Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Juss Workin'

Not much happening, except another house caught on fire today (the third), you have to watch out for Winter Texans on bicycles, and the storm sewer truck was making hideous sounds once again. Been working mainly, a good thing because this place is expensive and I just bought some $7,000 software.

The days pass as I fill up the bird seed feeder for ravenous birds, thinking "hey, are these little twits taking advantage of me?" Oh well, having over 200 wild birds on your porch sure is cool, and some of the passers-by notice.

I was going to write about the "fish wars" and how about the federal fishing regulations are going to ruin everything, but after talking about it with some local captains, they suggested to forget about it, have fun, surf lots, and drink lots of cold beer. OK, sounds good enough for me.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Bay People

Well at least the wind died and the temperature got into the low 50's today. Even though the sun didn't make an appearance, things seem much better. The work came back in and the wife came back from a conference in Austin, so all is good. The mind wanders off to fishing, planting a few trees in the back yard, painting more of the house, having shrimp at the Wanna or Dolphin Cove, and maybe a BBQ on the porch.

You know its funny, here on SPI you either live east of Padre Boulevard or west of it. Gulf people live on the east side and are much more prone to walk the beach. Us bay people are more focussed on the Laguna and "go over" to the beach a few times a week. Isn't that strange? The Island isn't but a quarter mile wide!

Sounds like we're crossing the Rockies or something.

It's funny, I can walk to the bay in about two seconds, but to "go over" to the beach I have to load the truck and allow for 15 minutes. I am fairly sure that the 15 minutes is related to the Manana Effect, where time seems to lose all dimensionality or meaning here on our sandbar. I think I figured that one out too:
  • It takes about 15 minutes to cross the causeway including all the traffic
  • When you cross the causeway you gain 15 minutes
  • The two forces cancel each other out and time completely goes out the window (remember to open your window, or this could hurt ya)
I have further proof. The Municipal Building is right on Padre Boulevard, which is why they set the clocks ahead exactly 7.5 minutes from official time. Thus the causeway and Padre Boulevard make the Manana Effect even more complicated. Suffice it to say is you head east it takes forever and going west is a snap, sometimes getting there before it's really "time."

Plan accordingly when making your rounds of the Island and remember it is not fashionable to arrive early, unless there is free food and drinks. Totally understandable; I feel your pain. Just don't wait until Manana, or it might all be gone ...

See you on the beach in 15!

Thursday, January 24, 2008

It was a dark and stormy day

I have given my normally sunny disposition the day off today due to inclement weather. Yes, it’s dark outside, and cold and clammy to boot. Perfect weather for some real tablet-smashers, and boy have I got some wild ones for you today. The general theme is that people are lead to believe certain things because they are told to do so, without the benefit of their own thinking. It is a common practice these days, and a reason why I think the United States is in such deep trouble today, both economically and politically. With that:

The war on terror is a smoke screen for the global trade war with China, India, and the EU. Nobody is going to dispute that our country needs to pacify some radical Muslim elements in the Middle East, especially in light of 9-11, but the real war is an economic one … and China is winning hands down. Our country has become a proverbial Dollar General store where everything is marked down to sixty-five cents. Usually such massive flows of capital precede major intercontinental wars.

“Illegal aliens” as an issue has blind-siding people to the idea that the middle class is broke. This is a very popular platform that totally ignores that our society benefits from cheap South American labor. Nobody will doubt that there are costs associated with having such cheap labor at our fingertips, but the larger fact is that the great American middle class is completely broke: we forgot to save and we’re living on credit. No longer able to use our homes as a piggy-bank, we’re even in worse shape. Bye, bye American pie – and you’re all worried about some Mexicans.

Handing out $800 checks will make the economy worse. If we’re broke, giving us Americans a couple hundred is like giving crack to an addict, not to mention that we’re financing this with more international credit mainly borrowed from the Chinese. In the 2001 Recession, it was the so-called “dot-coms” that tanked; this time it is working American families. The universal love-in on Capitol Hill regarding this topic is the silliest political masturbation I have ever witnessed.

Protecting our fisheries has only made it worse. Ah, we knew it! This topic is so important I’m going to do a whole separate blog about it, since it does affect SPI.

The Comprehensive Plan is just a means for wholesale development of the Island. There was a presumption that the Vision Statement and subsequent Comprehensive Plan would limit development on the Island to a dull roar, beautify it, and make everybody happy again. All those assumptions were mistaken from the get-go. Early on, I was skeptical and advised against it, a view expressed by Alderman Fred Mallet and many others. It turns out that Fred was most likely correct, since nothing with any concrete substance is coming out of committee. It is actually some very good work, to the committee’s credit, but do not expect and hard and fast controls on development on this Island or you will be in for a major let-down.

Monday, January 21, 2008

What to do with your rebate

As you know, President Bush and his economic advisers are putting together a plan to rescue the U.S. economy. Most likely it would be an $800 check or rebate for every taxpayer, and double that for jointly filing family heads of households (whoa, sounds like the hippies, huh?). Many analysts are watching closely at this, so yours truly here has a suggestion:

Come on down here to SPI and blow your wad. Do it for the country. It's the only American thing to do.

You can almost see the President in this picture I posted saying "Why not SPI"?

Now we know not all of you American taxpayers like South Texas as much as other places, but it's cheap, beautiful, warm, no passports needed, and did I say cheap? Aside from Spring Break and its notable Texas Week, we're open for business, and will make sure your rebate will go to the proper authorities so as to stimulate all the right markets. Aspen or Key West will suck $800 out of your pockets before you even get to the hotel.

Oh, so that's why the tourists walk so funny in those places.

So come on down to the friendliest island in America and we'll fix you all up. If enough of you folks come, we can even get the fireworks lady to crank up the fireworks barge, just so you'll really know you got enough bang for the buck!

Friday, January 18, 2008

Dominant waves and surfing

I learned something new over the last year. There are waves and there are dominant waves. The teckies that measure waves get all convoluted about this, but the fact is not all waves are equal. I learned this real good one day when Gene Gore said to expect primo conditions in the ship channel by the jetties, 8-seconds at maybe 12-15 feet.

Well I went out with my trusty body board, not being a real stand-up surfer, and swam right off the beach at the Gulf end of Oleander Street. I ate a lot of water, went a mile down the beach on the riptide and shore current, and swore those waves were pummeling me every two or three seconds. Not good and I was exhausted, not a single good ride. Not even big waves because the big ones broke on the 4th sandbar too dangerous and too far to paddle.

So then I drove down to Dolphin Cove and nursed my hurt psyche and sore back with a Tecate. Dang if smooth waves weren't coming in, about 12-15 feet tall and one every 8 seconds or so. These were true swells, rollers, or I guess dominant waves with all the other chaff filtered out.

This was strange to me because the "apron" area off the jetties is the worst chop in the Gulf, standing straight up and down with waves maybe ten feet apart. But after clearing that choppy area, all the sudden a huge blooming wave would grow and crest, like I said maybe every 8 seconds but sometimes more. Monsters, cloud-scratchers, whatever they call them. Holy cow, the geeks were right!

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Save the Whales

After a rocking good storm from our coastal low which will pummel the East Coast on Friday, lots of excitement as the Surf's Up T-shirt shop nearly burns to the ground here on SPI, big news. But today's topic are the whales, which has received a lot of attention in the news, lately.

One involved the Sea Shepard, a conservation group that literally stormed a Japanese whaling "research vessel" in the south seas. I'm not going to advocate piracy in order to save the whales, but it certainly does make the international headlines.

The other is a closely watched court decision in California courts regarding protecting whales from very strong mid-frequency sonar power used by the Navy for hunting rogue submarines. A judge recently imposed an injunction against all such sonar training where whales were either spotted or known to gather. However, President Bush just signed an order to allow the Navy to be exempted, saying that the sonar exercises “are in the paramount interest of the United States.”

So I guess our Bushie-Boy is a certified whale killer like the Japanese, how cute. Of course, the conservationists and scientists are livid about the recent developments, which are certainly headed for more litigation.

The effect of high-power sonar waves such as those used by the Navy have been conclusively proven to cause whale strandings, such as 16 whales that died in the year 2000 during Navy exercises off the Bahamas. Scientists claimed that the decibel level of the underwater noise was 100,000 times that of a human voice. A common thread is that the impacts on other sea creatures such as turtles are not fully known, although some research indicates "deaf turtles" and possible impacts on loggerhead turtles off the Carolinas.

I'm all for national security but I still think we should be mindful of endangered species such as the Right Whale. It should be pointed out that whales such as the Sperm Whale and Melon-Head are indeed relatively common in the northern Gulf of Mexico (a melon-head, similar to a pygmy killer whale, washed up on our beach last year and we tried to save it). It should be pointed out that such sonar testing is (1) experimental and (2) that even is it works great at finding "silent submarines," it must be towed behind a ship with about a mile of cable. My second point raises the issue that one must know there is an enemy submarine in the area before even sending a ship to find it.

Sounds like more Star Wars gadgetry to me, a good way to blow a billion in the name of being tough on homeland insecurity.

Monday, January 14, 2008

SPI Coastal Surface Low

click map to enlarge

I’m writing this posting a little bit in the dark – literally, because it’s cloudy and I haven’t turned the lights on yet. But the subject is a weather condition known as the coastal surface trough, a rather persistent feature that grows right off our waters and just to the south. Let’s get down and dirty with the scientific forecast:









Some locals would recognize this as being a forecast for sloppy seas, high winds, and definitely rain. The big driver is a mid-level low pressure zooming in from the west, although our friend the coastal low will drive it all the way to High Island on the Louisiana border. And the long-range forecast is for another coastal low to form later in the week as well, a rarity having two of them in one week.

Back to the map I posted above, it is very interesting because it shows a bunch of northern Mexico in good detail. Our friend the coastal surface low always forms parallel to the beach. The surface low usually forms as if by magic about 10 miles off the coast, mostly in the top two-thirds of the map where it looks like a bow. Nobody really knows why it forms, which makes it really cool.

Or at least I can’t explain it. My research has taken me to studies about the mountain effect of the Sierras, which didn’t seem right because SPI doesn’t have any, to gravity waves, but those satellite pictures didn’t resemble our friend in the least. Stuff about sea-breeze front was disappointing as well, although sometimes in the summer you can actually see the coastal surface trough because of the morning thunderstorms you can see way off to the east.

But enjoy the map, as at least I still have much to learn about the Mexico coast to our south. Note that the Laguna Madre down in Mexico is huge. Hurricane Emily bashed the entire area around San Fernando on the lower left. Dang coastal low can be downright ornery sometimes!

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Plastic Bag Wars

I was going to title this one "ban all plastic bags" but after researching it a little, I think we can do many other things to reduce the number of plastic bags in the area. You probably already know that we use over 100 billion plastic grocery bags a year and that all those are not good for the landfills or blowing away in the environment. In fact, much of the blowing litter is plastic bags, with their amazing ability to be able to fly long distances. When the Guadeloupe River flooded downstream of Canyon Lake several years ago, you could tell the flood mark because of all the plastic bags stuck in the trees.

Plastic bags take thousands of years to decompose and are made from crude oil. Being in a maritime area, they also are a hazard for animals such as sea turtles ... I won't be graphic here but after last year's sea turtle rescue, I happen to know in intimate detail that they ate a bunch of plastic bags.

Many towns and cities have considered outright bans on plastic bags, although it should be said that those that oppose a ban have some very good points. Making paper bags involves more paper mill pollution than making a plastic one, and the plastic ones cost about one cent as opposed to five cents or more for paper. Plastic bags are very easy to recycle, although at best only one percent are ever turned in, even in areas with a three-cent rebate.

However, places where they started charging people for plastic bags caused a huge drop-off in their use, usually 60 to 90 percent. People all the sudden get religion when they find out each plastic bag might cost an extra 20 cents each, similar to the "Plas-Tax" in Ireland. The grocers even loved the idea because they didn't have to lose money on paper bags.

This might seem to be a foreign idea for our area, and even for it to work one would need to catch the stores in Port Isabel as well. But think of it, most of the bags come from three places: Wal-Mart, HEB, and the Blue Marlin. We can always work with the smaller convenience stores such as seeing if the Stripes stores would provide paper bags (a similar approach was used to help lower glass beer bottles on the beach last year). But my proposal is to have the "Big Three" charge for plastic because they dispense millions them a year.

Let me know what you think.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Gold at 900?

Instead of talking about how crappy the economy is, let's talk gold, a fascinating subject. The value of gold, as we see above, is fairly constant except for some major features such as WWI and the recession of the 1980's. Don't let the vertical scale fool you, that is logarithmic, meaning the peak value in 1983 was possibly $600 per ounce (and about $2,000 today) . Sorry about the graphics but they were free. But the idea is that gold has an intrinsic value and all currencies respond up or down compared to that value.

The second graph shows that since the year 2000, the US dollar have been worth less compared to the value of gold, since it costs more dollars to buy the stuff. But even if a dollar was worth less in 2000, if you bought a bunch you could have sold today at $900 per ounce, tripling the money on the table. Nice work if you can get it.

Traditionally, gold was a hedge or investment for when times go bad, economically speaking. This usually means the US economy has gone to pot again. But over the last two decades different parts of the economy have become decoupled, the first being the peso devaluation in the 1980's that impacted our area possibly the most:

Gold bottomed on June 21, 1982 at $US 296. This was the climax of the collapse from the $US 850 level which had been reached exactly 29 months earlier - On Jan. 21, 1980.

Gold took off when the Fed lowered U.S. rates in response to a threatened debt default by Mexico. But this time, and after having been flat since late 1976, so did the Dow. In fact, the big up move which constitutes this Gold "buy signal came in the same week as the start of the "Reagan Bull".

What also became evident was that the DOW Jones and other large trading houses were losing their share of the US economy to ... people like you and I, consumers. We multiplied, got baby boomed, bought houses and cars, and spent a ton of money. The consumer contribution is now a tremendous portion of the US economy as compared to agriculture, industrial, and financial markets. The disconnect between gold, Wall Street, and the economy can be traces back to Richard Nixon who took us off the "gold standard" and the rise of the Euro currency.

The Euro is considered a more stable currency these days, so as the US dollar weakens it becomes less - from 80 cents on the Euro to 68 in the last year, a bad trend since the dollar used to be priced much higher than the Euro (1:1 or better). Let's just say a hamburg and a coke in England can cost 15 USD on special. World economists don't mind such bizzare things happening but there is a growing move to stop trading in US dollars:

  • All gold is traded in dollars per US dollar on international markets
  • All crude oil is traded in dollars per US dollar on international markets
So I guess the answer is, hold onto your SPI property and think about some market strategy. Like I said, I'm still learning, and my brother has been burned buying gold before so always get a professional opinion before buying the stuff.

But how about the CVB putting up advertisements in England so we can enjoy some of their economic success? Their hamburg and coke would only cost a few Euros. /sam

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Sensation of Cold

South Padre Island can really mess with your internal thermostat. It all depends on if the wind is blowing or not. The classic case is a nice summer day on the beach. Before ten o’clock in the morning the sea breeze hasn’t kicked in, so it feels hotter then at 84 degrees than when the afternoon when the wind is blowing and it is 94 degrees. This is a difficult concept for many to grasp.

In the winter, when the wind finally veers from north to south, it can feel warmer at night even though it the temperature says it is cooler than during the day. Much of that is thanks to an abundant tropical moisture plume that returns on the southeast trades, but lack of wind certainly helps too. The humidity and dew points actually can make it warmer at night in some conditions, often resulting in astounding winter fogs, as thick as Nantucket or San Francisco has to offer any day.

South Padre Island taken together with a few minor allergies, perhaps a dose of Ciguatera, and possible Lime tick disease, my internal thermostat is almost haywire. I walk outside in blasting northers in nothing but shorts and a T-shirt, and shiver some summer days when it blows over 25 miles an hour. But SPI “ain’t for sissies” so I never complain, other than I can tell you the water temperature to the degree just by walking in it.

In short, 76 degree water is cold, 78 is cool, 80 is warm, and everything else is frozen or blazing hot.

Sun exposure can have some interesting effects, too. If you stay outside in the sun for hours and hours for several days, you can get “sun fever.” This makes you feel very cold and the air conditioning a complete nuisance. It happens no matter how much sun screen you use. That’s why you’ll see many locals keeping their houses at over 80 degrees in the summer.

The tourists and renters in the summer, however, turn down the A/C to 65. The funny thing to watch is when all the Islanders and Winter Texans turn on their heaters in the cold spells. More smoke alarms and fire trucks than you can imagine. Happy thermo-regulating, folks!

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Abaconian Thoughts

This May we expect to travel over to the Abacos for a May get-together with my folks and a bunch of crazy people on a different forum. You can see the Abacos in the upper-right hand side of the map I stole off the Internet. There are several hundred little islands, very puny indeed compared to how large Cuba is. In case you know the area, my folks like near Man-O-War Cay on the outer islands (Cay is pronounced "key"). That's a ferryboat ride over from Great Abaco Island, which actually does have an international airport.

But Lori had plans ... she wants to teach college, work on a PHD, and continue working for the school district. Whoa, schools don't get out until like June. So I'm kind of in a quandary here, since by the first week in June my parents will be headed up to Maine. Me, I'm thinking about working part time as an editorial assistant for our local paper, in addition to about a thousand hours a year as a high-flying consultant.

The weird part is I hate flying now and rarely even go out of the country anymore, even Mexico 22 miles away from my doorstep. Don't kid yourselves, the word "Abaco" really means dropping about five to ten grand in a week. Then I got to thinking ... hey, aren't I already in paradise?

Well I still have my mind made up to go to the Abacos, don't get me wrong. It's just become an uphill battle. We'll see what happens.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Ask a Pendejo!

In the past we've seen columns like Ask Sandy and Ask a Mexican. It is 2008, baby, it's time to Ask a Pendejo! Me. I'll help get you started.

What's pendejo?

A pendejo is considered a Spanish friendly, almost-cuss word for something like an "bumbling idiot," which generally means being the third fisherman on a two-man bay boat. It's a fishing tournament technical thang with many applications in real life.

Why on Earth call yourself that?

I don't own my own boat yet, and plus falling off other people's boats right at the wrong moment is so much more fun, especially during an official fishing tournament.

OK, what's biting on SPI right now?

Dang if I know, other than a few fleas and no-see-ums the dog drug into the house. They won't let me on their boats anymore unless I pay big money now.

Did the pendejo go to the Polar Bear Dip today?

Wish I had, at least they wouldn't have to fish me out of the ocean like usual. It was very cold today, and I know for a fact that a 5-millimeter wetsuit wouldn't be allowed, especially with my Mexican wrestling mask. May I mention my zoot suit says "Qué tipa pendeja!" on the back.

What does that mean?

No huyas, pendejo!

Please send your questions, anything about SPI or whatever, to Ask a Pendejo