Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Taking the day off for a medical issue

No blogs yesterday. One of my sons is hospitalized; he underwent an appendectomy. Hopefully he'll be recovering soon.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Who's really Mr. Irrelevant?

Conventional thinking would say Idaho outside linebacker David Vobora, taken by the St. Louis Rams in the very last pick of the 2008 NFL draft.

I beg to differ. To me, the real Mr. Irrelevant are the college athletes who didn't get drafted. Some notable undraftees:

Sete Aulai, Center, BYU. Aulai weighs 300 pounds, but at just under 6’1” he’s very short. By today’s physical standards, too short.
Michael Butterworth, Offensive Tackle, Slippery Rock. At 6’7” and 334 pounds, Butterworth was one of the biggest people in the draft. I’m sure his 40 time of 5.719 was unimpressive; makes me wonder if a calendar was used to time him instead of a stopwatch. On the flip side, Butterworth was a multi-sport athlete in high school (including track and field) and in college earned academic awards.
Brady Leaf, Quarterback, Oregon. He stands just under 6’5” and runs a 4.889 40. But he’s also the younger brother of one of the biggest busts in NFL history. Yep—you guessed it—Ryan “Cryin’” Leaf.
Brad Roach, Quarterback, 6’6”, 249, Catawba. Slightly shorter than the draft’s tallest quarterback (Joe Flacco, whom the Baltimore Ravens drafted in the first round as a not-so-subtle lack of confidence gesture in Kyle Boller), Roach’s 40 time of 5.2 versus Flacco’s 4.86 screams lack of mobility. Having a surname like Roach would ensure that opposing fans will likely wear Orkin uniforms and scream “RAID!” whenever he walks onto the field. Roach’s biggest liability might be that question: where in the world is Catawba?
Weston Dressler, Wide Receiver, North Dakota. At just under 5’7”, Dressler was the shortest receiver in the class. His 4.5 40 doesn’t sound impressive when you consider he weighs only 160. He makes diminutive 5’10” cornerbacks seem very tall, which is probably why nobody drafted him.
Evan Moore, Wide Receiver, Stanford. Yes, his 6’6”, 233 pound frame makes him the biggest receiver in the draft, and his 4.74 time, considering his size, isn’t bad. However, he had injuries at college—including a dislocated hip that caused him to miss most of a season.

These and other undrafted players will now have to hope for a training camp invite to make an NFL squad. No worries: Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo was undrafted.

Post-Smackoff thoughts

Alas, my favorite Jim Rome clone, Terence from Sierra Madre, didn't win the Smack-off. Again. Chin up, Terence: you're still my favorite. Go get 'em next year.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Regarding tomorrow's Smack-Off on The Jim Rome Show

Friday, April 25, is the Annual Smack-Off on The Jim Rome Show. I wanted to give a quick shoutout to my favorite clone who, sadly enough, has never won this contest despite his brilliant takes:


Even if he doesn't win again, Terrence could easily win another contest: An M. Emmet Walsh Sound-a-Like Contest.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Today's gas prices

$3.58 for regular unleaded in Arbela Township, Tuscola County, Michigan.

It makes me cringe to think of the hundreds of millions--if not billions--of barrels that are uncollected in Alaska, Utah, off-shore in American waters, etc.

BREAKING NEWS: Miami Dolphins sign Michigan OT Jake Long

University of Michigan product Jake Long has signed a contract with the Miami Dolphins and will be the first overall pick in Saturday's NFL Draft.

Long attended Lapeer East High School (about 25 miles east of Flint).

Miami Dolphins and Jake Long

Reports are that the Miami Dolphins and Michigan OT Jake Long are in "serious talks". Apparently the Aquatic Mammals may make the Lapeer East High School alum their first pick in the 2008 NFL draft. Of course, by "serious talks" they mean nobody's joking around or even smiling.

[rim shot]

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Pray for Huang Chuncai

On another blog of mine, I mentioned this story. Huang Chuncai is a Chinese man undergoing multiple surgeries to remove facial tumors and reconstruct his face. Read more about it here.

Gifts for German relatives

The Zowie side of my family originated from Germany, where the surname is Zahnweh (pronounced "TSAHN-veh"). I am planning, perhaps Christmas 2008, to send gifts to my German cousins. Does anyone have ideas for what would make a great gift? Something thoughtful and tasteful that would represent the American culture?

For instance, Austrians would send crystal. Russians and Indians might send a chess board. A Chinese person might send a piece of artwork showing a panda...

Interesting satirical story about Bobby Trendy

Maybe you've seen Bobby Trendy on television. He's a flamboyant fashion designer best known by some as the late Anna Nicole Smith's designer.

Some look at Trendy and automatically assume he's gay--never mind that the late Rock Hudson, a man's man whom one female family member of mine once referred to as "her dreamboat" was gay. Here's a story I found on a satirical site that features a different take on Trendy...what if everything we think about him is wrong?

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Spring is definitely here!

It’s in the seventies today here in Michigan’s mid-thumb, and I’m wearing a t-shirt with the windows open. Woo-hoo!

Hard to believe that only two months ago I skidded my car into ditches and had to be pulled out by complete strangers. One event had the dubious distinction of happening around 1 a.m. on February 6—my 35th birthday. Those were the days of snow, snow and even more snow.

The Dave Koz Radio Show

If you get a chance, check it out. Here's his website. Until I started listening to Dave's radio show, I was mildly interested in jazz. Now, I consider myself a fan. I like the stuff from the twenties (what they played in the movie Chicago), but I find modern jazz to be extremely cathartic and relaxing to listen to. Hearing Dave interview artists and get the stories behind the songs is really amazing.

Dave, if you happen to be reading this post, thank you for your wonderful show. By the way, do you end each broadcast playing your saxophone into the microphone?

Friday, April 18, 2008

Pursuing my true love—fiction writing

One of my side projects is writing and marketing my fiction. I have several fiction short stories that are in “final edit” mode, a novel that I’m about 2/3 of the way through the rough draft and many, many ideas on the backburner. Currently, I am marketing two short stories: No Experience Necessary and Why Are You Here So Soon?. Would rather not give away too many details except to say this: NEN is a fantasy/suspense about a job advertisement and WAYHSS? is a Christian-themed story about suicide. More details to follow.

Ha! Take that!

I’ve already had to delete one spammer message. I guess these spammers didn’t read my previous post about using my comments page to post unsolicited messages. That’ll teach them! Mou ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Why radio is getting very boring

What do these songs have in common: “Always Something There to Remind Me”; “Tainted Love”; “Hurts So Good”; “Jack and Diane”; “Small Town”?

If you listen to any given soft rock radio station, you’re bound to hear one of these within ten minutes. They have made me a big fan of MP3 players and audio books.

The New Twilight Zone

I’m currently watching this on DVD. Pretty good. One cool episode features a then-relatively unknown Bruce Willis accidentally calling his apartment and talking to himself on the phone. I like shows that are out there, which is probably why I like The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Besides spam, another warning about this blog

This hasn’t happened yet, but I wanted to make a statement about it now rather than wait for it to happen. Like other writers, I’ve received hate mail in my eight years as a professional writer. I remember one angry letter from a Wynonna Judd fan who took exception to my referencing Ms. Judd in a drunk driving column (the country singer was mentioned along with several other celebrities who had been arrested for drunken driving, and I was commenting about how it’s imperative that we realize just how seriously irresponsible drinking and driving can be). As heated as the exchange was, I am very impressed that the letter writer never resorted to profanity. However, in another letter, an angry Seinfeld fan took exception to my comments that the show is lousy (and, boy, is it). The writer resorted to some fairly graphic profanity. All because I dared to say I didn’t like "The Show About Nothing".

My point: feel free to comment or even disagree with me. But any posts containing profanity will be unceremoniously deleted and no response will be given. Sorry, but I simply don’t have the time to waste dignifying inappropriate remarks.


Gasoline prices

Here in Arbela Township, Michigan (about 20 miles northeast of Flint), regular unleaded gasoline today was at $3.44 per gallon. If it keeps going up, I might have to resort to desperate measures. It makes me wonder if the hydrocarbons from flatulence would sufficiently qualify as fuel for the internal combustion engine…

So far, so good in my career as a Dallas Cowboys blogger

My latest blog about the Cowboys is right here, and things seem to be going well so far. Being told “You’re the man” by management is very encouraging, a sign that I’m not wasting my time writing. Maybe one of these days I’ll be able to make a comfortable living solely from the keyboard.

I also blog here about my favorite baseball team, the Houston Astros. I may also blog there in the future about my favorite AL team, the Kansas City Royals and the San Antonio Spurs, but we'll have to wait and see. Only so many hours in the day.

It’s funny: I love the Cowboys but detest* the Houston Texans. I love the Astros but detest the Texas Rangers.

*I am, though, very happy that Houston was able to get an NFL team again. Houston’s far too big a city not to have a team, and Texas is far too big a state to have only one NFL franchise.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The Longest Yard remake

My wife and I saw that last night. Not too bad a film; will have to rent the original sometime. I liked Adam Sandler, but maybe I’m partial to him since, according to Tom Wilson’s Questions song Adam’s a very nice guy in real life. Other noteworthy cast members included Burt Reynolds (wearing the number he also wore in the original), Dallas Cowboys Hall of Fame receiver Michael Irvin (who almost went to prison in real life), Brian Bosworth, Steve Austin and the extremely-underrated actor William Fichtner.

Bosworth wore #44 in the movie, and there’s a funny story behind that. He wore #44 as a linebacker at Oklahoma but was prevented by the NFL from wearing it at the pro level. Apparently, linebackers can only wear numbers in the 50s and 90s range. Bosworth intended to go to court, but his career was cut short by injuries.

We thought the subplot of the guard whose steroids were switched with estrogen pills was funny.

The movie obviously is very light. I’ve heard stories of what prison can be like, and those stories would give any rational person the incentive to keep their noses clean.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Attention spammers...

...unless you're advertising the kind of spam that can be consumed, please don't use my comments page to advertise your worthless sites. Such comments will be promptly deleted. Thank you. Have a nice day, and please don't let the door hit you on your way out.


A Kelly Air Force Base Air Force officer named Lieutenant Colonel Lovely used to put that at the bottom of all his e-mail correspondences. Stands for: Just Another Day In Paradise. That’s what it is today in eastern Michigan’s mid-thumb. The sun is shining, it’s a little cool outside and the birds are chirping. As I drove into our driveway after returning to town for supplies, I saw two mourning doves on the ground. Ahhhh, Spring in Michigan!

Another blog

Looks like I might soon be blogging for another sports site. I already blog here about the Dallas Cowboys (the greatest NFL team) but may soon be blogging at a site to discuss the greatest baseball team in the MLB: the Houston Astros. More details to follow. Houston right now is 5-8, and if they can get good pitching (which includes Roy Oswalt snapping out of his slump), they might get someplace.

Lefthanders in the White House

If John McCain or Barack Obama get elected, it’ll mark the sixth time in eight elections that Americans have elected a left-handed president. Ronald Reagan, according to his son Michael Reagan, was originally left-handed but was forcibly converted to right-handed ways; George H.W. Bush is left-handed (although he golfs right-handed); Bill Clinton is left-handed (ditto on his golfing ways).

I have heard that Al Gore is left-handed, but I haven’t gotten this corroborated. I do know that Hillary Clinton is a right-hander.

Ann Coulter’s audiobook “If Democrats Had Any Brains, They’d Be Republicans”

Am listening to Ms. Coulter’s above-mentioned book If Democrats…Republicans. She’s funny, no doubt, and she has some poignant things to say, but I do find some of her humor to be mean-spirited. For example, Senator Ted Kennedy’s waist size has nothing to do with why I disagree with him politically. I must say, though, that I liked Coulter’s book Treason.

Considering the barbs she tosses it around, it’s easy to see why many don’t care for her. As for myself, I like reading her columns.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

The Outer Limits

I watched a few episodes of The Outer Limits last night. Ones I saw were from the nineties, when the show was resurrected. Very good and worth the wait. One of the producers on the show said that whereas The Twilight Zone is based on fantasy, TOL is primarily science fiction. Both are very good.

Top 10 Reasons Why the Michigan cold beats the Texas heat

10. Temperature gauges generally need only two digits, not three

9. No third-degree burns when gripping a door handle or steering wheel

8. If you’re cold, you can always put on more layers of clothes. If you’re hot, you can only take off so much (even less if you’re a Baptist)

7. Long-sleeved shirts can actually be worn more than two weeks out of the year

6. Nighttime temperatures usually go below 85 degrees

5. I can wear the same t-shirt for more than 15 minutes without it being drenched in sweat

4. I can wear said t-shirt for more than a day without it stinking of B.O.

3. Cold weather gives you an excuse to hug, kiss and snuggle up to your spouse

2. Women can wear perfume instead of Off!

1. I don’t have to run my air conditioner in December!

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Putting drunk driving fatalities into perspective

I heard a public service announcement by Ryan Seacrest that dispelled some extremely disturbing news about drunk driving fatalities.

If you were put into a plane a week's worth of Americans killed by drunk drivers, it would be the equivalent of two 747 jets crashing weekly.

I wonder if this is true. If it is, it is indeed extremely sobering.

R.I.P., Stanley Kamel

Early this morning, I checked my e-mail before going to work and saw on the news wires that Stanley Kamel had died. Kamel, 65, died April 8 at his home in California of a heart attack. Most recently, he is perhaps best known for his role as Dr. Charles Kroger on the brilliant comedy-drama Monk. His character, a psychiatrist, tries to help obsessive-compulsive detective Adrian Monk work through his laundry list of issues and phobias. Mr. Kamel will be sorely missed. Out of respect for Mr. Kamel's memory, I will not be posting any humorous entries to this blog for the next few days.

I am very curious as to how the show’s writers will treat this. Will his passing be written into the script? Only time will tell...

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Oil, gas approach another record high

Another record: $112 per barrel for crude oil.

Could gasoline prices reach $4/gallon by this summer? It’s very possible and, unfortunately, many Americans have very little idea just how complicated the issue of oil and gas really is.

A fellow columnist with the Beeville Bee-Picayune, David Blackmon, has written an excellent column that answers this issue in more detail. David, whose column “Now wait a minute…” appears regularly in the South Texas paper, raises some important issues. Here it is below:

Buying $4 gasoline? Thank your favorite congressman

By David Blackmon

So here we are, going into the Spring driving season, and oil is going for $105 a barrel. Guess what that means? It means $4 per gallon gasoline is coming soon to a self-serve pump near you. There’s no avoiding it.

It also means that you will soon be treated to politicians at the federal, state and yes, even the local level demonizing the “big oil” companies, and blaming them for the whole mess. All of which will be some nice demagoguery for the masses to consume, and will be completely false.

The simple fact of the matter is that the “big oil” companies – which in this context means ExxonMobil, ChevronTexaco, BP, Shell and ConocoPhillips – don’t control the price of crude oil any more than you or I do. Oil is a worldwide commodity traded on an open market, and because we as a nation choose to import 65% of our daily consumption of crude oil, we are held hostage to whatever price the world market sets for this commodity.

Yes, you read that right: I said we as a nation “choose” to import 65% of our daily oil consumption. You’re thinking, ‘hey, I didn’t choose any such thing’, to which I’ll just reply oh, yes, you did.

We all have choices in our lives, and we as a country have made the choice to elect members of congress and other public officials who favor locking up vast amounts of our domestic sources of crude oil and preventing their development. The Alaska National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) is a prime example of this choice, but certainly not the only one we’ve made over the last decade and more.

We also prevent any exploration for oil deposits off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts in the lower 48 states, and have locked up about 40% of federal lands in the Rocky Mountain States. We know that hundreds of millions if not billions of barrels of oil underlie these lands and waters, but choose as a country not to allow their development in favor of importing an increasingly higher percentage of our daily consumption.

When Jimmy Carter was president, he considered the 33% of our daily oil usage that we were importing at that time to be a national emergency, and created the Department of Energy to deal with it. Today the percentage that constituted a national emergency 30 years ago has doubled – apparently, the Energy Department, like most big government ideas, hasn’t worked out so well - and most Americans stand around idly believing it’s no big deal, and we can’t let those big, bad oil companies spoil “pristine” places like ANWR.

We are so unconcerned about this situation that we’ve handed control of congress to the Democrat Party, which is not only not doing anything to lessen our dependence on foreign oil, but is as of this writing considering 23 different draft bills that would lock up even more of our own domestic resources. We’re so ignorant as a population about the reasons why gasoline is going to cost us $4 a gallon by May that most of us will eagerly point fingers of blame at the “big oil” companies when the Democrats hold their annual kangaroo court hearings on gas prices in late spring or early summer. It’s like clockwork.

To make matters worse, we as voters have narrowed the field of presidential candidates to one Republican and two Democrats who are among the least knowledgeable members of the U,S. Senate when it comes to energy policy, all of whom are likely to continue the failed policies that have led us to the current situation, and enact new policies that are even dumber. All of them parrot environmentalist talking points about “global warming” and the joys of alternative fuels, ignoring the reality that we’ve just had the coldest winter in 40 years and that it’ll be 40 years more before we can count on alternative fuels supplying anything resembling a significant portion of our energy needs.

Like it or not, we are going to need oil and natural gas for many years to come, and we are the only nation on the face of the earth that is so irrational that it refuses to exploit its own domestic resources. The Russians and Chinese are being very smart by contrast, not only exploiting their own resources, but also locking up future foreign supplies of crude via treaty. While the Russians are rapidly developing the oil and gas resources in the Arctic regions off their northern shore, left-wing environmental groups in this country have successfully foiled via lawsuits the efforts of Shell and ConocoPhillips to do the same in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas north of Alaska.

But it’s not just the Russians and Chinese who are behaving more rationally than the U.S. regarding energy policy. The Cubans recently placed an oil drilling platform within 49 miles of the coast of Florida in international waters. Meanwhile, the geniuses who run our government have gone about banning any U.S. companies from exploiting known large deposits of oil and natural gas anywhere within 125 miles of the Florida coast.

And now these same congressional geniuses are considering “Global Climate Change” legislation that would make the country’s energy situation infinitely worse. Democrat Joe Lieberman and Republican John Warner are co-sponsors of a bill that would create the country’s first cap and trade system to regulate carbon dioxide emissions. This bill as it is currently written would immediately create a supply crisis on natural gas, which would cause natural gas prices to rise dramatically. In Texas, natural gas-fired power plants supply about 70% of your electricity.

If you think gasoline is getting expensive, wait until you see your electricity bill after President Clinton/Obama/McCain signs the Lieberman/Warner bill into law.

Life in the liberal zoo goes on.

(This column originally appeared in the March 15, 2008 issue of the Beeville (Texas) Bee-Picayune. Reprinted with permission from the author)

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

D'oh! The Simpsons show not allowed on Venezuelan tv network

I'm hardly a fan of The Simpsons, but even for me, this is just too funny.

Venezuela's Televen TV station announced it was dropping the popular worldwide cartoon comedy from its 11 a.m. timeslot because of complaints that it's not appropriate for children. I don't let my youngest sons watch it, and, frankly, I think the concerns are warranted.

Care to guess what show is taking the Simpsons' place?

Baywatch Hawaii.

Believe it or not, the same show that's also called Babewatch or B**bwatch due to the accessories of the female "lifeguards" being the stars of the show.

New Houston Astros blog of mine

It's at www.houstonastrosorangeandblue.mlblogs.com. We'll see how it goes.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Charlton Heston, American actor and icon, 1924-2008

I was very saddened to hear about the passing of Charlton Heston, one of the great American actors. He struck me as a very classy, dignified man, and he will be greatly missed.

And when he wasn’t saying epic movie lines like “Soylent Green is made out of PEOPLE!!!”, he had some great observations about society in general. During an NRA speech, he held a musket up in the air and dared 2000 democratic presidential candidate Al Gore to pry the weapon, “…from my cold, dead hands.” (I guess now Gore can take Heston up on his offer). Also, Heston gave a great speech regarding winning the cultural war (which he gave at Harvard Law School in 1999).

R.I.P., Mr. Heston.

Lance Berkman's humor and a thought on the Astros

As a lifelong Houston Astros fan, I know exactly who Lance Berkman is. When the switch-hitting Astros infielder was once asked what he majored in at his alma mater Rice University (which is a tough school academically) in Houston, he replied: “Eligibility.”

Lance reminds me of my grandfather, the late, great George Goade (1907-1992). Mom says that “Daddy” loved to joke around.

As you see from the above photo about Berkman, there’s something unusual about him: although Berkman throws left-handed, he writes right-handed. Another southpaw traitor :D. I throw, bat, golf, kick, eat, shoot and write left-handed, so it’s hard for me to imagine Berkman’s ways.

I did see one video shot, though, of recently-retired Astros star Craig Biggio that showed something: although Biggio batted and threw right-handed, he writes left-handed.


As of this blog posting, the Astros are 2-5 on the season going into a home stand. Tonight, they open a three-game series against the St. Louis Cardinals. I was wondering if any other Astros fans out there can explain to me why it is that of the 12 pitchers on Houston’s active roster, only two are left-handers? Wandy Rodriguez is a starter while Wesley Wright’s in the bullpen. Seems dangerous to have only two, especially if you’ve already used the lefty in your pen and you’re in the late innings against a dangerous left-handed hitter.

Wal-Mart and small-town businesses: Part 1 of 4

Last summer, I wrote an article regarding Wal-Mart’s impact on small-town businesses. As I wrote there were two things that surprised me. One, two businesses that felt Wal-Mart was slowly driving them into extinction declined to be interviewed or go on the record. It seemed strange that someone would be offered an opportunity to give their story but decline instead. I guess they had their reasons. Two, most of the other businesses I spoke to generally had neutral things to say about Wal-Mart. A few were even positive. Originally, I intended this story to be for one of my freelance clients. It didn’t work out, unfortunately, and my attempt to sell it to another client fell through. With that, I have chosen to post the story, written in four parts, on this blog. I don’t know how often, possibly once every week or two.

In fairness, for the story I also asked Wal-Mart’s opinion. The folks at the Clio, Michigan Wal-Mart referred me to corporate public affairs. It took several weeks, but I was finally able to get their answers. They are incorporated into the article.

Is Wal-Mart bad for small-town America? I’ve done my best to allow both sides to give their opinion. Now it’s up to you to read and decide for yourself.
(All photos taken by Richard Zowie)

Richard Zowie
Arbela Township, Tuscola County, Michigan
April 7, 2008

Wal-Mart: the culprit for the demise of Mom and Pop in Clio?
Part 1 of 4: Downtown businesses mixed about department store super giant

By Richard Zowie

CLIO, MICH. – Take a drive or walk in downtown Clio, and for some who have grown up here, the sight can be discouraging.

Some buildings, with their rich histories, are vacant with FOR SALE signs in their windows. If walls could talk, the buildings certainly would have endless, illustrious stories to tell about customers, products and services offered throughout the years.

Some businesses, such as Porky’s Hogg Trough, have closed and are now just a memory, a testament of how difficult it can be in today’s economy for businesses to stay afloat. Others struggle to stay in business. Among the many businesses in downtown Clio are an electrolysis shop, jewelry store, hardware store, sports wear shop, chiropractor, dance studio, pharmacy, pet feed and supply shop, insurance companies, mortgage lenders, banks and several restaurants.

When looking at the closed-up shops, the question arises: what ails downtown Clio? Is it the sluggish economy? The collapse of Delphi? The struggles of the Big Three automakers?

Some say the problem is only a couple of miles down on West Vienna Road in the form of a big-box store that offers low prices.

And if you ask around, you’ll find that the subject of Wal-Mart in mid-Michigan is as controversial a subject as the state’s economy, Michael Moore and how to turn the seemingly-incorrigible Detroit Lions into a winning team.

For some, Wal-Mart represents a chance to get department and grocery store shopping done with low prices that are painless for the checkbook and a godsend to a shoestring budget.

For others, Wal-Mart is the epitome of Big Business whose philosophy of “Always Low Prices” forces local Mom & Pop stores to go out of business and threatens to write a disturbing chapter into a town’s economical history.

The debate has almost certainly continued with the opening last fall of a Wal-Mart in the Clio area. Specifically, the store is located in Vienna Township right off of West Vienna Road on North Linden Road just west of Interstate 75. There are seven other Wal-Marts within a 25-mile radius of Clio. The closest is about 12.5 miles south in Flint. Grand Blanc and Saginaw both have Wal-Marts.

The Vienna Township Wal-Mart is not the only big-box store in the area. Kmart is located at just east of I-75 on West Vienna Road. And in 2008, a Meijer store will open less than 10 miles north in Birch Run.

Frankenmuth residents have fought efforts to build a Wal-Mart there.

In downtown Clio, especially among the businesses that have been open for decades, mentioning Wal-Mart tends to invoke a lot of mixed discussion. Two businesses had very negative feelings about the department store super giant; one declined to be interviewed for this article while another refused to go on record. Others voiced their concerns about Wal-Mart’s prices and how difficult it is to compete with them. Some businesses said they felt no negative impact from Wal-Mart while some even stated that the store helped downtown businesses.

Debbie Taylor, who owns Floral Expressions on 186 W. Vienna Street, said that when Wal-Mart first opened, she was worried at first.

“I think I’m more concerned about how Wal-Mart affects other businesses in town, since it doesn’t carry a lot of what we carry except for flowers and plants,” she said. “If other businesses in town close, then this town starts looking a lot more vacant than it already is, and that’s not good for us. People then won’t stop [to shop] since there’s nothing in town.”

Taylor pointed out that Michigan’s sluggish economy, particularly in the auto industry, has not helped the local economy.

“We were affected a lot more when Delphi announced they were going bankrupt than when Wal-Mart opened,” she said.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Los Angeles…that’s where the NFL wants to be

Attention, San Antonio football fans: abandon any and all hope you may have of your city getting an NFL team. The Alamodome’s way too small, and it would cost hundreds of millions to build an NFL-regulation stadium. If any city will get an expansion team or a relocated NFL team, it’ll be our nation’s second-largest city and second-largest television and radio market: Los Angeles.

I get this feeling that eventually a single football stadium might be build somewhere in the L.A. region (perhaps Anaheim) and serve as home to an AFC and NFC team. One team is home one week and the team’s home the next week—sort of like how the New York Giants and Jets share Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.’s Meadowlands.

I suspect that these cities—all of which are trying to get new stadiums—are candidates to relocate to Los Angeles: Oakland, San Diego, New Orleans and Minnesota.

Ahhh, spring!

Haven’t seen snow in almost a week. Temperatures today are around 60. It feels warm again. Woo-hoo! I’ll probably look forward to winter again when we live in a decent place that’s well insulated.

When I lived in Texas and hot, humid Pensacola, Fla., winter was my favorite time of year. Now, I’m more of a fan of spring with fall running a close second.

Getting up close and personal with chickens

One of my hobbies is wildlife photography, which won’t become a serious one until I have a camera with a great zoom lens. The other day I went next door and took pictures of the chickens. These two photos are shots of me posing with two chickens, a white leghorn hen and a bantam rooster. These chickens often will freely walk around the yard even though there are farm cats around. I suspect the chickens are either really brave or (more likely) really stupid.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Another of the many reasons I won't watch the Summer Olympics

The People's Republic of China on Thursday sentenced a dissident to 3.5 years in prison for essays of his deemed critical of the Red Chinese goverment.

Hu Jia, 34, has been accused by the government of writing essays that create subversion. Some say the government there is trying to crack down on dissidents in an attempt to paint a rosy picture of China's communist society as the country gets ready for the 2008 Summer Olympic games.

International Herald Tribune reporter Jim Yardley further writes that Hu's wife, blogger and human rights advocate Zeng Jinyan, offered her thoughts as to why Hu was imprisoned: "The fundamental reason is to silence him. He had been speaking up and all he said was plain truth. It makes them unhappy. But they can do this to him because they're unhappy?"

Xinhua (pronounced "Sheen-hwa"), China's official news agency, quoted the court verdict on Hu: "Hu spread malicious rumors and committed libel in an attempt to subvert the state's political power and socialist system."

Chinese officials claim Hu confessed to the charges, but his attorney, Li Fangping, believes the sentence is not acceptable and that the charges are illegitimate.

Hu, according to the article, has 10 days to appeal and is suffering from Hepatitis B.

Houston Astros are now 2-3 on the season...

...courtesy of a matinee victory today over the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field. Miguel Tejada hit a go-ahead, two-run triple in the eighth inning to lead Houston to a 4-3 win.

Audio books

I am currently listening to The Reagan Diaries on audio book format. Wow, I wish I’d done this long ago. gone are the boring drives to work where every soft rock station is endlessly playing the same-old tired songs like “Always Something There to Remind Me”, “Tainted Love” or something by John Mellencamp. Nothing against Mellencamp or the people who sang these other songs, but it just gets tiring hearing them constantly.

TRD is pretty fascinating as President Ronald Reagan chronicled his time in the American presidency. Interesting in retrospect: Reagan erroneously thought that former Supreme Court justice Sandra Day O’Connor (whom he nominated) was being unfairly criticized for her less-than pro-life views. Reagan also talks about his trip to China and the advice given to him by former president Richard Nixon: don’t ask what you’re eating—just swallow it and move on. Considering that duck and chicken brains are a delicacy in the Chinese culture, that was good advice.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Houston Astros get their first win of the season!

Houston starting pitcher Wandy Rodriguez got roughed up, but, thankfully, so did San Diego Padres starter Greg Maddux. The Professor, who’s been largely successful against Houston in his career, gave up six hits (three of them home runs) and three earned runs in six innings of work as the Astros rallied in the ninth inning to win 9-6. Houston was down to their final out in the ninth when Lance Berkman belted a three-run homer to help turn a 6-5 loss into a 9-6 victory. Geoff Blum, Ty Wigginton and Carlos Lee also went deep for Houston.

This afternoon (this blog was posted before the start of the game) Houston will try to close up the series with a split.

Latest on the Missile Defense System

Russia’s очень не рада (very unhappy), but NATO has endorsed President Bush’s plan to build a missile defense system in Europe. Associated Press writer Matthew Lee quoted U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice as saying, “Now it is clearly understood in the alliance that the challenges of the 21st century, the threats of the 21st century, make it necessary to have missile defense that can defend the countries of Europe…[NATO has] also asked Russia to stop its criticism of the alliance effort and to join in the cooperative efforts that have been offered to it by the United States.”

The American plans are for 10 interceptor missiles to be in Poland and a radar tracking site in the Czech Republic. It’s been said that the Czechs will be signing an agreement with the U.S. by May; Poland hasn’t officially agreed on the plan, but they are in talks. I suspect Poland will sign up eventually. Call it the bitter aftertaste of the former Soviet Union, but there’s not exactly a lot of love between Poland and Russia.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, as was Mikhail Gorbachev when Gorby headed the Soviet Union, is not happy about the missile defense system. I suspect Putin is concerned that such a system will give America a strategic and military advantage over Russia. Gorbachev was known to have made the missile defense system (or strategic defense initiative, as it was also known then) a big issue when holding nuclear arms talks with then-President Ronald Reagan in Reykjavik, Iceland in 1986. Part of Gorbachev’s argument then was that Russian scientists had assured him that such a plan was impossible. That is looking more and more like an empty ploy.

2008 Presidential Race update

Theresa Heinz Kerry, the former would-be first lady, is campaigning with Michelle Obama. Jane Fonda and former president Jimmy Carter also support Obama. For weeks, Hillary Clinton and Obama have been playing a 40-all tennis match with each side having the advantage. Then it was deuce. Now, it makes me wonder if it’s once again Advantage Obama.

Clinton, on an April Fool’s Day joke, challenged Obama to a bowling match to decide the race. Nice joke, but it would’ve worked better without the background laughter.

Meanwhile, John McCain’s day is probably being spent trying to decide on a running mate.

Saw IV: Beating a Dead Horse

Well, that’s not really the subtitle of Saw IV, but it should be.

Let me recap: once upon a time, there was this brilliant, suspenseful independent horror film that had a brilliant twist to it. People were put into seemingly-inescapable traps with the task of thinking their way out. Those who did developed a stronger appreciation fo their own lives. This was a lesson designed by the traps’ engineer, who was suffering from terminal cancer. Lots of twists and surprises and nowhere near the blood and gore I’d imagined.

Then came the decent sequel, the disappointing third one and the unwatchable fourth one.

Saw IV has lots of traps—gorier than ever and, frankly, not much purpose to them. To me, the movie is nothing more than an attempt to milk the franchise. I watched 20 minutes, skipped forward a few scenes and then turned it off. I like Tobin Bell and Donnie Wahlberg as actors, but to me, this film is just unwatchable.

You know what’s really disturbing? They’re actually working on Saw V. Ugh.

The Birds are back! Yee-haw!

No, I’m not talking about the brilliant Alfred Hitchcock classic film about homicidal birds. Instead, I’m talking about the very warmly encouraging sign that spring is here in Michigan. I’vebeen hearing much distinct chirping in the trees and air lately, and it’s the kind of chirping you hear from mourning doves and red-winged blackbirds.

Considering just how daunting our propane bills have been this winter and how poorly insulated our rented mobile home is, the chirping of these birds is very welcome news. All I need now are to hear the quacking of ducks and I’ll be completely happy.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Welcome, Beeville Bee-Picayune readers!

I am back to writing columns from time to time for the Beeville Bee-Picayune. Sometime within a week or so I’ll be sending out my next column. Meanwhile, if you’re a Bee-Pic reader and read my columns, feel free to post a comment here. I’d love to hear from you.

Eventually, I plan to get a Website of my own. In the meantime this blog will serve as a place where I offer my opinions and comments on the issues—primarily thoughts that aren’t long enough for a regular column or those that turn into an unpublished column.

Why I’m not quite a hockey fan

Since moving to Michigan, I’ve adopted the Detroit Red Wings as a favorite team. In the past I’ve also cheered for the Dallas Stars and—believe it or not—the Colorado Avalanche. Growing up in South Texas, hockey was seldom shown on television. When I did get to watch it, it was relegated to brief clips of two players fighting each other. My father, bless him, would refuse to watch hockey, saying that “all they ever do is fight.”

As a game, I love watching hockey. It has the same concept as soccer, except that it’s much faster and far more exciting. I am dismayed, though, by the number of fans who are so gung-ho about going to a game and watching a fight. How about hoping for your team to win instead?

I wish that hockey were like soccer, football and baseball in that when fights break out, they are broken up immediately and the players are ejected. If I want to see a fight, I’ll watch boxing instead.

Do I have any plans to watch this summer’s Olympics?

Absolutely not.

They’re being held in Beijing, China. Yes, that same China that has an atrocious human rights record. The same China that uses its infamous bamboo gulags to torture dissidents and others who fall out of favor with the state. (For more information about the gulags, visit the site of well-known dissident Wei Jingsheng). That same China that persecutes Christians and other faiths. If you want to attend church in China, it must be a state-registered church.

And, yes, that same China that has oppressed Tibet.

I studied Chinese at Defense Language Institute in Presidio of Monterey, Calif. One of my teachers, whom I won’t identify since he may still be around, told me that while China is still officially a communist nation, they have long since abandoned a communist economy for one that’s capitalist based. Why? Because Red China has found out the hard way that communist-run economies do not work.

Suggestion for Sean Berry, Houston Astros hitting coach

Tonight, the Houston Astros try to get their first win of the season as they face the San Diego Padres and Greg Maddux. Unfortunately, the Astros’ chances of going 0-3 are pretty good considering their historic lack of success against The Professor.

Perhaps the Astros’ bats need some spark.

I wish Sean Berry would use this threefold approach Wade Boggs is said to advocate:

* Swing only at pitches that are in the strike zone.

* Foul off close pitches.

* Avoid pitches outside the strike zone.

If you’re confused by the Astros logo in this entry and wondering how it looks so much different from the Astros’ current black-brick-sand logo, that’s because this one is from the sixties. I absolutely abhor the current railroad-theme logo and, on this blog, will use only classic Astros logos. It’s my protest against what I think is an ugly, out-of-place logo that needs to be retired. Whether it’s a return to the blue and orange, or the blue and gold of the nineties or a new logo based on the blue, red and silver of the NASA logo, I don’t care.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Wait 'til next year, Houston LASTros

Opening Night for the Houston Astros, and they were shut out by the San Diego Padres 4-0. Houston's Roy Oswalt gave up 11 hits (the Padres got 14 total) and gave up 3 runs. Padres starter Jake Peavey allowed four hits and, obviously, zero runs.

Yeah, yeah, historically the Astros do lousy playing in San Diego. But this game seems like a microcosm of things to come. Outside Roy Oswalt, Houston has no solid starting pitching. And as they evidenced in this game, they just can't seem to get any hits.

I'm looking forward to 2009. Maybe they'll get rid of those ugly uniforms and return to the space exploration theme. I like a return to the classic blue and orange or even to the NASA colors of royal blue, red and silver.