Saturday, May 31, 2008

My Birdseye View of Baytown

Last Monday my brother TJ Bustem and I drove down to the Memorial Day service at Bicentennial Park and listened to Army veteran George Rincon and others as they honored our fallen military brothers. PFC Wesley Riggs was left off the list by accident, but was remembered and honored. TJ Bustem and I attended the dedication of the memorial to him where it resides in Beach City. My hat is still off to this soldier hero and his family.

This was my first attendance at our Memorial Day service, but not my last and I talked with a number of folks and photographed the event and later published the photos on
www.OurBaytown.com. We were moved to tears as we sang about our freedom and once again pledged allegiance to the flag of our great country. One young MROTC member in particular cried and I told them it was perfectly fine and to let the tears flow. As the photographs show, everyone was visibly moved and solemn and all should attend this memorial service in the future. It is another fine example of good things to do in our city.

Well, we Chaparral Village folks, although abnormally above average in intelligence (just ask anyone over here) set our recyclables on the curb last Thursday as instructed by the label on the side of the blue recycle bin and fully expected someone to pick them up by 7am. We are all about recycling and dang-nabit, we didn’t particularly care if the program hadn’t started yet. After 2 days I put mine back in the garage till next Thursday so I wouldn’t appear to be one of the “Village People”.

They’ve finally striped McKinney Road! Hooray! The road was resurfaced a couple of months ago and instead of stripes, there were yellow reflective tabs sticking up in the middle of the road. Seeing those tabs on the solid black surface was hardly comforting at night and since there is no shoulder – read none – the road appeared less than safe to travel on, especially at night or in the rain. I’ve asked the city to install culverts and at least one sidewalk on this stretch of road because there is always foot or bike traffic and folks are forced to walk in the road. I was told there is no money available for this project.

Here’s one for consideration: Try riding a bicycle on our streets and you will know how Bear Grylls feels when he free-falls out of a hot air balloon over a remote part of the world. It’s the same experience and I promise you will feel the same sense of dying that this man feels in every episode of Born Survivor. Our roads have no shoulder or bike lane for the most part and every trek on a bicycle may be your last. Welcome to Baytown bike riders!

I don’t like to air Baytown’s dirty laundry on Houston television, but it was time to drop a line to Andy Cerota - the ABC13 crime reporter and someone well versed with our past crime problems. He called yesterday and I spilled the beans.

The Houston Speedway is evidentially inspiring Street Racing in Baytown, or maybe it’s the video game Grand Theft Auto – one way or another organized groups of racers blast down Chaparral Drive every weekend, flying through 4-ways stops, skidding around corners, music blaring and with bottles in hand they dash them against the road surface and brick homes and taunt homeowners. The incidents usually start just after dark and continue until about 3am.

As if on cell phone cue the bombardment begins and ends only to repeat 45 minutes later. This Friday night, one alert homeowner recorded the action. The vehicles involved are as follows: Motorcycles (2), Silver Van, Silver Extended cab Truck, Red 4-door sedan, White 2-door economy car, Silver Single-Cab Truck, Beige Malibu, Burgundy Acura, Burgundy Ford Explorer, Dark Green Ford Explorer and a Red 2-door sports car.

This is no small incident folks and we here are all afraid someone will be killed in a terrible collision.

I like to walk the trail system at Walter Jenkins Memorial Park. I like it so much that I’ve asked the City Manager to let me in on planning the trail when the new section is developed. The beautiful path meanders past the new Skate Park and until recently, it was unmarked with graffiti (which was removed yesterday). Graffiti is not art - period. It is defacing public or private property by outlaw idiots posing as respectable artists who have no regard for the law or social propriety. Graffiti sprayers should be beaten with a rattan cane by a bona fide Singapore caning expert, kept on retainer by the City.

If a person were caught spraying graffiti and caned, they would assuredly retire from tagging for the rest of their natural born life, as one Texas boy used to say. Severe? Heck yes it’s severe, but isn’t that the idea? You do the crime – you pay the fine and we Americans need to demand pain as punishment and forget making the parents fork over dollars for crimes their teenagers commit.

I recommend this course of action for criminal mischief convictions. Cane them and then force them to make civil restitution. If a child, teen or adult makes the ridiculous claim that they did not know right from wrong, then after their caning - cane the parents too...

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Do You Hate Gas Prices? Blame Yourself

It seems that nothing can stop the galloping gas prices. Blame the stubborn Congress that refuses to allow the drilling in the Atlantic and the Gulf of Alaska. Blame the vicious Arabs who keep the price at an artificially high level by greedily stocking their resources in their own countries. But first and foremost blame yourself.

If we are to believe the latest news, Brazil may soon become one of the world leading oil exporters. In April, the Associated Press informed that researchers had found an underground deposit of some 33 billion barrels of oil, three times as much as the country had possessed until then. Only last year, a national company discovered some 8 billion barrels in another location hidden deeply under the seabed. Unlike Arab states, Brazil plans to export most of the oil in order to hold down the skyrocketing gas prices.

It would be a mistake, however, to hope that we will again pay $2 per gallon. Financial experts predict that unless the world major oil exporters significantly increase their production, gas prices will not tumble or even stabilize. Short-term solutions such as the proposed drilling in the Gulf of Alaska or the suspension of federal gas tax will not help. If anything, they could only enrage consumers when after several months of relative improvement at gas stations they will have to pay more when the additional resources have been digested.

The painful truth is that we, consumers, are to blame for the present $4 per gallon. We drive more than our grandparents and even if contemporary cars burn less gas than a couple of decades ago, the difference is still too thin to compensate the shortages of oil on the world market. Moreover, Americans now have to compete with consumers from China, India, and other fast developing countries that we could hardly find on the map twenty years ago. It is easy to imagine what may happen to the world market when one billion people in China scrap their primitive bicycles and roll into the narrow roads with their new, big cars.

Some thought that biofuels would save us from bankruptcy. Enriched with plant extracts, biofuels were to make cars not only environmentally friendly, but also cheaper in maintenance as more plants meant less oil. But what looked like a miraculous solution now turns into disaster with much of Africa and Asia starving. Farmers quickly smelled that growing biofuel plants was very profitable and soon large paddies of rice gave way to the fields of linen and algae. The fact that millions of people have nothing to eat derives from the green policies of the European Union and United States.

With all its political and military might, the United States seems hopeless when it comes to controlling gas prices. With most of its gas reserves used up, the world sole superpower depends heavily on such unpredictable countries as Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, and Iran. The oil crisis from the late 1970s was a painful lesson but it hasn't taught us anything. We are more oil hungry than ever.

Krzys Wasilewski is a NewsBlaze journalist, particularly interested in history and literature that expands his love of travel and historical curiosity. If you have any comments or suggestions, please write to: krzys.wasilewski@yahoo.com.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Should the government make us drive 38mpg cars?

I firmly believe Americans should make an adjustment to their lifestyles and leave the government out of it. In other words, if Detroit wants to sell a 6500 pound ten-cylinder Hemi vehicle which gets 6 mpg, then I think that is just fine and if someone wants to own and drive and pay for that sucker, go ahead. This would become the rich mans vehicle, like the 427 Cobra of my early youth.

However, if Americans take responsibiltiy for their own actions and realize if they keep buying these vehicles, Detroit will keep making them and the opposite is true too. We have to have a paradigm shift. Our obsession with horse power should be relegated to those who can truly afford it instead of every Tom, Dick or Harry with a line of credit.

If we Americans demand a better product by NOT buying these poor mileage vehicles, then Detroit will get the message and make a product that will get the mpg we will settle for. They make and sell these gas-guzzlers because we continue to buy them, not because they are the only vehicle available.

One of the main problems with us is we are constantly bombarded with high horse power demonstrations on TV and the media. We buy into it and in fact we believe it. The other day a friend spent almost $20,000 on a new motorcycle with 1600cc's because he was tired of paying for gas. Do the math on that decision.

Most of our roads are full of vehicles going so fast that if you tried to drive an older vehicle on the road you would never get up to speed before you were rear-ended. Another case comes to mind concerning this H.P. business. About 4 years ago, a New Mexico Highway Patrolman clocked a 2.6 liter stock 2004 Hundai Sonata doing in excess of 140 mph on the desert highway. How much H.P. do we need in our vehicles anyway? We are blatantly manipulated by commercials of cars skidding sideways and whipping around the roads and we don't even know it.

Realize here I am not talking about hotrod hobbyists, but daily drivers and I'm talking about we Americans educating ourselves on our wasteful lifestyles, not to mention we are pumping gas straight into the billfolds of OPEC.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

A good 5-cent cigar

This past Thursday while I was seated in the Control Room with my fellow Operators, the normally rambling and desultory conversation became animated and yes - ugly. It regularly turns ugly, as Operators by natural selection tend to be rather assertive. This does not mean our words were hostile, just highly opinionated and…righteous, as we all like to believe we have a good eye on whatever it is we are discussing, especially if it is about sports and politics.

As a side note, I don't do sports or offer an opinion on sports figures, so I usually stay out of anything resembling inside info when sports are discussed and I guess this appears a bit odd, but that's just the way it is. I appreciate sports and realize they are an important form of entertainment for many, but to me there are other things more significant than memorizing statistics and obsessing over the particular physical talents of a jock (literally or figuratively – you decide what I mean).

This particular day the conversation turned to the current exorbitant cost of gasoline/diesel, groceries and animal feed. Our entire government was viciously blamed for failing us and many valid points were cussed and discussed. So much cussing was interjected in fact, that if those words would have been deleted, it would have looked like this: "Our #$%^& government is #$%^& us in the #$%^& and if something isn't #$%^& done immediately, then #$%^& and #$%^& I'm going to #$%^&.

I pretty much abstain from that form of conversation, but the points brought out in this fashion were valid and reflected the deep resentment and bitterness felt by those expressing them. One fellow claimed that if our government would simply force the price of fuel back down to a reasonable level, Americans would regulate their consumption until a cheaper fuel or alternative method of locomotion became available.

From personal experience based on the late 70's early 80's, I knew this to be untrue. Americans will only conserve fuel and change their driving habits when fuel becomes scarce – not because it is expensive. Until then folks will simply pay whatever it costs and then, as if they had a full belly, forget they had been hungry. Americans are users and we use like there is no tomorrow. We are also great and regular rewarders of ourselves. We want it and we get it. We deserve it.

Tom Davenport, a good friend of mine from Dayton, reluctantly admits he has reached the limit on the cost of diesel fuel and the high cost of animal feed. He doesn't feel it is profitable at these prices to keep feeding his cows and livestock, which he enjoys. Once the livestock is gone, there is no reason to keep his big Ford 9N tractor and related equipment. He won't need his 3/4 ton 4X4 diesel pick-up, trailers and even his bigger sized boat will then need to be down-sized and so the list is growing daily of items in his personal inventory that he feels have become a liability. He grudgingly admits he will have to rethink his lifestyle and he is only one of many who are taking steps to adjust. Even the 43 mile commute from Liberty county to work has become an issue and many of my coworkers live in Winnie and that is 12 miles further down the road.

I offered (what I feel are valid) counter-points and some of them went like this: We have enjoyed a fairly long run of prosperity in this country and we have accumulated a lot of oversized and in some cases extravagant toys, trucks/cars, homes, boats, RV's, ATV's, vacations, tons of electronic gadgets and currently subscribe to all kinds of services and no one appears to remember that just a few short years ago, it wasn't like this at all. We all used to drive older work trucks and had one family car instead of, well, look in your driveway and many folks planted a yearly garden.

These days a work truck is about $35,000 and one year old.

In times of fiscal prosperity, all of these extra goodies and over-sized and over-priced items are perfectly normal expenditures, but when lean times come, no one should attempt to keep them to the point that they fall by the wayside. Cut these services and sell off all the extra stuff in your life before it overwhelms you and you will survive just fine. Downsize in times of leanness, because you can always repurchase when everything is affordable.

U.S. Vice President Thomas R. Marshall said to a U.S. Senate clerk, "What this country needs is a good five-cent cigar." At the time, he was speaking about current economic woes, but his words are apropos of today's market. We demand a fix and we need it now if we are going to continue the lifestyle most of us are addicted to. We will have our cake and by all that's American, eat it too.

We either need cheap fuel of some kind, or a device that bolts onto our current vehicle, which will boost our mpg numbers significantly. We need to stop converting food grains into biofuels if that is going to drive up the price of grain making farming and husbandry impossibly expensive…or (gasp!) we need to change our habits, tighten our belts, adapt and overcome.

Americans historically have adjusted in times of trouble, but sadly we have always been whacked right in the schnozzle before we did so. We have stubbornly believed in our own superiority when all indicators point to the opposite and ignoring China and India's guaranteed developing appetite for fossil fuels, we blindly assume gas prices will return to their former low dollar per gallon price.

Take a look around as you drive our streets and you will see brand new paper plates on large pick-ups and SUV's, as people continue to buy, buy and buy as if the gas crunch is a passing cloud. There is even an Excel spreadsheet floating around in cyberspace, which shows you how you can "save" by parking your big rig and buying a 38-mile per gallon economy car with the "savings". How in the world can you save by buying? You save by selling that parked rig and THEN buying. Parking the big rig is a major assumption that gas/diesel prices are going to drop back down below $2.50 per gallon and they are not.

It could be said it is a sad day when folks like my friend will no longer be able to roll on as before, but in my opinion it's time for we Americans to adapt to a different lifestyle before we are slapped silly and moved into a second world position. Ever so often we have to change course in this American dream of ours to stay in the lead and that time is now.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

What in the world is going on?

I tuned in to the Glenn Beck Show Friday afternoon to watch an interview with William Shatner, the actor who is currently on Boston Legal, but is known to many as Captain Kirk, of the Starship Enterprise. What an interesting man! I don’t know what his appeal is exactly, but he definitely appeals to many and from multiple generations.

Glenn Beck is just as entertaining to me, so I figured this would be interesting. It was for the most part. Glenn’s usual delivery is basically scripted and as fine of a performance as Hollywood or New York can generate, albeit appearing to be spontaneous and maybe some of it is, so the interview, which wasn’t scripted jumped around a bit.

Mr. Shatner is 77 years young (it appears) and as Glenn Beck put it, gaining steam. He looks to be in his 60’s and is full of piss and vinegar, to shamelessly use a phrase that best describes him - blame Grampa from John Steinbeck's, The Grapes of Wrath for the vulgar sounding expression, if you must.

Mr. Shatner is concerned with the sad state of affairs here in our U.S.A. and since Mr. Shatner is Canadian, Glenn Beck delved into the reasons for his concern. Well, it turns out William Shatner from the time of his youth has seen our country the same way I have and still do - a land of freedom and opportunity and free for the harvesting by anyone willing to work for it. I like the man.

He is worried about the over-population of the Earth, something most Americans for the last 30 years have not really been guilty of. Most of us have simply replicated ourselves with two children or maybe three. Not so our neighbors to the South who are still birthing children like there is no tomorrow and a lot of them across our border. I blame it on the dominant religion of the countries and their belief that birth control is sinful.

Well, guess what? William Shatner is right about over-population and the reduction of our resources, because they are tied together as sure as Forrest Gump’s peas and carrots, but not because of we Americans, but because of the multitude of people breaching our borders and in numbers that stagger the imagination.

People who are loyal to Mexico and other Latin American countries - not this country, are diluting whole areas that used to be dominated by AMERICAN citizens with American values, as ethnically diverse at that may be. Yes, we live within 6 or 7 hours of the Mexican border, I know that and there is always a certain amount of exchange of cultures when areas meet, but how can we explain the very same phenomenon all across this great country?

We fine American citizens, thanks to Planned Parenthood and other zero growth organizations have diminished our growth numbers almost into extinction. If a husband and wife birth two children, the law of attrition plainly reveals that this is less than replacement, but an actual decline.

Close to 25% of all the children under the age of 5 in this country are the direct result of the influx of Hispanic minorities according to the United States Census Bureau. Our meager growth rate of .88% (as opposed to the average World growth rate of 1.16%) is mostly being bolstered by many people whose first loyalty is not even to the USA. According to the Population Reference Bureau, fully one half of the US population growth is Hispanic. While most Americas have been limiting our numbers for the sake of responsible growth, our neighbors to the south haven’t received the message. We Americans have bred ourselves into the minority and risk losing our identity, culture and language. Heck, we are losing our country.

Is it any wonder that Spanish is becoming a commonly heard language everywhere? Am I attacking Mexican Nationals? Do I hate Hispanics? What about their delicious food? Should I get rid of my Chihuahua?

Please. Understand where all of this is going before you brand me as anti-anything other than a red-blooded American. I am an American citizen of the United States of America - FIRST. My interest in this country is putting this country first, not second or third. If my neighbor is law abiding and ethnically and culturally different than me, that’s okay - but my neighbor needs to have America’s best interest at heart. If any country puts the security and future of this country in jeopardy, I am for bombing it back to the Stone Age.

Our system can only support so many freeloaders and it surely doesn’t need to support vampires, leaches and downright criminals from any other country, especially inside our borders. We need a politician who will fight to have the law changed to boot out any illegal alien/immigrant and their children, yes I said their children. If they come across our border to birth their children, then the child should go back where it came from with the mother.

We have grown weak and limp-wristed in every area trying to appease those who have long forgotten that a good paddling does more to correct a kid’s behavior than a thousand time-outs in a corner somewhere. It’s time to put the hammer down and as the great Democratic candidate and savior of the world Barrack Obama has said repeatedly "Enough is enough"!

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Caregivers are God’s Gift to Mankind

For the last week, I’ve been under a doctor’s care for bronchitis, which as everyone knows is simply the inflammation of the membranes lining the bronchial tubes. It came over me in about 24 hours and rapidly made it almost impossible to breath. The asthma-like symptoms of bronchitis are alarming and debilitating. Any activity at all leaves a person gasping for air and for the first time in my life I am using an asthma inhaler. I suspect the underlying cause in all of this discomfort is this year’s heavy pollen count.

About the time this malady struck, I witnessed my little doggie convulsing in the side yard. I let her out to chase a cat and being fourteen years old; my doggie has a poor track record of success, so the cat is never in danger (as if cats actually fear most dogs). After a couple of minutes I called her in and that is when I observed her distress.

As all pet lovers know, seeing your baby convulsing is as traumatic as all get out, if I can use that old Southern saying. To those who do not understand how a human being can become attached to an animal and treat it like one of their best behaved family members, I submit pity to you for missing out on one of God’s greatest blessings and I say that kindly and without malice. To me, my dog is my best little unassuming friend.

So, here I am, a normally healthy and still semi-virile man, barely able to breath and get around, carrying my obviously sick and whimpering dog into the house, muttering feeble attempts at comfort and all of this on a Saturday afternoon, when the nearest open animal hospital is on the Gulf Freeway. I did what any self-respecting American in 2008 would do; I went to the Internet to attempt to find the cause of my doggie’s suffering.

I thought she had had a stroke and seeing that the best care was TLC (tender loving care), I made her as comfortable as possible until Dr. Cynthia Lipps could take a look-see come Monday morning. My daughter Melody brought Muffin to the Archer Road Animal Hospital and low and behold, it wasn’t a stroke at all, but Canine Vestibular Disease or what is commonly called old dog syndrome and Muffy was admitted for treatment and more TLC.

Right about this time, we receive a phone call from my son Nick in Austin. His car was broken into while he was studying for finals and his driver’s window was broken, radio, IPOD, backpack and yes, his wallet are all taken. He is in a major bind – out of gas with no way to access his bank account, I’m sick as my dog, my daughter is stressed out over our dog and her finals and generally working full time at Uruku/Skoogies Salon and attending Lee College, so it all falls on my bride to pull us through.

She’s used to all this care giving stuff, as she is… Mom. She and her sister Tammy take care of their mother at Green Acres Nursing home on a regular basis, washing her hair and combing it, doing her laundry, sneaking in an occasional candy bar and comforting her in her old age. Now I know that women feel stress, as I’m married to one and I regularly stress her out with my uncouth behavior, but Mom’s have a built-in ability to handle stress that would cripple a grown (read growed if you live in Liberty County) man and render him useless (or more useless according to many).

It’s been a long week for us here in the Marshall Fam, but as is always the case, everything works itself out. I’m breathing much easier and only have about five more days of antibiotics to go. Finals for both kiddos have come and went with good grades. Nick has resurfaced identity intact and access to all his old documents and the car window is repaired. Muffin is making daily progress and we are optimistic about a full recovery.

Mom is shouldering it all like a true matriarch and the de facto head of this little family. Moms everywhere, you are the best.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Kolaches and Doughnuts Anyone? – Part Two!

Last week I promised to reveal a system to reverse the ravages of time on our dumpy and fat-dimpled bodies and help us double our weight loss and I am going to deliver as promised.

The plan starts with simply reducing our intake of food each day by 500 calories and since a pound of yucky yellow fat weighs in at 3500 calories, we can lose a pound a week simply by this reduction. If we are faithful and do not make up for the loss through food rewards, we can lose 4 real pounds of fat in one month.

This one strategy alone can possibly knock 50 pounds off of us in one year! Oh, if it were only that elementary. Simple math aside, our bodies have the wondrous and disappointing ability to sense weight loss as a form of starvation and hence, resists weight loss. Reduce our food and we automatically slow down and burn less energy. We get tired easily and give up. So this is one good reason dieting alone is doomed to fail in the long run and the sad conclusion of all this suffering is usually weight gain, not loss.

Not to fear, we are going to work around this built-in weight regulator with our new system or plan. We are going to combine our food intake reduction of 500 calories with a new energy burning philosophy, something I call Industrial/Urban Trekking. Upping our exercise will help us regulate our appetite and give back the energy we need to succeed.

In a nutshell Indy/Urban Trekking is creating planned and strenuous ways to make our life more physically challenging. Do what, you say? Let me qualify Indy/Urban Trekking before you think I’ve fallen on my head.

Our life is full of labor saving methods and devices and collectively, these energy saving acts actually help us store fat. Something as simple as changing the station on our TV used to require getting up, walking across the room and physically turning a dial. The average person may do this one act 10 times over an evening. Now, we punch a button. Too simple? Maybe…but we have eased ourselves into this sluggish existence and the only way back to a Tarzan or Jane body is to get off our duff.

We drive to the supermarket (no fat burning there) and drive in circles attempting to get as close as possible to the front door, when parking at the rear of the lot and pushing an empty cart up would burn a few extra calories.

At work, the stairs are only used in emergencies and the elevator is our friend. We reward ourselves with a glass of sugared tea while a lawn service whips through our yard, not realizing we could have burned 500 -1000 calories, if we had elected to push-mow it ourselves. Push-mow?! What is a push mower? (Well, It’s a mower that is not self-propelled and you surely do not sit upon it and push-mowing your yard is a very very good way to Urban Trek.

Urban Trekking is defined as looking for creative ways outside of your workplace to get exercise. Biking, hiking, mowing, stair-climbing at places like the San Jacinto Monument, swimming and even hand-washing your car are all forms of Urban Trekking, especially when combined. The target time initially is 30 minutes of activity and as you advance in stamina, one hour is your target. 500 calories burned is your objective and combined with your target of 500 calories of reduced food intake and healthier food choices and 8 glasses of water per day, the average person can safely lose 7-10 pounds of ugly fat in one month.

Indy Trekking is defined as using your time at work to achieve this energy consuming goal. In the Refinery or Chemical Plant environment, instead of taking a break or whittling away free time, a person simply lays out an alternating course inside the Plant using stairs and ladders to get a tremendous work-out. It is important to lay out a challenging course that takes one hour to complete and a side benefit to the company is the worker is out in the Unit AND getting in better shape.

If a person works in an office they use their lunch hour to Indy/Urban Trek, drinking a protein shake in lieu of a meal, thus accomplishing both objectives simultaneously. No two work places are alike and this is where creative thinking and planning come in. You must have a plan to burn your 500 calories using Trekking and it must vary to keep it fresh. Keep a log on your computer of what days you trekked and the duration. Remember, exercise can be fun and very rewarding, so by all means enjoy your new found health and good luck Indy/Urban Trekking. You can keep abreast of this new trend, get fitness tips and leave comments here: http://industrialtrekking.blogspot.com/

Customer service is not what it used to be

I was called by a local business today to pay for a maintenance service on my in-ground pool. My debit card on file had expired. ...