January 25, 2016 by  
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By Lynn Ashby                                                            25 Jan. 2016


Good news! Last year at least 69 journalists were killed around the world in the line of duty. I think we can all give thanks that those nosey commies intent on destroying all that is good and noble in society are no longer around to ply their odious trade. This fatal figure comes from the Committee to Protect Journalists, which each year tallies up the number of journalists who were shot, blown up, tortured to death or forced to over-indulge in martinis at the Press Club bar. I know of no other civilian calling that keeps an annual total of its members who have been killed while pursuing their profession – or, for matter, any other group that needs to. Do you recall the AMA or the NBA running a fatal total of its colleagues?

As we might expect, most of the dead deliverers of dastardly details (I’m channeling Spiro Agnew) met their deserved desserts in Syria, Iraq and France. Huh? Yes, France, where Muslim militants killed eight staff members at the Charlie Hebdo satirical newspaper in January of last year. If you’re a journalist, you don’t have to be in a foxhole outside Baghdad to get bumped off. You could be sitting around a conference table in downtown Paris to have your meeting interrupted by some angry gun-wielding readers. Frankly, I prefer obscene, anonymous e-mails, but it does give a whole new meaning the journalistic term “deadline.”

You will be delighted to know that 69 number may grow. The committee reports it is still investigating the deaths of 26 other journalists to determine if the deaths were related to their work. In addition, in the Middle East, the group said, it “received reports of dozens more journalists killed, but is unable to independently confirm that the individuals have in fact died, and if so, whether journalist work was the reason.” By the numbers, Syria again was the deadliest place for journalists, though sadly the number of deaths there in 2015 — 13 — was lower than in previous years. France, sustaining its Charlie Hebdo massacre, was second with eight. Five journalists were killed in each of four countries: Bangladesh, Iraq, South Sudan and Yemen. Three were murdered while they were at work. Remember the two TV staffers, reporter Alison Parker and video-journalist Adam Ward, of Roanoke, Va., TV station WDBJ, who were fatally shot during an interview by a former co-worker.

In Brazil, Gleydson Carvalho, a radio broadcaster who often criticized local cops and politicians for purported wrongdoing, was shot and killed while presenting his afternoon radio show. That was six killings in Brazil last year — the highest it has recorded there. Attention journalists headed for Rio to cover the Sumer Olympics, be sure to say how great the Brazilian athletes are, otherwise you may win the Lead Medal. American-Bangladeshi blogger and writer Avijit Roy was chopped to death with meat cleavers (plural) on a crowded street in Dhaka, Even fleeing your enemies doesn’t work. In October, the Islamic State tracked down and killed two crusading anti-terrorist journalists who were both living in Turkey. Two items of interest in these killings: Thus far, the murderers are mostly Islamic militant groups such as the Islamic State and Al-Qaeda which were responsible for 40 percent of the deaths. And, more good news: The documented total of 69 is slightly higher than the year before, when 61 journalists were killed worldwide. Dead is pretty dismal, so we can’t generate much sympathy to those ink-stained wretches who are merely put in prison for their sins. The committee reported 199 journalist in prison because of their work in 2015, compared with 221 the previous year, Others, the lucky ones, were simply thrown out of the country.

Let me remind you again: Next time you are in Washington visiting your money, drop by the Newseum, an exhibition given over to journalism. It’s a fun place filled with the Fourth Estates’ mistakes, stupid stories and erroneous headlines: “Dewey Defeats Truman.” There are also less-funny items like the eyeglasses, pencil and notebook of Mark Kellogg. He was an AP reporter assigned to cover Custer at Littlebig Horn, and, no, he didn’t side with the Indians. There is also a wall covered with the names of journalists killed in the line of duty. Two more were added recently and, happily, there is room for more. But the name of William Cowper Brann isn’t there. He was a Waco newspaper editor. In 1898 he was gunned down on a street corner by an irate reader. After he was buried, someone fired a bullet into his tombstone

Now, if you’ll excuse the cliché, let’s fast-forward to our current presidential race. Sen. Ted Cruz is running on a platform of Beat the Press. He never lets a campaign speech go by without castigating the Fourth Estate. But when his latest book didn’t make the best seller list of The New York Times, Cruz wailed and moaned and declared that it was liberal media bias. Better yet, we have Donald Trump who frequently lambasts the media as “scum” or “horrible.” He recently told a rally in Grand Rapids, Mich., pointing to the reporters, “I hate some of these people, I hate ’em, I would never kill them. I would never do that. Uh, let’s see, uh?” he said a bit sarcastically, his voice rising. “No, I would never do that.” Then Trump charged once again that some of the reporters in the back of the room are “such lying, disgusting people.” The crowd turned to angrily face those reporters, and the scene was really uncomfortable. Good thing the Trump staff didn’t let in any Muslims.

OK, no one became a journalist to win a Miss Congeniality Contest. Venom goes with the venue. No big deal, Shrug it off and continue your biased blasphemies. As for me, I’m keeping a sharp eye out for Donald Trump, especially if he’s holding a meat cleaver.


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January 18, 2016 by  
Filed under Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

By Lynn Ashby                                                                    18 Jan. 2016


The Bayou City came through 2015 relatively unscathed. Yes, there was the downturn in fracking, $30-something-a-barrel oil which sent its own shock waves through the town, and the defeat of HERO, generating criticism from all corners of the nation, including scathing jokes from late night TV comedians. Now let’s look at the year that has finally left us, so that we may recover.

Nearly 100 city-owned vehicles were damaged or destroyed in the massive Memorial Day flooding that swept through the area, including police squad cars, ambulances and ladder trucks. Of those, 16 vehicles, including city-owned Priuses, were flooded when a City Hall annex parking garage worker did not deploy a flood gate that would have kept out waters. During that period, Houston was drenched with up to 11 inches of water in what turned out to be a very wet year. Maybe the drought is over.

Quote of the Year (Humble Pie Dept.) “I outsmart people all the time.” – Tilman Fertitta

In a New York Times article on hacking of the Astros computers by the St. Louis Cardinals, we have the Humbling Headline of the Year: “Why Hack into the Houston Astros of All Teams?” While in sports, Craig Biggio became the first player to go into the Baseball Hall of Fame as an Astro. Fifty-two more and we’ll catch up with the New York Yankees.

Rockets general manager Daryl Morey, on a plane flight, answered some questions from his followers. One fan asked if working in basketball had killed his love for the sport. Morey’s response: “No, it is like being a gynecologist, you don’t get sick of it.” Morey later apologized. Speaking of Twitters, Chad Shanks, the Rockets digital communications manager, posted a tweet to celebrate the end of the first-round playoff series with the Dallas Mavericks, featuring a pistol pointed at a horse’s head, a reference to the Mavericks’ mascot, along with the message: “Shhhhh. Just close your eyes. It will all be over soon.” The Rockets removed the message and apologized – then fired Shanks.

How ‘bout them Coogs!

Quote of the Year (I’m Outta Here Dept.): “This was a campaign of fear-mongering and deliberate lies.” — Houston Mayor Annise Parker after the defeat of the Equal Rights Ordinance, or HERO, by a two-to-one margin. In other news of tolerance, two Houston mosques were burned during the year in what the fire department arson experts judged “suspicious.” On the other hand, we did elect a black mayor, who promises a chicken in every pothole.

10 Yards Penalty for Lack of Class: In front of HBO cameras and millions of Americans, Texan coach Bill O’Brien unleashed every obscene word in the English language, time and again. While on the matter of class, the Class of 2015 got a startle. Graduating HISD students, their friends and family, were changed $12 a car to park at NRG Stadium for the ceremonies.

M.D. Anderson Cancer Center regained the Number1 designation for cancer care in the U.S., according to News & World Report‘s annual rankings of hospitals. This top spot came a year after a drop to Number 2 ended seven straight years atop the list. M.D. Anderson has ranked first 11 times in the past 14 years. The Houston hospital moved back ahead of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, its New York City rival in rankings. The two have fought for the top spot since the survey’s inception in 1990.

A New Meaning to Stakeout: It’s been a tough year for Waller County Sheriff R. Glenn Smith. He has already been under the spotlight since Sandra Bland hung herself in his jail after a controversial traffic stop last July. In November, he was having lunch at a Saltgrass Steakhouse in the Katy area when thieves broke into his marked vehicle in the parking lot, and made off with his official sheriff’s jacket and an arsenal of weapons, including a submachine gun. “I’ve not enjoyed having it spread over all God’s creation that the sheriff lost his guns,” Smith acknowledged.

While in Katy, let’s salute the Katy High School Tigers, not only for their football team’s 16-0 record and the State Class 6A Division II championship — their eighth — but they were named by MaxPreps Xcellent 25 as the best high school football team in the nation. There may be better football teams, but they play on Sunday afternoons.

If you’re not rich, you’re not trying: A new study released by lists the Houston metro area as the best in the nation for building wealth.

Passing the Bar (Which Was Always Open): Joe Jamail died at the age of 90. The only time I met Joe was at a luncheon honoring him and his wife for making yet another generous donation to his alma mater, The University of Texas-Austin. (They gave millions.) The school named part of the Law Library and a swimming pool for them. Joe leaned over and whispered to me, “They (blank) it up again. I never went to the Law Library and I can’t swim.” He was given to hyperbole. Joe served in the U.S. Marines in the Pacific during World War II, and if there were two things the Marines learned, it was how to shoot and how to swim.

Notice what did NOT happen. The Astros didn’t finish in last place, as they have in recent seasons. The Texans did not go to the Super Bowl – what a humiliating playoff game, and did you notice that, despite the annual doomsayers’ predictions, we did not have a hurricane.

Shoot Out on Aisle 4: H-E-B will not allow visible handguns in its stores. TSU is another story. On Oct. 8 two students were shot on the campus, leading authorities to evacuate a student housing complex and cancel classes. It was the third shooting at TSU that week. Now we’re on to 2016 with the first fusillade of open-carry gunslingers. Let the shooting being!


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January 11, 2016 by  
Filed under Blogs, Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

By Lynn Ashby                                                                      11 Jan, 2916


THE KITCHEN TABLE – Ah, yes. This is exactly what I ordered, six beer steins. One and two, three, four and five. Five? I read the enclosed list: “Five beer steins.” How could this be? On the phone I had talked to the nice lady who took my order, my address, my credit card number, and about a dozen times we discussed six beer steins. In other days I have received the wrong size flak jacket and a painting by a starving artist who turned out to be obese. I’ll tell you what happened: the total breakdown in American communications.

How many of you last December ordered a Christmas gift by phone, online or semaphore and, when your order arrived, it was wrong? A show of clinched fists. I thought so. When you drive up to the plastic clown and order a cheeseburger with onions and mayo, no mustard or pickles or fries, and you get back to your job in the utility cable ditch, you find you bought a chicken sandwich with no onions or mayo but mustard, pickles and lots of fries. Placing a to-go order with a Tex-Mex restaurant is perilous because of the language factor. The person taking the order over the phone probably woke up that morning in Matamoros. I don’t blame the order-taker, he’s doing the best he can. I blame the restaurant manager for putting the employee in such a job until he can handle my Texas twang. It’s the same with some others I work with – the dry cleaning lady (Vietnamese), the yardman (Honduran) and my upstairs maid (Boston). They can’t master the King’s English. Speaking of which, there are entire scenes in “Downton Abbey” that I can’t understand.

As Strother Martin told Paul Newman in “Cool Hand Luke, “What we have here is a failure to communicate.” We don’t have to look far to see, or hear, the problem. Men (this never happens to women), you are in the gazebo in your back yard and you hear your wife in the solarium saying something like, “The eggplants are rated grater this season.” That’s nice to know. Later at dinner she says, “You didn’t put the eggs in the refrigerator like I asked when you were in the gazebo.” You are backing down the driveway and your wife turns to you and says, “Terrible about the Flipflops’ dog. Just terrible.” I ask what about the Flipflops’ dog? She sighs and says, “I told you all about it this afternoon, when you were at your desk on the phone, arguing with some woman about beer steins while practicing on your bagpipe. You just don’t listen.” Have you ever tried to communicate with your teenaged children? It’s like, you know, like totally awesome, and the ever present: “You are so embarrassing me.” That usually ends the conversation. Or talk to a techie? I go into the computer store with a broken laptop. A pimply-faced youth hits a few keys, then rolls his eyes condescendingly, “Your semi-load thartsom won’t interface with the dorfor disk.” Of course. It can be worse. It’s late at night and your computer blows. You call technical support. “A-low. Dis iz Dale John. How help you?” He’s wide awake because it’s noon in Bangladesh.

Then there is governmental gobbledygook which makes communications impossible. In September of 2004 when NASA’s $264-million Genesis spacecraft smashed into the Utah desert rather than gently parachuting down with invaluable samples from the heavens as planned, a space official said the screw-up was an “unquantified scientific degradation.” I’ll have this decoded immediately. Such an extraordinarily stilted statement may explain why the expensive experiment met such a fate – no one at NASA can speak English. (At least in the past our German scientists could speak German.) The military has adopted an acronymic language specifically designed to prevent citizens from understanding it. Have you ever watched one of those CSPAN press conferences from the Pentagon? “The CNPAC deputy COC told NukeCom that the DOD could not amplify either the USMC’s antistrike MadDog or the NAVMED’s X-21 HangTime. Are there any questions?” Yes. Whose side are you on?

You may remember this one. A few years back a superintendent of Houston ISD had a problem. It seemed that when the district’s leaders held a meeting they worked from reports, but most of the pages weren’t numbered. And when the pages were numbered, the numbers, or pages, were not in the right order. What’s more, often the page numbers were hard to find on the page as some numbers were at the bottom, others at the top and so on. Now, if you were to tackle the problem, you might send out a memo reading, “Dummies, from now on number the pages on reports: one, two, three and so on, and put the numbers where I can see them!” No, the superintendent’s memo read, “Please give immediate attention to insure (sic) that the pages of all documents prepared for distribution are numbered sequentially and in a place of optimum visibility. This is needed to facilitate our ability to refer to items during meetings.”

Journalists are supposed to communicate, right? That’s why today’s Schools of Journalism, J-Schools, are called the Department of International Communications and Media Relations (or, as the students write, the Depurtmat of Inturnashunal Comuikashuns.) But we still read about burglars when the reporters mean robbers or vice versa, or capital not capitol, and we have TV anchors who don’t know the difference in further and farther. Fortunately, neither do most of their readers and viewers. Did you know that there are no more bankers? They have been totally replaced by robots and recorders. Call your bank, and all you will hear are options, none of which scratches your itch. Our gap between speaker and listener is widening, and someday we will probably need computers to translate simple English, that is, if your thartsom interfaces with the dorfor disk.



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January 3, 2016 by  
Filed under Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

By Lynn Ashby                                      3 Jan. 2016

It is time to ring in 2016 with joy and anticipation. OK, maybe fear and trepidation. Either way, we now make our annual predictions. To refresh your memory, last year I was 100 percent correct: A great person died, a plane crashed and a movie won the Oscar. True, peace did not come to the Middle East, despite the plans and expectations of the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld team. We must give their strategy more time. Enron did not come back, nor did Wendy Davis. Anyway, stand by while I say the sooth for 2016. Clip this column, put it on your refrigerator door, make sure it won’t fall off, and we’ll get together next January for a celebration of our brilliance based on this knowledge.

         January –Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton sues the Obama administration for “attempting to interfere with states’ rights by allowing our opponents to vote.” Rick Perry announces he is back in the race for President. No one notices. UT students demand the Student Union stop using Dixie Cups. A total eclipse blocks out the sun. Newt Gingrich blames “the elite liberal media.” Congress approves the Home Howitzer Bill. It cost the NRA a fortune. A customer at Sam’s speaks English. The Iraqi Army flees in a rout after discovering that attacking ISIS forces have a gun.

       February — Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin exchange Valentines. Super Bowl begins in Houston with a six-hour pregame warn-up, then a film on, “Concussions Are for Wussies.” The half-time show features the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, Aida, and a re-enactment of the Battle of San Jacinto. Following the two-hour post-game show, a panel discusses the day’s best TV commercials. The game itself is called off due to lack of time.

March – Rick Santorum announces that he received 90 percent the vote in response to a recent poll. Unfortunately, the response was, “Rick who?” 500 Syrian refugees are settled in Newark. Ted Cruz finally shows up in the Capitol to vote on a bill. The sergeant-at-arms arrests Cruz as a trespasser. In his trial for felony fraud, Texas Attorney General Paxton’s attorneys accuse the prosecution of “playing the political card.”

April — On the 15th of the month, the Houston Chronicle does not feature a photograph of .Carolyn Farb. Attorney General Paxton’s lawyers accuse the prosecution of “playing the facts card.” Gov. Greg Abbott declares: “The river is closed. The border is secure.” Oklahomans object. The Texas State Board of Education conditionally approves the wheel. The Dept. of Homeland Security announces it has arrested “a known terrorist who is plotting the end of America as we know it today.” Sen. Bernie Sanders denies it.

May — I stop writing 2015 on my checks. Gov. Abbott orders the Texas State Guard “to monitor the actions and possible takeover by an invading army.” Abbott cancels the order when he discovers it’s a convention of the Salvation Army. Hillary Clinton astounds a NOW gathering by declaring, “A woman’s place is in the home.” Then adds: “The home being the Oval Office at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.” After the Memorial Day recess, Congress begins its Fourth of July recess.

June – Merchants begin their back-to-school promotions. Donald Trump demands to be declared the 51st state. In an ominous move, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick begins dropping the Lt. from his title. Rush Limbaugh wakens from another overdose of OxyContin and finds someone painted “Goodyear” across his stomach. Occupy Wall Street dissolves, and no one notices. Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz issue a joint statement: “There are too many immigrants here now. We don’t need anymore.” Their cousins in Havana disagree.

July — 500 Syrian refugees in Newark asked to be resettled in Damarcus. The Texas Democratic Party finds itself pictured on the side of milk cartons. CNN points out that no one has seen Col. Sanders and Sen. Bernie Sanders at the same time. Calling it “government interference in our lives,” Gov. Abbott decrees 911 be made an unlisted number and the Texas Rangers are ordered on the No Call list. Merchants begin their Christmas specials.

September – The Texas State Board of Education approves a textbook which refers to state executions as “a permanent condition relating to inhaling and exhaling.” Global warming deniers hold their convention at Dallas Beach. Texas A&M announces it has finally found a quarterback. Says Coach Kevin Sumlin, “She’s good.” A headline writer is fired for using “Cruz Control” 15 straight days.

October – The U.S. Department of Calendars notices that there was no August. Everyone agrees that August is always too hot, anyway. After intense grilling, Sears and Neiman’s confess what they did to Roebuck and Marcus. It isn’t pretty. President Obama begins wearing sandals, a thobe and Arabic headdress, explaining, “Just call me Hussein Obama. I’ve been radicalized.” Gov. Abbott, noting that last year Texas had 35,073 births to teenagers at a cost of $1.1 billion and that Texas ranks third in teenagers’ birth rates, stops all state funds to Planned Parenthood, explaining, “Give abstinence a chance.”

November – The Rev. Al Sharpton calls for a boycott of merchants’ Black Friday, calling it “racist.” The Houston Texans are arrested for impersonating a football team. In a landslide, George H.W. Bush is elected President on the None of the Above ticket. Lindsey Graham demands a recount. Santa Claus announces that the most popular item on children’s lists this year are drones. With the new campus-carry laws in effect, UT professors vote to flunk any student wearing a flak jacket and lecture only behind bullet-proof glass.

December — Fox News wins a Pulitzer for “best fiction writing.” The local TV news shows can’t find an apartment house fire or a shooting, and run 30 minutes of their test pattern. Santa Claus is in critical condition after his sleigh is hit by a drone. Donald Trump claims he was born in a manger, and his birth was witnessed by “tens of thousands of Muslims gathered in New Jersey.” Your refrigerator door falls off.


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