Saturday, March 31, 2012

Making Cents

canada penny--424693803_v2.grid-6x2 

Excerpts from an article By ROB GILLIES

TORONTO — They clutter your dresser and cost too much to make. They're a nuisance and have outlived their purpose.

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty was talking about the Canadian penny and why the Royal Canadian Mint will end its production this fall as part of his austerity budget.

"The penny is a currency without any currency in Canada, and it costs us 1.5 cents to produce a penny," Flaherty told reporters.

Responses were mixed, with some Canadians saying it would make life easier, while others worried it would become an opening for sneaky price hikes.

David Berman, a blogger at the Toronto Globe and Mail, took issue with Flaherty calling the penny a nuisance. "For a government that has been warning Canadians against piling on too much debt, it seems like a contradiction to then denigrate the one-cent coin — hey, it's still money — as nothing more than a waste of space. It isn't."

Flaherty said a Canadian senate committee held hearings on the penny last year and not one witness came forward to say it should be spared.

A government statement said New Zealand, Australia, the Netherlands, Norway, Finland, Sweden and others "have made smooth transitions to a penny-free economy." It said penny production cost $11 million a year, and that the coins, which feature two maple leaves and Queen Elizabeth II in profile, would remain legal tender until they eventually disappeared from circulation.

It said it expected businesses to round out the numbers on price tags where necessary.

The U.S. Treasury Department cited a statement from Treasurer Rosie Rios from earlier this year when asked about the Canadian decision. She said the Obama administration has looked at possibly using cheaper materials to make the penny, which is now made of zinc.

Two separate bills calling for the demise of the penny, introduced in 2002 and 2006 by Republican congressman Jim Kolbe, failed to advance in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The American zinc lobby has been a major opponent to suggestions that the penny be eliminated. Another advocacy group called Americans for Common Cents passionately defends the tiny coin.

"Eliminating the penny is a losing proposition because it will result in rounding to the nearest nickel and higher prices for America's working families," a statement on the group's website reads.

"This increased cost to consumers will be felt in everything from the grocery store to the gas pump. Pennies add up to millions of dollars every year for charities across the country. Simply put, the penny plays an important role in our everyday lives and in our nation's economy."

Friday, March 30, 2012


Robert Heinlein was one strange dude – brilliant, but strange.

Definitely one of the finest authors of science fiction, and quite possibly one of the 20th century’s best writers in any category.

I came across this Heinlein quote the other day, and saved it as the subject for an essay.  I’ve changed my mind; I’ll just let it speak for itself.

“Don’t handicap your children by making their lives easy.”

- Robert A. Heinlein

Thursday, March 29, 2012



I just don’t like Kansas City.  No really good reason, I just don’t like it. 

In the past, I’ve always considered Kansas City to be a place to go through (or around) to get to someplace worth going.

I came across an article last night that, while it would not completely change my mind, might cause me to make an exception - Arabia Steamboat Museum.

You can see more at the Museum website

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Acute Observation

Kinde Durkee, a Democratic campaign treasurer from California, defrauded about 50 state and national politicians of around $7 million over a decade, according to a filing by federal prosecutors.

Durkee was first arrested in September and charged with suspicion of mail fraud in a case that involved Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and other members of Congress. The most recent charges against Durkee were filed Tuesday in Sacramento. In one instance cited in the filings, Durkee shifted $23,000 from Feinstein’s campaign accounts to cover charges and other personal expenses.

The court filing said Durkee had devised a scheme from January 2000 until she was arrested last September "to defraud clients of Durkee & Associates, and to obtain money from them by means of materially false and fraudulent pretenses, representations and promises."

It said she had signature control over roughly 700 bank accounts, including those used by political campaigns.

In reporting on the story, one source said “That would have bought a lot of votes.”

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Down the Drain

I’ve never been there, but I was told years ago that toilets in Australia flush clockwise versus the counter-clockwise swirl in an American potty.  This supposedly had to do with the Coriolis force which causes things to tend to rotate in opposite directions north or south of the equator, and certain other changes due to the rotation of the earth. 

While being north or south of the Equator does affect some things, like the rotation of hurricanes and typhoons, the coriolis effect determining toilet swirl direction is, according to, a load of crap.  Even Snopes admits that the story about toilet rotation has been reported as fact in everything from TV travelogues to textbooks.

True or not, the video below shows a guy at the equator seemingly demonstrating the effect.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Preston and Shasta

When I saw the reports that the U of H had a new Shasta , my first thought was “I wonder whatever happened to Preston Ivens.”

I Googled his name, and was pleased to learn that he had a successful career, but saddened to learn that he had died in 2009.

As a teenager, I looked up to Preston – not just because he was a lanky six-footer and I was about 5’5” when we met.  He was clever and kind and had an absolutely magnetic personality.  Everyone wanted to be his friend.

When I was still in high school, Ivens was already in college and was a member of the team that took care of Shasta.  I remember when he took his mother to “meet” Shasta.

When they arrived at the cage, Preston threw open the door and walked in.  Shasta jumped up and put her paws on his shoulders and began to nuzzle his face and neck.  The noise – actually a purr – Shasta made sounded like thunder, and Mrs. Ivens was sure her son was being eaten alive!  I’m not sure the poor lady ever recovered.

I found it interesting that Preston’s obituary that I found on line used a picture from the time we met:

PRESTON RASIN IVENS, III was born October 31, 1939 to Marianne and Preston Ivens, Jr. He left this life November 13, 2009. Although born in Galesburg, IL, he grew up in Houston and graduated from Reagan HS where he made life long friends who want it to be known that "Preston was loved and will be missed by the Reagan Class 0f '57". As a member of Reagan Chapter of DeMolay, he was elected Texas State Master Counselor. He and his friends went on to be Alpha Phi Omega fraternity brothers at the University of Houston and shared many happy times building the bonfire and participating as a Top 10 Act at Frontier Fiesta. Also, he was Captain of the Cougar Guard and President of APO.After winning a scholarship from Standard Oil of Texas, he became a valuable programmer and was given the honor of being loaned to Standard Oil of California in San Francisco for a special project. Eventually, he became Vice President of Houston Data Center then later formed his own company, Direct Access, from which he retired.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Shasta Is Back

shasta VI 2

The University of Houston's new mascot entered his home in the Houston Zoo for the first time Saturday, prowling around the enclosure in front of adoring crowds before climbing up the cliffs to nap in the sun.

The 6-month-old cougar, named Shasta VI, was welcomed to his new home during a party hosted by the UH Alumni Association.

Shasta VI arrived at the zoo in early December after inauspicious beginnings (his mother was killed by a hunter in Washington State), and the UH Alumni Association announced last Wednesday that a partnership with the zoo, conceived almost two years ago and finally fulfilled, marks the continuation of a longstanding tradition.

In anticipation of each game day, a caricature of the opposing team's mascot will be filled with raw meat and thrown into the cougar cage.

Live cougar mascots were a part of UH campus life since 1947, when Alpha Phi Omega purchased Shasta I from a wild animal rancher in Brownsville and student Joe Randol chose the name because according to his entry, "Shasta (She has to). Shasta have a cage, Shasta have a keeper, Shasta have a winning ball club, Shasta have the best."

The line continued through 1989, when Shasta V —who lived in a cage at the corner of the Lynn Eusan Park on the UH campus — met her tragic end from kidney failure, and the tradition was suspended. 

"In this day and age, you can't have a live mascot living on a college campus,"  says UH Alumni Association president Mike Pede. "It's just not going to happen."

Thanks to the collaboration with the Houston Zoo, anyone with Internet access will be able to watch Shasta  24 hours a day, seven days a week, via a webcam that will soon be set up in the cougar's den.

That same webcam will also allow for digital appearances by the live cougar at University of Houston football games and other events. It's perhaps not as immediately striking as a placid Bevo on the sidelines at University of Texas football game, but a video of Shasta VI on the prowl is impressive nonetheless.

The arrival of the new mascot will also bring along new traditions: In anticipation of each game day, a caricature of the opposing team's mascot will be filled with raw meat and thrown into the cougar cage. Shasta VI will also bless the class rings issued to UH students each fall and spring semester on the night before the ceremonies.

"Shasta is a very typical cougar. In the wild, they're extremely shy and very elusive," said Beth Schafer, carnivore curator for the Houston Zoo. "It took him several days until he thought it was safe to leave his room and climb up onto the rocks."

Now, Shasta VI has developed a personality. He plays, runs around on the rocks and he pounces and peers at visitors through the windows of the cage he shares with 4-year-old cougar Haley.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

The Growth of a Park

After years of seeing nothing happening at all, it looks like Lake Houston Park is finally on the path to becoming something worthy of the name.  Not the “Lake Houston” part, since it doesn’t actually front on the lake, but at least it is on the way to becoming a park.

lake houston park

The State of Texas purchased 4,584.22 acres from Champion Paper Company in 1981, and an additional 202.4 acres from the San Jacinto Girl Scout Council in 1990. Home to Peach Creek Girl Scout Camp since the mid-1950s, this second section came complete with campsites, lodges, and an equestrian area.

The camp facilities were updated by the state as the basis for Lake Houston State Park. The park was opened by the state for day use in 1992, and overnight camping was instituted in 1995.  In August of 2006, the park was transferred to the Houston Parks and Recreation Department.

Lake Houston Wilderness Park is not currently an access point for boating on Lake Houston.  The park takes advantage of the woods along the creeks and rivers that empty into the lake, but does not front onto the lake.  Canoes can navigate Peach and Caney Creeks, although there may be low points that require portage.

Over the past several months, we have been watching the construction of a new road and entrance gate that accesses the park from FM-1485.  With the new entrance completed, the Houston Parks Department hosted a VIP tour of the new facilities earlier this week. Click the link for the story from The Houston Chronicle.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Bluebonnet Run

The weather was perfect, and we had seen several reports that said the Bluebonnets were blooming early this year, so Thursday Honey and I took our annual trek to look at wildflowers.

From Boggy Thicket we went to Conroe and took Hwy 105 all the way across to Brenham, with one detour between Washington-On-The-Brazos and Independence; a loop that brought us back to 105 just north of Brenham.

3-22 map

We saw our first noticeable patch of Bluebonnets along Loop 336 on the south side of Conroe, and a couple nice patches just west of Lake Conroe, but we didn’t stop for pictures because we were headed for the area that traditionally produces some of the best fields of flowers in the state. 

Our first photo stop was off 105  near the St Paraskevi Greek Orthodox Monastery between Washington and Independence.


Continuing on toward William Penn (Yes, there is a town of William Penn, Texas) we saw several fields of 10 to 20 acres of Bluebonnets.



We pulled off at a ranch road and parked at the locked gate.


While we were stopped, I got this close-up alongside the truck.


The air was totally saturated with a strong, sweet odor, but it wasn’t coming from the Bluebonnets.  Bluebonnets are basically odorless - the perfume was coming from the thick patch of Huisache trees blooming across the road.


Of course, not all the fields were blue.



I like the combination of colors in this shot from FM-1155 north of Chappell Hill.


About that time, grazing cattle reminded us that it was time for lunch.


And a few miles down the road, these Texas Longhorns suggested barbecue.


We took the hint and headed for the Waller County Line for some of the best sliced brisket on the planet.

We passed several other fields along the way, but they seemed a little sparse compared to previous years.  Even the area in front of the big rock Welcome to Washington County sign – always a photo stop this time of year – looked thin. 

We might have been a few days early, but I don’t think so.  In several of the places we passed, the grasses were already getting tall enough to hide the blooms.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Dangerous Passenger

 My wife hates to fly, and now that we are retired she refuses to get on a plane.

Statistics show flying is safer than driving – especially with the added security from TSA.  Just ask this 3-year-old on his way to Disney World with his family.


Wednesday, March 21, 2012

California Still Hasn’t Moved

In spite of my September prediction, there have still been no major earthquakes in California, but there was a major tremor in Mexico yesterday.

Two new earthquakes shook nearly 20 million people overnight in Mexico, which was already rattled Tuesday by a massive 7.4-magnitude tremor (Mexican seismologists reported the strength at 7.8) that ranked as one of the strongest in the country since a quake killed thousands 27 years ago.

The epicenter of Tuesday's quake took place in Guerrero state, which sits about 115 miles outside the popular beach resort Acapulco. The quake even shook the capital of Mexico City, which was devastated by the 1985 quake that claimed the lives of at least 10,000 people.

Nine people were injured in Oaxaca and two in Mexico City, but no one had died in Tuesday's quake, Interior Secretary Alejandro Poire said late Tuesday night. Minimum damage was reported in Mexico City, where Mayor Marcelo Ebrard said that phone lines were down and some areas were without power.

PHOTO: Emergency workers inspect a portion of a bridge that buckled after an earthquake was felt in Mexico City, Tuesday March 20, 2012.

Mexico Hit by Strong Earthquake - Watch Video

The border areas of Oaxaca and Guerrero were hit hardest Tuesday. Officials confirmed that 800 homes sustained serious damage while 60 collapsed. Guerrero Gov. Angel Aguirre is headed to the city of Ometepec, where, according to the Associated Press, he has ordered emergency crews and civil protection to aid in the recovery effort.

Lawmakers evacuated Mexico's parliament in the middle of hearings during the tremor, while office workers poured into the streets, afraid to go back inside.

Among the Americans who experienced the quake was 13-year-old first daughter Malia Obama, who was on a school trip with friends. The White House said she is safe and was never in any danger.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Big Santa

Editor’s note – Prepared this for Monday, and thought it posted. Don’t know why it didn’t, but I’m trying again….

Was surfing the web the other day when I came across a blog devoted to top TV commercials from around the world. 

One of the examples posted for 2011 was the Coca-Cola ad below.  It is in Spanish, but you don’t need to understand the words – really don't even need audio to enjoy.



Planning our annual day-trip to view the bluebonnets for later this week. 

Yesterday, the fields near Chappell Hill – this shot is from Sausage Road off US-290 near the Chappell Hill Sausage Store – looked like this :

Texas bluebonnets @ Chappell Hill, Texas

This morning, those blue fields are painted bright orange on radar.

Doppler Radar

Not headed that way until Thursday, but I hope the forecast severe weather/flood watches leave us something to see.

FYI – On-line reports say that some of the prettiest fields are in the Bastrop area that was devastated by wildfires last summer.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Not So Fast

As I first reported back in September, some of the world’s top physicists thought they had measured something travelling faster than the speed of light.

Now, new experiments measuring neutrinos moving over the same path – Hereshow Einstein was right after all.

There are reports that a loose fiber optic cable may have skewed the results of the original experiment.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Grime Wave

We have used Tide in the box for years.

tide boxWe have tried the liquid, and for convenience, that’s what we carry in our 5th wheel, but at home, we stick to the tried and true granulated powder.

Apparently there are some advantages to being old-fashioned –

tide liquidThere seems to be a nation-wide crime spree involving liquid Tide.  Here’s the story from the New York Post 

Law enforcement officials across the US have been left baffled by a crime wave targeting an unlikely item -- Tide laundry detergent.

Theft of Tide detergent has become so rampant that some cities are setting up special task forces to stop it and retailers like CVS are taking special security precautions to lock down the liquid.

One Tide thief in West St. Paul, Minn., stole $25,000 of the product over 15 months before he was arrested last year.

"That was unique that he stole so much soap," said West St. Paul Police Chief Bud Shaver.

"The name brand is [all] Tide. Amazing, huh?"

Tide has become a form of currency on the streets. The retail price is steadily high -- roughly $10 to $20 a bottle -- and it's a staple in households across socioeconomic classes.

Tide can go for $5 to $10 a bottle on the black market, authorities say, and some thieves even resell it to stores.

"There's no serial numbers and it's impossible to track," said Detective Larry Patterson of the Somerset, Ky., Police Department, where authorities have seen a huge spike in Tide theft. "It's the item to steal."

Police say thieves target the Procter & Gamble detergent because it is the most popular and, with its Day-Glo orange logo, the most recognizable.

George Cohen, spokesman for Philadelphia-based Checkpoint Systems, which produces alarms being tested on Tide in CVS stores, said, "Name brands are easier to resell.

"In organized retail crimes they would love to steal the iPad. It's very easy to sell. Harder to sell the unknown Korean brand."

Most thieves load carts with dozens of bottles, then dash out the door. Many have getaway cars waiting outside.

"These are criminals coming into the store to steal thousands of dollars of merchandise," said Detective Harrison Sprague of the Prince George's County, Md., Police Department, where Tide is known as "liquid gold" among officers.

He and other law enforcement officials across the country say Tide theft is connected to the drug trade.

"We sent in an informant to buy drugs," Sprague said. "The dealer said, 'I don't have drugs, but I could sell you 15 bottles of Tide.'"

Police in Gresham, Ore., said most Tide theft is perpetrated by "users feeding their habit."

"They'll do it right in front of a cop car -- buying heroin or methamphetamine with Tide," said Detective Rick Blake of the Gresham Police Department. "We would see people walking down the road with six, seven bottles of Tide. They were so blatant about it."

Friday, March 16, 2012

The Pressure to Produce


I try to post something on my blog at least once a day, and I come pretty close – 311 posts in 2011, 76 so far this year. I think it helps keep my brain active;  I have to learn stuff so I can pass it on, and I do occasionally post an original thought. 

That daily thing isn’t all that easy – some days I have several stories to choose from, and others really take some effort to find anything worth writing about.

Now I have another deadline to deal with – another stressful demand to produce – and it’s all about garbage.

When we first moved to the Boggy Thicket years ago, we contracted for garbage pick up from a company what consisted of a couple of ladies in a pickup truck.  They faithfully collected our trash every Tuesday morning. Although they (and the price) grew over the years, the service remained the same.

Last year, the owner retired and sold the business to a corporation based in Conroe, Texas.  Their service was terrible, often nonexistent, so a few weeks ago we switched to another company that has been servicing the area for years. 

The new company charges a little bit more – less than $5 per month more – which is okay because they do show up.  They are so punctual you could almost set your watch by the time they arrive.

So, what’s the problem, you might ask. 

The problem is that they come on Tuesday and Friday.  After 30 plus years of once a week pickup, it is a real challenge to produce enough garbage to haul to the street twice a week.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

What the Heck are IDES?

What are ides, or maybe what is ides, since it refers to a single day?  Here’s an explanation from

The soothsayer's warning to Julius Caesar, "Beware the Ides of March," has forever imbued that date with a sense of foreboding. But in Roman times the expression "Ides of March" did not necessarily evoke a dark mood—it was simply the standard way of saying "March 15." Surely such a fanciful expression must signify something more than merely another day of the year? Not so. Even in Shakespeare's time, sixteen centuries later, audiences attending his play Julius Caesar wouldn't have blinked twice upon hearing the date called the Ides.
The term Ides comes from the earliest Roman
calendar, which is said to have been devised by Romulus, the mythical founder of Rome. Whether it was Romulus or not, the inventor of this calendar had a penchant for complexity. The Roman calendar organized its months around three days, each of which served as a reference point for counting the other days:

  • Kalends (1st day of the month)
  • Nones (the 7th day in March, May, July, and October; the 5th in the other months)
  • Ides (the 15th day in March, May, July, and October; the 13th in the other months)

The remaining, unnamed days of the month were identified by counting backwards from the Kalends, Nones, or the Ides. For example, March 3 would be V Nones—5 days before the Nones (the Roman method of counting days was inclusive; in other words, the Nones would be counted as one of the 5 days).

Days in March

    March 1: Kalends; March 2: VI Nones; March 3: V Nones; March 4: IV Nones; March 5: III Nones; March 6: Pridie Nones (Latin for "on the day before"); March 7: Nones; March 15: Ides

Used in the first Roman calendar as well as in the Julian calendar (established by Julius Caesar in 45 B.C.E.) the confusing system of Kalends, Nones, and Ides continued to be used to varying degrees throughout the Middle Ages and into the Renaissance.

So, the Ides of March is just one of a dozen Ides that occur every month of the year. Kalends, the word from which calendar is derived, is another exotic-sounding term with a mundane meaning. Kalendrium means account book in Latin: Kalend, the first of the month, was in Roman times as it is now, the date on which bills are due.


Tuesday, March 13, 2012



Did you ever wonder whatever happened to Lazarus? 

I do.

We know from John that he showed up at a party some time after his resurrection, and that the high priests planned to knock him off, but there are no records of whether they were successful, or even whether they actually tried.

How hard would it be to kill someone who had been raised from the dead?  Would it, like killing a zombie, require destroying the brain via  decapitation or fire?

Would Lazarus have simply lived out a normal life span and expired, or might he still be around today?

I can almost visualize Lazarus on 60 Minutes, being interviewed by Mike Wallace, or maybe Morley Safer.

“How are you feeling?”


“The first question, what everyone wants to know, is what it’s like to be dead.”

“Well, Morley, I couldn’t say.  I was, after all,  dead.”


Monday, March 12, 2012

Monday Stuff

After several days of constant, and occasionally torrential rain, we are finally getting a break. 

This morning's forecast for the week calls for partly cloudy skies, a 20% chance of rain and highs each day in the upper 70’s.

Further proof that Spring is here – We saw our first hummingbird of the season on Friday. 

News notes this morning:

  • Today is the 100th anniversary of the Girl Scouts.
  • A painting by Barry Carter, a high-school senior from Magnolia brought $206,000 at the Houston Livestock Show’s art auction this weekend.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

A Squirrel in Bru-Jim


I recently read an article on line called Why Germans Can't Say "Squirrel."  I think that was probably what got me thinking about Richard Ho – probably what led to yesterday’s post.

In my story yesterday, I had my roommate, Richard Ho,  pronouncing Rs for Ls, and vice-versa.  While that may fit the stereotype Westerners have of Orientals, it is not actually true.  That is, the story was true; the pronunciation – not exactly.

It may sound that way to us, but the truth of the matter is that there is a consonant in both Chinese and Japanese that falls somewhere between an English R and the English L. 

Quoting Wikipedia English has two liquid phonemes, one lateral, /l/ and one rhotic, /r/, exemplified in the words led and red. In some languages, such as Japanese, there is one liquid phoneme which may have both lateral and rhotic allophones.” 

Trust me – that pretty much says the same thing I was trying to tell you. Orientals speaking English do not differentiate between R and L; they substitute that same sound for both.

I referred to spoken Chinese in an earlier paragraph, but there are several Chinese languages – about two billion speak Mandarin (the most widely spoken language in the world) another  70 million speak Cantonese, and 90 million or so speak Wu, the language of  Shanghai.  There are multiple other languages such as Min-Nan and Xiang that account for a few hundred thousand other “Chinese” speakers.

After a semester with Richard, I could almost get the pronunciation of that Chinese consonant right, but not quite.  I think it could probably be used as a shibboleth.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Srack Bru-Jim


In the fall of 1961, I attended Austin College, a small  and (hard as it may be to comprehend, considering that I was admitted) rather elite Presbyterian school in Sherman, Texas.  The curriculum was demanding, and the school boasted the highest percentage of high-school valedictorians in the state.

My first roommate was a total asshole who dropped out of school before the end of September.  I had a blissful ten days with a room all to myself and then there was a knock on my door.

I opened it to see a local minister and a little Chinese guy.  The minister explained that he had been a missionary in Taiwan and that he was sponsoring the Chinese fellow – Richard – and that Richard was to be my new roommate. 

My new roomie said “Herro.” and not knowing what else to do, I said “Come on in.”

It proved to be a great experience.

Richard I-Fu Ho – In Texas, Ho was pronounced like a garden tool and was his last name, but in Taiwan, his name was pronounced Huh (like a strong, sharp exhalation) Ee-Foo. The Richard had only recently been tacked on when he was baptized.

He had flown from Taiwan to Seattle and then taken a Continental Trailways bus to Sherman.  Somewhere around Denver, Trailways had lost his luggage, so he showed up at our room with the clothes on his back and one suitcase full of several varieties of green tea.  Trailways said that their posted policy was that if his luggage did not show up in two weeks, they would pay him $50 for the missing items.

Upon learning of Richard’s situation, the guys in the dorm collected a small pile of clothes, most of which fit, and a small sum of money for him to use to buy more.  The next day, I took him to downtown Sherman and dropped him off at J C Penney’s while I ran a personal errand.

I came back half an hour later to find Richard and a middle-aged saleslady standing in the aisle screaming at each other.  I quickly stepped in and asked what was wrong. 

The saleslady said “Son, you get this boy out of here or I’m calling the police.”

Richard said “Tell stupid rady sell me srack bru-jim.”

So I told her “Sell him some srack bru-jim.”

She said “What the Hay-ell is srack bru-jim?”

And I said “Richard, what the Hell are srack bru-jim.”

SRACKS!” he said, pointing to his pants, “SRACKS! LEEWEYES! BRU-JIM!”

He wants some blue jeans.” I told her.

“Well shit!” she replied, “Pardon my French.  Why didn’t he just say so?”


Richard’s English got a lot better over the semester, and by Thanksgiving, I could actually trust him out on his own.

He had a sister who was an assistant professor at M-I-T, and when he called her in December, they could NOT communicate in English.  By then, he was speaking Texan (with a Chinese accent) and she spoke Boston (with a Chinese accent) so their only option was to switch to Mandarin.


Friday, March 9, 2012

Energizer Orchid II

Two years ago, I wrote about an orchid in our kitchen window.  Cheryl had given the plant to Honey for Mother’s Day and it had bloomed every spring for fifteen years.

I’m happy to report that it is at it again.

orchid 3-8-12

Back in 2010, there were six blossoms.  This year, there are five.

orchid2 3-8-12

Thursday, March 8, 2012

For the Birds

Back on February 28, I posted about the wrens trying to nest in my gas grill.  I’m happy to report that after a few days of leaving the lid up, the birds gave up and went elsewhere.

Now, I’m afraid I know where they went.

nest on tank

They, or some of their kind, have built a nest on the top of our propane tank! 

The delivery guy managed to give us 100 gallons of propane this morning without disturbing the nest.  That’s great, but the bad news is that the nest is covering the meter that tells how much is in the tank.

The low this morning was 68° F, so the birds should be able to hatch and raise their chicks before we need any more gas delivered.


ariz desert spring

Sonoran desert scene –

Cacti near a spring in the Saguaro National Park with the foothills in the background.  You know they are foothills, you can see the toes sticking up.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012



Oreo cookies turned 100 years old yesterday.

I looked at what I just wrote and my first thought was wow, that is one stale cookie.  Then I thought, if they had the same additives then as now, it would probably be just fine.

Nabisco staged several events around the country, including some really poorly staged flash mobs – one in a Pittsburg mall is on YouTube, but, trust me, it ain’t worth watching.  The Los Angeles event even had Lady Antebellum singing Happy Birthday to a guy in an Oreo costume.

oreo 2

I did not participate.  In fact, I have not tasted an Oreo in over five years. 

They are my all-time favorite cookie, but I am somewhat overweight, diabetic, and I used to eat anywhere from a half dozen to a full package of Oreos at a time.  It’s just easier to not have them around.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Dred Scott

Today marks the anniversary of the Dred Scott decision by the U. S. Supreme Court. 

Often cited as one of the court’s worst decisions, the court actually followed the law as it existed in 1857 – that’s somewhat troubling to Constitutional Conservatives like me, but it’s true.

Then as now, the court’s job was to interpret – not make – law.  Changing the law is the job of the legislative branch.  The court should and does have the power to declare a law unconstitutional.




On March 6, 1857, in its Dred Scott decision, the Supreme Court ruled that  Scott, a slave who had spent part of his life in non-slave territory, could not sue for his freedom in a federal court because, as the March 7New York Times summarized, “Negroes, whether slaves or free, that is, men of the African race, are not citizens of the United States by the Constitution.”

The Dred Scott case occurred at a time when the slavery issue threatened to tear the country apart. Settlers were violently clashing in Kansas and neighboring Missouri regarding the issue, and in May 1856, a pro-slavery congressman beat an abolitionist senator into unconsciousness on the Senate floor.

The decision came just two days after the inauguration of President James Buchanan, a Southerner and supporter of slavery, who hoped the case could help settle the issue. The court, in addition to declaring that black people were not citizens, made several other rulings on slavery. It held that Congress did not have the power to abolish it in territories as it had done in the Missouri Compromise of 1820, which banned slavery in northern territories. It also declared that Mr. Scott, or any slave, could not become free by spending time in free territory because he was still his owner’s property.
Rather than settling the slavery debate, the decision increased the animosity between pro- and anti-slavery factions, further divided North and South, and contributed to the start of the Civil War four years later. The outrage over the decision strengthened the anti-slavery movement, which united under the burgeoning Republican Party. Abraham Lincoln rose to prominence arguing against slavery and attacking the Dred Scott decision.

The Democrats, meanwhile, became divided as moderates like Stephen A. Douglas — famous for his support of slavery being decided in new territories by popular sovereignty, a policy that was negated by the decision — objected to calls by more hardline pro-slavery advocates for a national slave code. The split party lost to Mr. Lincoln in the 1860 presidential election, which precipitated the secession of Southern states and the Civil War.

Monday, March 5, 2012

West Coast Quake

It still isn’t the one I predicted, but there was at least one earthquake in California today.

4.0 quake near El Cerrito preceded by smaller 2.9 shaker, officials say

By Robert Salonga,

Contra Costa Times


EL CERRITO -- A magnitude 4.0 earthquake centered in West Contra Costa County rattled homes throughout the Bay Area early this morning, and officials are exploring reports of a 2.9 temblor that preceded it.

"It looks like there might have been two earthquakes," said David Schwartz of the U.S. Geological Survey.

The discovery of the precursor quake would be in line with residents' reports of feeling a jolt and then a rolling sensation. The earthquake that grabbed the region's attention was a 4.0 reported at 5:33 a.m. originating one mile north of El Cerrito in the middle of the Mira Vista Country Club.

According to USGS readings, it was located 5 miles deep along the Hayward fault. It was followed by a

2.0 aftershock at 6:03 a.m. and a 1.2 shaker at 6:29 a.m.

But since those registered, it appears that a 2.9 earthquake occurred 8 seconds before the 4.0 quake, according to the USGS. Schwartz said seismologists are looking to clarify the new reading and rule out computer issues, such as the one that reported a parallel quake in Tiburon that was quickly determined to have been an errant report.

But Schwartz said the retroactive 2.9 reading will likely stay.

There were no immediate reports of serious injury or damage. BART stopped its trains for five minutes after the earthquake to perform routine track inspections. Riders should expect up to 10-minute delays until the system gets back up to speed.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

5 - Count ‘Em - 5

I don’t even qualify to call myself an amateur astronomer, but I do enjoy looking at the sky on a clear night.  Right now is a good time to look, because we are having an “Age of Aquarius” moment, with four planets and the Moon all aligned across the sky.

Last night, I was able to see three planets – Jupiter, Venus and Mars – from my back yard.  That was remarkable because it seems that every recent celestial event  from eclipses to meteor showers has been invisible at the Boggy Thicket due to heavy clouds.  Tonight is supposed to be clear, and according to the information below, I might be able to see five planets tonight.

If the skies clear off at sunset on any of the next several days, sky watchers will be rewarded with an unusual planetary display.

Jupiter and Venus are high in the southwestern sky and easy to spot. Venus is the brightest planet of the pair. They are moving closer together each night and will be within 3.3 degrees of each other on March 15.

Currently, the moon is moving east from the pair each night.

Mercury is hovering above the western horizon in the late twilight, but will disappear in about a week. To find Mercury, follow a line created by the moon, Jupiter and Venus along the plane of the solar system to see yellowish Mercury in the fading light.

In addition, reddish Mars is rising just after sunset in the eastern sky, also on the same line as the other planets and the moon. All four planets are currently visible at the same time.

Saturn is rising during the evening as well and is located near the star Spica in Virgo.  Virgo can be found by using the Big Dipper’s “handle” stars as a pointer.  Because of the angles and distances involved, Saturn’s glow is dim right now, so it may be hard to identify.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Fish Story

A father and daughter fishing together last week on a frozen lake near Fergus Falls, Minnesota  made quite a catch.

And it didn't end up in a fry pan.

They lowered their underwater camera into 20 feet of water to check for fish and instead spotted trophy elk antlers, still attached to the skull, resting on the lake bottom.

"They drilled some holes and were able to hook the antlers and bring them up through the ice,'' said conservation officer Troy Richards. He saw the rack later and said it is huge.

"The antlers were definitely  trophy status, 6-by-5 [with] heavy mass,'' Richards said.

No one knows how old the antlers are.

"They look old, but pretty well-preserved,'' Richards said. "My speculation is the elk has been down there since the turn of the century or longer. It truly is a mystery.''

Don Schultz, DNR area wildlife manager at Fergus Falls, agreed.

"There were elk in this area prior to European settlement,'' he said. "So they could be several hundred to maybe thousands of years old.''

Schultz, who hasn't seen the antlers, said the closest elk herd today is about 200 miles north of Fergus Falls.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Independence Day

The Texas Declaration of Independence was literally written overnight.  Delegates met at Washington-On-The-Brazos on March first, and signed the declaration on March 2, 1836


The Unanimous
Declaration of Independence
made by the
Delegates of the People of Texas
in General Convention
at the town of Washington
on the 2nd day of March 1836.

When a government has ceased to protect the lives, liberty and property of the people, from whom its legitimate powers are derived, and for the advancement of whose happiness it was instituted, and so far from being a guarantee for the enjoyment of those inestimable and inalienable rights, becomes an instrument in the hands of evil rulers for their oppression.

When the Federal Republican Constitution of their country, which they have sworn to support, no longer has a substantial existence, and the whole nature of their government has been forcibly changed, without their consent, from a restricted federative republic, composed of sovereign states, to a consolidated central military despotism, in which every interest is disregarded but that of the army and the priesthood, both the eternal enemies of civil liberty, the everready minions of power, and the usual instruments of tyrants.

When, long after the spirit of the constitution has departed, moderation is at length so far lost by those in power, that even the semblance of freedom is removed, and the forms themselves of the constitution discontinued, and so far from their petitions and remonstrances being regarded, the agents who bear them are thrown into dungeons, and mercenary armies sent forth to force a new government upon them at the point of the bayonet.

When, in consequence of such acts of malfeasance and abdication on the part of the government, anarchy prevails, and civil society is dissolved into its original elements. In such a crisis, the first law of nature, the right of self-preservation, the inherent and inalienable rights of the people to appeal to first principles, and take their political affairs into their own hands in extreme cases, enjoins it as a right towards themselves, and a sacred obligation to their posterity, to abolish such government, and create another in its stead, calculated to rescue them from impending dangers, and to secure their future welfare and happiness.

Nations, as well as individuals, are amenable for their acts to the public opinion of mankind. A statement of a part of our grievances is therefore submitted to an impartial world, in justification of the hazardous but unavoidable step now taken, of severing our political connection with the Mexican people, and assuming an independent attitude among the nations of the earth.

The Mexican government, by its colonization laws, invited and induced the Anglo-American population of Texas to colonize its wilderness under the pledged faith of a written constitution, that they should continue to enjoy that constitutional liberty and republican government to which they had been habituated in the land of their birth, the United States of America.

In this expectation they have been cruelly disappointed, inasmuch as the Mexican nation has acquiesced in the late changes made in the government by General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, who having overturned the constitution of his country, now offers us the cruel alternative, either to abandon our homes, acquired by so many privations, or submit to the most intolerable of all tyranny, the combined despotism of the sword and the priesthood.

It has sacrificed our welfare to the state of Coahuila, by which our interests have been continually depressed through a jealous and partial course of legislation, carried on at a far distant seat of government, by a hostile majority, in an unknown tongue, and this too, notwithstanding we have petitioned in the humblest terms for the establishment of a separate state government, and have, in accordance with the provisions of the national constitution, presented to the general Congress a republican constitution, which was, without just cause, contemptuously rejected.

It incarcerated in a dungeon, for a long time, one of our citizens, for no other cause but a zealous endeavor to procure the acceptance of our constitution, and the establishment of a state government.

It has failed and refused to secure, on a firm basis, the right of trial by jury, that palladium of civil liberty, and only safe guarantee for the life, liberty, and property of the citizen.

It has failed to establish any public system of education, although possessed of almost boundless resources, (the public domain,) and although it is an axiom in political science, that unless a people are educated and enlightened, it is idle to expect the continuance of civil liberty, or the capacity for self government.

It has suffered the military commandants, stationed among us, to exercise arbitrary acts of oppression and tyrrany, thus trampling upon the most sacred rights of the citizens, and rendering the military superior to the civil power.

It has dissolved, by force of arms, the state Congress of Coahuila and Texas, and obliged our representatives to fly for their lives from the seat of government, thus depriving us of the fundamental political right of representation.

It has demanded the surrender of a number of our citizens, and ordered military detachments to seize and carry them into the Interior for trial, in contempt of the civil authorities, and in defiance of the laws and the constitution.

It has made piratical attacks upon our commerce, by commissioning foreign desperadoes, and authorizing them to seize our vessels, and convey the property of our citizens to far distant ports for confiscation.

It denies us the right of worshipping the Almighty according to the dictates of our own conscience, by the support of a national religion, calculated to promote the temporal interest of its human functionaries, rather than the glory of the true and living God.

It has demanded us to deliver up our arms, which are essential to our defence, the rightful property of freemen, and formidable only to tyrannical governments.

It has invaded our country both by sea and by land, with intent to lay waste our territory, and drive us from our homes; and has now a large mercenary army advancing, to carry on against us a war of extermination.

It has, through its emissaries, incited the merciless savage, with the tomahawk and scalping knife, to massacre the inhabitants of our defenseless frontiers.

It hath been, during the whole time of our connection with it, the contemptible sport and victim of successive military revolutions, and hath continually exhibited every characteristic of a weak, corrupt, and tyrranical government.

These, and other grievances, were patiently borne by the people of Texas, untill they reached that point at which forbearance ceases to be a virtue. We then took up arms in defence of the national constitution. We appealed to our Mexican brethren for assistance. Our appeal has been made in vain. Though months have elapsed, no sympathetic response has yet been heard from the Interior. We are, therefore, forced to the melancholy conclusion, that the Mexican people have acquiesced in the destruction of their liberty, and the substitution therfor of a military government; that they are unfit to be free, and incapable of self government.

The necessity of self-preservation, therefore, now decrees our eternal political separation.

We, therefore, the delegates with plenary powers of the people of Texas, in solemn convention assembled, appealing to a candid world for the necessities of our condition, do hereby resolve and declare, that our political connection with the Mexican nation has forever ended, and that the people of Texas do now constitute a free, Sovereign, and independent republic, and are fully invested with all the rights and attributes which properly belong to independent nations; and, conscious of the rectitude of our intentions, we fearlessly and confidently commit the issue to the decision of the Supreme arbiter of the destinies of nations.

Signers of the Texas Decl. of Ind.

Richard Ellis, President
of the Convention and Delegate
from Red River.

Charles B. Stewart
Tho. Barnett

John S. D. Byrom
Francis Ruis
J. Antonio Navarro
Jesse B. Badgett
Wm D. Lacy
William Menifee
Jn. Fisher
Matthew Caldwell
William Motley
Lorenzo de Zavala
Stephen H. Everett
George W. Smyth
Elijah Stapp
Claiborne West
Wm. B. Scates
M. B. Menard
A. B. Hardin
J. W. Burton
Thos. J. Gazley
R. M. Coleman
Sterling C. Robertson

James Collinsworth
Edwin Waller
Asa Brigham

Geo. C. Childress
Bailey Hardeman
Rob. Potter
Thomas Jefferson Rusk
Chas. S. Taylor
John S. Roberts
Robert Hamilton
Collin McKinney
Albert H. Latimer
James Power
Sam Houston
David Thomas
Edwd. Conrad
Martin Parmer
Edwin O. Legrand
Stephen W. Blount
Jms. Gaines
Wm. Clark, Jr.
Sydney O. Pennington
Wm. Carrol Crawford
Jno. Turner

Benj. Briggs Goodrich
G. W. Barnett
James G. Swisher
Jesse Grimes
S. Rhoads Fisher
John W. Moore
John W. Bower
Saml. A. Maverick (from Bejar)
Sam P. Carson
A. Briscoe
J. B. Woods
H. S. Kimble, Secretary

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Miss Edna


Edna Milton Chadwell, the last madam of the infamous Texas brothel that inspired the movie and Broadway show “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas” has died in Phoenix. She was 84.

Miss Edna, the last owner of the Chicken Ranch brothel in La Grange, Texas, died Feb. 25. She had been in the hospital since a car accident in October.

Chadwell began working at the Chicken Ranch in 1952, and within three years, she had become the manager. In 1962, she bought the establishment from Jessie Williams, commonly known as Miss Jessie, and ran it until it was shut down in 1973 after a TV story.

Channel 13’s Marvin Zindler did a “shocked” expose of an institution that everybody in Texas knew was there – it had operated almost continuously since 1844.

After the television report, Texas’ governor Dolph Briscoe ordered police to shut down the Chicken Ranch, and a short time later Chadwell moved to Arizona, where she got married and remained until she died.

I never actually went to the Chicken Ranch, but it did help me out a few times.  My parents were living between LaGrange and Schulenburg when I was stationed at Ft. Hood, and I never had a problem hitching a ride to LaGrange on a Friday night.