Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Welcome Home SOBs

You know, I get tired of talking about things like global warming, pollution, bad county park developments, immigration, local politics and politics of all kinds, and crazy stuff I can’t change. Sometimes I just want to say “Hey, welcome back to the Island, you SOB.”

That’s son-of-the-beach for those of you not in the know. It includes girls too! On a small Island with maybe a few thousand at most, it is a big deal. If you ever flew over South Padre Island, the Abacos, or places like Block Island, you simply can’t believe that folks can live on such a small sand-spit of land.

Now some of these here islands have real rocks and hills on them, but not here – it is all shifting sands. I am convinced that if a hurricane can’t take us out, the local politics will. But we come back and return … and we think about playing music and drums and getting together. Folks have been so busy, which is good, but we like our SOBs to come home to roost every now and then …

Welcome home you SOB!

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Reverse Bracero

I’m not going to get involved in playing with the politics of immigration, but perhaps some history would be helpful. The Bracero program was started in 1942 due to a WWII concern that there was not enough manual labor to produce food. Working with the government in Mexico, the Farm Bureau contracted hundreds of thousands of “chili pickers” to work the fields. This number grew to over three to maybe five million. The extent to with they were abused or even paid is still a source of contention. The Bracero program ended in 1964 under pressures of illegal immigration, farm mechanization, and even charges of “illegal slavery” (source: Some might say that Bracero never really ended.

President Bush has a serious problem on his hands because he wants to expand the “guest worker” program, perhaps modeled after Bracero, yet strict conservatives want to stop all migration at the borders without semi-legal status for any migrant workers. Build a huge fence on the border; lock up criminal migrants; fine them and send them packing back home; send their employers to jail or fine them too. Oh, did I mention that churches that help illegal immigrants could be sanctioned as well?

The latest word is that Senate leader Frist will move a bill forward without any mention of an expanded guest worker program. However, there is a question of what to do with approximately 12 million migrants who are here already, many of whom do NOT have legal status. According to recent Bureau of Justice Statistics, there are a little over two million prisoners in federal, state, and local jails. The numbers of immigants is indeed bewildering. [Editorial note: have illegals build their own jails?]

The number of annual immigrants entering the US from Mexico is currently classified, as directed by Homeland Security, so the number of apprehensions and amnesty grants are not known. However somebody leaked information that about 45 percent of the migrants entered the US under the expectation of President Bush’s guest worker program (

So it is a complex issue, and I wonder where all that “compassionate conservatism” has gone. The only thing that seems true is that everyone thinks they can control the situation with more and more legislation, which to me is far from what we learned in the past. Look for a good battle on the Hill...

Monday, March 20, 2006

Scissor Tails?

This picture was courtesy of some darned thingy on the Internet but the Scissor-Tailed Flycatchers came in today, up from Central America somewhere. It is an awesome bird, maybe not as awesome as the “Yeek-Woo” bird I have yet to identify, but way up there. The Scissor-Tail is the state bird of Oklahoma and in Texas is also known as the “bird of paradise.”

They are extremely aggressive and were attacking the grackles (nasty black birds), which endears me to them even more. And, they seem a little horny already, diving up and down with their long tails in acrobatic stunts. Just when I thought Spring Break was over!

The red-wing blackbirds have almost cleared out, my favorite crazy blackbird, as well as the doofy white pelicans. Some transient mockingbirds have shown up, one of which mimics the Yeek-Woo bird and drives me insane. But the scissor-tails are definitely cool.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

How Do You Spell Relief?

Ah yes, what’s that sound? No helicopters, sirens, and boom-boom rap music and I can hear the ocean again? It must be the end of Texas Week.

The butcher’s bill was pretty light this year, with one death, a double-stabbing, and some of the usual accidents and mishaps, including a minor riot at the Radisson again. No Coast Guard rescues required. The worst we saw was a kid that just got out of the hoosegow asking for a free cell phone call to his parents.

Oh, and staying up all night and seeing the trash in the morning. Sheesh.

By all accounts from the locals, Texas Week was down from the peak years of the past, although it will take some time for the Motel Tax and Sales Tax data to be tabulated. Some speculated that Spring Break has just gotten too expensive.

Being “Spring Break virgins” in our first year here, it really wasn’t all that bad. We stocked up for a virtual hurricane but it only blew about 32 knots.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Biggest Snoop Ever

The biggest snoop in the US is the credit bureaus. You might think it is your neighbors, or the crazy rumor-mills in these little towns like South Padre Island. You might think it is George Bush with his illegal-sounding NSA phone taps and such. No, friends, it is the credit firms with evil names like Equifax, Solutions (huh?), and TransUnion. They know what you buy and whether you pay it on time or write a hot check. I read about this stuff while eating dinner and almost splooged.

I hate to sound like an old man, but it used to be you could work with your local bank, build up some savings, open a checking account, and get considered for a loan if you needed one, like for a house. Credit cards were for richie-rich people who shopped in downtown Manhattan, very expensive and very fake “gold card” money.

Heck man, most of us back then traded in cash. I remember as a kid working at a restaurant and somebody paid with a travelers check and we had absolutely no idea what to do with it. “That’s tourist money - it pays just as good, guys” said the boss. We stared in awe, mouths agape.

Spending, loans, check writing, and investments: unless you deal in hard currency these folks have everything financial on your life! And guess what, the government is behind it and gets to share some of those goodies. And they score you too, every day, 500 to 990! No other espionage system could work as well. They want us to worry about our medical records and whether George Bush is doing “peek-a-boo” searches but folks, I think I’m on to something and it is the worst.

Well, except for Bruno. He really is a snoopy bastard.

Saturday, March 11, 2006


Here’s a shot of the Demilitarized Zone at ten o’clock a.m. Notice the chain link fence down the middle of the road – and yes I agree, it’s pretty bleak down there. By two o’clock in the morning, this will be an absolute madhouse. The chain link fence is a new development because the plastic barriers they put up in previous years were used for target practice.

Today is the first day of Texas Week for spring break. You won’t see much traffic now because kids these days don’t wake up until noon. All the locals are scrambling for groceries and beer and wine and supplies to “hunker down” the upcoming rush of wild-ass kids. Creative folks are putting up “do not cross” police tape to protect their driveways – you get the picture. Hey I could use a roll of that stuff, just maybe.

My wife Lori says “it’s kind of like getting ready for a hurricane,” a good description except the dogs bark all night long at strange rap sounds. Another difference is that there are five beer delivery trucks for every bar and the Mayor hasn’t kicked us off the Island … yet!

Friday, March 10, 2006

Getting Even with AARP

I received my first AARP letter in the mail today. Yes, that’s the American Association of Retired People. I’m burning it. Heck man, I’m not even 50 yet – that would happen in June.

I remember burning my draft card in 1974 or so. Okay, I waited for the draft lottery to be cancelled by the President and then I burned it but man that felt good. Repeat: I burned my card after the draft stopped! At the time I was “1-H” and ready to be inducted into the Army in Hartford, Connecticut. I was either going to join the Coast Guard Band or hightail it to Nova Scotia before I was “saved by the Lord.” OK, maybe Nixon.

Burn baby burn, it went up in like three seconds and was gone.

And just like the draft, this AARP letter just pisses me off. I mean it is Spring Break time and these folks want to ruin my childish ways by offering cheap insurance and a good RV deal in Schenectady, New York? I want to get down with the college kids and party.

Sure, I moved down here to have a “semi-retired” lifestyle but I’ll probably have to work until I’m 90 to pay off all this debt. But I’m still 17 at heart. So I’m burning the letter on the BBQ after I make dinner, since I don’t want to pollute my excellent meal with such trash.

It will be just like burning that old draft card, only better. Who was that famous movie actress who said “Those bahstids!”?

Monday, March 06, 2006

All at Sea, Literally

I went out deep-sea fishing last Sunday and it was fun although rather depressing at the same time. The high spot was all the jumping King Mackerels, which were chasing bait out of the water, maybe six feet into the air. Hundreds of them jumped in five minutes and it went on for hours! They were at least a quarter mile away, so I didn’t get a good picture – a zoom video cam would have been cool.

Meanwhile most of us fished the rocks down about 100 feet deep, catching all kinds of snappers and weird fish like Squirrel Fish. The red snappers were illegal to keep so we released them back into the water … where Mama Dolphin was teaching her baby how to feed on our lunchbox. I’ve never seen such wholesale slaughter of snappers in my life. Mama and baby followed us to three different spots and let me tell you, baby was going to survive just fine, as we released over a hundred.

An older gentleman was fishing beside me and was quite upset, in words but not actions, since all he wanted was some decent dinner even if it was triggerfish. The galling part was that the crew kept trying to get us to catch a mackerel, which we detested. “My buddy and I got a hundred pounds of that crap last time,” he said, “and we couldn’t give that crap away, not even for a big fish fry. So what if it pulls good?”

And no, they couldn’t seem to release the kingfish and their first reaction was to slam it on the steel floor to kill it as soon as possible, shouting with glee.

It seems that trash fish like kingfish and sharks and amberjacks (A-Js) are the big ticket on the head boats these days, but we wanted mahi-mahi, yellow-fin tuna, grouper, ling, and things like that – you know stuff that actually tastes good. I left the post-trip show where they hang up the fish for pictures without dallying, somewhat dejected and empty.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Beach Restoration Award

I’d like to congratulate Mayor Bob Pinkerton for receiving the American Shore and Beach Preservation Association award for SPI having one of the top “restored beaches” in the United States. I really like Bob’s unflinching dedication to making our beaches being a top contender, both nationally and worldwide. To Bob I tip my hat!

That said, 2005 was a rather difficult year for SPI beaches. In January the dredge named Millenium cut a little bit too deep into the Rio Grande mud, with resulting clays being deposited up as far as the Wanna restaurant. The project went over its schedule and only covered a relatively small part of beach that actually needed the material (377,000 cubic yards). That is because the lower part of SPI (Isla Blanca to Oleander Street) is actually gaining sand, called accretion. Here’s a picture of the “clay turd machine” taking a well-deserved rest after all that pooting.

Then over the summer and fall Emily, Katrina and Rita waves wiped out a large amount of the dune systems. Many dunes were cut way back, almost vertical. The results were rather shocking. This was not a good year for the beaches.

In December there was some public support for dune enhancement projects, given the horrendous damage to the dunes and the probability of obtaining some used Christmas trees. After some political football, since the town didn’t want thousands of trees and surfers running everywhere, the Town took over the project, with a total of exactly 13 trees and several bales of hay and some snow fencing. While not impressive, it was a great start and very appreciated.

In February 2006 the Brownsville Herald announced that an agreement was reached to dredge the Brazos Santiago Pass, since it had silted up to the point that large ships could no longer get over the sandbar – by now the “best surf break in Texas.” Congressman Solomon Ortiz was instrumental in obtaining the emergency funding.

However, there were no funds for restoring the north end of the beach with the dredge spoils, and the material was shipped out to a dump site several miles out to sea. And dumped. Unlike the material in the Channel, however, the sands being dredged were pure “marine sands” without hardly any clay content, being perfect for beach restoration (170,000 cubic yards).

It could have been pumped onshore using a hopper dredge instead of the cutter-suction dredges like the Millenium, but alas, there was not enough time to arrange the financing. I would ask the Town to explore use of the hopper dredge technology for mining marine sands instead of laying ugly pipes down the beach, which would pump high-clay materials back on the lower part of the beach. Here’s a picture of a hopper dredge, loaded down and with jumping dolphins in the bow wake. Yes, they can pump the sand back on the beach and reach the northern end of the Island where we need the help. Think about it.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Isla Blanca Redux

One of the more galling aspects of the proposed design for the Laguna Madre Enhancement Group’s concession on Island Blanca County Park is that a marina and channel would be constructed. As has been noted by both Doyle Wells and Cameron County officials, there is a significant amount permitting and work that needs to be done before it is even considered. It might not happen at all. But if you look at the proposed development plan, here is what you get:

Notice the two “donut holes” which would become a marina with water in it. This would displace most all of the RV park area. Worse yet, the creation of this marina required dredging and the submerged land would be transferred from the County to the Texas General Land Office! Isn’t anyone mad about this? See, Texas owns all the submerged land in the state, so we’re giving away a lot of real estate here.

So if the marina is not built, can the RV’s stay put? I don’t see a contingency here for what that land would do if not underwater.

Now let us see what happens if that within 4 or 7 years if the marina really is constructed. First of all, you will note that there is no dry-stack storage for boats and that the Plan revolves around very expensive (and less efficient) wet docking, perhaps $2.50 to $4.00 per foot. Usually these docks are gated with a key access, meaning for you and me, no access. Pay or get lost, buddy!

Finally, take a look at this famous aerial shot by Richard Stockton. Do you see waves breaking in Dolphin Cove, the hottest place to surf in tropical storm wave action? What will that channel do to our enjoyment of Dolphin Cove? Huh?

Yes, I have to agree with Alderman Mallet that there is little the Town of South Padre can do about such things at this time. But still, there is the problem of historical access and frankly, my friends, what is happening stinks to high heaven, in that regard.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Sammy's Razor

I know, silly title and I really hate shaving with a passion, but I ran across the term “Occam’s Razor” and had to investigate. He basically was the father of the KISS Principle: keep it simple, stupid. The Latin can be better translated as “don’t introduce multiplicity into simple explanations” although it can be interpreted several, similar ways.

Well, Sammy’s Razor goes like this:

1. When work is slow, you don’t want to spend thousands on improvements and toys
2. When there is too much work, you can’t spend any time on improvements and toys

Yes, this is the old “feast or famine” paradigm that all free-lance workers and consultants have. So work is slow and my wife Lori says “why don’t you go buy a boat, or better yet, build one?” Heck man, everything fun I want to do is at least a thousand bucks: paint the outside of the house, put in a new yard, get a boat, build stairs on the back porch; you get the idea.

So with a mortgage double it used to be, two college-age kids, and tax time, I’m sitting here wondering if there is any cheap fun like fishing. The water is freaking cold, about 65, so I usually just end up with a walk on the beach.

I couldn’t pick a better place to have Sammy’s Razor, though. I think I’ll shave before the big town meeting night … naaaaaw!