Saturday, April 28, 2007

America’s New “C” Word

America’s New “C” Word
I guess the first time I remember hearing about a word by it’s first letter, was in the 1960’s and it was the infamous “F” word. The next instance became what is commonly referred to as the “N” word, which of course needs no explanation. I’m told a very large no-no is the sexually degrading “C” word, which one fellow told me got him struck on the head with a frying pan, for angrily saying it to his wife. He told me “Do not ever call your wife that word” and I can honestly say, I haven’t.

Now another C word is getting diabolical status and I’m going to call it “the new C word”. This C stands for crime, but not in the sense we are used to. The new “C” word is launched as a call for action by legal authorities anytime someone uses a microphone. It’s ultimately a form of censorship.

What has happened to America? Someone says something on the radio, TV, in a stand-up comedy club, into a hidden microphone somewhere, or even to their own child on a telephone answering machine and someone somewhere wants to have them charged with a crime. Crime? Criminy!

Self-proclaimed civil liberty advocates, Internet Bloggers, Hollywood celebrities and talk show hosts suddenly start using the new “C” word by phrase. “They ought to be charged with a Crime”! Hollywood Superstar and Saturday Night Live darling Alec Baldwin goes into an outrage on a private telephone line and curses his own child and guess what? “He ought to be charged with a crime”!

Alec must have been raised like the majority of us Americans…but to hear it, he is a monster! When I was a kid, talk like that happened fairly often (and I was the one listening) and it always ended with the belt. Geeze, Louise, I grew up fairly normal with no lasting mental scars. To hear Alec’s detractors, he should be horse-whipped and denied visitation rights. Hooey!

Radio personality, political satirist, current events commentator and part time mumbling shock-jock Don Imus blurts out that a tattooed women’s basketball team look like “nappy-headed hos” and by jiminy, he is all but strung up by his nappy head. Never mind that he was joking and if anyone has ever listed to Imus in the Morning, it’s readily evident the man blabs stupid stuff almost from the time the show starts till it finishes.

I guess this part of his bio didn’t really interest all those folks who called for his head: In 1999, Imus and his wife founded the Imus Ranch. The Imus Ranch is a charitable organization for children with cancer, as well as siblings of SIDS victims.

”Imus helped raise over $6 million toward the Center for the Intrepid, a Texas rehabilitation facility for soldiers wounded in the war in Iraq. Considered to be the largest technological center of its kind in the country, it is designed to help treat disabled veterans and help them with their transition back into the community. More recently, Imus took on the cause of the living conditions at the Walter Reed Army
Medical Center”. Quoted from Wikipedia

Rosie O’Donnell can call the President of the United States an “idiot”, which as far as I remember is a level of mental retardation and no one bats an eye. Never mind that thousands of soldiers, Marines, Sailors, airmen, Coasties and millions of civil servants take orders from him. Rosie openly infers George W. Bush is complicit in the 9-11 terrorist attack. Rosie told the whole world a few years ago, “…if you do own a gun, I think you should go to prison”, thereby calling for gun ownership to be a crime. Never mind the US Constitution gives you the right to bear arms. But, of course, Rosie O’Donnell is a comedian, so it’s okay.

Senator John McCain, the maverick Republican and Vietnam War hero, basically says what he wants, when he wants and although he is a straightforward all-American, the ACLU folks are waiting with baited breath to label his remarks as criminal and irresponsible. I’ve taken a real interest in John McCain and read five of his books. He’s as golden as the day is long, but in my opinion, he will not be elected. He’s just not dishonest enough to carefully sanitize his speech. He doesn’t sugarcoat his words, so the Pablum-demanding leftists will kill him on radio, TV, the Blogs and the elections.

Never mind he loves America and endured five years as a POW in the god-forsaken Hanoi Hilton. He will be made to “look the fool”, just like his fellow prisoner Admiral James Stockdale was, when he was Ross Perot’s running partner.

I haven’t even mentioned freedom of speech in this column, because that term has long been distorted and misrepresented and nowadays, folks no longer are sure what it even means. It has become more important to say the right thing, not offending anyone, leaving out all the “letter” words and if, just if, a political candidate, someone with a lot of money, or, shoot-fire, a microphone, says anything that can even remotely offend 3 people out of a million…throw them in jail and charge them with the “C” word!

America, America…where have you gone?

Friday, April 27, 2007

How to Read Big Fat Books

Why do some people devour books like they are made of bacon and others avoid them as they would the Ebola virus? Is it a genetic predisposition that determines a person’s appetite for books? Why do some of us always have one, two or even three books working at the same time, but others never pick up a book, unless it is to dust?

How can anyone find time to read a whole book, let alone at 10 pound hardback tome in this day and age? How can I, the non-book reader, develop enough interest to read a (gasp) whole book?

Regardless of what you’ve heard, reading books is initially a discipline which requires patience and a certain amount of stubborn determination. Most books do not grab your attention on page one, or even page 30. For veteran readers, the discipline part comes in wading 150 pages into a book before it ignites your interest and then wishing it went on another 500. For new readers, the book has to start with a bang.

Few people start off reading something like, oh; The Lord of the Rings trilogy, but The Hobbit would be a good starter book. Start with something easy and work your way into larger volumes.

Most books I read, I read because I want to learn about a certain topic, or event, not because the subject is fun and I discipline myself to go all 600 pages and come out the other end, knowing something more than I did when I started. It's like lifting weights or jogging. The runners high folks talk about doesn’t kick in for the first 5 miles, but after it does, the exercise is almost easy.

Each time I finish a book, another piece of life’s puzzle is solved. I rarely read a book that I don’t benefit from something in its pages and many times, the books I read become marked-up for future reference. This is why I buy books instead of borrowing them and have all but stopped going to the public library.

If you are a adventurous, may I suggest one of the many Louis L’Amour westerns for something easy and guaranteed to hold your interest? I still remember the opening line of the book Utah Blaine by LL, even though I read it about 20 years ago. “He was asleep and then he was awake”! A man on the run and gun-slingers creeping up on his position! LL wrote hundreds of books and I guess I’ve read every one, starting with “Matagorda”, which my brother TJ Bustem loaned me, even after I told him I wasn’t interested in “Westerns”. About a hundred LL books later, I became an expert on slapping gun-leather, riding Broncs, and shooting it out with bad men trying to take my land and cattle.

My son, like so many athletes, was intensely interested in sports, so early on, I paid for subscriptions to Sports Illustrated. It was an investment in his reading future and if you’ve read his Iraq journal, you’ve noticed all that reading has paid off, as he now loves writing.

If you believe you don’t have time to read, you may be right, but I would be willing to wager (if I was a gambler, which I’m not) that you do have time. Trade TV time for book time, keep a book in your glove compartment to devour when stuck in traffic, keep a good book on your nightstand and close your day reading. You will be surprised how quickly the days go by and suddenly – you’ve finished the book!

I can not speak for the ladies, but if your son or hubby likes hunting or fishing, there are thousands of books available which would make excellent gifts. Here’s another fact, men like adventure and military tales. They like sports hero biographies. They can live vicariously through these tales and it is a vacation of the mind which no movie can replicate.

If you don’t read and wish to begin, go to the public library and talk to the good folks who work there. Tell them you want to begin, but don’t know where to start and they will find something that guarantees your success. Start your own personal library by buying your books instead of borrowing them and as you finish them, loan them out to spread your new found wealth. It doesn’t get any better than that folks.

I’ll finish this column with a quote from Louis L’Amour himself: “Knowledge is like money: to be of value it must circulate, and in circulating it can increase in quantity and, hopefully, in value”.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Barge Terminal on Cedar Bayou

I took two panoramic photos on Cedar Bayou from atop the Spur 55 Bridge and one from the Roseland Park bulkhead. On the right side of the bayou (in photo one and two) is an inlet where a barge terminal is projected to be built. On the left side is Roseland Park. Some folks feel the terminal will destroy the aesthetic beauty of the bayou. I personally think it won't, especially when the opposite bank is viewed from the Park (photo 3).

http://baytownbert.us/images5/

This bayou once had extensive barge traffic on it from the many brick factories on its shores. I would like to see expanded, environmentally stable commerce again, which pumped tax dollars and jobs into the economy. Of course, the ecosystem would have to be closely monitored by the Environmental Protection Agency and watchdog groups to insure bayou safety.

What citizens need to see from the developers of Richardson WaterRail terminal is an aerial view, plus a CGI (computer graphics interface) view of what the terminal will look like from the angles my panoramic views show and the one from Roseland Park. Only then can we make an accurate conclusion and only then can we say for sure if it is acceptable.

Anything short of this is pure assumption that the terminal will spoil the view and pollute the bayou on everyone’s part, especially those who feel so strongly on this subject.

Some concerned citizens are firmly convinced that a terminal will open up the bayou for a giant container lay-down yard and giant barges. I haven’t read anything about a container storage yard or bringing in giant barges the likes of which are on the Houston Ship Channel and the lower San Jacinto River, but if that is the plan, I am against it.

Here is some food for thought about a past commerce/environment battle:

Back in 1969 ARCO discovered the largest reserve of oil in North America at Prudhoe Bay. It would make the USA much less dependant on foreign oil and based on the probability that drilling would be permitted, ARCO and other companies began assembling millions of dollars worth of equipment. They maintained this stalled equipment for many years at great financial loss, while folks bolstered opposition.

At the time a 42 gallon barrel of oil was $3 on the world market. Environmentalists and Native Americans came out against the project, stalling it for years because it would be SO bad for the environment (turned out to have no effect). Prior to this objection, folks welcomed the expanding jobs and the commerce it brought.

When OPEC decided to cut off oil exports to the USA in the 70's (causing the gas shortage), Congress okayed the ARCO pipeline within 2 weeks and the project was eventually completed. All in all, the resistance to the pipeline and over-concern about the environment stalled the whole process about 10 years and made us more dependent on foreign oil than ever before. Oil jumped from $3 a bbl to $11 a bbl and made the Arabs and Hugo Chavez even richer.

Robert O. Anderson, the CEO of ARCO wrote in his memoirs that the majority of objection was strictly politically motivated and had little to do with the environment. If those of us with an economic vision are going to be held as unpatriotic citizens, then we better be sure that hindering commercial progress is as bad as its being made out to be, before we start resisting it and the jobs it will bring to this old oil-blue collar town.

Since this time, EPA guidelines and environmental awareness has limited, excluded, hindered and downright squashed development in so many areas that it is downright impossible for investors to get anything other than apartments and storage building built in this country…and everyone complains about outsourcing and jobs going overseas.

Every navigational waterway in every part of the world is eventually developed by commerce. The key here is balancing aesthetics with function and in my opinion, before everyone gets up in arms about this new development destroying the bayou; let’s see what cards the Design Company is holding.

Attorney Alison Haynes was quoted by Jessica Robertson as saying “For each barge pushed through our barge docks, you’re taking between 58 and 75 trucks off the road. That is significant in diesel emissions. By reducing the tractor trailer traffic from any of the Ports of Houston into Cedar Crossing, you are reducing the citizenry exposure to dangerous levels of carcinogens.” Jessica Robertson also reported “After discussions with city management, design plans have been changed to include a buffer of hearty vegetation around all sides of the property, Haynes said, although an L-shaped buffer was initially proposed”.

We can’t have oil cakes and without eating some of it too, folks.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Survival Guide for Baytown

Survival Guide for Baytown (or any city)

Once sleepy Baytown now has a daytime population of over 125,000 people. We are no longer a small town and it’s time to recognize we, as long time residents, are living in a community that routinely experiences big city type crimes. Our police force is growing and hope is on the way. In the meantime, we can do things to hinder crime.

The city of Baytown has a website located here: http://www.baytown.org/ and each day about 7am, they post the crime report in the police section. The last seven days reports are available and I would like to see this archived, so the general public can be better informed.

Since Baytown is conveniently located off two major highways, it appears criminals come into town to “shop”. Professional criminal men and women prey on our city, so do not assume it is “only some kids” committing crime. I refer to these vermin of society as professional, not because they are experts, but because they steal, rob and commit crime routinely. It’s their job. It’s what they do. They view the good working men and women with total contempt and dismiss us as nothing more than some “thing” to plunder.

Armed robberies, purse snatching, auto burglaries and outright auto theft have become the norm in this city. Counterfeit currency is passed on a regular basis. Dangerous and illegal drugs are rampant and many times the very people who traffic in “dope” are driving our streets and based on the police report, using the very drugs they are selling. In the past week, I’ve had to pull to the far right of the street 4 times to let one of these 2-lane drivers go past. It defies logic that people can be such bad drivers. When I see drivers exhibiting odd behavior, I suspect they are doped, drunk or yakking on their cell phones.

Registered sex offenders abound and live in our neighborhoods. You should know exactly where they live. http://www.familywatchdog.us/

Baytown has a high rate of hit and run car accidents, sometimes four in one 24 hour period. I suspect drivers do not have insurance, so they drive off, but I can’t confirm that. What I can figure out, is the need to carry paper and pencil in your car or truck and the second you experience an auto accident, you immediately attempt to get the license number of the offending vehicle. Do not automatically assume the driver will render insurance and personal information. Use your cell phone to get a picture of the person and the car. If they drive off, call 911 and just pray you are not on a county road, so local police will respond.

I picked the last week at random and gathered this information from the police report: Assaults – 22, Auto-related thefts – 33, Shots fired – 14, Thefts, armed robberies and burglaries – 52, Forgeries – 4 and homicide -1. This is an average report, except for the homicide. I did not include the hit and run accidents and aside from the homicide, the crime that alarms me most is the armed robbery category. Armed robbery is a violent crime and numerous times in the last few months I’ve read where 4 to 6 men have violently beaten and taken money from whole families. They break down the door of your home or apartment and rob you.

I’ve noticed a trend in the report concerning purse-snatching while ladies shop. I hate to stress the obvious, but ladies, do not leave your purse unattended while shopping, or it might disappear along with your credit cards, keys and identity.

When you park your vehicle while shopping or going into your home, lock it and make darn sure you have nothing of value clearly visible. It amazes me how many people leave a lap-top computer in their cars for thieves to steal, purses too. Thieves don’t need an excuse to steal, but there’s no sense making your vehicle irresistible.

Ask a friend to observe you from a criminal’s point of view. Are you unintentionally making yourself into a choice target? Is there a behavior change you can make that will give you more protection? Many criminally minded people are not stupid, just dishonest. They watch for targets of opportunity, and then they go shopping. They can sense vulnerabilities and are drawn to potential targets as easy money. The opposite is true also and if you take precautions to make yourself undesirable as a victim, they can sense this also.

Take a stroll around your place of residence. Are the shrubs hiding the view through the windows? Would a motion sensor or mercury vapor light make your house less desirable to an intruder? Is it pitch-black around your house at night? Do you habitually leave your garage door open or unlocked?

Do you leave your keys in your car while you run into the store to grab a quick something? Do you always lock your car at night or while shopping? Are there desirable items clearly visible in your car, like CD’s, computers, purses, etc.? If we can’t stop them, let’s at least make it difficult…

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Color me Mellow Jello!

Mellow: laid-back: unhurried and relaxed; "a mellow conversation".

But isn’t mellowing just another word for over-ripening? I wonder if I am mellowing-out (as we used to say in the 70’s), but of course we were referring to a state of mind, not body AND mind.

In June I’ll reach the decidedly ripened age of fifty-five. What used to be the “speed limit” and just to be real, de facto old age. An old dude, or an old codger - you decide. Hopefully NOT a dirty old man, but still able to spark, if the need arises.

Of course, I’ll be expected to go to bed at 7pm and get up at 3am (which I have been working on for some time) and wander around the grocery store with my bride of 30 years, pushing the cart/walker for her fragile self.

I’ll sharpen my pharmaceutical vocabulary so I can sound informed when us “geezers” discuss our meds. I’ll learn to selectively shop at all the local grocery stores, so my lady and I can stock up on the deals (she won’t join me in Geezerville for another seven years, so I’ll also be guilty of cavorting with a younger woman).

Determining which supplements will give me that extra boost of fiber will be on my priority list and the delightful details when “everything comes out all right” won’t go untold, when my fellow cronies and I hobnob. I’m told this last item is a major topic of interest!

I might start wobbling around like a bowl of Jello, acting like I’m unsure of my footing. I’ll occasionally ask my lady to drive and I’ll ride in the passenger seat. Fifty-five is looking better by the minute!

Mellow: become more relaxed, easygoing, or genial; "With age, he mellowed".

I’ll buy a pair of Hush Puppy shoes! Maybe two pair and black socks to go with my Madras-colored shorts and some Jump Suits! I might take to wearing my old company hard hat while I’m mowing the yard, or fishing, yes, I might take up fishing on “the lake”, the fabled lake that retired and elderly people fish on when they retire. Ah, I can see its bass-laden reflection now…

There’s an upside to all of this to be sure. I can wear socks and sandals out in public, Bermuda shorts in winter, address 40 year old ladies, as young ladies and talk loud at gatherings…all of it beyond criticism and scrutiny.

I think I’ll grow a beard, so I can quit worrying about nose and ear hair. It’ll just grow on out into the main stream and I won’t even care. I might start greasing my hair and combing it straight back AND get me one of those golfing hats, the ones that are flat in the front and have a snap.

Mellow: Used to describe a wine, usually mature, that is soft yet balanced.

I’ll pat little kids on the head when I see them and maybe even let a toddler pull my beard a time or two. I’ll be pleasant to be around, but I might have an odor, due to the extra fiber, who knows? I’ll have to do more research in that area.

I’ll carry small value coins and candy and stuff to give the niece’s and nephew’s kiddos when I see them, more to cause consternation, than reward, as all kiddos these days see coins and candy as a poor substitute for green spending money…especially green spending money with the numbers 50 and 100 on them. It’ll be my little joke.

I’ll develop a loud cough to gain sympathy at family gatherings. It’s a sure winner. I’ll wear suspenders and a belt and “forget” to wear a watch, so I can constantly ask people what time it is and then remark that I’ll have to check my schedule. I’ll carry a large bandana and whip it out so it cracks like a bullwhip and claim I killed another flying insect. I’ll say something like “that’s thirty-four today alone” and then look around shaking my head in secret satisfaction.

Mellow: A soft combination of flavors.

I’ll be mellow all right, with no meanness, or malice. Folks will remark that Ol’ Baytown Bert has finally mellowed and all because he hit the ripened and seasoned age of fifty-five. Life will be good…

What, me read? Isn't that a 4 letter word?

I had an appointment this week at the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center to have an echocardiogram, which by the way is an EKG ti...