Saturday, February 26, 2011

Allow different ideas to be heard when planning for community

I decided to use the same title that the Victoria Advocate gave to my recent letter to the editor. Below is the letter that was printed. 350 words is nowhere near enough to fully explain my ideas I was wishing to represent, but hey, rules are rules. I'm thinking of doing a blog later, but for now the letter will have to suffice. Hope you enjoy, and weigh in with your thoughts and criticisms.

Editor, the Advocate:
The controversy surrounding the University of Houston-Victoria story is certainly interesting, to say the least. Taking a stance on this issue is difficult. Like most Crossroads area residents, I want the best for my community. If that means a continued relationship with the UH system, then so be it. If that means a venture with another system, then let's do it.
Even though that ultimate decision is what is most important, I see this as an opportunity to explore a facet of our community that I find troubling. Back in September 2008, while everyone else was lauding the efforts of UHV, I put forth some concerns regarding my experience with the university. Being a voice of reason at that same microphone where the rest of the speakers were caught up in a frenzy was a lonely place to be. All I was asking was that our "leaders" evaluate what UHV's commitment to Victoria had been. Is it really unreasonable to ask that course curriculum classes comprising set degree plans be offered at the home campus? How about being afforded the opportunity to see your graduates walk the stage here in Victoria?
My efforts earned me scorn, ridicule and name-calling. All I was asking for is what the students of every other university automatically get. Why do I bring this up now? Well, here comes along another group of "leaders," who are asking for far more than they could ever lay claim to. Why, all of a sudden, are their opinions broadcast as the prevailing sentiment of this community? Was their support for a brand new campus a surprise? Who elected them?
Victoria has become a place ruled by an oligarchy. This community has a bad habit of restricting the free flow of ideas. Before placement on any board or commission, certain people will have to be assured that you will "play ball." Independent thought is shunned. We must stop this sad practice. We must begin to judge ideas on their merit, rather than from whose lips they escape. Expansion of the talent pool is imperative for Victoria.
Matthew J. Ocker, Victoria

Saturday, February 19, 2011

2011 Knowledge Bowl

On Monday evening, I got an unexpected phone call from my good buddy Chad Byrd. The purpose of his call was to ask me if I wanted to participate in the Knowledge Bowl, as a member of his team. I had never heard of the event, but could surmise what it was all about. My initial reaction was "Are you SURE you want me on your team?" You see, Chad is a freaking genius, and I am not just tossing that term around. The guy is brilliant. The last thing I wanted to do was drag down the team. But Chad thought I could be beneficial because in the past there had been quite a few Constitutional questions asked. So I agreed to join the team.

Rounding out the team were Chad's lovely wife and his father-in-law, who is as cool as the other side of the pillow. We felt as though we had a pretty nice team. I am somewhat of a history buff, with quite a bit of a math background, and I have a decent knowledge of sports and entertainment. Chad is a whiz at math, knows politics, and can hold his own in physics and chemistry. Meredith seems to have a good grasp on pop culture, and she knows her biology. Mike...well...I'm not sure what he knows...but he IS old. I guess we figured experience counted for something. Seriously, I don't know enough about Mike to know where his knowledge is most focused, but he is undoubtedly a very sharp fellow.

 So now we're all set. We have our pencils sharpened, we have our thinking caps on, our cell phones are off, and we are ready. As the questions begin, we are feeling pretty good about things. Some we know without a doubt, some we have made educated guesses, and some we can't even conjure up a guess. But as the questions progress, we become more and more bewildered. There were so many questions that were straight statistics questions. One question even referenced a poll that was taken. That's right, a SINGLE POLL! Instead of the questions being reflective of general knowledge, quite a few of them were percentages and derived directly from news clips.

For example:

What percentage of the land in the State of Texas is used for agricultural purposes?
I will bet I can find several different answers to this question, and all from credible sources. For one thing, this number is not static. With the extraordinary growth being currently experienced in Texas, who can say with all certainty what this number is?

What percentage of the world's supply of cotton comes from Texas?
Once again, this is a fluid number that is nearly impossible to calculate. Is there really someone that keeps track of EVERY pound of cotton produced in the world?

There are 890 million gallons of milk produced in Texas every year. This is enough to fill the Astrodome how many times?
Well, wouldn't that depend on some unlisted factors? Is this during a huge football game, where the stands are packed with people, the vendors are fully stocked with supplies, etc? Is it just factoring in the exterior dimensions of the Astrodome? Again, I find this question impossible to answer. Let's say the average person is the equivalent of 25 gallons. I think that would be a fair assumption. So if there are 65,000 fans in the stands, 300 players, coaches, and support staff, 1,000 staff, reporters, security personnel, etc., let's just call it 67,000 people. That alone would consume over a million and a half gallons. That says nothing about the truckloads of equipment that are used to supply a place like the Astrodome.

Anyhow, that's enough of the criticism. The event was a great deal of fun, and I saw some folks there that I would not have expected to see. The fact that the proceeds go to benefit the Adult Literacy Council makes it that much better. There aren't many things that I get very emotional about, but I would say that adult literacy would fall into that category. Having been fortunately blessed with parents that valued education, as well as wonderful teachers in my formative years, reading and writing has never been a concern for me. Because of that fact, I am very sensitive to the feelings of those that have difficulties in the area of literacy. The ability to read and write is the ultimate ability to free oneself and liberate one's mind. I am reminded of the scene in the movie "Primary Colors" where Jack Stanton visits the library where the lady is teaching adults to read. If that scene doesn't tug at your heartstrings, you may not have any. Mikelti Williamson did a brilliant job in that scene, as did John Travolta.

So it was a great event that benefited a great cause, and I had the opportunity to visit and compete with some great friends. Not too shabby for a Friday night in Victoria. And even though we didn't know the catcher's name in Abbott & Costello's "Who's on first?" skit, or what Moses' wife's name was, or who ended a World Series by being caught stealing, or how many Psalms were attributed to Moses, I think we are all still pretty smart. I hope I got that one right!

Monday, February 14, 2011

My Valentines

As I sit here this evening, Valentine's Day 2011 has nearly come to a conclusion. Uneventful for me in this latest edition, for reasons beyond my control, but still not have I lost the warmth of importance of this affectionate holiday. My Valentines are three in number, and equal in station.

Throughout my life, I have had the good fortune of the intimate company of several sweethearts. Most were really good women, though we left each other in search of more congruent companionship. Some I knew had to go, while others I lacked the immediate appreciation of. Such is not the case with my current love. Susan is the woman I have always wanted, needed, and searched for. She makes every day at the very least a good one, and many of them great. We can be amongst friends, out on the town, or sitting around doing nothing. Environment is of no consequence, as long as we are in each others' company.

The other two Valentines that fill my heart are my wonderful baby girls. My Tooter is as smart as a whip, somewhat sassy, and ever the over-achiever. She was always Daddy's Little Helper. One of my fondest memories is of the first time she grabbed my with both of her hands on the side of my face and brought her head toward mine, in an attempt to give me a kiss. It was a big slobbery one, and it made me smile larger than I ever thought possible. The many times we cuddled with one another will always be cherished. On my 25th birthday I had become pretty ill and was in bed trying to rest. Tooter came into my room, got up on the bed, and began to start speaking, as well as she could, anyway. It took me a few moments to realize that she was singing me Happy Birthday. Once I realized that, I couldn't let her get all the way through the song. I grasped her as tightly as I felt I could without bringing her discomfort, and nearly wept.

My littlest Valentine is my Itty Bitty. She is the most innocent child I have ever known.  Every fiber of this blessing of a child wants to spread love to everyone in her presence. Always one to climb in a stranger's lap, quick to give kisses and hugs, and a constant seeker of companionship. The funny things that Itty Bitty has done in her short time are too numerous to list, but just imagine almost anything. My baby girl has some difficulties in communicating, so she usually has an unorthodox manner of conveying her point. Instead of asking Daddy to unlock the rear windows of my truck, she will claim that she "needs wind." Her idiosyncrasies help define her, and I wouldn't trade a single one of them.

As you can see, I am clearly blessed with some wonderful treasures to be thankful for on this day. Who has your heart?

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Ashamed To Be His Neighbor

A few days ago a man named Rick Cortez wrote a letter to the editor of The Victoria Advocate titled "Police should have authority to stop criminals". To say that this letter angered and disgusted me would be an understatement. However, it in no way surprised or shocked me. Rick Cortez is indicative of a group of people that have always existed, but whose population I believe has swelled in recent years. I call them the Mob Society. They love their slogans, they defend to the hilt people and groups of people, rather than principles and ideas. They are loud. They are opinionated. They are judgmental. They are arrogant. They are condescending. Most importantly, they are dangerous. The idea that I might someday be on trial for suspicion of a crime, and have a person like this as a juror, scares the living daylights out of me.

Mr. Cortez's opening statement is internally contradictory, and it just gets worse from there. To claim you are a "law-abiding citizen", while espousing the view that condones criminal activity, is inconceivable. In order to be a law-abiding citizen, you must follow the entire law. You can't be a "cafeteria law-abiding citizen". When one chooses to have contempt for the proper procedures by which punishment is conveyed to criminals, he is opposite the law. In this country, punishment is decided and levied by judges and juries, only after guilt has been established. The procedural safeguards against improper accusations and findings of guilt may at times be frustrating, but are essential to a civilized and free society. Many scholars from many disciplines have opined that the presumption of innocence is quite possibly the single most important contrasting factor between a free society and one subject to tyranny. The right to confront and cross-examine any and all accusers is integral to the execution of a proper defense as well. The ability to place under oath, under penalty of perjury, those who would accuse you of a crime, is often the instance that ferrets out either maligned or malicious claims. Rick Cortez seems to employ willful ignorance of these key provisions of "the law" that he claims to abide by. Mr. Cortez's claim of possessing a degree in Criminal Justice not only makes this story more intriguing, but makes it more tragic as well.

Perhaps I have placed the cart a bit in front of the horse. For those unfamiliar with the letter in question, or the incident that evoked it, here is the background. There was a 15 or 16 tear old kid in Houston that was a robbery suspect. He apparently was fleeing from the police. When he was finally surrounded and struck by a moving police car, he laid on the ground and surrendered. Rather than performing their duties of subduing, securing, and placing the suspect in the custody, the officers present surrounded him and began kicking him. One officer repeatedly kicked the boy in the head. Another officer, clearly after the boy was restrained, began stomping on the leg that had been struck by the police car. This entire scene was captured on a stationary video camera. Evidently the video was just recently released, and Rick Cortez decided to write a letter to the editor, claiming that the reason crime is so bad is because cops aren't allowed to "do their job", among other things. Apparently, Rick Cortez is of the opinion that the job of police officers is to "teach criminals a lesson".

I could probably go on about this topic for days, but it has to end somewhere. The bottom line is that those in law enforcement have absolutely no right to either attempt to inflict punishment on a suspect, or to commit crimes themselves. The officers in question did both. Anyone with the tendency to defend such despicable acts is an "enemy domestic" that all who take an oath have sworn to uphold the law and defend the Constitution against.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

What's in a Title?

Some may be wondering why I chose this title for my blog. The reason is because I have recently learned (the hard way) that the admirable characteristics of this country's historical Patriots have no place in today's society. We claim to revere the boldness, brashness and resolve that stamped the names of Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Adams and Franklin into history, but we simply do not tolerate it today. Most folks will think I am off my rocker for making this observation, as I would have, no more than a couple of years ago. Most people operate with the belief that we have rights in this country, that laws are written to apply to all of us, and that we are free. As I just stated, I was of this belief until recently. The fact is that none of that is true.

The truth is that your rights are predicated on who you are, who you know, and how you can hurt others. After all, isn't that what power is really all about - your ability to inflict pain on others? Why else do we see politicians and government agents as powerful? In a just society, a non-criminal (the vast majority of the population) would not view police officers, District Attorneys, Sheriffs, or Judges as being powerful.

But I digress. Why do I think the traits that made our historical figures great are unwelcome in contemporary society? I think about how Jefferson would be viewed. His ideas on the supremacy of the individual, the evils of government, and his disgust with the mob mentality would probably land him on an "enemy combatant" list. Washington? Forget it. Making soldiers march through the snow with no boots? Yeah right! Executing deserters? No way! "Off with his head!" they would shout.

I could go on and on. The point is that too few of us believe in rights these days. Too few of us see greatness in the citizen who refuses to sit down and shut up. Instead, the majority would love to see him locked away and the key lost. For all of the rhetoric being tossed about these days about how to right the ship in this country, I see this as a fundamental place to start.