Thursday, December 31, 2009

The New Canary in the Coal Mine

I recently saw the Disney Movie, “The Princess and the Frog,” in which the animators recreated the colorful and melodious experience of the Louisiana Bayou. As suggested by the title, the frogs of the Bayou played a stellar role. As I watched the movie with my youngest, I was thinking of the vulnerabilities of these precious wetlands and growing threats to their inhabitants—the frogs.

With the ongoing debate over the health and environmental effects of climate change on animals, increasingly, frogs and their fellow amphibians are becoming the new “canaries in the coal mine.” Since amphibians’ skin is permeable, these creatures are more susceptible to contaminants and changes in their aquatic habitats. By their very nature, they are considered a “sentinel” species, hence, the term of the “canary in the coal mine.”

There are over five thousand species of amphibians worldwide. Many live throughout North America. In Puerto Rico, our favorite amphibian is the coquí—eleutherodactylus coquí. Eleutherodactylus comes from the Greek meaning free toes. Coquí, its popular name, refers to its high decibel chirp “co-KEE.” In general, these amphibians have adapted well to urban sprawl on the Island, however, pollution is taking its toll. While over 16 species are endemic to Puerto Rico, several coquí species are currently threatened. Some species known by their popular Spanish names haven’t been heard in years. As I have mentioned in previous blog entries, these small frogs have been introduced to neighboring Islands, Florida and even Hawaii where they are considered an invasive pest.

We all can do something to protect wildlife and the environment in our daily lives. How can we help protect the frogs and their fellow amphibians from environmental contaminants in our own back yard? Well, one of the first steps is to reduce the use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers in our lawn that are carried by runoff and end up polluting their aquatic habitats miles away. By planting native grasses, shrubs, and trees in your garden you also minimize the need for using toxic chemicals around your home. While I don’t recommend kissing a frog, please help protect it and its habitat. A healthy environment is a gift for all.

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and chairs EPA’s Multilingual Communications Task Force. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Sent to me by Uncle Bob

$5.37. That's what the kid behind the counter at Taco Bell said to me.

I dug into my pocket and pulled out some lint and two dimes and something that used to be a Jolly Rancher. Having already handed the kid a five-spot, I started to head back out to the truck to grab some change when the kid with the Emo hairdo said the harshest thing anyone has ever said to me.

He said, "It's OK. I'll just give you the senior citizen discount."

I turned to see who he was talking to and then heard the sound of change hitting the counter in front of me. "Only $4.68" he said cheerfully.

I stood there stupefied. I am 48, not even 50 yet? A mere child! Senior citizen?

I took my burrito and walked out to the truck wondering what was wrong with Emo. Was he blind? As I sat in the truck, my blood began to boil. Old? Me?

I'll show him, I thought. I opened the door and headed back inside. I strode to the counter, and there he was waiting with a smile.

Before I could say a word, he held up something and jingled it in front of me, like I could be that easily distracted!
What am I now?
A toddler?

"Dude! Can't get too far without your car keys, eh?"

I stared with utter disdain at the keys.
I began to rationalize in my mind.
"Leaving keys behind hardly makes a man elderly!
It could happen to anyone!"
I turned and headed back to the truck.
I slipped the key into the ignition, but it wouldn't turn.
What now?
I checked my keys and tried another.
Still nothing.
That's when I noticed the purple beads hanging from my rearview mirror.
I had no purple beads hanging from my rearview mirror.

Then, a few other objects came into focus. The car seat in the back seat. Happy Meal toys spread all over the floorboard. A partially eaten doughnut on the dashboard.

Faster than you can say ginkgo biloba, I flew out of the alien vehicle.
Moments later I was speeding out of the parking lot, relieved to finally be leaving this nightmarish stop in my life. That is when I felt it, deep in the bowels of my stomach: hunger! My stomach growled and churned, and I reached to grab my burrito, only it was nowhere to be found.

I swung the truck around, gathered my courage, and strode back into the restaurant one final time. There Emo stood, draped in youth and black nail polish. All I could think was, "What is the world coming to?" All I could say was, "Did I leave my food and drink in here?" At this point I was ready to ask a Boy Scout to help me back to my vehicle, and then go straight home and apply for Social Security benefits.

Emo had no clue. I walked back out to the truck, and suddenly a young lad came up and tugged on my jeans to get my attention. He was holding up a drink and a bag. His mother explained, "I think you left this in my truck by mistake."

I took the food and drink from the little boy and sheepishly apologized.

She offered these kind words: "It's OK. My grandfather does stuff like this all the time."

All of this is to explain how I got a ticket doing 85 in a 40. Yes, I
was racing some punk kid in a Toyota Prius.. And no, I told the officer, I'm not too old to be driving this fast.

As I walked in the front door, my wife met me halfway down the hall. I handed her a bag of cold food and a $300 speeding ticket. I promptly sat in my rocking chair and covered up my legs with a blanky.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Kind and Generous People of Port Aransas

I was watching Paranormal State on TV anticipating my shower prior to volunteering at the Computer Center in Port Aransas when up drove the Christmas Food Pantry delivery truck from the VFW. They were welcomed with open arms.
I have been unemployed since August when I was fired from Bundy's by a disagreeable manager. Let me be clear. The owner, Tammy, is great. We got along fine. The manager, which shall remain nameless, had no coffee making knowledge or experience so my days were numbered. That, and Sagittarius and Leos are not getting along these days. So, I filed for unemployment and despite the managers lies, I was provided benefits. It might have had something to do with the fact that I had documentation to support my claim.
Anywho, I am the cliche, perverbial struggling artist. I must say tho, that, because of this time off, I was able to take care of a pesky wrist problem resolved by surgical intervention. I could work, but it would be VERY difficult. I was under so much pre-surgery pain, I could not lift a glass, plate of food, or even the TV remote. My hand would be reduced to tremors.
I was diagnosed as having DeQuervain's Tenosynovitis.
It was corrected at Christus Spohn Memorial Hospital. Let me tell ya, those folks are just the best. From the surgeon, Dr. Rivera, on down, they are a kind, class act. That was 12 days ago. The incision is healing just fine (they glued it together, yikes!) and I'm busily looking for a job during a recession just before Christmas.
Needless to say, money is TIGHT. My faith in people is always restored by the fine folks of Port Aransas. I bitch and gripe about how there's no new music here. How the locals are refreshingly blunt. How everybody knows what you're going to do before you do it. The tourist brochure look of the local newspaper. The lack of jobs here. And I think I'll stop there. I'll stop because mid-rant, I realize that I've met some fine people here, just as well.
Today, the volunteers from the pantry from the Presbyterian Church drove by to give me and my neighbor, Bicycle Bob, a box of food for Christmas. A turkey, a ham, a box of potatos, a box of stuffing, apples, oranges, rice stix (I need to find out what those even are), a jar of peanut butter, a 10 lb. bag of potatos, a can of yams, a few cans of vegetables, and more stuff I can't recall at the moment. I am so overwhelmed that a small town like Port A can manage to put all that together for their needy and seasonally unemployed, that I remind myself why I moved here and why I like to live here.
I have met the best friend I've had in years since my friend, Chris, died of lung cancer about 5 years ago. I enjoy working with goofball and ladies' man, Luis Villarreal, making our own brand of music. I love Trish and Grady who run the Intaxicated Taxi Service. I love Tom Lovett of Lovetts and I'd better stop because I know I'll leave someone out.
They have a Songwriter Showcase at the Tarpon Inn to rival anything I've sung at in Dallas.
And then here they are today, dropping off all this food.
I am looking forward to a great Christmas with my friend Joanne, her kids and parents, my snowbird friend, Richard, and maybe Luis. We will eat, mock the TV, eat some more, mock the TV, perhaps grab a blanket and nap, eat, and watch more TV until we decide Christmas is over for the day.
But when we say grace, I will will be sure to mention the kind and considerate people of the Presbyterian Church and the VFW who do so much good for so many people.
When I say I love living in Paradise, I'm not just talking about the weather and the beach.
Merry Christmas and Happy Hannukah to all.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Bougainvillea tree, Oaxaca

Reposting this photo. One of my favorite times in 2005.

Hola Howdy Hi Hello Cheerio

Just dropping in very quickly to say, "hi" and introduce myself before I start posting and you wonder who the hell I am.
My name is Alma. Born and raised in Kingsville TX. Lived most of my life in Dallas, but have lived in Corpus Christi, San Antonio, the burbs of Dallas, Corpus Christi Beach (locals call it North Beach), and now live in Port Aransas.
I am a lifelong musician and have always wanted to put down my observations as my life seems to be of endless amusement to me. Some folks have told me I'm funny. I dunno. Most of the time I see myself resembling the RCA dog with it's head cocked to the side in an eternal state of "WTF?"
I'm hoping to talk here about various things including Port A, music, music biz, the locals, food, art, books, ya know, the stuff that makes life interesting. For the record, I'm straight and view both men and women with a jaundiced eye, so spend much of my time alone.
So, that's all for today. Hopefully, you'll get a glimpse of the life of a musician of a certain age living in paradise. C ya soonl.

Burial at Sea

Burial at Sea

by LtCol George Goodson, USMC (Ret)

In my 76th year, the events of my life appear to me, from time to time, as a series of vignettes. Some were significant; most were trivial.

War is the seminal event in the life of everyone that has endured it. Though I fought in Korea and the Dominican Republic and was wounded there, Vietnam was my war.

Now 42 years have passed and, thankfully, I rarely think of those days in Cambodia, Laos, and the panhandle of North Vietnam where small teams of Americans and Montagnards fought much larger elements of the North Vietnamese Army. Instead I see vignettes: some exotic, some mundane:

*The smell of Nuc Mam.
*The heat, dust, and humidity.
*The blue exhaust of cycles clogging the streets.
*Elephants moving silently through the tall grass.
*Hard eyes behind the servile smiles of the villagers.
*Standing on a mountain in Laos and hearing a tiger roar.
*A young girl squeezing my hand as my medic delivered her baby.
*The flowing Ao Dais of the young women biking down Tran Hung Dao.
*My two years as Casualty Notification Officer in North Carolina, Virginia, and Maryland.

It was late 1967. I had just returned after 18 months in Vietnam. Casualties were increasing. I moved my family from Indianapolis to Norfolk, rented a house, enrolled my children in their fifth or sixth new school, and bought a second car.

A week later, I put on my uniform and drove 10 miles to Little Creek, Virginia. I hesitated before entering my new office. Appearance is important to career Marines. I was no longer, if ever, a poster Marine. I had returned from my third tour in Vietnam only 30 days before. At 5'9", I now weighed 128 pounds - 37 pounds below my normal weight. My uniforms fit ludicrously, my skin was yellow from malaria medication, and I think I had a twitch or two.

I straightened my shoulders, walked into the office, looked at the nameplate on a Staff Sergeant's desk and said, "Sergeant Jolly, I'm Lieutenant Colonel Goodson. Here are my orders and my Qualification Jacket."

Sergeant Jolly stood, looked carefully at me, took my orders, stuck out his hand; we shook and he asked, "How long were you there, Colonel?" I replied "18 months this time." Jolly breathed, you must be a slow learner Colonel." I smiled.

Jolly said, "Colonel, I'll show you to your office and bring in the Sergeant Major. I said, "No, let's just go straight to his office." Jolly nodded, hesitated, and lowered his voice, "Colonel, the Sergeant Major. He's been in this job two years. He's packed pretty tight. I'm worried about him." I nodded.

Jolly escorted me into the Sergeant Major's office. "Sergeant Major, this is Colonel Goodson, the new Commanding Office The Sergeant Major stood, extended his hand and said, "Good to see you again, Colonel." I responded, "Hello Walt, how are you?" Jolly looked at me, raised an eyebrow, walked out, and closed the door.

I sat down with the Sergeant Major. We had the obligatory cup of coffee and talked about mutual acquaintances. Walt's stress was palpable. Finally, I said, "Walt, what's the h-ll's wrong?" He turned his chair, looked out the window and said, "George, you're going to wish you were back in Nam before you leave here. I've been in the Marine Corps since 1939. I was in the Pacific 36 months, Korea for 14 months, and Vietnam for 12 months Now I come here to bury these kids. I'm putting my letter in. I can't take it anymore." I said, "OK Walt. If that's what you want, I'll endorse your request for retirement and do what I can to push it through Headquarters Marine Corps."

Sergeant Major Walt Xxxxx retired 12 weeks later. He had been a good Marine for 28 years, but he had seen too much death and too much suffering. He was used up.

Over the next 16 months, I made 28 death notifications, conducted 28 military funerals, and made 30 notifications to the families of Marines that were severely wounded or missing in action. Most of the details of those casualty notifications have now, thankfully, faded from memory. Four, however, remain.

My third or fourth day in Norfolk, I was notified of the death of a 19 year old Marine. This notification came by telephone from Headquarters Marine Corps. The information detailed:

*Name, rank, and serial number.
*Name, address, and phone number of next of kin.
*Date of and limited details about the Marine's death.
*Approximate date the body would arrive at the Norfolk Naval Air Station.
*A strong recommendation on whether the casket should be opened or closed.

The boy's family lived over the border in North Carolina, about 60 miles away. I drove there in a Marine Corps staff car. Crossing the state line into North Carolina, I stopped at a small country store / service station / Post Office. I went in to ask directions.

Three people were in the store. A man and woman approached the small Post Office window. The man held a package. The Storeowner walked up and addressed them by name, "Hello John. Good morning Mrs. Cooper."

I was stunned. My casualty's next-of-kin' s name was John Cooper!

I hesitated, then stepped forward and said, "I beg your pardon. Are you Mr. and Mrs. John Cooper of (address.)

The father looked at me-I was in uniform - and then, shaking, bent at the waist, he vomited. His wife looked horrified at him and then at me. Understanding came into her eyes and she collapsed in slow motion. I think I caught her before she hit the floor.

The owner took a bottle of whiskey out of a drawer and handed it to Mr. Cooper who drank. I answered their questions for a few minutes. Then I drove them home in my staff car. The storeowner locked the store and followed in their truck. We stayed an hour or so until the family began arriving.

I returned the storeowner to his business. He thanked me and said, "Mister, I wouldn't have your job for a million dollars." I shook his hand and said; "Neither would I."

I vaguely remember the drive back to Norfolk. Violating about five Marine Corps regulations, I drove the staff car straight to my house. I sat with my family while they ate dinner, went into the den, closed the door, and sat there all night, alone.

My Marines steered clear of me for days. I had made my first death notification.

Weeks passed with more notifications and more funerals. I borrowed Marines from the local Marine Corps Reserve and taught them to conduct a military funeral: how to carry a casket, how to fire the volleys and how to fold the flag.

When I presented the flag to the mother, wife, or father, I always said, "All Marines share in your grief." I had been instructed to say, "On behalf of a grateful nation...." I didn't think the nation was grateful, so I didn't say that.

Sometimes, my emotions got the best of me and I couldn't speak. When that happened, I just handed them the flag and touched a shoulder. They would look at me and nod. Once a mother said to me, "I'm so sorry you have this terrible job." My eyes filled with tears and I leaned over and kissed her.

Six weeks after my first notification, I had another. This was a young PFC. I drove to his mother's house. As always, I was in uniform and driving a Marine Corps staff car. I parked in front of the house, took a deep breath, and walked towards the house. Suddenly the door flew open, a middle-aged woman rushed out. She looked at me and ran across the yard, screaming "NO! NO! NO! NO!"

I hesitated. Neighbors came out. I ran to her, grabbed her, and whispered stupid things to reassure her. She collapsed. I picked her up and carried her into the house. Eight or nine neighbors followed. Ten or fifteen later, the father came in followed by ambulance personnel. I have no recollection of leaving.

The funeral took place about two weeks later. We went through the drill. The mother never looked at me. The father looked at me once and shook his head sadly.

One morning, as I walked in the office, the phone was ringing. Sergeant Jolly held the phone up and said, "You've got another one, Colonel." I nodded, walked into my office, picked up the phone, took notes, thanked the officer making the call, I have no idea why, and hung up. Jolly, who had listened, came in with a special Telephone Directory that translates telephone numbers into the person's address and place of employment.

The father of this casualty was a Longshoreman. He lived a mile from my office. I called the Longshoreman' s Union Office and asked for the Business Manager. He answered the phone, I told him who I was, and asked for the father's schedule.

The Business Manager asked, "Is it his son?" I said nothing. After a moment, he said, in a low voice, "Tom is at home today." I said, "Don't call him. I'll take care of that." The Business Manager said, "Aye, Aye Sir," and then explained, "Tom and I were Marines in WWII."

I got in my staff car and drove to the house. I was in uniform. I knocked and a woman in her early forties answered the door. I saw instantly that she was clueless. I asked, "Is Mr. Smith home?" She smiled pleasantly and responded, "Yes, but he's eating breakfast now. Can you come back later?" I said, "I'm sorry. It's important. I need to see him now."

She nodded, stepped back into the beach house and said, "Tom, it's for you."

A moment later, a ruddy man in his late forties, appeared at the door. He looked at me, turned absolutely pale, steadied himself, and said, "Jesus Christ man, he's only been there three weeks!"

Months passed. More notifications and more funerals. Then one day while I was running, Sergeant Jolly stepped outside the building and gave a loud whistle, two fingers in his mouth....... I never could do that..... and held an imaginary phone to his ear.

Another call from Headquarters Marine Corps. I took notes, said, "Got it." and hung up. I had stopped saying "Thank You" long ago.

Jolly, "Where?"

Me, "Eastern Shore of Maryland. The father is a retired Chief Petty Officer. His brother will accompany the body back from Vietnam...."

Jolly shook his head slowly, straightened, and then said, "This time of day, it'll take three hours to get there and back. I'll call the Naval Air Station and borrow a helicopter. And I'll have Captain Tolliver get one of his men to meet you and drive you to the Chief's home."

He did, and 40 minutes later, I was knocking on the father's door. He opened the door, looked at me, then looked at the Marine standing at parade rest beside the car, and asked, "Which one of my boys was it, Colonel?"

I stayed a couple of hours, gave him all the information, my office and home phone number and told him to call me, anytime.

He called me that evening about 2300 (11:00PM). "I've gone through my boy's papers and found his will. He asked to be buried at sea. Can you make that happen?" I said, "Yes I can, Chief. I can and I will."

My wife who had been listening said, "Can you do that?" I told her, "I have no idea. But I'm going to break my ass trying."

I called Lieutenant General Alpha Bowser, Commanding General, Fleet Marine Force Atlantic, at home about 2330, explained the situation, and asked, "General, can you get me a quick appointment with the Admiral at Atlantic Fleet Headquarters? " General Bowser said," George, you be there tomorrow at 0900. He will see you.

I was and the Admiral did. He said coldly, "How can the Navy help the Marine Corps, Colonel." I told him the story. He turned to his Chief of Staff and said, "Which is the sharpest destroyer in port?" The Chief of Staff responded with a name.

The Admiral called the ship, "Captain, you're going to do a burial at sea. You'll report to a Marine Lieutenant Colonel Goodson until this mission is completed... "

He hung up, looked at me, and said, "The next time you need a ship, Colonel, call me. You don't have to sic Al Bowser on my ass." I responded, "Aye Aye, Sir" and got the h-ll out of his office.

I went to the ship and met with the Captain, Executive Officer, and the Senior Chief. Sergeant Jolly and I trained the ship's crew for four days. Then Jolly raised a question none of us had thought of. He said, "These government caskets are air tight. How do we keep it from floating?"

All the high priced help including me sat there looking dumb. Then the Senior Chief stood and said, "Come on Jolly. I know a bar where the retired guys from World War II hang out."

They returned a couple of hours later, slightly the worst for wear, and said, "It's simple; we cut four 12" holes in the outer shell of the casket on each side and insert 300 lbs of lead in the foot end of the casket. We can handle that, no sweat."

The day arrived. The ship and the sailors looked razor sharp General Bowser, the Admiral, a US Senator, and a Navy Band were on board. The sealed casket was brought aboard and taken below for modification. The ship got underway to the 12-fathom depth.

The sun was hot. The ocean flat. The casket was brought aft and placed on a catafalque. The Chaplin spoke. The volleys were fired. The flag was removed, folded, and I gave it to the father. The band played "Eternal Father Strong to Save." The casket was raised slightly at the head and it slid into the sea.

The heavy casket plunged straight down about six feet. The incoming water collided with the air pockets in the outer shell. The casket stopped abruptly, rose straight out of the water about three feet, stopped, and slowly slipped back into the sea. The air bubbles rising from the sinking casket sparkled in the in the sunlight as the casket disappeared from sight forever....

The next morning I called a personal friend, Lieutenant General Oscar Peatross, at Headquarters Marine Corps and said, "General, get me out of here. I can't take this anymore." I was transferred two weeks later.

I was a good Marine but, after 17 years, I had seen too much death and too much suffering. I was used up.

Vacating the house, my family and I drove to the office in a two-car convoy. I said my goodbyes. Sergeant Jolly walked out with me. He waved at my family, looked at me with tears in his eyes, came to attention, saluted, and said, "Well Done, Colonel. Well Done."

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Riverbillies, Lakebillies inspire newsroom joke

The summer of 2002 saw historical flood levels on the Guadalupe River.
On July 4, 2002, the spillway at Canyon Dam north of San Antonio, Texas was overwhelmed by 70,000 cubic feet per second of water flow, across a 1,200 feet length of an emergency spillway, cut into natural limestone rock.
The result was that houses built below the dam and in the city of New Braunfels were flooded by river water.
For many people who insisted on building in the river's flood plain, it was the second 100-year flood in four years.
They had been rescued by the Federal Emergency Management Agency's flood insurance program in 1998, but in 2002, they decided that property bailouts were a necessity; taxpayers should not pay for people who want to build their homes in places known to flood.
That caused an uproar.
Yours truly had coined a term regarding the types of personalities he had encountered visiting the lake region in another well-known reservoir - a sort of backwoodsy, long-haired, pile the beer bottles up behind the garage attitude.
The same sort of attitude prevailed among people who wanted to rebuild their homes along the lakeside and along the river.
So, he dubbed them Lakebillies, and Riverbillies, and shared the joke with other newsroom reporters and editors.
The terms lakebillies and riverbillies became part of the routine newsroom vocabulary, regarding people who wanted to live in flood prone areas and who expected taxpayers to bail them out whenever their pastoral existence was washed out.
About six months later, a mis-communication occurred.
The advertising department decided to launch a special promotion, and asked the editorial department to help, it had something to do with the river and the lake residents - marketing to them.
An e-mail was sent concerning a strategy for the promotion, targeting "lakebillies" and "riverbillies."
The two terms got printed into the promotional material, and was distributed by advertising executives to potential advertisers.
A thunderstorm of indignation ensued, and the advertisers complained to the publisher of the newspaper.
Parties involved were reprimanded, advertising executives were properly scolded, and the terms "lakebillies" and "riverbillies" were subsequently banned from use in the newsroom, either internally or externally.
But, the damage is done.
People who insist on living around a lakefront, even if they know it could wipe them out in a flood, should be referred to as Lakebillies.
And people who insist on living on the banks of a river should rightly be referred to as Riverbillies.
Publish that in your Urban Dictionary.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Found on Stumble

Why Can't I Own a Canadian?
October 2002

Dr. Laura Schlessinger is a radio personality who dispenses advice to people who call in to her radio show. Recently, she said that, as an observant Orthodox Jew, homosexuality is an abomination according to Leviticus 18:22 and cannot be condoned under any circumstance. The following is an open letter to Dr. Laura penned by a east coast resident, which was posted on the Internet. It's funny, as well as informative:

Dear Dr. Laura:

Thank you for doing so much to educate people regarding God's Law. I have learned a great deal from your show, and try to share that knowledge with as many people as I can. When someone tries to defend the homosexual lifestyle, for example, I simply remind them that Leviticus 18:22 clearly states it to be an abomination. End of debate. I do need some advice from you, however, regarding some of the other specific laws and how to follow them:

When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know it creates a pleasing odor for the Lord - Lev.1:9. The problem is my neighbors. They claim the odor is not pleasing to them. Should I smite them?

I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7. In this day and age, what do you think would be a fair price for her?

I know that I am allowed no contact with a woman while she is in her period of menstrual uncleanliness - Lev.15:19- 24. The problem is, how do I tell? I have tried asking, but most women take offense.

Lev. 25:44 states that I may indeed possess slaves, both male and female, provided they are purchased from neighboring nations. A friend of mine claims that this applies to Mexicans, but not Canadians. Can you clarify? Why can't I own Canadians?

I have a neighbor who insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2 clearly states he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself?

A friend of mine feels that even though eating shellfish is an abomination - Lev. 11:10, it is a lesser abomination than homosexuality. I don't agree. Can you settle this?

Lev. 21:20 states that I may not approach the altar of God if I have a defect in my sight. I have to admit that I wear reading glasses. Does my vision have to be 20/20, or is there some wiggle room here?

Most of my male friends get their hair trimmed, including the hair around their temples, even though this is expressly forbidden by Lev. 19:27. How should they die?

I know from Lev. 11:6-8 that touching the skin of a dead pig makes me unclean, but may I still play football if I wear gloves?

My uncle has a farm. He violates Lev. 19:19 by planting two different crops in the same field, as does his wife by wearing garments made of two different kinds of thread (cotton/polyester blend). He also tends to curse and blaspheme a lot. Is it really necessary that we go to all the trouble of getting the whole town together to stone them? - Lev.24:10-16. Couldn't we just burn them to death at a private family affair like we do with people who sleep with their in-laws? (Lev. 20:14)

I know you have studied these things extensively, so I am confident you can help. Thank you again for reminding us that God's word is eternal and unchanging.

Your devoted fan,

Marine scientists to investigate dead zone in Gulf of Mexico

AUSTIN, Texas — Whether a large area of low oxygen water called the "dead zone" in the northern Gulf of Mexico could cause declines in environmentally and economically important fish populations is the subject of a new study by University of Texas at Austin marine scientist Peter Thomas.

Thomas and colleagues at several universities have received $2 million in funding from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to study the effects of hypoxia (low oxygen) on fish reproduction and model the impacts of hypoxia on the size of fish populations in the area, which is off the coast of Louisiana east of the Mississippi River.

"There has been a striking increase over the past 20 years in the size of the dead zone during the summer," says Thomas, professor of marine science at the University of Texas Marine Science Institute in Port Aransas. "But the long-term effects of its increase on the size of fish populations are unknown."

Marked suppression of reproduction in Atlantic croaker has already been documented at several hypoxic sites in the northern Gulf of Mexico.

In an initial study, Thomas found that male and female Atlantic croaker collected from hypoxic waters in Florida's East Bay near Pensacola had little ovarian and testicular growth, low egg and sperm production, and low levels of reproductive hormones during a time a year when they would normally be increasing in preparation for reproduction.

Recently, similar decreases in egg and sperm production and reproductive hormones were observed in croaker collected over a much larger area from the dead zone off the Louisiana coast.

Recent model simulations have predicted that this kind of decrease in reproduction can lead to population declines.

However, Thomas says that researchers need to obtain more precise information on the nature and extent of reproductive impairment of croaker throughout the dead zone, and further refine the croaker population models to increase their accuracy and utility as a fisheries management tool.

"Our goal is to provide resource managers with predictions about the impacts of hypoxia on fish populations that they can incorporate into their management decisions," says Thomas.

The Dead Zone varies in size, but can extend to 8,500 square miles (roughly the size of New Jersey) in some years. Incidences of seasonal coastal hypoxia have been increasing in oceans worldwide, largely the result of increased agricultural and industrial run-off.

Thomas will be working with Kenneth Rose and Dubravko Justic from Louisiana State University, Kevin Craig at Florida State University and Thomas Grothues at Rutgers University. The grant is part of NOAA's Gulf of Mexico Ecosystems and Hypoxia Assessment Program.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Sustainable Community: November 9th Meeting (6 pm), Siempre Sustainable Network, Mosaic Community Church-1201 W. Court St., Seguin, TX 78155

Ecological Literacy and Sustainable Livelihoods from Public Schools?

(Position Paper Written to Facilitate the Development of a Panel Discussion
for the November 9th Meeting of the Siempre Sustainable Network)

paul b. martin

“All education is environmental education.” David Orr, Ecologist, Oberlin College

Background. The real crisis in the world is not in the financial economy and its current state, … but rather, the crises in Nature’s economy [severe human poverty and malnutrition (and other physical and mental/spiritual stresses on humans), watershed disruption, top soil loss, dead zones, desertification, loss of diversity and resilience, serious pollution, global climate change, etc., etc.] . Moreover, we are not providing our children (or most of the “adults” around them) with the educational foundation for developing critical thinking and ethical decision-making skills, particularly with regard to the serious long-term ecological challenges.

(Of course in the U.S.A. most of the problems with Nature's economy are out of sight and mind because we have so much power and we suck tremendous resources from all over the world to a relatively small population here in North America--a process which masks and hides the really serious problems our kids and grandkids ... will have to confront with insurmountable difficulties. Moreover, most of us live in such a virtual and unreal reality that whole lives of relative ignorance and procrastination are prevalent--versus what could be fulfilling and spiritually rich and active lives of wisely dealing with real problems.)

The bottom line is that, for the most part sustainable livelihoods do not exist in our very artificial conventional economic systems. Our current (and past) economies, and most of our livelihoods that come from these socio-political/economic systems, are destroying soils, water, the air we breathe, and the climate which sustains life--and these unsustainable livelihoods are doing away with the organisms and their ecological communities with which we as humans must associate for quality life. … They are destroying our humaneness, … our humanity!

Some of us believe we should earnestly begin to attempt to change this unpleasant situation we humans are creating as a result of our development and continued propping up/bandaiding of non-conserving and unsustainable, and non-resilient ecological communities. In particular, we are certain that this major shift in behavior and action must include a comprehensive and intensive long-range plan which would involve (“optimally”) small (less that a 500 student population ) neighborhood and rural schools—with separate elementary, middle school and high school campuses placed side by side, but in concert with the Land and Nature.

“To live, we must daily break the body and shed the blood of creation. …
when we do this knowingly, lovingly, skillfully, reverently, it is a sacrament;
when we do it ignorantly, greedily, clumsily, destructively, it is a desecration.”
Wendell Berry, Essayist, Poet, Farmer

Sustainable Livelihoods. We are positive that such an ecologically-sound school system mentioned in the previous section, can definitely help to realize sustainable livelihoods for local communities and the world, … livelihoods which involve some of the following:

0 Educated holistic and ethical decision-makers
0 Folk who dedicate their lives to targeting the poor with education, knowledge, franchisement, empowerment, power, and resources
0 Organic farmers who are “truly organic” in a holistic sense
0 Urban farmers and rural farmer-ranchers who produce grass-fed and browse-fed meat animals on a small and large scale
0 Holistic low-input community gardeners
0 Health care professionals who holistically and comprehensively practice preventative care on a local level … first and foremost!—and curative care when needed (and who develop health care systems that particularly target the poor)
0 Lawyers who mostly help the poor
(including other species)
0 Bankers supporting microloan/microenterprise systems which are conserving and sustainable
0 Blue collar workers who make enough for a good quality life
0 White collar workers who make enough for a good quality life. But no more!
0 Architects who design conserving and sustainable built-systems
0 Builders of small ecological-friendly homes
0 Constructors and maintainers of transport systems primarily involving bicycles, trains, buses, and modern clipper ships http//
Seekers of low input/throughput/output systems involving ethical use of what is truly “renewable energy”
0 Effective and efficient communicators who work in inexpensive low input systems
0 Systems analyzers and researchers who can effectively communicate the state of the state/the world in terms of material flow and energy flux—inputs, throughputs, and outputs; ... also, teams producing life cycle assessments for products/systems
0 Scientists who truly seek knowledge vs. technicians and technologists who attempt to bring the Land/Nature “to its knees” in service to humans
0 Guardians of diverse native living communities of organisms (including in bays and estuaries); ample amounts of good clean water and air; rich, deep, living top soils; and ethical use of energy
0 Ethical naturalists
0 Readers who seek socio-political/economic (ecological) knowledge about how to live well in a place
0 Human cultures who respect other human cultures, traditions and rituals
0 A human culture that respects the Nature, the Land
0 Ecological historians
0 Local, homegrown entertainers who are relatively “low input”/”low maintenance”
0 Everyone actively participating in local low maintenance sports and entertainment
0 Politicians and bureaucrats/policy-makers at all levels who work intelligently and prudently to facilitate change toward “conservation and development of sustainable community”
0 Teachers of reading, writing and arithmetic who are striving to meet our local and global challenges within a holistic, participatory/hands-on, site-based curriculum of applied ecology
0 True Peacemakers
0 Folk in all disciplines and roles in life who are Positively Ethical Applied Community Ecologists and who live light on the Land

“My own preference is for an environmentalism that talks about ethics and aesthetics rather than about resources and economics, that places priority on the survival of the living world of plants and animals regardless of their productive value, that cherishes what nature’s priceless beauty can add to our deeper-than-economic well-being.”
Don Worster, Environmental Historian, University of Kansas

Questions for the Panel of Experts in the Field of Education. I am certain each and every one of the panel members feels strongly that there is much room for improvement in our public schools. However, differences arise when we begin to discuss what?, where?, when? and how? we need to go about realizing improvement. The questions listed below will hopefully provide some initial insight into how this community and others might move forward toward providing sustainable livelihoods and quality life for all—locally and globally:

Briefly tell the audience what the term “quality life in community” means to you?

What is education for?

What is the most important change we can make in our public schools in order to realize quality life locally and worldwide … for as many folk as possible, and for as long as possible?

What are your thoughts concerning ecological literacy and the importance of such?

Discuss the importance of keeping schools small, “neighborly” and rural—and in concert with the environment.

Discuss the role of schools in community and the need for schools to be “truly Green” holistically, and in concert with the local ecological community of diverse organisms?

Do you believe a “charter school”-initiative targeting low-income families and involving a small middle-school student population--and an ecologically-sound, socially just and humane mindset--might be effective in improving our public school system? Could you actively support a charter school in your current situation, i.e., primarily in an advisory capacity and through possible collaboration with institutions/entities you represent?

What are some other suggestions for moving us toward:
· ecological literacy?
· sustainable livelihoods?
· and communities which are ecologically-sound, socially just and humane?

Thursday, October 22, 2009

San Antonio political history - 2003

Opinion: How the Hell Did We Get in This Mess?
March 13, 2003
Published in the San Antonio Current

Federal indictments, an eroded trust in City government, lifeless politicians, apathetic voters: With a Council election two months away, these are not the best of times for San Antonio politics.
Heading into the May 3, 2003 municipal election, City Hall reeks of scandal. District 5 Councilman David Garcia resigned over charges that he misappropriated campaign finance funds; District 2's John Sanders and District 4's Enrique "Kike" Martin face bribery charges stemming from law enforcement sting operations aimed at curbing corruption in Alamotown.
By appointing former Mayor Lila Cockrell to head his commission on trust and integrity, Mayor Ed Garza has made overtures to prompt City Council to clean up its act. Yet in its analysis, the panel acknowledged that previous "findings and recommendations of citizen commissions have been ignored or forgotten, adding to a sense of futility on the part of the public." So far, Council has shown no signs of changing the status quo at City Hall.
It is time to ask the questions: How did San Antonio politics fall into such a sorry state? And should local citizens trust any remedies proposed by City leaders?
Part of the answer can be found in the rise of the pro-business Good Government League in the 1950s, its decline in the early 1970s, and its current revival in the form of the Greater San Antonio Chamber of Commerce.
Henry Cisneros rose like a Phoenix from the GGL's ashes and evolved into a pro-business Supermayor in the 1980s, setting the tone for today's City Hall. In the 1990s, self-appointed tax watchdog and Cisneros critic, C.A. Stubbs and his conservative Homeowner Taxpayers' Association, convinced the community that term limits would solve problems at City Hall - and subsequently, term limits were imposed and remain in effect today.
Add to the political complexity the increasing demand from Chicanos and African Americans to participate in the political process; yet, some elected officials such as David Garcia have failed to represent their constituents, further disenfranchising them.
History has repeated itself: The Greater Chamber and others who seek financial gain stand at the helm of city government and perpetuate the illusion that ordinary citizens, including Chicanos and African-Americans, have a modicum of power.
The agenda at weekly City Council meetings reflects and responds to the interests of big
business. This is how the ruling class has conducted itself for decades - even a millennium.
Begin with the conquistadores who invaded México and the New World with the publicly stated intent of spreading the word of God to the pagans. In reality, their purpose was to murder and enslave the indigents, mine the riches, and ship the spoils home to the king of Spain. The defenders of the Alamo cried "liberty and justice for all," but their underlying agenda was economic: to take the land and its wealth for themselves and their kin who poured into Texas, seeking their fortunes.
In the 20th century, "San Antonio's urban political history followed a pattern similar to other Sunbelt cities," wrote Kemper Diehl and Jan Jarboe in Cisneros: Portrait of a New American, published in 1984. "The 1940s saw the rise and fall of flamboyant municipal reformers; the 1950s and early 1960s were decades of sleepy efficiency when city government was in the hands of a few businessmen; and the late 1960s and early 1970s saw previously dormant interest groups demand power."
Fast forward to 1951, when the City Charter was changed in response to, (you guessed it) political corruption at City Hall and the rise of the Good Government League was imminent. The charter change demoted the mayor to a ceremonial leader, with an equal vote among other council members, and placed the real power in the hands of a city manager, the system that is in operation today. Simply put, the city manager and staff follow policy set by the City Council, but the daily operation of the community- managing growth, providing public works, public safety, and trash pickup - is coordinated through the City Manager's office. However, fulfilling that responsibility is a huge undertaking for a City this size.
Elected city council members who have a single vote face a daunting task of learning how City Hall works and how to meet the perceived needs of their constituents.
Tucker Gibson, professor and chairman of the political science department of Trinity University, explained that the strength of business' influence over City Hall was due to the Good Government League's grip on the amateur political scene from about 1955 to 1975. That influence - even without the Good Government League - lingers today. "They [the GGL] were not Democratic or Republican, but they called themselves an association," he explained. "They recruited candidates for City Council, but did it secretly. They raised funds, ran slates of candidates and they dominated city politics for a 20-year period."
According to Rodolfo Rosales' book, The Illusion of Inclusion: The Untold Political Story of San Antonio, "The new political arrangements brought about by the business community in 1951 were certainly not intended to create independent representation for the Chicano community, and they did not.
However, a consequence of this more open political environment was that it set in motion a more competitive political environment that eventually brought about in the 1970s independent political representation for the Chicano community, a situation without precedent in San Antonio in this century."
Rosales, a political science professor at the University of Texas at San Antonio, credits the Chicano movement for changing the city's political face. "Mexican- Americans don't get credit for shit, except making tamales," Rosales said recently. "I started out with giving credit to Mexican-Americans who changed politics in San Antonio. We changed the town."
Rosales pointed out that the Good Government League was focused on the goals of the Greater San
Antonio Chamber of Commerce: growth, expansion, and economic development. Yet, Chicanos, many of whom opposed the Good Government League, fought for representation through organizations such as the Bexar County Democratic Coalition, which included liberal North Side Anglos and East Side African- American leaders. As minorities were elected to office, they made inroads at county and state levels, but the city's political climate remained static until 1973, when independent candidate Charlie Becker ousted Good Government League-backed candidate Roy Barrera in an at-large election for City Council.
Meanwhile, in 1974, Henry G. Cisneros gave up an offer to teach at MIT, packed up his family and returned home to take a teaching slot at UTSA. "When Henry Cisneros returned to San Antonio, the city was in chaos," Diehl and Jarboe wrote in their profile of his political career. "The GGL, the conservative political organization which had run the city for 20 years was in shambles.
The Anglo business establishment was divided into two warring factions. City government was paralyzed. Ethnic tensions ran high as Mexican-Americans made a long overdue, but painful drive for power."
Cisneros broke with the liberal Chicano ranks and ran on the West Side Good Government League ticket, winning the Place 3 spot on City Council in 1975. "This is not a time for complacency," read one of his campaign ads in a local newspaper. "It is time to thrust for our full potential as individuals and as a people. This being done, there shall be no excuses for the generations that follow." Cisneros linked economic development, not social welfare programs, to lifting San Antonio out of the wage doldrums - at a time when the average annual per capita income was $5,672.
Cisneros cast a crucial City Council vote concerning the U.S. Department of Justice's edict that the city change its charter to allow single-member voting districts to ensure that minorities were represented. The Justice Department put the hammer down after the city annexed huge properties on the North Side, adding many Anglo voters to the mix.
As a result of Cisneros' vote, the City conducted a referendum on the single-member districts rather than fight the order in court; with more than 52 percent of the vote, the proposal won to change the city charter. As a result, in 1977, five Chicanos and one African-American won council seats, giving minorities the majority at City Hall.
Cisneros served as a bridge between Anglos and Hispanics, and was a political shining star in the eyes of the nation; Walter Mondale considered him as a running mate during the 1984 presidential election. Cisneros had the backing of influential men such as B.J. "Red" McCombs, Jim Dement, Jim Uptmore, Ray Ellison and the newly organized North Side Chamber of Commerce, which took offense at the Government League's financial pact with the Greater San Antonio Chamber of Commerce to promote economic development in San Antonio. When Cisneros ran for mayor in 1981 against
Good Government Leaguer John Steen, one investor quipped, "What this election is really about is the Oak Hills Country Club (in the Medical Center) versus the San Antonio Country Club, and us Oak Hills boys are going to beat the hell out of the old guys."
In 1988, Cisneros' reputation was slightly tarnished after the San Antonio Current published an interview in which he admitted having an Anglo girlfriend, whom he refused to name. A few days later, a daily newspaper columnist revealed the shocking news that the media had known about the affair for more than a year, but had remained mum at the behest of wealthy powermongers: Henry had a girlfriend and her name was Linda Medlar. He stepped down as mayor in 1989, citing other reasons.
Personal relationships aside, Cisneros served three terms as city councilman and three terms as mayor, and gave the public the much-ridiculed Alamodome - what the Current dubbed the "Dillodome," then the "Tacodome," and what other pundits (Michael Cary) called the "Bubbadome."
C.A. Stubbs referred to the domed stadium as Henry's Folly. What really rankled opponents of the dome is that Cisneros billed it as a venue suitable to host a National Football League team when he pitched the project to the public. Then he later retracted, stating he never really said the Alamodome was specifically for an NFL team. The stadium stands as a monument of the legacy of Cisneros, Supermayor with highly developed persuasive powers.
Cisneros had political opponents, and his greatest detractor was self-appointed tax watchdog C.A. Stubbs. A retired computer systems employee of Civil Service at Kelly AFB and founder of the Homeowner Taxypayer Association, Stubbs is partly responsible for the term limits enacted today.
Stubbs, who turned 80 in January, and who bills himself as "the No. 1 tax watchdog in Texas," turned over leadership of the Homeowner Taxpayer Association in 1990 to run a statewide, fiscally conservative group. "I was a staunch opponent of Henry Cisneros. I still am," he said recently. "I helped to set up term limits (at City Hall) because of Henry."
Term limits are the legacy of the HTA, and the center of a 1991 referendum battle. Since that public vote, a council member can serve only two, 2-year terms and
is banned from serving in that office again; the same restrictions
apply to the mayor. The effects of term limits have contributed to the Council's current woes, explained Tucker Gibson of Trinity University. "From my perspective, you get a number of things. One, it potentially expands power of the bureaucracy. Members of the City Council know little about parliamentary procedure. There is no institutional memory and no knowledge of policy. People come to the table with less experience."
Gibson added that people who now get elected to a council seat have an agenda to pursue, but by the time two terms have lapsed, it is hard to pursue it. "By the time you are on your agenda, you're finished unless you run for mayor."
Rodolfo Rosales' contended - accurately - that the inclusion of minorities in city government is merely an illusion. Big business still has its way at City Hall, and with term limits in place, it's nigh impossible to fight the system. A lack of partisan politics - Democrats versus Republicans - results in an absence of political party slates. Following the charter change in 1977, Rosales said, "The city council came up with a 10-1 plan, the mayor-council government. But, they missed the boat. The GGL was a party, but the non-partisan rule excluded political parties. That is the crux of the issue. You don't have an agenda by which to keep candidates accountable."
Ordinary citizens who are gnashing their molars and plugging in the plancha to iron out the kinks in their voter registration cards might believe that by electing new faces to City Hall, things will change - but the prospect is dim. Historically, big business interests dominate the language of the agenda, and Council members and the mayor have individual goals to work into the city government. The system works in perpetuity, as new faces are elected and placed on the Council dais, and new rounds of negotiations begin.
First, big business gets a huge slice of the pie, with the leftovers to be fought over by the citizens who have to pay the baker.
San Antonio is not going to fall into a giant sinkhole if we experiment with the City Charter in an effort to put ordinary citizens on equal terms with power-hungry business interests.
The ethics panel has recommended term limits and lifetime bans for those who have served be terminated and that the mayor and council members get paid living-wage salaries. The
City has survived numerous forms of government, and its citizens have proven resilient enough to accept - or resist - a changing of the guard. •

A brief history of eminent domain

"Texas has a higher level of concern because roots to the land are deeper... You're entering the land of the unhappy people."
A King's Divine Right

A brief history of eminent domain


By Michael Cary
San Antonio Current
Copyright 2004

Domingo Castelo had served five years in the Presidio of San Luis de Las Amarillas by June 21, 1762. He sent a letter to the governor and captain general of the Province of Texas and the New Philippines, continuing to plead for a "single lot on which to earn my living," in the City of San Fernando.

Governor Angel De Martos y Navarrete granted a lot 80 varas square in the vicinity of San Pedro Creek, near his mother in law's property. "He must plant trees and vegetables and occupy the land within the fixed period, with the understanding that if he does not comply," the governor wrote, "the land will be declared unoccupied and uncultivated and may be granted to any other deserving person who may present a petition for it."

This was colonial Spain's version of eminent domain. The school of thought was that God gave the right of eminent domain to the king, and the king gave it to the viceroy, who gave it to the Spanish governor, who parceled it out to settlers. Yet, the king always had the right to reclaim his land for the public good.

Castelo was dead by 1770, and the property was reallocated to a succession of settlers. But Castelo's wife, María Ejeciaca Rodriguez petitioned to reclaim the land, and in 1778, Alcalde Phelix Menchaca restored her title after determining that she had made improvements with a fence and a water conduit for irrigation on the property.

María won her case in a time when rebellious British colonists had yet to pen the U.S. Constitution, and include the last line in the Fifth Amendment which reads: "nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation."

Note two key words, "public use" and "just compensation."

"Eminent domain is the exclusive right of the state, county and the city to exercise discretion in taking private property," says Suzette Berry, a senior analyst in the Bexar County Clerk's office, which oversees the collection and storage of public records. "But it has to be for a HemisFair or to build expressways, with a purpose to serve all of the citizens."

The first eminent domain case on record in the courthouse (from the Republic of Texas era) was dated June 11, 1885, and pitted the San Antonio & Aransas Pass Railway Co. against property owner George Witte. The railroad had its heart set on a 600-foot wide swath of land between the San Antonio River and Probandt Street for a railroad right of way. The railroad won the first of a series of cases, and Witte was paid $125 for his property.

"Eminent domain removes your right to property, and the rights to water and minerals under that property - you can kiss that oil well goodbye, too," says Berry.

Jump ahead to November 1964, when the Texas Attorney General conducted a seminar for attorneys who had worked, or were about to work, on eminent domain cases. "While the concept of eminent domain stretches back in time to almost the beginning of law ... the development of this area of law, as we know it today, has taken place almost entirely within the past 15 years," explained Assistant Attorney General Hawthorne Phillips.

The Texas Highway Department had only three attorneys working condemnation cases in 1958, but by 1964, there were 30 attorneys involved with condemnations for interstate highway rights of way.

San Antonio residents were getting a taste of it from the north, south, and downtown. Families were displaced in the 1960s to make way for HemisFair and the convention center, as urban renewal programs opted to demolish neighborhoods instead of rebuilding them.

And the highways were indeed coming. City Council in August 1963 approved a "schematic" for the North Expressway, known today as Highway 281 and Interstate 37. The Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word didn't have to consult an oracle to see what would happen to them. The highway plan published in local newspapers showed the project's first route would cut through the Incarnate Word High School Campus.

The sisters hired attorney Pat Maloney and filed suit. The state attorney general's office was prepared to use taxpayer money to condemn the property. Other lawsuits followed, and the newspapers reported that City Hall had hinted at following a strategy to get a court to "stop legal bushwhacking of the freeway program." Maloney promised "a decade of court action."

But Incarnate Word was not only concerned about the taking of property. There was the integrity of Olmos Dam, the San Antonio Zoo, the Japanese/Chinese Sunken Gardens and the theater. The Conservation Society, led by Wanda Ford, sued to protect Brackenridge Park. Ford faced the prospect of losing her home to the project.

It was the first time the nation would build a highway through a school campus. Another irksome fact was that an alternate route would have followed Devine Road through the "walled city" of Olmos Park, but political pressure convinced the state to avoid building a highway through a municipality that did not want a highway. "A nun and a college administrator have to stand up here today to defend themselves against bricks, mortar and asphalt taking precedence over an educational institution which has given outstanding service to the city for some 100 years," said Sister Thomas Greenberg, president of Incarnate Word.

The nuns settled with the City for $972,000, and a walkway over the highway that twists and turns wildly on its route from Corpus Christi to Wichita Falls. Legal strategy and political clout delayed its opening until 1978. Ultimately, the City has benefited from the highway project, says former mayor Howard Peak IV, whose father had joined a lawsuit as an individual in the 1960s against building the expressway. "The net result was a roadway realigned to minimize the taking of the park, and so while it was long and involved, and expensive, some good did come out of it," says Peak. "In the end, the City would be in a bit of a mess if we didn't have the freeway."

Although eminent domain is used throughout the U.S., in Texas the stakes are higher, says County Clerk Gerry Rickhoff. "Texas has a higher level of concern because roots to the land are deeper. Land is 98 percent privately owned. You're entering the land of the unhappy people."

Just ask Elizabeth Small, whose grandfather was Edward Patrick Walsh. The Walsh Ranch along the Medina River had been in the family since the Spanish granted the land to them in 1794. Then in the late 1980s, the City decided it wanted a large piece of Walsh property to build a giant mosquito bog, the Applewhite Reservoir. Edward Walsh encountered then-mayor Henry Cisneros in an elevator in a local hospital and was told, "We're gonna get your ranch."

Small contends that the Walsh Ranch was chosen for political reasons. She says the City left the nearby Strauss Ranch alone, since that family carries more political clout. And today, the Walsh Ranch is under construction as Toyota Acres.

"In 1991, the condemnation was very rough on the family," says Small, who grew up on the ranch. "We were told the only thing the land was good for was for tire recycling or trailer parks. Then suddenly it was too valuable to sell back to us, and they were using taxes to condemn our property." "They weren't too sensitive to the family," says Rickhoff, referring to the City's tactic in the Applewhite episode.

The Small family has located another ranch farther south, near Pleasanton, and Elizabeth has graduated from UTSA with a degree in marketing and is moving on with her life, although it still hurts to think about losing 5,000 acres and a family homestead. "It's hard to drive by there, very hard. It was a unique place."

There were 67 condemnation cases before two probate courts in Bexar County in 2002. There were 35 in 2003, and 39 so far in 2004. Various public entities, including the City, the State, school districts, and even Canyon Regional Water Authority, have filed the cases, and the public rarely gets a glimpse of them. On the City side, condemnation proceedings are listed under the "Consent" portion of the City Council Agenda, and rarely get a mention in public.

But the results can be seen everywhere, in drainage or utility easements, or property taken for a road project. There is one substantial example on the City's North Side, along Babcock Road, between De Zavala and Hausman roads. The City condemned property owned by the Bertetti Family Trust, paid more than $600,000 for the property, and built a new bridge over Leon Creek.

Owning a piece of property and a home has for decades been the American Dream, but if the Kingdom of Government wants its property back, there's nothing to do but jump out of the way of the legal bulldozer known as eminent domain.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Toll roads dead?

There was a room full of angry cattle ranchers in the room when the Texas highway department rolled out its Trans Texas Corridor, which showed routes across their property lines in Wilson County. I know because I squeezed among them to look at the highway plans.
Texas already has lots of great farm to market roads that are well paved and can get the motorist to just about anywhere in the state, so I really didn't agree with the need to widen every rural highway to 16 lanes in each direction.
Of course there are plenty of other reasons I will not be voting in the "red" column in the November 2010 election.

Life in Coastal Bend

My ancestors did not observe property lines. Maps and other man made delineations of the planet for the purposes of marking territory have resulted in senseless wars, starvation, human slavery, etcetera. Will the rising ocean waters create a new world order, where there are not any more "no trespassing signs?

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

What I'm Certain of--I think??!!??

Taxes, death; change.
As a 62 + year-old skeptic and agnostic, and as a biologist/ecologist who was (somewhat) educated in the sciences and scientific method, ecological principles and processes--I recognize the uncertainty of dynamic earth systems. I am humbled by virtue of my/our ignorance, by the virtues of ignorance , and my/our extremely limited capacity to learn. ... I know that I/we know so very little when consideration is given to what there is to know--and to the complex and fluid processes of the earth/the universe.

Therefore I strongly believe a tenet for resilience and sustainability for sociological/ecological systems is that of possessing caution and tentativeness--and the necessity of adherence to the precautionary principle .

For these (and other) reasons I strongly believe:
  • Might doesn't make right. ... And there should be mechanisms to reduce individual and collective "power and might" and to move toward a more equitable situation.
  • Power should be diffused to the point that we all realize our right to sustainable livelihoods, good nutrition and exercise, and preventative and curative health care.
  • Salary/income caps need to be implemented.
  • War is never the answer!
  • "Killing to fix" is (generally) not the answer. Give the system (body, community, agricultural system, ecosystem, country, world) a chance to "Naturally" heal. ... Don't play God.
  • Unilateral disarmament is needed--and right now!
  • Capital punishment is wrong.
  • Rampant artificial change though capitalism, consumerism, industrialism, informationism (or any other "ism") should be strongly/tightly regulated.
  • Economic growth, consumption by humans and population growth must be controlled.
  • Monotheistic (Catholic, Protestant Christian, Muslim, Jewish) God's Will is very dangerous.
  • Small, decentralized, participatory systems are beautiful.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Theater celebrates Banned Books Week

Performances Friday and Saturday, October 2-3, 2009 at 7:30 p.m.; Tickets: $12.00
The words of Mark Twain, Harper Lee, John Steinbeck, Maya Angelou, Judy Blume- all great and inspirational American literature- ALL BANNED at some point in American history. In this Readers Theater, a small cast of actors will revive some of the most memorable moments in literature. From the great American novel to Where's Waldo?, audiences will find that no work is immune to censorship on some social, political, and/or religious level. As tribute to Banned Book Week and in celebration of our democratic freedom to read, this performance was organized by Jerry Halpin.

This special performance runs Friday and Saturday, October 2-3 at 7:30 p.m.; tickets are $12.00. Rialto Theater, 327 S. Commercial Street, Aransas Pass. For more information, call 361-758-0383.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Find Winston here

Have moved to the Coastal Bend, New Philippines. See updated into about Winston at above web site.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Ecological Economics: Beyond the Growth Paradigm/or Beyond the Mindless Conversion of Nature/the Land to "Artificial"

Ethically practicing applied biology involves respect and protection of other peoples/cultures, species, topsoil, water, the atmosphere ... which are essential for quality life.

Neoclassical economics and conventional business systems involve consumption, resource extraction and pollution as if: other peoples/cultures aren't important, "topsoil doesn't exist", and quality water and air can endlessly be available for their fallacious economic engines. These systems, including myopic religious "fundamentalists" and addicted frivilous consumers, involve a pervasive ignoring of the need to realize and maintain low input/throughput/output energy flux in order to realize sustainable quality life throughout the earth ecosystems.

The latest issue of Adbusters magazine, Thought Control in Economics, does an excellent job of succinctly but thoroughly making these and related points.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Global Climate Change, Etc.

I support:

carbon taxing (including taxing gasoline/other fossil fuels to rapidly get them to $8++/gallon);

conservation, efficiency; ecological economics/pricing schemes to reduce electrical usage;

policy/practices to increase Natural stable soil organic matter (increase the fixing of carbon/carbon dioxide into living organisms/complex organic compounds);

policy/practices to increase the Natural health of worldwide bays, estuaries,and other rich biotic areas of the ocean (and hopefully to increase fixing carbon/carbon dioxide into calcium carbonate and related compounds);


small (homes, work places, farms, ...) and slow (buses, trains, ...);

weaning ourselves from conventional hot water heaters, clothes dryers, air-conditioning, lighting;

Nature, rural and small towns vs. urban/suburban;

policy-programs to move toward more walking/bicycling/mass transport and ridding the world of automobiles;

moving to an ecologically-sound steady-state economy; an anti-stimulus package; much of what is in the Green Party platform;

policies/actions that redistribute wealth/power toward the poor/powerless of the world;

policies for retrofitting the homes of the poor toward efficiency and conservation of energy;

small local neighborhood/rural schools that develop local and global ecological literacy in a holistic/transdisciplinary; hands-on fashion;

policies/programs for local food/fiber/shelter production/processing;

universal health care;

not dwelling on how much better others are than we are (because we are truly "the same");

a diversity of robust scientific endeavors/policy approaches that attempt to deal with the complexity of what we need to know for good socio-political/economic (ecological) decisions (because we know so little);

scientific research results, policy proposals, opinions that are written succinctly and well, and that are published in referred journals;

local community action, collaboration and "stick-to-itness";

critical thinking that is holistically based on ecological principles/processes;

my spouse, my kids, my extended family, many cultural traditions/customs, sense of place and community, Natural spirituality;


caution and tentativeness;


Wednesday, January 28, 2009

kilocalories = Calories (w/ a capital "C"): Response to a Brother

"Kilocalorie" is the "Calorie-term" (big "C") the public generally uses when dealing with measurements of energy.
(We can convert kilocalories to joules--used by physicists and other scientists; or to BTUs--used in the energy industry, etc. ... However, I believe most folk can most easily think in "Calories".)

o We need ca. 2000 kilocalories (or Calories) of food intake per day for body maintenance depending on weight, activities, metabolism/metabolic rate, etc..

Folk who make <$2 per day make it on 1500-5000-10,000 Kilocalories per day*.

We in the U.S. (and in many other parts of the "developed" world--or the Haves in "less developed") make it on 200,000 to 400,000+ kilocalories per day*. [We need to bring the 3 billion or so folk making it on 10,000 kilocalories up to 10-50,000 kilocalories per capita per day (for "quality life")--and we need to come down to that (or risk serious species destruction).] ...
One can do a little playing round with the numbers--and do a little thought-experimenting and modeling-- and see that if we did that, we'd solve many of our problems: energy "needs", energy-greed impacts on other species, etc.
Of course the daunting challenge is: coming up with the socio-political/economic system redesign to make this happen--and making a smooth transition to truly sustainable community. It is obvious that a free-enterprise, libertarian, capitalistic, trickle-down/deregulated economic system will not get us there!

o There is quite a bit of carpooling in this south central Texas region (though not percent-wise)--and plenty of websites dealing with car-pooling. (In the 80s/90s I "carpooled" to Austin from San Marcos in a van.) ... But this is a "band aid" approach.

o Increased efficient use of home insulation (and other means of effectively maintaining a comfortable home in a sustainable way) is needed--and penalty/incentive strategies/tactics should be employed to increase cost-effective, ecologically-sound home insulation. (A major energy "leakage" is in rent & owned homes of the poor--and some in the environmental community in San Antonio, and other communities, are attempting to address this in a comprehensive and long-term way).

Communication in a face-paced chaotic world of ca. 7 billion humans is really difficult!**
*[Of course this includes all our food, fiber, shelter, transport, recreation, luxury, ... "needs".]

What is written herein includes basic vocabulary and concepts of fundamentals of biology/ecology that every citizen should develop--through public schooling, continuing education from public institutions, public service announcements communication/shortcourses, etc. and reading--in order to develop and realize critical thinking skills.


Sunday, January 25, 2009

What a Real Maverick, Maury Jr., Called Succotash

Communication Toward Positively Ethical Applied Community Ecology. If we can view local community from the inside and from the outside in a holistic way, it helps in doing what’s "right" and making constructive change toward quality life for all for a long period of time. … And there are many ways (knowledgeable, courageous leadership; grassroots community organizing; good investigative journalism; petitions; op-eds/letters to editors; etc.; etc.) to effect such appropriate change, i.e., change to:

o Respect the need for scientific knowledge of ecological principles and processes, which includes socio-economic/political actions of what is now the dominant species (humans).
o Target the poor with power and resources.
o Curb consumption and increase ethical transformation of energy. (This must include fewer automobiles, low square-footage of home space and built capital per capita, local production of food, fiber and shelter, small neighborhood and rural schools promoting “Lands On” ecological literacy, and local community-directed preventative-health care and healthy living.)
o Give the nations of the world—and people of the world—the courage and means to lay down all arms and armaments.
o Establish holistic, dynamic and sustainable decision-making processes in manageable wholes, and involving goals (of desired quality life, landscape, and needed production), policies, strategic and tactical plans, monitoring, analysis, evaluation and replanning.
o Redesign our current socio-economic, political systems in a holistic way toward sustainability.

Efforts to Turn Around Global Climate Change and Other Ecological Disasters Must Lead to Sustainable Livelihoods for All. Those who worry about losing jobs because of concerted efforts to deal with global climate change have reason for concern if they plan to continue doing “business as usual”.

o Consumption and lack of conservation, growth, rampant conversion of natural capital to human financial and built capital, use of GDP as a measure of sustainability and quality life are major aspects of “the problem”, and we who have undue power need to come off of our consumption levels of up to 400, 000 kilocalories per capita per day, and help billions of others to increase their levels from a few thousand kilocalories per day to 5-10 times those current levels.
o Present ways of “living” involving conventional consumerism and capitalism are very problematic. … We need to move from such systems of bio-destructive livelihoods toward sustainable livelihoods .
o We must begin to make the transition from our currently very broken systems dependent on economic growth to systems involving ecological economics proposed by Herman Daly, H.T.Odum, David Pimentel, Robert Costanza, Gus Speth, et al.

Learning About “Ecological Economics”, “Sustainable Livelihoods”, “Conservation and Development of Sustainable Community”, and “Positively Ethical Applied Community Ecology”. There is much really good educational scientific information on conservation and sustainable community coming out, and I hope we all will become more knowledgeable in these areas and truly begin to work together for PEACE. (I’ll try to list some of the really great books, scientific journal and magazine articles, film, pieces “on-line” and in newsletters, etc. that have come out recently.

But in the meantime, … “Google on!”)

Doing What’s Right in Seguin (and Other Communities). I do hope our community leaders (Mayor & City Council--and associated governmental entities, County Commissioners Court, School Board, etc.) will have the courage to do what is right, and-- through creative and critical thinking and courageous/prudent risk-taking--

o Move us toward a system of small neighborhood & rural schools providing holistic ecological literacy.
o Promote local agricultural food (fiber and shelter) production, community gardens, farmers markets, etc.
o Encourage conservation and develop creative curbside trash and recycling pickups that are fair for the poor, and involve sliding-scale fees--that encourage a reduction of disposables and decrease in consumption.
o Facilitate a transition to intra- and inter-city transport/people-moving systems involving walking, bicycling, and mass transport.
o Curb growth and protect and enhance green space and biodiversity.
o Develop a healthy, relatively drug-free community of citizens among all ethnicities and economic levels.

We (Seguin/Seguinities) could be a model for President Barack Obama, other communities, and the world, rather than always cautiously following in the footsteps of others—oftentimes not thinking about whether the direction is “right” or wrong.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Gadfly, Thorn in the Side, Pain in the Butt, Fly in the Oinment, Quixotic

(The title indicates some of the nicer things I've been called through the years.)

o If the poor in a community aren't using "Green" technologies, projects, and programs, and these poor aren't being "Green", then these technologies, projects, and programs aren't Green. ...

Moreover, the community isn't Green (or sustainable)!

o If the poor of the world aren't significantly benefiting in a healthy way from "Green" technologies and programs, etc.--and "Green" technologies, etc., etc. aren't helping the poor to move toward quality life, sustainable livelihoods, equity and equality, then "Green" really ain't Green! ...

And it definitely isn't sustainable.

o Sustainable systems involve deliberate, empowering human labor (sustainable livelihoods involving less than a 40-hour week of labor, good health care with an emphasis on prevention, and time for community and celebration), low-input technologies, and ethical use of energy.

Systems involving high input technologies, including most internal combustion engines, and emphasis on pseudo-efficiency and speed, are not healthy, Green or sustainable.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

HOPE expressed in the Nov 2008 Dr. Bill Martin TX MONTHLY article on the COVENANT CHURCH

I really appreciated a number of my cousin Bill Martin's phrases in this Texas Monthly article (Covenant Church, Faith Base: Reviews of Place of Worship, Nov. 2008) he sent me in response to some of my comments in my previous post:

"I am also an amateur worshipper with a 'church home' of my own, one that I attend simply for the love of it."

"Fittingly a metal cross that sits atop the communion table usually tilts slightly to the left."

"'Pray to whomever you kneel down to' ... (Jesus, Buddha, Adonai, Allah, and Mary, ... ) ... ."

"The unison prayer of confession recalled Jesus' observations in the Sermon on the Mount about humility, meekness, hunger, purity of heart, peacemaking, and persecution, contrasting them with arrogance, false independence, gluttony, aggression, half-hearted commitment, and failure to take a stand."

"Jeremy [the Covenant Church's current minister] compared [controversial Jesuit priest Daniel] Berrigan's actions to those of the priest and prophet Jeremiah, who had mocked the illusionary idols of Israel. He depicted American military might as just such a false god, unable to deliver the security it promises. Though he conceded that reasonable spending on defense is warranted, he said that when the outlay for tanks and missiles requires the neglect of hunger, health care, and the education of children [of the world], we have laid our money at the wrong altar."

"... congregants gathered to visit, drink fair-trade coffee, eat healthy snacks, and sign up for various projects, such as marching in the gay pride parade to support our gay and lesbian members. At another table people wrote letters to their representatives in Congress ... ."