Tuesday, September 27, 2005

An American Refugee

Hello Institute patrons, please allow me to take this opportunity to thank all of you for your kind words, thoughts and prayers as the Institute had to be evacuated prior to Hurricane Rita. What follows is a harrowing and completely true tale of how I, Pile, lead my staff, family and pet to safety under incredibly adverse conditions.

A few weeks ago when the "evacuees" from Hurricane Katrina were being bussed into the Astrodome I saw one of them being interviewed by the local news, he made a comment that has stuck with me. He said, " refugees....., people are calling us refugees......, I ain't no refugee, I'm an American citizen". After having fled natures fury myself, I can't help but disagree with Mr. Evacuee. Being on the run from high winds and rising waters knows no citizenship, race or creed, it only knows the medium rare human instinct of survival, while being courteous to others who have been forced from their homes of course. It only knows that.

On the evening of Wednesday September 21st it became clear to me that I was going to have to make a decision about what to do regarding the approaching storm. It became clear because people kept asking me "Pile, what are you going to do? Evacuate?". I have to say, at that point I was not prepared to leave the Institute unguarded and vulnerable. Our world Headquarters is approximately 60 miles inland, so I thought we could ride the storm out. Besides, Academy Sports and Outdoors was having a sale on Remington Street Howitzers, and the prices looked pretty good. This combined with the fact that there was not a motel room available anywhere in the western United States led me to the decision to stay put.

During my customary Thursday morning sitrep briefing it became clear to me that the situation had changed almost overnight. Rita had been upgraded to a category five, with sustained winds that made it the fifth most powerful storm ever recorded. The Institutes computer modeling had the storm on a track that would push a storm surge right up our drive, past the valet parking and through the Institute gift shop. As many of you know this is a think tank that employs a wide variety of peoples, one of whom you might know as The Onlette, is only six months old. While I have been instructing The Onlette on free market economics and college football I have not yet taught her to swim. I felt the weight of the Institute, not to mention the world, riding on my shoulders.

Some Chairmen of think tank Institutes are born to be great leaders. Others, it would seem have a swirling storm of high winds and rain thrust their great leadership on their staff and family. And pet. I made an announcement over the intercom system that we would be evacuating. I instructed all personnel and pets to put their important papers in a fire and flood proof lock box, move all computers and electronics off the floor and onto a counter or high shelf and prepare to leave.

My wife, the lovely and immensely talented Mrs. On and I, loaded two coolers full of lunchmeat, Red Bull and beer, and put them in the family car along with clothes, toys, a fourteen month supply of diapers, a telephone answering machine, dog food, three gallons of filtered tap water, an emergency car tire pump, two loaves of bread and an umbrella. We were ready to leave the think tank Institute that we both had devoted our entire lives to.

Before all electronics were disconnected and moved to the relative safety of a higher counter or shelf, I had been watching the Institute's local media monitoring device. I was acutely aware of the stand still traffic on the major hurricane evacuation routes. Thrusting my leadership on my family and pet I made my first major decision, we would not be taking a freeway out of town. We would head west on any farm to market road we could find until we got to I 35, from there we would head north to Dallas, and then on to visit some friends in Oklahoma City.

This was a day that was taking a toll on my fellow Houstonians, and their pets. Due to the heat, the temperatures were approaching 100 degrees. Fahrenheit. Due to the sudden run on gasoline, most stations were now out of anything one might put in their cars for fuel. Many of my fellow refugees were forced to drive along without running the air conditioner to conserve on precious fuel. We were forced to sit in our car, unable to move around, and endure hour after hour the relentless blast of refrigerated air that pelted our skin like a Chinese water torture. That which does not kill us, makes us stronger I told my family and pet when they inquired if anything could be done about the chill wind blowing in the Mitsubishi. I had heard on the radio that a dog had died of heat frustration on I45 north of Houston. That was a chance, with which I could not take.

We saw many people waiting at gas stations for gas supplies that might not arrive in time. We finally reached I35 in Austin and turned north, but not before stopping at a completely deserted gas station to fill up. I could not help but wonder why I was the only person to get my fuel supplies at a station that had fuel supplies. It was a question I could not ponder long, as a refugee must keep moving.

It was a seventeen hour trip from Houston to Dallas. I was very proud of The Onlette, she handled the situation like you would hope a trainee analyst would. At some point during the trip she began to bogart the Mommy, forcing my Labrador retriever Enid into the map reading, navigator, co-pilot, riding shotgun position commonly referred to as the front passenger seat. Like many people who were faced with adversity in these trying times, she rose to the occasion, as I could not detect any perceptible decrease in the navigation assistance I was receiving. The front passenger seat is just a bit small for a full figured lab to curl up in, so like me she sat up and watched the road until we arrived in Dallas at 6 am Friday morning. Yes, I know it was harrowing for her, but when you are a refugee pet, being tired is a luxury you can not afford.

We grabbed a few hours of shuteye in Dallas, then it was on to Oklahoma City , three more hours to the North. There we slept for something like 37.4 hours straight. Keeping track of time is not a refugee's strong suit. Our friends, or as I like to refer to them, the people running our shelter, took us out for dinner when we finally did wake up. We went to what they call the Bricktown Riverwalk. Oklahoma City has revitalized their downtown in a manner similar to what San Antonio did so many years ago. They have not achieved all the charm of downtown San Antonio but it is very nice. We set out on a trek that must have been hundreds, if not thousands of meters. But refugees do not complain about having to walk to receive a ration of nourishment. Not even if they have to walk past a brand new bar and grill owned by Toby Keith. When a refugee thinks of fine dining, a refugee's mind often conjures up the image of Toby Keith frying up some grub.

We finally arrived at a little Italian eatery, where we were told they could not serve us. FOR FORTY FIVE MINUTES!!! I cursed Bush, and I cursed FEMA, how could they not have planned for this contingency? Then I remembered the immortal words of Tom Petty, "you don't [pause for dramatic effect] have [another even more dramatic pause] to live like a refugee, don't have to live like a refugee".

You damn straight I don't Mr. Petty. I gathered up my family and the people that were operating the shelter I was staying at and marched right down the riverwalk to a place called the Bourbon Street Cafe. They only had a twenty minute wait, not to mention a delightful India Pale Ale on tap. We ate a meal in solidarity with our fellow refugees from New Orleans. A little dish they call Etouffe. It is pronounced [ay-too-fay], I know this because it said so, right on the menu, AY-TOO-FAY.

It was good, I enjoyed it. It was served with dirty rice, which was also good, but it made the whole dish a bit too rich. It would have been much better to serve it with a scoop of plain steamed rice. Such are the trials of An American Refugee.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Pile Ok In OK

Hello everybody. Sam Houston again. I've got good news for you. Pile reports in the comments section to the preceeding post that he and the Ons are safe and sound in Oklahoma City.

I knewed it! Gol-dash-it-all! I knewed it! I knewed that Pile'd figure a way out! Why that hombre is slipperier than marinated geese guts on a U.N. door knob!

Er...yes, Gabby. That he is.
Anyway, Pile appears to have had quite a backroads adventure and we look forward to his recounting it one day soon on these very pages.

I'll tell you what! Pile On's so smart, I'll bet this whole shebang is just one of them publickity doo-dads to help him get elected Sheriff in Ocho-Eight!

You mean to say that Pile planned this entire escapade as a publicity stunt to help him get elected President of the United states in Aught Ocho?

Are you a Democrat by any chance, Mr. Hayes?

A Democrat? Well, brush my whiskers no! I'm a cook!



Well, anyway folks,that's the good news, and there seems to be more on the way. Texas has pulled through the storm with some damage, but nothing it can't handle. Most importanly, it has comported itself in the manner and mode that befits this nation's only Republic.


I'll see you on the flip side.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Pile Gone?

Hello everybody. Sam Houston here. A good friend from Virginia (where I was born) contacted me and asked if I wouldn't mind stepping up to the plate as a guest blogger at the Institute while Chief Pile On collects his family and gets the hell out of town. I'm honored that Texas' foremost think tank would consider me, particularly in this hour of peril.

Folks, things are going to get trying for my beloved Texas over the next few days. Nature is sending its mightiest engine of destruction straight down the track at us and the best we can do is get out of the way. I am here to tell that there is no shame or cowardice in running from this menace. Hell, one of the best things I ever did was to retreat from Santa Anna after the fall of the Alamo and Goliad, and then knock that bastard flat at San Jacinto . Pick your fights, and win 'em, I always say. This here's one you can't win.

Fellow Texans, I have never been so proud of you as when I watched you open your hearts and cities to those ravaged by Katrina. Now, I expect that you will make me proud once more with your courage and resolve in the face of nature's fury. I want each of you to follow orders and evacuate to safety. I don't want other Texans to have to risk their lives rescuing you because you got stubboner than an old mule. And by jimminy, I don't want to see any one of you taking advantage of the situation to help himself to his neighbor's horse. This is by-God Texas, and we will not cotton to any such behavior. I expect that every man will aquit himself accordingly.
Captain, do you have anything to add?

No, sir. Only that if I find that Pile On is still hanging around Houston when this thing comes ashore, I am going to personally tap dance on his head.

Thank you, Captain, but that won't be necessary. Pile On's smart enough to take care of his family and let God take care of the rest. But I would like to add that should P.O. find he is in need of anything, I trust that he knows some good people to turn to. One of them in Virginia.

That's all folks. Keep Texas in your prayers. And watch us do things right.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

The Making of a Difference

Not so long ago I was going through a new teacher orientation which was designed to alleviate my disorientation with hours of meetings so riveting they left me longing for Tom Daschle's autobiography on tape. The Series. During one orientation presentation, I was given a rubber bracelet that said "I make a difference". It looked like one of those Lance Armstrong "Live Strong" bracelets, except it was red white and blue and it didn't say "Live Strong" it said "I make a difference". So it looked like it, but was different, you might say they were not the same, but similar.

I wore it for one day, I didn't want folks to think I was opposed to difference making. I am not. You see, I just don't go in for all that bling bling stuff. It also struck me as a bit presumptuous, being a new teacher and all, to think I was going to start manufacturing differences right away.

But I have since embraced the ambiguity of it all. Making a difference doesn't have to mean I changed a young life for the better. I could, theoretically make a difference in someone's life by using the last of the toilet paper, leaving the next patron of the facilities to fend for themselves.

I do hope to one day make a positive difference. And then have a major motion picture made about my difference making. As KJ of The Cheese (because it's The Cheese that makes it taste so good) has pointed out, you can't really say you have been a successful teacher until a movie is made about the difference you have made. You have to "fight the system", "buck the odds", "break the rules", and help an at risk minority student overcome adversity, so he or she can become a successful something or other. Then he/she can "give back" to his or her community, thus completing the circle of difference making.

What I really look forward to is the "E" Entertainment Television show, "The Making of The Making of a Difference". I find those "the making of" shows as riveting as the West Coast Offense directed by an imaginative genius like Bill Callahan. I also eagerly await having a knock down drag out cursing match with some bastard director who wants to bastardize my original screenplay by putting in some stupid love interest and a ninja fight scene. I look forward to people dragging us apart right before I go all "El Salvador Plan" on his sorry little Hollywood ass.

But I am a reasonable man, willing to compromise. The ninja scene can stay.

In the mean time, even though I don't post as often as I used to, I am still making a difference in the blog world.

Nebraska Records its Final Victory of the Season

The Nebraska Cornhuskers used a complex kick blocking scheme to secure their third and final victory of Coach Whatsisname's second and likely last season with the once dominant football program. Coach Icouldnotcarelesswhathisnameis commented "we tried to keep their offense on the field as much as possible so our defense could score, but it wasn't easy, apparently Pitt had the same game plan".

Here at the Institute we could not be more tickled to have thrown out forty years of winning tradition for the thrilling West Coast Incomplete Four Yard Pass Offense. Who needs that boring old drive the opposition into the dirt option offense when you can go three and out on short passes that take virtually no time off the clock. Riveting.

It is large to run the same offense as every other second rate mediocre team in the country. This should be great for recruiting, not to mention it will save opposing defensive coordinators countless hours of preparation.

I don't know if you can get back tradition once it is lost, but I want it. Now.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

A Few Words About Dog Poo

Let me start by saying I have nothing against dog poo. This is not personal. I am well aware than dog poo is a necessary by-product of having a living healthy dog. A dog has to be able to expel it's bodily wastes, and there just isn't anyway to do that without some unpleasantness.

All I am saying about dog poo, is that it shouldn't be used for brains.

If you think importing 25 thousand jobless homeless people into a city is a good way to boost the economy, you are a nasty sniveling little worm or you are misusing dog poo.

If you think a real estate company offering jobless homeless people special financing is a sure fire way to reap profits, equivalent to ambulance chasing, you are being deliberately viscous or we have a cranial dog poo problem.

"A surge of business activity in Houston might lift the fortune of a city that is still struggling to recover from the collapse of Enron and two decades of job cuts in the energy industry."

This from a reporter who lives in Houston?

Say what you want about Houston, it's hot, humid, some say the traffic sucks and it isn't much to look at. But Houston is a city where people of all races and ethnicities, can, and do, access the American dream. Houston is a bustling, energetic, economically vibrant city, with few government regulations to hinder the ambitions of it's citizens. It is also a city of kind and generous people, who don't deserve the envious shit flinging of monkey-like reporters from the New York Times who were on the losing side of the long since settled battle of the socio-economic systems.

The Ramadan Shopping Season Begins

Are you unsure of what to get that certain special someone for Ramadan? You should check out the latest apparel from the upstart maverick bohemian fashion designer Mad Dog Vinnie.

Go here and here, while supplies last.

Tell them Pile sent you for free Ramadan gift wrapping.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Bad Things--A Preliminary Inquiry

You don't have to be a think tank professional to notice that there has been an increase in "bad things" in recent times. Well, here at the Institute this rash of "bad things" got us to thinking, you see that is what we do here, we think-- ponder the big issues-- if you will.

I recently directed my staff to assemble data on all the "bad things" that have happened in the last century. After my staff scoured the archives for "bad things", I assembled the data into this handy little graph, designed to make a complex issue understandable for even non-think tank professionals-- laypeoples-- if you please.

Well, needless to say, this data, is alarming. We are now seeing more "bad things" than during the Depression, WWII, the Holocaust and the Reagan years combined. Well, you don't have to be a think-tank professional to ponder if there is something that might be causing this epidemic of "bad things".

So again I directed my staff to look at the data on "bad things" from the last ten years and see if there is some sort of common theme to the "bad things" that keep happening. In the old days of think tank Institutes, this may have taken years, but with modern google technology and the New York Times this can be done with remarkable speed. I know because I remarked, "wow staff, that was speedy".

This may not come as any surprise to some savvy internet peoples, but, we here at the Institute believe that this is the first time anyone has comprehensively studied "bad things" and the undeniable link between these "bad things" and George W. Bush.

As this is a preliminary inquiry, we are not yet prepared to come to any final conclusions regarding this data on "bad things", but we do have a few observations. First, it has become clear that being President gives a person the ability to cause "bad things" at a greater rate than the average "bad things" causer person.

Second, not only has the number of "bad things" gone up, but the percentage of "bad things" caused by Bush has increased to point where you can say Bush has a virtual monopoly on causing "bad things". If this continues, the upstart, entrepreneurial "bad things" causer who may not be well heeled or politically connected will be the hardest hit.

Rest assured, we, here at the Institute, will continue to follow this important historical development.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

What is the Right Response?

I have watched in silence as the criticism mounts regarding the federal response to hurricane Katrina. Most of this criticism seems to be designed to embarrass President Bush politically.

My question to you Institute readers is, what is the appropriate response to these attacks? There may be merit to some of the criticism of the feds, but much of what I am hearing has the ring of ghoulish political opportunism. Should the right, reflexively defend Bush after each and every attack? Should it be ignored as most crackpot charges should be? Should there be a counter-attack against state and local officials as evidence of complete incompetence mounts?

I have a suspicion that as time passes we will learn that the federal plan was lacking. Lacking in the sense that they didn't plan for local and state officials to completely drop the ball.

This just doesn't seem like the time for any of this bullshit.


On a personal note, the On household is wiped out. It was a very long week, 66% of my family was sick this week, then we spent Friday night (all freaking night) in the emergency room as the Onlette™ had a fever that spiked to 104 degrees. Not to worry, she is much better now and her temperature is back to normal.