Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Which Candidate is Best? You Decide!

I have an easy and logical method for determining which Presidential candidate is best for the future of the United States of America. I simply watch the news sources and see whom Hollywood endorses and which candidate our enemies are rooting for and I vote for the other campaigner. I find it curiously peculiar that many wealthy Hollywood actors, third world despots and economically competing governments often want the same candidate to win the election.

It's tried and true, uncannily accurate and history does indeed repeat itself, so I use this formula each presidential election to make sure I am helping to secure our future well-being as a superpower, which incidentally is something I feel is vitally important.

According to Reuters – "Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, renowned for colorful insults of world leaders, called U.S. vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin a confused "beauty queen" on Friday after she said he was a dictator. Chavez, a leftist who often mocks U.S. President George W. Bush, invoked the advice of Jesus Christ on how to handle the slights by Palin, the Republican governor of Alaska and a former beauty pageant winner".

I think its safe to say whom Mr. Chavez would like to see in the White House especially when Barack Obama is promising an expanded non-military diplomatic Bill Clintonesque agenda (which sounds good on paper, but hardly works in the real world), but how about Iran's scruffy dictator Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who just last year inaugurated an international conference called World Without America--attended by anti-Americans from all over the world, including the U.S.?

According to Middle East expert Amir Taheri "Obama's election would boost President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's chances of winning a second term next June. Ahmadinejad's entourage claims that his "steadfastness in resisting the American Great Satan" was a factor in helping Obama defeat "hardliners" such as Hillary Clinton and, later, it hopes, John McCain". He's an Obama man for sure.

Let's move on to Europe's preference for the next American President. Europe hates America; it's no secret. Even though we protect their borders with the world's most powerful military presence and pump billions of American dollars into their collective economies and pulled their bacon out of the fire two times in the last century – they hate us. I'll leave it to the experts as to what they think and since they are our competitors for global domination, their preference is important.

"The 5 largest European countries are unanimous in their desire to see Barack Obama elected whilst John McCain's rating is extremely low. If they could vote, only 1% of French, 5% of German and 8% of Spanish respondents would elect John McCain. In the United States, the Republican candidate is behind by 10 points." so says the FRANCE 24 / Harris Interactive poll.

According to this poll, 99% of the French want Barack Obama. To me this is a Euro-klaxon horn of alarming concern. The French see themselves as the true leader of the European Common Market and detest everything American. If they want Barack Obama, they feel they can manipulate him and triumph over us as a country. Yes, it is that simple.

But isn't John McCain just another paw-parrot of George W. Bush? Hasn't he voted almost identical as what GWB wanted? John McCain was considered a freethinking renegade Republican until the Primaries started and then his fellow Republican contenders labeled him as nothing more than a pinko liberal, which wasn't true. He would occasionally vote against a Republican initiative if he felt it was a bad plan and that made him a maverick. Now, if I read the newsprint correctly, he's become a staunch conservative who eats out of GWB's hand and that also is not so.

Okay, let's move on. What about our venerated Hollywood movie stars? Why in heaven's name would they be for raising their own taxes, cutting our military back to near nothing and making our country vulnerable – just like they did when they threw their collective monies behind electing Bill Clinton - twice? Why would they be so vehement towards the George W. Bush presidency and blame him personally for our economic woes, when the government has been Democratically controlled for the last two years? It's a mind-boggling conundrum for sure and for the life of me, I can't understand why this doesn't raise serious debate everywhere on our politically active campuses.

I thought the January 3rd, 2007 election of Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House was supposed to be a magic economic panacea or something, but nope, it wasn't and their approval rating for running the government is so low, the only scapegoat they point towards is poor old George.

So, is this column nothing more than a John McCain infomercial? The answer is no it's not, but as I said at the beginning, whomever our competitors, world anti-American dictators and our enemies want in the White House is an excellent barometer and since they all want Barack Obama, then I will vote for the other fellow thank you.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Bringing Out the Good…With Purpose

I’ve got a game plan and frankly, I’m pumped. Pumped up mentally and physically because I’ve planned out this weekend and by the time this is read, I’ll be halfway through the weekend and call me butter again, cause I’m still on a roll.

Let me back up a bit and “splain” this past week which has led up to this point. The books I ordered off of www.amazon.com all arrived and I have them setting on one of my vintage stereo 1974 Sansui SF-2 speakers. Since I just came off shift at the Plant, I haven’t had time to put one of my homemade address stickers inside each one and place them in my selected reading order. These books are a big deal to me and boost my feel good levels big time.

Next, I designed an award for the annual Byrd Sanctuary Chili Festiva competition at my sister and brother-in-law Connie and Kelly Byrd’s compound in Dayton this weekend – and it arrived. It’s outrageous, ugly and after showing it to my sister and mother, they both replied “that’s awful – don’t bring it”. This reaction qualified my artwork and I knew it was the perfect award. You see, the annual chili cook-off competition is for family and close friends only and none of us are going to give the nod to each others chili offering. The only reasonable solution to this dilemma was to create a ghastly Halloweenish graphic, have it printed on a ceramic tile and framed and award it to who I feel deserves it.

Humbly speaking, it’s my award, made at my expense and I’ll give it to who I want. This years award shows my modest Baytown Bert persona dressed in a fascist looking uniform over the Texas and USA flags and the words “It’s so good…it’s plumb militant”. It’s also so horrid and wrong, it’s great and I may award it to myself before the fist fights are over and the dust settles. It’s what my sister calls Bertomobilia and it’s a collectible item for sure and can double as a plate to put a greasy spatula on next to the stove.

I got a call from Ken “the Dauber” Pridgeon and he is hard at work creating a giant mural for the Eddie V. Gray Wetlands Center, something like eight by thirty two feet long. Ken likes to “daub” big and the bigger it is, the better he likes it, so I am making a trip to his hacienda on Morrell Street to photograph this labor of artistic passion and I get to talk to Ken, something I think we both enjoy. Ken is one of many local artists who are heavily involved in expanding the Baytown Art League and their new abode on Texas Avenue. I would like to meet more of these fine and gentle folks.

My buddy Robert Prall told me the Yepez Vineyard located at 12739 FM 2354, which is of course Beach City country, is hosting a Fall Fest and I’m going out yonder to see what it’s all about. Both David and Lena Yepez are heavily involved in our community and I want to meet them. They have a website too and that makes it easy to see a list of future activities. www.yepezvineyard.com/ I’ve heard they lost their entire crop of grapes in Hurricane Ike, so I want to do my part to support this year’s Fall Fest and future events.

Well, my Saturday is full, especially after making my spectacular chili entry (I’m naming it “Mom’s Deep South Chitterling Chili” – for no particular reason except it sounds disgusting and I lived in Woodstock, Georgia as a kid) and try as I might, I can’t squeeze more into the day, so Sunday morning, I’m taking a vacation day and going to see the Wings Over Houston air show. Yes, I know I should be in church and I offer no excuses (Forgive me Lord Jesus. I’m a heathen back-slider.).

I haven’t seen the USAF Thunderbird demonstration team since 1971 when as a young Airman, I stood on the flight line tarmac of Malmstrom Air Force Base and the team flew F-4 Phantom jets. It’s time I saw them again. I cast about attempting to find a friend who also wanted to see them, but everyone was previously engaged, so I’ll solo it and I don’t mind that at all. Maybe I should have called Granny Adcox out Highlands way. She’s always game for something adventurous.

To sum up the whole point of this column is to say we simply need to realize there are lots of good fun entertaining things to do in our own backyard. Baytonians supporting Baytown/Houston area activities is what we should work toward folks. The advantages of looking local outweigh every other option in my book and it doesn’t take a wheel barrow full of money to have a good time either.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Packs of robots will hunt down uncooperative humans

Short Sharp Science (NewScientist blog) Oct. 22, 2008

The latest request from the Pentagon jars the senses. At least, it did mine. They are looking for contractors to provide a "Multi-Robot Pursuit System" that will let packs of robots "search for and detect a non-cooperative human".

One thing that really bugs defence chiefs is having their troops diverted from other duties to control robots. So having a pack of them controlled by one person makes logistical sense. But I'm concerned about where this technology will end up.

Given that iRobot last year struck a deal with Taser International to mount stun weapons on its military robots, how long before we see packs of droids hunting down pesky demonstrators with paralysing weapons? Or could the packs even be lethally armed? I asked two experts on automated weapons what they thought. Both were concerned that packs of robots would be entrusted with tasks - and weapons - they were not up to handling without making wrong decisions.

Steve Wright of Leeds Metropolitan University is an expert on police and military technologies, and last year correctly predicted this pack-hunting mode of operation would happen. "The giveaway here is the phrase 'a non-cooperative human subject'," he told me:

"What we have here are the beginnings of something designed to enable robots to hunt down humans like a pack of dogs. Once the software is perfected we can reasonably anticipate that they will become autonomous and become armed.
We can also expect such systems to be equipped with human detection and tracking devices including sensors which detect human breath and the radio waves associated with a human heart beat. These are technologies already developed."

Another commentator often in the news for his views on military robot autonomy is Noel Sharkey, an AI and robotics engineer at the University of Sheffield. He says he can understand why the military wants such technology, but also worries it will be used irresponsibly.

"This is a clear step towards one of the main goals of the US Army's Future Combat Systems project, which aims to make a single soldier the nexus for a large scale robot attack. Independently, ground and aerial robots have been tested together and once the bits are joined, there will be a robot force under command of a single soldier with potentially dire consequences for innocents around the corner."

What do you make of this? Are we letting our militaries run technologically amok with our tax dollars? Or can robot soldiers be programmed to be even more ethical than human ones, as some researchers claim?

Paul Marks, technology correspondent

Sunday, October 19, 2008

We Are What We Consume

I have no idea who originally coined a version of that saying, but the older I become; the more I see the wisdom in that simple sentence. Whatever it is we choose to digest is what we become, whether it goes into our mouth or through our eyes.

Yesterday many Baytonians gathered for the Pilot Club’s annual Memory Walk to raise money for a cure for Alzheimer’s disease. It’s no secret there is a direct correlation between keeping our minds active through reading and our bodies stimulated through exercise and our well-being and health in our golden years.

Twenty years ago, while preparing to leave Sterling Library I observed a coworker pull his old beat-up work truck into the parking lot. I looked down at my watch and realized it was shift change at the Plant. I smiled as this particular friend, work clothes and all, went straight from work into the library. Glancing up in the direction of Someburger I saw another coworker, coming straight from the Plant, park his shiny new truck and go inside the restaurant.

I sat quietly in my car and pondered what I had just witnessed. The thought occurred to me that both men were hungry, but their priorities were different. I’ve thought about this incident many times and I’m still puzzled by their choice or priority. I had my books and left and if I would have stayed longer, I may have witnessed them exchange places. I guess I could ask them, but I won’t. I would rather keep it a mystery.

I’m a self-proclaimed and struggling Philomath – a lover of learning. I may not be all that smart, but I sure try hard to figure stuff out and for whatever reason, I’m always playing catch-up. I guess a psychologist could wring volumes of deficiencies as to why I feel this way, but all I know is I continually get the gut-sick feeling I am sliding backwards in my education. The race is on and I’m slipping further and further behind. To me, it’s like I can’t read enough to ever fill the void.

I have a personal library and these days I rarely visit our public library, which is a confession of sorts rather than an apology. The good Lord has blessed me with the means to purchase the books I desire, so I use www.amazon.com to get my used tomes inexpensively and keep them permanently. I believe a person’s library is akin to a vision into their psyche and I guess my collection is no exception.

I’m perpetually curious and want to know who, what, where, when, how and most important of all – why. I find answers to these questions through books. Recently the Baytown Sun’s excellent reporter Tara Sullivan sat on my patio to interview me about birding and I think I actually conducted the interview, as I had so many questions about her world as a journalist and how it works. Finally, after my many questions, I caved and answered her questions. I think she did a fine job on her article too.

My hunger for history was recently generously subsidized by a check from my Plant for completing a quarterly safety qualification to the tune of one hundred and fifty bucks! Off I went to Amazon.com and when I was finished typing, I had purchased seventeen books, two concerning birding and fifteen autobiographies, biographies and country histories.

Magellan, who first circumnavigated the globe (till he met his demise in The Philippines), both president Roosevelt’s (two Theodore’s and two FDR’s), three Churchill’s, one Mohandas Gandhi, one Einstein, the Rise and Fall of the British Empire (which was supposed to last another 1800 years), the great hedge of India, Hiroshima, China, and good old Ben Franklin the classic self-promoter are all coning in the mail and I can’t wait to begin reading these books.

I’m reading the top one hundred science fiction books and have two still in the queue from my last buying binge. While I was writing this I received a phone call to renew my subscription to Asimov’s Science Fiction magazine which I was reading today incidentally and before I could consult my bride, I committed to another 36 issues for a generous offering of only $2.36 per issue. Of course, I could save my dollars and get all of this free at the library.

According to the February 13 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association “A study of 700 seniors over several years found that more frequent participation in cognitively stimulating activities, such as reading books, newspapers or magazines, engaging in crosswords or card games, was significantly associated with a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease”.

So, am I simply tooting my own cornucopic horn here, or am I trying to show that what we consume is what we become and using myself as an example? You decide. What am I hungry for right now? Someburger, of course. Why not? It’s one of the best burgers in town and thanks to my addiction to reading books; I’ll have no trouble remembering where it’s located.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Bird enthusiasts taking note of new sightings

By Tara Sullivan
The Baytown Sun

Published October 7, 2008

Bird watchers across the Texas Gulf Coast are taking note of Hurricane Ike evacuees of the winged variety. September and October are peak months for the annual spring bird migration, so while it is not an unusual time for non-native birds to pass through the region, some odd varieties have found their way to Baytown. Many of these might never before have set foot - or feather - on Baytonian soil.

Baytown resident and avid nature watcher Bert Marshall said new birds began cropping up near his home almost immediately after the storm had passed. He even recalls several birds that were noticeably wet, tired and flustered, including a rare leucistic hummingbird who stole a moment to fluff his weather-beaten feathers.

Since few nature enthusiasts go birding during inclement weather, it's not entirely understood how our feathered friends make it through. Some speculate that when there is a change in air pressure, birds fly low until they find a cave or other hallow cavity for shelter. Other birds might simply change their migration route, navigating around the bad spot. Whatever the reason, Marshall and other Baytonians are urging everyone to take a moment to really look at Baytown. Because of the migratory season, many of our native birds have already traveled south to Mexico and a throng of newcomers have taken their place.

"If you really take a moment to get to know your city - and you can't know it from inside a car, you have to walk it - you're bound to see some amazing nature," Marshall said.

Chaparral Village residents found this out by simply looking out their living room windows. These folks now share their neighborhood with several green and yellow parakeets that don't appear to be displaced pets, but rather their slightly larger, wild cousins. The tiny flock might have been blown in from as far away as Florida or as near as Kemah, where wild parakeets are fairly common.

As he watched an unknown type of bird, yellow as the sun with black and white striping on the wings, Marshall smiled. With an Audubon society field guide in one hand, his binoculars in the other, he was obviously delighted to host his new guests.

Speculating on how the newcomers might affect the existing ecosystem, Marshall said he thinks most of the visitors will remain simply that, eventually making their way back to wherever they call home. Still, he does recall a story regaled by his father of the Cattle Egret and how those familiar white birds we see over cattle pastures came to Texas. The story goes something like the birds were blown in from their homeland - an area stretching from Africa to Northern China, and on South to Australia - during a hurricane.

Though the story is only one of many theories explaining the sudden arrival of these birds to Texas during the mid-1950's, history lends an anchor of support by noting that Hurricane Alice trampled southeast Texas in 1954. By 1958, the Cattle Egret were roosting in Galveston and they've since become a norm of the Gulf Coast.

So while it's hard to say if the recent bird sightings mean parakeets and other colorful birds will regularly grace our birdfeeders, bird enthusiasts are satisfied to just watch and wait.

Eddie V. Gray Wetlands Center Education Coordinator Sallie Sherman said new sightings are not unusual after a big storm. Her biggest concern lies in the loss of trees and bushes, which may effect native bird populations.

"I can see how after the spring migration, there will be so many less trees for these birds," she said. "It's sad."

Sherman said December's Audubon Society Christmas Bird Count might present a clearer picture of who's been where. The bird count, an annual Audubon tradition, designates regions of the country (which includes the Baytown area) for bird watchers to watch, record and report back their sightings.

For now, Sherman said she would be one of the many Baytonians who've lately grabbed a pair of binoculars and started looking.

Bird watching field guides, which include color pictures and descriptions of many birds, are available at most bookstores and usually cost less than $20.

To check bird sightings in the region, to share your photographs or get help identifying a bird, visit www.texbirds.org.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Baytown Bert’s Top Ten List for Global Change

Boy howdy, if I am put in charge I will make a few changes. I am assigning a real cool sounding name to this sweeping referendum: “Baytown Bert’s Top Ten List for Global (read Baytown) Change” and make it so. I don’t even know who is in charge of making these kinds of decisions, but give me the go ahead and I will jump in feet first. I will be tough as Ted Poe, Chuck Norris and that Maricopa County Sheriff rolled into one.

Here goes: If someone is caught red-handed shoplifting or convicted in a court of law, I will make sure their photograph is printed on a billboard beside the store they stole from, printed in the local newspaper and their name and image broadcast on our local TV channel for one year. I will set up a national database and register them as thieves along with putting a mark on their driver’s license to remind officers and shopkeepers that they steal. As much as fifteen percent of the cost of items we purchase is to pay for security and shop-lifters greedy fingers. I say make the thief pay for their crime and then we honest shoppers can get lower prices.

Number two will be converting our school system over to an “advance as you progress” system, where each student moves forward on their own merit. What? We have that already? Let’s change it then to where each student moves forward each month, or repeats it right then. Instead of TAAS, TAKS, or some other kind of mandatory State test, students are aptitude tested on a two to three year reoccurring basis. This way parents and students will know individual strengths and weaknesses and can get a head start on a specific education, rather than a general or generic degree. Maybe students will finish 12-14 years of school in 8-10 and actually know something that will help them secure employment.

Here’s number three and it’s a doozy. I will demand the power companies move all electrical wires under ground and remove the “telephone” poles. They are ugly, make the city ugly and fail repeatedly during bad storms.

I’m already into number four and I’m just getting warmed up. We need a cable company which provides paying customers 10 channels worth watching. I will settle for 10, even though I pay for 150. 140 channels of stupid stuff by stupid program directors and we are paying for it? Who is stupid here? We stupid. We are paying this company to pump stupid stuff into our homes.

Hello number five! I want to see a coordinated and driver friendly traffic light flow system set up on Garth, North Main and Alexander Drive (for starters) and I don’t want to pay another consulting company to figure this out. I want it to happen.

Call me butter, cause I’m on a roll with number six. I want a bi-weekly free concert of local aspiring talent, church choirs and jazz ensembles in Bicentennial Park. It could be co-sponsored/promoted by Lee College and the City of Baytown and would promote culture exchange in this historically blue-collar oil city and that’s something we would all benefit from.

7-UP! I would like to see more than three cash registers open at Wal-Mart at any one time, excluding the self-service registers. I would settle for the manager of this store making a public apology for coming to this conclusion before someone makes a scene. See the Food Town on North Main for how it should be done.

Number eight is a desperate plea more than a simple wish. I will institute an emergency radio station for Baytown and surrounding areas to inform local folks when disaster strikes. If Hurricane Ike taught us anything, it was we can’t rely on Houston radio to give us specifics or instruction from our city leaders.

Here’s number nine, number nine, number nine (that’s a reference to the White album by The Beatles for your amusement). I want to see more advocates for the city of Baytown and less folks griping about the city and its failings. The city is what we make it folks and it’s that simple. It takes two hands to do almost anything. City leaders need input and they need it before decisions are made.

My number ten and last wish for Baytown, Baytonians and all of us living close by is we somehow learn to embrace a philosophy where we are generally proud to be from here. Like number nine, we individual citizens must work together to make our schools safer and more productive, the quality of work emanating from Baytown superior and the overall positive attitude of this area significant in the total scheme of Texas life.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Spam is Crazy Tasty


Spam is Crazy Tasty. It says so right on the front panel of the uniquely designed easy-open can and I wholeheartedly agree. It’s also salty. Real salty and tastes delectable.
Spam is made by hard-working American canned meat folks in Spam Town USA - Austin (I like that), Minnesota and is actually good for you too. It must be. People in places like Korea, the Philippines and Hawaii love the stuff so much; they’ve made gift-giving cans of Spam a friendly sign of future prosperity and blessing. I can see why. The stuff is literally a gift from above. Literally.

The ingeniously designed aluminum can is easy to open also and this only bolsters my already expansive appreciation of the swine-meat product. Turning the container over after I opened the can and dumping the blob of taste bud-tempting gelatin-covered meat onto a cutting board, I read on the back panel all about using Spam to make a sumptuous Egg ‘N Cheese Muffin. Yum!

Muffin: English, toasted. Cheese: American (I like that), melted. Eggs: Scrambled: Sliced, Fried. Difficulty level on a scale of 1 to 10: 2. Wow! Even I can do this, I thought. Finally an American product for Americans that has a recipe that wasn’t written by a foreigner and translated into something too complicated to attempt! Spam is a simple meat product and simple to prepare; in fact it’s simply marvelous. My only point of contention in this recipe would be an American muffin instead of something from England.

I know, I know. I should be writing about weather and financial storms, but who can worry about stuff like that when I have a can of something that has worked for a legend of followers since 1937?

Right below the Uniform Product Code bar, is a simple set of instructions to prepare this tasty pre-cooked dollop of pinkish pig meat using a frying pan or yes, a microwave. Who doesn’t like nuked food? Spam is delicious nuked, but I, of course, fry mine in the skillet, as I want to watch is sizzle to a rich golden brown, like my ancestors did back when. I sprinkle on a little Tony C’s to bump it up a notch if that’s even possible.

Straight up and open for all to see, the attractively designed can labels the ingredients in the Classic variety of Spam as: pork with ham, salt, water, modified potato starch, sugar, and sodium nitrite and being a handler of additives and oxidants, I know sodium nitrite is just a preservative and keeps my pre-cooked hog meat safe to eat, even if it sets on my shelf post-Armageddon (which incidentally could be any day now, or 50 years in the future).

Flipping the can over again I decided right then that I am not afraid to embrace greatness. Six billion cans have been produced. Six billion. If I had that much money, I would be a billionaire! I came to this realization after eating this spice of life stuff and that further drilled home the fact that Spam must contain pork brains in its yummy goodness. Forrest Gump would call it brain food in his innocence and I would agree with him.

When I hear folks joke about Spam as "Something Posing As Meat", "Stuff, Pork And haM" and "Spare Parts Animal Meat” I laugh so hard, my ample Spam-filled belly shakes. It’s hard to criticize a product that has made so many people satisfied. Others claim it is a poor choice for weight loss and optimum health, but what do they know? Around the world many folks aren’t concerned with losing weight or optimum health. They’re concerned with eating enough to stay alive. Me too.

Case in point, if adventurer Steve Fossett would have sat down to a few cans of tasty Classic Spam goodness instead of choosing an aerial adventure, he could probably be ballooning over Georgia Bigfoot country right now instead of pushing up cactuses. I pretty much qualified Spam as a healthy lifestyle alternative with that statement and rest my case for this delicious compounded meat in a can food choice. It’s simply Spam-a-licious folks.

In fact, I’m seriously thinking of launching an investigation into this meat product to see if its addicting, cause I’m hooked!

Spam® is a registered trademark of Hormel Foods.

We don't know our left from our right.

I got my first real lesson on what being out of step means when I in was in Basic Military Training at Lackland Air Force Base, in ...