Saturday, December 25, 2010

A Christmas Carrel

Merry Christmas all. All told, it has been a good year. Personally, I count myself fortunate to be if anything, over-employed. It's been two weeks since I saw my house in daylight during the work week. While I had the misfortune to break my arm and lose 3 months work, I had the good fortune to find work as soon as I was able. Still paying off some of that "vacation", but at least I am able to do so.

Thanks to OT and the NFL, I was able to do some Christmas shopping yesterday, modest, I don't think my contribution will turn the economy around, but I did my part.

One gift I bought myself and my brother-in-law was a 12 volt air compressor/tire inflator. I was encouraged to choose this gift by my first "Scrooge Award" winner; Town and Country stores under the new Stripes management. A couple months ago I left work and quickly noticed I had a low tire. pulled into the handy T&C to discover they no longer had air hoses at the pumps. I had to pump 3 quarters into a box at the edge of the parking lot to get three minutes worth of air pump. Same problem last week, only now it is $1 for 4 minutes! Stripes, if you wonder why you see my smiling face in your check-out line less often, there it is. Not to mention, Bell north and Bryant south T&C are the closest Angelo offers to a truck stop and this quarter-sucker device is worthless to an 18 wheeler with 100PSI tires.

Comes to mind, I had one of the bar-owners affected by the smoking ban ask me about challenging that rule as an illegal "takings", or imposed reduction of property value. I told her that after extensive research, I had yet to find a smoke ban overturned by the courts. The courts have so far (correctly in my opinion) ruled that cities have wide latitude to do all sorts of silly, progressive, or just plain "out-of-the-box" things and see how they work.

May I suggest a new ordinance? Any business with more than three gas pumps must provide tire inflating air, free, at the pumps stations. Ya' know, just like a more friendly T&C used to.

Something else I found while shopping yesterday: Angelo has a good many mentally challenged drivers and another cadre of plain rude ones. I have driven on a CDL for a living for over 30 years with no accidents and one (60 in a 55) violation. I do this by defensive driving. I assume the "other guy" is going to do the stupidest thing possible, and I am too seldom disappointed. Parking lots scare me more than streets and highways. I am healthy, I've taken to parking WAY out at the edge and walking. Safe bet: I get in the store and out of the lot more quickly than the fellow who hunts for the close spot and then has to wait on traffic to get out. I'm halfway home before he gets out of the HEB lot.

Brings me to my second Scrooge Award. Even out at the edges, I must have seen a dozen new vehicles parked across 2-3 spots, presumably to prevent door dings on the precious new truck. Being filled with the spirit of Christmas (OK, also a healthy fear of security cameras) I resisted the urge to "key" these hogs. Folks, if it's too pretty to put into traffic, encase the thing in lucite in your yard and admire it twice a day. I remember a friend in NC, bought his first "new" car in 10 years. I watched him take a small ball peen hammer, wrap it in burlap, and gently rap the driver's door under the handle. SAY What!? says I. He told me "now I don't have to get mad, cry, or lose sleep over the first dingbat that opens their door into mine. Upon reflection, a sensible attitude. We allow civilian volunteers (or used to) after training to issue valid tickets for illegal parking in handicap spaces. I volunteer to ticket vehicles taking up two or more spaces, excepting trailers of course. That would be more fun than vandalism.

A third Scrooge Award, this one to any company, credit cards especially, which imposes penalties for late pay on weekends/holidays. I first came on this with a Bank of America Card payment. Due on a Sunday. I went to the local branch, put my over-minimum payment in the mitt of a BOA employee on Saturday. The rest of the week I work to make sure that check is good. Imagine my surprise when BOA assessed me a $35 late pay fee next month since I had not paid them by noon Friday (while I was busy earning the money to pay them). Ran into this again this week, a Chase bill due on Sunday the day after Christmas. No local branch, so I had someone deposit the money Thursday and used Chase's automated pay-by-phone to authorize an account draft Friday. This will cost me $15, just because they can.

Gov't agencies, even courts, even the IRS fadaluvagawd, set back due dates falling when they aren't open to the next business day. If it's good enough for the IRS, it should be good enough for the mega-banks thee and me spent a $Trillion or so bailing out. Where's our late fee, and it ought to be a hell of lot more than $35!

I do have a fourth Scrooge Award, but this one I hold for my next missive to the Standard-Times.

Shifting gears without a segue here, I tripped over another gift most of us can give; body donation. Grave robbing has gone out of fashion, but medical schools and legitimate research facilities desparately need our bodies when we have "shuffled off this mortal coil". I have arranged for Texas Tech to receive mine. Get past the ghoulish, it is a win/win. My poor estate will not be hit with a 5 figure burial cost. Tech pays for pick up, paperwork, even returns at least a symbolic portion of cremated remains of whatever is left. So long as they make sure I'm really, really dead first, it matters not a whit to me if the students get me before the worms do.

I understand some religions place value on interring the complete body, I would never try to talk someone into violating a religious principle. Otherwise, think on it in the spirit of Christmas. Death is a real part of our lives. My gift, or yours, might give the gift of a new doctor or medical advance to the next generations.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Christmas Surprise

There is an interesting item being brought back on next weeks City Council agenda. It's a letter of intent with Siemens to “design and implement a land fill gas project.”

I'm a bit concerned this is an attempt to resurrect a project that was tabled indefinitely in 2007. In 2006, Siemens brought a proposal to build a waste to energy gasification plant at our landfill. There are similar projects all over the world. Some seem to be successful, some have been dangerous failures. By 2007, a number of questions were raised about the safety, true operational costs, etc. and the item was “ tabled indefinitely.” Now, the last meeting of the year on a date that was changed when everyone is busy with Christmas and travel plans and the end of the year, etc. this is put on the agenda with almost no real public discussion for several years.

It could be this is not the gasification project proposed in 2006. It might just be a way to capture the natural methane the landfill produces and then do something useful with it. That could be a good thing, but shouldn't a project such as that be put out for competitive bid? When was the RFQ put on the street? How many bids were received? Did we go to Siemens about this or did they come to us. Would be nice to know if good background information is in the agenda packet, but that didn't make it to the city website yet so who knows.

This issue needs public input and discussion. Sneaking it in the last agenda of the year is not the way to do it.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Another Sunday Ramble

Lakeview has, again, gotten the fuzzy end of the lollipop on the Northside Park closing. Now, I understand, there are problems with the site that would make it good policy to relocate from the old caliche pit; my opinion, Council acted in haste and a replacement park should have been built or at least budgeted before closing Northside. There are vacant properties reasonably close to Northside.

It seemed to me Council was "nudged" by the emotional appeal of Gloria Griffin, whose 9 year old son drowned there 23 years ago. I cannot claim to "feel" her pain, my closest would be the death of my Mother this year, but Mother was 83 and in poor health. It was the anticipated order of things, parents precede children in death. The loss of a child is a much harder thing to bear.

Still, in the 23 years since her son's drowning, no one else has died in this allegedly deadly park. Then we find that the City has two churches contesting for a lease on the property to be used as: a park. Now that may turn out to be a good budgetary move by the city, but it kind of undercuts the safety issue don't ya' think?

If we were to apply the same standard to other city owned properties (no deaths in 23 years) we would close half our streets, the thoroughfares might remain as they are TXDOT roads, but streets, sidewalks and fadaluvagod erect a tall fence around Lake Nasworthy, cut off all public access, maybe drain it: it's an absolute deathtrap, especially now that "everybody knows" it has an alligator.

On this I have to agree with Councilman Morrison, it was a "stupid, stupid thing".

Now shifting gears without a segue; I would not usually pick on a particular business, but an exception I am making. Eyemart, should I find myself needing new spectacles and you have exactly what I need for half the price of X, I will go to X.
I have a longstanding exception to my normal practice; Sunday morning, I read the comics first. I have all day to catch up on the news, it is one of life's little luxuries with which I indulge myself. Before I can do that, I have to tear off your half-page perforated ad. Yes, a minor item, yes that is great ad placement in that it guarantees I will see it, but in that it mildly honks me off every time I see it, it is not, in this household, a plus for your business.

I have resisted the urge to comment on the smoking ordinance. Terms such as "carpetbagger" and "nanny" might offend, so I won't use them. I am glad that Council seems willing to amend the ordinance to allow the Colonel's Pipe and Cigar shop. Entirely appropriate, I cannot imagine either an employee or customer who found smoke offensive wanting to walk in the door of a tobacco shop.

Now we see bar owners coming before Council requesting an exemption. Sorry guys, in the face of a 60/40 vote, Council isn't going there, at least not until some businesses have actually closed, by which time it will be too late for them. I've got to ask; owners, where were you when I was asking for support as treasurer of the opposition? We got outspent at least 5/1, over half of that money from the Austin American Cancer Society. I could give better numbers, but Smoke-Free has not filed a campaign finance report covering the 10 days prior to election. Speak Out San Angelo's is posted online at city's website.

I think this is an unfortunate intrusion on the rights of property owners, but it was approved by a large majority of voters in a large turnout election. My "barkeep" handle aside, it has been several years since I was personally involved in the trade. I don't have "a dog in this hunt", I drink at home where the smoking law doesn't reach (yet).

A final note, you make the call if it is connected. On this day in history, Utah, home of the teetotalling Mormons, became the 36th state to approve the XXI amendment to the Constitution, repealing Prohibition. Hmmm.