Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Leave No Man Behind

On the morning of December 28, 1965 Huey 808 from the First Air Cavalry departed An Khe for a 15 minute flight to resupply ground troops in the Central Highlands of Vietnam.

The pilot radioed base reporting bad weather.

It was the last heard from the crew. For over 43 years.

Rescue crews looked for Huey 808. Over and over. In rough, heavily wooded terrain. But they couldn't locate it.

SP5 Don Grella was the crew chief. His sister, Shirley Haase has lead a campaign to continue the search for her brother and the rest of the crew since their disappearance.

Earlier this year, she was informed by the American military's Joint Prisoners of War, Missing in Action Accounting Command that the crash site had been found. Her brother's remains as well as the rest of the crew had been recovered and positively identified.

This past Saturday, Specialist Grella was laid to rest in his hometown of Laurel, Nebraska.

Welcome home, sir.

Thank you for your sacrifice.

Thank you Mrs. Haase for never forgetting your brother.

Thank you Laurel, Nebraska for never fogetting a native son.

Thank you America for never leaving a man behind.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Qaddafi World Tour

Mr. Chavez has warmly welcomed Godaffy to Venezuela.

He has welcomed him with a military parade and a miltary honor.


And tonight, Godaffy is on Larry King Live.

Whoever his press agent is, he is doing well.

My question is, why? What's he up to?

For years after we put a rocket thru his front window, he seemed to get the message and kept a low, non-threatening profile.

Now, he has welcomed home the bastard terrorist from the Lockerbie plane bombing.

He ranted at the U.N.

He has pitched his bedouin tent in Venezuela.

And, now, CNN.

He has an agenda. Whatever it is, it is dangerous. And loony.

Friday, September 25, 2009

The Healers

Tragedy and art often combine to produce masterpieces.

The Gold Star Families have been blessed with the support of many. But two groups stand out for what they do and how they do it.

The American Fallen Soldiers Project is a work of love by Phil Taylor and his wife Lisa.

Phil has used his art to help his family heal, and to help those hurting.

Shortly after taking Phil Taylor’s youngest daughter to the prom and just a few days before graduating from high school, Ben Dossett was killed in a motorcycle accident in his hometown of Frisco, Texas.

Out of a desire to help his daughter through the tragedy and to honor Ben and his family, Phil painted tirelessly through the night and the following day to have a portrait of Ben ready to present to the Dossett family before the funeral.

The experience of painting a portrait of someone taken too soon and then having the opportunity to give this gift to a grieving family was very profound. At the moment he received the hug of gratitude from Ben’s father, Phil knew his life had changed.

He then contacted a long time friend whose brother, Capt. Blake Russell, had been killed in Iraq on July 22, 2006.

When attending Blake's funeral, Phil observed an incredible outpouring of American patriotism. The experience affected him deeply. But, at the time he did not know how he could help.

After the experience of painting Ben, Phil decided to try to restore Blake on canvas for his family. The reaction from the Russell family upon receiving their portrait was confirmation that the paintings were a way to bring comfort and peace.

From that moment on, Phil and Lisa knew he had to continue sharing this gift with as many families as possible.

Phil and Lisa have taken on this task of "healers" because they are called to it.

They have no choice. They also have dramatically changed their lives. They work full time on the project and have had a significant reduction in income because of the time they are putting into supporting grieving families.

The painting of our smiling Pete has been such a gift to our family. It's all there in the eyes. Thank you Phil and Lisa for caring so much.

Another group of amazing artists work together on what they call Project Compassion.

The work was started by Kaziah Hancock, an artist who lives on a Montana ranch with an appreciation for the U.S. military.

Kaziah's father was an honorably discharged and disabled Army veteran. He passed away one week before she was born.

Her mother raised five children with the Army pension check. She knows about the sacrifice of military families.

She began painting fallen soldiers in March of 2003 as a simple way of saying thanks and offering a hug from afar to grieving families.

The painting of Pete with Missy has touched our family deeply. It reminds us of a sweeter time and a never ending love.

Thank you Kaziah and Lane Brady and all of your wonderful artists.

Kaziah expresses her feelings for the fallen so eloquently.

"They have my respect, my heart, so of course I continue to give them my hands."

Let us never forget to support the healers.

They too can become overwhelmed by the task, the grief, the loss.

Phil and Kaziah, thank you. Take care of yourselves. You are loved.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Baby Dunk

Everyman dreams of being awakened in that special way.

It happened to me just this morning.

You know what I mean.

"Hey pops, do you know how to get a skunk off the porch?"

That's the way to arouse a sleeping man.

Indeed, a baby skunk is inside the screened porch.

The 23 month old grandson is so excited.

"PaPa. Look. Baby dunk. Baby dunk."

The screens on the porch can be raised, which was done to let this charming little woodland creature escape.

Which it did.

But not before lifting its tail and leaving an odor that has permeated every square inch of the house.

Google is so helpful. I was just about to hose the house down with tomato juice when I read that tomato juice won't work. Apparently, the secret formula is:

So, that's my day so far.

And if this concoction can take away the smell left by the baby dunk, I'm gonna bottle it and sell it to New Yorkers to get the smell of Gadhafi and his camels out of their nostrils.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The UN stands for Unrestrained Nutjobs

If you had more important things to do this morning than listen to Colonel Moammar Gadhafi ramble incoherently in his first ever speech to the UN, here is a quick recap.

He spoke for one hour and 36 minutes. The rule of the UN General Assembly is no speaker is to take more than 15 minutes. No wonder the UN is a laughing-stock. They can't even control their own lectern.

And, here were the key points of his "message":

* Swine flu was created as a moneymaking exercise by drug companies who are now working on a man-made "fish flu"

* JFK was assassinated by Israel because he wanted to investigate their nuclear reactors

* A UN inquiry should investigate the assassination of Abraham Lincoln

* The UN should be moved to Delhi or Beijing – to make the trip less arduous for most countries

* Modern day piracy in Africa is the fault of western imperialism

* Immigration to Europe should be unrestricted until it has paid $7.7 trillion in restitution

While he was erecting his tent on Donald Trump's property in Westchester, why didn't somebody do the world a favor and cause a construction accident to take out this unrepentant, crazed terrorist?

Stay tuned for more fine oratory today from clear minded freedom lovers like Mr. Medvedev of Russia and Mr. Ahmadinejabberwocky from Iran.

This is sure to lead to world peace.

How do you say Kumbaya in Arabic?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Do you want your gun blued with that presciption?

You don't know the meaning of convenience store until you live in a small country town.

Due to the lack of traffic, small town merchants have to be creative in luring business to survive.

Like just this morning, I went to pick up my dry cleaning. The stuff I dropped off at 10 pm Friday night.

That's right, 10 pm Friday night. Cause the dry cleaner is also a video store. And also a tanning salon.

You can get light starch, pick up "Zack and Miri Make a Porno", and get a good base tan all in one stop. From 7am to 10 pm. Now that's convenience.

Sadly, the local drug store changed hands a few years ago when the owner and pharmacist decided to retire to spend more time ranching and golfing. (His wife is the local postmaster, and she's none to happy about it.)

Rex could fix whatever ailed you, and repair your 12 gauge over and under while you waited.

The drugstore is now owned and managed by some sweet ladies. I was in just the other day, and they had a small cooler with some locally produced pickles to go along with the Z-packs. It's always handy to have fresh pickles when your sickly.

But nothing takes your mind off your pains like seeing a disassembled Winchester.

As creative as the business people are in my town, I'm afraid we have to cede the title to a store between Princeton and Farmersville, Texas.

"Guns and Donuts" says the handpainted sign in the window.

Now, that's thinking outside the box.

Monday, September 21, 2009


On a flight to LA recently, I got the window seat on the three seat side.

The two guys next to me did a classic frequent flyer insider trick.

There was a woman in front of us in an exit row middle seat. Her husband was across the aisle, also in an exit row.

These two cads offered to give up their seats so this older couple could sit together. (The only thing they wanted was the exit row seat.)

The couple fell for it, and I soon had new seatmates. They didn't know from sic 'em about the legroom screwing they just got.

Lucky me.

No, I mean really lucky.

Bootsie and Ron. Live in the midwest.

He had survived a cancer scare a year earlier.

They decided if he made it thru, they were going to do things they had always wanted to do.

So, they were flying to LA, then on to Vancouver for an Alaskan cruise.

Ron looked great. But just thinking how close he had been to death was such a wake up call. He was living and going to make the most of it.

And so was she.

Bootsie asked about the memorial bracelets I wear.

I explained that they were for three young men who died in Iraq.

She asked if I knew them.

I explained that I knew some better than others. After a few more questions, she had me.

"This one is in memory of my son."

Bootsie misted up.

"I am so sorry. I can't imagine. I've never known anyone that has lost a family member in war."

"See, Ron survived Korea. Lost some friends, but he was never hurt."

"But, me and my ladyfriends stay busy supporting our military. We send cards, and care packages. Anything we can do to let them know we care."

I thanked her as a military dad. I explained how much her gestures mean to those who wear the cloth of our nation. I explained that we have been able to send 7 tons of supplies into Iraq and Afghanistan.

She patted my hand. "You must be a very strong man. Will it be ok if I add you to my prayer list?"

"Bootsie, please. It would mean the world to me. Prayer works."

"And Alan, if the answer is no, I will understand. But it would be an honor for me to have a memorial bracelet to remember your son and all those brave men and women like him. How could I order one?"

"Bootsie, you just did."

It is in the mail.

And the ripple effect continues.

Friday, September 18, 2009


On October 26, 1974 my next door neighbor was the star running back for TCU. Kent Waldrep.

TCU played Alabama at Legion Field in Birmingham that afternoon.

On a sweep called "Red Right, Power 28", Kent was instructed to keep it wide and not turn it inside.

He did.

Alabama defended it well.

Kent landed on his head on the artificial turf.

He suffered a serious spinal cord injury. His life changed in that instant.

Kent has since been an inspirational champion for spinal cord research, a motivational speaker, a great husband and the father of two fine sons.

Coach Bear Bryant took special interest in Kent's life after the injury.

One of Coach Bryant's legacies is the creation of the Bear Bryant Scholarship. Every child of any player that played for him or coach that coached for him was eligible to get a scholarship to the University of Alabama.

Because of the special relationship Coach Bryant and Alabama have had with Kent over the years, the University made a special exception for both of the Waldrep boys who were awarded Bear Bryant Scholarships and now attend Alabama.

This Saturday, another Texas team plays Alabama.

The University of North Texas Mean Green will take on the 4th ranked Crimson Tide at Bryant Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa.

Before 92,000 screaming fans, a quiet young man will start his first game at quarterback for UNT.

Nathan Tune.

We've known Nathan for years. He went to high school and played football and basketball with my youngest son.

He is a great athlete.

He has been to our house dozens of times.

I don't think I have ever heard him say a word.

He is just a quiet, disciplined, determined, competitive young man.

He walked on at UNT. He has waited patiently for his chance to play.

And tomorrow, he gets his opportunity.

His proud mom and dad will be amongst those 92,000.

So will the Waldreps. Whose sons know Nathan and played football with him as well.

I've got goosebumps thinking about.

Tomorrow in Tuscaloosa, another great story will be written and more lives will be changed.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Do horses sleep standing up?

Having breakfast at the cafe in my hometown recently.

Was provided an epiphany by the farmers and ranchers around The Liar's Table.

The conversation started with one ole boy laughing at the stupidity of a question on the previous evening's episode of, "Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?"

"Can you believe they asked such a dumb question? 'Do horses sleep standing up?' Everybody knows they do."

Everybody but me. (I didn't volunteer that information that morning, by the way.)

If you grow up around horses, work them, ride them, sell them, buy them, you know that horses sleep standing up. And you understand why. As I have now learned by asking one of the ranchers that knows I'm a city boy idiot but won't tell on me, horses sleep standing up because they would vulnerable to predators if they slept on the ground.


The providential design of nature continues to amaze.

The conversation then turned a bit more philosophical.

A man who farms for a living said, "You know, that's what's wrong with this world. People have gotten too far away from the land."

That statement still reverberates with me.

Mankind was put here on earth and the land and all it produced was put here for our nurturing and our caretaking.

Mankind was not put here on earth in a Ralph Lauren decorated birthing room.

Just observing and understanding the circle of life teaches so much uncommon sense.

Watching men and women work the ground to grow their own food, to feed their own animals, to make a living off of the land amazes a spoiled, sissified knucklehead like me.

I'm a domestic animal. Put me in the wild, and I'll be dead in a few hours.

It ain't supposed to be that way.

I should know how to find clean water from someplace other than the Brita filter.

I should know how to feed myself from the sea without going to Joe's Crab Shack.

I should know how to feed myself corn that isn't provided with fake butter flavor from Orville Redenbacher.

We are too far away from the land. We have forgotten our roots. We have forgotten how to feed ourselves. We have forgotten how this world really operates.

We have replaced horse sense with horseshit.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Living healthy, happy lives without government help

Imagine a place where people commonly live to be 90.

And at age 90, they are sexually active, healthy, working, productive, happy folks.

And if they are doing that at 90, imagine what they are doing at 50.

There is such a place.

And here are there dirty little secrets.

-These people live on an island with few outside influences.

-These people have developed a unique outlook on life including relentless optimism and a propensity for partying.

-They go to bed well after midnight, sleep late, and take daily naps.

-They eat lots of locally grown veggies and fish. And red meat. And fresh baked bread. And soak and sop everything in olive oil. And enjoy it with red wine and herbal teas.

-They don't worry about much of anything. They don't care about time. Work gets done when it gets done.

-They get around by walking instead of trains, planes and automobiles.

-Because of their isolation, they have developed strong connections with their family and friends.

-They are devoutly religious. The more regular their attendance at religious services, the longer the lifespan.

This isn't fantasy, Utopia, or Nirvana.

And, this lifestyle was neither created by nor hindered by government.

Nature, Providence and common sense is all it took.

The place is Ikaria. A rocky island in the Aegean Sea.

One of the so-called Blue Zones, places in the world where people live healthier and longer than other places on earth.

Monday, September 14, 2009


Americans are obsessed with stuff.

We buy things we don't need to impress people we don't like with money we don't have.

That's how we got ourselves into this recession.

We forgot that cash is king. We thought trend lines only went up. We thought there would always be new construction of homes, stores, office buildings, golf courses and waterparks becuase, well, because we couldn't imagine it any other way. And the financial community couldn't imagine it any other way.

"Leverage yourself up with as much as you can. Your income will always go up. Your house value will always go up. Buy it now. You deserve it."

We fell into idolatry. Worshiping stuff.

If you need proof of our stuff gathering, there is one industry that continues to fare well. Self-storage.

In 1984, there 6601 self-storage facilities in the United States with 289.7 million square feet.

By the end of 2008, there were 51,250 facilities with 2.35 billion square feet.

What is in those units?


Stuff we don't use alot.

Stuff we don't care much about.

Stuff we can't bear to throw away or give away.

Stuff that doesn't fit in the garage, basement or attic, cause those places are full of stuff.

Stuff that doesn't fit in our downsized homes or apartments that used to fill our 5,000 square foot palaces.

Stuff purchased with credit cards that we are still paying on at 18-22% interest.

Stuff that one day our kids will have to sort thru and throw 99% of away.

There are RV's and boats parked in many of them. Parked because we can't afford to put the gas in them to go use them.

There are clothes, shoes, baby furniture, mattresses, toys, wine, furniture, crap and stuff overflowing. We could have one giant yard sale and feed all of Africa with the proceeds.

If a meteor shower fell and took out all 51,250 self-storage units, would we really miss any of that stuff?

The older I get, I realize the less stuff I need.

A clean bathroom, a comfortable bed, and I can live out of my suitcase.

Just don't take my Harley or my flat screen. Those I really need.

Friday, September 11, 2009

The Magnifying Glass Project

I started this a year ago.

This morning, I visited Pete and did it again.

Soon, I am going to Washington, D.C. to complete the mission.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The War Within the So-Called War

"There were 110 reported active duty Army suicides from January 2009 through August 2009. Of those, 71 have been confirmed, and 39 are pending determination of manner of death. For the same period in 2008, there were 89 suicides among active duty soldiers."

The information above is from the Department of Defense website that you can access on your own.

Sadly, amongst those suicides, are officers and chaplains. As a matter of fact, the Chaplain group is suffering one of the highest rates of suicide.


Let me offer my observation. There is no official observation.

My observation is based on knowing Chaplains and officers who have been in the midst of the Iraq and Afghanistan "situations".

I don't call them wars.

We are not at war with Afghanistan.

We have not been at war with Iraq since we captured Saddam Hussein in December, 2003.

Imagine you are a soldier.

Imagine you are a leader of soldiers.

You are trained to eliminate America's enemies.

What the hell are you doing in Iraq? A country in which we still have over 130,000 military personnel on the ground. But, you are constained to your base.

What he hell are you doing in Afghanistan? Trying to make friends with a tribal leader that will tell you what suits him in his battle to keep his power based on familial loyalties?

Our military folks have seen things in the past 8 years that no human should have to see.

But, since we are in territory where human life has no value, they have seen it all.

No Hollywood horror movie can come close to what thousands of our young men and women have seen and dealt with.

And who has to manage this?

The officers and the Chaplains.

They get to call the families in America about what has happened.

They get to counsel the buddies in the regiment.

They get to go back to their tent or trailer at night and try to make sense of what they have seen.

They are away from their families. They are challenged to trust their Commander in Chief and their God.

Our military has been so misused in Iraq and Afghanistan that it makes me sick.

Our military is designed to eliminate our enemies.

Our military is not designed to be a police force.

Our military is not designed to be UNICEF.

But somehow, that is now what they are required to do.

And, worse, that is how their effectiveness is judged.

America's miltary, as harsh as it sounds, is there to kill the enemy.

Our elected leaders do not understand the world conflicts that they have put our military into. Our elected leaders have no "big plan" as to how to end it.

Pray for our military.

Pray especially for our officers and our Chaplains.

It is very hard to understand the death of a young soldier when you don't understand what the mission is.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The Freakonomics of Health Care

I heard an interview last night on NPR of a woman in her twenties who had battled and won against cancer.

Her story was interesting because she was so young. And, because of how she chose to go about being treated for her disease.

She worked in the U.S. and had insurance provided by her employer. However, she was a citizen of the Czech Republic.

She started her treatment in the U.S. In short order, she was overwhelmed by the paperwork and confusing information she was receiving from the various providers: doctors, labs, insurance companies, hospitals, etc.

So overwhelmed that she decided to return to the Czech Republic for her treatment.

She described her treatment there as being the same or better treatment as she would have received in the U.S. With the added benefits of no paperwork and no cost.

She said that she received some very effective new drugs that helped destroy her tumors. Those drugs are not readily available in the U.S. because they are incredibly expensive and insurance companies have not agreed to cover their use yet.

She did say that the treatment in the Czech Republic was not as warm and friendly as health care in the U.S. She said the doctors and nurses were cold and mechanical in going about their business. Medical personnel there did not spend alot time with patients and families discussing treatment and the emotional issues that a disease like cancer brings.

Freakonomics is a book that if you haven't read, you need to.

Steven Levitt is an economics professor at the University of Chicago. He believes that incentives are the cornerstone of modern life. Economics is the study of incentives.

So, what are the incentives for all the players in the medical industry in the U.S.?

And, what are the incentives for all the players in the medical industry in a country with socialized medicine?

Levitt postulates there are three kinds of incentives. Economic, social and moral.

We should be focused on debating those incentives as relates to health care. We are discussing treatment before we have discovered the underlying disease.

The free market medical system works. But it has problems. Like too much paperwork. And insurance companies deciding treatment plans based on costs.

The socialized medical system works. But it has problems. Impersonal. Waiting times. Questions about quality of care due to lack of economic incentives.

How do we in America incentify all the players so that the end result is the best health care on earth?

The free market system had better figure this out, or the government is going to do it. And government thinking is generally not sound, freakonomically.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Headmaster Obama, Start Kicking Some Teachers' Butts

President Obama, you promised to make our education system the envy of the world.

You have taken the time to speak directly to students to encourage them to work hard and stay in school.

But what are you doing about the teachers' unions, labor commissions and courts that won't allow school administrators to get rid of teachers that can't teach?

The Los Angeles Times did an investigative study. Following are some of the disheartening and unbelievable findings.

"L.A. Unified officials have struggled with the system more than most. Of the 15 tenured employees on record as fighting their terminations before review commissions in the last decade and a half, nine won their jobs back.

The main reasons: Commissions did not find the district's evidence damning or persuasive enough.

The district wanted to fire a high school teacher who kept a stash of pornography, marijuana and vials with cocaine residue at school, but a commission balked, suggesting that firing was too harsh.

L.A. Unified officials were also unsuccessful in firing a male middle school teacher spotted lying on top of a female colleague in the metal shop, saying the district did not prove that the two were having sex.

The district fared no better in its case against elementary school special education teacher Gloria Hsi, despite allegations that included poor judgment, failing to report child abuse, yelling at and insulting children, planning lessons inadequately and failing to supervise her class.

Not a single charge was upheld. The commission found the school's evaluators were unqualified because they did not have special education training. Moreover, it said they went to the class at especially difficult periods and didn't stay long enough.

Four years after the district began trying to fire Hsi, the case is still tied up in court, although she has been removed from the classroom. Her lawyer declined to comment on her behalf. The district's legal costs so far: $110,000.

Key conclusions are:

* Building a case for dismissal is so time-consuming, costly and draining for principals and administrators that many say they don't make the effort except in the most egregious cases. The vast majority of firings stem from blatant misconduct, including sexual abuse, other immoral or illegal behavior, insubordination or repeated violation of rules such as showing up on time.

* Although districts generally press ahead with only the strongest cases, even these get knocked down more than a third of the time by the specially convened review panels, which have the discretion to restore teachers' jobs even when grounds for dismissal are proved.

* Jettisoning a teacher solely because he or she can't teach is rare. In 80% of the dismissals that were upheld, classroom performance was not even a factor.

When teaching is at issue, years of effort -- and thousands of dollars -- sometimes go into rehabilitating the teacher as students suffer. Over the three years before he was fired, one struggling math teacher in Stockton was observed 13 times by school officials, failed three year-end evaluations, was offered a more desirable assignment and joined a mentoring program as most of his ninth-grade students flunked his courses."

Big O, no amount of hard work by a student will overcome this kind of crap.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

My little circle of life

Anne Lamott got it right when she wrote that only one six billionth of this is about you.

My life is insignificant.

What matters is how I affect those around me.

I'm trying my best, Lord.

I spent much of the day on the phone with attorneys discussing my son Peter's death.

He has been dead for almost two years.

But their remain issues to be dealt with.

How I miss by baby boy.

This evening, I got a call from a friend.

He is lonely. Divorced. And driven to drink.

I went and drug him out of the bar and drove him home.

He's gonna die someday. But not on my watch if I can help it.

I'll pick him up in the morning and take him back to his car.

I get home to my house full of young people.

My daughter Sarah told me an amazing story.

We have lots of picture of Pete around the house.

Oliver, my oldest grandson, knows who Pete is. Ollie is almost two.

There is a letter in a frame by Oliver's bed. It was written by his uncle Pete. A man he never met. And will never get to know.

But Oliver knows Pete from the pictures and the paintings.

Going to bed, Oliver pointed out the window towards Heaven and said, "Pete, home."

Oliver, you know it son.

My daughter, her husband, and his best friend are making music and a video to raise funds for soldiers with Traumatic Brain Injury. If Pete hadn't been killed, he would be amongst the sufferers.

Thank you, children, for understanding.

My youngest son got off work and came to the house.

He is 23 and trying to figure out what life is about.

Two years ago, he had signed a contract to become a Navy SEAL.

When Pete was killed, his life went up in the same smoke that followed the explosion of the Iranian bomb that killed Pete and maimed two other U.S. soldiers.

We had a great talk. Young people can change their mind in an instant.

But, I think we talked thru some issues that will get him pointed forward. I pray.

As I headed for bed around midnight, I got to hear my youngest grandson crying.

Maybe the first time in my life that a baby crying was an attraction.

I went into his room, changed his diaper, and rocked him.

My daughter, my baby girl whom I rocked to sleep so many times, brought me a bottle for Liam.

As I fed him, we locked eyes.

I haven't felt that connection for a long time. Liam's middle name is Peter.

I got to feed him, burp him, and rock him to sleep.

As I go to sleep this night, I am mindful of my blessings.

I am but a small piece of God's world.

And when I allow Him to be part of it, it is amazing.

It is hard to imagine what my joy multiplied by 6 billion would be.

The Great Divide

Bill Maxwell is a respected writer for The St. Petersburg Times.

He also just happens to be African-American.

This is an amazing true story. And it is still making my head spin.

I'm dumbfounded, amazed at how bigotry works, and stunned by Mr. Maxwell's being ok with it all.

How the other half lives

By Bill Maxwell, Times Correspondent
In Print: Sunday, August 30, 2009

Once again, Barack Obama, our postracial president, has unwittingly stepped into the briar patch of race. This time, however, the controversy does not involve white people. It involves a group of the president's fellow African-Americans.

The earlier and internationally reported entanglement occurred in Cambridge, Mass., when a white police officer arrested the president's good friend, Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. A so-called "teachable moment," complete with beer, resulted at the White House.

This time, the scene was Oak Bluffs, where the first family vacationed. Oak Bluffs, known as the Black Hamptons, is one of six towns on Martha's Vineyard. Beer at the White House is not in the offing. (Interestingly, Obama's notable race problems are occurring in New England, not in race-conscious Dixieland.)

Black people's connection to Oak Bluffs was the protagonist and the antagonist in this intraracial melodrama, which introduced many Americans, including many blacks, to a unique group they rarely, if ever, hear about. The group has been given various names, including the "black elite," the "Talented Tenth," the "Only Ones," "privileged blacks," the "black bourgeoisie," "black snobs," the "black upper crust" and others employing the "N-word."

A brief deconstruction of the events involving the Obamas: When word got out a few months ago that the first family would vacation on Martha's Vineyard, more than a handful of black Oak Bluffs residents rolled their eyes and groaned.

Even with their historic rise to the White House, the Obamas did not belong in this insular, black subculture.

A June 21 article in New York magazine, titled "Black and White on Martha's Vineyard," uncovered for many readers the fault line between upper-class blacks and their common sisters and brothers. Elite blacks live in a self-absorbed world of wealth and personal achievement. They support their own in every way.

The author of the magazine article, Touré, spent a lot of time in Oak Bluffs conducting interviews. One wealthy resident said of the president and the first lady: "Obama is more of a man of the people. He doesn't seem to identify with affluent black people. His wife definitely doesn't. She is basically a ghetto girl. That's what she says — I'm just being sociological. She grew up in the same place Jennifer Hudson did. She hasn't reached out to the social community of Washington, and people are waiting to see what they'll do about that."

Indeed, the "ghetto girl" description of Michelle Obama and the suggestion that the president does not identify with affluent black people put them at odds with many Oak Bluffs black millionaires and billionaires — surgeons, bankers, lawyers, entrepreneurs, inventors, CEOs, artists, authors — who trace their ancestry back to free blacks who did not experience the stain and direct horrors of slavery. They are a proud people who attended the nation's best universities and who use their intelligence and exemplary work ethic to become the crème de la crème.

The black upper class comes to Oak Bluffs to be comfortable and free of judgment in celebrating who they are. They stick together, socially segregating themselves from everyone else, including whites. They often feel besieged because of their elevated status.

"And this is why I have concluded that although every racial, ethnic, and religious group in the United States claims to want a piece of the American dream, there is no group that apologizes more for its success than black people," writes Lawrence Otis Graham in Our Kind of People: Inside America's Black Upper Class. "The cultural identity or integrity of a black millionaire rap star, basketball player, or TV performer will never be questioned. But an equally wealthy black professional with an upper-class background and a good education will earn the label of a 'sellout' or a 'Negro trying to be white.' "

I have spent several summers, along with one cruel winter, in Oak Bluffs in the homes of friends, and although I was not part of that society, I was impressed to see so many good-looking prominent blacks strolling on Circuit Avenue with their families, romping on the shore of the Inkwell (the black beach), playing tennis, golfing, sailing and fishing.

I understood why they loved Martha's Vineyard and why they gathered there, attracting the likes of Skip Gates, Vernon Jordan, Lani Guinier, Carole Simpson and Valerie B. Jarrett, senior adviser and assistant to President Obama.

A friend, a Vineyard native who was one of my University of Chicago classmates, told me that the "black upper class is a separate species, not like other blacks and better than whites." He said that no matter how much money a person like me earned or how fame I achieved, I never could be "one of them," a member of the "tribe." I had the "wrong pedigree," my skin was "too dark," my hair was "too nappy" and my features were "too Negroid." And, of course, I was born a migrant farm worker.

When I asked him about the Michelle Obama "ghetto girl" slur, he was unequivocal: "Michelle was born and raised on Chicago's South Side. Her dad was city pump operator, and her mother was a secretary. That spells 'ghetto' to a lot of people here."

The Obamas' visit to Martha's Vineyard has given many Americans a glimpse of a group of blacks who — without apologies — have made wealth and success their way of life, who have little in common with other blacks, who also do not care to mix socially with whites.

They love to be with their own kind of people. And they have that right.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Crazy Business

Business owners have lost their minds.

Businesses exist to provide products and services that solve problems and fulfill needs. That's what businesses get paid for.

Businesses do not exist as place for people to foolishly donate their money. We have Creflo Dollar for that.

Let me offer a few examples.

I have been a Hertz President’s Circle member since 1979. I only got in because my boss knew someone at Hertz. It is the top level of service for Hertz best customers.

So I am puzzled as to why when I call Hertz my rate is about double the rates on their website. When I ask the nice lady why one of their best customers gets the highest rate, she says it’s because I requested it to be that way.


That’s why I’ve become a fan of Enterprise. Cheap rates for everybody. Nice people who are well dressed, speak English, and will deliver your car to you.

I will soon have flown 3 million miles with American Airlines.

So I was a bit taken back today when I called in to Executive Platinum reservations to check on my flight. I asked if I could get an exit row seat. The nice lady said yes. But it would cost $15.

I laughed so hard I cried. I thought it was the best joke. She really got me.


She apologized. She said it was someone’s idea to charge $15 because I was talking to a live human being as opposed to doing it online. Then she gave me the exit row seat, but the system then wouldn’t allow her to charge me. We were both relieved.

Dear friends at American, please reconsider this one. It annoys the customer and embarrasses your employees.

We used to have the best telephone system in the world. It was called AT&T.

Not to be confused with this thing that calls itself AT&T today.

It was a regulated monopoly. For good reason.

Dependable, working communications are important for security and safety.

Then some nabob in Washington decided this was working entirely too well, and forced AT&T to be broken up into 8 different companies back in 1984.

Great idea. Now they have all bought each other back and it is AT&T again. In name only. It's just great when the government gets into the business world.

In the meantime, we lost a great institution. The telephone operator.

Remember when the telephone company allowed you to actually talk to real people?

All you had to do was dial 0. Today, you are lucky if you can get to a real person in 9 voice prompts.

And try to understand their service packages. I just added some things and combined billing which in the end is supposed to save me some money. That’s what the nice direct mail piece told me.

Except it doesn’t. And I can’t get a live person on the phone to straighten it out.

And don’t forget directory assistance.

I am convinced they run this out of prisons. The people are rude, use made-up names, and connect you to the wrong number at least half the time. All for only $1.50.

Hard to imagine how a company whose mission is to help people communicate is so lousy at it themselves.

The next great business change won’t be about technology.

It will be about service. People want to do business with nice people. People that appreciate their business. People that solve their very real problems.

Out of this economic mess, we are going to see service oriented restaurants, banks, retailers, airlines, and maybe even phone companies.

New businesses, smaller businesses, local businesses, run by people who actually want to talk to you. And not steal your last nickel.