Resisting the temptation

I am engaged in a titanic battle against temptation.

Tonight is the LeBron James Special, to be shown at 8 p.m. on ESPN. He will announce where he’ll play basketball until his next contract expires. The world is holding its breath. Not me.

Well, not exactly.

My biggest curiosity is how ESPN will fill the first 59 minutes of the hour-long special, before James announces whether he’ll stay in Cleveland to play for the NBA Cavaliers, or move to some other city.

Thus, the temptation to actually tune in.

This stuff drives me a little nutty at times.

I don’t care one bit about LeBron James’ basketball future. I care even less about his unprecedented display of ego.

But still, the temptation to watch this bizarre event is taxing my strength of will.

Frankly, for me a bigger story this week was former Beatles drummer Ringo Starr turning 70. Where was the TV special for a guy who helped raise a generation of graying baby boomers?

Non-story gets big play

It happens every year, right about now.

Summer sets in and it gets hot in places like, oh, New York and Washington, D.C. Then the media, realizing that it’s hot in their neighborhood, report it with the kind of zeal reserved normally for really big stories, such as the Gulf oil spill.

As someone who lives in an area of the country that knows summer time heat, I have to ask: What’s the big deal? The cable networks are all over the heat. Why? Well, my guess is that it’s because the networks are based in NYC and DC. Thus, a local story becomes a national story because the media hounds and talking heads must deal with what the rest of us out here in places like the Texas Panhandle deal with every year at this time.

Yes, a couple of people reportedly have died from the heat. That’s tragic, for sure. But is the casualty list mounting rapidly? Well, no.

If the heat wave was happening in, say, February or March, then I’d understand the enthusiasm over this event.

But it’s summer, man. It gets hot in the Big Apple and inside the Beltway every single year.

If the media pack wants to chase a story, I can think of other events that deserve at least as much attention as the weather is getting this week.

Last time I checked, the oil was still spilling into the Gulf of Mexico.

Learning a new language

Technology is introducing us to a new language.

Specifically, it’s turning nouns into verbs.

Two such terms stand out.

The first one is “text.” It used to mean a body of type. Text was a noun. Today it’s become a verb, as in, “My boyfriend, like, texted me just a minute ago and, like, he was so cute trying to tell me he was doing it while driving his car down the freeway at, like, 80 miles an hour.”

OK, “texted” is the past tense of the verb “text.” But you get the point, right?

Now comes the newest version of a common word: friend.

My wife and I were having dinner one night this past weekend with a young couple with whom we are friends. I informed the young woman that I had just opened a Facebook account. “Oh, really?” she said. “Now I’ll have to ‘friend’ you.”

Huh?

The term “friend” used to mean only someone with whom one is quite close; the person to whom you can tell the truth. You share secrets with that person, who knows more about you than you know about yourself.

Now it’s a verb, which describes the act of becoming a friend on a Facebook network.

I was hoping that “parent” would be the last noun to become a verb (e.g., “I am learning how to ‘parent’ my kids”). I never imagined what technology would do to the English language.

I’m sure there’ll be much more to come.

Local GOP silence is deafening

I’m mystified at the silence of the Panhandle’s faithful Republican residents, the folks who gave John McCain 80 percent of their vote in the 2008 presidential election.

They’ve been silent on the latest gaffe by their party’s chairman, Michael Steele. National Republicans, such as Weekly Standard editor William Kristol and Sen. McCain himself have called for Steele’s head over remarks he made the other day in which he described the Afghanistan war as President Obama’s “war of choosing” and said the war was all but unwinnable, given history’s record of failed military efforts in that primitive land.

Steele’s utterance, of course, shows tremendous ignorance at a couple of levels. First of all, it wasn’t Obama’s war to begin with; the war began on President Bush’s watch. And it surely wasn’t a war of choice, since the first hostile act came from terrorists headquartered in Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, national Democrats are keeping silent. They aren’t saying anything about whether Steele should remain as head of the RNC. They no doubt want the GOP’s human gaffe machine to stay right where he is.

But out here, in Flyover Country, where Republicans rule the roost, our rank-and-file electorate remains amazingly quiet over Chairman Steele’s latest bout of foot-in-mouth disease. The many Republican partisans throughout the Panhandle who are so quick to criticize the Democrats in Congress, and the one in the White House, need to speak up now.

Do they want Steele to stay or go?

This is no man of Steele

Watching the Republican Party leadership try to “clarify” its chairman’s remarks about the Afghanistan war is making me laugh almost out loud.

RNC Chairman Michael Steele said this week that the war is of President Obama’s “choosing.” Furthermore, the chairman said the war is virtually unwinnable. Party loyalists have jumped all over Steele, saying that no RNC chairman should declare anything but unqualified support for our troops in the field. Many in the party have called on him to resign.

What the party hacks aren’t acknowledging, though, is that the Afghanistan war didn’t even start on President Obama’s watch. It began nearly nine years ago, when President Bush was in charge. And it surely wasn’t a war of choice. Bush sent the troops in to go after al-Qaida and Taliban terrorists responsible for the 9/11 attacks.

What’s interesting in the fallout over Steele’s stupid remarks — made at a fundraiser and caught on video — is what the loyal opposition isn’t saying.

If the Democratic Party chair, Tim Kaine, had said something similar to what Steele said, the GOP opposition would accuse him of hating our brave soldiers fighting for our freedom. So far, we aren’t hearing such nonsense from Steele’s political adversaries.

But oh yes, Chairman Steele has made a terrible mess that he’s going to have trouble cleaning up.

Gubernatorial dogfight looming

A horse race for Texas governor? Can it be that we actually might have a competitive contest for the state’s most visible elected office?

Let us hope.

The most recent polls show Republican Gov. Rick Perry and Democratic challenger Bill White in a virtual dead heat. White, the former Houston mayor, has closed what had been a double-digit lead to next to nothing.

What’s going on here? White has been pounding away over the governor’s pricey rental house, where he and his wife are living while crews repair the fire-damaged Governor’s Mansion across the street from the Capitol Building. White’s press releases refer to Perry routinely as a “career politician,” as in, “Career politician Rick Perry said … “

So, in a way White is hanging the label that Perry hung around the neck of his chief Republican primary rival, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison. Perry pounded Hutchison for being a “Washington insider” and whupped her soundly in the GOP primary.

So, now comes White — who presents himself as a mild-mannered policy wonk — to slip on the brass knucks and draw blood from the tough-as-a-boot incumbent.

The last truly competitive governor’s race was in 1990, when Democratic Treasurer Ann Richards beat West Texas oilman Claytie Williams in a race that Williams was supposed to win. So, two decades later, we’re in the middle of another potential donnybrook.

Bring it on, boys.

A seat at the table

Amarillo has just gotten a seat at a table full of powerful political leaders.

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst today named state Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, as chairman of a select committee on redistricting.

You’ll remember the last time the Legislature sought to redraw congressional and legislative boundaries, after the 2000 census. Lawmakers didn’t do it quite to the liking of then-U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, who swept into the state and persuaded Gov. Rick Perry to call a special session to redraw the lines to create a more heavily Republican congressional delegation. Democrats didn’t like that, they bolted, fled the state and sought to freeze the process.

Their rebellion didn’t work. DeLay got what he wanted. And the rest is history.

Now it’s 2010 and the next Legislature will be tasked with redrawing the boundaries again. This time, we have one of our own from the Panhandle at the center of the storm.

It remains to be seen whether Seliger’s presence as select committee chairman will help us protect the region’s political clout. No doubt, Seliger will be feeling the heat from throughout the state.

But it’s good to know that one of our own has a leadership role to play in this most partisan political exercise.

One man’s pork is another’s treasure

The late Robert Byrd was a pork-barreler — and proud of it.

The longest-serving member of Congress in U.S. history died this week. His legacy is complex. Byrd was a master of constitutional detail. He knew the history of the Senate like no other. He once was a member of the KKK, but transformed himself into a leading civil-rights activist. Byrd also was able to funnel billions of dollars into his home state of West Virginia.

It’s the last description that, in its way, is most admirable.

Byrd didn’t hide behind some high-minded rhetoric that sought to justify locating dozens of federal offices in West Virginia. He called himself the “Big Daddy” of congressional spending. He was proud of all the pork he ladled into his state. He made no apologies for it.

And for all the money Byrd guided into his state, his constituents loved him for it. They sent him back to the Senate during the course of nine elections. But, man, he surely got others around the country to grind their teeth in disgust.

Mac Thornberry is one House member who speaks ill of the earmarks that made people such as Byrd famous — or infamous, depending on your point of view. He wins high praise from his constituents for the criticism he lays at the feet of House colleagues who spend so much of our tax money on these pork-barrel projects.

It all makes me wonder: Would we begrudge our own House members, or own our senators if they did they very same thing for us in Texas, or in the Panhandle?

My guess is that we’d change our tune in a heartbeat.

Robert Byrd, D-Pork Barrel

It can be said of the late Robert C. Byrd that his picture belongs next to the entry “term limits” published in any political journal.

The veteran Democratic U.S. senator died early today at age 92. He had served 51 years in the Senate and six years in the House. That’s 57 years in Congress. Yep, he was an institution.

He’s also become vilified in many circles because of all the money he channeled to his home state of West Virginia. A good many lawmakers who forgo the earmark process in federal budgeting — including Republican Rep. Mac Thornberry of Clarendon — often cite Byrd’s “talent” for bringing federal money home to his constituents.

One of the more, um, interesting plums in West Virginia is a Coast Guard office. How he managed to put a Coast Guard office in his landlocked state speaks volumes about the man’s clout on Capitol Hill.

The term-limits crowd tries to make the case for limiting lawmakers’ length of service by citing Byrd’s five-decades plus in Congress. Fine. Tell that to Byrd’s bosses, the voters of his state, who kept sending him back to work on their behalf every six years.

They didn’t mind being represented by someone who knew how to work the system.

It was, after all, their call to make — just as Texans have elected our share of pork-barrelers over the years.

It’s raining there, but not here

Rain, rain everywhere — or so you’d think.

But that’s not the case.

Rick Husband International Airport recorded 1.4 inches of rain over two days this week. But at our house across town, we got only a sprinkle. Our rain gauge recorded next to nothing.

What’s more, Lake Meredith’s levels continue to fall. It’s at 44 1/2 feet — and receding. I looked recently at a local television Web site and read an explanation of just how the lake could return to its historic levels, about double where it is now. It would have to flood in Fritch, pouring enough water into the lake to bring it back up to where it used to be. Goodness, I would hate for that happen to our neighbors in Hutchinson County.

I received a note this week from a Hansford County commissioner that thanks Texas transportation officials for their response to the horrendous torrent that fell across that region.

So here we are, nearly halfway through the year and the year-to-date moisture levels are considerably greater than normal at the National Weather Service station at AMA.

Why, though, does it still seem so dry?

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