Saturday, January 10, 2015

New Year's resolutions lose urgency as years pass

One of the best things about retirement is the ease in which movement from one year to the next takes place. I get in no hurry to do anything because it’s all optional.
Last night, I stayed up until 4 a.m. watching Netflix movies because of my clear schedule this week. The night before I stayed up until 6 a.m. Of course, that left me sleeping during the day, but it mattered not. Most everything would wait until I got around to it.

I used my car for the first time in 2015 almost a full week into the New Year because I realized that when I went to the grocery store on New Year’s Eve, I forgot to buy dog food. With two ravenous mouths to feed every morning, I conceded it was time to hit the road again.

Mickey the Schnauzer and Lucky the Jackshund get really testy when breakfast doesn’t hit the floor within 10 minutes of our getting out of bed so I decided not to dally any longer. I had just emptied every morsel out of the dog food bag to fill their bellies.

After spending two days in my pajamas, I finally hit the shower and got dressed. On the way across Cedar Creek Lake to Walmart, it occurred to me I no longer drove quite as fast as I did when I worked full-time. The slower speed gave me time to gaze at the white pelicans floating in the bay next to the bridge and to gauge the level of the lake after the recent rains.
As I drove, I also pondered my failure to make any New Year’s resolutions this year. A column on the front page of The Monitor, Cedar Creek Lake’s newspaper, praised the value of the practice and urged everyone to take part in changing their lives forever. The editor, Pearl Cantrell, based her argument on “Resolved: 13 Resolutions for Life,” a self-help book by Orrin Woodward, a motivational speaker and New York Times best-selling author who promises to give readers a plan to “live the life you’ve always wanted.”

Woodward maintains in his book that resolutions should be geared toward one changing themselves from the inside out to be effective. External changes do not reprogram a person.

I reviewed some of my resolutions in previous years that I, naturally, failed to ever accomplish. Almost every year I’ve vowed to exercise more and eat and drink less so I would look better.  I’ve rarely gotten out of the gate with that one because I was always still eating and drinking well into the early hours of New Year’s morning.
I also routinely failed to clean my house and wash my car on a regular basis. I always slipped back into the habit of waiting until the approach of a crisis, such as learning someone planned to visit me from out of town. I always started the New Year with a clean house and fresh laundry because my mother instilled that tradition in me, but I never caught on to her habit of keeping things in order all year long.

No doubt I’d had other resolutions I failed to keep over the years, but those seemed to be the most glaring examples.
Suddenly, I realized what Woodward meant by saying change must occur from the inside out. I could never keep those resolutions because I’m a lazy procrastinator. Until I corrected that problem, I’d never be able to live the life I’ve always wanted.

I zipped through Walmart and headed home with a giant bag of Purina One SmartBlend in the trunk of my car. I vowed to buy another bag before that one ran out.
I decided it was not too late for me to make a New Year’s Resolution, and I made plans to order Woodward’s book from Amazon. By golly, I could change my life forever. I envisioned how much better life would be after I read that book.

Then I realized, I was driving fast again. I was in a hurry to get home, but the dogs had already been fed. I was getting carried away. That couldn’t be good.
It will take a week or so for the book to arrive after I order it. Until it gets here, I won’t fret. Life will go on as normal, but as soon as that book arrives I’m getting down to business.  I will immediately start reading it.

You see, I enjoy reading in the afternoon while lying on the living room sofa with the sun filtering through the blinds. It often makes me sleepy so I take a little nap. The book will still be there when I awake.



Friday, December 5, 2014

Civil rights protests reminiscent of the 1960s spread nationwide after grand juries' no-bills in deaths

Violence and nationwide protests in the wake of a Missouri grand jury not indicting a white police officer for the shooting death of a black teenager in August reveal the depth of the racial divide and the distrust of the American criminal justice system.
Despite weeks of preparation by government officials and civic leaders to avoid a riot, the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson erupted in a street war Nov. 24 as mostly black protesters set fire to buildings and police cars, broke business windows, looted stores, fired guns and threw bottles and rocks at police officers, firefighters and reporters. The deployment of smoke and tear gas by law enforcement officers and the presence of National Guard troops failed to quell the civil unrest. A shocked nation watched live coverage of the chaos on network television stations.

Soon after St. Louis County prosecutor Robert P. McCulloch announced the grand jury rejected any indictments against Ferguson policeman Darren Wilson, hundreds standing in front of the Ferguson Police Department began yelling insults and pelting objects at a line of police officers standing guard.

The destruction escalated during the night after the tearful breakdown of Michael Brown’s mother who cried that the grand jury of nine whites and three blacks denied her “justice” for the shooting of her 18-year-old son on a residential street. Brown’s stepfather jumped up on a platform with his wife, embracing her before he turned to the crowd and began yelling “burn this motherfucking place down.”

In St. Louis protesters blocked traffic on Interstate 44, and Lambert-St. Louis International Airport suspended flight traffic as a precaution against automatic gunfire striking airplanes. The fires burned through the night because of fears firefighters might be shot by protesters and the inability of law enforcement officers to control the situation.
Although accustomed to violence and riots, many Americans feel they witnessed a night of mayhem in Ferguson like no other one before it. Only a small percentage of Ferguson’s black population participated in the rioting, but their community as a whole will suffer from the actions of the agitators. Black business owners experienced significant losses, and the community lost service and shopping venues.

Further exacerbating the national tension, a New York City grand jury no-billed a police officer on Dec. 3 who strangled a 43-year-old black man with a chokehold when a group of policemen attempted to arrest him in July for the illegal sale of cigarettes on a Staten Island sidewalk. Thousands of people marched in the streets to protest that evening in a more peaceful assembly, but unrest across the nation began to brew over the new development.

 Now, protests continue in cities nationwide, and arguments on social media sites such as Facebook flourish between advocates of law enforcement officers and activists who view the killing of Brown as an act of police brutality. Civil rights leaders urge calm and lawful behavior, but the debate continues to rage about whether a police officer executed a teenager suspected of stealing tobacco products on Aug. 9 or if he justifiably shot an assailant who threatened his life with his fists and hulk. The police officer said the teenager refused to obey a command to get out of the street and walk on the sidewalk.

Many prominent members of the LGBT community and their friends have joined both sides of the debate. Hostile arguments frequently break out, followed by unfriending. The video of Brown strong arming a store clerk and carrying unpurchased merchandise out of the door minutes before he came into contact with the policeman leads many to view him unsympathetically. They perceive him as a bully whose actions led to his own death. The protesters’ rioting reinforces their biases against black people as a whole. Others fear the start of a race war in the nation, and they blame the media’s coverage of the protests of exacerbating the situation.
Southern Poverty Law Center President Richard Cohen writes in an editorial that observers should not be second-guessing a grand jury that had access to voluminous information about the events leading up to Brown’s death. He attributes the protesters’ distrust of police officers to “a gulf that’s been formed by the history of discrimination in our country, a gulf that has been deepened by the systemic biases in our current criminal justice system.”

Cohen speculates the nation will likely experience more disastrous instances of civil unrest until there is reform to the criminal justice system and a healing of the racial wounds of the past that created the racial division. “It’s a gulf that breeds suspicion and mistrust, a gulf that undermines the very legitimacy of our system of justice,” he said.
Meanwhile law enforcement officers fear a pattern of resistance to authority might begin developing that could interfere with their ability to maintain order. Wilson has resigned from the Ferguson Police Department with the knowledge that his law enforcement career is over.

Ferguson’s Police Chief Tom Jackson vows to remain at the helm of the police department, and he is promising to recruit more black police officers and increase sensitivity training for the predominantly white police force working in a majority black community. Plans are also underway to install body cameras on all police officers so there will be a video recording of all law enforcement interactions.
All of the administrative solutions being examined by government officials on the local, state and national levels have merit, but ultimately it will require participation by all citizens in an effort to obey the law and respect each other regardless of their cultural differences for our nation to resolve this internal conflict.

Reporters who cover crime and examine police reports know that law enforcement officers witness and must contend with the types of violence that the average person cannot begin to comprehend. Often, it arises unexpectedly, and anyone coming into contact with police officers should be considerate of their apprehension.

It is a tragedy that Brown died as the direct consequences of a relatively minor crime, but the violence that ensued during the riots is inexcusable. All groups of people need to give a little, try to understand each other better and even extend a helping hand to the disadvantaged. The underprivileged need to try harder to improve their lot through education and hard work.

More importantly, cooler heads need to prevail. We face too many threats from beyond our borders to be fighting with each other.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Tamiami Trail takes visitors to Florida from Everglades to beaches; it's a route worth following for a quick getaway

Travel ranked high on my list of things to do when I retired, and I realized that along with many foreign lands much of America remained unexplored by me. That and concerns about international conflicts took me to Florida in late August to visit the Everglades
After flying into Tampa and renting a car I drove to a cousin’s house in Punta Gorda on the Gulf Coast. The next day he and I set off for an air boat ride in a swamp near Everglade City, and what a rush that turned out to be. I declared it to be the most fun I’d ever had with my clothes on when I tipped the air boat captain.

After roaring and spinning through the murky water and marsh for a half-hour, we came to a stop in the swamp. The captain blew a whistle and an 11-foot alligator swam up to the side of the boat close to where I sat. His 9-foot girlfriend soon joined him, and they both opened their mouths for the captain to toss them marshmallows. Giant teeth lined their mammoth jaws, and they greedily swallowed the treats. I imagined how quickly one of my feet or hands could disappear into their bellies.

When we arrived back at the air boat dock my cousin and I took turns holding a three-foot long alligator. The softness of his skin and his docility surprised me, but I guessed show-and-tell demonstrations and marshmallows had tamed him.

Later, we went to Everglade City’s Island Cafe to eat fried alligator tail, and it truly did taste like chicken. Then we took a tour of the city’s tiny museum and a cruise of the small town where the historic Rod and Gun Club Hotel offers guests a taste of “Olde Florida.”  The hotel and its veranda sits near the bay in a lush setting featuring fish, reptiles and exotic birds.

On the way back to Punta Gorda I decided I’d had enough of the Everglades and my reunion with my cousin, with whom I went to grade school more than a half-century ago. Relatives tend to quickly get on each other’s nerves so I headed north to Sarasota and the Sandcastle Resort on Lido Beach for a relaxing few days before I went home.

So I jumped back on theTamiami Trail constructed in the early 1900s takes vehicles from Miami to Tampa, You can take the scenic route through all of the beach towns, which I did, or travel the big highway.
The Sandcastle is an old Helmsley Hotel that is perched on a white sand beach splashed with lime-colored waves. Leona Helmsley used to winter there so I felt sure it would meet my needs. The hotel upgraded me to a beachfront room without extra charge, and I left the balcony door open all night so I could listen to the waves.

My first afternoon there, I went to the pool bar, where an attractive group of happy people lounged and listened to exotic music. The bartender, Missy, who started working there 17 years ago, quickly revealed herself to be a fun host with a large following of hotel guests who visit the resort every year as well as locals. I spotted six gay guys at the bar, and a sociable married man sitting next to me bought me a drink. As he mentioned how much he and his wife “love” gay people, I knew then I had put my vacation back on track.

The people around the bar talked about Leona Helmsley and her husband living in the resort for months at a time and how the hotel staff would carry her elderly husband out to the beach in his hospital bed to spend 15 minutes under an umbrella. She wore pressed khaki shirts and shorts every day, they said.

Contrary to everything I’d read about Leona Helmsley, employees at the resort said they liked her. “If you did your job, she appreciated you,” one employee said. When she died she remembered resort employees in her will, she said.

I spent the next five days on the beach, at the bar and on the balcony, sometimes ordering drinks from room service. The resort proved to be as they say, “gay friendly.” For lunches and dinners I took the hotel shuttle down the road to St. Armand's Circle, a quaint and expensive collection of boutiques and restaurants. A friend with whom I went to journalism school at the University of Texas at Austin decades ago lives in Sarasota, and we went to lunch a couple of times. Columbia, a Cuban restaurant in St. Armands' Circle, served me the best food I had on the trip.

One day as I sat at the resort café near the pool, a tall white bird that I speculated to be a crane joined me for breakfast, literally. He helped himself to some scrambled eggs and sausage. I learned his name was Fred. He and his girlfriend flew in one day several years ago, but when she flew out he stayed. I guess he liked the food.

One of the best treats turned out to be the weather. Every afternoon about 6 p.m. a thunderstorm shattered the peace of the beach and thrilled me to no end. Five years of drought had left me promising to never, ever complain again about rain for any reason.

Sarasota has an LGBT community and gay bars for those who desire that scene, but I felt no need to go and search for them. In my experience, gay bars tend to be much of the same worldwide. I didn’t need any more entertainment than the resort offered me.

As it turns out North Lido Beach near the Sandcastle Resort is known as the gay beach so that probably has a lot to do with the gay-friendly atmosphere. Sarasota seems to be laid-back, full of cultural offerings, hosts a gay pride festival annually and is home to several LGBT organizations including a church. It’s not one of your big progressive cities like New York City, Los Angeles, Miami , New Orleans or Dallas that boast massive LGBT communities, but it manages to provide a pleasant home, according to the LGBT residents and gay-friendly straight residents I met.

Returning to Texas saddened me after my excitement in the Everglades, my days of luxury in the resort and the splendor of the Gulf beach. I doubt that I’ll ever return there because so many other destinations await me, but I’ll always remember it as a great respite from the Texas heat and drought the summer of 2014.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Controversial Arizona sheriff to speak at Texas Tea Party fundraiser at Baptist church near Dallas

Arizona's Maricopa County Sheriff Joseph M. "Joe" Arpaio will speak to the Kaufman County Tea Party during a fundraiser at the First Baptist Church of Forney Sept. 20 at 7 p.m.

Six-time elected Sheriff Arpaio gained national attention in 2005 for speaking out in favor of strong enforcement of U.S. immigration laws. He was an advocate of Arizona's anti-immigrant law that the U.S. Supreme Court later struck down in large part.

Arpaio, who is of Italian heritage, is most infamously known for dyeing boxer shorts pink and forcing county jail inmates to wear them.

The 84-year-old sheriff has used the pink underwear to gain media coverage, raise money through the sale of pink underwear and to promote his book, "America's Toughest Sheriff." He has been quoted as saying, "I can get elected on pink underwear. I've done it six times."

An Internet search failed to produce any anti-LGBT rights remarks made by Arpaio. When fellow Arizona Sheriff Paul Babeu was outed as gay during a political campaign in 2012, Arpaio said he wouldn't be advising the gay sheriff. But he stopped short of criticizing Babeu, saying only he would need to "work out his problems."

The announcement of Arpaio's appearance on the Kaufman County Tea Party's website and members' Facebook pages coincides with the political party successfully lobbying the Kaufman County Commissioners Court to pass a resolution opposing any efforts to house young refugees from Central America in the county.

Local Tea Party Chairman Ray Myers claimed the refugees are mostly adults rather than children, and that the approach of 300,000 illegal immigrants to the U.S. border represents an unprecendented public health and economic threat.

Supporters of housing refugee children allege that Myers and other conservatives are using fear tactics to attract opposition to immigrants.

Arpaio is self-proclaimed as "America's Toughest Sheriff," and he attracts widespread national media attention.

Arpaio was found guilty of racial profiling in federal court, and a monitor was appointed to oversee the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office operation. His jails have twice been ruled unconstitutional.

Critics have accused Arpaio of abuse of power, misues of funds, failure to investigate sex crimes, improper cleanrance of cases, unlawful enforcement of immigration laws and election law violations.

The sheriff is also known for his claims that he investigated President Barack Obama's birth certificate and found it to be forged.

Funds raised by Arpaio's appearance will be used to defeat RINOs (Republicans In Name Only) and Democrats, according to the Tea Party's website.

General admission is $15 each. Sponsors who pay $1,0000 for eight tickets, $500 for four tickets, $250 for two tickets or $125 for one ticket will be able to attend a private reception with the sheriff, get their picture taken with him and sit in reserved seating.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Sixth-generation civic leader scolds Texas politicians for harsh stance on immigration

A lone, loud voice reminded a group of public officials in Texas of their roots as they contemplated the arrival of refugee children from Central America in the state.

Conservative Kaufman County Tea Party politicians had successfully lobbied the Kaufman County Commissioners Court recently to pass a resolution opposing the housing of any refugee children from Central America. But that didn't sit well with longtime Kaufman County civic leader Carolyn Long who roundly criticized the court for its action during its third and final deliberation on the matter.

Long, a sixth-generation Kaufman resident,  said she came forward to speak out against the resolution when it appeared on the consent agenda for ratification because she had just learned of it. The court passed the resolution the previous week under the heading of a "public safety" concern that failed to mention immigration.

"I think we are a welcoming county, and we always have been," Long said. "I don't want our county to get a reputation for being extremists."

The court placed the item on the consent agenda for final ratification after Assistant District Attorney John Long advised the court he had concerns about compliance with open records laws.

Long asked the court to table the resolution, and she said that she disagreed with Kaufman County Tea Party Chairman Ray Myers, Texas Sen.-elect Bob Hall and Texas Rep.-elect Stuart Spitzer who testified during two previous court meetings that the mass immigration of children entering the United States across the Mexico border posed a great economic and health threat.

Long branded the language used by the Tea Party officials as "harsh." She reminded the commissioners and Judge Bruce Wood that they all came from immigrant heritage as well.

"I think we ought to have a little compassion about this and cool it down a little bit," said Long, who is well known for her work with the Kaufman Heritage Society, Help Keep Kaufman Beautiful and other civic organizations.

Myers defended his claims about the potential threat of immigrants bringing diseases, crime and economic burdens to U.S. taxpayers as accurate and legitimate. He and the politicians claimed most of the immigrants are young adults, not children.

The Tea Party organizer said several other counties have passed similar resolutions, and the Kaufman County document is based on one drafted in Galveston County he  brought to the court's attention.

In contrast, neighboring Dallas County planned to house 2,000 refugee children, but public officials abruptly cancelled their plans after wide spread protests.

The Kaufman County officials ignored Long's protest and request to table the resolution, passing it unanimously.

Afterwards, Judge Wood said Long was the first person to speak out publically against the resolution. Others have privately expressed concerns about the children to him, but they have supported the county's stance, he said.

"They understand it is a tough problem," Wood said.

Long is pictured speaking at another event.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Transgender woman gets $4,000 in settlement she claims smacks of unfairness

No one takes any blame in the mediated settlement the U.S. Department of Justice arranged recently between an Athens, TX, RV park owner and a transgender woman and her female partner who alleged discrimination.

In the settlement order dated July 9, George Toone, owner of Texan RV Park, continued to deny the discrimination allegations, but he agreed to pay Roxann Joganik and Darlina Anthony $4,000 to settle the case. Both the defendants and the complainants agreed in the settlement they would make no negative or critical comments of the other, and they agreed not to reveal any communications between them after reaching the agreement.

Joganik said that while she could not make any statements about the RV park owner, she criticized the Department of Justice for its handling of the case. Most discrimination cases get larger settlements, she claimed.

“I didn’t get a fair deal because I’m transgender,” Joganik said. “They don’t give a hoot.”

Joganik said she believes the average settlement in a discrimination case taken on by the Department of Justice would be at least three times what she received.

Joganik said she believed the federal employees who assisted her failed to “understand what it means to be transgender,” which led them to seek a quick, easy settlement.

The federal employees appeared to be as prejudiced against her as anyone else, Joganik said.

"I hate the Department of Justice," Joganik said. "I hope I never have to deal with them again."

The Department of Justice's website includes a section devoted to LGBTI individuals. It includes a quote from Asst. Attorney General Thomas E. Perez. "On an issue of basic equality and fundamental fairness for all Americans ... we have come too far in our struggle for equal justice under the law to remain silent or stoic when our LGBT brothers and sisters are still being mistreated and ostracized for reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with their skills or abilities and everything to do with myths, stereotypes, fear of the unknown and prejudice."

The media attention the case attracted led to Joganik's current landlord telling her not to allow a reporter to return to the RV park, she said. "It's hard for me to find a place to live," she said.

Joganik is now living in her third RV park since she began her transition from male to female.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development issued a charge of discrimination in August against the Athens RV park owner after investigating a complaint by the transgender woman and her female partner who now live in Seven Points.

The action was believed to be one of the first few investigations by HUD to proceed to the trial stage since the federal agency adopted a new policy in March 2012 banning discrimination against LGBT people.

If the charge of discrimination had been upheld in a federal administrative hearing or a U.S. federal district court the park owner could have been fined $16,000 and been required to reimburse the complainants for damages. The damages could have included moving expenses and compensation for emotional distress.

Joganik and Anthony filed the complaint in the summer of 2012 against George and Amy Toone and In Toone Services, LLC, owners of Texan RV Park on Highway 175 West in Athens. The complainants alleged that the Toones discriminated against them on the basis of sex on May 15, 2012, and again on Aug. 18, 2012.

After the park owner refused to accept a rent payment from them and successfully pursued an eviction in now-deceased Justice of the Peace Henry S. Ashford's court in Henderson County, Joganik offered to move to her son's residence so Anthony could remain, according to the couple. The park owner again refused to accept the rent payment, leading to the dual charge, they said.

The pair amended the complaints in February 2013 to add charges of harassment and intimidation after the Toones, who were represented by Dallas lawyer Casey Erick, allegedly "sought and assisted in the publication of articles on a campground management website," according to the complaint outlined in HUD documents.

The articles allegedly contained "inaccurate and negative information about complainant Joganik for the purpose of harassing and intimidating her" in violation of federal law, according to the allegations in the documents.

The Toones denied the allegations of discrimination, claiming that the complainants' recreational vehicle did not "constitute a dwelling" and should be exempt from the federal housing law. They claimed the owners of the recreational vehicles in the park were not tenants, but instead guests.

The respondents also maintained that Joganik and Anthony were asked to leave the park because Joganik would not sign the park rules, the pair disrupted other guests' use of the park and that Joganik had killed park wildlife. Joganik identified the wildlife as turtles in a pond that were eating the bait off her fish hooks.

Federal officials found "reasonable cause" of "discriminatory housing practices" by the park owner in the case, according to HUD documents in the possession of the complainants. But the officials rejected the complaint against the owner's wife and the allegations of intimidation and harassment.

Joganik and Anthony previously said they were confident they would prevail in the HUD proceedings.

A spokeswoman for Texan RV Park said the owner would have no comment about the case at the time it was filed. Erick, the attorney representing the owner, did not return phone messages left at his office.
To contact the LGBTI Working Group or to report acts of violence or discrimination send an email to or visit

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Lucky the Jackshund joins The Rare Reporter

Mickey the Schnauzer seemed a little lonely so I began looking for him a friend.

I've added Lucky to the household whose breed took a while to determine. Born Jan. 17, 2014, Lucky revealed himself to be a cross between a Jack Russell Terrier and a Dachshund.

He is quite the little devil, but he is settling into the household nicely.

Mickey who is seven is playing like a puppy since Lucky's arrival. It was a good decision.