t going to croak in, say, Estelline, Memphis or Hedley on the way home.

There you have it, the perfect reason to own a cell phone.

You won’t catch me blabbing about nonsense in a crowded restaurant. I like using the device when I need to talk to a family member about an urgent matter — or when I need an answer about the vehicle that’s carrying my wife and me home.

I got it. I’m grateful for it.

I still don’t like the thing.

Defense cuts don’t ‘gut’ our military

Lindsey Graham can be excused for hyperventilating over plans to cut defense spending.

He’s facing a stiff challenge from his right in South Carolina as he seeks re-election to the U.S. Senate. Given that challenge, he’s got to sound extra-tough in criticizing the Barack Obama administration’s plans for the Defense Department.

He said over the weekend that proposals to cut the standing Army to 440,000 troops will “gut” our ground capability.

I don’t get this. The United States possesses the strongest military in the history of the planet. It’s stronger than Russia and China. We possess a nuclear arsenal that is second to none. Our anti-terrorism efforts are killing bad guys almost daily. Our Navy is combat-ready. Our Air Force is second to none.

Is the Pentagon brass, starting with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, really and truly seeking to disarm this nation, to make it a “third world power” militarily, as Graham and others are suggesting?

Give me a break.

Graham wondered this past weekend whether we could defend South Korea if North Korea decided to invade its neighbor. He said the Army could not respond. Hagel’s assertion? He assures us that the United States can fight a war in any single theater of operations using all the assets it will retain.

If the government is going to cut spending — as many Americans believe must happen — no single element must be spared. The Defense Department’s budget will continue to out spend Russia, China and Great Britain combined.

We aren’t disarming ourselves.

No instant replay in baseball … please

The National Pastime is about to undergo a change that few baseball purists will like.


I’m one of them. What will we dislike? It will be the introduction of instant replay cameras.

OK, I know what you’re saying. Football has it. So what? I hate it in football too. It slows down the game. It tries to replace the human element with machines that help humans decide whether they’ve made the right call.

Now it well might be baseball’s turn.


I’ll now stipulate some important points about the game I used to love. I detest the designated hitter rule; I hate watching baseball played indoors … on carpets; I cannot stand watching batters suit up with body armor as if they’re taking part in a medieval joust; I’m not even that crazy about pine tar or batting gloves.

I’m old-fashioned when it comes to baseball.

Now we have the prospect of one of the game’s great traditions — the rhubarb — giving way to technology. The rhubarb occurs when the manager storms out of the dugout to get in the ump’s face; he’ll turn his ball cap backward so he can get right up to the ump’s face to be sure he get sprayed with spittle while yelling things like, “Bleep you, you bleeping blanket-blank!” When he says the “magic word,” which of course is “you,” that gets the manager tossed from the game.

Now we well might see close calls decided by someone sitting way up yonder in a control room. They’ll play back the event and someone in that control room will determine if the ump made the call.

I’ve long wanted technology to give way to the human element. Of all the calls umps — and refs in football — make during the course of a game, they get 99-plus percent of them right.

Let ’em make the call. And if they get it wrong, let the manager storm out of the dugout and kick a little dirt on the umpire’s shoes.

Ukraine is our concern … because?

A good night’s sleep has a way of making one’s perspective change a bit the next day.

It happened to me overnight. I went to sleep wondering why Russian officials are talking about yanking their ambassador to the United States because of our demands that Russia stay out of Ukraine’s internal affairs.

I awoke this morning wondering: Why are we involved in this dispute?

This is a classic United Nations matter that needs to be resolved around the Security Council table of nations — and that certainly includes the United States.

Of all the permanent Security Council members, I’m going to presume that all of them — except Russia, of course — believe fervently in Ukraine’s sovereignty. Therefore, one can presume that the Security Council should be drafting resolutions calling for Russia to back off, get out and leave this Ukrainian matter up to the Ukrainians.

One big problem, of course, with that Russia is one of those nations that can veto anything the Security Council proposes. That makes the matter virtually moot, given the U.N. governing structure.

Still, the United States’s involvement — the demands from the White House and the declarations of “costs” that Russia could pay if it doesn’t butt out — is creating an equally untenable position for this country.

What, precisely, can we do to Russia? We aren’t going to hit them militarily. We aren’t going to sever diplomatic relations; heck, we even had an embassy in Moscow during the depths of the Cold War.

The most we can do is as President Obama has declared: “Stand with the international community” in backing Ukraine’s sovereignty.

Geopolitics remains a highly complicated matter.

Russians might pull their envoy to the U.S.?

So, let me see if I have this correct.

Ukrainian insurgents have driven that country’s president out; he’s holed up in Moscow; Russia is threatening to intervene in another sovereign country’s affairs; Russia is mobilizing its armed forces; President Obama has warned Russia that any outside interference in Ukrainian affairs will have “costs.”

And the Russians are threatening to pull their ambassador to the United States?

Shouldn’t the United States pull its ambassador to Moscow?

Secretary of State John Kerry has said U.S.-Russia relations are at stake. It’s not entirely clear what precisely he means by the stakes involved.

There cannot be a severing of diplomatic relations between the nations. This gamesmanship over who pulls their ambassador first, though, cannot continue.

The best solution from the U.S. and European standpoint would be for the Russians to butt out, to let Ukraine decide who will govern the country without outside interference.

If the Russians are intent on honoring international law, then they’ll back off and let their neighbors in Ukraine settle this dispute on their own.

Punishing rain out west provides glimmer of hope

Texas and California have at least one thing in common.

They’re both places that have been starving for moisture. Happily — and that’s a relative term, to be honest — California has been inundated of late by rain. Lots of it has fallen in a short period of time over much of the state. It’s caused some mudslides and has damaged some homes and no one wishes that on anyone.

More is on the way.

Sitting out here on the equally parched High Plains, I cannot help but hope: Might our drought get some serious relief soon?

One of my sisters lives in Santa Cruz with her husband. Their travels to and from work and across the dreaded Highway 17 to the San Jose area have been fraught with the kind of hazard they haven’t experienced of late. Punishing rain has made driving a bit of a test of the nerves. Driving along Highway 17 in ideal conditions is a challenge.

Sis is up to it, though. She and her husband — not to mention millions of their fellow Californians — are welcoming the moisture. They need it badly.

So do we.

Weather forecasters here aren’t too optimistic about the short-term future regarding rainfall. They keep hedging their predictions on whether we’ll get significant moisture this spring or summer. Then again, I cannot blame them for trying to predict weather for the next hour, let alone for the next day, week or month.

Two months into 2014 and our rain deficit already is piling up. A lot of us are praying for rain, as in getting on our knees and praying. No doubt there was a lot of it going on in California as well.

Did the prayers bring the rain? It’s one of those things you cannot deny categorically.

So … I imagine we’ll keep praying out here and hope we get some of what has drenched the Pacific Coast.

Some thoughts on Potter County judge contest

First, I have to stipulate that I don’t have an electoral voice in Potter County, given that I live in Randall County.

But I’m going to weigh in anyway on the Potter County judge’s race, as I am acquainted with four of the five candidates and I know two of them quite well. The fifth one I met only recently.

The reality of this race is that it actually shouldn’t be a close call. Of the five individuals seeking to succeed 20-year County Judge Arthur Ware, the best qualified person for the job is Nancy Tanner, Ware’s long-time administrative assistant.

I’ve known Tanner well for more than 19 years. My former job as editorial page editor of the local newspaper enabled me to consult with her many times on the issues of the day. She’s competent. She knows the job. Indeed, she had been doing much of the judge’s job since Ware suffered a debilitating stroke in 2010.

Tanner’s learning curve would be far less steep than any of the other candidates.

Debra McCartt touts her experience as Amarillo’s first female mayor, her stint as head of a statewide municipal association and her prior experience as a city commissioner. She contends that leadership matters — and it does. As much as I like McCartt personally and admire the job she did as mayor, it needs to be said that the mayor’s main job in Amarillo’s form of government is “showing up.” McCartt did it beautifully. She showed up seemingly at every event where her attendance was required. She often appeared to be at more than one place at a time.

To be mayor, though, required little heavy lifting; that is done by the city manager and his staff of department heads and assistant managers.

The third possible dark horse in this contest is Bill Bandy, the candidate I know the least about. He once worked for former state Rep. David Swinford and professes to be close friends with Rep. Four Price, Rep. John Smithee and Sen. Kel Seliger. He seemed to jump out of the tall grass at the last minute to run for county judge. I am unaware of his previous involvement at any level of county government. He, too, is smart and articulate. It seems that his own experience falls far short of Tanner’s.

Bill Sumerford and Jeff Poindexter are the two remaining candidates. Sumerford has been little more than a political gadfly for the past decade. He’s an anti-tax hawk who for a time was leading various efforts to put key city council decisions to a popular vote. Poindexter has run several times unsuccessfully for public office — and that’s all I say about that.

This contest likely won’t be decided next Tuesday. The smart money suggests a runoff is in store for the top two candidates. I won’t predict who will finish first and second, other than to suggest it appears to be a combination that involves Tanner, McCartt and Bandy.

If I had a vote in this race, I’d cast it for Nancy Tanner.