Saturday, December 31, 2005

Welcome Back Dick Clark To New Years Eve Show

It was such a good sight seeing Dick Clark return the the New York, New Years Eve show tonight. When my wife first heard him talk she said it made her sad, but I commented that it was a good sign that he was back on the show and while his speech patterns are not what they use to be, his mind was sharp as a tack and that's what's important to me.

When a person has a stroke, like Dick Clark did, it kills off certain parts of the brain, so other parts of the brain have to learn how to do things they have never preformed before. Apparently, when Dick Clark had his stroke, it destroyed the part of the brain that effects his speech patterns. While it might have seemed like a bad thing listening to him talk, the very fact that his brain is relearning these tasks is great news.

Remember it took most of us years to learn the basics of speech just by listening to our parents and other folks around us. Within a few years, Dick Clark will be talking again just like he use to because he has a positive mental attitude and even in his mid 70's he has not given up on life.

Please don't let the way he sounded on the show tonight alarm you. This is perfectly normal when a person has a stroke that effects the speech part of the brain. Other, non damaged parts of his brain will relearn how to talk and he will be sounding like the old Dick Clark before you know it. It speaks volumes to me that he was willing to go back on national television tonight, knowing that he wasn't 100% and would face the ridicule of some. However, he proved to me tonight that he's going to recover from this stroke and continue to live a productive life for as long as he can.

Welcome back Dick Clark. It did my heart good seeing you tonight on television and no matter what any of the so called negative folks might say about you, I believe that you will be good as new in a short period of time!

Bono U2 Problems Surround Africa Effort

In a recent interview, Bono the lead singer of the immensely popular rock group U2, said that his charity work for people in Africa has create some problems for his band and career. I'm not totally sure I agree with his statements, but I don't have any first hand knowledge to the contrary. Bono said that the one thing rock groups can't afford to be is boring and I guess he thinks the fans are becoming bored with his charity work.

If most fans of U2 are so flaky that they don't appreciate band members like Bono getting involved in helping folks that are less fortunate, then it's their fans that need to make changes in their views, not the band. I'm not a big fan of the rock group U2, but I have become aware of them due to the hard work that Bono has put into helping sick children have a chance at survival in Africa.

I have grown to have a lot of respect for Bono and the work he is doing. There isn't going to be some big financial payoff for the work he's doing, but the benefits to his soul are incalculable. Most successful rock groups, like U2, have a certain self life and when it expires, young people, that buy most CD's, move onto some other rock group. That's just how the music business works and that may be what's happening to this massively successful rock band, U2.

There are few groups that can withstand the test of time. The only really successful rock group I know of is "The Rolling Stones", which recently had another tour where many commentators called them the "Rolling Bones" which was due to their older ages and they way they now look at age 60+. However, I'm proud of these guys for still having the strength to continue the hard work of a nightly road show and long tour.

Maybe U2 needs to follow the formula of "The Stones" and keep doing their thing for those of us that are getting older. No rock group can continue to draw young people to their shows when they are middle aged or older. There are millions of us that will continue to go see rock groups that we grew up with because the music they sing is going to always be a part of our lives.

The record companies are going to always be more interested in groups that can sell a bunch of CD's, but the real money from what I understand it from the groups point of view is in live performances and U2 and Bono should have a big enough fan base to continue their careers for many years to come. If this group believes their charitable work is a good thing to do, then their current success should take a back seat to doing the right thing.

2005 Is A Year To Forget Because Of Disaster

In so many ways, 2005 is a year to forget and hopefully not repeat anytime, soon. It started off with Asian countries picking up their dead and dying after a terrible Tsunami killed hundreds of thousands of people in Indonesia, India and Thailand on the day after Christmas. Watching the scenes of destruction on television in this area, it reminded me of pictures of the total destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki after a nuclear bomb was dropped on them.

Even a full year later, most people have not come close to putting their lives back into order and many of the dead have never been found. Many were just washed out to sea to never be seen again. The worst part of this tragedy is that some family units were completely wiped out from grandparents all the way down to their children and grandchildren. The entire family unit was wiped from the earth, forever.

No one in the United States will ever forget Hurricane Katrina. This storm caused more monetary damage than any natural disaster in the countries history. In many ways, this hurricane removed most of the city of New Orleans and other small cities in Louisiana and Mississippi from the map. There are still bits and pieces of cities left, but nothing resembling what was there before Katrina.

The biggest thing that happened in the aftermath of Katrina was the mass relocation of a major city to other communities all over the United States. I've never seen anything like this happen before and I'm not sure this is the best plan when mass evacuations take place in the future. Families were separated from each other, people lost track of their pets and in the latest development convicted criminals have been lost from the system so it's likely they will commit more crimes in the future.

Then came the massive earthquake in Kashmir, located between northern India and Pakistan. This massive earthquake kill tens of thousands of people initially and thousands more died over the next few weeks and months from diseases and exposure to bad weather. While most countries of the world rushed aid to this devastated region of the world, the amount of damage and need far outweighed any counties ability to respond in a fast and meaningful way. Thousands of folks survived the earthquake, only to die from lack of care issues later on.

From my viewpoint, the children are always the ones that get hurt most in a natural disaster like this. It just broke my heart watching these kids suffering and there was nothing that could be done to give them a chance at survival. I love television news, but sometimes I'd rather not see these problems when there are no solutions available to save the children.

There are other disaster stories from this year, but none rise to the level of death and destruction as these three examples. I don't want to see the likes of the year 2005 again any time soon. Let's hope that 2006 will be a more peaceful year for all this worlds citizens.

Brave Rescue Workers In Northern California

I just finished watching an amazing rescue of a lady that was trapped by rising flood waters in northern California. The lady had somehow got out of the cab of her pickup truck and got into the back end as the waters kept rising all around her. Finally, a brave group of men in a helicopter, lowered a single man down, who strapped her into a harness and took her to higher ground.

Watching these rescues are fascinating to me. They are going on every single day somewhere in the country and for everyone we see on television, there are probably a hundred or more going on somewhere that cameras are not rolling. At least a couple of times per month there are helicopter rescues here in my area that involve people that get caught in rising flood waters. There are countless numbers of people that owe their lives to these brave folks and I just wanted to write about them as a tribute to their hard work and brave demeanor of putting others ahead of self.

Most of the time around here in Central Texas, these rescues are conducted by a crack team of professional soldiers from Ft. Hood Texas. As many of you know, Ft. Hood is one of the largest military bases in the nation and the army has several teams of people that are specially trained for search and rescue. It wasn't too long ago that one of their special military teams rescued an entire family from a car that was about to be swept a way by rising flood waters.

It's much to easy to take the power of water for granted. We've seen exactly how much damage water can do when it gets out of control like in the Asian Tsunami and in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. Drowning due to flooding conditions is one of the leading causes of death in the United States because people don't fear water the way they should. Most of us think of water as something to enjoy like going to the lake or beach during the summer time. However, when water gets stirred up like after a heavy rain storm, the power of this force is greater than anything man can built to stop it.

These brave rescue workers put their lives on the line every single day to help people they don't even know. This is what true heroes are made of and if you ask them if they consider themselves heroes they will look at you funny and say they are just doing their jobs. To me, a job is something we all do everyday that doesn't involve risking our lives to draw a paycheck. These rescue workers may not consider themselves heroes, but I sure do and anyone that has had their life saved by one of these folks, definitely will never forget what they did for them.

From what I've read the most dangerous professions in the country are police officers, firefighters and rescue workers. When you look at what the average American earns in their profession, these folks are no where near the top in yearly earnings. However, rescue workers prove everyday that there is more to a person than their financial earning power and if offered the opportunity to trade their low paying dangerous job for a safer high paying job, I believe most of them would say no.

When I see these folks at restaurants, I always try to make it a point to somehow find a way to buy their meal as a small thank you for the job they do to protect all of us. It's easy to get jaded when it comes of law enforcement officers because of some of the bad stories we see on the news from time to time. However, most are just hard working people that joined that line of work because they wanted to do good things for their neighbors. While you might not feel comfortable buying a meal for a police officer, firefighter or rescue worker, you can find something nice to do for these folks to show your appreciation for them putting their lives on the line to protect you and your family when disaster strikes.

Farewell Robert Novak After 25 Years At CNN

Yesterday, was Robert Novak's last day at CNN after 25 years of service with the network. Novak will now travel across town and be a regular contributor at the Fox News Network, which will be a friendlier place for his conservative views. In recent years, I've found myself disagreeing with Robert Novak more than not, but he was always fun to watch on "Crossfire" and whether he was faking it or not, his outbursts and anger at his Democratic co hosts were funny to watch.

No one could ever say with a straight face that Robert Novak didn't have a healthy ego and he has proven that many times in his style of interviewing people and stating his political opinions. He visited Waco once to cover the David Koresh story and pretty much made all the local people mad with his condescending approach of covering the news. I think it would be impossible to be a national corespondent for any news organization without a big ego backing you up. Remember, these national columnist and contributors have to be pretty full of themselves just to be able to get through all the criticism they receive each day.

I still don't understand why Novak wasn't jailed for not revealing his source in the CIA leak prob, but there must be something I'm missing here. Maybe his revelation wasn't what the special council was looking for or something of that nature. Of course, it was that story Robert Novak wrote about in his newspaper column which ultimately caused CNN not to desire to renew his contract. Also, that little temper tantrum he had one day when he walked off the "Crossfire" set didn't help his case with his employers, either.

I guess if I want to see Novak in the future I will have to watch more Fox News, but that's not something I really enjoy doing. I consider myself a moderate independent, politically, and the only thing I'm finding lately on Fox News is far right political talk. However, I will switch over and watch him from time to time, if I know ahead of time he's going to be on-the-air. I wonder if the management at Fox News is going to require him to write another book? It seems like everyone else there has wrote or is writing a book they promote on the network.

The most positive part of this story to me is Robert Novak's age, 74. I hope I'm still able to work as much as he does when I get into my 70's. I remember watching him when I was a kid, back before cable news television, on a weekly TV show with his liberal counterpart who has since passed away. I wish Novak continued success at Fox News and may he continue to be an example for us forty something folks that we are truly middle age when it comes to our careers.

Another Gas Price Increase Coming Soon

On my way home from work tonight, I stopped off at a local convenience store to pick up a couple of cold beers and the attendant told me I should think about getting some gas because the price was going up 10 cents per gallon at midnight. To be honest, I was a little surprised that gas prices were going up again. I haven't heard of any Gulf of Mexico hurricanes or new war talk that would have caused the price to increase and most folks are not traveling near as much as they were this summer.

I've written many times before about the energy market and that I think it's a rigged system where people with the oil raise and lower the price at will, rather than having market forces control the price of crude oil. OPEC was set up for one reason and one reason only and that's to control the price of oil to the world. Oil companies are always saying that they don't have any control over world markets and they are just adjusting their prices due to supply and demand. I just don't by it, anymore.

I think the oil business is a racket and we, the gas users are the victim in this system. I heard on the news today that average heating oil and natural gas prices are going to be 40-50% higher this year than last. How in the world are average Americans going to be able to afford increases of this magnitude? We won't be able to in the long run, but in the short run will will pay them and just be thankful when they go back down.

What we are living in here is an oil game. Producers raise the price every few months, but not too much or long enough for governments around the world to place increase taxes or restrictions on their pricing game. In a true competitive market there would be companies that would take major oil company increases like this and find new customers with discounted prices. However, that doesn't happen in the oil business because everyone that is in the supply chain is in on the game and it's the consumer that will ultimately pay for their extra profits.

In any retail business, except oil, there is true competition that keeps one retailer from price gouging the consumer. However, when was the last time you saw a real gas war between oil companies? It's been a long time for me, now they just all raise their prices together and the customers gets suck with the bill. This is not TRUE competition and the quicker we all lean this fact, the better.

Without governments stepping in and regulating this industry, there will be tremendous price gouging for the foreseeable future. At heart, I believe in capitalism, but not this type of system where there is no real competition, but the appearance of it, which isn't the same thing.

We consumers have been manipulated for years by oil companies and OPEC into believing that these price increases are just part of the competitive marketplace. This is bunk and we all need to make a lot of noise to our legislators because with all the contributions they receive from the oil industry, the only thing they might listen to is the fact they might get defeated if they don't listen to their voters.

Lost Sex Offenders After Hurricane Katrina

In one of the most disturbing events to occur after Hurricane Katrina, registered sex offenders have disappeared from the folks that are in charge of keeping tabs on them and have scattered out all over the country due to the way the government evacuated residents of Louisiana and Mississippi. Some government officials say that many of these creeps may be gone from offender tracking entirely, until they commit another sex crime. This is terrible news.

From what I've been able to find out, there could be thousands of convicted sex offenders that were evacuated from New Orleans alone and most have not checked back in with their probation officers to let them know where they have relocated. Most of these type of criminals repeat their crimes and there could be thousands of children being abused at this very moment nationwide because these criminals have disappeared from the radar screen.

It's one thing to track someone within a particular states borders, but when you ship these people out to 50 different states, in many ways you are opening up the prisons doors and letting them run wild though out a country that doesn't have a clue that their new neighbor or coworker is a convicted sex offender.

This may be a wake up call for the federal government to create a national sex registry, instead of relying on state government to keep up with these criminals. It's a proven fact that most sex offenders will not change their ways and if given the chance they will find another child to abuse and often times kill to satisfy their narcissistic dark sexual desires.

In one state out west, I can't remember exactly which one, they have an island where they place sex offenders that have served their time, but are likely to repeat their offenses if released back into the general population. There are large legal questions about this practice of separating people from society who have already served their jail sentences and this may eventually be declared unconstitutional. However, families are scared to death these days to have their children out of their sight because sex offenders are in every neighborhood and if you doubt this just check your state registry of sex offenders.

I don't have a clue what the ultimate answer is when dealing with people that have this mind set that abusing children is somehow OK. It just makes me sick and most people are frustrated by the fact that nothing anyone tries seem to work in getting these sex offenders to stop their abusive nature. Many states have tried different types of treatments, but to my knowledge nothing seems to be effective at stopping this sick desire they have to abuse children.

The only solution I can think of is to make sure they can't repeat their crimes by separating them permanently from people that might be their next victim. This metal disease they have has not yet been proven to be treated effectively and it's wrong to turn these kinds of criminals back out of society, when there is a 99% chance they will commit the same type of crime again.

Dry Conditions Force Texas Fireworks Ban

Many counties in the state of Texas have banned all fireworks ahead of New Years Eve, because extremely dry conditions and high winds are threatening to turn the state into a huge brush fire this holiday weekend. The past week there have been hundreds of fires, statewide, that have destroy dozens of homes and left many people dead.

The state of Texas along with Oklahoma are experiencing sever drought conditions and it doesn't take much for a small fire to get out of control since all the open prairies in the area are all dead, brown and dried out from lack of water.

The area in live in, Central Texas, which includes the cities Waco, Temple and Killeen have been hit hard by wildfires the past week and the wind conditions around here are worse than I've seen them in a long time. Up north of us in Tarrant county there have also been many fires around the DFW area and firefighters are stretched pretty thin, as it is, without the potential added problems of fireworks for New Years Eve celebrations.

I would think that common sense would keep folks from setting off fireworks this year because of the dry conditions, but some people just don't have any common sense and if authorities don't tell them not to do something, they are going to do it. Some will do it anyway and I hope those folks end up with a big fine or in jail for a couple of days to think about their actions. They probably won't learn anything, but like I always say, they won't be starting any new fires while they are in jail.

I saw on the local news today, that some county governments can pass laws to forbid fireworks, but their legal council told them they could not impose fines or jail time for those that violate this law. This is crazy, how can you have a law without some kind of punishment for violators? I guess the state legislature will have to revise or create new law so these kinds of fireworks bans can be enforced in future years.

Cable television in our area covers live fireworks displays anyway and it's really more fun to watch them on television than getting out in the bad weather and setting them off yourself. The big problem with New Years Eve fireworks is the fact that the other big product that is purchased over this weekend, alcohol, makes some people think they are invincible and they will do stupid stuff they wouldn't think of doing if they were not drinking.

The governor, county leaders and mayors all around the state of Texas have been on television all day encouraging people to please not set off fireworks this weekend and I certainly hope most will heed their warnings. Texas has a huge rural population and there are farm and ranch homes all over the state that could be threatened by these wildfire, if people don't abstain from using them this year. I sure hope my fellow citizens are listening.

Amtrak Angers Riders on 'Silver Streak'

People on board the Amtrak "Silver Streak" were not happy campers the past couple of days when they were stranded on their train, near Savannah Georgia after a freight train derailment ahead of them tore up the tracks and it took several days before the wreckage was cleared up and the track repaired.

I was watching CNN this afternoon and they had one of the trains passengers live on-the-air via her cell phone. This lady sounded tired, hungry and just plain mad at Amtrak for not finding them other means of transportation after this long two day delay. According to her, the passengers had been stuck on this, non moving train, for almost a day , at that time, and the company had not tried to find them fresh food to eat or had not offered to get them other forms of transportation so they could continue their trip.

An Amtrak spokesman said they had tried to find alternate transportation via charter buses, but there were not enough of them available because of this upcoming holiday weekend. While listening to this lady on the telephone talking to CNN, I could hear the frustration and anger in her voice and I'm sure if I was in the same situation, I would be angry too. She said that just like clock work the Amtrak employees changed shifts, but the train still didn't move from it's out of the way location.

I think the right thing to do would have been for Amtrak to put these passengers up in a motel or hotel just like the airlines do when there is a long delay like this one. Surely, their planners have figure some kind of problem like this into the operating manual and if their planned solution is to just strand passengers on the train until he tracks are eventually cleared, that plan needs to be revised.

I'm surprised that fights and other problems didn't breakout on this trip. Most people are not at their best when travel anyway, but you put the added stress of a train that isn't moving and a company that can't give you firm answers as to when your trip can continue, will add even more fuel to the fire. I hope this example will teach leaders at Amtrak that they need a better plan for rerouting passengers when unforeseen events like this one that place in the future.

I've always wanted to get on a train and take a long trip across the country. I know people that have done this and they tell me it was one of the best vacations of their lives. There is something romantic about traveling on a passenger train, especially at night and no doubt these folks on this particular train were hoping for a nice uneventful trip, but instead it turned into some kind of "Griswall" family vacation with Chevy Chase in charge of the planning!

Let's all hope that Amtrak will learn from this latest situation and have a better backup plan for their service in the years to come. They have had financial problems for a long time and many government leaders would just as soon they go out of business, but I hope they don't. I still want to take my cross country train trip someday, and if I don't want to spend it in a boxcar, Amtrak will still need to be around to make this dream trip a reality.

Friday, December 30, 2005

Europe Frozen Solid After Winter Storm

A massive winter storm has hit the continent of Europe with sub zero temperatures and ice and snow are making driving conditions very hazardous, if not down right impossible right now. It might be little late for a "White Christmas", but folks in this area are making up for it with a frozen new year.

The main road between Vienna and Budapest has been closed after almost six dozen vehicles were involved in traffic accidents and local weather reports state that there won't be any relief for at least the next couple of days. Some in this area are already starting to call this storm the "European Deep Freeze" because that's what it feels like outside.

Just about every country is being hit with heavy snow and worst of all ice which will eventually cause major power outages throughout the area. Massive traffic jams are reported in Germany and Switzerland, and the governments of Italy, Poland and France are concerned with the well being of their homeless population and they have sent out volunteers to try and find them and help get them to a warm shelter.

The biggest issue in these kinds of storms is the possibility of wide spread power outages which could cause millions of people to go without power and without electricty there will be no heating for many people. Of course, the elderly are always going to be the hardest hit by a storm like this because many are shut ins without close family members near by to check in on them.

Just a few years ago when France had a very hot summer, many of the elderly were killed by heat exposure because air conditioning isn't always part of housing in France because most of the time it's not needed. I would assume many elderly people would be faced with the same type of situation during a winter storm like this one, if they didn't have heat for their homes and apartments.

This is a classic example of why it's important for kids to check on the parents and grandparents during sever weather like this and to make sure they are alright. Many times parents and grandparents will say everything is fine on the telephone, but in reality, there are not fine. So nothing is better than an in person check of their home, pantry and refrigerator just to make sure they are in a position to ride out this sever winter storm.

Looks like many folks on the continent of Europe will be celebrating the new year from home this time and as long as they have already stocked up on their bubbly brew, they should be fine. My wife and I have been watching the new year come in on television now for several years and that's just fine with me. The last time we headed out to a public place, a couple of drunks tried to run us off the road when we were coming back home.

I was just looking at some pictures on the Internet from Germany, and the positive side of a winter storm like this one, is that it makes everything look so beautiful. The trees were full of ice and snow and in one picture, I saw a man that was walking down a country road with snow on the ground and ice sickles hanging from the trees. It looked like one of those old famous winter pictures you might see from time to time in a magazine.

If you live in this hard hit area, please check in on our friends and family that might not be OK after several days of being stranded at home. It's the right and moral thing to do and if you have extra groceries, take some extra food by to these shut ins or donate it to a local homeless shelter because they are going to need all the help they can get during a terrible winter storm like this one.

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Too Many Dead From Cancer Disease

For those of you that are regular readers here, you know that I write often about cancer and the lives this terrible disease destroys everyday. I know some of the best minds in the world are working on a cure or vaccine to stop this terrible killer, but while we are all waiting for that miracle cure to arrive, thousands of people are dying horribly painful deaths from cancer.

The latest case to happen near me, was a coworker that found out she had cancer about one month ago, her family buried her on Christmas Eve. Before being diagnosed, she seemed fine to most people, but once the cancer was discovered, she was in the grave within 30 days. There wasn't anything her doctors could do to save her.

Medical research professionals have done wonder things in treatment of certain kinds of cancer, like skin, breast and leukemia, but the major cancer killers like lung, pancreatic and liver seem to be killing more and more folks all the time and there are not very many proven effective treatments against these type of cancers. Hardly a week goes by without me hearing of someone else that has been diagnosed with this terrible disease and I'm beginning to wonder if cancer cases are on the increase or if I'm just hearing more about them now that I'm getting older?

There is a good chance that when I die it will be from some form of cancer. At least I would assume this is the case since my grandfather, uncle and father all died from different forms of this disease. The funny thing is that all three of these relatives had cancer in totally different parts of the body and there was no single common denominator. However, the fact that they all did get cancer and all three eventually died from the disease, it only makes sense that I look at these facts with an open mind.

Since cancer has stricken my family so many times over the years, I've made it a mission to study this disease and possible treatment options as they become available. The most promising thing I've heard about are new studies that are taking cancer cells from an persons body and teaching those cells how to fight that persons particular type of cancer, then re injecting those cells back into the body. Basically, this procedure is teaching the body how to fight the cancer from the inside out. Just like our antibodies kill bacteria and viruses everyday.

The biggest problem is that we are years away from anything like this being available to patients with cancer and many more people will die before such a treatment could even be viable. There has also been talk of a cancer vaccine and this research shows promise too. However, it's still in the development stage, as well and it will be years before it could possibly be available to sick patients.

The fact that many people die within a few months of their cancer diagnosis makes these new potential treatments seem like "pie in the sky" to them. So in the mean time, the medical community will continue to treat sick cancer patients with chemotherapy and x-ray treatments which, to be effect, have to take the person being treated right up to deaths door without crossing over. There has to be a better solution to fighting this disease and surely someone smart will stumble upon it before too much longer.

The medical research community has made much progress in recent years treating various types of diseases and the fact that most people will live well into their 70's, these days, offers proof as to just how far they have come in treating diseases that use to rob people of their lives at early ages. I just hope that meaningful cancer treatments for those most seriously ill that are facing death within days, not months will be developed, soon.

I'm so tried of attending funerals for family, friends and coworkers that seem to have their whole life ahead of them, if it were not for this terrible disease called cancer. To me, cancer is the worst type of disease imaginable. It's painful and before it robs you of your life, it steals any sense of esteem you might have in personal appearance or self worth. It's time to stop this disease and if it takes the government spending billions of dollars to get this done, then so be it. In the mean time, please help the American Cancer Society anyway you can.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Tony Dungy Returns Home After Son Funeral

Indianapolis head coach, Tony Dungy returned to his team today after a one week absents when his son, James Dungy, died shortly before Christmas of an apparent suicide. The "Colts" have an excellent chance of winning the "Superbowl" this year and if they do, the main person that put this great team together, Tony Dungy, should get most of the credit.

What I like about this Indianapolis team is that there are so many good players that make up the team. In the past few years, the "Colts" had a great offense, but the defense was well, just so, so. However, this year, coach Dungy has put it all together and built a strong team in all positions on both offense, defense and special teams.

With the loss of coach Dungy's son, only a couple of games before the playoffs start, I imagine most experts would think it unlikely the team could make it all the way to and win the "Superbowl", but I think they will win their playoff games and win the "Superbowl" in February.

Did you see coach Dungy talking to the media after his sons funeral on Tuesday? My heart was aching when I heard him talking about his son and the fact that as a Christian, James Dungy, was in heaven now with God for all eternity. This man is so full of class it's unbelievable. In many ways, Tony Dungy, reminds me of Tom Landry the Dallas Cowboys coach of the 70's. He doesn't have a lot to say, but when he tells you what he thinks, everyone listens and pays attention.

There's much more to the success of a man than his wins, losses or financial standing. A real man leads by example and that's what has made coach Dungy, such a successful coach, not only in Indianapolis, but in Tampa Bay, earlier. If "Time Magazine" had not of already selected their man of the year, I would think he would be a fitting person for that title. Of course, there is always next year and if he was in the running he would get my vote.

For coach Dungy, I would image the best therapy for his heavy heart would be to get back to work and start focusing on more positive things, like taking his team through the playoffs and to the "Superbowl" and that's exactly what I expect him to do. When I've experience a death of a close family member, in the past, I've found work to be a good way to get my mind on something else, so the healing of the heart can get started. Like I've said before, I'm not sure a persons heart can totally heal from the tragedy of losing a child, but we as human beings must try to find some way to deal with a loss like this and continue on with our lives. It's not easy, but nothing good in life is really all that easy.

It's hard for me to write another story about coach Dungy and his son without mentioning once again how important it is for parents to watch for signs of depression in their children. There is so much good quality research available on the Internet and from local mental health experts on this subject. Please learn about the waring signs and take comfort that if your child is suffering from depression there are treatments available that really do work.

Heavy Rains Create More California Flooding

Many major rivers and streams in southern California have been rising the past week due to heavy rains which the local desert terrain can't handle. I've noticed the past couple of years that the weather in California is almost the total opposite of here in Texas. Right now we are dry as a bone and brush fires are a daily problem. However, in southern California they are getting much more rain than they can handled and no relief is in sight.

All this heavy rain is being caused by a strange weather system in the Pacific Ocean which is stirring up high waves and dangerous conditions for swimmers and surfers all around the area. Someone told be once that land in the desert is like a paved drive way. The ground is as hard as a rock and when water hits it, rather than soak in like it's suppose to, it just runs off like it would on a cement sidewalk during a driving rain.

Of course, there is one place in California where the rain does soak into and that's the hillside areas. However, rather than being a good thing, it just causes mudslides which can wreck havoc on roads and homes anywhere near them when they start to slide. It was just a few years ago when a big chunk of mountain gave way and buried dozens of homes in this area.

This year is turning out to be one of the worst years I've ever seen when it comes to weather disasters and while I thought all the bad stuff might have been over after the hurricane season, here comes the California heavy rains. It's almost like 2005 isn't going to go out quietly. This year has been a pain, weather wise, all year long and it looks like we are not going to see any relief in the last few days of this year.

A newscaster said something once that I just remembered, when talking about all the potential problems of California, from earthquakes to sever flooding, he said that there is a price for living in paradise and that kind of makes sense to me. People that live in southern California love living in desert conditions with a cool westerly wind blowing in off the Pacific Ocean. It must seem like paradise to them, most of the time. It's these darn off days that make life bad and turn paradise into hell, a few times each year.

There is some good news in this story because engineers have been busy the past few years widening rivers and raising bridges in many parts of southern California, to better allow heavy rain runoff to leave flood prone areas quickly. By raising the bridges, it helps them not clog up with junk as the flood waters rush down stream. As we've seen in other flooded areas like New Orleans, these clogged bridges can create a ton of problems when they prevent water from moving naturally.

To all my friends in California, take a deep breath and blow that rain away to an area where it will be welcome. Central Texas, where I live, sounds like a good place!

Father Kills Three (3) Daughters In Pakistan Honor Killing

There was news today out of Pakistan about a father that killed three of his daughters and a stepdaughter because he didn't want them to grow up and commit adultery. It's unbelievable that people in the world still believe in acts like this and it's even more disturbing that many religious leaders and governments condone such behavior.

In Pakistan women are still looked more upon as property of men than individuals. Other counties pretty much believe the same way. Apparently, this father was trying to save his family honor by killing his daughters who he thought MIGHT grow up and commit adultery. In most countries of the world this kind of statement might be something used by a defense attorney if they didn't have anything else to defend their client with.

It's important that we don't paint everyone in Pakistan with a wide brush and assume that all men in that country feel the same way. If this kind of thing was going on everyday, there would be worldwide condemnation and the fact that this story made the news today, proves that it's not that wide spread of a practice.

The Muslim religion, like every other major religion on the earth has at it's core a message of love, peace and understanding. However, just like in Christianity, some in the Muslim world take a few words of scripture and mold it around the beliefs and opinions that want to live their lives by. In many ways, Islam has been hijacked by a few folks that are using this religion to justify murder.

Christians have had their own set of problems with extremist throughout history such as the "Spanish Inquisitions" and with nut cases like David Koresh and Jim Jones. There are always going to be some people that believe their way is the only way to salvation and if you won't follow them then you're some kind of devil that should be killed.

I feel terrible for the mother of these poor girls that were killed in Pakistan. The father reportedly told her not to interfere with his killing spree and she was forced to watch as he killed each one of them by cutting their throats. The youngest daughter was only four years old. This guy should never be allowed to walk the street again as a free man. He is a potential treat to anyone that doesn't agree with his extremist views.

For most people the thought of their child dying before them is something they don't even want to think about and I feel confident that this is something that is felt in all religions. This man is mental disturbed or has been brainwashed beyond recovery. Either way he is a threat to other members of his family and the public in general.

I've heard similar stories in other countries over the years and when you read about something like this, it's natural for you to get angry and want to punish someone that has committed such a crime. However, the good news is that this isn't happening all the time and when it does happen, just about everyone will believe that no father has the right to kill his children, for any reason.

Let's please try not to lump this murder in Pakistan in with all people of his faith. Just like we don't assume all Christians are bad because of the actions of David Koresh or Jim Jones. There will always be people that will do terrible things in the name of religion and when we all hear stories like this one, it would be easy to use that big brush to condemn a religion because of the actions of just one man or group of men. No man, religious or not has the right to kill his own children under any circumstance.

Are People Living In A Retirement Pipe Dream?

Social Security and company pensions have made it possible for millions of Americans to retire and have a few good years with their families without the need to clock in and work five days a week. Are we headed back to the days when people had to work for their entire life? I'm beginning to think that's a possibility and just wanted to discuss a few of the reasons I feel this way.

When Social Security first started, most people worked for the same company for 30 to 40 years, but that's just not true anymore. When large companies started offering pensions, they were trying to get employees to stay there until they were 65 years old. Then they could retire with a fair pension which would sustain their families when they didn't have a regular paycheck coming in anymore. A pension was like a super benefit that many people counted on and the main reason they would stay with a job, even though many didn't like the work.

I still hear talk of pensions in televisions shows like Law & Order. Police officers are always talking about getting in their 20 years and having a nice pension for retirement. However, the biggest talk I hear today about pensions is the fact that companies are tyring to get out of paying them to workers who have sacrificed for years for that promised retirement benefit. If the government allows pensions to be taken away from workers, can it be that long before this same government will take away the Social Security benefits that were promised, as well?

There are some real issues that plague pensions, such as all of us living longer than we were expected to when the concept was first devised and company greed when it comes to funding those pensions for their workers. During the 1980's a few smart guys on Wall Street found a way to take over companies, steal their pension funds and become mega rich in the process. While this practice has been stopped for the most part, it does make some company executives nervous about potential corporate raiders trying to take over their company just so they can loot the company pension account.

Most of us have heard stories recently about major airlines that are in financial trouble and some are declaring bankruptcy, which will change all the rules in regards to their employees pension accounts. There is a good chance in 2006 we will see GM, Ford or both seek protection from a bankruptcy judge which will put their pension programs in the same situation as the airlines. All this is leading to my first statement about whether retirement is going to become a thing of the past and if all of us will continue to work until our bodies ultimately fail. I do see this as a distinct possibility.

It's pretty much assumed that the Social Security system will eventually become insolvent. In fact, it's broke today because the federal government takes all the surplus generated by social security taxes and spends in on government programs. They don't save any of it, they just spend everything that comes in. At the same time, the number of retires in the system grows every single month and will continue to grow faster as baby boomers start to reach retirement age.

I've just about settled myself to the possibility that I may have to work my entire life, instead of retiring at 65 or 68 years old. I really don't mind that much because I don't think I would know what to do with myself if I didn't have something to do each morning when I woke up. However, not everyone enjoys working as much as I do and many people put up with jobs they hated for years, just for the pension benefit that job offered them. These folks are going to be rightfully angry if that promise isn't kept. If pension programs are not going to work financially, someone in authority needs to step forward and level with the folks that are retired now and the future retirees that are paying into a system which will end up broke before they even reach retirement age.

This is probably too much to ask because politicians have become good at kicking the ball down the road and letting someone else deal with these kinds of REAL problems. Corporate leaders don't really care because they are going to retire with millions of dollars whether their company remains solvent or goes into bankruptcy. It's the average middle class worker which will be hit the hardest if it turns out that pensions become a thing of the past. Most of them don't even have six months pay in a savings account.

I wondered if all these retirement and pension benefits might be coming to an end even back in the 1970's. It's true that most people with pensions are still being paid their monthly income, so maybe I'm blowing this whole situation up to a higher level than it deserves. If politicians get away with taking away the pensions of folks at the airlines and auto makers by not paying a prices at the polls for their actions, it will only be a matter of time before every ones pension and Social Security will be changed, reduced or eliminated and the lifestyle of retirement might just disappear for the average worker, forever.

Tans Are Good - Sun Not The Enemy Anymore

Finally, some medical research that makes me happy. Recent studies have been conducted that say that Vitamin D could reduce the risks of many forms of cancer, including colorectal and breast cancer and the even better news is that exposure to the sun is the best and most effective way to get Vitamin D into your body. For once, a medical study that praises sun exposure instead of demonizing it.

Now before we all go nuts and start laying in the sunlight all day, only 10 to 15 minutes of sun per day is necessary to get the full benefit of Vitamin D. However, this is welcome news to people, like me, that have worried for years about sun exposure and potential risks of skin cancer. These risk are still a possibility if we don't use moderation when going outside in the summer time, but the fact that getting some sun on your skin can be good for you, is great news.

In upcoming weeks, I'm sure the old anti sun folks are going to stick their head out of their dark caves and start picking apart this new research because to them, something is either all bad or all good. However, in reality there are very few things that are totally bad or good, most things are good, if done in moderation and sun exposure is the latest example of this fact of life.

There is something soothing about sunlight on the skin. I remember times while riding in the car and not feeling too well and then some sunshine starts coming through the side window onto my arm and before you know it I start feeling better. It's been proven that areas with little sunlight, like parts of Alaska have the highest depression and suicide rates, so there may be more benefits to sun exposure than possible cancer prevention.

So now, I can go to lake this summer and drink two cold beers while sitting in the sun for 15 minutes. What a wonderful way to stay healthy! I wish it was four beers and 30 minutes of sun, but I guess I can't have everything I want. I'll just tell my wife I'm doing this for my health and I'm sure she will be very understanding now with this new research on my side!

All jokes aside, this is very good news and if these studies can be confirmed by other researchers in the future, we will see even further evidence that sunshine, taken in moderation is just another good thing to help keep our bodies healthy.

It's New Years Resolution Time Again

With the new year coming up in just a couple of days, it's time to start thinking about those new years resolutions we all make and very few of us keep. A few years ago I made a new years resolution that I would not make anymore of these silly things and for once in my life I've been able to keep one for several years!

I think most new years resolutions are in areas of our life that we would like to change for the better, so the idea of a resolution isn't bad, it's just hard to keep one when we've had too many glasses of champagne when we come up with them. Ever heard that judgement is bad when alcohol is consumed? It's true and this is another example of how firm we can be New Years Eve night with our resolutions and forget all about them when the hang over appears the next morning.

Losing weight must be the biggest new years resolution in the world, at least the makers of diet aids and folks that write books on how to lose weight sure do try and sell as many of their products as possible during the first few weeks of each new year.

I'm as guilty as anyone because I have bought these books and products in years past with high hopes that I would be able to lose some weight and keep it off. However, all the programs I tried worked just fine as long as I stuck with them, but that was my problem, I couldn't stick with the program long enough for it to do me the kind of good I wanted to see.

As the years have passed me by, I've decided that all diets are eventually going to fail because while all of them are based on science, our appetites are more based on emotion and feeling. At least that's what I believe is really going on with weight gain and loss in most people.

Another big resolution that is made each New Years Eve, is stop smoking. While some folks are successful in giving up the old cancer sticks after making a new years resolution, most will fail and this is an area I can talk about confidently because I'm an ex-smoker and I know just how hard it is to kick the nicotine habit. In my life, it was the hardest thing I ever did.

Almost everyone that has quit smoking will tell you that quiting is a process, not a cut and dried type of event. The way to quit smoking is to keep failing until you eventually succeed. Hardly anyone just puts the cigarettes down and never smokes again. I know I've heard those stories too about how grandpa just put down those smokes one day and never missed them. This is propaganda for most folks and if you're a smoker, don't get discouraged when you hear stories like this because most of them are not true.

It's the most natural thing in the world to fail with your attempts to quit smoking many times until you succeed. That's what I mean when I say that you have to fail yourself to success when giving up nicotine. Just like with diet books and aids, there will be millions of dollars spend on advertising by companies trying to get you to try their system or products to quit smoking and the long term success rate of these products are just as bad as those for weight loss.

If you haven't already made a new years resolution, you might want to copy mine. Resolve to never make resolutions, again. Maybe it's not as much fun as making new years resolutions, but you won't get depressed early next year when you break that darn thing again!

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

No Shame Thieves Steal From Red Cross

When you think about the worst possible criminals, the folks that stole money from the Red Cross that was suppose to go to people devastated by Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana and Mississippi have to appear high on that list. Police in California have already arrested at least one dozen people in this scam with more arrested expected in the next few weeks.

These folks that did this must have some kind mental issues which keep their brains from having a conscience. Anyone that watched the destruction and suffering of folks after this storm would have to have some kind of sociopathic personality to steal from these folks and not give it a second thought.

There were the so called experts on television today that were criticizing the Red Cross for hiring outside contractors to help distribute aid to needy families. However, I don't think it's the Red Cross's fault that some folks decided to steal money that was meant for people in need. The financial tragedy of Hurricane Katrina was far greater than any single event this agency has faced in a long time and for the first few weeks they were trying to find help anywhere they could get it so that the people with immediate needs could be helped.

Rather than point fingers at the Red Cross, I believe that state prosecutors need to make an example out of these folks that ripped off these families in need. It's hard to believe they have much redeeming value to society when they have such little regard for people that have lost everything. Maybe a few years in jail might make a permeate change in their attitude and even if it doesn't, they won't be on the streets stealing from anyone else while they are locked up for their crimes.

It seems like white collar crime is growing in recent years and this is just another step in that evolution. We've seen examples of corporate CEO's ripping off folks in the stock market and many people are just following their example and taking money whenever and where ever they think they can get away with it. Most of us have to guard our computers now days like Fort Knox because hackers and other criminals are always trying to steal private information they can turn into cash for themselves.

I'm a big supporter of the Red Cross and I think they are doing their best to distribute money fairly to the victims of Hurricane Katrina. There is no other private organization that could even attempt what they have done to help people and families in need and the country owns this organization a debt of gratitude, not a slap in the face, for all their hard work.

Let's keep our eyes on who the real criminals are in this story. They are the people that went to work for the Red Cross NOT to help their fellow man, but to enrich themselves. These kind of people have been around since the beginning of time and they are not going away. All we can do is punish the people that have committed these crimes and try to learn more about them so we don't get victimized by their likes again. Don't blame this good organization for the sins of others. The Red Cross is an honest organization!

Enron Accountant Pleads Guilty For Deal

It seem like an eternity since news of the shady dealings at Enron became public and I was beginning to wonder if anything was ever going to be done to punish those at the very top of this company who stole millions of dollars and destroyed the retirement programs of former employees and regular citizens that bought their stock using false and misleading company information.

The news today that their top accountant has plead guilty of wrong doing and has agreed to testify against other top company officials, maybe will bring some kind of closure to this business tragedy that has effected so many people around the country. When I think about what these company leaders did to folks that trusted their reporting and judgment, it makes me angry and disappointed that they live in the same state that I do, Texas.

Enron is not the only company that committed fraud during the "gold rush" stock market days of the late 1990's, but it seems like it is taking longer for the government to make it's case against them. The CEO of Worldcom has already gone on trial and been sentenced for his wrongdoing. Most people have no idea how much damage these few people at the top of Enron did to thousands of people around the country.

While regular investors were hurt, badly, the former employees of Enron that took their company CEO's advice to continue to buy stock when he knew the company was going down the tubes, is disgraceful. During this same time period when he was telling Enron employees that everything was great at the company and they should buy more stock, he was dumping all of his shares into the marketplace to save his own financial butt. What a wimp.

In this way, Kenneth Lay is worse than many other CEO's that drove their companies into bankruptcy. He not only destroy his company, but he tried to financially ruin his own employees in the process. I don't think this man has any kind of conscience at all. He tried to hold onto his wealth at any cost and that's plain wrong when you're hurting other people in the process.

Hopefully, all the guilty people in the company, Enron, will be punished for their greed, soon. In future years, I can see a caption in the dictionary under the term corporate fraud, that might show a picture of the shiny Enron corporate building in Houston. I sometimes wonder if what this company was up to is more the rule than the exception? Man, I hope it's the exception or more bad news is heading our way the next time the stock market corrects itself in a big way.

Millions of people that had issues investing in public companies before this fraud, have been completely turned off by the Enron corporate scandal and some will never invest in the stock market again. This is too bad because the stock market is a good place to invest long term money for retirement, but many people will stick to CD's and Treasury Bills because of scandals like this.

I'm ready for this whole Enron scandal to be settled, legally, once and for all. I'm sure there is more bad news to come as the legal cases of these top executives continues, but hopefully soon the guilty will be punished and we can quit hearing about these financial MBA's that were really nothing more than well educated, criminals.

Republican Talk - Party Splits Into Two (2) Different Parts

In the near future I see the Republican party splitting into two different parties. One will be the traditional Republican party and the other will be more like a conservative party. This is going to happen because right wing Republicans are going to demand totally loyalty to their issues and won't allow any room for others in the party to have differing viewpoints.

I don't listen to conservative talk radio that much anymore, but I have noticed a new term that is being floated out there called "RINO" which stands for "Republicans In Name Only". If you visit Rush Limbaugh's web site you will see this term used when talking about moderates in the party like John McCain or Rudy Giuliani.

This new approach by conservatives in the Republican party will eventually spell the end of the party as we know it and I think that's exactly what they want to see happen. Most far right conservatives see the world only in the black and white, conservatives versus liberals on issues. Regular party affiliation isn't important to these ideologues and to them it's their way or the highway.

I still believe we live in a world full of grey and I want our country to somehow move more toward the center, eventually. However, it does look like this is going to take a long time to accomplish because ideologues in both major U.S. political parties have become so entrenched in office that is hard to find many elected officials that have mainstream opinions anymore.

When we do find them, there are made fun of or outright criticized by their own party lenders and pundits for not following their parties ideological line. John McCain is a perfect example of this new thinking. I don't believe anyone would see Senator McCain as an extremist on any issue, but when Republican party leaders talk about him these days, it's more in a condescending voice than a political family, big tent, type of approach. Throughout history ideologues always self destruct, eventually, but I'm not sure this will happen in the Republican party until they have completely destroyed the party for the foreseeable future.

The only hope we moderate Republicans have is that in the 2006 Congressional elections that conservative Congressmen are defeated at all cost by someone, anyone that is not an extremist. There is already talk that Republican party leaders are targeting for defeat Republican Congressmen in Texas, in state primaries next March, that they believe have not been ideological enough on their core issues. Talk about eating your own!

The conservative Republican party self destruction is already underway, but it could take many years to fully reach it's peak. I find it hard to believe at this point that someone like John McCain or Rudy Giuliani could even get the parties nomination, but hopefully I'm wrong.

The first sign that a party is self destruction is when they start fighting among themselves and the people in power start making fun of the folks that are not following the program. That's exactly what I think this new "RINO" slogan is all about. This next Congressional election is going to prove whether the Republican party has a chance at long term survival. If they lose the House of Representatives and more moderate legislators are elected, then the party has a chance. However, if somehow the DeLay and crowd get reelected, then it's only a matter of time before they self destruct via implosion and a new party or two comes along to take their place.

Mustang Oklahoma Is Up In Smoke

I was switching around channels on TV yesterday and caught live coverage of grass fires that had destroyed several homes in the Mustang Oklahoma area. Since I live in Central Texas, not too far away from where these fires were happening, I can tell you that since Christmas Eve this entire region of the country has been hit with high winds every single day. When you couple these high winds with dry dead grass you've got a formula for big fires and that's what's happening.

Many parts of Texas have been suffering from grass fires, too the past couple of days. The Fort Worth Texas fire department was called out dozens of times on Tuesday alone. Here in Central Texas, firefighters in Bell County have been busy all day fighting small grass fires in rural areas and one big range fire near Ft. Hood in Killeen Texas. These type of brush fires are common this time of year in our area. What has made the past couple of days really bad are high winds which turn small fires into large ones before fireman can get a handle on the blazes.

When most folks outside of Texas think about our state, Dallas, Houston and San Antonio are probably the first things that come to their mind, but this state is huge and stretches almost one thousand miles from Shreveport Louisiana to El Paso Texas and 99% of this area is unpopulated with scattered housing with miles and miles of empty fields which are full of dead grass which makes a perfect fuel for wildfires.

The last weather report I heard said that winds should be dying down the next few days, which is good news for everyone that lives in this area. However, the winds will come back before the grass turns green again next spring and everyone has to be extra careful with these type of conditions. The term "burn ban" is a regular part of our local TV news coverage in this area and most of these fires could be prevented if folks would just use a little bit of common sense.

There are a bunch of public officials that are worried that people will ignore these potential fire situations and go out on New Years Eve and set off fireworks, like they always do, without thinking they might be causing a huge fire if they are not extra careful. Most cities in Texas ban the use of fireworks in their city limits, but people are free to buy their own fireworks and set them off in rural county areas. These are the very areas that have been hit the past few days with wild grass fires.

I hope folks in this area and others that are in the "red zone" for fires, will decide to go somewhere and watch a professional fireworks display this year. I doubt if this will happen because old habits die hard, but maybe all of us in this area will dodge a big bullet on New Years Eve and make it to the New Year without anymore wildfires.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Coach Tony Dungy's Son Is Laid to Rest

James Dungy, the son of Indianapolis Colts head coach Tony Dungy was laid to rest in Florida today. The young Dungy apparently committed suicide last week at only 18 years of age. Dozen of current and former NFL players, owners and coaches were in attendance for his funeral. With his whole life ahead of him, it's hard to understand why a young man like this would wish to die rather than continue his life.

This is a perfect example of how life is about more than football and while I enjoy watching NFL games on Sunday as much as any other person, what really counts in life is your family and close friends. There is no doubt in my mind that the Dungy family has made a bunch of friends over the years.

Before becoming the Indianapolis head coach, Tony Dungy lead the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and their players turned out in huge numbers today to pay their last respects to their former coach's son. I was wondering last night how this family will ever be able to enjoy the holiday's again? Every time Christmas season comes in the future, it will be marked by this vision of their son taking his own life.

Imagine the second guessing that will go on in this family about what they might have done to get help for James or what they might have failed to do that could have caused him to take his own life. I've been through these feelings before and I can say that there are no real answers and there was nothing anyone could do to stop their son from killing himself, if he had already made that mental decision to end it all.

This is a chemical imbalance situation in the brain and without medication, many folks would rather die than live with a sever form of depression. It still pains me when I see well meaning people today that refuse to believe proven science on this subject and ignore problems that could be helped with medication.

Tony Dungy must be a great man because even when he leaves a city after coaching there for years, he's always welcome back as a hero. There's more than a great coach inside this man and this story only goes to prove that money and success will not bring you permeate happiness if you don't have your family. It's so hard to write about this story without getting emotional because we all have children and what could be worse than having to bury your own child?

I would just like to urge parents to learn more about depression in teenagers and not to be afraid to get medical treatment for them. There are still so many old stigmas attached to issues of the brain, but there shouldn't be. If you see signs of depression in one of your children, there is help available and it does work. Don't let feelings that mental issues are caused by parents enter your thinking, because those kinds of thoughts are wrong. Please get them the help they need so this kind of situation doesn't repeat itself in the future.

Also, I would like to say how proud I am of the Indianapolis Colts ownership and management. I've never seen a group of important people immediately jump to the aid of one of their employees. These folks know what's really important too and it makes me respect their entire football organization even more than I use to.

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Made For Racism Issue - Birthright Citizenship

Here comes the next big, made for racism, issue for far right Republicans to fight for. It's called Birthright Citizenship and it's been the law of the land in the United States for decades. The Constitution was amended a long time ago to protect slaves that were born in this country after the civil war so that their birth right citizenship could not be challenged by racist bigots that wanted to find another way to refuse them equal rights.

Any law passed in this area will immediately be found unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of the United States, so this exercise is just that, an exercise in passing a law that will stir up the far right, but will be struck down in the courts because the U.S. Constitution is clear in this area of law.

Look for another round of speeches from Tom DeLay and crew about how out of touch the courts are with average Americans. There is no chance really of this even becoming law so the Supreme Court won't have to strike it down because President Bush is smarter than this and he's not going to make the same mistakes that Pete Wilson made in California when he got caught up in these immigration issues and lost the state of California for the Republican party for the foreseeable future.

There are small, but loud voices in the far right of the Republican party that what to stop immigration to the United States at all costs. I feel like this movement is just another way for the white majority to discriminate against all races that immigrate to the United States. Some just want to blame all their problems on someone else and that is what's at the core of this issue.

There is nothing wrong with children that are born in the U.S. becoming American citizens. This country is totally made up of immigrants, except for the Indians who themselves were abused by these same type of folks who came to this country to concur it and put Indians on reservations while they stole their land and belongings.

Here goes the Congress again trying to pass laws that won't be upheld in an attempt to turn their supporter against the very foundation this country was built upon. It's shameful behavior by a few folks that believe that the only good America is a white America. Most of us have moved way beyond this thinking and I hope that people will pay attention to the politicians that would rather divide and concur than unite and get along.

The citizens of Germany buried their heads in the sand when Hitler and his bunch tried to create the vision of a perfect race. We in American don't want to go down this same road of blaming others for our poor lot in life. Acceptance of others beliefs and opinions is what this country should be all about and how will American ever keep growing if we shut down our boarders and stop the very process that made us this great country in the first place?

Monday, December 26, 2005

Credit Cards Produce Strong Retail Sales

I must admit I was wrong about retail sales this holiday season. Apparently, merchants nationwide had great increases in their sales volume over last year. According to MasterCard, retail sales jump almost 9% this holiday season from the day after Thanksgiving till Christmas Eve and that's great news for the U.S. economy.

They report strong sales in all categories including home furnishings, electronics and appliances. I'm sure all the new electronic offerings from iPod and PS2 helped the bottom line of many businesses around the country. The home furnishing is a bit of a surprise to me, but there have been a bunch of new home sales recently and maybe families wanted to give more practical gifts this year like furniture and appliances.

This report is great news for the U.S. economy which I felt had been suffering recently and with the slow sales on the day after Thanksgiving could have spelled disaster for this Christmas shopping season. However, once again the American consumer defies all odds and steps up with their credit cards and makes the year for retailers across the country.

I still feel that all this credit card debt added to a 0% national savings rate is going to create problems someday for the U.S. economy, it's just not going to be this year and I'm thankful that retailers and the folks that supply their products and services will be able to see a nice profit this year and continue to employ folks at their various locations.

I would still like to urge all Americans to start saving part of their monthly income because someday this credit card economy will come to an end and folks without any fall back plan are going to be looking at tremendous difficulties for their family budget. I know most of you won't listen because it's just too easy to charge your way to a Merry Christmas, but someday all these bills will come due and you could be hurt financially unless you have some kind of savings nest egg to fall back on.

One thing that was not figured into this MasterCard report are auto sales and fuel costs, which will be reported by other researchers in the near future. However, it is great news that this year turned out good for folks in the retail business and I hope that next year will prove profitable for them, as well.

ABC Monday Night Football Ends Tonight

Tonight spells the end of an era in NFL football. ABC is hosting it's last Monday Night Football game. Next year, Monday Night Football will be seen on ESPN and Sunday Night Football will move to NBC television. What a long run this weekly television football game has had and there are so many memories of great games that have been played over the years.

I'm old enough to remember Dandy Don Meredith singing, "turn out the lights parties over" with his then side kick Frank Gifford. I have a feeling that the NFL has reached or maybe exceeded it's saturation level of professional football on television.

Most people I know have not been watching Monday Night Football as much as they use to and the Monday night NFL game should be moved from broadcast television to the sports network, ESPN. Back in the 1970's almost every man I knew watched this weekly event and talked about the game at work the next day. However, it's been a long time since this weekly nationwide game got that much attention.

My most memorable event on Monday Night Football was the night that Fran Tarkington broke his leg and the show ran that terrible replay of one part of his leg going in one direction and the other part going a different way. I still can see that replay in my mind today. I also remember the defensive player that tackled him jumping up and down screaming for medical personnel to get on the field, fast.

Any time a television program survives this many years, it should be recognized as something special. While I may not miss seeing this show on a weekly basis, I will miss the idea and the memories that came my way via Monday Night Football on ABC.

FDA Ignores Tylenol Death Toll

Every year there is new evidence that Tylenol (acetaminophen) is harmful to patients health, but the FDA continues to leave this popular pain killer on the market for some unexplained reason. I first discovered there might be a problem, when a man that I use to work with and his wife applied for Life Insurance. When they took their physical exams, the wife's liver enzymes were high, while my friends were normal. My friend drank at least six beers per day, but his wife had never consumed alcohol at all. However, she did take Tylenol on a daily basis. At that time they though the lab had mixed up their blood samples, but they know better now.

From what I can tell, acetaminophen, the active ingredient in Tylenol is present in one form or another in dozens of over the counter products. Experts now say that even doubling the recommended dose of Tylenol could be fatal. I can image that the recommended dose amount of acetaminophen could easily be doubled in most people, if they don't pay careful attention to what other medications contain acetaminophen.

I also just found out for the first time that prescription narcotics like Vicodin and Percocet contain up to 750 milligrams of acetaminophen in each of their doses. If a doctor isn't extremely careful and makes perfectly clear that their patients should NOT take Tylenol during the same time period, people could be killing themselves without even knowing it.

I stopped taking Tylenol years ago because of my concerns with this pain killer. There is no doubt that it works and it works well, but if it's killing people then the FDA needs to review whether or not it should remain on the market. Recent reports say that the hospitalization of patients suffering from acetaminophen overdose goes up every single year with thousands not surviving or needing liver transplants after these accidental overdoses.

I'm not sure what's going to eventually happen with medications containing acetaminophen, but something needs to happen to make sure all consumers know what medicines contain the pain reliever and at what dose. It's wrong for people to be accidentally killing themselves with this medication, just because they don't understand how many different OTC and prescription medications contain this drug.

Day After Christmas - Return Those Gifts

Today is the day when most people hit the shopping malls to return those gifts they were so happy to receive yesterday in return for cold hard cash. Isn't it amazing how quickly we get tired of the gifts we receive at Christmas time? However, I don't think this phenomenon has anything to do with getting tired of the gifts, but more than likely a partial refund on some of the excess spending many of us are guilty of each holiday season.

It's amazing how easy Christmas shopping is when you have credit cards in your wallet. Especially, those cards that are welcome at all retail locations. From the day after Thanksgiving until Christmas Eve folks are pulling out that plastic and just feeling like they are the best people in the world because they are buying these wonderful gifts for their friends and family. However, then comes the day after Christmas.

On this day, all the reality of what we have charged up on those credit cards comes to the front of our minds and as our next billing date draws closer from that wonderful credit card company, thoughts of fear and depression start entering our thinking. Sounds kind of like bi-polar disorder doesn't it? I think that's exactly what is going on the day after Christmas for millions of people in the United States.

While driving today I accidentally made a wrong turn and ended up close to one of our local shopping malls. The streets looked like freeways appear after a professional football game. There were cars everywhere and I've never seen so many people in a rush to get a parking place. I'll bet at least half of these folks are returning gifts so they can get some good old fashion cash in their pockets. The rest that didn't overspend during the Christmas rush and are looking for rock bottom prices on stuff for next Christmas.

I got away from the mall without having a traffic accident which is a good thing for me. Today is bad, but things should start slowing down later in the week when most folks get back to work. We Americans like to think we are original thinkers, but most of us just follow the same old pattern year after year during Christmas that we learned from our parents and the credit card companies. I'm going to try and break that pattern next year because the fun of shopping doesn't make up for the depression felt when the bills start arriving in January.

My wife is one of those few people that loves to shop on the day after Christmas to purchase gifts for next year. We have plenty of closet room and she puts it to good use for twelve months and she ends up saving hundreds of dollars by shopping this way. She grew up poor and didn't know any better before she married me. I think I need to follow her example and hope that mine doesn't rub off on her! To those of you that were out getting refunds today, just spend some of that money on next year and sock those gifts away now. This is good advance from my wife, the best bargain shopper I've ever met!

Google/AOL Deal Runs Five (5) More Years

With Google and AOL signing a new five year agreement between the two companies, this should be good news for both, if the Internet doesn't change that much over this same time period. This is always the big, what if, question when doing technology deals in this fast changing marketplace called the Internet. In my view, this should be a good deal for both parties, IF neither company changes their current business plan too much.

I just read a recent post on the official Google blog and they are boasting that this new deal will not effect their search results by giving preference to AOL web sites just because of this partnership. This is critical for Google because if they come across as a sell out on their search results, there will be a huge backlash from everyone in the Internet industry and that could very well hurt their company, if folks quit using their search engine because they feel like they are being fed listings that benefit AOL and not the consumer.

I think AOL needed this deal more than Google and over the next few months that will become more evident. In so many ways, Google is new technology and AOL is old. This fact isn't my deciding factor of who this benefits most, but AOL needed someone to help them because eventually they are going to separate from "Time Warner" because that was never a good fit in the first place and I believe "Time Warner's" ultimate goal is to sell AOL to someone else without losing too much money in the process.

There was a story today that said that Google could require AOL to turn their 5% stake in the company into executable shares of stock after only 2 1/2 years of this contract. If at that time Google decided to pull the plug on this deal, it would force AOL shares down dramatically which could put Google in a good position for a hostile takeover of AOL, which might force "Time Warner" to get rid of this unit (AOL) they don't want anymore, anyway.

I might be wrong, but I think Google is looking at this situation from a long term vision and AOL is only interested in staying alive for a few more business quarters. If I'm right, then Google will be in the drivers seat completely with this deal and they might end up in a few years buying AOL at a much cheaper prices that would currently be asked for and they will already have a foot in the door of their operations for a smooth transition to a totally owned Google operation of the old AOL company.

This is all total speculation at this point, but I think the folks at Google take a more long range approach to these kinds of deals that AOL does. The main reason I think this is that the old AOL management is no longer with the company and they are currently being run by major corporation that is more interested in making four quarters per year for their stockholders than running a technology growth company.

Of course, all bets are off if someone new steps in and become the new search leader on the block. It's critical for Google not to lose that edge and I think with all the money they have now after going public, it would take a very special type of company NOT to sell out to Google if their search product threaten the Google empire too much. However, this has happened before and it will happen again, eventually. When Google was making it's first marks on the Internet, most folks like me were still using products call "AltaVista, "Infoseek" and Excite. We sure don't hear much from those once great search engines, anymore.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Dick Clark Returns To Times Square

It was great news when it was announced that Dick Clark is returning for the 2006 New Years Eve celebration in Times Square New York. Dick is recovering from a stroke and he missed last years celebration. While his speech and movement are not what they use to be, he feels comfortable returning to the show and millions of fans will welcome him back with open arms.

I grew up with Dick Clark watching "American Band Stand". These were days when most of us listened to rock and roll on AM radio stations and played vinyl records and 8 track tapes. Back then our televisions even played music in good old fashion mono. Dick Clark's looks are timeless. Almost no one would guess his correct age because he always has the same youthful appearence decade after decade. Don't you just hate people like that?

Until it was recently canceled by NBC television, my wife and I were faithful watchers of the television show "American Dreams", which was produced by Dick Clark and portrayed a family from the 1960's. This show was a great example of how people and families viewed issues back then and it really was an interesting program for folks in my generation.

Like so many network television shows these days, it didn't draw enough audience, so it was canceled after only a few seasons. However, everyone I know that gave this show a chance loved it and that goes to the wisdom of Dick Clark's ability to make quality television programs whether music related or not.

This year Dick Clark will have a co host for the New Years Eve Show, a great guy named Ryan Secrest who is best known for his LA radio show and the hugely successful "American Idol" television program where he is the host. We are so excite that Dick Clark is coming back to the New Years Eve program and even if he doesn't participate that much in the production, it's just good to know that he's doing better after his stroke. There are a bunch of us that love this guy.

So buy those party favors, balloons and champagne for this New Years Eve, because "happy days are here again" with Dick Clark back in charge of the show!

Tsunami Anniversary - Over 200K Dead After Disaster

I was reading some news on the Internet tonight when I noticed that today is the one year anniversary of the Asian Tsunami which killed over two hundred thousand people. I guess it's true what old folks always say, that time goes by much faster when you get older, because it doesn't seem like it's been a whole year since this disaster struck.

People underestimate the power of water at their own peril, but these folks didn't have any warning and were hit completely off guard by this giant Tsunami which was caused by a large earthquake off the west coast of Indonesia. The scope of the death toll in this one natural disaster is still overwhelming to me, even after a years period of time. This disaster will be taught in history books for generations to come.

There has been talk of a new warning system for the Indian Ocean that is similar to the one operated by the United States and Canada in the Pacific Ocean and I'm pretty sure one will be put into place in all oceans around the world over the next few years. There are continuing worries that a major earthquake off the Pacific coast could cause a Tsunami there and lay waste to hundreds of miles of California beachfront and could kill as many as one million people in coastal areas of southern California.

Most beach areas in California are very heavly populated and I wonder how much a good an early warning system would really help the people that live in that area? When watching the traffic congestion caused by the folks leaving the Houston, Texas area after Hurricane Rita, I can only image how much worse the congestion would be in a much larger city like Los Angeles, California.

The fact that millions of people could die in a Pacific Ocean Tsunami is something we as a nation may have to accept as a possibility because it would take days, if not weeks to get everyone evacuated from these areas and there's no way anyone could learn of such an event this far in advance. Experts say that once a Tsunami gets rolling, it can reach speeds of 500 miles per hour before it slams into land. At that speed it could cross an entire ocean in a matter of hours.

An early warning system WILL save lives, it's just the fact that it won't save everyone is something we all need to be aware of. In fact, there could be little to no warning if the earthquake hit only 100 miles of so off the west coast of the United States or Canada.

I remember reading of entire family units being killed by last years Asian Tsunami. A complete family line and history removed from the earth forever. What a terrible tragedy. I still remember seeing video that was shot by people that didn't survive the flood waters, but their cameras did. It's a very eerie experience watching video, shot by someone that is about to die and doesn't even know it. I sometimes have dreams about these folks and wonder what they must have been thinking when those large waves gobbled them up and pushed them miles away in a matter of seconds.

I pray that the survivors of last years Christmas Tsunami in Asia will somehow, someday be able to get their lives back to some kind of normal. Knowing a little bit about "post traumatic stress disorder", these folks may be doing fine now, but in five or ten years they may need mental treatment that might not be available because so much time has passed. I hope their governments won't forget that some of these folks will never be right again and will need treatment for the rest of their lives.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Terri Schiavo 'Right To Die' - The Biggest Story 2005

There are so many big stories that people around the country would consider the biggest one of 2005. However, for me the biggest story of the year or the decade, for that matter, is the Terri Schiavo, right to die, case in Florida. The actions of the Congress and President Bush have turn me, a long Republican into an Independent, which before the Schiavo case hit the news, I thought was impossible.

I've been a Republican since I was in high school back in the 1970's. My parents were both yellow dog Democrats and for a long time I was a big disappointment because the first person I really loved in politics was Ronald Reagan. Even before I could vote, I was passing out those little red "Reagan for President" buttons all over my little Texas panhandle hometown of only three thousand people.

It was the Terri Schiavo case that made me reevaluate my party loyalty and look closely at what my Republican Senators and President were doing to this poor family in Florida. They turned their family tragedy into a national disgrace, just in time for Easter and they were able to do all this without one U.S. Senator casing a "REAL" vote.

I remember President Bush was spending Easter weekend at his ranch here in the Waco area, when he had to rush back to Washington to sign a bill that was only for one person, Terri Schiavo, in an attempt to make the Florida Court system look bad and take attention away from Tom DeLay's legal troubles.

I wrote emails to President Bush and both of my Republican Senators here in Texas, but they were unmoved by my feelings that the Republican party should stand for staying out of family decision like this. I even got the party line reply message by postal mail from them that when in doubt they feel like it's best to err on the side of life.

Oh, please, cut me some slack with those kind of comments. What they were really doing is trying to err on the side of religious conservatives who they thought would be ecstatic with their late night, last minute law to save this brain dead woman's life.

In reality, what happened was that almost 75% of Christian conservatives and almost 90% of the public in general, thought what they did was wrong and they should have stayed out of the matter. However, months later I haven't heard one of these politicians admit they made a mistake with this action and until they do, I will never vote for anyone that took part in this Terri Schiavo national disgrace of a law.

The truth is that a family member dying will always bring out old problems that have been just under the surface for years. It's not uncommon for families to disagree and fight when a persons death is imitate. It's critical that the Congress and White House know that this family area should be avoided by them at all cost in the future. We have a court system, that while not perfect, is much better able to handle these kinds of family issues that a bunch of pandering politicians in Washington D.C. and state capitals.

A couple of weeks after Terri Schiavo's death, I was watching some of the political pundits on FoxNews talking about the long term impact of the Republicans stand on this issue and all of them said we, the party loyalist, would forget all about the Terri Schiavo law before the next election. Well, maybe most people will forget what happened last Easter, but I won't and I have a feeling that many other true, life long, Republicans will not forget either after our party leaders abandoned all small government principles with that crazy Terri Schiavo law.

Related: Presidential Horse Race

Biggest Story - 2005

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Friday, December 23, 2005

Wal-Mart Loses Lawsuit In California

The worlds largest retail shopping chain, Wal-Mart, lost a hundred million dollar plus class action lawsuit yesterday in California. There are other lawsuits pending in other states that are basically similar to this one. At the root of the dispute between Wal-Mart and it's employees is a company policy that didn't allow workers a lunch break even if they had clocked more than six hours of continuous labor. In California, this practice is against the law and has been since 2001.

I'm not a legal expert, but it does look like Wal-Mart is going to have problems winning some of the other lawsuits against them around the country. This retail chain is famous for getting more productivity out of employee hours worked than any other retail chain in the country and maybe even the world.

It was reported a few week back that tens of thousands of Wal-Mart workers children were on Medicaid with the assumption being that since Wal-Mart didn't provide insurance benefits and their hourly wage is so low, their workers were forced to look to the government for health care coverage which is paid for by the taxpayers, not the company.

There is something bigger going on in this story than just another class action lawsuit. There is a principle of what is fair in the American workplace and millions of people don't think the way Wal-Mart treats it's employees is fair or in many cases legal.

It's hard for me to imagine a company being so cold blooded as not to allow at least a 30 minute, non paid break, after six hours of work. This is totally ridiculous and Wal-Mart needs to revise their work rules to allow for these breaks and if it means we consumers have to pay a few extra cents for items we buy at their stores, then so be it.

This is a perfect place for the U.S. court system to make decisions that will effect hundreds of thousands of Wal-Mart workers around the country. In some small towns, where Wal-Mart is the only retail store, it's not like employees have much choice but to work for this retail chain. It's common knowledge that when Wal-Mart comes to a small town, most other local retailers are put out of business within their first year of operation.

I very seldom shop at Wal-Mart because I don't like the way they operate their business. I'm definitely in the minority with this opinion because their business continues to grow year after year because their prices are lower than the competition and most folks only care about themselves and their own pocketbook and won't make a stand against shopping at Wal-Mart to help other people.

That's why these court actions are so important to workers not only at Wal-Mart, but at other retail businesses around the country. There needs to be some basic legal structure on how a company must treat their employees. If large companies like Wal-Mart can't figure out what is fair moral treatment on their own, then the various state legislators and courts of law must step in and do it for them. Just because the glory days of labor unions have passed, doesn't mean that businesses should be able to treat their workers like dirt and get away with it.

It will be interesting to follow these other lawsuit cases over the next few months and see if this loss in California forces Wal-Mart to settle some of these other lawsuits and agree to treat their workers more decently in the future.