Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Jody and Britt, Mother's Day, 1957, YangMingShan, Taipei, Taiwan.

Congress Gives Themselve Another Raise

Our courageous, dedicated and selfless Congress has jumped all over the CEOs for their outlandish perks and bonuses. The Senate and House committees all took the stage to let the home folks know how concerned they were for how our tax dollars are wasted by these captains of industry and finance. (If you don't watch C-Span and C-Span2, you miss the best soap opera going.)

What a heroic stance these humble, elected servants make in our nation's capital. Always ready to share a sound bite for us voters on the good things they do for us.

I wish I knew more of what they do for us. They do plenty for themselves. Last December 12, Congress gave themselves another raise. You read that right. A raise while all around them men and women are losing jobs, homes and no telling what else. The very days they spent shaming the CEOs, they knew that they were going to get a raise in pay -- $4,700.

By adjourning without any action, their pay raise was automatic. Not only do they not ask us (their employers) but do everything they can to keep this news from us.

From 1789 to 1815, members of Congress received only a per diem (daily pay) of $6.00 while in session. Members began receiving an annual salary in 1815, when they were paid $1,500 per year.

While the nation is facing the worst financial crisis of our lifetime, the members of Congress give themselves a salary boost. In spite of a $10.6 trillion national debt and a record $438 billion budget deficit for fiscal 2008, Bob Richter of San Antonio, writes, "the members of Congress, not the voters who put them there, decided they deserved more."

Members of Congress get this raise without asking for it. The majority agreed to make the raise automatic unless the constituents found out about it and raised a stink. Both Democrats and Republicans are responsible for this. The congressmen/women may disagree with each other over what to name a new parking lot, how to hide pork, or how to define a lobbyist -- but they agree without a blush when it comes to a salary bounce.

Janet Borg wrote to the Dallas morning News her thoughts on the matter: "Their oversight on this financial crisis is a fiasco. ... These people have the gall to vote themselves a raise in these economic times. None of them has the backbone to cancel this raise."

All is not lost. Jim Matheson, a Utah congressman, says he has joined forces with the Council for Citizens Against Government Waste, a government watchdog group to protest this automatic congressional pay raise. Democrat Matheson said: "The notion that Congress should be having an automatic pay raise without even a vote just doesn't pass the smell test."

Tom Schantz, president of Citizens Against Government Waste, said Congress "ought to step away from the spiked eggnog" urging an emergency vote against the raise. Schantz went on to say, "Members of Congress have the only job in the country whose occupants can set their own salary without regard to performance, profit, or economic climate."

I think Brother Schantz and his fight against government waste should get a raise and enlighten us about our West Texas congressmen.

Individual members of congress are free to refuse their pay increases, and some choose to do so. Anyone know if Congressman Mike Conaway refused the increase? He doesn't mention it on his web site. His quality of recent disclosure has been 100 percent nil. Mr. Conaway (according to Open Secrets) has a net worth from $3.4 to $8.7 million. Does someone with such resources really need a raise? How would he vote if there was an emergency vote against the raise?

If nothing else, this pay raise shows just how out of touch with reality politicians can become. As we tighten our belts, members of Congress will pocket another bonus of our tax dollars.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Beginning a new decade of opinions

Brownwood Bulletin: 10 years of Opinions
San Angelo Standard-Times: 1 year of Viewpoints

When asked to do a weekly opinion column for my old hometown newspaper in 1998, I wondered what I could say that would be of any interest to readers.

Editor Gene Deason and Publisher Robert Brincefield and the staff have been most supportive and helpful. They sure did not agree with everything I said, but that is the value of newspapers – differing views bring better discussion and clearer decisions.

Then last January, 2008, Editorial Editor Ty Meighan went out on a limb, so to speak, and now the Concho Valley is full of my opinions. I would guess I have enjoyed the challenge even more than my readers. There have been all kinds of responses to both my wisdom and my ignorance.

It did not take long to find out who my friends were. One reader liked my views so much he cut the column with my photo out and placed it face-up in his parrot's cage. Another offered to show me the state line and find some place else to abode. One reader, who grew up in the area, ask from Austin didn't I know were I was?

Others, were supportive of my efforts to enlighten West Texas society and politics. One reader, a few counties south of here, wrote me that his sister had called from Coleman insisting he not miss my columns. He agreed with his wise sister. Outside the state many former San Angelo and Brownwood residents have written encouragement. What a wonderful way to keep in touch with best little town in Central-West Texas.

One thing for sure (to date) I have not had any shoes or boots thrown at me. Those Iraqi shoes were not what President George W. Bush expected for Christmas. (But he should have – the majority of people in the Middle East do not appreciate what he has done to their lives. This is Mr. Bush's legacy: a lame-duck having to duck! As David Letterman ask last month: Can't Obama start now!)

The shoe-toss was very unfortunate. Mr. Bush should forgive the guy and get him out of jail lest he become another anti-America hero to those of that persuasion. My guess is future journalists will have to take off their shoes before a White House press conference.

Met a young man last week whose dad recently bought a weekly newspaper in Cleburne, near Fort Worth. I thought, wow, how brave can a man be?

Newspapers are folding all over the country. Newspaper corporate boards are laying off reporters right and left. The Chicago Tribune is headed into bankruptcy. Denver's Rocky Mountain News up for sale. In just the last six weeks hundreds and hundreds of writers, reporters, sales persons and technicians have been furloughed or let go across the nation.

Lay offs are getting far too common in all areas of work. Businesses and factories are closing their doors at a rate not seen in living memory. People are hurting in ways many of us cannot imagine. But to lose newspapers is to lose touch with the community heartbeat.

I believe people still like to hold a newspaper in their hands. Cut the size to a tabloid layout, even do away with color, but keep the spirit of the daily paper alive here in Brownwood. Anytime I travel I buy the local newspapers. I daily want to get in touch with a wider world. I want to read the opinions and editorials of professional, informed writers. (I consider myself a professional writer with 20 years of book sales, magazine and newspaper articles, some even translated into Swedish, German and Chinese. I don't consider myself a good writer yet, but I'm working on it.)

With the new year I have a number of ideas that readers have suggested I write about. There are a lot of hobby-horses I would like to ride. (Term means writing on something over and over like riding round and round the carnival hobby horse – preachers do that a lot.) Your suggestions, input and constructive criticisms are welcome. Long-time friend and San Antonio pastor Buckner Fanning liked to say there is no such thing as constructive criticism. All criticism hurts. But in small doses constructive criticism can make us a little better.
Time to look forward to an even better year: 2009.


Monday, December 22, 2008

Towery's book on life and work of Lao She, China's Master Storyteller is still in print. He was one of first to expose injustice and "face" parionod society. He was a writer and a Christian, but not a Christian writer. His books are still read in China schools. Along with Lu Xun and Ba Jin he help "born" Modern Chinese Literature.

Sunday, December 21, 2008


Today in our town some will spend the day after Christmas resting any way they can. Others will be clearing out the wrapping paper and trying to find the instructions on setting up another electronic toy. Being new films open on Fridays a few might take in a movie. Some might sleep through a boring bowl game.

A large group of citizens go back to work the day after Christmas. School kids will continue their vacation.

While I was sharing these thoughts about the day after Christmas with Uncle Greggo (that is not his real name nor is he my uncle) he ask why I was so ignorant on the day after the first Christmas?

I told Uncle (remember, he was someone's uncle but not mine, unless possibly a distant uncle. Everybody just called him that.) Greggo (also remember that is not his real name, but it is the one he got when he worked on coastal steamers in South Asia.), I told Uncle Greggo I had not given much thought to what happened in far-off Bethlehem the day after the first Christmas.

Well, it seems, our world-traveled uncle, had given it considerable study. "Study," was the word my grandmother Lillie (we called her Mammy) would use when something new came up. She would "study" 'bout it a spell. She had just a few years of school, raised 7 boys and 2 girls and could spell any word anyone could pronounce. She was also half-Cherokee but that is another story.

Uncle Greggo reminded me of Coleridge's Ancient Mariner and the way Coleridge presents him in the classic poem of the sea. "The Wedding-Guest is spell-bound by the eye of the old seafaring man, and constrained to hear his tale."

I was not so much constrained as interested in anything my distant uncle might say on the days following the first Christmas.

Matthew, the former tax collector, and Luke, the doctor to Paul the missionary, are the only two gospel writers who include the birth of Jesus in there biographies. It would have been interesting if mother Mary had shared a few more details. No one knew the events better than she did. Luke does say that Mary "pondered these things in her heart," but evidently didn't share them with the good historian-physician. It was probably far too personal for her.

So, without any scriptural hints or historical evidence, we can consider all kinds of possibilities of the days following the first Christmas.

First, we know Jesus to be a toddler when the Wise Men came with their gifts. The Roman Census was over so Bethlehem was back to normal. Mary and Joseph had evidently moved into a house. Possibly stayed with relatives. With all the to-do over the birth I am sure those excited shepherds would have kept them supplied with mutton and milk.

King Herod told the Wise Men to find the child and report back to him so he could honor this "new king." Herod had no intention of honoring him, but to destroy him. Herod was a man of many conspiracies and crimes. It is not surprising he would kill all of Bethlehem's baby boys under 2 years of age. (Matthew 2:13-23 tell this story of human efforts to frustrate the will of God.)

The New Testament has passages from the Old Testament related to this subject. Hosea, Jeremiah, and Isaiah are all quoted foretelling such events. Unfortunately the great Jewish historian, Josephus, is silent on what has come to be known as "The Slaughter of the Innocents."

So from the meager bits Greggo and I gathered it is evident the Holy Family led a pretty normal life in Bethlehem and Egypt after Christmas (a term they never heard, nor anyone else for hundreds if years). The Inn keeper probably became a friendly neighbor after recognizing his rudeness when they first met. The angels were still near but only known by the parents. As we said the shepherd-farmers keep them supplied with good organic foodstuffs.

Even though sorting out the story line is difficult, Uncle Greggo and I agreed on this much: (1) The Christ child was no more welcome at his birth than he has been for centuries; (2) God spoke to Joseph to flee to Egypt and Joseph obeyed God. (3) Hence the light of the world was not extinguished; nor will it ever be snuffed out.

The gaps in the Jesus story were not important enough to be in scripture. What we have is all we need to know of God and to grow in his love and knowledge through the coming days and years.


Britt Towery writes Fridays on the Viewpoint Pages of the San Angelo Standard-Times and the Brownwood Bulletin, two of the best papers in the state of Texas.
SEE TOWERY TALES,( http://www.towerytales.blogspot.com ) A DAILY DIARY BEGUN DEC. 18, 2008 WITH THOUGHTS FROM YEARS Jody and Britt Towery SPENT TOGETHER FROM TEXAS TO CHINA AND BACK. Plus devotional thoughts Along the Way.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

This December morning...
I read a good piece on EthicsDaily.com and want to suggest other pieces written by the same pastor: Virginia Baptist CHUCK WARNOCK'S blog: http://www.chuckwarnockblog.wordpress.com
He knows what a seminary student learns after leaving seminary or college. So true.

Monday, December 15, 2008

---- SANTA CLAUS and POGO ----

All over the world Santa Claus is possibly the most easily recognized fictional personality. In various forms, styles and dress this old saint has been around for thousands of years. This character has monks and rakes in his ancestry. It took the father of American political cartooning, Thomas Nast, to create the modern image of Santa Claus.

“The Pen is Mightier than the Sword”, said first by novelist Edward Bulwer-Lytton. Never has this adage been so true as in the work of artist Thomas Nast. Nash's caricatures following the Civil War had a great impact on American culture and history.

Though he is practically unknown today, he was responsible for creating many of the popular American icons. Besides making a loveable Santa Claus, his scratchings popularized the Republican Party Elephant and the Democratic Party Donkey. Uncle Sam as we know him today and Columbia are also his inspiration.

He was a Harper's Weekly correspondent during the Civil War, encouraging the boys in blue and sending back drawings of the war. By 1873, Nast was a celebrity after his successful campaign against New York City's infamously corrupt Tweed Ring. (Here is a prayer for more brave political cartoonist – flush out the other corrupt politicians like the Illinois and New York governors.)

In Nast's Harper's Weekly cartoons he exposed what everybody else knew or suspected about party political Boss Tweed. He created the Tammany tiger to express the Tweed's power in New York City.

Nast campaigned for justice in all forms of endeavor. He was like Will Rogers in his regard for political bureaucrats. Today there are a number of political cartoonist that are of the Nast heritage.

When the father of American political cartooning retired at the turn of the century, a newspaper correspondent wrote: "The pressures of the great issues of the Civil War raised up a Lincoln, a Grant and a Nast. Lincoln broad in love, firm in purpose; Grant brave and unyielding; Nast an inspired artist to encourage the hearts of the rulers and the soldiers of the people."

At this season of the year it is fitting to remember one who added s much to the commercial Christmas. His modern image of Santa Claus still remains his most fondly remembered contribution to our culture.

For a twentieth century political cartoonist with a bent toward politics none excels Walt Kelly, creator of Pogo. This long-running (1948-75) daily comic strip was filled with social and political satire. It was so well written that the strips could often be enjoyed by young children and "savvy" adults. Favorite characters were Albert the Alligator, Churchy La Femme and a wise old owl.

Kelly's most famous phrase is "We have met the enemy and he is us," a rallying cry for a generation of conservationists.

Pogo's animal friend's predominant language could be called "swamp-speak." A rural, Southern American dialect. He was never better than when twisting a well-known song like the Christmas Carol "Deck the Halls".

There are at least three versions of this famous Walt Kelly Christmas carol. I like the following rendering:

Deck us all with Boston Charlie,
Walla Walla, Wash, and Kalamazoo!

Nora's freezin' on the trolley,
Swaller dollar cauliflower Alleygaroo!

Don't we know archaic barrel,
Lullaby Lilla Boy, Louisville Lou.

Trolley Molly don't love Harold,
Boola Boola Pensacoola Hullabaloo!

I am famous for my inability to sing anything. That was the case for many years. Then I discovered Walt Kelly's take on songs. When I sing this one, "Deck us all with Boston Charlie," the audience rolls its eyes in amazement. Believe it or not. And with that our house wishes your house a very Merry Christmas this Twenty-0-Eight Year of our Lord.
Libraries a link to the world

As I placed a copy of Grit on the dining room table, my wife Jody exclaimed, "That's the first magazine I ever read!"

A friend in California had sent me a copy because there was an article in that particular issue he wanted me to read.

Jody Long was only 9 and in the third grade in Snow Hill, five miles north of the Collin County community of Farmersville, Texas. Farmersville had a small population then. Only 40 miles north east of Dallas it has grown a great deal in recent years.

Snow Hill, by contrast, is now a wide place in the road with a church or two. The school is gone as are the few stores frequented by the former farmers of Snow Hill.

Every two weeks, the traveling library came to Snow Hill, and what caught Jody's eye was Grit, the weekly newspaper. She wonders today where she got the nickel to pay for it, but she never missed an issue in those formative years. (In their January 10, 1999, issue of Grit, she was given a big write-up with several pictures even.)

Within Grit's pages, she read stories of a world beyond picking cotton in the summer and walking dusty roads to school the rest of the year. There she caught her first glimpse of a larger America and world.

She worked at the soda fountain in Farmersville through her high school years, and she was the first person in her extended family to attend college.

I am especially glad she was able to attend Howard Payne University in Brownwood, for that is where we met in 1947 and were married in 1950. Jody added a college degree to her Bible and Grit knowledge to become a wonderful pastor's wife and later missionary to Taiwan, Hong Kong and the China mainland.

Thanks in no small measure to the traveling library.

I suppose there are still traveling libraries but have not seen any evidence of them. If there are such, they are struggling. Even a city like Philadelphia, Pa., has announced the plan to shutter 11 of its city libraries.

A sign of the times was late in the 20th century when the beautiful Carnegie Libraries were pulled down for more "useful" modern libraries. Many were never replaced. Neighboring Ballinger has one of the few Carnegie Libraries anywhere. The town has been rightly praised for retaining that culture of libraries. (Philanthropist Andrew Carnegie helped build more than 1,700 public libraries in the US between 1881 and 1919.)

Libraries really do matter. This economic downturn is making libraries and their services more valuable than ever. Keeping a community connected and informed.

Libraries have been repositories of wisdom and information since civilization began. Ancient Mesopotamia has thousands of clay tablets that date back 5,000 years. Ancient Egyptian cities reveal papyrus scrolls from 1300-1200 BCE.

The Greeks, later the Persians and Turks great libraries held medical and history that has enhanced our knowledge of them. The monks of the Middle Ages kept the art of storing books until men like Thomas Bray established the first free lending libraries in the American Colonies in the late 1600s.

City and County budgets everywhere are already being cut to the bone. Public officials must not be tempted to trim libraries budgets. They opened the minds of millions of kids. Just ask any librarian or any ordinary young reader, like my own Jody.