Watch out for the fire ants, man!

One of the more underreported aspects of Hurricane/Tropical Storm Harvey needs some attention. So I’ll offer a bit of it right here.

The raging storm water that has inundated communities from Houston to the Golden Triangle has produced another hazard: fire ants!

We moved from the Golden Triangle in January 1995 and we were thankful for many aspects of our new home in the Texas Panhandle; one of them was the absence of fire ants.

In heavy rain the ants come out of the ground and congregate in massive clusters on the surface of the water. They climb aboard any living creature who happens to slosh and slog their way through them. Then they bite, and they keep biting!

Fire ant bites produce welts almost immediately on one’s skin. The welts fill with pus. The bugs are nasty in the extreme.

Moreover, when the water recedes, people’s lawns are going to sprout fire ant mounts. My best advice? Boil plenty of water and add some ammonia to it. Pour it right onto the mounds. It kills ’em dead. Immediately.

Oh, and you folks at People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals — the nimrods who actually complained when President Obama once swatted a fly on national TV? Keep your traps shut on this one.

Fire ants do serious harm to pets and people.

I haven’t even mentioned — until this very moment — the gators and the venomous snakes one might encounter.

So help me, I will feel every bit of your pain as you cope with this consequence of Harvey, not to mention all the other suffering that will endure long after the water recedes.

Stay true to plans to put Tubman on the $20 bill

Hold on a second, Steve Mnuchin. Many of us thought the switch from Andrew Jackson to Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill was a done deal.

The U.S. secretary of the Treasury now says he’s thinking about it.


Former Treasury Secretary Jack Lew got it done before he left office. He moved to take former President Jackson off the bill and replace it with Harriet Tubman, the heroic abolitionist who fought to end slavery in this country. It was hailed at the time of the announcement as historic for a couple of key reasons.

First, Tubman would be the first woman whose face would adorn U.S. currency. Second, and this arguably is the big one, she is the first African-American.

President Barack Obama signed off on the change. Many Americans cheered the change. Now it appears to be open for discussion.

“The No. 1 issue why we change the currency is to stop counterfeiting. So the issues of what we change will be primarily related to what we need to do for security purposes. I’ve received classified briefings on that. And that’s what I’m focused on for the most part,” Mnuchin said.

Is it just me or does that sound like he’s possibly tip-toeing around some secret issue?

I do hope Mnuchin isn’t backing away merely because this was an Obama administration initiative, or that the current president is seeking to curry favor with his “base,” which seems to detest anything associated with the name “Barack Obama.”

Tubman’s heroic efforts to end slavery should be honored. Meanwhile, Old Hickory owned slaves. Hmmm. One sought to end enslavement; the other was, well … you know.

Donald Trump offered his usual platitude during the 2016 campaign about Tubman. According to CNBC:

 I think Harrriet Tubman is fantastic.” He added: “I would love to leave Andrew Jackson and see if we can maybe come up with another denomination. Maybe we do the $2 bill or we do another bill.”

While Trump complimented Tubman, he said at the time that he didn’t agree with replacing Jackson on the denomination. “I don’t like seeing it. Yes, I think it’s pure political correctness. Been on the bill [Jackson] for many, many years. And, you know, really represented somebody that really was very important to this country.

If you can figure out what candidate Trump was saying, then you’re far smarter than I am — which likely isn’t saying much.

Back to my original point: Don’t derail this change in the currency, Mr. Secretary. You can figure out the counterfeiting/security angle while staying true to your predecessor’s pledge to  honor a true American hero.

Waiting anxiously for a landmark event

I don’t believe it’s an overstatement to call Ken Burns and Lynn Novick’s upcoming PBS documentary special a “landmark television event.”

They’re going to chronicle an event that shaped a generation of Americans. It made a lot of young Americans grow up in a major hurry. “The Vietnam War” airs beginning Sept. 17 over 10 days; it comprises 18 hours of viewing.

Burns told AARP magazine: “We have a kind of historical amnesia about Vietnam.” He said it is “like an amputated limb that still itches, still aches. If we as Americans want to get over the divisions we feel today so prominently, it’s important to understand the place where they began.”

AARP calls Burns and Novick’s project a “doozy.” Boy, howdy. Is it ever.


Millions of Americans are going to watch this event with a special interest. These are those who reported for duty at some time during the Vietnam War. They were affected by it openly and viscerally. The war brought them pain, which many of them brought home with them.

I was fortunate in that regard. I didn’t suffer physical pain as a result of my service there. I’ve noted already that I was what grunts called a REMF, a “rear-echelon motherf*****.” I worked on Army airplanes and later scrambled missions at the I Corps Tactical Ops Center in Da Nang.

But in November 1989, I had the rare honor of returning to Vietnam, 20 years after I reported for duty at Marble Mountain. I went back to Marble Mountain at the tail end of a three-week fact-finding trip I took with 20 other journalists, members of the National Conference of Editorial Writers. We toured Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam. At the end of that “official” journey,” two colleagues and I flew north from Saigon to Da Nang as part of a personal sojourn.

We arrived in Da Nang and then took a car out to Marble Mountain. We strolled along the sandy terrain where I had walked as a young soldier. Our guide was explaining to us how the Vietnamese had absorbed our physical presence at Marble Mountain, how they had taken possession of all we had left behind. They put it to use for their own purposes, she said.

That’s when it happened. I broke down in tears. I began sobbing. I cried like a little child. Our guide, Mai, stopped talking. My friends backed away. I was alone with my emotions for, oh, just a few moments. Then it stopped. I wiped the tears off my face. Took a deep breath.

At that moment, I was cleansed of some unknown pain. I felt a sense of relief. I had shed a load of emotional baggage I never even knew I had been lugging around since my departure from the war zone two decades earlier.

I was a happy man. That “amputated limb” no longer “aches.”

I have told Vietnam veterans since my return from that marvelous journey that they, too, need to return. I get mixed reactions from them. I don’t press the issue; it’s for them to decide.

Ken Burns is an acclaimed documentary filmmaker with a huge body of work that’s been broadcast for decades on PBS. His collaboration with Novick is highly anticipated.

It will be a landmark event. I also am quite certain a lot of Vietnam vets will learn something about a critical chapter in their lives. They also might learn something about themselves.

Does it get any better than that?

Hoping for a lengthy stay for Tillerson

I’m allowed to eat a bit of crow, aren’t I?

I was one of those who was skeptical about Rex Tillerson’s appointment as secretary of state in the Trump administration. In recent days and weeks, though, I’ve become a believer in the former ExxonMobil mogul’s ability to do the job and to speak for the United States of America.

There’s reporting that Tillerson might not be long for Donald Trump’s administration. He might not stay on the job for a year. He might bail early.

I hope he stays on. I hope he can find a way to work with that clown wagon known as the Trump administration.

My fear is that the clock has begun ticking on Secretary Tillerson’s tenure.

The president might have started the moment he heard Tillerson tell Chris Wallace on “Fox News Sunday” that “the president speaks for himself.” The context of that response, though, is most telling.

Wallace asked Tillerson about the Charlottesville riot and the nation’s mood in the wake of the violence that erupted. Tillerson said the world understands the State Department’s commitment to human rights.

Wallace then asked about whether the president concurs. That’s when Tillerson responded with the “speaks for himself” comment.

To my ears, it sounded as though the secretary was putting some distance between the department he runs and the man to whom Tillerson reports — the president.

As the Washington Post reported: “And some who have recently seen Tillerson say the former ExxonMobil chief executive — unaccustomed to taking orders from a superior, let alone one as capricious as Trump — also seems to be ready to end his State Department tenure. He has grumbled privately to (White House chief of staff John) Kelly about Trump’s recent controversies, said two people familiar with their relationship.”


Tillerson exhibited some much-needed sanity, maturity and intelligence in that moment. The nation needs more of it.

Water everywhere, not a drop to drink

Is there a more fitting context for the phrase about there being “water, water everywhere, but not a drop to drink” than what we’re witnessing in Beaumont, Texas?

The horrific deluge in the Golden Triangle city of about 120,000 residents has damaged the city’s drinking water plant. Neighborhoods are waist-deep in water that flowed in from the Neches River or just fell from the sky as a result of Hurricane Harvey. But the folks who live in those ‘hoods cannot drink the water.

This is where those who “serve the public” really get to demonstrate their service.

My goodness, it is heartbreaking in the extreme.

Texas National Guard troops have been mobilized to bring water in to the stricken region. A young man I know has hauled a significant load of water from the Texas Panhandle to way down yonder in the Houston and Beaumont areas. I have heard he’s having difficulty navigating his truck into the region, trying to find passable roads and highways he can traverse to deliver the precious water.

Knowing this young man as I do, his intrepidity will see him through.

The scope of this tragic event is still playing out. The death toll is at 32; it’s likely to increase. You know, when you think about it, one must be amazed that so few victims have lost their lives. I am. No, it doesn’t minimize the grief of those who have lost loved ones and my heart breaks for them.

Meanwhile, those of us on the High Plains — so high and very dry — are left to pray and to send every bit of positivity and good karma to our stricken friends downstate.

Good show, Mr. POTUS, but don’t brag about it … please!

Donald J. Trump has stepped up in a big way to help the victims of Hurricane/Tropical Storm Harvey.

The president has pledged $1 million from his own fortune to pay for assistance to storm victims. I applaud the president for the generous pledge. White House press aides say he hasn’t yet decided which charity will get the money, but that he’ll deliver on the pledge in a timely manner.

That is excellent news! Don’t you think? Of course you do!

But … I have to make this simple request of a president known to brag a bit too much on himself.

It is just this: Mr. President, you do not need to remind us of the donation. You’ve pledged it. Decide which charitable organization will receive it. Then just go about doing your job. There’s not a single possible need for you to boast about your personal generosity.

This might be tougher than we imagine for this president. I just hope he resists the temptation to make this kind effort all about himself.

Nature’s awesome power shows our human frailty

The ongoing drama playing out along the Texas Gulf Coast reminds me of what we all know already.

It is that no matter how we seek to control Mother Nature, she ain’t going to be controlled. Period. No way, not no how.

Beaumont utility officials built those detention ponds designed to catch rainwater runoff. The rain came as a result of Tropical Storm — formerly known as Hurricane — Harvey. Except that it came in volumes that far exceeded the detention ponds’ capacity. Houston got inundated first. And before that, Rockport and Corpus Christi felt the rage of storm surge and heavy, killer wind.

The storm has trudged on. It is doing damage now in Louisiana and I understand that Memphis, Tenn., sitting on the east bank of the Mighty Mississippi, if facing potential trouble.

No matter, though, how frail we humans appear to be as we face Nature’s awesome power we do have this capacity to rally and to band together to help our neighbors. My heart swells with pride as I watch first responders answer the call. It swells even more when I watch neighbors helping neighbors, offering valuable assistance to those first responders.

I watch Navy and Coast Guard pilots getting hugs and heartfelt expressions of gratitude from victims they have rescued from rooftops, attics and porches.

I’ve even watched media representatives — yes, those alleged “enemies of the people” — sloshing through muddy water to pull people and their pets out of harm’s way.

We humans cannot control Mother Nature’s awesome force. We try to build levees, dams, detention ponds. We erect sandbag barriers and seawalls along the beach. We hope for the best when Nature unleashes her fury, but also always must expect the worst.

When this storm arrived with its fury and rage, we got the worst — by God!

As the water recedes ever so slowly, though, we are delivering our best. It cannot prevent the destruction, but our best efforts do manage to lift our hearts.

That is no small feat.