Friday, June 24, 2016

The road less taken is now my own



I’ve learned to wait quietly without frustration. Well, about 50% of the time. I can’t say for certain when I first realized I reached this mature stage in life. I most certainly earned it the hard way, as it was not a skill acquired without the accompanying agony.

My list of lessons is rife with obstacles. Having an appointment only means that I am expected to be there for them, not the other way around. Changing lanes to get ahead of someone only invokes the age old law that the other line moves quicker. Try it at the grocery store for a mini-lesson and the lane you jumped to will need the Managers approval within seconds.

Need a quick anything?  Other than Chick-fil-A, you are pretty much out of luck and might as well hunker down and be patient. Cresting an overpass, you see nothing but red taillights and decide to zip down the feeder instead. It’s risky and you are a pro, but soon get caught up behind a fender bender that brings you to a 40 minute halt.

Our fast-paced life takes 2 weeks to grind down to a peaceful state and by that time, the “relaxing” trip to Pago Pago is over and we are still tense. We arrive back in Baytown and with no apparent transition go immediately back to 90 to nothing. There is only one solution besides moving permanently to Luckenbach – learn to slow down or burn up on reentry. You can’t change anything except your perception of your surroundings. The sooner you accept this hard cold fact, the quicker you can sit back and take one for the team.

Almost to the day, I retired 2 years ago and it’s taken me 2 years to slow down. Now some might laugh when I write or claim to have slowed down, but I am not talking about activities, but my perception of life around me. “Slow down bro; you are retired,” has become my mantra. I can “hang out” at the auto parts store and chat with the counter person now instead of ricocheting in one door and out the other like I’ve done since I was 15.

It’s raining and the yard needs mowing? No biggie, I’ll do it tomorrow or the next day. That problem will repeat itself countless times and it is nothing to get agitated over. Yes, I realize it isn’t one issue that gets us tied in knots; it’s the stack of 15 problems that set us off like a firecracker. Our normal routines as working people have a queue of problems waiting to ambush us every single day and where does this frustration come to the surface? When we are forced to wait on almost anything.

I have to confess I am not always successful. As an example, this week I was needing to buy an item at one of the home improvement stores.  I searched like a Yorkie going for a rat for all of maybe 10 minutes and the staff was having a large motivational gathering. I couldn’t get help because they were busy getting pumped up so they could help customers. I went to the professional lumber area and stood quietly at the counter and watched 4 clerks stare at a 5th one as they tried to thread a spool of paper on one of the registers.

I’ll be honest and say I didn’t last much more than 60 seconds before I walked off shaking my head. I was within 5 feet of them and they never took their eyes off the paper spool-challenged coworker.  As I walked away, I took a few deep breaths and made my way to the part of the store that ultimately held the tool I needed. When I checked out, the lady asked, “Did you find everything you were looking for?” I chuckled and went out the door as happy as I would have been if someone had put the item in my hand. I deserve an award for patience.

A good deal of my acquired new maturity is due to the time I spend at the gym named after a clock. I can burn frustration with calories and by the time I leave, I simply have little fight left in me – and that carries over to the rest of the day. Sure, taking a drug or something else would be easier, but that is a path I want to avoid. Besides, I get a good blast of endorphins as a reward and I like that opiatic hormone.
Running all over like a fried chicken with its head cut off will not save any of us any credible amount of time and only make us more agitated. Some of us simply need a break to gather our wits, but that my friend is for another column.

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Friday, June 17, 2016

When I am old and losing my hair



Well, it’s finally happened and to me of all people.  I’ve hit 64 years of age. It happened yesterday and felt like any other day except my knee was throbbing. The Beatles gave me my first warning way back in 1967 about this time of life warning about losing my hair and being old. Being old. Wow. I guess 64 is old. Younger people think so.

What exactly is old anyway? My good friend Charles Kelm drives a 1997 Chevy pick-up I told him was an old truck. I worked on a Windows XP machine that is old because of the new operating systems and it’s only about 6 years from purchase date. Both the truck and computer still work, but they are slower than current models.

Yea, that describes me… but the older I get, the better I used to be. That’s what I tell people. When Chuck Norris was about 70, he was asked if he can still run 5 miles and his answer was right on the money. “Yea. It just takes me longer.”

“I stepped outta the shower and I got a good look at myself
Pot-bellied, bald-headed, well I thought I was somebody else 
I caught my reflection in the mirror on the back of the bathroom door
I just don't look good naked anymore”

I was at Clyde Casey’s house working on his computer when he told me he is 91.  My youngish 64 looked pretty weak in comparison. Clyde tells me until a few years ago, he could fix his own computer, but these days…

It seems like every day, something else is breaking on my body, so he really impresses me. Granted most of my injuries are self-inflicted including my current knee problem.

I have arrived at the painful conclusion that I can no longer do plyometric exercises. “Plyos” are exercises in which muscles exert maximum force in short intervals of time, with the goal of increasing power. The only thing that is increasing on me is the regular exploding of my joints. This time it resulted in a trip to the VA for an x-ray and a future MRI. The doc says I am structurally sound, but I may have torn a ligament or tendon. Great.

"I went down to a nude beach for some seaside fun
Stretched out in my birthday suit soakin' up the sun
Then somebody yelled, "There's an old white whale, washed up on the shore.
Sure, I just don't look good naked anymore"

I pride myself on being a fast learner, but in some areas I am a sucker for punishment and evidently slightly retarded in my ability to learn from mistakes. I hurt myself on Monday, but kept going 90 to nothing until 3 days later I couldn’t get out of bed. I thought I could work it out. Don’t laugh, because all of us break the rules when it comes to common sense concerning ourselves.

I simply compounded the problem with repeated classes until I couldn’t bend my leg and by Friday afternoon I was tapping out and crying “uncle”.  I’m almost 64 for crying out loud - and it took this latest act of blind self-abuse to wake me up to that fact.

Speaking of the older I get, the better I used to be, I’ve taken to explaining to my 3 year old grandson, “When I was your age, I already had chores,” or “When I was your age, I was already running a trap line.” It has no obvious effect on him and isn’t actually the truth, but I enjoy reinforcing my false sense of indestructibility and endurance.

I’m waiting on the day when due to my advanced age I am not accountable for what comes out of my mouth and can get away with slightly ribald and delusional comments. Of course, my bride will not be present, or she will see straight through it. “Oh don’t listen to that old curmudgeon; he’s so old he fell off his dinosaur.” Or maybe I’ll write a lot of letters to the Baytown Sun supporting Hillary Clinton and people will know I’ve lost all sense of reasoning and stop reading my fantasies.

The real answer is to modify my physical activities to a more moderate approach. You would think that as many times as I’ve fallen out of a tree would make me more cautious about climbing them in the first place. The real chore is to recognize the trees for what they are – something for a younger person.

My competitive nature makes this difficult, so I simply must cut out the boot camp I attend and stick with weight lifting. It will be difficult at first, but its time has come.

* Ben Colder - I Just Don't Look Good Naked Anymore

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Friday, June 10, 2016

Oh to be sixteen again!





I live a life of self-discipline 99% of the time. It is self-imposed and often causes distress to my bride especially when I’m driving and pointing out other peoples liberties. I admit this, but what really cooks her proverbial goose is when I’m not. This week was one of those times and you know what? It felt good.

I was 15 when I bought my first car and I can assure you, my buddy Dandy Don Cunningham will follow this story with great interest, as will other car-loving folks of the 60’s. Was my first car a 1967 Pontiac GTO with a 389 C.U. motor? Or a kick booty 68 Chevelle 396 Super Sport like Butch Hodges has? No.

It was a 1963 maroon Corvair Monza with two 1-barrel carbs and an honest to god 4 on the floor! I drove that car like a literal scalded ape. I say that because I am convinced that is what a scalded ape would look like if it had 4 tires and was driven by a 16 year old male. My mom would watch me drive slowly down the asphalt road in North Georgia and I would turn off onto a hilly dirt road and ease out of sight.

At this point I would become a seasoned dirt track driver for the doomed Chevrolet Corvair; the car Ralph Nader said was “Unsafe at any speed”. Supposedly, the rear coil springs would fold under turning stress, but I could never duplicate the dangerous maneuver, no matter how many donuts I cut. I would have that rear-engine 4 banger rapped out and around and around I would go until I calmly returned to the pavement and deliberately drove home under the speed limit.

Years would pass including the Vietnam War and my part in it and I came out the other side being a very different person. No more risks or shenanigans that were potentially out of my control for me contrary to appearances. A famous dare-devil, which incidentally was killed doing a stunt, explained his life like this: “We remove all possibility of an accident before the stunt, and then do it.”

Well, one stunt had an unexpected variable and that was all it took for his safe stunt to kill him. My act of irresponsibility was along the same line of thought and worked out for me with nothing more than egg on my face, or rather a filthy Jeep stuck in a ditch. I reasoned beforehand that I were to get stuck, one of the passing trucks would lend a hand.

Now before I give the slippery details, let me state that I did not tread heavily. I didn’t leave giant tractor-turning-over ruts. I was cool and calculating and made a common error of wrong approach or I would have gone in one side and out the other. In off-roading, you almost always tackle a depression at an angle and that is what I did and nice and slow. Only in professional racing and car commercials do you blast through an obstacle.

Easing down into the 4 feet of water-filled ditch, my passenger-side tire slid to the left and dropped me into the ditch.  If I would have tackled the ditch head-on with power, I could have blasted through, but left a lot of disturbance. I drove up and down the ditch and soon realized that I could not get out. At that point, I waded out of my Jeep to the back and pulled out 70 feet of chain and straps and a shackle.  I hooked them up to the front and pulled the long line up on the road to await extraction by what turned out to be another Jeep driven by Shaun Holloway.

I watched burly pick-up truck after truck blow by with not so much as a wave - to my disappointment in my fellow Texans. The day before I had rescued an 82 year old lady and her son from a stalled car in the rain and the very day I was stuck, I changed a flat tire on I-10 and Sjolander for 2 ladies in distress.  The Jeeper pulled me out after a bit of strategy and I was on my way.

Now, did I learn my lesson?  Yea.  I learned this lesson 40 years ago, but it did feel good to revisit my teen years. I can’t say if this line of reasoning will appear again anytime soon, well, maybe in another 40 years.

Friday, June 03, 2016

Speed Reading Isn't What It Used To Be...



Years ago, there was an advertisement for the Evelyn Wood Seven-Day Speed Reading and Learning Program. I checked Amazon and you can still buy a used hardbound copy for a penny, plus about 4 bucks for shipping. The course has been around since 1959 and although I never read it, I heard it was pretty effective.

For Millennials, thank the Good Lord there is an Ap for it. Hardbound books are so cumbersome!

According to the advertisement, "In just minutes, you'll notice a real difference in your reading speed, and in succeeding chapters of this seven-day program you'll get the secrets of effective note-taking, find tips for instantly improving your writing, and much more."

Now doing a tad of research, most college age readers do about 200 to 400 words per minute. Using one of the many newer versions of speed reading hasn’t really improved on Evelyn Wood’s method and this includes the new applications for Smartphones and pads.

And to cut through all the studies, the bottom line is as reading speed increases, comprehension drops. This means you're not taking in the information, which defeats the purpose of reading.  I am a fairly fast reader and probably fall into the 400 wpm group, but as they say, my mileage may vary. I pride myself on pushing comprehension over how fast I can get through a book, article, or fact sheet. I routinely read my weekly submission 5 or more times before I send it in.

Now here is a trend I’ve noticed over the number of years I’ve written my column – people are not really comprehending what I write and on a fairly regular basis. If it is happening to me, it is a general problem, rather than a specific one. In other words, people flash across a column picking words and phrases and if it stabs at something they are passionate about, they automatically start building a defense and shut off the rest of the column.  Never mind that it doesn’t attack one of their hallow halls, but possibly supports what they actually believe.

Maybe the real problem is I shouldn’t write about sensitive subjects where people have to actually ruminate and comprehend the content. My friend Robert Prall (RIP) once told me I use too many big words and write about stuff people are uneasy about. “You force them to skip over your columns.” I told him it was not my plan to flower down my columns so people can feel all gushy inside. My intent is to stimulate people into defining what they truly believe instead of blindly supping the politically correct lukewarm pabulum that is spoon-fed us on a daily basis.

Here is an example, two April Fools Days ago, I wrote a spoof column on a dog catcher who was illegally rounding up dogs and selling them to be consumed. The story was so hyperbolic, that most 5th graders would have seen right through it. The reaction I got though was outrage and my managing editor, the police department, and my personal telephone all began to ring off the hook demanding resolution.
My column had pushed their bat-crazy button and comprehension went right out the window. This happened because they read just enough to get ticked off and stopped comprehending altogether. The same thing happened recently when I said crime was my primary concern, not the media-blitzed idea of transgender bathrooms. I read the angry, condescending, and finger-pointing responses with both sadness and moments of reflection. How could people draw their conclusions from what I wrote? The answer is they didn’t. They drew them from their own prejudices and biases.

My column wasn’t an endorsement of transgender bathrooms at all. It was about my personal attitude about what is important to me when I venture out into the city in my car, or enter a store. I worry about people driving their 4000 pound missile through the side of my Jeep because they have their nose glued to a little glowing glass panel instead of the road in front of them.

I worry about someone robbing me at gun point or evading the law in their car and going 70 miles an hour down Garth Road. To me, I have a giant dose of common sense and my preoccupation with avoiding crime has nothing to do with a sign on a bathroom door when I walk into a department store in comparison. To me, this is not even a Christian issue and I am appalled that I would be accused of having no values. For thousands of years, people simply walked into the woods to do their business and for anyone who leaves the sterile environment we call a city, they still do – and there are no signs saying men on the left, women on the right. Using a toilet is using a toilet, nothing more or less.

That last paragraph is rather lengthy and years ago I was directed to write 2 or at most, 3 short sentence paragraphs, because “people cannot comprehend anything longer than that.” Prove me wrong folks. I believe the vast majority of our readers do the math when it comes to comprehending, but the next time you angrily bang out a response to something one of us has written, please take the time to actually read the intent of the writer.


Maybe the real problem is I shouldn’t write about sensitive subjects where people have to actually
Bert Marshall is the owner of OurBaytown.com and a Baytown resident since 1974. Reach Marshall at baytownbert@gmail.com.
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Friday, May 27, 2016

The problem is you


Over the years I’ve witnessed many people pointing fingers at individuals and explaining “that character right there is a real problem.” Heckfire, I’ve done it myself more times than I can count. Guilty! I’ve observed certain individuals and was sure they were the reason I felt like getting them out of the picture would make life much better for, well, everyone. The final solution!

Pondering this line of thought, I remember the venerated western writer Louis L’Amour’s words of wisdom in one of his many dime novels. Without digging through a stack of a hundred paperbacks, I will paraphrase it. “Many times thinking killing someone would solve your problems, you will find that a year down the road, they are not even in the picture.”

On top of that, it might just be… that they are not the problem at all. It might just be you. A good test of this is if you have a long list of aggravating people who need to vanish from your existence. What?  Is it possible that I need an attitude adjustment?  Maybe. After all, there are a steady supply of annoying people out there aren’t there? Pointing them out should be a prime objective as a community service!

Right here in Baytown we have a number of community activists who make it their mission to point out anything and everything that is wrong. They are so good at it that they never contribute anything other than negatives. They are the self-righteous pitbulls of holy community awareness and are quick to speak for the masses. Unfortunately, they are about the only people who see them as they see themselves.

Do they do well the majority of the time?  I imagine. Would it be better if they offered solutions? Definitely. Would they be perceived by their peers in a more positive light? Absolutely.

I have been self-righteously guilty of thinking my way was the only correct path anyone should choose and in my roundabout (read direct) way, I have forced this on anyone who would hesitate. I shake my head now realizing after the fact that I was often off by a mile. Fortunately for my sake, I am introverted enough to evaluate my behavior and make changes. I am not always right. In fact, I may just be breaking even.

Recently on a public forum I was slandered and called dishonest with a very negative reputation and a “crappy human being”. It was vicious and unwarranted and as far as I know, 99% untrue. To my credit, I did not retaliate and friends came to my defense. However, being attacked like that, however untrue it is, still hurts. I asked legitimate questions and in return was verbally abused by the very person tasked with answering them.

What?  Is it even possible I could be the real problem and not that nutjob?
The forum owner/moderator friend of mine was so distressed over the malicious words that they went to the emergency room with a stress attack. He then filed a formal complaint with the parent organization over this person who holds a position with them. The whole episode caused me to look at myself to see if I had acted inappropriately. Did I bait him a bit? Yes. Was I mean spirited? No. Do I hold a position in the organization that qualifies me to ask these questions? Yes. In retrospect, I simply wanted answers for his apparent inconsistencies concerning me and others.

The bottom line is this is one of those characters I began the column over. Is it me or is it them? It’s probably both of us. Red ants and black ants. We collide. Should I shoulder the blame even if he won’t? I will. I will because I want to take the low road and because I realize I may have built this hornet nest along the way. Relationships with our coworkers, acquaintances, and friends are something none of us should take for granted and I of all people should be more careful of the words and text I project.
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Sunday, May 22, 2016

Rock your body!


I’ve always been pretty active and just before I retired about 2 years ago, I joined 24 Hour Fitness on Garth Road in Baytown, Texas. I did the push/pull method for about 6 months and I did it in earnest; not fooling around. Then, I took my first Spin class. Holey moley, I all but died 15 minutes into the 1 hour class.

For the first 6 months, I failed at some point in the class and simply tried to finish it. Along the way, I picked up Les Mills Body Pump and a boot camp class usually making a total of 4-6 classes a week. The point I am trying to make is that all of these classes are very difficult, but with persistence, anyone can see major results by simply plowing through on a regular basis.

This morning I am going to Body Pump and about 10 minutes into it, I am going to be sweating and wondering why I am putting myself through this torture. Come join me. Take a free class. Use me as a reference. Classes are Wednesdays and Saturdays 0930 for Body Pump.

After all the times I failed to go 100% in Spin class, through persistence, I am now a certified indoor cycle instructor.  So, you see?  Persistence has paid off.  The photo above is from May 3, 2016 after one of Page Morton's excellent Spin classes.  She's the cutey pie in front with the white hat, chunkin' the deuce.

We have Spin, Zumba, Aqua, Strength, and cardio dance class to offer.
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Friday, May 20, 2016

Social change has nothing on crime




The Hippie Revolution was going to ruin America as we know it.
In a moment of clarity the other night, I came to a startling realization. In our current society, what really bothers me is not immorality, commercials on TV, political gouging, or so-called progressive social adjustments. What bothers me is the criminal strata that festers in our world. I was thinking about what I read and see in the news and our country’s current fascination with transgender bathrooms when I made this connection.

Before I go further, let me define what I mean by crime. This term to me takes in every sort of illegal behavior from international swindling to petty theft and everything in between. It’s the 17 year old kid going through your car’s glove compartment to the accountant bilking cents on the dollar from clients.

It’s the unscrupulous car salesman to the serial rapist. It’s that immoral preacher who preys on their congregation to the person who makes me keep my doors and windows locked on my vehicle and house.

Recently I watched a video someone made of a beggar sitting alongside the road in a 3rd world country. A motorcyclist stopped and the man pulled out his wallet to give an offering. A second motorbike drove by and a man snatched the wallet from his hand. The bike driver leaped off the bike and gave chase on foot. The beggar threw off his ragged cover, hopped on the vacant bike and sped off.

The now bike-less driver ran back and pulling out his cell phone, tried to call the police, only to lose his phone to yet another motorcyclist speeding behind him. It was organized crime for sure and the Good Samaritan was left without anything he had when he arrived but his clothing. Do you think this guy was wondering about transgender bathrooms at this instant? His dilemma was far more pressing and that is my point.

In so many ways I think we as Americans get manipulated and steered into getting upset over things that really don’t matter. As a prime example, we are told Bud-Lite is the beer to drink and we buy it, or Miller, Coors, etc., even though it is recognizably an inferior product. People actually get in fights over this very thing. However, their advertising dollars are so shrewdly spent that by golly, Budweiser can rebrand as “America” for the summer and it becomes patriotic to drink the stuff. Never mind that good old Bud is owned by a foreign country.

We get in a major tiff over Bruce Jenner having a sex change and which bathroom transgender people may use and totally ignore the fact that no one looks at each other in our bathrooms and cross-dressers and transgender people go into a stall, close the door, do their business, and leave just like they always have and nothing has or will change in that regard. Yet now it’s a major issue of perversion and people are all slap your face upset over it? Really?

I can’t remember the last time I made eye contact with another human in a bathroom and as far as I know, none of them have open stalls. They are private areas where we take care of a bodily function and leave. Heck, I don’t talk to other people in the bathroom either. My only concern when I enter a public bathroom is if someone is going to rob me and the sign on the door will not change whether this happens or not.

I hate crime. I hate perverts. I hate the way drugs have come into this country by invitation and I really hate how there are so many people trying to get what I worked for - for free.  The often bogus phone calls I get where someone is attempting to access my bank account “for charity” makes me wish I could push a button and permanently mark the person on the other end as a thief. One guy told me he was an IT professional and I told him “No you are not, I am.” He proceeded to use the most profane and foul language directed at me and my mother and slammed the phone down. All I got out of it was the satisfaction of calling him out.

It is time to quit being told what we think is bad and do a little sorting on our own. What really matters? What is truly important in our lives? Is it transgender bathrooms? Not to me. I lived in a 3rd World country where men and women freely use the same bathroom and I saw nothing and surely didn’t get a sexual thrill out of it. I did my business and left, just like everyone else. Why is it in this country that if it even remotely involves the genitals, it is vulgar and forbidden and yet we feast on violence like it is dessert? I think we have it backwards.

If this country became as polarized against criminals and less worried about stupid distractive social change, we could make a young criminal think 3 times before they headed down that path. Somehow, we have demonized using the bathroom and made it a perversion and all around the world, people simply take care of business and everyone ignores them.
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Friday, May 13, 2016

Better safe than sorry


Is this your worst nightmare? If so, you better be prepared.

I was asleep and then suddenly… awake. My brain was foggy and the clock read 2:14am. There it is again – the sound of broken glass! Grabbing my pistol from the nightstand it dawned on me that I had neglected to set the alarm. My wife was sleeping soundly and I made my way to the bedroom door and stepped out into the hallway at the top of the stairs.

No one is supposed to be in my house but my wife and I and there at the bottom of the stairway is a man. His hand flashes and I fire and fire again and watch as he falls backwards. The sound is tremendous in the quiet house and I realize I just shot a home intruder.

This is one of the scenarios of the simulator training I underwent at the College of the Mainland last week. The instructor is Baytownian Daniel Blackford. He teaches deadly force training to a wide range of students and law-officers in a modern facility at the college. His expertise and credentials are as long as my arm and I have jokingly told him more than once, that if I win a large lottery, he will be my bodyguard for life.

I spent two hours with him in a one-on-one training session where we exchanged ideas about the difference in my way of handling bad guys when it is only one and they are not armed and the police way of doing the same thing. They differed considerably. On the scenarios where I was a policeman, I responded sluggishly; often hesitating or totally confused on how to handle anything from a domestic dispute to a suicide bridge jumper.

When the bad guy showed he possessed a weapon, I pretty much got the draw on him and shot him first. The simulator shows bullet placement and believe it or not, blood. It is very accurate. Another time I approached the back door of a warehouse and a man armed with an AK-47 stepped out and I fired 7 rounds, hitting his body armor a couple of times and missing him with the rest. I would have lost that confrontation and I could have sworn I was aiming true.

As a law officer, I arrived at a motel to answer a domestic dispute and could hear yelling coming from the second floor. A woman stepped out screaming and I drew my firearm. As a side note, Daniel told me sometimes police academy students have to practice drawing their firearm for 45 minutes before he is satisfied, but I think I passed that one quickly. At one time years ago, I worked a fast draw rig to the point that I wore out the six-shooter and it had to be repaired.

The woman lunged out of the open door with a knife stuck in her chest! Immediately a very angry man came out holding a swaddled baby! I’ll be honest, he kept screaming at me to shut-up and possibly tossing or hurtling the baby to the ground. It confused me. The woman was most likely bleeding out and screaming and I did the only thing I knew to do and that was holster the firearm. This continued for at least 2 minutes before the man laid the baby down and was distraught and surrendered. I felt overwhelmed.

Daniel Blackford is qualified
Daniel told me this was a no win situation, but all too common and it didn’t take me long to realize being a cop is putting yourself in danger and under a microscope for everyone to second guess your actions. He told me I did the right thing.

A couple more scenarios came up that after I reacted and yes, shot more bad people before they got me, we would discuss the situation. Being a martial artist and trained in self-awareness, I would point out that I wouldn’t allow myself to be put in the situation depicted. He understood this, being a man who can handle himself. My bride is always telling me I think too much, but it has kept me out of harms way more than a few times.

I’ve touched on the psychology of defending yourself in the past and if you remember, I stressed that no matter how much training you receive, the innate nature to stand and resist cannot really be taught. You either have it, or don’t and when that time comes, only the situation will determine your response. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t train, it means just the opposite and the simulation exposure offered at the college puts you in a real life situational environment.

Friendly professional training
I am a firm believer in going through life never having to point and shoot my firearm at anyone. I don’t sit around and imagine what it would be like either. I can pretty much tell you it would be a nightmare and something I do not want to relive countless times as I wonder if I made the right decision. On the other hand, I don’t want to be a victim, so I will continue to be vigilant when out and about and take precautions as needed.

If you are licensed to carry, I strongly suggest you take a course such as this, whether in Texas City or somewhere else.

For more information on this realistic training call 409-933-8485 and ask for Daniel Blackford.
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Friday, May 06, 2016

To Preserve or Plunder?




I was watching the fascinating series by Ken Burns on PBS about the development of our US National Parks.  It is narrated by Peter Coyote and I could listen to him read the back of a cereal box and enjoy it. The documentary offers a lengthy discourse of how Yosemite and Yellowstone National Parks were created and shows how John Muir became their staunch defender.

Teddy Roosevelt was also instrumental in the education and awaking to protect our natural resources. The big difference in the two men’s philosophy was that Muir wanted us to leave everything alone and Roosevelt took more of a management line. In my opinion, the management route is the better choice.

I found it sad and in other ways, totally amazing how ignorant the general population was a hundred years ago about preservation and in some ways how little we have learned. Some attitudes a century ago are still with us, albeit subtly different. Mr. Coyote explained how people would come to Yellowstone Park and using a tool, engrave their name in the stones of deposits and it was almost an obsession and difficult to stop.

There were no laws in place to restrict such destruction and finally the US Army was called in to try and police the parks. People just didn’t get it, leaving huge piles of debris wherever they camped and evidence of their passage. There were no Tread Lightly creeds in place and animal life was seen as something to use and destroy at will.

Everything was perceived as inexhaustible and for the pleasure of the individual at that moment. The idea of sustainability wasn’t even in the remotest corner of the average visitor’s mind.  Just to rehash, sustainability is the quality of not being harmful to the environment or depleting natural resources, and thereby supporting long-term ecological balance. The near extinction of the American wolf interrupted this natural balance to the point that Yellowstone National Park was dying. It wasn’t until biologists convinced the world that they were essential and after reintroduction, the Park began to grow again.

Who would have thought reducing one species would have this destructive power over an entire area?

Now.  What in the world does all of this have to do with us, right here in mega-Baytown? A whole lot. The reason I say a whole lot is because this same destructive behavior and short-sightedness persists right here in our voting population. Some of us are habitual trash throwers. Everywhere we go, we dump evidence of our passing. I pick up debris and litter like it is a full time job. In April alone, I attended 5 trash bash events including the Adopt a site on Blue Heron Parkway that the SETX Geocachers have adopted. 
With Total Petrochemicals, we picked up enough debris by the Lynchburg Ferry to fill an entire industrial scrap pan and this is done every year. Every year. There are enough alcohol bottles and cans on the side of roads to prove that for every person caught drinking and driving there are probably 25 times that number who are getting away with it. For obvious reasons, they throw it out the window of their vehicles for people like me to pick up. I wish I had a touch-DNA kit and I would turn the evidence over to the cops.

When the subject comes up about creating more sustainable parks and walkways, there are old-world thinkers who gripe and complain that we don’t need them and then turn right around and wonder why so many people are in poor health or overweight. They can’t see the forest because there are no trees in their life. They drive their cars and trucks to point A and back to B and then point out that if they want a nice place to go, they’ll simply drive out of town. This philosophy was presented to me this week.

In so many words it was explained that no matter what we do here, we will always just be a redneck oil town. My immediate thought was “Yup, as long as people like you are here, it surely will be.” We live the life of electricity and gasoline. Remove either and you are on foot. You suddenly get an up close and personal look at the Nature you have conveniently ignored. On top of that you get to meet the people who have resided next to you for the last 10 years.

I don’t want to live in a 1984-ish industrial complex, a slum, ghetto, or a place with cookie cutter tiny unimaginative parks. I also want the option to travel on foot and get a little shoe time instead of always thinking my vehicle is my only way to get around. Our waterways need the same consideration, where fish are edible, beach and coastline is recreational, and families can launch their canoes and kayaks on the creek or bayou and explore nature.
Ray Tallant fishing on the ship channel.
That old philosophy that every berry out there is to be eaten immediately needs to go with the wind. We as citizens have the responsibly to make life here better and we can’t do it without adjusting our way of seeing the possibilities.
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Friday, April 29, 2016

Life Changers, Game Breakers



 I wish I could honestly say that I have no regrets. If I could, it wouldn’t be close to the truth.  It wouldn’t even be 50 yards from the truth, whatever that means, but you get the point. What I can admit is I’ve done a lot of things wrong and although it would warp the time-space continuum, I wish I could right a few wrongs. I also wish I could reward those choice people who have shaped my life, but are now in my distant past.

One in particular was a school teacher in Morgan, Utah. I do not remember her name or face, but she made a huge impact on my life simply by giving me a book. My Dad’s job caused us to move frequently, so much of my school years are foggy memories of only faces and classes.

It was Christmas morning somewhere around 1962 and I rode my new bike through the snow to her house to show it off. I didn’t really know anyone and for some reason, it was important for me to show it to her. She was delighted and for my effort, she gave me a one volume very thick illustrated encyclopedia. I loved that book and poured through it daily and this was probably one reason I still love to read. We moved away and I never had a chance to thank her.

I think I was born with a rebellious nature, distrusting authority from a young age. A psychiatrist would probably say it was because of my dad and he’d probably be right. My dad always worked and worked and worked to support a family of 5 kids. Being the oldest boy, I usually had a spanking coming for one of our offenses and mainly my transgressions.

It wasn’t until my early 20’s that this flaw was pointed out to me by a sage of a man named George Theobald. I worked with George at ARCO Chemical in Channelview. He became a mentor to me and was wise beyond his 40 plus years. “Your problem is you resent authority, Bert. If you could ever conquer that, you will be a lot happier man.”

George was a farrier on the side, shoeing horses and opened a feed store up Highway 90 way and I lost contact with him. I wish I could meet up with him again and thank him for the influence he had on my life.

My dad is no longer with us and he’s another I should have expressed gratitude to. Sometimes those who are closest to us are the hardest ones to share our innermost feelings. My dad was not an affectionate man by today’s standards, but I never doubted he loved me or cared about my future. He was a product of his own dad and that meant never letting up on his expectations of me, often using ridicule to try to force me forward.

It sounds horribly incorrect by today’s standards, but like I said, even though I didn’t like it, I never doubted his love for me and our family. I think I was about 45 the first time I remember hearing him say he loved me. It was quite a shock, but not overly uncommon from his generation I’ve learned. Dad taught my siblings and me many valuable skills and lessons and it was done by example. It was years later that I realized the depth of his instruction. Maybe that is why I am drawn to being an instructor in a number of disciplines like Bible studies, Hunter education, Martial arts, or my latest Indoor cycling.

My mom is still the guiding hand of the family, even in her 80’s. My youngest brother never fails to amaze me with his ability to properly decipher any situation. He is the Perry Mason of the family and I learn something from him every time we chat.

Throughout my past are literally hundreds of people who have helped me change direction and it would be mind-bending to attempt to track them down. Some spoke to me and offered their opinion. Other times I heard them speak and decided to adopt that line of thought. Here is the summation of this week’s column; you never know when you will meet one of these good folks, so try to latch onto them. Let them know what they are saying is important and right then thank them.

Tomorrow may be too late.

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Thursday, April 28, 2016

The Evergreen property acquisition in Baytown


Good Evening Bert,
Let me see if I can shed some light on the progress of the Evergreen property acquisition. 
The original intent was to stay away from the City owning any golf facility simply due to the fact that there is only a very small profit margin or hope to break even on a municipal golf course.  But as luck would turn out, both the Goose Creek Country Club and the Evergreen Golf Course landed on the front door of City Hall, both on the same day.  The first of which was Goose Creek CC whose board members have been trying to get the City to purchase and take over that operations.  This was not going to be considered and the City could not make an investment in that endeavor as it was an unknown.  Unknown to the fact that we knew that other municipal golf courses has to be subsidized by the municipality.  Good example of that is Eagle Point, La Porte and Pasadena courses.  Each of those cities has to subsidize their facilities to keep them a float.  That was something we were not quite prepared to do. 
Then when Evergreen Golf Course was presented to the City, we all knew that we had to pull back on the reins and think about this.  If we let both of these courses go by the way side, the City of Baytown would be the largest municipality in the state without a golf facility.  So before we jumped out there, Council and City Management wanted hard facts about the possibility of one of the two golf facilities becoming a municipal facility and thus an added asset for the City of Baytown.  The City hired a research group to look at the two courses and return a report about the strengths of the two sites and projected success/failure likelihood.  The report returned to the City in a since stated that Goose Creek CC would not be successful and would take a lot of revenue to keep it active.  Evergreen Golf Course on the other hand would be a success and due to the location and future plans around that facility, stated that it would not only break even with the right amount of investment, but could possibly turn some revenue back to the City.  Not in large amounts, but the potential of success was there.
After receiving the report, Council and City Management took the consideration of purchasing the Evergreen facility with the help of the residential developer, who by the way did not want the golf portion for the residential development.  Long story short, the developer made a proposal for the residential development to include a newly revise and revamped golf course.  The only items that were to stay intact was the club house/grill, driving range, putting green and all the fairways/holes around the original residential addition already in place.  Every thing else was going to be revise or new.  As agreed with the developer, the City was going to make the initial investment and the developer was going to purchase back from the City any property it needed to develop the residential portions.  The City was gong to pay for the new design and instillation of the golf course. 

The estimated investment was to the tune of $12mm.  Council could have passed an ordinance to get that going but Council wanted the Citizens of Baytown to weigh in on the matter and thus we offered a bond program for vote by the Citizens.  As you know that vote barely failed.  I believe this was due to the water meter impact issues and the disgruntled Goose Creek CC Citizens.  Be that as it may, it was no longer viable due to the voice of the Citizens.
As time progressed, another offer was presented to the City to purchase a portion of the property and this was considered by Council and City Management.  We all agree that we could purchase this property and had the authority to do so.  Also agree was to honor the will of the vote and not purchase the property only to put a golf course back in.  This certainly would not set well with the Citizens and Council never attempted to do that.  Instead the property was acquired due to the fact that we could later develop the land into something useful and we do want to do something to the south end of Baytown. 

Therefore the property was acquired with the intent to develop it into something useful for the public to use.  So present plans are to use as open space with walking and bike and trails through the property.  The City also negotiated with Union Pacific to be able to acquire the rail road bridge (across Hwy 146) and track property that goes west from the northern end of the Evergreen course.  The City intends to make this part of the concrete walk/bike trail into the internal part of the city and tie into the north east corner of the Evergreen property.  In addition, the Goose Creek ISD discuss the need to keep their golf programs alive and therefore the driving range and putting greens will remain open in order to keep the high school golf teams practicing. 
So in a nut shell, that is how we arrived at what we have today. 
Hope this will do and if you need more information, there certainly is more I can give you.  The main thing to understand is that the City was very open with the vote, the future plans of the bond project was not properly vetted through the community and what the future site was to become.  Therefore the Citizens voted it down.  Council and City Management fully respected the vote and will of the people.
Thank you,
Bob Hoskins
District 5 councilman

Friday, April 22, 2016

My Smartphone is making me stupid



There. I said what a lot of us are thinking; my Smartphone is making me stupid - or stupider, I can’t decide.  I can’t or won’t make that call. I see evidence of it every day not only of those around me, but in my own life.

We wonder what time it is, glance at our phone to see and immediately forget.  The reason we do this is we know we can look again and again and again. The same goes for the date and the day of the week. Can’t remember a fact? Just speak it into our phone and a voice will explain it, then we can forget it again. Why remember anything? Its like voting in the primary; it isn’t necessary.

On Facebook, we don’t have to actually think or come up with something original (like a thought), because we can “like” or “share” and now, “react!” (Boom!) to something some genuine smart person wrote or said. Better yet we can post an emoji or animated .gif that really and truly is profound and expressive of our foggy thoughts. The funny pictures are more fun than whatever we are thinking.

We have arrived at the enlightened state where people walk off cliffs or drive their cars into light poles and up on medians because their Smartphone is steering their short attention. We’ve learned the once lost art of burning rubber to make it through that yellow light after 30 seconds of green has evaded us while we stare at the little illuminated screen.

Our Smartphones have given us something to do with our hands when we are idle – forget cigarettes (they are so old school!). What? I am supposed to read a magazine at the doctor’s office or make casual conversation with another patient? (Seriously rolling my eyes here.) If I want to be social, I’ll text you (a lot less germs you know).

Then there is this: nomophobia. Nomophobia is the fear of being out of mobile phone contact. “What?  No signal?  MOMMY!  Uh, I can’t even breathe! Can’t anyone see I’m dying here! This is serious! I mean, like help!”

How ridiculous. More often than not I leave my phone in my gym bag or my Jeep and 3 hours later I retrieve it. Sometimes it spends the night inside one of those 2 dark places and I think I’m fairly well connected. If I have a meeting or sit in church, I just turn it off or leave it in my vehicle. I’m even one of those rare people who doesn’t wear headphones in the gym or when I am jogging and or riding my bike.

As I’ve said before, I repair PC computers. Over the last 2 years this has became sporadic at best as more people abandon their laptop and desktops for a handheld “computer-like” device. This is fine for many banal activates, but there is no handheld substitute for a sit in front of computer.

Try writing a page of text or researching a subject to any real depth to understand what I am saying. I run 3 large screens here in the Orbiting Command Ship Central and often have 2 or more windows open on each. I like what I do here and I like ferreting out virus’ from people’s computers, but I surely don’t get separation anxiety when no computers come in. I like to read copious amounts of information and a little handheld device simply doesn’t fulfill my need.

What I think will happen in the future is people will wake up and realize this little handheld device is not as smart of a decision as they once thought. It is getting people in trouble left and right, not to mention distracting them from literally everything. The computer that it is, is great, but it needs to be used as such, rather than as a friend and a constant companion to the exclusion of everything and everyone around you – especially when driving!  Hello!

The truth is that we don’t need to be that connected. It is good to go off the grid on a regular basis. “Hey look, Mom!  No hands!”  Hey, it’s liberating to ride this bike without touching the handlebars now and again. Try it. Shut that phone off for a half hour. “Uh, you mean like really, really shut it off, like literally?”

Yup, shut er down. Unplug. See how long you can go. The longer the better and after the initial anxiety wears off you’ll realize how much more relaxed you’ve become. When you turn it on and forty-seventy billion texts come in, just erase them. They were fluff anyway. I promise you; it won’t hurt and you will feel smarter too.
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