Category Archives: Essays

The Very Storms

As Hurricane Dorian continues its slow trek up the eastern coastline of the U.S. (the bastard just won’t die!), I think of the storm-related terminology people keep using to describe these systems.  Most every description includes the word “very”.  It’s the same verbiage recycled again and again – the way companies recycle workers during economic downturns and politicians recycle promises with each campaign.  But it’s also somewhat laughable in that, each time, meteorologists, law enforcement officials and reporters (you know, the dumbasses who stand in the middle of a rain-torn street or an inundated beach, as if we’re too stupid to understand how bad it is out that way) utter these same words with just about every hurricane.  More specifically, though, the tones of their voices and the inflections they apply to these characterizations insinuate that said terminology has never been used before.

The word “very” is an adverb meaning, ‘In a high degree, extremely, or exceedingly.’

I had a high school English teacher who grew weary of students constantly using the word “very” to emphasize certain conditions.  “They’re not very poor,” she groused, highlighting one example.  “They’re just poor!”

Okay, boss-lady, got it!  Sending “very” into a dark place from where it will not emerge until after I graduate.

With all of that rigmarole behind us now, I have compiled a short list of frequently used – and overused – terms that meteorologists, law enforcement and those dumbass reporters utilize to describe tropical storm systems.  Keep in mind the adverb “very” is almost always the precursor.

This storm is very…

Dangerous – this is the 2nd most used term to describe tropical storms; apparently, there are such things as safe hurricanes, but I don’t believe one has developed in a while.

Fluid – this generally refers to the actual travel speed of the storm and not the water, which in case you failed Science 101, is one of the most common fluids available.

Intense – this most often indicates the severity of the sustained winds (those closest to the eye) and wind gusts (those furthest from the eye that fluctuate wildly as their speed increases).  This can also describe the persona of those reporters trying to make a name for themselves on the beach, as well as residents and visitors who decide they’re going to tough it out because, after all, what could possibly go wrong amidst 150 mph (241 kph) winds and rain falling sideways?

Powerful – this one competes with “dangerous” as a common description for hurricanes and simply refers to the overall magnitude of the storm.  Considering that an average hurricane can generate 6.0 x 10^14 Watts or 5.2 x 10^19 Joules/day (equivalent to about 200 times Earth’s total electrical generating capacity), it’s tough to imagine a tropical storm system as being weak.  In fact, though, the word “weak” has been used to describe some hurricanes, which means – from a meteorological perspective – it’s all relative.  Think of it as comparing Donald Trump’s intellectual capacity to that of Barack Obama.  Obama would a Category 5 hurricane, while Trump would barely make it out of tropical disturbance status.

Unpredictable – this is undoubtedly the most commonly used term to describe hurricanes.  Understand that these tempests have been bombarding the coastlines of the world since the beginning of time; yet, we modern humans keep trying to predict exactly where one such storm will go.  However, contemporary meteorology has advanced to the point where such estimations are accurate.  But coastal residents and visitors still want weather prognosticators to determine precisely where a storm will make landfall, so they won’t have to ruin their vacations or run to Home Depot at the last minutes to buy generators, batteries, plywood and wine.  Stupid humans!

Wet – this word isn’t utilized too often amidst hurricane descriptions, but every once in a while, it gets tossed into the mix.  Because tropical storm systems develop over large bodies of warm water, I don’t believe “dry” would be an appropriate term.  But that’s just my opinion!  What do you folks think?

Windy – this is actually the most curious description for a hurricane.  Realizing that tropical storm systems are gauged and ranked according to their wind speed, it’s difficult to imagine that even a Category 1 hurricane could pass by without knocking a few trash cans over.  Again, I’m just speculating.

1 Comment

Filed under Essays

If Being Liberal Means…

Here in Texas, as well as in other predominantly conservative regions of the United States, the term “liberal” is equal to demonic.  Personally, I consider myself a political and social moderate – which, to most conservatives – still means liberal.  Anything to the slightest left of the small-minded rhetoric of right-wing, Judeo-Christian ideology is blasphemously liberal.  But, as you surely know by now, I deplore being placed in boxes to suit other people’s needs and desires.  Those who have dared to always end up with a rectal thermometer-style rebuke from me.  Their rules don’t apply to me.

But, for the past 30 years, liberals have allowed themselves to be defined by the opposition.  They’ve hidden their true sentiments about politics and social order within the lockboxes of their minds.  Outspoken liberals have been relegated to the coastal U.S. and urban America.  Thus, they are viewed as elitists and globalists; cretins who dismiss the notion of “American exceptionalism” (whatever the hell that’s supposed to mean).

In truth, liberal means educated and open-minded; compassionate and understanding.  I’m steadfast in my own outlook and opinions.  Overall, I’m just left of the center, which – again – means extremist, bleeding-heart, bed-wetting liberal to the right-wingers.  They can call me whatever name they wish, if it makes them feel empowered in their MINI Cooper of a mind.  I’ve endured worst name-calling grade school.

But, if being liberal means…

  • I believe true freedom begins with free speech and the right to vote and not with a gun.
  • I believe the United States was founded on religious freedom and separation of church and state and not Judeo-Christian beliefs.
  • I don’t believe White males have all the answers.
  • Europe is not the foundation of civilization.
  • I read more than the Christian Bible and a TV guide.
  • Men and women possess different attributes, but are still equal
  • The human race is really the only race on Earth.
  • There is life beyond this planet.
  • Industrial enterprises don’t have the right to profitably pollute the environment.
  • Queer people aren’t diabolically dangerous.

…then you can call me a liberal.  I call myself a human being with my own thoughts and opinions.  And I don’t have to run any of these by other folks, just to get their approval.

Leave a comment

Filed under Essays

Remind Them of This

As the 2020 elections approach – almost too quickly – here in the U.S., I’m almost amused at the thought of who’s going to grab the Democratic presidential nomination and how they will combat (faux) President Donald Trump.  Key word here – almost.  A lifetime of watching political battles rage across the media spectrum and nearly three decades of making every effort I could to register my own vote, along with discussing a variety of issues with family, friends, coworkers, gym partners and strangers, have perhaps left me cynical and jaded.  I feel that usually happens once you get past the half-century mark in birthdays.  Not only is my body now wanting to lead a life of its own, so is my mind.  Can I get a new persona?

But, despite the anguish and frustration, I realized something crucial a while back.  Every election cycle candidates for whatever office rushes out to visit potential constituents; shaking hands, kissing babies (born or unborn), eating virtually everything that approaches their lips, and – of course – dishing out a cadre of promises.  Then, as often happens, they get into that designated office and find out it just doesn’t work out that simply.  So they disappoint us and shove their spokespeople and p.r. reps before our faces to explain why things didn’t go as planned.  So, what’s new this year?

Nothing, really.  Yet, I know THEY seek our votes for a certain high-profile position and – if elected – they will get paid with OUR tax dollars.  Ultimately, THEY work for US.  We DON’T work for them.  WE employ them, in fact, based upon their qualifications for the job (in theory), and THEY are assigned specific duties, according to that particular role.  These are not full-time, permanent roles for them; they are CONTRACT jobs.  In other words, they are nothing more than glorified TEMP WORKERS.

Whether it’s the U.S. presidency, a governorship, a judgeship or a spot on a local school board, they present themselves to us as job candidates and ask to be hired.  WE, the People, analyze their skills and experience and make our decisions afterwards.  We are charged with the complex responsibility of assessing their viability for the job and choosing whether to grant them that role.  In all cases, the majority rules; regardless, WE, the People, are essentially their employers.  Again, the salaries for those positions comes out of our tax dollars.

They are contracted out for an X period of time, and when that term is up – if they’ve chosen to continue – WE, the People, review their job performance and decide if we want to renew their contract.  We look at what they’ve done and how they’ve handles themselves during their tenure.  Both work performance and attitude matter equally.  As with the initial hiring process, the majority rules.  So, while some of us may be thrilled to see the official re-hired, many among us aren’t.  Sadly, that’s just how it is.

These election events are always difficult and frustrating.  It’s not that they can be difficult and frustrating; they ARE difficult and frustrating!  Things don’t always turn out clearly.  Evidence: the 2016 U.S. elections.

And no official in their right mind (and understand many of them aren’t from the very beginning) will take their contract renewal for granted.  Evidence: the 2018 Senate race here in Texas.  Republican Junior Senator Ted Cruz almost lost to Democratic opponent Beto O’Rourke.  Cruz had coasted easily to his 2012 maiden run and perhaps assumed last year’s contest would be equally undramatic.  As I always love to see happen to such arrogance, Cruz assumed wrong and won by literally a handful of votes.

It is such an unpleasant task to sort through the chaos and the rhetoric and determine who is best equipped for that designated position.  But it is what We, the People, have to do to keep our society functioning properly and soundly.  Democracy is one thing that can’t be automated.

Just remember, my friends, the people who run for office are asking for our votes.  That simply means THEY work for US.  We, the People, hire them and we can fire them.  They all have to remember that.  But so do we.

Leave a comment

Filed under Essays

Said Again

I keep having to look at the slew of calendars I have scattered throughout the house – the National Geographic, ASPCA, military veterans and one displaying houses I get every year from my real estate friend.  They all assure me of the same thing: it’s 2019 – not 1919.  Or 1969.  Or even 1999.  Nope!  It’s 2019, my friends.  We’re at the end of the second decade of the 21st century.  Oh wait!  Yes.  I had to check again: 2019 – the two and the zero being the key factors here.

I have to do this because of the recent series of tirades Donald Trump has lavished upon certain members of Congress.  Would somebody get the damn phone away from him?!

As if anyone should be surprised, our Dear Leader hasn’t quieted down verbal attacks against non-Whites who dare to speak their minds against him.  Via his Twitter feed while safely ensconced in the White House, he created quite a stir recently, when he assailed four alphamore U.S. congresswomen, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley and Rashida Tlaib.  Denouncing them as “The Squad”, he became enraged, after they criticized him for his response to the growing migrant crisis along the southern border – among other issues.

Ocasio-Cortez had already identified herself as a socialist when she won New York’s 14th Congressional District, which includes parts of the Bronx and Queens boroughs – both of which have large non-White populations.  In fact, I think non-Hispanic Whites are so scarce in the Bronx they might qualify for endangered species status.

Trump didn’t hold anything back when he assailed the four congresswomen (an attribute his devotees love) that, if the lawmakers “hate our country,” they can “go back” to the “broken and crime-infested” countries “from which they came”.  For the record, Ocasio-Cortez, Pressley and Tlaib were all born and raised here in the United States; thus making them, well, natural-born Americans.  Omar emigrated to the U.S. with her family as a child; the clan fleeing their Somali homeland, as it sunk further into political and social chaos.  But she is now an American citizen.  Omar has been openly critical of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, which garners the usual cries of anti-Semitism from all sides.  But a statement about the 09/11 terrorist attacks as “some people did something” makes me think suspiciously of her.  Yet, one has to look at that verbiage within the context of her entire speech.  To her credit, she’s also said: “I do not blame every single white person when we have a white man who massacres children at a school, or moviegoers in a movie theatre.  And I think this really horrendous narrative that says, as a Muslim, I’m supposed to explain, apologize, for the actions of someone who’s also terrorizing me, is absurd.”

Now Trump has gone after Congressman Elijah Cummings who represents Maryland’s 7th District, which includes Baltimore.  Describing the majority-Black area as a “rodent-infested mess” where “no human being would want to live”, he drew widespread condemnation from Democrats and independents.  I don’t know what incited that particular discourse, but it’s obvious Trump likes to play the proverbial race card when things get rough in the political arena, which is something like, oh…100% of the time.  And I’ve found that, if you go for the jugular by mentioning race, ethnicity, gender or sexuality, you’ve essentially lost the debate.  You’ve run out of legitimate things to say; you’ve exhausted your gallery of facts and logical points, but you want to keep arguing because you just absolutely have to have the last word.

As I’ve stated before, not everything wrong with America is the fault of White males.  But again, I have to look at one of my calendars.  Seriously?!  We’re still dealing with this shit in 2019?!  I heard that “go back” crap when I was in high school!  It was a similar comment from a fellow student that propelled me into my first and only fight in high school – towards the end of my senior year.  During my alphamore year a substitute teacher said my last name is un-Christian.  I took that up with the school principal before I told my parents about it.  I was concerned my proud father would go to the school and want to kick some old White ass.

I heard a little less racist language while in college.  Key words – “a little less”.  Occasionally, some idiot would throw a “you people” in my face, and I was just as quick to slur right back at them.  By the 1990s, ironically, the people slinging racist vitriol at me the most were Black or other Hispanics.

So, how is it that this kind of talk has worked its way back into the mainstream?  Retro may be cool in some nightclub situations, such as retro-70s.  (I try to ignore “Retro 90s” nights!)  But it’s not necessarily cool with a spoken language.  Never mind that Trump’s “go back” comment might be illegal in a workplace setting.  I’m still perplexed that we’ve gone from No-Drama-Obama to Czar Trump in a virtual blink of our collective eyes.

But, after 200 or so years of civil rights progress, it seems we’ve now started rolling backwards.  To we Trump detractors, this is not news.  Trump had pumped fuel into the “Birther” movement: the band of morons who questioned the birthright of President Obama.  He never acknowledged he’d been wrong when he said his “researchers” had learned some odd things about Obama.  Yet, he sat in the Oval Office next to Obama and called him a great man.  Amazing how brave some people get when they’re behind a phone or a computer, isn’t it?  It’s so different in person.

Thinking back to my high school tenure doesn’t bring back many good memories.  I was so shy and introverted I often fell prey to bullies.  So I try NOT to think about that period.  It was so long ago anyway.  Yet, that “go back” shit slammed into my conscious harder than seeing a Windows 3 screen.

My mother used to recount the number of times people had called her “half-breed” because her father was German-American and her mother was Mexican.  My father told me of the day an older White woman at the printing shop where he worked said she saw “a bunch of Mexicans” working on a lawn and thought of him.  He responded by saying something like, “Well, I saw a herd of cows in a field on my way to work and thought of you.”

A friend of mine once asked how is it that, in such a large city as Dallas, our fathers happened to know each other.

“All those old Mexicans knew each other!” I replied.  “They were all crammed into the same neighborhoods and went to the same schools.  They had to stick together.  It was a matter of survival.”

She’s only a few years younger than me, and my answer seemed to surprise her.  But she understood what I was saying.

In high school – and to some extent, even in college – I often felt isolated because I was one of the few Hispanic kids.  But I was as much American as I was then and still am now.  Some of my Spanish ancestors were here in Texas long before the Mayflower pilgrims; my Indian ancestors long before them.  So I always pulled that from the depths of my mind whenever some fool threw a “go back” at me.

I suspect Donald Trump’s presidency is the final battle cry of the “Angry White Male” – the withering group of individuals who still feel they should run everything and should be allowed to say what they want.  But, as a mostly White male myself, I know Trump gives all White men a bad name.  I’ll never criticize people who voted for him in 2016.  They had that right, and it’s not up to anyone else to decide what their selection should be.  I definitely disagree with a recent essay by Pastor John Pavlovitz about Hillary Clinton’s “deplorables” comment three years ago.

But still…“go back”?  I’m hearing that again?  From the president of the United States?  Pardon me just a moment.  Yes…still 2019.  Time just won’t stop or roll backwards, no matter how much we beg.

4 Comments

Filed under Essays

Zapped

Weather-wise, Sunday, June 9, 2019, was supposed to be like Saturday, the 8th – hot and dry.  But I awoke that morning to a surprisingly silver-gray sky.  And I was startled around 12:30 local time, when the winds abruptly accelerated.  Within minutes hot and dry became wet and windy – and destructive.  Weather systems, of course, don’t always follow mortal meteorological predictions, and Sunday, June 9 is a prime example.  The sudden storm surprised even the most…ahem…seasoned local weather forecasters, as it engulfed the entire Dallas / Fort Worth metropolitan area.  Heavy winds shattered windows, dislodged massive trees, and – as anyone would expect – downed a multitude of power and telecommunication lines.

Literally tens of thousands of people suffered power outages for days; some not seeing it return until the following Friday.  Local utility companies had to seek outside help; both clearing debris – mainly the millions of shredded tree branches – and reinstalling power lines.  Many businesses remained shuttered for lack of power; thus costing millions in lost products (entire grocery stores had to be cleaned out, for example) and lost time.

One of my elderly aunts had no power for a couple of days and no landline telephone service for four days.  She had her cell phone, but as a widow living alone in a small, darkened 70-plus-year-old house, she was frightened.  Another aunt and uncle went without power for more than a day.  My uncle is old school in that he had stocked up on candles, flash lights, batteries and bottled water – all to accompany a generator and some firearms.  If it hadn’t been for that generator, everything in their refrigerator would have spoiled.  That happened to literally thousands of people across the area in the days following the storm; including a friend of mine who had no power for four days.  Like the aforementioned aunt, he also had a cell phone, but unlike the other two relatives, he has no generator.  So he sweltered, while throwing out good food and prayed no one would sneak into his house at night.  He didn’t go to work because he feared someone would do just that, while he was gone during the day.

This was a common sight throughout the Dallas / Fort Worth metropolitan area after the June 9 storm.

In 2018, a series of catastrophic wildfires terrorized California.  The Golden State has become accustomed to annual fires, but last year proved especially brutal – and deadly.  The blazes killed more than 100 people, consumed some 1.8 million acres (728,420 ha) of land, and cost roughly USD 3 billion.  In at least one instance, power lines weren’t just a casualty of fire; they were the cause.  The “Camp Fire” in Northern California was the worst of all the events; killing 85 people and destroying more than 13,000 structures.  The town of Paradise, for example, was almost completely incinerated.  It all might have been avoided, if some power lines hadn’t been live when they were toppled by high winds.  Recently, California’s Pacific Gas & Electric agreed to pay $1 billion in damages to the U.S. government.

This year has already proven both deadly and costly in terms of natural disaster.  Unusually heavy rains have generated massive flooding events across the country; especially, though, in the massive Mississippi River Basin and its tributaries.  Records are being broken in almost every state with rainfall and high water levels.  Here in Northeast Texas we’re coming to the end of one of the wettest springs since data has been gathered, starting in the 1880s.  The heavy rainfall has been great for lakes and dams, but there really is something called too much of a good thing.  Flooding isn’t just forcing people out of their homes.  It’s also drowning farming and ranch land; flushing out sewer systems; and shutting down highways.  And, as always, power and telecommunication lines are among the victims.

I’m fully aware that we mere mortals can NOT control the weather, even though we think we can.  As much as we believe our latest digital and electronic machinery, coupled with a ubiquitous cybercloud, can now predict where every hurricane will make landfall and which weather system will cause flooding, we still have no means of controlling any of nature’s wrath.  Yet, it’s hard for me to believe that, at the end of the second decade of the 21st century, we’re still dealing with downed power and telecommunication lines for long periods of time.

I’m not the first to speculate openly about this dilemma.  A variety of individuals – from average citizens to seasoned utility experts – have proposed interring as many power lines as possible throughout the U.S.  One factor, however, always rears its ugly head with each debate: money.  Time and labor are also critical elements – which of course, tie back into funding.  It seems rather simple on the face of it: dig as many trenches as possible and bury those lines in some kind of sturdy container.  But, as the old saying declares, everything looks great on paper.

In 2011, the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin published a report, “Underground Electric Transmission Lines”, in which they state, “The estimated cost for constructing underground transmission lines ranges from 4 to 14 times more expensive than overhead lines of the same voltage and same distance.  A typical new 69 kV overhead single-circuit transmission line costs approximately $285,000 per mile as opposed to $1.5 million per mile for a new 69 kV underground line (without the terminals).  A new 138 kV overhead line costs approximately $390,000 per mile as opposed to $2 million per mile for underground (without the terminals).”

How would any regional or state utility firm fund such an extreme difference?  There are at least three immediate solutions:

  • Raise property taxes on individual homeowners.
  • Raise utility rates for homes and businesses.
  • A combination of both

All are plausible, but raising property taxes and utility rates is never popular.  If you want to see riots in the streets, starting jacking up taxes and utility rates on people; most of whom already feel they pay too much for such services.  I can empathize.  As much as we need power companies, it’s a proverbial love-hate relationship.  Kind of like what the U.S. has with Saudi Arabia.

Since the turn of this century, technical improvements with cable technology, grounding methods, and boring techniques have made the interment of power lines more possible.  That is, from a technological perspective, that goal is within reach.  But, remember that everything on paper analogy!

Initial costs for such a massive undertaking would have to go to planning and organizing.  We can’t just grab a back hoe and some shovels and start digging.  Deciding where and when to dig will take high-level planning from the most experienced infrastructure specialists.  Determining how far down to dig is another conundrum, as they have to look for, say, local water tables and even old mining shafts.  That alone will take years.

Once digging begins, a slew of other factors come into play: traffic disruptions, power outages and weather.  In residential areas, homeowners would have to grant permission to dig on their properties.  If they don’t allow it, how would a utility company get around that?  Would they invoke the concept of “eminent domain”?  Or would they somehow be able to avoid that particular property?  And how much would that little detour cost?  In any given neighborhood, one obstinate resident could delay the entire project – which, in turn, will cost money in lost time.  If local governments force the eminent domain option on someone, the situation might result in pricy litigation.  In worst case scenarios, it literally could turn fatal.

Knowing the U.S. federal government – that is, knowing its inability to budget wisely – the national debt could balloon under such a massive project.  Our global credit rating – which suffered greatly after the 2008 economic downturn – might, once again, be adversely impacted.

On a national security level, it could put us in a vulnerable position.  The city of Dallas, for example, with a population close to 3 million and home to a regional branch of the Federal Reserve Bank, could be in the midst of a major transfer of power sources (that is, switching to the new system) when a monster tornado strikes.  New York City could find itself in the same situation when another 9/11-style terrorist attack occurs.  San Francisco, home to another major branch of the Federal Reserve Bank, might be in the middle of construction when a catastrophic earthquake hits; much like the 1989 Loma Prieta temblor.  Chicago, the third most populous city in the U.S. and home to one of the busiest international airports in the world, as well as a major shipping port on Lake Michigan, might also be mired in a construction mess when a powerful sunstorm knocks out communication satellites.  Call me a pessimist, but we have to be prepared for those dreaded worst case scenarios, while hoping for the best results.

And that’s just the planning, construction and implementation of the systems.  Time capsules are a fun and delightful project for school kids.  But burying something like telephone lines comes with its own set of future costs and complications.

In their 2013 report, “Underground vs. Overhead: Power Line Installation-Cost Comparison and Mitigation”, Frank Alonso and Carolyn A.E. Greenwell, transmission line engineers with Science Application International Corporation (SAIC)*, highlighted and described these issues in detail.

Maintenance. The cost of maintenance for underground lines is difficult to assess.  With so many variables and assumptions final estimates would be subjective at best.  Predicting the performance of an underground line is difficult, yet the maintenance costs associated with an underground line are significant and one of the major impediments to the more extensive use of underground construction.

Major factors that impact the maintenance costs for underground transmission lines include:

Cable repairs. Underground lines are better protected against weather and other conditions that can impact overhead lines, but they are susceptible to insulation deterioration because of the loading cycles the lines undergo during their lifetimes.  As time passes, the cables’ insulation weakens, which increases the potential for a line fault.  If the cables are installed properly, this debilitating process can take years and might be avoided.  If and when a fault occurs, however, the cost of finding its location, trenching, cable splicing, and re-embedment is sometimes five to 10 times more expensive than repairing a fault in an overhead line where the conductors are visible, readily accessible and easier to repair.

In addition, easement agreements might require a utility to compensate property owners for disruption in their property use and for property damage caused by the repairs to the underground cables.

Line outage duration. The duration of underground line outages vary widely depending on the operating voltage, site conditions, failure, material availability and experience of repair personnel.  The typical repair duration of cross-linked polyethylene (XLPE), a solid dielectric type of underground cable, ranges from five to nine days.  Outages are longer for lines that use other nonsolid dielectric underground cables such as high-pressure, gas-filled (HPGF) pipe-type cable, high-pressure, fluid-filled (HPFF) pipe-type cable, and self-contained, fluid-filled (SCFF)-type cable.  In comparison, a fault or break in an overhead conductor usually can be located almost immediately and repaired within hours or a day or two at most.

During the extended line outages required for underground line repairs, services to customers are disrupted.  The length of customer outages can be mitigated using redundant feeders, but the duration of such outages is still longer than those associated with overhead lines, and they have additional costs associated with them.

Line modifications. Overhead power lines are easily tapped, rerouted or modified to serve customers; underground lines are more difficult to modify after the cables have been installed.  Such modifications to underground power lines are more expensive because of the inability to readily access lines or relocate sections of lines.”

As overwhelming as it is, I still feel it’s a worthwhile investment.  It’s a long-term process and a necessity for national security and prosperity.  Establishing the first telecommunication infrastructure (telegraph lines) in the 19th century was a massive undertaking, but ingenuity and determination made it happen.  Those same attributes were utilized with the construction of railroads and again with the interstate highway system.  We did it with the lunar and space shuttle programs.  Remember, the ancient Romans built the Colosseum in the 1st century C.E., most of which remains standing.  But at least they had wheels and large beasts to assist them.  The Mayans and the Aztecs built massive stone temples without wheels or draft animals.  The U.S., or any developed nation, surely could place thousands of miles of power and telecommunication lines underground.

Homes leveled by the Camp Fire on Valley Ridge Drive in Paradise, California, December 2018.  Photo: Noah Berger / Associated Press.

This series of photos shows the extent of the damage throughout the Dallas / Fort Worth area following the June 9 storm.

*Full disclosure: I worked at SAIC’s Dallas office from 2002 to 2010, first as a document scanner and archivist, then as a technical writer.

4 Comments

Filed under Essays

Living There

Among my father’s favorite memories were the times he played baseball as a kid in his East Dallas neighborhood.  Growing up in those environs more than six decades, with scores of other Hispanic families, ago gave him a sense of community and freedom.  He had plenty of others, he once told me: holding me for the first time; buying this suburban Dallas home; working in the yard; and playing with our dogs.

“I keep reliving those moments over and over,” he said, following another late night talk.  “If I could go through them again, I would.”

Most of my own best memories occurred in the 1990s – the best decade of my life so far.  And one of the greatest was my 1991 trip to Ixtapa, México – a small hamlet on the nation’s Pacific Coast, northwest of Acapulco and far from the touristy ruckus of Cancun and Cozumel.  That was the furthest away I’d ever been from home at the time and only the third time I’d been outside of the U.S.  My first two international trips also were to México; college spring break jaunts that were hazy and less relaxing.

Ixtapa was incredibly soothing and quiet.  It was the first time I’d ever seen the Pacific Ocean, or any ocean for that matter.  The closest I’d come to an ocean was the Gulf of México.  On my first night, the pounding of the waves along the shoreline echoed deep into my mind and lulled me to sleep.  While I savored the beach and the warm weather, my parents feared for my life; that I’d be kidnapped by local hoodlums.  That had crossed my mind, too, but I was enjoying the simple sights too much to worry.

The Ixtapa excursion allowed me to live out a few of my dreams: lounging along the waterline for hours; roaming through a quiet Mexican town, wallowing in the community without boisterous intruders or Americanized visages; stuffing myself with as much food in the all-you-can-eat buffets; and, of course, consuming plenty of alcohol.

Sitting in the sand, wearing a skimpy Speedo, and letting sea water roll around me remains one of the best therapies I’ve ever had.  I thought, if some giant tsunami accosted the beach and sucked me into the Pacific depths, I probably wouldn’t mind.  Another fantasy didn’t develop until the moment I stepped onto the beach, beneath a cloudy sky.  I didn’t get to experience it, which is probably a good thing.  It might have killed me.

A tall islet laden with tropical vegetation languished innocuously offshore – perhaps a mile at the most.  I thought it beckoned me, and after a couple of days, I dared to attempt a brief excursion to its narrow shores.  I tried swimming out to it, but quickly realized the allure was strictly my own cogitation.  And I wisely returned to shore.

I returned home looking like I’d been attacked by some animal rights activists, which startled family, friends and coworkers.  I couldn’t praise Ixtapa highly enough.  I loved it then and I love it now.  I hope I can visit again.  If not now, then maybe in another life – if there is such a thing.

I’m not thinking of reincarnation, but rather, a life beyond this one.  The post-Earth kind of life.  Out there.  Wherever it is.

I’ve never been so arrogant as to say I know exactly what will happen to me after I die.  I’m certainly not a self-righteous evangelical Christian or “72 virgins at the end of the hallway” maniac.  But, for the bulk of my life, I’ve wondered what happens to us when we cross over to that “Other Side.”  What do people do?  How do they navigate time and space?  Why do they not visit us back here more often, especially when we call out their names in prayer?

I don’t know.  But I’ve begun to ponder a simple possibility – why would they come back here?  For any reason.  As much as they love us.  Why return to Earth?  They’ve served their time in this life.  So, what awaits them – all of us – on that “Other Side”?

All of those happy moments they experienced.  The people who have gone before us are, perhaps, reliving the best times of their lives.  They’re once again experiencing those events that gave them the most pleasure and made them feel the happiest.  I don’t suppose this would include the times they might have hurt other people for pleasure – whether it was accidental or deliberate.  Certainly not deliberate!  I imagine others who shared those grand moments slide in and out of the reoccurrences.  A sort of crossing time and space.

Therefore, my father is reliving the days he played baseball in his youth; when he first met my mother; holding me shortly after I’d been born; caressing my dog, Wolfgang, just a few years ago.  He absolutely loved that little four-legged monster!  Petting him was one of the simplest – yet best – pleasures my father had.

All of those things made him feel good.  Why in the hell would he come back here to help me with Earthly troubles?  Why would anyone want to give up reliving those special times to deal with plumbing problems and credit card debt?  They’ve already dealt with that shit!

I can’t imagine my father trading in the joy of having his own lawn for a day of listening to me moan about lower back pain!  Who in their right mind would want to make that kind of trade off?!

That’s why we don’t see our dearly departed that much.  And it’s why tampering with séances and Ouija boards is dangerous.  Disturbing the dead may be the subject of many bad jokes.  But I think it’s wrong.  It’s also kind of pointless.  Imagine you’re undergoing a full body massage and a relative interrupts to tell you they got into a road rage incident.  Wouldn’t you be pissed and want to startle the crap out of them, as they got ready for bed?

What’s it really like on that “Other Side”?  How is it living out there?  Again, I don’t know.  And I’m really not eager to find out anytime soon!  I have more stories I want to publish.  I want to adopt another dog.  So, I’ll continue paying my Earth-bound dues.  And one day I hope to lounge in that Ixtapa surf for hours – not concerned with anything.

3 Comments

Filed under Essays

Amend This

After more than four decades of watching American politics in action – I’m old enough to remember Watergate – I’ve come to realize the U.S. Constitution is a fluid document.  It’s more of a guide than a text carved into stone or marble.  That’s why it’s been amended 27 times over the past 240 years.  Therefore, as a devoted yet concerned citizen (meaning, pissed off at the crappy way things are going), I propose 3 additional amendments to the U.S. Constitution:

Amendment XXVIII

Note: This Amendment affects Section 1 of the 22nd Amendment.

Section 1: No person shall be elected to the Office of the President more than once, and that term is limited to six (6) consecutive years.

Section 2: If the Vice-President, or any other designated official ascends to the Office of President within one (1) calendar year from the day the originally elected President is sworn in, that person will be able to serve as Chief Executive only for the remainder of that particular term.  That person will not be allowed to seek election as President on their own.

Section 3: If the Vice-President, or any other designated official ascends to the Office of President within no less than one (1) calendar year and one (1) calendar day from the day the originally elected President is sworn in, that person will be able to serve as Chief Executive only for the remainder of that particular term.  That person will then be allowed to seek election as President on their own for only one term of six (6) consecutive years.  Therefore, the longest any one individual can serve as Chief Executive is one (1) calendar day short of eight (8) consecutive years.

 

Amendment XXVIIII

Section 1:  All candidates for the Office of President who enter the first primary in their respective field will be subjected to a mandatory physical exam by an independent, non-partisan medical professional selected by the current Surgeon General.  The results of this exam will be made public no more than one (1) calendar day after that initial primary election.

Section 2:  All candidates for the Office of President who enter the first primary in their respective field will be subjected to a mandatory psychological exam by an independent, non-partisan medical professional selected by the current Surgeon General.  The results of this exam will be made public no more than one (1) calendar day after that initial primary election.

 

Amendment XXX

Candidates for the Office of President must submit their financial records, including tax filings, to both Houses of the U.S. Congress within ninety (90) calendar days from the day they announce their candidacy.  Failure to comply within the allotted period will result in automatic disqualification from the election process.  That person will not be allowed to resume their candidacy, but will be allowed to seek the Office of President for the next appropriate election.  That person will then be subjected to the same protocol set forth in this Amendment.  Failure to comply within the allotted period for a second time will result in both automatic disqualification from the current election process and forbiddance from seeking the Office of President or the Office of Vice-President at any time in the future.

 

Please let me know what you folks think!  We, the People, must take more and better control of our nation’s leadership – just as our Founding Fathers (and Mothers) intended.

Leave a comment

Filed under Essays