The Brazosport News
Commentary and Reportage from the Texas Gulf Coast. Editor-in-Chief: BANJO JONES. Assistant to the Chief: SCOOTER APPLETON. Copyright, 2001. Please credit The Brazosport News. Thanks in advance.

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Friday, November 23, 2001

Sorting Out Islam


For a lapsed Episcopalian such as myself, the ways of Islam are more than a mystery. They’re more like the basis of a Monty Python movie.
Of course, it’s not nice to make fun of someone’s religion. Christians have their own rituals that strike outsiders as wacky.
Nevertheless, certain Islamic ways, as revealed at www.binoria.org/q&a/listing.html, lead one to marvel at all vexing questions a devout Muslim must face to stay pure.
For instance, it’s frowned up to urinate while standing -- unless the crouched or sitting position proves to be either too painful or too threatening to one's garments.
If husbands and wives have relations in the wrong manner, there can be hell to pay if you live in a fundamentalist Islamic state.
Consider the consequences:
“Muslim Judge will announce the punishment. It may be life imprisonment till the firm repentance, or the punishment of lashes, or he may (the offender) fall from some high building and then he may be stoned.”
That’s reason enough to keep the Muslim Marriage Manual real handy on the bedside table for quite and accurate reference.
You perhaps were wondering if a devout Muslim can own a pig farm?
The answer is no.
Earning interest on money in a checking account is also a no-no.
It’s not at all surprising, even for an infidel, that hanky panky (adultery) is viewed quite seriously. Adultery before marriage is punishable by 100 lashes; after marriage, the punishment is stoning.
Rock quarries would be doing a land office business in the USA if such were the case here.
Much attention is given to hair, under this school of Islam.
Men’s beards should be the size of a fist and pubic hair should be kept trimmed. Women, meanwhile, are allowed to remove hairs from their face and also can wear wigs.
Look for a run on platinum blonde wigs in Afghanistan now that the gals have begun removing those suffocating burkas that enclose their domes.
Fashionwise, the high-water look is “in” among devout male followers of Allah -- trousers must be worn above the ankles.
Pure silk clothing or red or yellow colored clothing is prohibited, so forget any return to the retro ‘70s “Stayin’ Alive” John Travolta look among the strict Islamicists.
Dancing, described as “an absurd and ludicrous act,” is not allowed. (I agree with this conclusion. Dancing IS asurd and ludicrous -- especially when practiced by middle-age heterosexual white men)
Also verboten are neckties and birthday parties and music and photographs and television.
‘Rasslin’ and boxing are okay -- but we’re guessing it’s uncool to jot down “Watch WWF” on your “Things To Do” list.
The list of dos and don’ts are vitually endless (it’s okay to eat rabbits but not squirrels, crabs or alligators).
We should bear in mind, though, that there are all sorts of Muslims in our world. (In India, the nation with the second largest Muslim population on the planet, women not only can be educated but are elected to public office!)
Also, we should be mindful of all the do’s and don’ts in the various forms of Christianity that are practiced around here. Golly, think of the annual squabbling at the Southern Baptist Convention regarding who’s right and who’s wrong about the path to righteousness.
But, all in all, I’m awful glad to be a Christian. I’d look like a doofus in fist-sized beard.
posted by Banjo Jones 2:45 PM

Friday, November 16, 2001

Life With Mom


The first 18 years or so of your life, your mother takes care of you, cooks your dinner, washes your clothes, tucks you in at night.
Then, in what seems like the blink of an eye, you’re performing those exact same tasks for her.
Scooter (my wife) and I got my mother moved in gradually. My father died 46 days ago. Mom refused at first. She wanted to stay in her home.
But one day the woman we had hired to “babysit” her had to go to Florida, where her sister suddenly had passed away.
Mom was at the beauty parlor that day. While she was getting her hair done, Scooter surreptitiously packed a bag for her and went to pick her up at the hairdresser.
They started driving back to Mom’s house, but Scooter didn’t turn left where she usually does. She just kept driving.
“Hey, you turn there.”
“Not today.”
“What?”
“I’m taking you home with me.”
“You’re what?”
“I’m taking you home with me. I’m kidnapping you.”
There were a few more squawks of protest, but soon enough Mom settled in for the 80 minute drive to our house.
She stayed a week the first go-round. Then we agreed to take her home after her babysitter returned from Florida.
When she walked into her house, the place where she had lived since 1955 that she swore a week ago she would never leave, she immediately remarked, “It’s SO DARK in here. I don’t like it here. Your house is so nice and light.”
Hmmmm. This was a good sign.
After a week back at her house, she called to inform us she had fired the babysitter.
“She gets paid too much for sitting on her butt,” she said.
“But you can’t live alone.”
“I’m not. I’m coming to live with you.”
Her day goes pretty much like this:
9 a.m.: coffee with Martha Stewart.
10 a.m.: The Price is Right.
11 a.m.: Toast, usually accompanied by a soap opera.
Noon: Channel 11 local news.
12:30 p.m.: Soap operas.
3 p.m.: Hollywood Squares.
3:30 p.m.: Jeopardy.
4 p.m.: Oprah.
5 p.m.: Channel 11 local news.
5:30 p.m.: The CBS Evening News with Dan Rather.
6 p.m.: Channel 11 local news.
6:30 p.m.: Dinner and The Wheel (ie. Wheel of Fortune)
Interspersed through the day are Cokes, maybe a Chocolate Ensure, those new itty bitty Oreo cookies, several cigarettes (Carlton 100s) and persistent questions about whether Regis is on tonight.
If Regis is on, all is well with the world.
At 80, soon to be 81, Mom is slipping, both mentally and physically. As she puts it, “I need a new knee, a new hip and I haven’t been to the grocery store in two years.”
She will tell anyone who will listen, and even those that don’t, that her husband had been taking care of her the past two years.
“And then he died. How do you think that made me feel? I didn’t even know he was sick.”
She’s always been a talker. Now, she’ll carry on entire conversation with only herself. She has lost a lot of her short term memory, but she hasn’t lost her sense of humor, and her long-term memory bank is full and ready to be divulged at a moment’s notice.
Every story we have heard, oh, about a dozen times each, but each retelling for her is a brand new chance to entertain.
She has voiced worries that she’ll be a burden to Scooter and me, but we assure her that she is not. She wants to pay for her room and board, so Scooter finally relented and said, “OK, how ‘bout 50 bucks a month.”
She said, “How about a thousand?”
“No, no,” said Scooter.
“OK, how about two thousand?”
“You’re going the wrong way,” Scooter replied.
“Oh, sugar tit,” Mom said, invoking the epitapth that I had heard since childhood.
The other day I removed a framed picture of an Egyptian fertility god that once hung by our bed and put up a framed picture of Mom’s dad, a man she worshipped who died before I was born.
“What are those naked people doing on the wall?” she had remarked on the Egyptian artwork.
Now that she’s in our bed (we moved upstairs), she can look at the picture of her father and others we have placed around the room: of she and her late husband, standing by a ‘48 convertible, of she and her husband eating wedding cake after their marriage, a few pictures of her children.
More pictures will go up as time goes on and we get the rest of her stuff moved in.
So far, we haven’t succeeded in getting her out of the house much.
But when we do, she cuts a wide swath.
Today, in a doctor’s office, the women who work in the front office, who usually are glued to their individual computer screens or otherwise taking care of their individual tasks, all seemed to stop at once while Mom started holding forth, making comments, gabbing, cracking one-liners.
I was nearby, waiting to perform chauffer duties, while Scooter was paying the bill.
The joking, if I heard correctly, had something to do with a stool sample that had been requested and an upcoming colonoscopy that was to be scheduled.
Matters of the fecal kind are of paramount importance at this stage of the game, I have quickly discovered.
But Mom isn’t above joking about it, and getting others to laugh.
As we were leaving, Scooter said, “Those girls in the office probably wish they had a Mom like her.”
Or at least more patients like her.
posted by Banjo Jones 10:44 PM

Tuesday, November 06, 2001

Progress Marches On, We Guess


The country’s in an economic recession, but around here, people are still willing to shell out a little more money to make their towns and schools better.
We’re talking about the vote today, where Pearland and Alvin passed bond issues and Sweeny school district voters approved a higher tax rate than they had to.
The Pearland vote didn’t much surprise us. A 92.5 million buck proposal to fund road and drainage projects was approved 1,926 to 954.
A smaller proposal, at 22.5 million, that will be used for the acquisition, construction and improvement of city drainage projects and facilities, was passed by a 2,588 to 579 vote.
Pearland has become a downright unpleasant place to live, or visit.
Traffic is a nightmare and their flooding problems are worse. The poor place has just grown too fast too soon. It has a ridiculous name and we've grown to hate going there.
It has taken on that strip-mall-paved-over ugly look of boomtown Houston in the late ‘70s. Maybe the bond proposal will make things better. We’re just glad we don’t live there.
But hope springs eternal. Just look at Alvin.
They approved their modest $3 million bond issue by a 527-312 vote.
Alvin residents usually can’t agree what time it is, but they got a fairly convincing 215-vote mandate to build a big recreation center, fix up the swimming pool and the parks and turn the old Post Office into a museum.
We’re wondering what the museum will focus on. Do you think maybe Nolan Ryan will get his picture put up somewhere? Will it be in an Astros or Rangers uniform? We're on the edge of our seats waiting in anticipation.
Meanwhile, in the Sweeny school district, the voters agreed 698 to 315 to pay a higher tax rate that they really have to pay. The vote was necessary because of the state’s public school financing law, which no one understands except a small cabal of people who meet in Austin every two years.
Now, the Sweeny school district voters didn’t have to approve the $1.47 tax rate, and if they hadn’t, they could’ve each saved a few bucks and bought a new pair of Dickies overalls.
Instead, they decided to put the money into the schools for their children, so they can get an education and move away from Sweeny as soon as they get their high school diplomas. We think the voters made the right decision.
Finally, it looks like Proposition 8, the state constitutional amendment, is going to pass. We don’t have a final statewide vote total, but we’re glad to see it approved since about $4 million of the money it will provide will be used to the turn the old Levi Jordan Plantation into a state historical site that will focus on the African-American archaeological finds discovered there.
We hope the Jordan heirs will sell the place at a reasonable price so the project can move forward and the plantation can become a significant historical site visited by many people.
posted by Banjo Jones 11:46 PM

Friday, November 02, 2001

Honoring the Past;


Vote `Yes’ on Prop. 8


We had an email conversation recently with an African-American reader who told us the story of how she came to own a piece of land.
It goes back to slave days.
After word reached Texas that slavery was over, a group of freed slaves had an agreement with their former master that they would stay on and work for him if he would compensate them with 600 acres of the land they worked.
They stayed and worked, but when payment time came, the former slave owner backed out of the deal.
The freed slaves went to court.
Luckily for them, this was during Reconstruction days, when the federal government was controlling things, including the courts.
The courts issued judgement for the former slaves.
During an appeal, they won again, and finally received title to the land along with 24 bales of cotton and $787.75 in gold.
The house where this woman grew up is still half-standing on that land, out near Old Ocean.
She’s an absentee landowner, the resident of another state, and has been told she could substantially lower her taxes if she tore the house down and got the agricultural exemption.
She can’t bring herself to do it.
The house of her girlhood, which her father built, means too much to her, as does the land that her forbears worked and fought for back in the 1800s.
Now comes the election of Tuesday, Nov. 6.
A small portion of the funds that would be provided by Proposition 8 on the ballot would be used to develop an historic site that has proven to be a gold mine for archeologists.
Behind the old Levi Jordan Plantation near Brazoria, they have unearthed a treasure trove of artifacts used by the black folk who were held there as slaves and later worked the land as sharecroppers and tenant farmers.
The stuff they’ve found in the earth enables us to see how an enslaved people blended a melange of cultures to survive.
It’s worth developing and could make Brazoria County a must-see place for thousands of people around the world.
Yes, we have the Varner Hogg Plantation in West Columbia, which is a fine place for examining how white folk lived back in the day.
Not a whole lot of effort is made to portray how the workers on the plantation lived. We suppose it was much easier to raise the funds to commemorate the mint julep culture instead of the one that was going on in back of the plantation house.
The passage of Proposition 8 could literally put Brazoria County on the map for people who want to know the whole story.
We realize some people around here would just as soon forget about the past. We’ve heard that one descendant of the Levi Jordan clan already has given orders for his name not to be associated with the project to save the place.
That’s his right.
But it’s also everyone else’s right to do everything possible to insure that we not forget the past and that we do honor to the lives of a people who were brought here against their will.
Please, take the time and make the effort to vote ‘yes’ on Proposition 8 this Tuesday.
posted by Banjo Jones 4:43 PM

Wednesday, October 31, 2001

A Depressing Halloween ... But A Ray of Hope from a Ship at Sea


In this corner of the world, if you stay cooped up in your house long enough, it’s hard to really feel the effects of the new paradigm wrought by Osama bin Laden et al.
Then Halloween comes around and you notice less than half the kids who came to your door last year showed up this year.
Damn you Osama bin Laden!
You ruined Halloween.
Earlier in the day, I was feeling OK. I went to the Post Office and looked up to see the friendly employees behind the counter all in costume (except for one).
One of the ladies had on a Mardi Gras-looking mask and one of the guys had fake blood on his face and some crooked faux teeth in his pie hole. He took out the teeth to talk to me.
It made me smile.
But now I realize Americans everywhere are so worried that roughly half of them won’t let their kids out to trick or treat (based on my unscientific head count tonight).
OK, enough belly aching. Here’s something that made me feel better.
It’s an email that was written by an Ensign aboard the USS Winston S. Churchill, a U.S. Navy warship. We found it on the ship’s Web page.
It made Scooter (my wife and assistant) cry and put a lump in my throat. Here it is:

Sept. 14, 2001
Dear Dad,

Well, we are still out at sea, with little direction as to what our next priority is. The remainder of our port visits, which were to be centered around max liberty and goodwill to the United Kingdom, have
all but been cancelled. We have spent every day since the attacks going back and forth within imaginary boxes drawn in the ocean, standing high-security watches, and trying to make the best of our time.
It hasn't been that fun I must confess, and to be even more honest, a lot of people are frustrated at the fact that they either can't be home, or we don't have more direction right now.
We have seen the articles and the photographs, and they are sickening. Being isolated as we are, I don't think we appreciate the full scope of what is happening back home, but we
are definitely feeling the effects. About two hours ago the junior officers were called to the bridge to conduct Ship handling drills. We were about to do a man overboard drill when we got a call from the LUTJENS D185), a German warship that was moored ahead of us on the pier in Plymouth, England. While in port, the WINSTON S CHURCHILL and the LUTJENS
got together for a sports day/cookout on our fantail, and we made some pretty good friends. Now at sea they called over on bridge-to- bridge,requesting to pass us close up on our port side, to say goodbye.

We prepared to render them honors on the bridge wing, and the Captain told the crew to come topside to wish them farewell. As they were making their approach, our Conning Officer announced through her
binoculars that they were flying an American flag. As they came even closer, we saw that it was flying at half-mast. The bridge wing was
crowded with
people as the Boatswain's Mate blew two whistles- Attentionto Port - the ship came up alongside and we saw that the entire crew of the German
ship were manning the rails, in their dress blues. They had made up a sign that was displayed on the side that read "We Stand By You".

Needless to say there was not a dry eye on the bridge as they stayed alongside us for a few minutes and we cut our salutes. It was probably the most powerful thing I have seen in my entire life and more than a
few of us fought to retain our composure. It was a beautiful day outside today. We are no longer at liberty to divulge over unsecure e-mail our
location, but we could not have asked for a finer day at sea.
The
German Navy did an incredible thing for this crew, and it has
truly been
the highest point in the days since the attacks. It's amazing to think that only a half-century ago things were quite different, and to see the unity
that is being demonstrated throughout Europe and the world
makes us all feel proud to be out here doing our job. After the ship pulled away and
we prepared to begin our man overboard drills the Officer of the Deck turned to me and said "I'm staying Navy." I'll write you whenI know more
about when I'll be home, but for now, this is probably the
best news that I
could send you. Love you guys.
posted by Banjo Jones 8:15 PM

Tuesday, October 30, 2001

The Lawyer Game


We haven’t been writing much lately because of a death in our family. My dad died. This column isn’t about that. It’s just an explanation for whoever out there is wondering if we’ve lost interest in The Brazosport News.
A friend advised that Freud believed the death of a man’s father is the most significant event in his life. He didn’t explain why and we can’t locate any of Sigmund’s writings around the house to delve further in the subject, but we do know this -- there’s a lot to do when someone dies beyond being sad, and unfortunately some of the things you have to do involve talking to lawyers.
Which brings us to the following item that a reader emailed us. We took it at face value. It’s about lawyers and we’ll let it speak for itself: ....

A Charlotte, NC lawyer purchased a box of very rare and expensive cigars then insured them against fire among other things. Within a month having smoked his entire stockpile of these great cigars and without yet having made even his first premium payment on the policy, the lawyer filed a claim against the insurance company. In his claim, the lawyer stated the cigars were lost "in a series of small fires."

The insurance company refused to pay, citing the obvious reason: that the man had consumed the cigars in the normal fashion. The lawyer sued....and won!
In delivering the ruling the judge agreed with the insurance company that the claim was frivolous. The Judge stated nevertheless, that the lawyer held a policy from the company in which it had warranted that the cigars were insurable and also guaranteed that it would insure them against fire, without defining what is considered to be "unacceptable fire," and was obligated to pay the claim. Rather than endure a lengthy and costly appeal process, the insurance company accepted the ruling and paid $15,000.00 to the lawyer for his loss of the rare cigars lost in the"fires."

NOW FOR THE BEST PART...

After the lawyer cashed the check, the insurance company had him arrested on 24 counts of ARSON!!!! With his own insurance claim and testimony from the previous case being used against him, the lawyer was convicted of intentionally burning his insured property and he was sentenced to 24 months in jail and ordered to pay a $24,000 fine.

This is a true story and was the 1st place winner in the recent Criminal Lawyers Award Contest.
posted by Banjo Jones 4:33 PM

Wednesday, October 24, 2001

The Fulcrum


(Editor’s Note: We received this from a reader and decided to post it for your edification. It was written Sept. 24 by a retired lieutenant colonel in the United States Air Force)
>>
>>Recently, I was asked to look at the recent events through the lens
>>of military history. I have joined the cast of thousands who have
>>written an "open letter to Americans."
>>
>> Dear friends and fellow Americans:
>>
>> Like everyone else in this great country, I am reeling from last
>> week's attack on our sovereignty. But unlike some, I am not
>>reeling from surprise. As a career soldier and a student
>>and teacher of military
>>history, I have a different perspective and I think you should hear it.
>>This war will be won or lost by the American citizens, not
>>diplomats, politicians or soldiers.
>>
>>Let me briefly explain.
>>
>> In spite of what the media, and even our own government is telling
>>us, this act was not committed by a group of mentally deranged
>>fanatics. To dismiss them as such would be among the gravest of
>>mistakes. This attack was committed by a ferocious, intelligent and
>>dedicated adversary. Don't take this the wrong way. I don't admire
>>these men and I deplore their tactics, but I respect their
>>capabilities. The many parallels that have been made with the
>>Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor are apropos. Not only because it
>>was a brilliant sneak attack against a complacent America, but also
>>because we may well be pulling our new adversaries out of caves 30
>>years after we think this war is over, just like my father's
>>generation had to do with the formidable Japanese in the years
>>following WW II.
>>
>>These men hate the United States with all of their being, and we
>>must not underestimate the power of their moral commitment.
>>Napoleon, perhaps the world's greatest combination of soldier and
>>statesman, stated "the moral is to the physical as three is to
>>one." Patton thought the Frenchman underestimated its importance
>>and said moral conviction was five times more important in battle
>>than physical strength. Our enemies are willing - better said
>>anxious-to give their lives for their cause.
>>
>>How committed are we America? And for how long?
>>
>>In addition to demonstrating great moral conviction, the recent
>>attack demonstrated a mastery of some of the basic fundamentals of
>>warfare taught to most military officers worldwide, namely
>>simplicity, security and surprise. When I first heard rumors that
>>some of these men may have been trained at our own Air War College,
>>it made perfect sense to me. This was not a random act of
>>violence, and we can expect the same sort of military competence to
>>be displayed in the battle to come.
>>
>>This war will escalate, with a good portion of it happening right
>>here in the good ol' U.S. of A.
>>
>>These men will not go easily into the night. They do not fear us. We
>> must not fear them. In spite of our overwhelming conventional
>>strength as the world's only "superpower" (a truly silly term), we
>>are the underdog in this fight. As you listen to the carefully
>>scripted rhetoric
>>designed to prepare us for the march for war, please realize that
>>America is not equipped or seriously trained for the battle ahead.
>>To be certain, our soldiers are much better than the enemy, and we
>>have some excellent "counter-terrorist" organizations, but they are
>>mostly trained for hostage rescues, airfield seizures, or the
>>occasional "body snatch," (which may come in handy). We will be
>>fighting a war of annihilation, because if their early efforts are
>>any indication, our enemy is ready and
>>willing to die to the last man. Eradicating the enemy will be
>>costly and time consuming. They have already deployed their forces
>>in as many as 20 countries, and are likely living the lives of
>>everyday citizens.
>>Simply put, our soldiers will be tasked with a search and destroy
>>mission on multiple foreign landscapes, and the public must be
>>patient and supportive until the strategy and tactics can be worked
>>out.
>>
>>For the most part, our military is still in the process of
>>redefining itself and presided over by men and women who grew up
>>with - and were promoted because they excelled in - Cold War
>>doctrine, strategy and tactics. This will not be linear warfare,
>>there will be no clear "centers of gravity" to strike with high
>>technology weapons. Our vast technological edge will certainly be
>>helpful, but it will not be decisive. Perhaps the perfect metaphor
>>for the coming battle was introduced by the terrorists themselves
>>aboard the hijacked aircraft-this will be a knife fight, and it
>>will be won or lost by the ingenuity and will of citizens and
>>soldiers, not by software or smart bombs. We must also be patient
>>with our military leaders.
>>
>>Unlike Americans who are eager to put this messy time behind us, our
>>adversaries have time on their side, and they will use it. They plan
>> to fight a battle of attrition, hoping to drag the battle out until the
>>American public loses its will to fight. This might be difficult to
>>believe in this euphoric time of flag waving and patriotism, but it
>>is generally acknowledged that America lacks the stomach for a long
>>fight. We need only look as far back as Vietnam, when North
>> Vietnamese General Vo Nguyen Giap (also a military history
>>teacher) defeated the United States of America without ever winning
>>a major tactical battle. American soldiers who marched to war
>>cheered on by flag waving Americans in 1965 were reviled and spat
>>upon less than three years later when they returned. Although we
>>hope that Usama Bin Laden is no Giap, he is certain to understand
>>and employ the
>>concept. We can expect not only large doses of pain like the recent
>>attacks, but! also less audacious "sand in the gears" tactics,
>>ranging from livestock infestations to attacks at water supplies
>>and power distribution facilities.
>>
>> These attacks are designed to hit us in our "comfort zone" forcing
>>the average American to "pay more and play less" and eventually
>>eroding our resolve. But it can only work if we let it. It is clear
>>to me that the will of the American citizenry - you and I - is the
>>center of
>>gravity the enemy has targeted. It will be the fulcrum upon which
>>victory or defeat will turn. He believes us to be soft, impatient,
>>and self-centered. He may be right, but if so, we must change. The
>>Prussian general Carl von Clausewitz, (the most often quoted and
>>least read military theorist in history), says that there is a
>>"remarkable trinity of war" that is composed of the (1) will of the
>>people, (2) the political leadership of the government, and (3) the
>>chance and probability that plays out on the field of battle, in
>>that order. Every American citizen was in the crosshairs of last
>>Tuesday's attack, not just those that were
>>unfortunate enough to be in the World Trade Center or Pentagon. The will of the American people will decide this war. If we are to win,
>>it will be because we have what it takes to persevere through a few
>>more hits, learn from our! mistakes, improvise, and adapt. If we
>>can do that, we will eventually prevail.
>>
>>Everyone I've talked to in the past few days has shared a common
>>frustration, saying in one form or another "I just wish I could do
>>something!" You are already doing it. Just keep faith in America,
>>and continue to support your President and military, and the
>>outcome is certain. If we fail to do so, the outcome is equally
>>certain.
>>
>>God Bless America
>>
>>Dr. Tony Kern, Lt Col, USAF (Ret)
>>Former Director of Military History, USAF Academy
>
posted by Banjo Jones 5:44 PM