07/18/19

Giving Credit Where Credit is Due

By: T F Stern | Self-Educated American

We were watching a movie the other day on one of the regular channels where you get to see a few minutes of the movie followed by several minutes of commercials.  The efforts of the moviemakers got lost somewhere between combining car, house and life insurance, more comfortable jockey shorts and deciding which brand of whiskey best matched the outdoor sportsman in us.

At a certain point, you consider yourself ‘invested’ in watching the movie until its conclusion while attempting to ignore interruptions.  Maybe this is how cable companies have figured how to get folks to pay for adding movie channels; just interrupt the programming on the regular channels enough and people will pay not to see commercials.

The movie was ending as the credits began to roll across the screen, a chance to give individuals who’d put the movie together credit.  Did I say roll across the screen; I meant sprint past at nearly the speed of light.  Evelyn Woods Speed Reading Course had not prepared me for this particular exercise.  To make it more challenging, they split the screen so that the credits for the previously viewed movie, now in a tiny box in the corner of the screen, could play out while introducing the next feature.

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06/25/19

Dwindling Right to Freedom of Movement

By: T F Stern | Self-Educated American

Hello America, it’s a little over a week until we celebrate our Independence Day and consider all the rights and privileges associated with citizenship.  What did our founders have in mind for this Great Experiment in self-governance and, have we kept that vision?

Some folks call me a dreamer for holding on to my belief that America is the land of promise, that our constitution was divinely inspired and if applied properly would allow us all to achieve the highest level of personal freedom available on the planet; but according to the news media that term should be reserved for young illegal aliens who claim they are immune from immigration laws or that they shouldn’t be deported simply because their parents violated our immigration laws.

Maybe our sense of history needs to be ignited, like the fuse of a 4th of July bottle rocket sent into the night sky, a chance to remind us of battles long ago fought for… for what?  I know they fought for something; must have been for lower prices on Dr. Pepper so we could enjoy grilled hamburgers with a stack of crunchy potato chips.  They fought so we could send a women’s soccer team to represent our country in the World Cup Games; well, most of the athletes on our team acknowledge and stand when our National Anthem is played…

Those battles were fought to define us as a nation that honors and respects inalienable rights of individuals, generally defined as Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.  These rights were later specifically defined as the Bill of Rights in our Constitution; however, among the individual rights so defined, the individual’s right to freedom of movement within these United States wasn’t listed because our founders didn’t think individual freedom of movement would ever be in question.

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06/11/19

A Very Long Five Minutes

By: T F Stern | Self-Educated American

Today we got to enjoy the Sunday Session of the Conroe Stake Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints as it was broadcast via the internet from the Creighton Stake Center Building to the Madisonville Chapel.  When we arrived, about twenty minutes prior to the actual start time, Brother Simpson had all the equipment set up and had his laptop computer set up to receive the transmission so everyone in our chapel could enjoy the Primary Children’s Choir singing prelude music.

While it may appear to be a simple task; turning on the computer and aiming the projector on the wall to present the image, there is nothing simple about it.  The folks at the Creighton end were responsible for establishing the transmission feed which was sent up to Salt Lake City, it having been assigned a specific URL which could then be sent out over the internet and received by anyone who knows what that URL is.

Everything was working as designed, that is right up until it was time for Conference to actually start.  That’s when the screen went blank and the sound quit.  I observed as Brother Simpson got up rather hurriedly from his seat, went to the front of the chapel and checked on the equipment.

I should mention that at one time I had the calling of Stake Clerk/IT Specialist for the Houston North Stake.  One of my jobs was to make sure internet connections during conference were established and working.  Invariably, if there was going to be a problem, those issues would present themselves at the very moment when conference began in earnest.  All your training and skills would be put to the test as you tried to figure out what had gone wrong.

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05/30/19

What does Exoneration mean?

By: T F Stern | Self-Educated American

There’s an Associated Press story that stirs the pot one more time as those who can’t stand Donald Trump being the President of the United States continue to spin their disgust at having someone other than Hillary Clinton in the White House. 

That’s not exactly how the article by Eric Tucker and Michael Balsamo, explained Mueller’s comments; but since when did facts become important to the liberal news media?

Reading from the opening paragraph of the AP article, “Special council Robert Mueller said Wednesday he believed he was constitutionally barred from charging President Donald Trump but pointedly emphasized that his report did not exonerate the president”.

Mueller went on to say, “If we had had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so,” Mueller said, “We did not, however, make a determination as to whether the president did commit a crime.”

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05/19/19

Just some stairs in a movie

By: T F Stern | Self-Educated American

This morning I was watching an old black and white movie, Here Comes Mr. Jordan, about a prizefighter, Joe Pendleton, attempting to fulfill his destiny as World Champion when he’s “mistakenly taken to Heaven before his time, and then is given a second chance back on Earth”; but that’s not what I wanted to write about.

No; but this movie had a scene set in the Farnsworth Mansion with his boxing trainer, Max “Pop” Corkle, leaving via a fancy entrance foyer with a set of marble stairs. In the movie, Joe Pendleton was temporarily ‘inhabiting’ Bruce Farnsworth’s body, getting it “in the pink” so he could continue toward becoming the World Champ in boxing; but Farnsworth got murdered which meant Joe Pendleton would have to ‘inhabit’ some other body to complete his destiny.  As mentioned, this isn’t what I wanted to write about; but some details are necessary to get there.

The marble stairs leading to the front door stirred a memory.  My mind was seeing two sets of stairs; the one in the movie and yet another, the image of a similar set of stairs from an old crime scene.  

I remember stepping over a dead man’s body from back when I was a rookie police officer dispatched to the scene of a real murder on Kirby Street in the fashionable River Oaks section of Houston.  As it turned out, that murder became quite a sensation as it involved high society.

“In 1972 (Sept. 24, 1972)  Dr. John Hill was ambushed and shot to death in his home. He was with his new wife, Connie, and his son, who were both left unharmed.”

“The story became a bestseller called Blood and Money by Thomas Thompson and later a TV movie called Murder in Texas, with Farrah Fawcett playing Joan Robinson.”

The senior police partner I rode with that evening assigned me to go to the house next door and stay with the young boy who had been taken in by neighbors upon hearing of the murder.  Just a guess on my part; but since I’d only been a police officer for about six months, he probably didn’t want me mucking up any evidence at the crime scene.

I really don’t remember much about the investigation that was taken over by the Homicide Division and eventually ended up in Criminal Court.  I do remember receiving a subpoena and going down to Records Division for a copy of the report to refresh my mind on details that I might need if I were asked to sit in the witness chair.

Turns out there was almost a book’s worth of printed police report the clerk handed me.  I really wasn’t a witness to much, if anything, that might indicate my need for being subpoenaed; but apparently, the District Attorney’s Office sent a subpoena to any officer whose name appeared in the original police report.

Watching an old movie did all that, just think what the mind is capable of remembering when it’s triggered by a simple image, a familiar fragrance or just about anything.  Isn’t life interesting…

03/20/19

What’s in a Name?

By: T. F. Stern | Self-Educated American

Years ago, while working day shift for the Houston Police Department, one of our regular assignments was to take suspects charged with a felony offense in front of a County Court Judge to have his legal rights read to him.  The jail division would have these individuals placed in the Paddy Wagon, driven across town and dropped off in front of the County Courthouse.

As a matter of historical interest, there was a safe zone for unloading prisoners in the lower level of the County Courthouse; but it was reserved for use by Harris County Sheriffs Department Officers.

Imagine if you will, unloading dangerous prisoners out of a Paddy Wagon on the street, taking the jail-issued handcuffs off and replacing them with our own handcuffs on the sidewalk and then escorting them inside the courthouse, up the elevator and into open court for the sole purpose of having them read their rights and then reversing the order to return them to the city jail.  I’m not saying this was a bad idea; that would be a form of criticism directed at those who were our supervisors; no, this was a very bad idea.

So, each afternoon around lunchtime several of the police officers, including myself, would stand around waiting on the sidewalk in front of the courthouse, waiting for the Paddy Wagon to arrive. This being a regular event, we had a following of interested citizens; a polite way of saying these young women wanted to get cozy with police officers.

One fairly pushy young woman would get up close and personal with officers, handling their name tags as she read it aloud and then tried to make a big deal out of each name.  She reached for my name tag and read it slowly back to me, “T.F. Stern…What’s the T.F. stand for?” she asked in a sultry voice.

I shook my head slightly, not wanting to make conversation; but instead explained, “The city got my name wrong, it should be, T.B. Stern”.  I’ve no idea where these ideas come from; they just blossom and I make the best of whatever comes out.

“So then, what’s the T.B. stand for?”  A couple of my fellow officers were curious, seeing as how they’d known me long enough to know I was cooking up a good one.

“Theophilus Bastardo Stern”, I responded.  “Some folks call me The-old Bastard, but you can just call me Theo”.  It must have worked; the woman walked away saying something insulting under her breath. 

The best part about this story, from that day on, one of the officers called me Theo.  

10/4/18

Are we being played?

By: T.F. Stern | Self-Educated American

These past few weeks have been interesting to watch from the Peanut Gallery, a reference to a television program from back in my youth, The Howdy Doody Show.  While the Buffalo Bob entertained, there were kids seated off to the side on the set to cheer, laugh or otherwise add to the moment.

During this circus, the one called a Supreme Court nomination process, have we been treated, is it our turn in the Peanut Gallery?  Booing and clapping, wringing our hands or spitting on the floor in disgust while Congressmen and Senators line up for photo opportunities in the hope of gaining enough votes to get re-elected when mid-terms come in November.  It’s all one big show.

Never mind the lynching of Kavanaugh, that’s to be expected.  It’s called collateral damage by those who really don’t give a hang about individuals.  Kavanaugh and his family were selected to be sacrificed, it goes with being a public figure according to those who live inside the Beltway.

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09/6/18

What Direction Are We Headed?

By: T.F. Stern | Self-Educated American

This morning while glancing over Facebook with its variety of politically charged events, menu items for the home grillers, birthday wishes for friends and the never-ending photographs of cute kittens and puppies…a poster of Kermit the Frog got my attention.  That’s right, Kermit gazing out a window in deep thought got me to chuckle.

“Sometimes I wonder…What Happened To The People Who Asked Me For Directions”

I was immediately reminded of when I was a police officer working in downtown Houston.  An English fellow approached and asked, in an overpowering British accent, “Officer, could you direct me to Milam Street?”, except instead of it sounding as we pronounce it, My-lam (as in lamb with a silent ‘b’), he asked for Mill-um Street.

I hesitated, momentarily, as the sound of his British accent brought a smile to my face.  It gave me a chance to properly respond in such a way as to be pleasing to his own ears.

“That’s easy, just go one street past Smythe and you’re there”.  We don’t actually have a Smythe Street in Houston; we call it Smith Street.  You can see that being a police officer caused no end of challenges to my supervisors.

But that’s not why I’m writing today, no, not by a long shot.

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07/30/18

Who was more impressed?

By: T.F. Stern | Self-Educated American

I recently had the opportunity to visit historic sites associated with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS).  Topping the list would be the Hill Cumorah where the Angel Moroni hid the record of his people so they’d be kept safe until hundreds of years passed, long enough for the United States of America to be established with a Constitution that protected individual liberty and religious freedom along with my being able to visit the house where the Angle Moroni appeared to Joseph Smith Jr., as part of the restoration of the gospel in its fullness.

In case you’re not familiar with the history of the LDS Church and the restoration of the Fullness of the Gospel by Joseph Smith Jr., it can be found through links provided by the LDS Church.  This painting is on display on the 2nd floor of the Joseph Smith Home.

When Joseph was a young man there was great excitement regarding the topic of religion; each sect trying to show they were the one to join.  Joseph found it all a bit confusing and wanted to be sure he was joining the right church; but found each sect seemed to interpret the Bible differently, so much so that making the decision to join impossible without more information.

He read from James 1:5, “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him”.

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07/15/18

Lighten up, Francis…

By: T.F. Stern | Self-Educated American

There’s a news item via NBC that came up when I was flipping through headlines, Georgia officers on leave after coin-toss used to decide arrest . The article, written by Farnoush Amiri, Ethan Sacks and Kerry Sanders detailed the antics of a couple of cops having fun with a citizen; but it came across as anything other than funny.

“Two Georgia police officers have been placed on leave after video showed them using a coin-toss app before determining whether to arrest a woman caught speeding in April, and the police chief said he is “appalled” by the move.”

After reading the story my first reaction was, “Lighten up, Francis”, a reference to the movie Stripes that came out back in 1981.  There’s a scene where each member of the platoon was supposed say a little bit about himself, a way to get to know each other better.

One soldier, Francis, wanted everyone to call him, Psyco, and anyone who called him Francis, “I’ll kill ya’” or if anyone touches his stuff, “I’ll kill ya’”.

Sgt. Hulka leaned forward in his chair and said, “Lighten up, Francis”, and the entire platoon laughed it off.  There’s always going to be someone who takes things way too seriously.

Years ago, while working for the Houston Police Department they sent me out to enforce a brand-new, No Left Turn, traffic sign that had been installed in the Montrose area.  The purpose of the sign was tied to a recent trend of homosexual individuals cruising the area hoping to pick up like-minded individuals which generated a sustained parade of cars through one neighborhood.  It was hoped the change in traffic patterns might alleviate some cars traveling through the neighborhoods and keep them on the main roads.

As it turned out, two vehicles turned left in front of that sign at the same time and pulled over when I signaled them to the side.

The first vehicle’s driver was a Priest in full “cloth” and the other guy was one of the local hippies, for lack of a better term.  I got their driver’s licenses and immediately let the Priest go on his way, walking back toward the hippie.  The opportunity to have some fun had presented itself.

“I only have one ticket left in my book and it’s clear I couldn’t write the Priest.”  I looked the young man in the eye while reaching into my pocket for a coin.  “Tell you what…”, showing him the quarter and flipping it in the air, “…call it!”  I placed my hand over the quarter balanced on my shirt sleeve.

“You can’t do that, it’s not fair.”  The veins in his neck were swelling and he was tripping over his frustration while trying to contain his antagonism; call it fear or respect, he knew he was close to the limit.

“Come on kid”, in my best Arlo Gurthri Alice’s Restaurant imitation, “…heads or tails?  At least this way you have half a chance of getting off without a ticket.”  I let him dangle and fume for a few moments before showing him that I had a book full of tickets that I could have written and that I was just jackin’ with him.

The job of police officers isn’t supposed to be done by robots or automatons with a blank expression etched on their masks, each officer devoid of human expression while going about the task to Protect and Serve.  The folks in the Ivory Towers would like to think everything is done precisely by the book, within the confines of the Procedure Manual which defines exactly how each and every…

I can hear Ed McMann from the old Tonight Show giving Johnny Carson the familiar lead in line…  “Every single way to encounter the public… each and every traffic stop has been included in this Operations Manual…

To which Johnny would pause, looking boyishly into the camera, flicking his eyebrows and forming a smile before continuing…  “Not so, Metamucil breath…”  Folks today are missing out on real entertainment; today’s substitutes for late-night comedy talks shows are just not that funny.

So, when I read two cops are in big trouble with their Chief for having fun on the job over a traffic violation…well, let’s hope there’s a Sgt. Hulka out there to square off with this Chief of Police, take it down a notch.

Lighten up, Folks.