Sunday, May 25, 2008

The Walls are Up

I have not been able to get to the Island to see the latest construction activity so I was excited to get this update by email today.

YouTube - Paragraphs on Padre Blvd

via South Padre Network
Thank you JW and Jackie

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Weather Update

The previous post was made about 11:45 a.m. when I was sitting at my desk, perusing my daily Google reader feeds, looking for interesting items to share here, and listening to CNN. A report came on of a "massive" tornado, on the ground in Gilcrest, Colorado which is northeast of Denver.

I have never claimed to have a full measure of common sense, and one very odd trait I have inherited from my mother is the absolute inability to accept the weatherman's version of events or to be told that we must stay home. We just find it necessary to experience everything first hand, and to go where most people, at least those with brains, would avoid.

This slightly mad characteristic has led us into some interesting predicaments over the years, but today our adventure was pretty mundane.

When I heard the announcement, the rest of my pod was out for a walk, so I gathered up my keys, made sure I had my phone (for pictures), went out, got into the car, drove to the street, picked Mother up, put the Shih Tzus-Sophie and Sadie-in the back seat, and we headed north.

After about an hours wandering around, my partner in crime, informed me that she had turned the sprinkler on before leaving for her walk and the water was still running, if I had not turned it off. Now we live in a small townhome, with a little patch of dirt that has a couple rose bushes, some clematis, and a variety of herb like plants but is not large enough to contain three hours worth of water. So with visions of a garden bed being washed into the street, I stopped at Good Times, ordered 2 bambino burger specials with a frozen custard which we enjoyed while watching the clouds swirl around above us. Finally it dawned on me to call my neighbor, and I want to thank you, Mike, for saving the day or at least our garden.

So we merely used a half-tank of like-gold gasoline, tried to wash away our garden, got caught in a couple traffic jams and construction zones, consumed enough calories for a week, only to come home and view the actual tornado on the afternoon local news. We did not even get caught in the rain, although we could see it all around us.

In the spring, the front range of Colorado will frequently get some severe thunder storms often with large hail. It is also not unusual for us to have a few days with tornadic activity. This occurs when we have had warm weather and then a cold front drops down from the north.The hot and cold air don't mix which results in some severe weather. However the few tornadoes we do get are generally, small, rarely touch ground, or if they do it is for a short period over some farm ground out on the eastern plains.

Unfortunately, today was an exception. Luckily it appears that there has been only one fatality, but there is a great deal of property damage. The tornado was nearly a mile wide and traveled a northwest course from outside Greeley Colorado toward Fort Collins, Colorado and remained on the ground for much of the over 35 miles. Things are still pretty chaotic throughout much of north-central Colorado and my thoughts are for those who have lost so much, and I have a special prayer for the pets that have become disoriented and are looking for their homes and owners.

Things seem to have settled down, although Denver is still under a severe weather and tornado watch until 8:00 tonight. But Mother and I and the little bookends, Sophie and Sadie have done our exploring and will be content to spend the evening at home. No more tornado chasing for us today.

Tornado Right Now!

I am going to go check out the weather. We have a large tornado on the ground outside Denver!!

State by State

I am going to put airing this film on my list of possible events for the grand opening of Paragraphs. I need to find out how much is included about Texas.

State by State: A Panoramic Portrait of America, which is scheduled to be published by Ecco September 16, will be the subject of the third Out of the Book film made by Powell's Books and screened nationwide in partnership with independent booksellers in as many as 100 cities and towns.

State by State features original writing by 50 prominent authors and artists. Each contributor addresses one state, including Sarah Vowell on Montana, Alexander Payne on Nebraska and Jonathan Franzen on New York. Also contributing are Louise Erdrich, S.E. Hinton, Dave Eggers, John Hodgman, Susan Orlean, Joshua Ferris and Alison Bechdel.

Approximately 10 of the book's contributors will star in Out of the Book, Volume 3: State by State, which will be shot in early June and premiere August 24 at the Bookmark Festival in Nantucket, Mass., where a full day of discussions and events will be dedicated to the book and film.

Edited by Matt Weiland and Sean Wilsey, the State by State collection resurrects an effort from the 1930s, when the WPA's Federal Writers' Project commissioned writers to describe their states.

"We're so excited to be working with Sean and Matt," said Out of the Book's creator Dave Weich. "It's a dream project. In the weeks before a momentous election, the book and film will give people a way to talk about the country that's free of political jargon and media spin."

Powell's president Michael Powell added, "We believe that independent business fosters independent thought. Nothing could please us more than to see communities come together in independent bookstores to share their ideas about what this country is today and what it still can be." (emphasis mine)
I couldn't agree more, Mr. Powell!

Via Shelf Awareness

Funniest Joke in the World

Gregory McNamee at the Britannica Blog weighs in on what makes a good joke.

All the same, according to research conducted a few years back at the University of Hertfordshire, the funniest joke in the world, the one that most easily travels across cultures, is about death. It goes something like this:

Two hunters are out hunting. One of them falls over and seems not to be breathing. His friend calls 911* and cries, “What do I do?” “Well, first, let’s make sure he’s dead,” says the operator. There is silence, and then a shot rings out. The hunter returns to the phone and says, “Okay, now what?”

It’s a good joke, to be sure. But curiously, the jokes that seemed to work the best on the cross-cultural charts were just over 100 words long, with the optimum number being 103. The full version of the hunters joke tips in at 102 words, lending credence to the notion that a strange numerology is at play. Couple that with linguistic studies that suggest that velar consonants are funnier than alveodentals and sibilants and such (thus “kayak” is a funny word, “yellow” and “sassy” not so much), and we have the beginnings of a formula. Back to the drawing board, then

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

April Mystery Bestsellers

From Shelf Awareness:

The IMBA Bestsellers for April

The following were the bestselling titles during April at member stores of the Independent Mystery Booksellers Association:


1. Winter Study by Nevada Barr (Putnam)
2. Santa Fe Dead by Stuart Woods (Putnam)
3. Black Widow by Randy Wayne White (Putnam)
4. The Spellman Curse by Lisa Lutz (S&S)
5. Buckingham Palace Garden by Anne Perry (Ballantine)
6. Hollywood Crows by Joseph Wambaugh (Little, Brown)
7. The Third Circle by Amanda Quick (Putnam)
8. The Forgery of Venus by Michael Gruber (Morrow)
8. An Incomplete Revenge by Jacqueline Winspear (Holt)
8. Hold Tight by Harlan Coben (Dutton)
8. The Sudoku Puzzle Murders by Parnell Hall (St. Martin's)


1. French Pressed by Cleo Coyle (Berkley)
2. The Spellman Files by Lisa Lutz (S&S)
3. Murder Is Binding by Lorna Barrett (Berkley)
4. Bad Luck and Trouble by Lee Child (Bantam)
4. Still Life by Louise Penny (St. Martin's)
6. Murder of a Chocolate Covered Cherry by Denise Swanson (Signet)
7. The Various Haunts of Men by Susan Hill (Overlook)
7. Hollywood Station by Stuart Woods (Vision9)
7. The Woods by Harlan Coben (Signet)
10. The Book of Air and Shadows by Michael Gruber (Harper)
10. Glass House by Jane Haddam (St. Martin's)

[Many thanks to IMBA!]

Barefoot on the Beach

Remember - continue voting for SPI in the Barefoot Beach Rescue. The contest ends July 15, 2008. Everyone is allowed one vote per day. So keep clicking!!

Off-Topic - But Senator Kennedy Is On My Mind

I have just been thinking what a loss it will be if Senator Kennedy cannot return to Washington D.C.

It doesn't really matter what your politics are, the man is an institution and is able to get more accomplished on both sides of the aisle than is often recognized. He has a rare personality for a politician, one that does not need to be center stage. He is uniquely able to stand back and allow others to bask in the limelight and take credit for legislation he is responsible for getting enacted through sheer perseverance and negotiating skill. Few others have the ability to bring together all the diverse interests to get the work of the government accomplished.

So, I am just offering a prayer for his family and hoping he will survive this new trial. He is not known as the Liberal Lion for nothing, and I will certainly miss his impassioned speeches on the Senate floor.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Galveston Kemp Ridley Named After Turtle Lady

Steve Alexander reports in The Galveston County Daily News

Ila visited Galveston Island on May 1, neither waiting for the weekend nor peak tourist season. She neither searched the island for the perfect secluded beach nor carried an umbrella and chair onto the sand.

Ila did none of these things, because Ila is a female Kemp’s ridley sea turtle that visited Galveston Island for one purpose: to lay eggs in the sand.

The article continues:

Christi was assigned the task of naming her and she chose the name Ila, in honor of “The Turtle Lady” of South Padre Island, Ila Loetscher, a tireless champion for the cause of sea turtle conservation. Christi was also responsible for attaching her research name, clamping onto her left front flipper a new tag bearing the number RRV383.

Via Sandyfeet

Monday, May 19, 2008

Spare Change?

The business plan for Paragraphs has been a work in process but the time has come to commit it to paper and say enough, it is finished. Like nearly all human endeavors in life, opening a small business, requires money, and a consistent and reliable source of it.

It is now time for me and my brain child, Paragraphs, to find a local bank and establish a line of credit. I view the banking relationship as a partnership. Going forward with this attitude helps me overcome feeling like I am standing on the street corner brandishing a placard, constructed from a piece of cardboard torn off an old tomato box, on which is written in crayon or a borrowed felt pen "Spare Change?"

Once a partnership has been established I am sure the day to day communications with the formidable man behind the desk will become less formal and it will be simple to convince him what a grand idea it is to advance me some more money to buy some more books . But, before that can happen it will be necessary for me to convince some Mr. Banker that he wants to, indeed cannot afford to miss out on the opportunity, to loan me money and accept my deposits.

For the small business, the business plan is the cardboard sign of the street corner huckster. And finishing a plan for Paragraphs is my mission-see I even have the jargon down-for the week.

Personal Reflections on a Monday Morning

The need to be part of a group-to be listened to, to feel as though I have something to contribute to a discussion, to be respected for what I have to offer- drives me to the computer and the online SPI Forum.

Then, like any introvert, who after the party, reflects on and punishes herself with recriminations over words said, speeches made, jokes shared; so am I after a weekend of spirited online posting over the town of South Padre Island going wireless with a Municipal WiFi netwok.

What an inane topic to pontificate on and endlessly debate when there are so many more important issues locally and globally. What a waste of time!

One would think that online discussion would encourage a more thoughtful and reasoned approach to debate. A person is able to think out a position, make sure it is presented logically and then, after further reflection, decide whether to post or not to post. But this is not what happens-with me it becomes a type of addiction.

Can it be that each of us in our online world is seeking to satisfy some unknown need? Am I like the alcoholic, who returns to the bottle, knowing that the temporary high will not last or satisfy the underlying need, but will only lead to additional self-doubt or embarrassment?

So with those thoughts, I am ready to start a new week.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

I was raised on chicken fat...

Will Elder, whose frantic, gag-filled illustrations helped to define the comic identity of Mad magazine and who was a creator of the Playboy cartoon serial “Little Annie Fanny,” died Wednesday in Rockleigh, N.J. He was 86.

A dead-on caricaturist with an anarchic sense of humor, Mr. Elder stuffed the backgrounds of his Madison Avenue parodies and comic-strip spoofs with inane puns, silly signs and weird characters doing strange things.

“That approach to humor seeped into the rest of the magazine and the DNA of its contributors,” said John Ficarra, the editor of Mad. “It set the tone for the entire magazine and created a look that endures to this day.”

read more in this New York Times article

The following came from, which has an interesting short biography, photo clips of artwork and annotated links.

During the early years of his comics career, he worked mainly as the inker of John Severin. Between 1948 and 1951, they produced 'American Eagle' in Prize Comics Western for Crestwood, and did occasionally comic book art for National and Nedor. In late 1950, they joined EC Comics, where they cooperated on stories for 'Two-Fisted Tales', 'Frontline Combat' and 'Weird Fantasy'. Elder illustrated two Al Feldstein scripted stories on his own for 'Weird Science' issues 14 and 19. From 1953, he also contributed some stories to EC's horror and crime titles, sometimes in collaboration with Jack Kamen.

Via A&L Daily

Walt Whitman Reads America

via The Daily Dish by Andrew Sullivan

The great gay American made a wax recording back in 1890. Here's what he is reciting


Centre of equal daughters, equal sons,
All, all alike endear'd, grown, ungrown, young or old,
Strong, ample, fair, enduring, capable, rich,
Perennial with the Earth, with Freedom, Law and Love..."

Not quite MP3 quality. We've come a long way!! In technology, maybe but not in verse, Whitman is still one of the best, in my humble opinion. And I love the photo montage.

Spotlight on Daniel Olivas

Daniel A. Olivas is the author of the story collections Devil Talk and Assumption, the novella The Courtship of Maria Rivera Pena, and the children's book Benjamin and the Word. He has a book of poetry forthcoming from Ghost Road Press in 2010, and another short-story collection to be published by Bilingual Press in 2009. A co-blogger on La Bloga (which is dedicated to Chicano/a and Latino/a literature), Olivas practices law with the California Department of Justice in Los Angeles where he makes his home with his wife and son.

His new book Latinos in Lotusland: An Anthology of Contemporary Southern California Literature, is published by Bilingual Press

While this anthology was compiled with the California experience in mind, Olivas states:

Finally, though it is difficult to pinpoint, the Latino experience in California, in general, and Los Angeles, in particular, is tied rather dramatically to the State's varied terrain (from beaches to mountains to deserts to asphalt), dependence on the car to get virtually anywhere, the freeway system, almost unrelenting sunshine, and the entertainment industry. I don't believe that the stories in the anthology could not be transplanted to, say, Denver or El Paso or Las Vegas.

Read the full interview by Rigoberto Gonzalez at Critical Mass, the blog of the national book critics circle.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

John McCain Woos Bloggers

The political bloggers are all actively pursuing an invite to Senator McCain's blog briefings. The Moderate Voice reports in a post titled:

The Bloggers Invited to Question John McCain:

"Going forward, Mr. Hynes said, the campaign would like to have Mr. McCain talk to sports bloggers, too, as a way to “humanize John McCain as something other than a carbon-copy politician running for office, delivering talking points.”"

What about the bookseller and book review bloggers?

48 Hours Mystery Features Brownsville

I copied this CBS press release from bloggin' all things brownsville. I'm going to try and remember to watch this tomorrow night.



From high school sweethearts to doting parents of three, Traci and Scott Rhode, seemed a devoted couple, even after 20 tumultuous years together. Then on October 15, 2003 the life they knew together ended when Scott suffered a gunshot wound to the head in the couples’ Brownsville, Texas home. And for Traci the ordeal was just beginning.

With Scott’s death, the couple’s picture perfect image was shattered. Traci described Scott as a troubled man, so possessive and paranoid she was cheating on him, that he moved the family several times. It was this dark side, she maintains, that led him to shoot himself.

Investigators believed differently. With Traci’s questionable relationship with a co-worker and Scott’s meeting with a divorce attorney, the case had all the ingredients of a classic murder plot – a love interest, a motive and the suspicious behavior of a pretty, young wife.

Was this a murder made to look like a suicide? To authorities it seemed as such and after a tireless two-year investigation, Traci was arrested in the death of her husband, which she says was a suicide being made by the prosecution to look like murder.

Brownsville was a community divided, some crying for mercy, others crying for blood. And Traci’s fate lay in the hands of the jurors, who were about to deliver a jaw dropping decision.

Harold Dow reports on 48 HOURS MYSTERY: "Point Blank," Saturday, May 17 (10:00-11:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network. This broadcast is produced by Liza Finley. Judy Tygard is the senior producer and Al Briganti is the executive editor. Susan Zirinsky is the executive producer.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Post Number 100

I was getting ready to jot a few notes and discovered that this is the 100th post on my blog!! I think I will go have a nightcap to celebrate and then come back and finish up whatever it was I had on my mind, if I can remember.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Fly Your Flags on SPI

I think this is a cool idea! Flying a flag in the proper way requires some attention and care. This program allows a business to help the community honor these special days and still be assured of doing so with the correct protocol.

Businesses and residents are encouraged to cover South Padre Island with American Flags. The local Rotary Club can help.

The Rotary Club of Port Isabel Holiday Flag Program gives you an opportunity to show your pride and love for our country in a very convenient (and tax deductible) way. In exchange for an annual subscription price of $75.00, Rotary will place a 3’ x 5’ American Flag on a 10’ pole on your property after sunrise on the morning of the designated holiday and collected before sunset that evening.

Sale Tax on Internet Book Sales

The American Bookseller's Association through its E-fairness campaign seeks to help the independent retailer remain competitive against the big box stores and internet behemoths.

Independent bookstores collect sales tax from their customers and this money is used by the state and the local community to provide services to the citizens. The major advantage that Amazon has over an independent store is cost. In some cases much of that cost advantage stems from the retailer's failure to collect sales tax.

Eliot Spitzer, before he fell from grace, was instrumental in getting this inequity reversed in New York State, although I think the issue is still being argued in the courts. Now, it seems that the Texas Comptroller's Office may have discovered a source of additional revenue, as well.

Bookselling This Week Reports
The State of Texas Comptroller's Office is currently investigating whether the presence of an distribution facility in the Dallas suburb of Irving means the online retailing giant has a physical presence in the state. If the Comptroller's Office determines that does have nexus, the retailer would be responsible for collecting and remitting sales tax for purchases made by Texas residents and potentially would be liable for back taxes.

The issue over the Seattle, Washington-based's Irving facility was first reported by the Dallas Morning News on May 9, after the newspaper contacted the Texas Comptroller to inquire why did not collect and remit sales tax even though it had a distribution facility in the state. The inquiry prompted the state to launch an investigation into the matter.

Following news of the investigation, Amazon stated publicly that, under Texas sales tax laws, it is not required to collect and remit sales tax because the distribution facility is operated by a subsidiary,, Inc.'s website notes that it runs fulfillment facilities in Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Kansas, Texas, Nevada, Delaware, Arizona, and Indiana. The company lists customer service centers in North Dakota, West Virginia, and Washington. At present, Amazon only collects sales tax in Kansas, Kentucky, North Dakota, and Washington. Delaware does not charge sales tax.

Lawyers get ready and let the battle begin. There are millions of $$$ at stake. Of course, none of the taxes - except past taxes not collected or paid - come from Amazon, but the need to collect them cuts into their competitive advantage.

So, if you are one of those who buy from Amazon to avoid paying sales tax, those days may be coming to an end. When the sales tax and freight is added to the cost of a book from Amazon, the cost advantage over an independent retailer becomes much less obvious.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Bookstore Sales Encouraging

This is good news for booksellers, especially after all the discouraging reports about the decline in reading.

Bookstore Sales Post Another Increase in March - 5/13/2008 6:08:00 AM - Publishers Weekly:

-- Publishers Weekly, 5/13/2008 6:08:00 AM

Bookstore sales rose 1.3% in March, to $1.03 billion, according to estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau. Sales have increased every month so far in 2008 and finished the first quarter up 5.1%, to $4.46 billion. The 1.3% March increase was the smallest gain in 2008.

The sales increase in the bookstore segment was higher than for the entire retail segment, which rose 3.9% in the quarter. March retail sales inched up 0.5%, to $379 billion."

Monday, May 12, 2008

Open Dictionary - New Words

I was surprised to discover that boogie board and kiteboarding were not considered part of the English lexicon, at least as defined by dictionary entries.

The Open Dictionary is a place to record new or specialized words or old words with new meanings, and some of the more intriguing new words and expressions submitted to the Open Dictionary at make it into this semimonthly roundup at the Britannica Blog. Some of these words are being used in active English but have not yet found their way into the pages of print dictionaries. Others are clever or useful coinages.

These new entries were included in the Open Dictionary this month:

boogie board (noun): a board smaller than a surfboard that is typically ridden in a prone position

Example of use: Cameron jumped into the pool and floated around on his boogie board.

kiteboarding (noun): a water sport in which a surfboarder uses the lift and pull of a large kite to move and perform maneuvers

Example of use: Kiteboarding can be done in nearly any location in the world, with nothing but wind and gear that can easily be packed down to the size of a golfing bag.

longliner (noun): one who fishes using a longline

Example of use: Halibut prices took a dip from the record prices Alaska longliners enjoyed at the docks last year.

Any ideas for other words that should be added to the dictionary?

When you notice a new word — on the radio, in a book or magazine, or online — and discover that it’s not in the dictionary, then it’s a good candidate for Merriam-Webster’s Open Dictionary. Some words catch on, some don’t. It usually takes a few years for a word to enter the language and be used by many people in many different places. Lexicographers collect the evidence of new words used in print to determine when they are to be entered in the dictionary.

If you know a word not listed in the dictionary, submit it to the Open Dictionary, at this link.

Not Your Ordinary Masonry Block

I had wanted to make a trip to SPI and watch the walls going up, because I am excited about the materials being used. I probably won't make it and will need to be satisfied with photos but for those of you who are interested, here is the story. When first contemplating the construction of a building it was tempting to consider going "green" and energy neutral with solar and other available technology. But, then the practical issues like money, interfered with all those "feel good" ideas.

However, we are still trying to be as energy efficient and environmentally friendly as possible on a fairly tight budget. The use of APEX block is one of the green technologies we have chosen to implement.

Recycled Content:
Every APEX Block is made utilizing 100% recycled (post-industrial/pre-consumer) EPS #6. Each APEX Block contains 90% recycle EPS #6 by volume. An average home (3,300 sq. ft.) built with APEX Block keeps 2,477 lbs. of polystyrene out of our landfills!

Less Construction Waste:
APEX Block and ICFs provide builders with a more efficient material to reduce construction waste. Both products can be cut and reused during all phases of the wall construction. This reduction in job site waste is welcomed by builders and their owners.

Energy Efficiency:
APEX Block structures are proven to save up to 50% on heating and cooling bills. The EPS used to create APEX Block provides the magnitude of our energy-efficiency properties. Our 10-inch thick block walls provide a substantial envelope of insulation resulting in a superior thermal and sound efficient barrier to all outside elements. When compared to other foam plastic insulation materials, our insulation performance is proven to remain stable during its entire life, while other foam insulators can lose up to 30 percent of their original insulating ability. This loss of insulating value is referred to as Thermal Drift.

It makes me feel as if I am doing my part on our little sandbar by supporting a manufacturer who has a commitment to doing the right thing for the planet:

For all of us at APEX, it is not just about creating a 3-hour fire resistant building material that can help save lives, and help reduce our clients energy bills by 50% or is also about a committed belief in doing what we can to make this world a better place to live.

.... the idea that we needed to create an energy-efficient, alternative building solution that would help preserve our critical forests, lessen our dependence on our natural resources, and significantly reduce our overall CO2 footprint; we had to do something different.

Over 95% of all ICF manufacturers on the market today continue to use virgin (manufactured) EPS for their insulating forms, yet APEX Construction Systems, Inc. has refused to adopt this practice.

The human race has arrived at a critical point in our existence. The realization that almost every decision we make about everyday affairs, will have some kind of impact on our environment is very real.

Leaders of companies are in influential positions to make decisions that will have a significant environmental impact (positive or negative) in our world.

At APEX, we have made our decision...
We have chosen to exclusively utilize 100% recycled EPS in each and every APEX Block we make. Additionally, we challenge other manufacturers in the U.S. and across the world to compare the short-term benefits with the long-term environmental costs of their current manufacturing materials and processes to adopting more sensible, environmentally-friendly, alternative manufacturing solutions.

Construction Photos

Garco Construction e-mailed these photos several weeks ago but I had some trouble getting them posted here. For the residents of the Island these are old news but for those of us who are following from a distance, this is the latest photo update.

Once the retaining wall was built then filled and compacted, and the pilings drilled and filled with concrete, the next step was pouring the concrete slab or foundation. These photos are of this process. This photo is of the south side of the building. The top of the retaining wall is shown, and the steel bars that reinforce the wall are "woven" through the piers below. Now the foundation of the building is being tied into this network of steel.

The whole thing is like a huge steel basket, woven together and fastened with concrete. If the "big one" hits, and the Island goes there is not much that man can build to stand up to the full power and force of nature. But, I am comfortable that it is going to take a pretty angry Mother Nature to wash away the structure of this building.

In the last two photos it is finally possible to see the outline of the building. The area in the front, where the concrete is being poured will be the bookstore, and the area in the rear (closest to the camera) will be the residence. The center, which has been left as dirt will be a courtyard which will be open to the public and may be used to host events.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Election Day

Today is the last day for voters in South Padre Island to cast their ballots for the candidates of their choice.

The Island is going through the inevitable growing pains any town is faced with when confronted with "development" on a large scale. The ability to manage the interests of the competing parties and adequately plan for growth that can be sustained - on a sandbar where land is at a premium and the role of nature is overlooked at our peril - but is limited by the island's infrastructure and environment, is a requirement which any individual seeking public office on the Island must possess.

I, for one, look forward to the results of the election, and to working with the successful candidates in our joint efforts to make South Padre Island the paradise we believed this little piece of land to be when we all chose to make it our home.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Ambrose (Bitter) Bierce

A reader asks:
I was wondering though, do you ever specialize in historical American people like Ambrose Bierce?

He has been characterized as great, bitter, idealistic, cynical, morose, frustrated, cheerful, bad, sadistic, obscure, perverted, famous, brutal, kind, a fiend, a God, a misanthrope, a poet, a realist who wrote romances, a fine satirist, and something of a charlatan."

-- Carey McWilliams, Ambrose Bierce, A Biography

Bierce disappeared in 1914 and mystery still surrounds the details of his death. From Wikipedia:

In October 1913, the septuagenarian Bierce departed Washington, D.C., for a tour of his old Civil War battlefields. By December he had proceeded on through Louisiana and Texas, crossing by way of El Paso into Mexico, which was in the throes of revolution. In Ciudad Juárez he joined Pancho Villa's army as an observer, and in that role participated in the battle of Tierra Blanca.

Bierce is known to have accompanied Villa's army as far as the city of Chihuahua. After a last letter to a close friend, sent from there , he vanished without a trace, becoming one of the most famous disappearances in American literary history.

"As to me, I leave here tomorrow for an unknown destination."

-- The last line of the last letter from Ambrose Bierce,
December 26, 1913

Several writers have subscribed to the speculation that he actually headed north to the Grand Canyon, found a remote spot there and shot himself, though no shred of actual evidence exists to support this view.

All investigations into his fate have proved fruitless, and despite an abundance of theories his end remains shrouded in mystery. The date of his death is generally cited as "1914?".

In one of his last letters, Bierce wrote the following to his niece, Lora:

"Good-bye — if you hear of my being stood up against a Mexican stone wall and shot to rags please know that I think that a pretty good way to depart this life. It beats old age, disease, or falling down the cellar stairs. To be a Gringo in Mexico — ah, that is euthanasia!"

Ambrose Bierce is generally known for his Civil War short stories. The one I - and I suppose most people - am the most familiar with is An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge.

“...I consider anybody a twerp who hasn’t read the greatest American short story, which is ‘Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge,’ by Ambrose Bierce. It isn’t remotely political. It is a flawless example of American genius, like ‘Sophisticated Lady’ by Duke Ellington or the Franklin stove.” (Kurt Vonnegut -- 2005)

This one simple short story illustrates why Bierce is considered a major representative of the post Civil War literary school of realism. He would not have been pleased with this assessment of his work since he had little regard for realism in art. In his Devil's Dictionary Bierce defines realism as:

the art of depicting nature as it is seen by toads, the charm suffusing a landscape painted by a mole, or a story written by a measuring worm.

Ambrose Bierce was born June 24, 1842 in Meigs County, Ohio and spent most of his youth on an Indiana farm, the youngest of 9 children. He had little formal schooling - one year at the Kentucky Military Academy - but like other writers of his time he spent time as a printer's apprentice. He enlisted in the Union Army as a drummer boy and rose to the rank of lieutenant by the time he was discharged after being wounded. Bierce fought in some of the bloodiest battles of the war, and he will later describe the sights, smells, and sounds of battle with a brutal accuracy.

Life experience provided the material for his many works and he honed his writing skills as a journalist in San Francisco and developed his taste and skill for satire in London. He frequently worked alongside Mark Twain, Bret Harte and other up and coming writers of the age.

While best known as a short story writer, Bierce also wrote essays, critical reviews, political pieces, social commentaries, and even some poetry. His aphorisms are frequently found in books of quotations. Probably least known are his grotesque tales or works of horror in the nature of those by Poe or Lovecraft. The one constant throughout his writings is his belief that man exists in a brutal world and is engaged in a futile struggle with an impersonal fate to survive as best he can. His cynicism seems to deepen into nihilism in many of his works. In this he is similar to Twain, whose works became progressively darker toward the end of his life and career.

To quote the editors of Harper's American Literature:

"The bad, mad, bitter man from San Francisco helped show American writers the way to hell."

A complete biography and many of his short stories can be found at Online Literature.

Other Links:

The Ambrose Bierce Appreciation Society
The Ambrose Bierce Site
The Ambrose Bierce Project

Thank You, Jerry

My faith in humanity has been restored. The other day I accused some unknown person of shamefully registering the domain name, with the intention of making me pay, if I wanted to use this URL.

I said:
Not long after, I received a very nice call from Jerry Wilson, suggesting that I reserve a domain for my perfect name and future website. He told me that in this new internet world there are folks that just look for names that someone may want, then these same people register the name and when the poor dope (that's me) gets ready to launch their web site, the domain name has been taken but can be purchased, for a price.
Now, there is no logical reason why this domain name would be used by anyone but me, unless the registrant planned to make me pay for the use of my own carefully chosen name.
My Italian temperament kicked in and I decided there was no way I would give these scavengers the satisfaction of inquiring about this domain name.


I was wrong. I received these two e-mails from Jerry, yesterday.

You will notice goes to your blog it always has.

You owned it and did not even know it

I waited and waited for you to register the name and when you did not I did it for you.

It’s yours. No strings attached what so ever.

If you serve coffee I will take a cup in trade.

Thank you, Jerry. I will find some way to return the favor. You have helped confirm my belief that Port Isabel and South Padre Island have some of the most helpful and friendly people around. I really didn't mean to call you a scavenger!!

A Little Bit of Trivia

From Today in Literature:

On this day in 1611 the King James Bible was published. The first "Authorized" Bibles were in 16" x 11" editions — most churches chained them to the pulpit — but the personal-sized edition followed soon after.

The edition that is now found in nearly every hotel room, was not happily received by some early readers.

"Tell His Majesty that I had rather be rent in pieces with wild horses, than any such translation by my consent should be urged upon poor churches,” wrote one scholar asked for comment.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

The Story Behind the Postcard

This is a popular postcard on the Island. I have seen it in most of the shops but I had no idea it had a scientific and medical purpose!!

I am not sure exactly how this works, but it is amazingly accurate. This picture was used in a case study on stress levels at the Mayo Clinic and later at Fletcher Medical Center in Burlington.

Look at both mammals jumping out of the water. They are identical.

A closely monitored, scientific study revealed that, in spite of the fact that the dolphins are identical, a person under stress will find many differences between the two. The more differences a person finds, the more stress that person is experiencing.

Look at the photograph and if you find more than one or two differences you may need to take a vacation.

We'll look forward to seeing you in South Padre Island!!

Thanks to Sharon

The Internationale

To hear “The Internationale” in some 40 languages, from Albanian to Zulu, see this page, kept by Russian scientist and photographer Vadim Makarov.

For full story see the Britannica Blog

In early May 1871, a French socialist named Eugene Pottier contemplated the smoking ruins of the Paris Commune and, in hiding from government troops, composed a dirge, its six verses promising that the workers of the world, who had been nothing, would one day be all:

In English approximation:

Arise, you wretched of the earth,
Arise, you convicts of hunger
Reason thunders from its crater
It is the eruption of the end
Let us erase the past,
Crowds, slaves, arise, arise
the world will utterly change
We have been nothing, let us be everything

In 1888, a textile worker named Pierre De Geyter (or Degeyter) set Pottier’s song to music, using a harmonium as his vehicle. The song, called “L’Internationale,” was immediately popular in French factories, and from there it set out on its long, history-altering journey around the world.

see Peter Miller’s excellent documentary The Internationale (2000).

Catch-22 on May Day

From Today in Literature:

Interviewer: Do you think America can be understood through your works?

Joseph Heller: I do not think you can understand America from me — unless you come to a conclusion that America cannot be understood.

Joseph Heller was born on this day in 1923