Archive for February, 2014

An attorney we should hire

Dan Branch

It’s not every year that you get to vote for someone you know well in a statewide election. In the interest of making the most of a rare opportunity, I want to tell you about my good friend Dan Branch.

Some people really love politics and some people really love governing. Few people love both politics and governing. The politicians who end up doing something stupid in office? They’re usually those who love the challenge of getting elected but who get bored with the minutia of governing.

Dan Branch loves good politics but not at the expense of good governance. Good politics made him representative of one of the most influential parts of Texas (Downtown and Park Cities Dallas). Good governance has kept him there for more than a decade.

Good politics made him a state budget writer in his very first term in the Legislature. Good governance made him push to reform the state’s public school finance system – changes that provided relief to Robin Hood districts.

Good politics made him chairman of the Higher Education Committee in the Texas House of Representatives. Good governance led him to institute a matching grant program in order to spark more Tier One research institutions in Texas.

Branch’s politics and governing stem from his legal training and sharp business mind. After finishing SMU Law School, he worked a few years for a big law firm in New York City before returning to Texas to start his own small firm.

He has represented large and small businesses alike and has negotiated many complex real estate transactions. He arguably has a more extensive and well-rounded legal background then either of his two Republican primary opponents. But that’s not the main reason I’m voting for him.

I am voting for him because I have seen behind-the-scenes the caliber of the man he is. The way he treats his his wife and their five children, the way he treats a random constituent on a street.

If you schedule a meeting with him he may very well be a few minutes late because he has given his undivided attention to whomever has just crossed his path.

Branch is as conservative as you or I, though he may not show up on the far right propaganda. This is probably because votes are easily misconstrued in the Legislature.

Branch is a pragmatist who understands that when the people hand a political party the reins of government, they expect results not finger-pointing.

Results are why he will show up in the endorsements of the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas, the Texas Municipal Police Association, the Texas Association of Business and the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association, among others.

I know him well because I served on his staff during his early days in the Legislature. Though I worked for him, he routinely outworked me, often staying up late to absorb more information that would later lead to better decisions.

So my calculus is fairly simple: Sharp mind plus high integrity plus strong work ethic equals a really solid candidate for Texas Attorney General in the March 4th Republican primary. Early voting started today. Read more on Dan at

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Hating well this Valentine’s weekend

In his readable book, 9 Things You Simply Must Do to Succeed in Love and Life, psychologist Dr. Henry Cloud examines the lives of successful people he’s known. “Success” is defined by each person individually, not necessarily by fame or fortune.

Dr. Cloud usually writes books about mental and emotional pathology. However, 9 Things is about mental and emotional paths to healthy living, all trodden by the successful people he studied. Dr. Cloud devotes one chapter to the concept of hating the right things.

Like a strong immune system for the body, a fortress of the right kind of hate will protect body and soul from destruction. Proverbs 6 gives an example of good hating.

“There are six things the Lord hates, seven that are detestable to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies and a man who stirs up dissension among brothers.”

Most of us were raised to love all people and to overlook fault. We were trained to give people the benefit of the doubt. We’re all humans, after all. As a child, I even recall exploring the moral quandary, “Is it okay to hate the devil?”

While well-meaning, a one-sided approach to navigating life and relationships makes for a porous immunity.

Reality is we SHOULD hate evil and things that deserve a solid damning. For example, a manipulative spirit, self-centered instincts, the pursuit of ill-gotten gain or pleasure.

We may have to build this hate wall from scratch. And it won’t necessarily be easy. A lot of what we should hate is wrapped up in the misunderstood concept of love.

No word is more misused in modern culture than “love.” The hip hop artist veils his lust for the female form as a ballad of “love.” The college students think they’ve “made love” during a drunken escapade. Adulterers justify their behavior because they “love” each other.

After nearly thirteen years of marriage, I can assure you that if “feelings” are coming that “easy”, it’s probably not love. Love takes time and patience and commitment. Oh, yes, and a unilateral concern for the well-being of another.

Most modern love talk has a surplus of “my” language: my feelings, my desires, my happiness. In contrast, the “my’s” of a healthy marriage have a different focus: my selfishness, my insecurities, my need to grow.

To grow in authentic love we must hate the things that divide us. Things like: a sense of entitlement, an air of superiority, a critical spirit, worry about what other people think, fear of not measuring up or letting people down, an overextended schedule.

If I passionately hate the intruders that drive us apart, I will passionately love the things that attracted me in the first place: purity, loyalty, dignity and vitality.

These are what love is really made of, made possible by the hating of what it’s not.

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Adventures of a family dog

The local headline read, “City tightens leash on unrestrained dogs.”

My conscience prodded: “They are basically at your door. Turn yourself in. Take a plea bargain. Let someone help you. You can’t take care of him on your own.”

A year and a half before, the family system panted for a pet and I gave in. A trip to the county animal shelter yielded a yellow lab mix, “Hank”.

He was a puppy then. I knew he wouldn’t stay that way forever. I didn’t know he would one day gnaw on every earthly possession I own.

Now, nearly two years later, I’m stuck. Despite my rosy depictions of what his life would be like with a family on five acres, the kids won’t let go of him. And he won’t let go of our stuff.

He has just one rule when it comes to chewing: Only chew things of value.

Library books, baseball gloves, ladies dress shoes. New toys, yard tools, antique furniture. All equally delicious.

A rubber tire scrap? Not interested.

His absolute favorite things to chew through? Leashes. They’re just so restricting of his gypsy free spirit.

The back third of our postage stamp lot is no match for his energy. He has dug up sprinkler heads and torn up rope swings. He’s nosed through the fence and worn a dirt path between the gates. New Year’s Eve put him over the top.

We had gone to a party and neglected to kennel Hank in the garage. The firecrackers lit a fire under him. When we got home, there was no sign of him or a breach in the fence. He had scaled it without a trace.

The next day, an animal-loving neighbor worked her network. By late afternoon, we learned that Hank had spent half the night at the corner store and half in the city pound’s outdoor holding pen. The freezing temperatures did not concern me. Hank’s heart is stronger than a FEMA generator.

During the 18 hours of separation, my heart grow fonder. I surrendered my desire to trade the lab dog for a lap dog. I resolved to solve his energy issues another way: Take him running.

Bundled up and with an extra strong leash, I took off down the sidewalk. Hank drug me on a 100 yard dash before coming to a jolting halt. I had not yelled, “Heel!” He simply saw a bridge.

He hates bridges and will wrestle out of a collar before crossing one. It’s as if his previous owner had trapped him underneath one and then threw in firecrackers.

Hank’s troll-phobia has seriously diminished my potential running routes. I’m currently in the market for two treadmills. Can dogs run in place?

Despite my efforts to dissipate Hank’s wiggles, we lost him again over the weekend. After leaving the kids with a sitter for the evening, my wife and I returned to search house and yard for him. No sign.

The next morning, the kids knew nothing and Hank had not returned. As I prepared to follow the rescue steps from a month before, our kindergartner went to retrieve his backpack from the car.

Moments later, he burst through the front door with a backpack, a canine and some news, “Hank was in the car!”

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Cutting the cable & surviving

It started with my friend, the software engineer. This man knows technology. He recently acquired his own 3D printer. He was hanging at out at Radio Shack before hanging out at Radio Shack was cool. (I know what you’re thinking; I’m trying not to call him a nerd.)

He could land a rocket on the moon (actually, he’s done work for NASA) and he could land a gig at any company in Silicon Valley. But his most inspiring achievement to me? He cut the cable.

Whether satellite or cable, TV is as essential to some people as electricity. It’s a perceived fundamental right of first-world living. Many bachelors would relinquish water and sewer before they’d forego unlimited action movies and 24-hour sports. The old UHF and VHF are as foreign as UFOs.

But let’s be honest. How many TV channels does one need? “I never appreciated home shopping networks 1 through 17, but that number 18…WOW!”

We have all experienced this modern media paradox: The more that’s on, the less there is to watch. You know “channel surfing.” Have you ever heard “channel landing?”

Traditionally, the primary benefit of cable/satellite TV was the reception. The weather affects it less than antenna-delivered TV. That seems to be changing with the advent of digital broadcast programming.

Back to my software engineer friend. Last year, he installed a high-powered 25-foot antenna across his attic. Because of his position in the hill country, he gets Austin stations as well or better than San Antonio stations.

So, when I realized I was paying $700 a year for a bunch of stuff that can ruin my kids’ lives, I cut the cable, too. My antenna now rests proudly in the same conduit where the satellite once sat. My wife thinks it’s a bit obnoxious. I think it needs Christmas lights.

After the switch, I get less irritated when I must scramble to sensor the previews that come on during football. At least I’m not paying for that gunfight or love scene.

And lest you mourn the loss of your DVR to record a show or to pause live TV, another bright friend reminded me of a solution. Microsoft Windows 7 comes with a program called Media Center that acts as a DVR for broadcast TV.

With most movies and sitcoms now streaming via the Internet, the loss of the traditional cable/satellite TV connection is not a huge burden. Even without A&E, Si’s wisdom still finds its way into our home.

Thankfully, the Internet is moving us closer to a pay-for-performance model that allows viewers to subscribe simply to the content they want, not the trash they don’t. It is more precisely picking entertainment winners and losers and hopefully calling both to a higher standard.

Cable/satellite TV still has a stronghold on sports. ABC has moved many games to cable-only ESPN (Monday Night Football, for instance). Major League Baseball awarded one of its league championships series to cable channel TBS. (Fortunately, Sunday’s Super Bowl was still free for all.)

Undoubtedly, these moves are making cable more indispensable for the mega sports fan, not less. Others of us are patronizing sports bars for the big game or discovering that life actually goes on enjoyably without it.


Kevin Thompson writes weekly for The Boerne Star in the Texas hill country. Follow him at

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