Monday, March 31, 2008

Padre Under Siege

South Padre Under Siege
Melissa Hooey
March 31, 2008
Associated Press

SOUTH PADRE ISLAND. Late this evening the Queen Isabella Causeway was shut down and helicopters circled overhead looking for a band of narco-terrorists that had landed boats and a submarine to the north of South Padre Island. Some gunfire was heard although there are no official reports at this time.

On authority who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not permitted to talk to the media said "it looks like a submarine, which was small and home-built, had a mechanical failure and the go-fast drug boats came along to off-load the goods. They ended up on the beach."

So far we are unable to substantiate the rumor that a large shrimp boat also ran up on the beach in the same area with 30 to 60 heavily armed men who had held a county parks ranger and two visiting campers as ransom. Park Road 100, which runs up the Island in that direction, is currently closed at Andy Bowie Park. It seems to some locals that some terrorists had taken over the north part of South Padre Island, and it would be daylight before more could be learned about this tragic event.

Friday, March 28, 2008

TSA and The Nipple Ring

If you thought that flying on airplanes was getting ridiculous with all the insanity over TSA airport security, here's a story about a woman who was forced to remove her nipple ring, even requiring a pair of pliers to do the job. I think our country just sunk to a new low.

Let me get this right ... terrorists have exploding nipple rings?

The next President sure has a bunch of work to do. Add this one to the list.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Smoke on the Water

I was going to write about real scientific stuff but had to make it interesting, like the lyrics to the famous Deep Purple song. Really, I thought the only words were "Smoke on the water ... fire in the sky." Quite complicated.

So instead of talking about your marine aerosol boundary layer, which sounds like you're kinda perverted, check your windshield in the morning. Ah, the remnants of a night's worth of particulate deposition. On those dewy nights you'll see more because the dew forms on the particles and gets heavy and falls ... onto your windshield where it will dry for your maximum viewing pleasure.

First I want to say that we're blessed with really clean air here on SPI, not like the hell-hole of Houston or even the slightly tainted monitoring done in Brownsville. The picture I got courtesy of the TCEQ is the Brownsville air monitoring station somewhere in ... Brownsville.

But when the wind blows you get sand and salt pretty big time. And when the plants are in bloom you notice if you're allergic, right? And if the red tide comes in you know about it if you get get close to the beach. It's all aerosol, particulate, or as us redneck hippies say, "crud."

Red tide is actually interesting because it is unlike the typical sea salt or blowing sand with silica, as it is a bio-aerosol. Yep, little droplets of a neurotoxin from dying dinoflagellates that cause you to cough and sneeze. It's full of water and is so heavy it falls to the ground within a few hundred feet of the beach - unless it's blowing really hard. Remember September of 2005?

Here's where I get to sound like that famous column, 'Walt's Salt.' There are all kinds of particulate such as Saharan, Mexico crop burning smoke, the trade winds, galactic dust, and my favorite, bugs. I said bugs because researchers found that the first form of life found after Mount St. Helens blew its top, rendering everything sterile and buried, spiders and little bugs started dropping out of the sky in HUGE numbers. Microscopic bugs and little blown up pieces of them too.

It's so dry this year I don't think your windshield will turn a nice shade of golden-green with all the pollen this spring - at least I could use the break. White/brown is more like it.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Is SPI a Good Investment?

Hunkered down on a huge Spring Break / Semana Santa weekend, I ponder the common wisdom of whether SPI is a good investment. So often we hear that the Island is cheap as compared to other coastal resort areas, or places like Florida and California. Just so you know, we - Lori and I - didn't move here to turn a profit and can weather most economic storms. But I find that a lot of the SPI cheer-leading about real estate is pretty much untrue.

The data, however, is all over the board and I think a lot of what we hear is simply perception and not fact. It is true however that SPI remains a safe haven because of stable prices based on median numbers ($302K all household units and $369 new) and price per square foot (about $75 plus land and frills). And, it it true that the same numbers in California are way higher with San Diego at $425K median price and over $150 per square foot. Florida is way lower on all accounts so I would tend to discount the Florida market as being more expensive - but remember, median prices hide a lot of detailed nuances and aren't really meaningful.

The one statistic that grabbed my attention was appreciation, however. While Texas averages 5.2% appreciation from 4Q 2006-2007, with SPI much lower at about 0.6%, California and Florida areas and zip codes are off -5%, meaning a loss in value. In fact, some experts see more like 10-15% negative appreciation and if the bubble continues, those rates could hit -30%. Folks, we're talking about land worth one-third less that what they were in 2006. And that's NOT happening here, knock on wood.

So then I wondered why on Earth people aren't moving here to SPI, since we're doing rather well even in a bubble economy. The answer is twofold: the foreclosure rate and the ability to sell off before buying here. Don't look at foreclosures for Cameron County and the Harlingen-Brownsville MSA because they are high - indeed many zip codes here are blacklisted as being sub-prime with 3% or less down payment, and significant foreclosure rates. But for Florida and California these levels are extremely high, reaching in some cases to 5% foreclosures on "good" property. So people owning in these areas can't sell and if they walk away from their investment, can't buy. So, no mass immigration from Florida and California.

I also looked into second home buyers and ownership, although I'll have to follow this up
with some more at least rudimentary research. I'd hypothesize that there really are two distinct markets aside from the investors: those who want a winter dwelling and the average person who wants a summer dwelling. From anecdotal information, many of the so-called "Winter Texans" are selling off because of high taxes and other reasons such as health. The strength of the local real estate economy seems to be with the summer crowd who targets economical condos.

Finally there are the houses. Despite low cost per foot to build, the land is outrageously priced and few are touching it, with only a few sales since January, 2006. I have no idea why land with nothing but maybe a sliver of a view of the water is worth $250K. But it is fun to tell people that my land is worth more than my land is with a house on it! So far, the appraisers haven't bought my story though. Sigh.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The Backing of the Wind

Ah, today the cool front blew itself out and the wind backed towards the east, little by little, degree by degree. In a day or so it will go back to the southeast. The slight change in wind direction is noticeable, and feels warmer already.

We has expected some birds to fall out but nothing I can report. I even talked with a person who looked professional about it - judging by the thousands of dollars of optical bling hanging around his neck - but he said nothing seemed to be here on Oleander. Just hundreds of redwing blackbirds and common sparrows with a few grackles. In short, nothing but pests!

Yesterday's huge brush fire up the Valley sure brought in a bunch of smoke but it definitely cleared out today, so maybe they have the upper hand on it. It was quite large, about 25,000 acres.

Big happenings in the sky as the Vernal Equinox is Thursday. There's a full moon on Friday. Of course Sunday is Easter, also the day when many leave to go home after Spring Break. All these pagan celebrations so close together - 2008 is truly an usual year.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

A Community of Art

Here's a wall mural from Ocean Springs, Mississippi. For a funky village by the Gulf, it is probably the art capitol of the Gulf seashores.

I wish we had more art here on South Padre Island. Sure, we have some sand sculptors like the Sons of the Beach, artists like Sharon Campbell, the Camp Craft Girls, and the Whaling Wall but we're not a pimple compared to funky little Ocean Springs, home of over 100 full-time artists.

And people come from all over the world just to see the art - not the beaches, fishing, or booze barns that may be there, but the art. My brother lives there now and loves it, like real potters and foundries you can watch them work. Art-in-action includes glass blowers, wood workers, and blacksmiths as well.

The reason I write this is because many powerful folks down here on SPI don't like wall murals, art, or any of that baggage. "We need to promote boomers and zoomers" they say. Such poor wayward individuals, if you had great art you'd have more of those zoomy kind of people, whatever you call them.

I think its a major mistake to not promote art on SPI. But nooooooo, public art is bad, murals are worse, and if you got some art please keep it to yourself or do like seagulls on the beach or something harmless. I swear, even Port Isabel has public art and they're certainly no connoisseurs (kudos to the great art shops and no offense, Isabellians!).

Maybe someday we'll see the light.

Monday, March 17, 2008

What Pirates Wore

Here's a fairly good depiction of a common sailor in "southwest" gear for cold and rainy conditions. Notice the bell bottom jeans and bare feet. Most of the clothes were made from canvas or "duck" similar to bluejeans of today, although much looser. The colors were white, blue, and whatever a pirate could raid. Simple tube shirts were worn over the duck pants, not too different from a T-shirt. The gray-black "southwest" style was just sail canvas treated with tar on the outside. In short, a typical pirate and sailor looked exactly like a hippie in bell-bottom jeans.

There is a vast misconception that pirates wore clothes like Johnny Depp all the time. The Captain might get dressed up for a battle or to go on shore but otherwise he looked just like the rest of the crew. This is because those special garments were expensive and when on deck, grease would splatter down onto the deck, fouling anything you wore. The ropes and pulleys (called blocks) were all lubricated with a mixture of pitch tar and lard, which is why clothing was simple and why they cleaned the decks first thing on any sailing ship.

Hairstyles were mostly braided until the early 1800's, often dipped in tar as well. I have no idea where those romantic picture of pirates with flowing manes of hair come from, other than perhaps vanity - and a few more Johnny Depp movies. But the part about beaded braids is fairly authentic.

On Sunday, "make and mend day," everyone would clean and sew clothes and fix their hair braids, often with colorful threads if the sailmaker had any. Experienced sailors would teach the younger lads how to make as much clothes out of their allotment of canvas, often adding very detailed piping (folds of material). Tobacco pipes were cleaned and repaired - most sailors were horribly addicted to tobacco and at least a gallon of beer-like grog a day as well. From reading many history books and historical novels, I got the opinion that Sundays you'd get a little cleaned up, get a buzz, play some music, catch some fish, wrestled, told big lies called "yarns," and gambled.

When it came time to "prepare for battle stations" the ships bell and drummer boy would toil. The crew would go put on their worst clothes. And of course the Captain, Quartermaster, and at least one Mate would get "pimped up" for the show. The typical pirate ship had a complement of about 40 to 200 men (and sometimes some lady pirates in men's clothes), but only a half dozen would get pimped out at most. You know, like how Johnny Depp dressed up for his movies.

One thing I learned about the colonial and pirate ship crews was that they detested the rules of the British Navy, which did try to require standard uniforms for their crews - as many were AWOL from the British Navy and if found could be seized or even hung from the yardarm. For Sundays and "go-ashore" days, straw hats with ribbons and color-coordinated tops over pure white duck trousers seemed to be routine. Part of the tradition for special coordinated clothing was so the Quartermaster could identify his drunk crew in the flop-houses and gin-joints, and drag them back to the ship.

I just thought that as we get closer to our Town Anniversary and Pirate Days that I'd throw in my two cents about what pirates would wear.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Sand Dollars - Where'd They Go?

file photo: Texas Parks & Wildlife

For this subject I think I need some help from the local visitors and naturalists. Basically, back a few decades ago we used to find sand dollars - not in great numbers and many were half-fragments, but at least some. We haven't seen a single one lately. As the young kids say these days, "wazzup with that?"

Apparently there are some left, and Gene Gore reported some last year in the sandbars near the jetties when diving. However our state fish and game agency, TPWD, claims that there should be large groupings of them near the second, third, and fourth sandbars up and down the beach.

Maybe the tourists that wake up for 6:00 walks on the beach get them all. But I don't see any conch (not the Queen, a Texas conch like a giant welk) or the official shell of Texas, the Lightning Welk - maybe some spiral pieces is all. But to us the 5-notched sand dollar was always the ultimate prize.

Anybody have some ideas? If you search for sand dollars on the Internet you mainly get resorts of that name, including a wayward ski resort in Maine (huh?). The real thing seems scarce as chicken's teeth these days. See you on the beach and good luck finding those treasures!

Update: I checked with some more links that said erosion and pollution would be causing a decline in numbers of sand dollars. Scarlett Colley (a local expert on such matters) says that some divers and pickers had gotten them many years ago, and she only has some old ones (called tests, their skeletons) for her nature exhibit - she has no live ones.

Monday, March 10, 2008

A BOA Constrictor?

As of this morning only a few people had filed for the SPI Board of Aldermen, even so there was an uncontested seat. I had some work and the gals went off to lunch. When they came back they were cackling like geese because they convinced Sandy Feet to run for Alderman. She thought she was opposing Mary Phillips on the uncontested place 4.

With Sandy Feet running, things heated up and Phillip re-filed his application back to place 4 and Mary running against JoAnn Evans. Gosh I love this town.

Word on the street is that Rick Ridolfi also filed for place 4 and Bob Pinkerton is going to run for Mayor against Kirk Mills. Last I checked, Bob had been considering not running this time. We're talking more viewing potential than the Clinton Obama primaries.

All it took was going to lunch!

Friday, March 07, 2008

I guess it's Spring Break

Ah yes, Spring Break is in the air, not that I've seen much of it. They seem to mostly be down by the entertainment district anyway. Texas Week starts today and runs for about ten days before falling back to a dull roar.

Somehow it doesn't seem as strong as previous years but you never know. The blogs and forums certainly aren't buzzing like they used to. Come to think of it, only one airplane with a banner has been buzzing.

Fortunately Lori gets off for a week, on account they don't like to send buses over the causeway with all the traffic. So stop by our house by the bay, which is a fairly safe haven except for when the kids walk down the road expecting to see a big beach ... I always help them out by pointing the other way and laughing.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Spring Day on the Bay

My poop-machine (Malia the dog) and I went down to the street end, since it such a beautiful day. Yesterday's rage with big waves and brown water had cleaned up very well. In fact the water was crystal clear. I did notice a few things, such as no hermit crabs, which used to number in the hundreds several years ago. Then Malia had to investigate the ... ugh ... smellier side of life. And boy did we strike pay dirt! Here's a shot of our town storm sewer obviously making joyous amounts of blue-green algae. I wonder if that is supposed to be normal, as I hadn't seen that down here.

A wider shot shows that the algae is not just from the storm sewer outfall but is general along the bayside. There also is a curious foam line as well - it was much more impressive at dead low tide (no camera then). Such algae growth is usually associated with fertilizers, wastewater, and stuff like that. However, during spring warming some rotting and bacterial decomposition can be expected.

I washed the dog when we got back. Ever noticed that when the shake they can nail ya really good?

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Island Jackass Update

Ah, politics, that time of year again, I thought I smelled something slightly dootie in the air other than the usual allergies. The rumor mill is chock full of goodies like Mayor Bob Pinkerton might not run, Kirk Mills want the job, and Doyle Wells is ready to blow all them away somehow. The farm smells are a little strong these days, huh?

Nothing about a couple of other places like two BOA chairs being up for sale, seems weird nobody has declared yet. Most of the heavy panting is over on the mainland for Cameron County DA and a district (county) judge. Some minor sweats about District 43 House of Representatives for Tara Ybarra-Rios. I have no idea how these off-island races are going.

But correct me if I'm wrong, we have a Mayor and two BOA seats up for grabs in May. Us Islanders really could care less if the Clinton girl or Obama gets the national party nod ... we're thinking they're both half smart so why not make them run together? None of them high-level pols are going to fix SPI anyway. Bring on some of those big ole parties at Sea Ranch and Louie's and I'll see if I vote for ya!