Thursday, May 31, 2007

Happy Birthday Lori

Well it’s birthday time for us, with an anniversary thrown in, so it ought to be a great weekend. We just want to be will our friends and neighbors and hang out, no big deal although I’d better DO something about our 25th Anniversary next year. I’m thinking the Bongo-Dogs and a chocolate fountain. We’re buying each other some rather expensive French doors for the bedroom, since the old one, a high quality Anderson, is rotting out. Any chump change left I’m buying a boat even if it’s a freaking john boat – them there thermal/hurricane/super-duper doors are expensive.

Saturday we’ll be at Wanna and then on Sunday some sneaky girls are going to take us to “the beach,” whatever that means since there’s 30 miles of it. The Beach Bums start around 8-something on Saturday and … and what happens at the Wanna stays at the Wanna, OK?

Honestly, I haven’t been quite this happy in quite some years. I was thinking when I really was happy and I remember being a MAN and hitchhiking to Block Island and its ferry with nothing but a back-pack and a duffel bag. My destination: a job as a dishwasher at the Narragansett Inn, which served three meals a day. Free meals, free lodging, miles of beach and trails … and almost no pay but I really didn’t give a flop. I was sixteen years old and on my own. I kind of feel like that today.

I love you Lori.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Silence of the Tree Frogs

The last few years I was used to hearing hundreds of tree frogs and their distinctive chirp at night, especially after a real good rain last we had last week. I counted maybe two or three soundng males the last few nights.

There are toads, frogs, and a few kinds of lizards down here including a black skink. They seem to diminish every year. Last year I had two toads living in the garage downstairs and now none. What happened?

I sure hope this isn't a sign of what scientists have been saying for several years, that the frogs are disappearing at a rapid rate. Strange fungus and loss of habitat may have taken their toll.

I sure hope not. Last night I couldn't sleep so I checked on the tree frogs once again about two o'clock. Two peepers vocalized. Is it the feral cats, global warming, or what?

Instead, the cicada buzzed even more loudly, knowing they and their fellow insects can take over the world no matter what.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

More Hummers Than Ever

I have never seen anything like this, perhaps at least 50 humminbirds fighting over my feeders now. It feels like the Alfred Hitchcock movie 'The Birds.' They roost in a tall bush next to the house, sometimes six on a single twig! There is no way to count them other than to look at the bush and then the feeder and make a guess. They have a distinctive yee-hee-hee-hee language that when dozens do it all at once can be quite disorienting. I'm putting out at least a pint of sugar water every morning now, sometimes to a very demanding client! It's a good thing I change the feeder everyday because old sugar left in the bottle can ferment and turn into alcohol - can you imagine that many drunk hummers? Fortunately, none have decided to move in the house yet.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

History Blog, BATF Updated

I have updated the History Channel about South Padre things historical, with some cool picture from the late 1940's including a rare amphibious water taxi.

I also "updated" the Bay Area Task Force, or BATF, as in I resigned. That sure made a splash, and I hope no enemies.

What is weird is everyone wants a reason, motivation, or explanation. "Are you pissed off? Are you sick? What's the real reason?" Hey man, I'm a private citizen, ya know! I just up and quit. I've put in over a year and a half of voluntary citizen service.

It wasn't like I was elected or anything, and my understanding was that these citizen committees really need to be re-appointed every year anyway. It wasn't like I was elected Mayor and one day I woke up and said "well shucky-jive, I feel like quitting today."

I will continue to volunteer and give back to the community. I just felt like taking a breather from an advisory board. OK?

Sunday, May 13, 2007

A Real Hummer

Dozens of hummingbirds showed up yesterday so I put up two feeders. Most are the ruby throated ones, mainly females, although we think we saw several other kinds as well like the Buff Belly. Scarlet Colley came down the street to check out all the warblers in the Tepaguaje trees so I brought my coffee over to say hello and tell her about all the hummingbirds. She mentioned that they were probably part of the on-going migration ... and amazingly, identified about six new warbler species for me, all within the space of ten minutes. She wanted a Cirrulean Warbler, which is solid blue, but we saw a rare orange-headed one instead, which pleased her very much. She asked about the Town elections and I told her "it was a real hummer" and the results were:
  • Tara Rios
  • Kirk Mills
  • Courtney Hayden
"I guess that means Rick Ridolfi lost" she concluded, "that's a shame, because he had so much knowledge and clout." But she went on to say the new Board members would be a great team, and maybe Rick ought to run for Mayor sometime. Then she rattled off several more warbler species that for the life of me I can't remember, but one had a green head and the one with the orange head came even closer to us.

As she drove away I walked back up onto my porch and saw five hummingbirds sitting around the feeder, all peacefully drinking and not fighting, the latter which they usually do with great gusto. It was a vision to remember.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Your Local Taxes

It is high time somebody said that it was NOT high taxes that are running people off this Island. Sure, your evaluation might have skyrocketed over the last ten years but poor, poor you. Compared to living in the Austin area our local tax bill is about half.

Yep that's right, we paid more on a $100,000 house up there than a $200,000 house down here. I find it ludicrous for people to say taxes are running people off the Island. Sure, I feel bad if you are on a fixed incomed or retired and only figured your seaside estate was only worth $30,000 when you bought it. These folks are few and perhaps always lived in a marginal lifestyle.

What really bothers me is that folks want lower city taxes, as in the Town of South Padre, yet want al kinds of new services. About ninety percent of your local tax bill is county, school, and some other taxes. The Town tax bill is almost nothing. Yet some people want to capitalize this for their personal grandeur or some other very strange reason.

Get off it, as we see right through the political shennanigans. Your tax bill is fairly mild. Yes, the Town finances a disproportionate amount of offshored County and school revenue, but how else can you you tax people equitably? To add to the mix, your tax bill can only go up like five percent a year, no matter HOW it is appraised or valued. I am not familiar with the exact conditions of this cap but I suspect that something is deeply wrong with the "taxed off the Island" argument.

It's a political ploy. People come and go as their families mature, a few members die, and the youngsters move about the US. It's that simple. If it gets like living on the Island is a pain in the hootch you move elsewhere. It has very little to do with taxes. It is trivial compared to a hurricane.

Now insurance, I can believe that story. A ton of insurers are dropping coastal policies just because of the hurricane issue. I want a roll-back on my damn insurance and KEEP continual coverage even if The Big One comes. We've got three to five billions of dollars of property down here, and we need it all covered by insurance.

Strangely, nobody wants to talk about this issue, especially the people who say taxes are driving people off the Island. They are completely berserk.

Word History: When we say that we are going berserk, we may not realize how extreme a state this might be. Our adjective comes from the noun berserker, or berserk, which is from the Old Norse word berserkr, "a wild warrior or champion." Such warriors wore hides of bears, which explains the probable origin of berserkr as a compound of *bera, "bear," and serkr, "shirt, coat." These berserkers became frenzied in battle, howling like animals, foaming at the mouth, and biting the edges of their iron shields. Berserker is first recorded in English in the early 19th century, long after these wild warriors ceased to exist.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Pelican West Incident

Last week a local man died as a result of a fistfight outside a brand new bar which just opened, Pelican West. Rumors are flying everywhere, and lack of information is driving people crazy. According to the Brownsville Herald article, Mike Marques was involved in an altercation and two out-of-town men have been charged. He ended up in the hospital and several days later was taken off life support.

The rumor, which is quite ugly and could well be untrue, is that the two men involved in the incident were employees of PNG Onshore, the company doing the seismic testing in the Laguna Madre. Indeed, the Town has received calls saying the not only is PNG killing the bay, but now they're killing the locals. Intentionally.

Folks, do not believe everything that you hear, especially when the facts haven't been collected.

One can understand the rumors because resentment against the seismic testing has been building for a long time. An overwhelming proportion of locals hate it with a deep and festering passion. Some equally disturbing rumors are that some local watermen have taken to cutting seismic cable and destroying buoys ... which if so would cause the company to have to stay here longer. At the same time, rumors have been building that PNG and its contractors may have been involved in other crimes as well. None of this appears to be true, except that some watermen do admit accidentally hitting the buoys because there are so many of them.

It might be an inescapeable fact two contractors who possibly worked on the seismic crews may be charged with deadly assault or some kind of murder charge. That doesn't look very good, I'll have to admit.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Tiki Time Again!

Thanks to Sandy Feet for composing this ...

The turtles are returning to SPI to nest and that means it’s time to get ready for the second annual Lighting of the Tiki Torches Flotilla, scheduled for Friday, May 18 at just before sunset. The reigning King and Queen Sargassum, along with their court of local kayakers, will paddle the entire length of the island, lighting tiki torches all along the bay. Upon arriving at Palm Street Pier, they will be greeted by drummers, hula dancers, ukuklele players and a special performance by the Bongodogs. This is a perfect excuse to break out the Hawaiian shirts and grass skirts and get ready for summer!

There are multiple ways to participate -- all of them FREE:

Kayakers: Meet at Ted’s Landing at 5:30 if you are up for the whole trail, or join in at any point along the way. A trailer provided by The Beach Service will help you get your kayak back up to Ted’s after the ceremony.

Bayside residents: Place your (unlit) Tiki Torch in the bay and the King and Queen of Sargassum will light it from the ceremonial torch. Contact organizer Nancy Marsden to get your location on the Tiki Trail Map.

Everybody Else: Walk to the nearest by access point to cheer on the flotilla and pay homage to King & Queen Sargassum! Then head over to Palm Street Pier to participate in the festivities.

The Island Drummers and hula dancers will be on hand to welcome the flotilla at Palm St. Pier. At 7:45 the sunset ceremony begins, culminating in “the calling of the turtles” (on a conch shell, of course!) as the island officially welcomes nesting sea turtles and the beginning of summer. Following the ceremony, the Saturn Street Strummers will break out their ukes as warmup for the ever-popular Bongodogs and their unique blend of Texmex Puro Caliche Island music.

The Bongodogs appearance at the Tiki Festival should come as no surprise. "Above all, we are citizens of the Island and lovers of the sea" says David Cassady, the Bongodogs bassist. "We hope that our involvement will inspire others to take an interest in the sea turtles...".
David, his wife Cathi, and Dave Lorhy are all Bongodogs and avid divers. "Cathi and I have had some great turtle experiences in both Belize and Hawaii" said David, "but last year was probably the best! We all three traveled to Mexico to do some diving and had many wonderful close encounters with these very friendly creatures."

"This one took a particular liking to Dave!"

"We hope everyone will come out to support this event. See you there!"

The Bloggy Boyz

I sometimes hang out on the Bahamian blogs and forums, especially those for the out-islands known as the Abacos. The most interesting was the Bloggy Boyz, an irreverant dude who told it like it was - sometimes too much like it was, but always dead-on true. Apparently, he's closed down his shop and left only one post left saying "The End." Bummer.

I hope I can use the name like for a rock band or something.

Signs, Sign, Everywhere A Sign!

On Friday I sent the Town Manager a note regarding visibility on some of the street intersections, especially the side streets. It’s probably not a big issue except where a condo developer puts up on right next to a stop sign, such as on my street. But in some instances signs have sprouted up on the intersections, not to mention the folly of planting palm trees and large shrubs so you can’t see the oncoming traffic. We might have made some progress on regulating signage for certain businesses, and have made some folks mad because of selective or over-enforcement, but there are all kinds of signs and I’m not a fan of any of them, except as required by TxDOT.

The visual clutter from signs detracts from our efforts to beautify the Island. Think of all the kinds of signs we have today, as they have been reproducing like rabbits:

  • Realtor signs
  • Election signs
  • Beach rule signs (three kinds of them!)
  • Dog poop signs (but no plastic bags?)
  • Ordinance signs
  • Security company signs
  • No parking signs on trash dumpsters
  • Landscape signs
  • Slow children signs (hah!)
  • Crappy old billboards

I could go on, but it appears that some folks want more signs, such as for “No Parking.” The most recent one to spawn in the “way-finding” sign so people can find the beach. I know that is a well intentioned and reasonable idea, but I just hate signs – and if you can’t find the beach with both hands, given the Island is only four blocks wide at most, I feel quite sorry for you.

Don’t get me wrong, the TxDOT allows for signs at indicate public establishments such as county parks, the Convention Center, boat ramps, and so forth. Those can be helpful but should be few in number as possible, such as when you come over the Causeway onto the Island. Those are true way-finding signs.

And I wouldn’t mind just a few signs out in Tompkins Channel to tell the boats to have NO WAKE, but that’s maybe it.

I admire folks like Ladybird Johnson of LBJ fame, who helped kick butt and clean up the signs and billboards and make junkyards and trash areas get covered by fences. In some Austin suburbs, thousands of real estate signs a month are collected because they are illegally planted in the right of way. The realtors know that code enforcement officers take off the weekends, so it is quite a cat-and-mouse game.

Sorry folks, I’m taking down my “Elect Somebody” signs in my front yard right now.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Kinky's Back in the Saddle

According to a recent Houston Chronicle story, Kinky Friedman is back to what he does best - writing, playing music, and raising money for stray dogs. I wish he'd come down to South Padre again. As to his Governor's election campaign he says "We won this race every place but Texas. And that's not bad." You have to love him though ... glad to see he's got back his mojo.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Jack Up Rigs and Trends

If one thing is true, the Port of Browsnville is a major area for refurbishing shallow-water jack up rigs. What;s a jack-up rig? Well as the picture above suggests, there are usually three giant legs that are all the way up when pulled out to sea, and then they set the legs down on the sea floor and litterally jack the rig up like 40 feet in the air. Then the workers can set drilling pipe into the ground with that fourth "tree" looking thing, with is called a winch tower or Christmas Tree. Photo credits go to Michael Martin of Canada regarding his pictures here, including the "Nabors 659" being towed out by Crosby Towing Service on March 8, 2007.

Inland jack-up rigs are quite smaller and deepwater rigs (over 1,000 feet of ocean depth) are monsterously huge, costing billions of dollars such as Thunderhorse. These concepts are useful because we've gotten a very strong signal that they're going to turn our area into an oil Boom Town. Here's another photo by Mr. Martin of all the big offshore and puny inshore rigs down by Amfels in Brownsville.

So what's the deal? Today's Houston Chronicle predicts massive increases in marine oil and gas exploration, perhaps because of a rah-rah Bush attitude. Other financial and oil and gas experts are not so quick, including this article that says that many of the oil and gas rigs are disappearing overseas because of lower costs and higher daily lease contracting rates, so there are few rigs to really do anything meaningful as far as "saving" us from imported oil. [Editor's note: the second article can be seen as extremely gloomy - basically, we're screwed, so don't hurt yourself.]

As we roll into hurricane season this June I'll be with you, watching like a hawk.