Sunday, June 29, 2008

Innovation and the American Spirit

Innovation and the American Spirit

I am very optimistic about the future of America. I think there are exciting times in innovation and invention ahead of us. However, our present problems and struggle for prosperity may be on the shelf sooner than we realize, as the price of maintaining this lavish lifestyle languishes in the doldrums, but let's look at our past to see the possibilities of our future.

As I've said many times before, we diverse and resilient Americans blindly box ourselves into a corner and after we've had our collective heads pummeled into mush, we suddenly awaken and come out swinging and that is exactly what I see happening and in our future. We truly are the champions of the world, but we are going down folks and the way back to the top will be difficult and full of challenges.

We are used to being on top – on top of everything and we refuse to acknowledge our pinnacle position is precarious at best and all but gone at worst. We see ourselves as the creme de la crème of fancy spring waters and everyone else is just white generic cans marked "Cola". Tough love; this is the way we roll - world.

We unashamedly see ourselves as better than the rest of the world because we are Americans and we have the strength of our ethnic and cultural diversity, freedom, privilege, democracy and lots of guns. We are unstoppable and arrogant, but hey – when you got it – flaunt it, right? It's our way or the highway and the way we prove we believe this to the world, is by borrowing, spending and accumulating cool recreational stuff. We alone get in our personal (usually multiple occupancy) transportation vehicle weighing 3 to 5000 pounds and go wherever we wish, whenever we wish and damn the torpedoes. We got it all, baby.

We are users/consumers first and since we are all about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, it's perfectly okay to keep using, consuming and dumping. We are defined by what we eat, read, watch and where we spend our quality time and folks, to the rest of the world we can be summed up in one word: gluttons. We are first and foremost in the global game of life and a man's worth is measured by how many barns he has stuff stored in…and we like it that way. I too am an American and all of this describes me to a certain degree, as sad as that may be.

Now, let's take a look at the future of our country and each and every one of us fortunate enough to be a part of the solution and a self-imposed successful change.

I see a cultural paradigm shift on the horizon. A paradigm is nothing more than a set of assumptions, concepts, values, and practices that constitutes a way of viewing reality for the community that shares them, especially in an intellectual discipline.

I see a general mentality adjustment or movement in our future where Americans will lead the rest of the world in doing things the right way and have our precious righteous fun also. Imagine a new America where efficiency in personal transportation becomes "cooler or hipper" than how much horsepower your vehicle delivers to the drive train or where the general population delights in Zen-like recycling - because they want to, not because it's forced on us. It's what we will do because we are Americans.

Organic vegetable gardening becomes the rage and folks forsake conventional lawn maintenance for xeriscaping. Endless trips to the supermarket will be reduced in lieu of fresh homegrown veggies. New homes will be built with functionality in mind instead of past aesthetics and the quality of life in America in general will be about its timbre, not bulk quantity, size, speed or accumulation. Can you imagine how wonderful this would be?

Smart CarCapitalistic entrepreneurs whose vision is not confined to fossil fuel-based propulsion systems will best solve the current energy problem by inventing and investing in alternative ways to travel. In other words, who says we have to continue using Henry Ford's antiquated internal combustion engine to get from point A to point B? Loose the creative dogs of efficiency on America and let them market solutions that make a real difference. The Smart car is one such new option that challenges convention.

Drilling for oil so we can keep consuming like there is no tomorrow should be given the green light – but, we should also jump head first into alternate methods of transportation, because there will be a tomorrow. Finding alternative fuels to keep burning our hydrocarbon-hungry engines is still the old school way of looking at the problem. We need exciting and creative solutions to free ourselves of the dependency on this mode of conveyance.

In the future, we Americans must demand better quality and efficiency by making wiser purchases. Who says we have to settle for what is offered? I say boycott junk and encourage good quality by smart purchasing and with that said we have to do our share to make this a better country too.

We foolishly have empowered greedy corporations and encouraged inefficient outdated technology and shoddy workmanship on everything from deplorably slow high-speed Internet/cable service to only having the choice to buy about five of the nine hundred plus varieties of bananas grown globally. We've bought $40,000 four-seat chunks of metal and plastic with miserable MPG and warranties and we almost felt blessed to own it. Why? Regardless of how much a dealer cuts off the buying price, for most of us this mode of transportation is too fuel-costly to maintain and some fat cat, our money in his pocket, leans back and blows Cuban cigar smoke through his toothy grin.

As my Pastor of many years, L.S. Marcus used to say, I said all that to say this: We Americans will be the only obstacle to change and ultimately - survival. We are our own worst enemy…or friend.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

The Intrepid Baytown Cycle Hiker

Baytown can be a tough place to get outdoor exercise if you are a bicycler, jogger, walker or an urban trekker. Sure, we have a few places to do these activities, but they require an automobile to get to them. Here in America, using an automobile to get to your place of exertion has never really been an issue, but it sure is now and in the future, it will become even more so.

This past Friday I decided to grab my camera and take a walk around town instead of driving to Jenkins Park or the Goose Creek Stream Trail head. (I don't particularly like the idea of parking my vehicle and leaving it while I exercise, only to come back and find it vandalized or missing).

What this meant was walking in the street or in someone's yard for 6 of the 7 miles I eventually traveled. The problem is we are not a bicycle or foot-friendly city and since we are a "city on the move", the lack of sidewalks and road shoulders will get worse before it gets better.

Every step taken or pedal pushed brings a risk of stumbling and falling or getting ran over by an unforgiving public in 3 to 5000 pound moving vehicles. The obvious question many would ask is why not just remain on a known path and then there is little chance of being injured? Well, for those of us who regularly hike or ride bicycles we need greater distances to reduce monotony and to get a change of scenery.

You see, a 2 mile foot path may appear adequate to people who do not regularly use them, but to a trekker, 2 miles is nothing. The beautiful Jenkins Park trail is hopefully going to be expanded to a 3.1 mile trail when the park expansion takes place and this will give runners a true 5K or 5 kilometer trail with markers. This will be a major improvement to runners who can make 8.45 laps and log in a complete marathon distance. It's my hope that the city of Baytown will sponsor a 5 and 10K fun run here in the future, like the old Baytown Heatwave we used to have on July 4th.

The Goose Creek Stream Trail is very nice, but it should be expanded north all the way to Rollingbrook Drive, which incidentally has beautiful flowers growing alongside of it. I know, as I walked from my home in Chaparral Village down Massey Tompkins, to Rollingbrook and down the east fork of Goose Creek to the trail head at Garth and Decker. It was my intention to walk all the way to Bayland Park, but at this point the delicious smell of Mexican food coming from El Toros wafted over me and I decided to return home by the shortest distance.

This meant walking the roadways and negotiating business and lawn frontage for the most part (a tricky and rough way to walk) since there are no sidewalks. By the time I made it to HEB I had a 4 hour walk behind me and I made my way to the feeder road of SH146 and turned onto one of the few countryfied paths left in this city, albeit not exactly legal…the path by the RR tracks. Yes, it is private property and I am guilty. I won't even argue about it.

I love to ride my modified beach cruiser bicycle out to Beach City on a 33 mile bike ride, but it has become too dangerous in my estimation. Note here: I'll probably do it again anyway. What this means is leaving CV down Massey Tompkins (shoulder-less) to SH146 and then turning right onto 565 (very shoulder-less) to 3180. This is very dangerous and I don't recommend anyone doing it. 3180 has a nice shoulder for a ways, but then it too becomes just a two lane at about 2354 and cars really fly out there, so you have to be very watchful and ready to bail off the road.

I like to stop at the little store out there close to 1405 and support them and frankly, the old legs are ready for a break at this point. I take 1405 to 99 and make my way (usually to Kilgore road) and eventually back to CV. It's always a great ride and on a 30 pound cruiser-type bicycle, a great rewarding ride.

I envision this city with a network of paths and trails, suitable for hiking and bicycling that will allow residents to get from one side of the city to the other on nothing more than a bicycle seat or a pair of sneakers. Am I asking too much? I don't think so and I was told one time that if I ever go fishing for whales – I should take along the tarter sauce.

Police: Crime watches help make neighborhoods safer

by JOSH HARDWICK 06/19/2008

Members of the Chaparral Village neighborhood Crime Watch in Baytown have seen their fair share of unruly activity over the years, from street racers blowing past stop signs to thefts and even recent instances of a reported flasher in the area.

Criminal activity is something that all communities must deal with, but with the cooperation of law-abiding citizens, police can be more effective in their response, said Capt. David Alford of the Baytown Police Department. Alford was the guest speaker at Chaparral Village's Crime Watch meeting, June 15.

Alford said that of the 136 deputies employed by the Baytown Police Department, at least nine will be on patrol at any given time – one for each police district in the city. However, he said that a particularly busy night in one district might call patrol deputies away from their own districts, leaving a temporary gap in police coverage.

In order to minimize the vulnerability of homes and neighborhoods, Alford outlined the do's and don'ts for those taking an active role in protecting themselves and their property:

Do get involved. Crime Watch communities work when residents remain vigilant about their surroundings.

Alford stressed the need to commit to weekly or monthly meetings and to set up watch schedules that incorporate overlapping areas of surveillance.

Do call police. Alford said that many residents are angered whenever police are late responding to a disturbance call, so much that some may not call at all out of frustration or even fear of burdening the system.

"There have been times when it took me as much as three hours to respond to a call, and it's something I hate as much as they do," Alford said. "All I can do is tell them about the fight I broke up over here, and the big auto accident I had to stop at there, before responding to their complaint and hope they understand."

All calls to the station are routed into a database that police often use to track disturbances and make arrests even when someone is unable to respond to the initial complaint in a timely manner, Alford said

Don't be a potential victim, especially when it comes to theft. Many reports of theft are a result of valuables being left unattended that are simply too obvious for criminals to pass up.

"In the past we've dealt with burglars who had a set procedure: The car would drop off the crooks at the end of the street and park at the other end while the guys would walk by flipping car handles," Alford said. "If the door opened they would look inside and rummage around, and they would spend less than 10 seconds on each car."

Police advise that valuables be stored in places where they can't be easily seen by would-be burglars, such as inside garages and in the glove boxes of locked vehicles. Even a visible cell phone or GPS device can attract unwanted attention to a parked vehicle, Alford said.

Don't confront a problem directly. Crime Watches should be conducted for the purpose of quickly reporting issues and disturbances to the police, not to take action.

Alford warned against making any attempts to confront someone either suspected of committing, or in the process of committing, a crime.

"The laws provide the guidance, and we will enforce those laws – if we can catch them in the act," he said.

For neighborhood resident Bert Marshall, a sense of safety can be achieved by the presence of an attentive community. Marshall said that citizens should not fear their own neighborhoods simply because of the presence of a few bad apples.

"Don't be afraid to walk the streets here. Chaparral Village is a very safe place to live, and I think it's just a matter of us becoming better neighbors to help make it safer," he said.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Chaparral Village standing up to crime

Published June 17, 2008

About 35 residents from the Chaparral Village subdivision met this week at the home of a local resident to discuss ways to prevent and fight crime in the area, including a recent spate of car burglaries and late-night street racing.

Folks spilled out of the living room and up the stairs to hear Crime Watch leaders and Capt. David Alford, head of the community service bureau of the Baytown Police Department. All stressed the importance of remaining vigilant and taking steps to ensure the safety of every family.

“Basic crime prevention doesn’t change – it’s a mentality,” Alford said. “Remaining observant doesn’t mean being paranoid. Just be aware. And always lock those doors and keep those valuables out of sight.”

Alford said such community involvement was essential, helping the police department better execute its fundamental task of reducing and punishing crime.

“I hope they keep doing what they’re doing,” Alford said. “They need to continue meeting so they can continue to share information with each other and with the police department. That helps us find out what their needs are, and helps them understand our limitations. We tell everybody to call. We may not get to it right away, but we’ll get on it.”

The resident who hosted the event, who asked not to be identified because of family concerns, said the neighborhood will get serious about the “watch” in Crime Watch, perhaps creating patrols that will observe and report any suspicious activities.”

“But a lot of what we need to do are common sense things,” she said. “Don’t leave valuables in the car. Don’t have shrubs that are easy to hide in. Don’t leave ladders lying against the house. And keep your lights on.”

Increased lighting, both on the street and at Barkaloo Park, is a priority for residents of homes in the area, which number about 500. The park, said several residents, has been the site of drug deals and other criminal activity at night.

The crime stopping spirit of the neighborhood is embodied in perhaps its most prominent citizen, “Baytown” Bert Marshall, who began the Baytown Concerned Citizens group last year. Marshall is a longtime resident of Chaparral and hopes to stay there for a long time to come. On his web log,, he calls on his fellow residents to help in the cause.

“It boils down to what we as tax-paying home owners want to see when we look around our homestead,” Marshall said. “Do we want to stop crime before we are victimized or do we want to pretend it couldn’t happen to us? Are we willing to change the way we do things if it reduces the chance we will be robbed or targeted for criminal mischief?”

It appears that, for at least 35 people, the answer is yes.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

The Peaceful Baytown Neighborhood

I stepped out onto my front porch to get my newspapers like I do every morning I am off work and surveyed my peaceful neighborhood. I love this place. Down the street are the usual array of lounging cats; a stealthy furry night predator of innocent birds and rodents not indigenous to this country, but somehow introduced and accepted. Are they a metaphor of present day Baytown? Maybe, but then again I may just be thinking too much…again.

Looking around I observe an ominous pinkish tinge in the clouds and the myriad bird sound imitations of the ever present mockingbird or birds. Who knows how many are out there this morning? It’s peaceful here and feels warm and inviting; a great place for a kid to play and ride their bike – or maybe it isn’t. Of course kids don’t rise at the crack of dawn these days to meet their buddies and play baseball, but sleep, weary from an all-nighter playing video games, so it remains quiet. That is fine with me. Quiet times in the neighborhood are something I enjoy more than I can explain.

Walking around to the back I disturb a bouncing and boisterous blue jay as it launches off the limb of my dwarf cherry laurel, one of my sunflower seeds in its beak. Is there a more arrogant bird in Harris County than the blue jay? They land with a thump and a bump like they own the place and grab what they want. There’s nothing neighborly or easy about them – all flash and pizzazz and some refer to them as robber jays, as they have been known to hop in and take what they haven’t earned.

What - not another analogy to crime and criminal activity? Could be, but this thought is probably just a side effect of the neighborhood watch meeting we had with Captain D. W. Alford of the Baytown Police Department Saturday evening. Instead of enjoying the company of his own neighbors and family, he willingly gave us three informative hours and we appreciated it.

It’s no secret I live in Chaparral Village and CV is typical of almost any neighborhood in the city including your own. What happens here is an indicator to everyone else of what is happening in their neck of the woods with few exceptions. What we do that may set us apart is a neighborhood watch program that is growing stronger each day and that means we are collectively seeing more stuff that used to go unnoticed. We are calling more and that is a good thing.

According to Captain Alford, other than the street racing issue, we have less crime now than other parts of town and a lot of that stems from residents taking precautions and calling the police when we see something suspicious. We are installing night motion lights and for the most part locking our garage doors. We are removing our electronics and pilferables from our cars, locking the doors and setting alarms. In short, we are taking away the initiative of thieves by changing our pattern of behavior. Yea, we are changing the way we do things.

I guess it boils down to what we as tax-paying home owners want to see when we look around our homestead. Do we want to abort crime before we are victimized or do we want to pretend it couldn’t happen to us? Are we willing to change the way we do things if it reduces the chance we will be robbed or targeted for criminal mischief?

We here in CV are bolstering our stance of using the police department as the first line of defense in the event that our preparation fails. We are not vigilantes, but we are being vigilant. Capt. Alford told our group that a good way to decide if a call to BPD is warranted is if something seems amiss, doesn’t feel right, or makes us suspicious – then by all means call, but before you do, get a reasonable description of the situation. Get an address location and be as specific as possible. Think of it this way: Imagine the dispatcher is not familiar with your area and try to explain so anyone can find it. Don’t assume a vague description will be adequate – prepare as much as possible before making the call.

We CV folks enjoy our neighborhood as much as the next subdivision and realize the burden of creating a positive place to raise our family lies on us as individuals as much as anything. We have to communicate and share information more. We have to meet for Neighbors Night Out in August. We have to watch out for each other and by doing this; we increase the odds of keeping the bad guys at bay.

I want to spend the rest of my days right here in beautiful and peaceful CV and that means keeping it beautiful and peaceful in the future. So, as long as my fellow denizens and I keep vigilant, we can look forward to many more morning newspaper deliveries, pretty blue jays, lazy kitty cat sightings and beautiful pinkish fluffy clouds.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Texas Summer too hot? – Nope!

I love summer. I love working when it's real hot and sunny bright. Even though my job requires wearing fire-retardant clothing, I actually find the heat and brilliant sunshine irresistible. When many are complaining about the high temps, I am out in it piddling, tinkering and just wandering around.

At home my bride and I sit on our patio and soak up the rays. We're seriously considering getting one of the Baytown Pool businesses to install an in-ground pool so we can enjoy the sunshine even more. I am open for recommendations if anyone thinks one is better than the other, as I do not want to send our money outside of the city if I can help it.

I was off for the better part of last week and had my mower running almost every day. I use the mower for exercise and when the sun is blasting away and the temperature is smoking hot, I want to feel the sweat running down my back. I even mow the pipeline behind my place and that adds a third of an acre to my sunny entertainment.

With the billowing clouds and burnished sun, we decided it was the perfect time to shovel and wheelbarrow eight yards of pine bark mulch into our flowerbeds (my bride told me it was perfect timing). I'm going to wait for another hot sunny day next week and get eight more yards to finish the job. I'm simply waiting for the work order to come down from my bride and anyway; I always need the exercise and what better way to get it than in the blistering sun with a shovel in my sweaty hands?

My bird feeders and birdbaths are a constant source of sunny entertainment and my usual seed offering runs about 3 pounds of wild bird mix and black oil sunflower seeds. This year we've had a bumper crop of squirrels and 2 in particular grace our patio. They're babies and about the size of sparrows. Truthfully I'm worried a cat or hawk will pick them off, they're so innocent and reckless, but I must let nature take its course. I learned this sad fact watching Meerkat Manor. Speaking of sad facts, my sweet little doggie of 14 wonderful years was finally laid to rest and we are just now recovering from her loss.

This past week I was delighted to see a pair of Mississippi Kites and an American Swallow-tailed Kite flying over the neighborhood. Up till then, I thought the only kite in the sky had a string attached to it. Just a couple of weeks ago, I was heavily seated in my wire rocking lawn chair, (which incidentally makes my gluteus area look like a waffle iron for all you lady readers, especially Granny Adcox out in Highlands) binoculars in hand, cool iced green tea on the table when to my surprise I identified a pair of crested Cara Cara, commonly known as the Mexican eagle, flying above. I got on the horn and called Sally Sherman at the nature center and she told me it was indeed a rarity. By the way, later on this year I plan to join Sally for the butterfly count – everyone is welcome to join us. Last years count can be found here.

I keep my bride annoyed/amused by calling out what airplanes and jets I see using my binoculars. "Can you believe that is a 747 way up there"? I say as I point. "That's a Continental Express Embraer mate" I imagine to offer in a thick Australian accent as I ponder the life of a WW2 island coast watcher. "Did you see that small jet over there? It had USAF markings on the wings"? It's non-stop important information on the patio.

Would you believe that I am harvesting delicious juicy tomatoes about the time that they are being recalled? Would you believe that I unfortunately do not have enough to share? True, true. Is it just me, or do big juicy homegrown tomatoes picked off the bush taste truly righteous when salt is sprinkled over them?

Ah folks, our summers are hot and muggy and at times unbearable, but the more time we spend outside the higher our quality of life.

Texas summers? Bring 'em on and I'll take the sunshine over our winters any day of the week.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

BAYTOWN, TX (KTRK) -- Neighbors in a Baytown subdivision say they're living in fear.

By Andy Cerota

BAYTOWN, TX (KTRK) -- Neighbors in a Baytown subdivision say they're living in fear.

Nearly every weekend in the middle of the night and early morning hours, they are awakened by the sounds of roaring engines.

By day, life in Chaparral Village seems perfect enough. Children ride their bikes and neighbors take time out to socialize.

But at night, it's a whole other story.

"The main complaint we're having is this high speed Vin Diesel, Fast and Furious stuff that's happening all the time," said Bert Marshall who is concerned about the speeders.

Street racers have turned Chaparral Drive into their own personal speedway. That includes blasting music, taunting homeowners at all hours of the night. Residents fear it's only a matter of time before someone gets hurt.

"We stand out in our yard and watch them fly through the stop sign doing at least 60 to 70 mph, not even slow down at all," said Sally Odom who is concerned about speeders.

What's more, they've managed to stay one step ahead of police.

"They congregate and each person gets their mission, you go check this area, you go check that area," said Capt. D.W. Alford of the Baytown Police Department. "From what we've received from witnesses, [the speeders] range anywhere from teenagers to 30, possibly 40-year-old people."

The head of community services, Baytown's Captain Alford is frustrated too. From marked patrols roving through the neighborhood to undercover surveillance, Alford says police have tried everything.

"We have just not been successful. We used MDT messaging, we stay off the radio, we use text messaging on phones," Captain Alford said.

It's so bad, residents say the speeders threatened violence against one of the homeowners.

"One of the cars stopped, got out and threw a brick at the window hitting the side of her house," said Marshall.

Residents who've been working with police are talking about setting up a video surveillance system of their own.

"So we can record their license plates and have something to turn over to the police," said Marshall. "We want it back. It's like a little war zone going on here on the weekends, we're tired of it."

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Cost Cutters Slash Prison Food Budgets

(AP) Around the country, budget-cutting state officials are looking behind bars for savings - keeping prison buildings unoccupied, double-bunking inmates or laying off employees. Even the prison mess halls aren't exempt. Minnesota is considering following Virginia's lead in serving only two meals per day on weekends, calling one of them "brunch."

Texas prisons have been ordered to cut inmates' daily calories. The prison food proposals are among many cuts being considered as states struggle to balance their budgets. Thirty-four states have overspent their budgets for fiscal 2003, the National Conference of State Legislatures said last month, and 27 still have deficits to close before July 1. At least 19 are responding with plans to reduce prison budgets - and many are starting with the food tray.

Texas prisons have been ordered to cut inmates' daily calories from 2,700 per day to 2,500 in response to budget cuts, said Larry Todd, spokesman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Though a budget plan being considered by the Legislature could mean still more food-budget reductions, he said prisoners will continue to get nutritious meals.
BB: (I say misbehaving or violent prisoners be put on an 1800 calorie per day diet until they have 30 days correct behavior, with no access to other food).

The real poop on the Ukraine

Mitt Romney’s top adviser, Joseph Cofer Black, joined the board of the Ukraine energy firm, Burisma, while Hunter Biden was also serving on ...