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Sunday, April 29, 2012

That’s Just not Right

Time flies by, I can't believe that I am approaching six years of posting and blogging; it's addictive and stimulating at the same time.  I began this hobby when a friend of mine told me how he spent a lot of time posting on ViCad and that I should give it a try.  At first I was in awe of the wealth of knowledge that I saw in everyone's postings, so it took me a long time before I had the nerve to post.

One day I just decided I was no longer going to try to be something I'm not, so I set my profile and avatar to let the readers know why I'm coming from because I just can't stand  superficial.  Every blogger had a niche back then; national politics(especially a liberal democrat's view) was not taken so I hit the books,newspapers, kept up with the Sunday talk shows and my new hobby was in full gear.  I loved it when a conservative said" I don't agree with a lot of your points but it's nice to see what the other side thinks." Bingo, that was my objective.I make discussing economic pretty easy because unless your ideas can pass both houses,it's pretty worthless.

Yesterday, I had a lot of time on my hands up so I started reading some of the older posts of the week.  It was disturbing to read BigJ's post advising a relatively new blogger,Bob Munoz, that he was being called a racist on another site.  I verified the info by going to that website and rereading Bob's blog.  That's a crock,Bob Munoz is a credible, articulate, nice man with a point of view and he should be able to express without a frivolous racist label being placed on him.  I have written several similar statements that are on his blog.  I defy anyone to point out the racist words embedded in his blog.  Everything he wrote in that particular blog can be heard or are seen or read in the media.  I will repeat them, Marco Rubio does not appeal to Mexican-Americans or Puerto Ricans. Cuban- Americans are very different, culturally and politically.  That's not racist; it's documented fact.  I don't do a lot of e-mailing unless something is weighing on my mind but I will not sit idly by and watch another credible blogger leave the forum ,due to a blatant lie.  I'm going to make him aware that intimidation will be used from time to time and he should consider the source. I'll also provide him with some examples.  He's a churchgoing family man ,so I'll wait until later this afternoon.  Character assassination without proof is another pet peeve of mine.

I give as well I take ,so I'm fair game and I don't usually get involved in on-line squabbles because like a martial spat,that worm can turn and I will become the bad guy. Politics by it's very nature is always controversial and it would perfectly acceptable to call Bob Munoz a partisan  but provide the proof if you are going to call him a racist.I willing to bet the proof will never appear.

Over at the VA,if I'm unfamiliar with  a poster ,I will look at their comment history before I engage with them because I like to know who I'm dealing with. There are several on my "do not engage" list because nothing productive will ever come from it.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Why do they hang on?


I remember a few years ago my wife and I were disappointed as we listened to the Righteous Brothers sing (You’re my) Soul and Inspiration. Bill Medley couldn't quite get that high note and that song required it. I remember an old Willie Mays tripping as he rounded third base. I hated to see this graceful athlete go out that way.

Monday I was sitting in the Firestone lobby waiting to get my truck's oil changed and I heard a familiar voice coming from the counter. I looked back to see who it was, and instantly recognized that it was an old friend, so I got up to greet him. He’s three years my senior, so I asked him what was wrong with his vehicle but he said he was filling out a job application because he had heard that Firestone had lost four mechanics. I didn't question him and I'm not judging him but that still left me wondering.

I don't even like Newt Gingrich but I feel sorry for him because his ego won't let him make a graceful exit. Mike Barnacle busted out laughing this morning on "Morning Joe" because he imagined Newt addressing the breakfast crowd at some cafe and the customers whispering to each other” who is that guy and what's he talking about?"

Have you seen this funny video about Rick Santorum presidential exit?

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Do Dreams Matter?


According to new research, our brain is at its most creative state when we are asleep. I'm a bit of skeptic because I don't understand how electrodes can give as that much feedback on the human brain but the article in Time Magazine by Jeffery Kluger caught my interest.

Paul McCartney said he came up with the melody for “Yesterday" in a dream. Elias Howe, the inventor of the sewing machine said he came up with the idea of needles when he dreamed of an attack by warriors carrying spears will holes in the tips. Mary Shelley dreamed of a man assembled from bits beyond the grave-and went on to write Frankenstein.

The act of sleeping is a little more complicated than just conking out for the night. The article stated that we have two principals’ cycles of sleep: rapid eye movement (REM) and the non rapid eye movement (NREM) and they alternate throughout the night. As a sleep pattern progresses, our muscles relax, heart rate and respiration slows and our body temperature drops and our muscles become paralyzed. Have you ever had that dream where you'd needed to wake up but couldn't? How about trying to get out of bed but you couldn't move your arms or legs until you woke up? Those are examples of REM sleep and come at the last 4 hours of sleep.

Our waking brain is supposed to be orderly and our sleeping brain is fragmented. The fragmented brain sleep pattern allows us to explore other untried avenues. It's been proven that students that take a 40 minute nap improve their test scores. In our waking period, we work out a problem in our head and come up with familiar answers. Sleep allows a chance for a better answer to emerge.

The author said that when we try to remember the name of a song and three hours it hits us is no accident. It's called "conscience awareness" because we're only able to focus on one thing at a time.

The question is are we equally creative in our sleep or do people who are already creative in the waking hours retain that edge at night? Sorry, the creative ones have an advantage because more than likely they have an active fantasy life and their daytime behavior follows them into the night sleep. It's like the rich get richer.

It was recommended that we keep a journal of ours dreams and to avoid alcohol and caffeine because they scramble the REM and NREM sleeping cycle. It was also suggested that we contemplate a problem that we're trying to solve just before we go to bed because it increases the likelihood that a dream will come up with a solution.

I am still trying to figure out why I’m still having the reoccurring dream of driving up a steep climb losing power and seeing thousand of cars behind me. The other one is getting separated from my wife in a large city with no means to contact her.

What do you think? Are dreams that important?

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

If the Republicans Get their way with health Care


I've read several scenarios about what would happen if the Supreme Court strikes down Obamacare or if the GOP repeals it next year... One report said it would bankrupt our health care system because the bureaucracy would come to a standstill, leaving a lot of procedure and payment questions unanswered. If you remember during the GOP presidential debates, all the candidates wanted to repeal Obamacare, but they never offered, a suitable replacement.

Years and years of skyrocketing health care costs was the only reason the Obama administration took up the measure.

According to Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar of the AP, “we can’t look for the government to step in.”

Employers and insurance companies will take charge and will probably use some of the good ideas in Obama's care, discard some, but those two entities will push harder to bring down costs...Theirs.

More than likely workers will bear most of their own medical cost with higher deductibles and out -of- pocket cost before insurance ever kicks in. Smokers will probably face financial penalties if they don't seriously try to quit. Overweight employees with hypertension and diabetes will be tagged as health risks and encouraged to get on diet programs.

Some companies will keep the popular provision of coverage, such as the one that allows employees to keep adult children under age 26 on their policies but others will eliminate it

Workers and family members and will be steered to hospitals and doctors who can prove  that they can deliver quality care, and the doctors would earn part of their fees for keeping their patients healthier. This provision is similar to the "accountable care organizations" in the current healthcare law.

Some workers would pick their healthcare provider from an exchange program similar to the healthcare law. They'll get fixed payments from their employers to choose from gold, silver, platinum and bronze plans and pay accordingly.

Obviously, we will go back to square one, where employers were the major drivers in health care plan changes before it became too expensive for them to handle.

One thing is certain; businesses can't and won't take care of the 50,000,000 uninsured.

Careful what you wish for.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

A Great Sunday Read


I really enjoyed reading my Sunday Victoria Advocate this morning. The topics were tailored made for my enjoyment...There was the Chevy Volt article. Another one on the EPA, and even Michael Reagan came through with an insightful article about the recent GSA scandal. As always, Tina Dupuy wrote an excellent piece, and my wife said that the Parade issue about hoarding, described me to a tee.

I know I'm biased, but the Toyota Prius is a lot better than the Chevy Volt from what I read this morning. I don't have a plug- in, but I can ride around town all day at 35 miles an hour without using gasoline. According to my owner's manual, my "hybrid battery is recharged either through regenerative braking (kinetic energy from coasting/slowing down spins a generator to make potential energy in the battery) and/or by taking excess power from the gasoline engine (use the gasoline engine as a generator) to recharge the hybrid battery. There is no plug. No charging off the mains/local electric supply." I don't have to worry about being stranded at the airport. Mr. Griffin thinks the Volt is expensive, well that's about what I paid for my Prius in 2007. The Volt may have some new gadgets but the Prius has more than its share. The only negative I can see about the Prius is being stranded without a Toyota dealer in sight. I believe every small town has a Chevrolet dealer, but it may not have a Volt mechanic. Having to replace the battery pack after eight years of use, is a another negative.

Sonny Long wrote about the Victoria County Democrats supporting the legalization of marijuana. Why? How is that issue going to help the party? It seems like the emphasis would be on strategic way to get more Democrats elected. Unless I missed it, I didn't see environmental issues in the mix. Energy has always been a part of the Texas economy. The oil and gas industry will always have Republican support. The Democrats need to jump on the side of alternative sources.

There wasn't much Earth Day coverage, in fact, more attention was paid to 4/20 Day (4/20, which is slang for smoking marijuana) and the unveiling of the Willie Nelson statue in Austin, Texas. I think the climate-change argument has been lost for now, because of the bad economy. People just can't get excited enough to do anything to curtail the use of fossil fuels right now. That’s too bad. At least, the positive article about the EPA might make people aware of that agency's importance; I think the pictures were a nice touch.

I'm a little late in coming to the sewage plant issue, but I like Denise Rangel's answer of using modern technology over repairs and if it's correct that smell is no longer an issue, then location shouldn't be an issue. Like I said, I'm very late coming to this issue, so I might have missed a lot. I'm only going by today's article.

On another issue, wasn't the school board's decision on the standardized test is a bold proactive step in the right direction? We need to continue to keep the lines of communication open because eventually the good ideas will seep through the white noise.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Baseball Card Shop Memories


This morning’s story about the Honus Wagner card in the Victoria Advocate brought back memories of my baseball card shop I had in the 90s. I remember it well, because 1991 was Jeff Bagwells and Pudge Rodriguez's rookie year and their cards were selling like hotcakes.

I've told this story before, but it takes some explaining of how I got interested in selling baseball cards because I'm not a salesman. I used to work with a fella who would sell the gold from his teeth if he thought he could make a profit. He sold guns, jewelry, coins and baseball cards. He knew that I was a rabid Astro fan, so one day he came over to show me his collection. We were at work, so he left the collection with me, knowing I would purchase something. One day he invited me to go with him to baseball card show. That's all it took to become hooked as a consumer, and I would soon become one of them. After several shows, I decided to open my own store.

I know a lot of people think that I get my economic theories from a liberal clearing house of books and blogs, but that is far from the truth. I don't believe there's a truth certain when it comes to economics' because human reaction cannot always be predictable. My beliefs come from what I learned from owning a service station and a card shop. You have to love what you're doing, or you'll never be good at it and you have to listen to your customers and your help.

I was lucky; my older daughter was a good athlete and a sports fan, so she joined me and insisted that she would work on commission. I probably would have failed without her new ideas because she kept up with the latest trends like holograms, other memorabilia, and to this day, I don't know where she picked up her selling and marketing skills. One day friend of mine dropped off 3 boxes of old Dallas Cowboy cards that the police officers used to give away to kids, thinking I would want them. I didn’t think they were worth messing with so I put them aside. My daughter looked through the boxes, sorted them and sold everyone of them. I overheard her telling a customer " you know Michael Irving is going to make it to the Hall of Fame, so the $5.00 you are paying today, will bring 10 times that" and to my surprise, he said, " you’re right, give me two of them." She took the cards of the players who weren't going to sell on their own and started making team sets and inserted them into grab bags.

On another day, I saw some literature from the Mormon Church behind the counter and asked my daughter if she was going to join the Mormons, she smiled and said," who do you think, buys most of our basketball cards?"

Once a month we would close our shop and compete against the other dealers at the card shows. Those shows became a family event where my wife would open the cases of cards and started sorting them, taking out the special high-dollar cards and taking instructions from my daughter on what to do with the other cards. My daughter's husband would take care of our grand kids and joined in the sports conversations with customers. After the show, everyone would help pack up and take inventory back to the shop before we all met up to eat a big meal.

All that came to end one night when I got a call from the police department saying that my store had been broken into. The burglars didn't take any money, just my high-value cards. I learned years later that one of my old competitors hired some local gang bangers to rob my store, but I forgot about it and perhaps it was an omen to get out while the getting was good.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Growth in the City


In the last two weeks ,I've been talking a lot with landlords, oilfield workers and some of my friends who have gone back into the workforce as inspectors, consultants, and liaisons between the plant and contract workers.

I was surprised of how many of my fellow coworkers went back to work. I got the sense that they were flattered because the contract company contacted them instead of them having to go out and seek them. As they described it, the contract company, doesn't have to pay benefits to its regular or part- time employees. The company saved even more money by not having to retrain those who had retired. The only complaint my friends have, is the overtime and having to work 16 straight days without a day off. My friends really don't want that over- time and extra hours because they are 65 years old..Even though I'm happy for my friends look at all those young people that could be employed.

It's my thought that age 58 is just too young  to retire and sit in a rocking chair all day long and feed the birds. I'm different; I'll take the rocking chair anytime.

One of my friends went to work as a welding inspector after a year of taking and passing special courses in that field. He showed me a check stub where he was making $100 an hour in Oklahoma. He's currently working about 30 miles north of Laredo making only $35.00 an hour. His expenses were paid for by the oil company he worked for but he was still angry because he was paying $100 a night for his roach motel and $7.00 for a six pack of Coke's at the Dollar General.

I've talked to a friend who owns a fourplex, about his rental rates because of all the talk of the rent going up in Victoria. My friend heard through the grapevine that the Chaparral over on Loop 175 is charging some outrageous prices for their rooms. He told me that he has owned his fourplex for 20 years and this is the first time he's ever had a waiting list. You went up on his rent $200 a month and is hoping that he'll recoup some of losses he's taken in previous years. I think when oil field money dries up in those towns close to Laredo, so will the towns. My friend seems to think that Caterpillar and the oil field and other associated businesses will provide him with tenants at the new rate for longtime.

My daughter's territory includes Nixon, Kennedy, Yorktown and Cuero where she tells me that the roads have been torn up by those big oil field trucks. The money to fix those roads will be paid by the taxpayers of those small towns. How long will this go on before somebody steps back and says maybe we ought to recalculate our contracts? Right now everyone is afraid to look that gift horse in the mouth.

Right now it feels like the 1970s in our city, the plant workers are talking about startups, shutdowns and future projects and the classifieds are filled with job openings. Several friends have agreed with me, that our newspaper's obituary page seems to be full every day. I thought it was just me who had noticed that, because that's the first page I read every morning.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Burning Questions


The political nonsense has started on our online forum and it's not usually backed up by legitimate sources because that's impossible to get. I have a few basic questions but I probably won't get any answers.

Some local posters are running down minorities and poor people even if the subject matter doesn't apply. I never get an answer when asked for absolute proof. One poster said that getting a voter ID is not hard at all, especially since poor people all have $600 I phones and I guess the money to pay for the contract. Has anyone's ever investigated that allegation? I believe we do have legitimate poor people who would like to vote and the extra burden, costs, and harassment we are putting on them is an impediment to voting. We should be encouraging not discouraging voters; lord knows we have enough voter apathy.

The same posters think that our legislators think minorities are ignorant and need extra points to pass a hiring test. Affirmative action was set up 1961 as a prerequisite to the 1965 civil rights legislation. It was meant to level the playing field in employment, education, and business. The minorities might have passed all the tests without the extra points, but we’ll never know. Is it time to scale back and start taking steps to do away with this program? I've always said that we should have a serious debate and I believe sensible people would agree that it has fulfilled its purpose. I fully understand the anger one must feel when they are victims of reverse racism but I have also seen the National Guard called out to allow students to go to a public school.

The courts will eventually decide if the Texas voter ID law suppresses voters and if affirmative action should be scaled back. We never have legitimate arguments; all we have is personal stories of how someone's neighbors are cheating the system. That happens all over, I remember my work mates purposefully lying to the Internal Revenue Service but at the same time they were complaining about the EITC. They justify their lying by convincing themselves that they weren't doing anything out of the ordinary.

Which leads me to my basic questions; when can we go back to the issues where we have legitimate differences instead of the silly arguments?

The other burning question I have is one of equal resentment. Why is it that we don't care about waste in the billions if it concerns our defense department but of blood pressure comes to a boil when we hear of a welfare fraud? I think the latter is because we actually can see it sometimes or we put together some unverified facts in our head to back up what we were already thinking. We do get complaints about bureaucracy and government waste but the level of anger is much lower.

I just read where a couple posters are saying that all Muslims must be suspect because moderate Muslims are not condemning terrorism. I don't really know how you prove that but I hope the people of Afghanistan aren't blaming the actions of one soldier who killed 17 civilians on all the troops in Afghanistan.

I don't care if we if we eventually have to use a driver's license to vote but we should wait until after the November election. That way we could take steps to get the people to comply by wavering the fee for birth certificates, finding ways to register the people other than conventional means and giving the time necessary to produce the identification necessary to vote. I know the reason the republicans are using this tactic; it's just a voter suppression.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Snakes ..Yuck!


I just finished reading a news article about a pilot of an Australian airplane forced to make an emergency landing when a snake slithered itself onto the dashboard. The pilot said his heart started beating so fast because the snake was resting on the transmit button he needed to push to make his May Day call. He landed safely and a snake handler was there to greet him but I bet he will have nightmares.

It's stories like these that make me shiver because I'm not ashamed to say that I'm scared of snakes. I don't care  how important of a role snakes play in our ecosystem by keeping us from being infested with rats, insects, and other creatures. There are several caves that house these hideous reptiles; I wouldn't mind if we bombed every one of those caves.

I guess being afraid of snakes is something I was born with and never got over it. I remember when I was in Fort Polk, Louisiana there were signs warning us not to sit down because snakes were prevalent in the area. Years later, I quickly left a roadside park that had a similar sign. I was born in the city; I was not used to the country critters, especially snakes.No,I won’t ever watch movies like “Snakes on a plane” or “Anaconda.”

I was first exposed to a lot of snakes when I was working for the Texas Highway Department and three incidents stand out. My first encounter with snakes came while I was driving a sickle mower that had sharp triangle blades that went in a rapid in-and- out motion to cut tall grass. I was on loop 175 atop a large embankment of an overpass when my sickle blades stopped; thinking it was a piece of wood, I raised the long blade housing in a vertical position and pulled another lever to release the object. I looked up and saw a very large snake on its way down toward me. The badly wounded snake fell right on top of my tractor and I quickly jumped off the tractor causing it to smash against the railing. My boss was patrolling the area so he saw the whole thing. As he was approaching me, he kept asking me if I was all right; I'm told him that I didn't care if he fired me for the tractor damage and then he burst out laughing and said that he couldn't wait to tell the rest of the guys.

Everyone had a snake story at the highway department and they were all funny.

After hearing the about my snake encounter, the jokesters in our crew couldn't resist their pranks, whenever an opportunity arose. They used rubber snakes, ropes, and rattle noises to spook me. We had a special crew from Yoakum that operated the real heavy equipment and they brought with them their Bohemian/Czech humor they were known for. One particular day we were cleaning bar ditches alongside the Port Lavaca, Hwy and I noticed that the crane operator was putting some dirt aside, instead of just filling the dump trucks. I was third in line but he motioned for the other truck drivers to move so he could fill up my truck. Silly me, I thought he was giving me a special privilege of some sort. I thought nothing else about it until I went to dump my dirt load, looked back and saw three snakes wiggling themselves out the dirt towards the cab of the truck. I quickly rolled up my windows, locked the door,raised the bed, slammed on my brakes and then looked back to make sure every ounce of dirt and snakes disappeared and at the same time, put the truck in forward while the bed was still being lowered. You can only imagine all the belly laughs I received as they saw my truck returning to the work area.

 Those first two incidents were good- natured fun but one day my natural instinct took over when a new hand tried to scare me with a real snake. I've told him in a serious and loud voice to stop but he kept coming at me, so without thinking I picked up a hammer and threw it at him barley missing his head. The other guys chastised him for going too far. I thought the incident was kept quiet but a week later we had a rare safety meeting where our boss played a couple of videos: one was an about horse play in the work place and the other was about poisonous snakes in our area..I wonder if our crew boss reported the incident to our real boss? That's the way we used to take care of incidents back in the good old days.

This is south Texas, so I know everyone has a snake story, so feel free to share.

Here is the link to the snake and pilot story.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Education Reform..NOW!


I finally got around to begin reading a book I got for Christmas called “That Used to be Us" by Michael Mandelbaum and Tom Friedman. The book is about the United States of America, our major challenges, with some possible solutions and emphasizing that education should be our priority.

Yesterday my daughter was telling us about the new STAAR test, saying that her class will never pass that test because they are having trouble with what she’s currently teaching. The questions are confusing and the material is substandard at best. The test was developed by someone’s brother-in-law or it’s the cheapest test out there.

Historically America has educated its people up to and beyond the technology demands of every era. That lasted until the 1970s, but then we stopped keeping up. And when we stopped income inequality begin widening as a job opportunity for the high-school dropout shrunk. I believe everyone knows that we have to educate our young people up to and beyond the new levels of technology but are just spinning our wheels arguing about the same barriers. Local districts evaluate their success on how much better they are than their neighboring districts, but they should be measuring their success against students in China, Finland, Taiwan, and South Korea.

Teachers and principals should be at the forefront of any discussion about improving education. The book describes how a school district in Colorado mimicked the teaching methods of successful countries. They elevated the status of the teachers and promoted the gifted teachers and called them masters. The master's methods were filmed for other inspiring teachers to learn from, and they were  required to sit in on a class of a master instructor. Teacher's tenure would be based on job performance and not years in service. Teachers were evaluated three times a year. The quality of an educational system cannot exceed the quality of the teachers. It's been recommended that we create a few West Point  like universities for would- be teachers and principals.

If you take the lowest performing students and you put them in a classroom of highly effective teachers, we know that in three years, we will close the achievement gap. We also know that the opposite is true and that we'll blow that achievement gap open so wide, that will never be able to close it.

The principal should do the hiring and the firing of teachers rather than the local school board. The principle would also serve as an inspirational leader to bring out the best in teachers and students, and most importantly, they must be part of any evaluation process of any school system. The difference a good principle makes cannot be overstated in retention of good teachers. It would be up to the principle to get all the necessary groups on board and convince them how it's in their interest to get involved. How can the inner cities ever improve if we keep dumping the worst teachers on them? Yes, money may be saved in a short term by voting down tax increases for schools but if that results in higher dropout rates and higher unemployment, the cost to the state and communities will be higher.

When people start to think that we have an impossible task ahead of us, they should be reminded of the Tuskegee airmen, the first African-America aviators in United States Armed forces, who flew many successful missions in World War II.

You have to realize that back then, and it was thought that a black man did not have the courage, or intelligence or stamina to fly one of America's most expensive warplanes. They became the only squadron that never lost a bomber.

Have you noticed with a few notable exceptions, the people who know the global labor market best-the members of the business community- dropped out of national debate? Business leaders used to be known for lobbying for better education, infrastructure, immigration, free trade, and rules to promote constructive risk taking. They are simply taking their jobs overseas and not necessarily for the lower labor costs but for the most skilled.

Instead of lobbying Congress to double federal spending on basic research in physical science and support a national policy to promote high-speed broadband communication networks that Japan and Korea have done, business leaders have taken a line from Carly Fiorina, when she said, " There's no job that is America's God-given right anymore."

The number-one strategy in our economic plan should be education. As President Obama said, " the country that out educates us today, will out compete is tomorrow."