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Dark Night of the Soul

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Jim Opionin By Jim Powers
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Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has been waging an unprovoked war in Ukraine, announced Sunday that he had put his nuclear deterrence forces into high alert. He has offered several justifications for his war of aggression, all of which are lies. It seems clear that he miscalculated the courage of the Ukraine people, and the pushback from countries around the world to his actions. Authoritarian strongmen like Putin do not like to look bad when their errors become obvious. We are in an extremely dangerous moment in history.

We spend our lives assembling our experiences into an image of who we are and what we believe in. Over time we become fully invested in that “self.” Everything we think and do is guided by self-image, and we imagine this “self” to persist, to be a constant. But such thinking is an illusion. I am not the same person I was when I was five, or 10, or 20, or 50 years ago. I don’t look the same, I don’t think the same, I don’t hold the same values.

 We often use that illusion of persistence as solid ground to explain away things that happen in our life that are inconsistent with our character or beliefs. But for many of us, something eventually happens that we can no longer explain away. Something that blows up the meaning our life had before. The mirror we had been staring at for decades cracks, and the whole framework of our lives seems meaningless.

This experience is often labeled the Dark Night of The Soul. Just about any tragic experience can trigger it, as can a sudden and dramatic change in our understanding of reality. It’s an experience people who seek enlightenment through meditation often experience when they manage to silence the constant droning of the noises in their heads and realize that “they” seem to be only a constant stream of noise arising from their unconscious mind. It is scary, and some don’t find their way back. You can also see it in some who suffer from major depression.

What does this have to do with Vladimir Putin? Well, he has taken a few opportunities to remind the world over the last couple of weeks of his nuclear arsenal. And as an authoritarian leader who finds himself more and more cornered by the reaction of the world to his aggression, he is very dangerous. His ambition seems to be to leave as his legacy the taking back all the old Soviet Union countries, regardless of the outcome. 

In a conventional war there are no second-place winners. In a nuclear war, there are no winners at all. The cold war mantra was MAD – Mutually assured destruction.

We have developed a complacency in this country, a belief that the U.S. has some special dispensation from God that makes us special and makes us safe. This is a dangerous delusion.

And many people in this country seem to have decided that a leader in the image of Vladimir Putin, an authoritarian strongman that takes nothin’ off nobody, is what the U.S. needs. That, too, is a dangerous delusion. Putin is not a good guy; he is a brutal dictator that cares nothing about his people and wages war to enrich he and his cronies.

These indirect threats from the Russian dictator to use nuclear weapons should be a dark night of the soul experience for those who have become complacent about how dangerous this moment is. Only an evil person would even contemplate the use of such weapons, knowing the millions, perhaps billions of people who would suffer and die as a result.

It is time for all of us to understand that the political brinkmanship that our country is mired in must stop. 

We won the cold war against the USSR for two reasons…we involved them in an arms race that eventually bankrupted them, and we were united as a people in our unflagging commitment to democracy, to our belief that democracy was worth defending and advancing in the world. Sadly, that isn’t the case anymore. It’s time to wake up.

“We live in a house of mirrors 
and think we are looking out the windows.”   ~ Fritz Perls

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Huge gap between theory and practice

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FromEditorsDesk TonyI went to high school a few years ago, back when you didn’t have to sign up for special programs just to learn practical skills. 

Our school system offered classes in auto mechanics, skills that would be handy even if you didn’t end up in the field. So it was with those classes and my own sense of adventure that I went to do some long-overdue work on my truck.

In a nutshell, I needed to replace the coil packs, which have taken the place of points in the ignition system. These coils attach directly to the spark plugs, so I changed them out as well.

There was quite a bit of time between my classes and now, so obviously the technology has changed. With this in mind, I availed myself of another new piece of technology that could be helpful: YouTube.

While in high school, we had to rely on repair manuals and instruction. Online videos can take the place of that, so I watched three different videos on this particular type of repair, which were readily available.

So I took a day, assembled all the tools I needed — 8mm socket and wrench, 5/8-inch spark plug socket, six spark plugs gapped to .30, six coil packs (which is another story altogether), and some screwdrivers — and set to.

Watching the videos gave me a sense of calm, since the mechanic(s) made it look so very easy; none of the videos took longer than 12 minutes.

I’m smart enough to know about editing, but nothing prepared me for what came next.

• Coil Pack 1, rear engine driver’s side. Total time: 1  1/2 hours.

You read that right. Come to find out, the video didn’t account for age of parts, dirt, any number of things. In order to remove the coil you had to push a red tab to release the wiring harness, remove the 8mm bolt, remove the coil, remove the spark plug, and reverse the process.

You also had to remove the wiring harness to the fuel pump, the locking lever of which was “conveniently” placed underneath, which chubby fingers have a difficult time finding.

Then, removing the coil harness required moving a locking tab and “gently” removing the harness. Plastic gets brittle when repeatedly heated, so the harness didn’t release easily, and it couldn’t be forced or it would break.

The coil should then require a little wiggling and then pop out, except when it doesn’t and it just moves back and forth. So with the help of channel locks, it finally came out, revealing the spark plug. Since the hole was underneath part of the air intake vents, I had to find the exact combination of extensions so the wrench would fit and remove it. Turning the wrench was fun, too, since a nearby cover had a sharp edge and continually chewed my arm up.

My dad always told me the sign of a job done well was blood, so there’s that.

• Coil Pack 2, middle driver’s side. Total time: 45 minutes.

You knew it had to happen. Those brittle clips did what brittle clip do, and broke. The only upside was I was able to figure out a way to remove them easier, so the rest weren’t so bad. However, it required the use of something else my father taught me: the Words of Power. In a nutshell, dirty words. Naughty words. Words that got Little Ralphie a LifeBuoy mint.

I also needed to remove the hose for the PCV valve, which was really the only part of the project that went like the video.

• Coil Pack 3, front driver’s side, 35-40 minutes. Harness removed easily; coil pack removed too easily, mostly because half of the rubber boot connecting the pack and the spark plug remained on the plug. 

The video didn’t say anything about that. It took about three different sets of needle nose pliers to get that out.

• Coil Packs 4-6, passenger’s side, 45-ish minutes.

After the trial by fire on the other side, the work on this side went relatively smoothly, except for needing a special u-joint extension for the last one, which was conveniently placed underneath the metal heater hoses.

The replacement was a success, and the truck is humming along; there are two lessons as well.

The first is that schools that teach mechanical skills, along with problem-solving techniques, give children and later adults a leg up.

The second, one that’s more important, is that just because you saw it on the internet doesn’t mean you’re getting the full story. It will make things easier and you will gain greater understand by doing more research. It does remain a good starting point, though.

Tony Farkas is editor of the San Jacinto News-Times. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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CRT and the whitewashing of Texas history

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Jim Opionin By Jim Powers
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Texas Governor Gregg Abbott recently signed into law a bill prohibiting the teaching of Critical Race Theory (CRT) in K-12 public schools. CRT has never been taught in Texas public schools.

Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick has taken up the cause of banning CRT from public colleges and universities in Texas, with the threat of revoking the tenure of any professor teaching it.

According to Academics, CRT is simply looking at the way society has been affected by racism since America’s founding. It posits that racism is and has been pervasive throughout our history and examines how forces in our culture tend to perpetuate it.

The biggest feature of these efforts by Abbott and Patrick appear to be to argue that racism is not and has never been cultural, but individual, a position that in my opinion, can’t be defended.

While I was born in Woodville, I grew up in another S.E. Texas city, and lived there until I was 16. It was a small city when we moved there in the early 1950s but started growing quickly in the 1960s. And, like most of the Southern cities in those days, it was heavily segregated.

There was a black community there, but it was invisible to me. Black people literally lived on the other side of the (railroad) tracks. I rarely encountered a black person, and certainly none lived in the solidly middle-class community we lived in, or moved in the circles we moved in.

My parents were racist, as were most people I knew. They were not militantly racist, as in white sheets and burning crosses. They were “culturally racist,” a pernicious casual racism that generations of folks in the south grew up with. Black people were made fun of, were called disrespectful names, were talked about as less than fully human by most of the white people I knew, and were relegated to separate schools, separate restrooms, separate drinking fountains.

When we moved to Warren in 1966, the schools in the city we left were still segregated. But the Warren school had been integrated for a couple of years.

Warren was a very small town in 1966. A couple of stores and a restaurant were about it for businesses. 

The school system was small. And poor. We weren’t allowed to use the lab for chemistry classes because it was badly stocked. All the grades were on one campus. There were 33 people in my graduating class in 1969. 

With integration, the recently constructed Black school was closed (and ultimately turned into a bus barn), and all the students from there were moved to the 30-year-old at that time campus, a move that seemed to me, even as a teenager, to be backwards.

And, while racism was common outside the school, integration went well with the students. For the most part, everyone got along.

I share my personal experience with racism because most of the folks reading this are probably young enough that they might believe Gregg Abbott and Dan Patrick’s assertion that racism isn’t systemic or pervasive in our society. What these men are trying to do is memory hole centuries of systemic racism, erasing the inconvenient and sordid history of the treatment of other races in our country, by intimidating into silence those tasked with teaching that truth to our youth.

That our state legislature would pass a law clearly aimed at erasing the shared experience in our country of an entire race of people and deny that their experience is not still pervasive is unconscionable. And if you don’t believe it is still pervasive, there's this.

 

CNN reported Feb. 17 that “A video showing police officers breaking up a fight between a Black teenager and a White teenager at a New Jersey mall has prompted outrage over the police response.”

“New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy said Wednesday that the “appearance of what is racially disparate treatment is deeply, deeply disturbing.”’

“The Black teenager begins to get up and is pinned to the ground by one officer and rolled on to his stomach, with his hands behind his back. The other officer pushes the White teenager onto a nearby couch and then assists in handcuffing the Black teenager. Eventually, officers stand the handcuffed Black teenager up.”

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Protest without Principle

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Jim Opionin By Jim Powers
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As Canada began the process of breaking up the Truckers Convoy that paralyzed the movement of commerce across the border with the U.S. for days, Sen. Rand Paul, when asked about it in an interview with The Daily Signal, said he was all for trucker convoys protesting Covid 19 mandates in the U.S.

“Civil disobedience is a time-honored tradition in our country, from slavery to civil rights, you name it. Peaceful protest, clog things up, make people think about the mandates.”

Born in 1950, I’m firmly in the often notorious “Boomer” generation. I came of age in the 1960s, the age of Hippies, long hair, “tune in, drop out”, Woodstock, Rock and Roll, and Vietnam.

For those too young to remember the Vietnam war, it kind of resembled the trajectory the U.S. took in Afghanistan. Except that 58,000 young Americans, most who were conscripted into fighting a war they no longer believed in, had died, and 150,000 wounded by the time the U.S. bailed out in a spectacular scene of the last of the Americans there being evacuated by helicopter from the top of a building as the communist North Vietnamese moved in. Those who fought in that war are heroes. Our government that escalated it, not so much.

The war ended because the American people had enough of sending their sons to die in a proxy war between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. There was a theory in those days, the Domino theory, that if the communists took over in Vietnam, it would be like a domino falling that would ultimately bring down S.E. Asia and ultimately the U.S.

There were daily protests in the streets of U.S. cities, on college campuses, in D.C. There was violence. And those constant protests escalated to such a fever pitch that it eventually led, in 1968, to President Lyndon Johnson making the announcement that “Accordingly, I shall not seek, and I will not accept the nomination of my party for another term as your president.”

American young men, and American parents had given enough. And their voices finally could not be ignored.

The Vietnam war, which we entered in earnest in 1964, ended in 1975 when we left in defeat.

The power in protest is not the size of the crowd or the words on the signs or the volume of the voices. The power in protest is the righteousness of the cause. 

Stopping the carnage that took 58,000 American lives was a righteous cause. Fighting the fight that Dr. Martin Luther King fought against segregation and racism was a righteous cause. 

How righteous is the cause of trying to overturn a democratically elected President? Or attacking the U.S. Capitol? Or as Rand Paul advocated, using a truck convoy to shut down the economies of U.S. states and cities to protest mandates shutting down the economies of U.S. states and cities (hypocrisy is the word for that)? 

None of those protests could achieve their goals because those ultimately directing them knew they would fail. The real goal was not to advocate for a righteous cause, but, as the Bard said, “sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

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Deep in the Heart of Valentine, Texas

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Some say the town of Valentine was established in late December of 1881 and named after John Valentine, a shareholder of the Southern Pacific Railroad.Some say the town of Valentine was established in late December of 1881 and named after John Valentine, a shareholder of the Southern Pacific Railroad.

By U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas

With heart-shaped decorations popping up across storefronts throughout our state, Valentine’s Day is upon us. While the history and traditions behind this holiday date back many centuries, you won’t find anywhere that honors Valentine’s Day quite like the small West Texas town that shares the same name. 

Nestled between Marfa and Van Horn, the city of Valentine, Texas finds its home in Jeff Davis County. How did it earn the lovely name? Well, there are a few different stories to explain the beloved town’s namesake. It’s been said that on Valentine’s Day, in 1882, the Southern Pacific Railroad crew built a water and fuel depot and named it Valentine. Others say the town of Valentine was established in late December of 1881 and named after John Valentine, a shareholder of the Southern Pacific Railroad.

In 1883, railroad operations were moving full steam ahead in Valentine. Within the next ten years, Valentine reached an estimated population of 100 and established a post office, general store, hotel, meat market, and two saloons. The Valentine railroad depot also provided a roundhouse to service trains, a boarding house for the crew, and a loading pen for cattle being shipped across the nation. From its founding until 1958, Valentine served as an important rail stop for ranchers and passengers alike. 

In the 1950s, trucks became the main method of cattle transportation and combined with the advent of diesel locomotives these two factors had a serious impact on the Valentine railroad depot’s operations. By 1958, the depot terminated its daily passenger service.

In spite of the many changes the town of Valentine has seen, the Post Office, established in 1886, has remained busy – particularly during the month of February. For romantics looking to send their special valentine a little extra love, the Valentine Post Office offers a customized pictorial postmark. This time of year, the Valentine Post Office receives mail from folks around the globe who are looking for this extra stamp of love.

Although some Texans may call Valentine home year-round, this charming town welcomes visitors during the month of February to celebrate. On Feb. 14, the town of Valentine couples with the town of Alpine to host thousands of people from across the country to enjoy live music under the stars on the most romantic night of the year. 

Valentine, Texas has played a role in thousands of couples’ love stories. Even if you’ve never been to Valentine’s or mailed a letter to its post office, you can celebrate your love of Texas no matter where you and your sweetheart spend this Valentine’s Day.

Senator John Cornyn, a Republican from Texas, is a member of the Senate Finance, Intelligence, and Judiciary Committees.

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