So that's what those big a** planes are for.

The WC-130 aircraft looked frighteningly huge as it ascended over the waters of the Mississippi Sound. How could something that large, flying at what appeared to be such a gradual pace, make it off the Keesler Air Force Base runway and over the beach highway in Biloxi without falling out of the sky, I used to ask myself?

They seem too big and slow to fly but they do and those of us on the Gulf Coast are grateful that they do.

I never really thought that much about what the planes were doing or where they were going. Nor did the fact that I only saw these planes fly so languidly when I hung out on a hot summer day with my friends provide a clue as to the aircrafts’ missions.

It was an Air Force-looking plane and it took off from Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi. I was a 19-year-old sailor stationed with the Seabees some 10 miles away in Gulfport. Since the planes were flying from an Air Force base, I figured they were up to Air Force things.

I knew, back then, that a lot of different activity went on at Keesler. I got my first pair of glasses — black, horn-rimmed ones which several later would look cool if you went for the Elvis Costello look — at Keesler because the dispensary at the Seabee base didn’t have an opthamologist or even an optometrist.

My homeboy, Jonathan, who lived with his first wife and then-baby girl over in Biloxi, attended air traffic control school at Keesler during a hitch in the Air Force. After I got back from Sea duty, one of my office subordinates on the ship transferred to Keesler to attend Chaplain’s Assistant school even though he was in the Navy.

But only years later would I figure out that those huge, slow planes that I saw at some time during summers on the Mississippi Gulf Coast beach were so important to my life when I decided to be a p’ert-near coast resident.

Those planes I saw, but didn’t know or particularly care what they were for back then, were Hurricane Hunters.

The 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron at Keesler fly the WC-130s, or Lockheed Martin WC-130J Hercules if you want to get technically anal about it, into tropical systems to detect vital information which helps hurricane forecasters determine what a storm might do and where it might go. Often the Air Force Reserve crews manning the aircraft will fly right into the eye of a hurricane. You might think “calm” when talking about the eye until you remember you have the hurricane surrounding you.

This is one of those days, today, you might see one of these big slow planes take off and ever so slowly climb up into the sky over the Mississippi Sound and its barrier islands. A National Hurricane Center advisory around noon Central Daylight Time indicated an Air Force reconnaissance plane was approaching a low pressure center between Grand Cayman and Honduras. The NHC has given the system an 80 percent chance for tropical cyclone development.

Of course, the cable news media is all over the possibility of a storm like a gecko on an insurance commercial. That is because of the massive BP oil spill that continues to pour into the Gulf of Mexico and onto land from Louisiana to Florida.

My most not-favorite CNN anchor, Rick Sanchez, was making much ado about this not-even-tropical depression and the hurricane “models” which are already predicting paths for what could become the first named storm of the season. If it be comes a tropical storm it would be named Alex. The weather woman on CNN is at this moment as I write this saying which model would be “preferable” as for where the storm may go. She means what would be the best track for the storm, if there is a storm, as it might affect the oil spill and limit subsequent damage, if there is damage and if there is a storm. That is truly putting the dog before the pony show. The reason is that the models of where this storm might head currently extend from Tampico, Mexico, to Apalachicola, Florida. That’s a lot of ground, uh, water to cover and it includes the area in which I live.

In just the last five years I have been through three hurricanes, a tropical storm and four or five evacuations, if you count all those folks who came to this area from Hurricane Katrina until being chased away by Hurricane Rita. If I left out a storm, I apologize.

Don’t get me wrong. I am concerned about the BP gusher as I have been for awhile and not just for the oil-covered pelicans although I hate to see the environment f**ked up. But I am likewise concerned for my neighbors here on the Upper Texas Coast. That is why I am glad those building-sized, puzzling slow Air Force-looking planes I used to see when I was a young sailor are out there flying with confidence in the Gulf of Mexico hunting hurricanes. The information that those airmen out of Keesler gather is important to a lot of people and probably more folks than usual — because of the BP spill in the Gulf — await what comes from the storms that the Hurricane Hunters risk their lives to investigate.

Here is another look from AccuWeather about possible Alex paths.

Fall down, go boom

The title says it all. It looks as if the Big 12 Athletic Conference is about to fall down, go boom.

Funny how one school starts talking. The others start talking. Pretty soon you got a lot of chaos and an athletic conference ends like a pair of old, ragged underwear. Not a pretty sight! The Big 12 seems as if it is folding before our very eyes. Colorado has accepted an invitation to join the Pac-10, Nebraska could joint the Big 10. The Pac 10 would also like to have Texas, Texas A & M, Texas Tech, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State.

How old is the Big 12 anyway? Like 15 years old, or something? It came as a merging of some Big 8 and Southwest Conference schools. Some didn’t get to come along to the big party from the SWC like Rice, SMU, TCU, Arkansas. Hey, it couldn’t have been the Big 16 could it?

Of course some of these schools are matched sets because of rivalries. You can’t have Texas without Texas A & M and vice versa. Ditto for Okie and OSU. Or even Texas Tech and Texas A & M.

Then there is “poor” little Baylor at Jerusalem on the Brazos. With Ken Starr as its president. What would Ken Starr do? WWKSD? Impeach ’em. Impeach the whole mess of them, that’s what.

"It's time to bring in the 12th Man."

I say have an all Texas conference: Texas, Texas A & M, Texas Tech, Rice, Baylor, SMU, University of Houston, UT El Paso and maybe rotate two of the bigger but less well-known schools for a ninth and tenth every couple of years. University of North Texas one year. Texas State the next. Lamar, once it gets its revived team on its legs. Stephen F. Austin, I’m kind of biased there, of course. Maybe the two that does the best drawing revenue and, of course, plays well might just get tenure. Texas football is where it’s at!

But that is as likely to happen as Bear Bryant returning from the dead and herding all the young Aggie team out to Junction for practice.

Money is what it’s all about. Who gives the best deal with the most TV appearances, bowls, all that jive. Forgive me for being football-centric but that is all I really care all that much about when it comes to college sports. I know basketball is huge, Texas and Rice, big time in baseball and Baylor? Tort law and intelligent design?

This will either be really good for college, especially football, or really bad. I can’t see how it might turn out in between. But that’s me.

E. Texas bomb suspect makes one ask: "What's in the water up there?"

Outsiders might wonder: “What’s in the water there?”

I’m talking about northern East Texas. First there was a rash of church fires. Then came a series of pipe bombs and Molotov cocktails being found, many in mailboxes. Of the latter, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives offered a $25,000 reward for “suspicious devices:”

“Numerous of these devices have been placed in blue United States Postal Service collection boxes. The suspicious items have been incendiary-style devices as well as devices that resemble pipe bombs. These incidents have occurred in the counties of Smith, Rusk, Gregg, Harrison, and Panola.”

They resembled pipe bombs? Oh well, it must be a government thing. In fact it was, allegedly.

Authorities say Larry Eugene North, 52, of Henderson, Texas, was indicted by a federal grand jury Wednesday and arrested the same day without incident.

“North had previously been identified as a person of interest in connection with destructive devices which were being placed in postal collection boxes in East Texas,” said a press release by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Texas. ” On the morning on Apr. 7, 2010, North was observed placing such a device in a Tyler collection box leading to his subsequent arrest in the 3400 block of Corporate Drive.  Following his arrest, a search of North’s vehicle revealed an additional destructive device.”

The suspect apparently ” … did not care for the U.S. government,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Brit Featherston said at a press conference in Tyler this morning. Maybe he was mad about the plan to close post offices on Saturday although somehow I think not.

As to my earlier question of what’s in the water in northern East Texas? It depends on where you go. There are some places up there — as opposed to Southeast Texas to which we refer as “down here” — where the water could be contaminated with chicken waste. Chicken growing is a big deal in that part of the country. Why you can’t go up there to down here without coming across a chicken grove. Or perhaps it is chicken patties. Chicken pastures? Hey, I used to raise chickens and shovel out their excrement, so my knowledge of chickens is not a total waste.

Seriously, all of this coming on the heels of the string of church fires in the same vicinity causes one to pause and ask: What gives? The brother of one of my sister-in-laws is the pastor of one of the churches torched and is a fine man. So, even though I don’t feel his “pain” all of this is to me is not so much an abstraction. It is gratifying to many, and to me as well, that two suspects were arrested. If there has been a motive learned in these arsons I have not heard it even though a motive sometimes seems irrelevant.

Let’s let the law take its course in both of these cases of serial idiocy. These cases that just all coincidentally, perhaps,  happened in roughly the same vicinity.

A hair-raising Texas governor's race?

 Hair could be the focal point of the race for Texas governor in the 2010 General Election. That is, such might ring true if Gov. Rick “Good Hair” Perry gets by U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison in the Republican Primary and if whomever ends up running for the Democratic nod gets beaten by Houston Hair-care mogul Farouk Shami.

 Shami, who made millions producing the Chi hair-care line, is scheduled to announce his candidacy today in Houston for the Democratic Primary. He became a naturalized U.S. citizen in a rags-to-riches life after coming to the states from Jordan.

 His ethnicity and support of some pro-Palestinian efforts have raised doubts about whether he has a chance especially in the wake of the Fort Hood shootings, allegedly by a Muslim Army psychiatrist from the Middle East. Of course, given Texas containing a little bit of the world inside its borders, Shami can always insist the Palestinian support that he doled out was given to people in Palestine, Texas. The East Texas city is about halfway between Dallas and Houston. It also is the hometown of the star Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson.

 If anything comes up about any fiscal or other types of connections Shami might have in China, Italy or Paris, he’s got that covered too, what with cities bearing those names within the Texas state boundaries.

 Perry versus Shami for governor? Expect some hairy jokes.

Can I interest you in a proposition?

Texas has one of the longest state constitutions in the country. One might expect that in a state so large and rambling where all is supposedly “bigger” or so goes the old saw. The current constitution is rooted in ending Reconstruction in the state and thus requires each time a child is born in Texas the document must be altered in order to allow that newborn citizenship. Weird huh? Well, that is certainly an exaggeration but the constitution has been amended by voters almost 460 times. A fresh new batch of 11 amendments await voters’ passage during the Nov. 3 general election. Early voting is already under way for those propositions.

A guide giving a varied view of the proposed amendments has been furnished by the ever-informative liberal blog, the Burnt Orange Report. One may take a look-see for all 11 props. But here are a few I wish to cuss (actually, no) and discuss:

Props–Props or No Props?

  • Proposition 4 — Establishing a National Research University Fund

WHAT: This would help provide funding for new potential “Tier 1” universities in Texas in addition to the present two, University of Texas and Texas A & M University. VERDICT: Undecided. I still need to answer a few questions before supporting this. I would like to see more top research universities in Texas but I also want some of the smaller state schools such as the one from which I graduated to remain viable.

  • Proposition 8 — Allowing the State to Contribute Resources to Veterans Hospitals

WHAT: This would put into the constitution the authority for the state and local partners to join the VA in establishing new veterans hospitals. VERDICT: For. I am cynical about the motivation for this becoming an amendment since I have seen at ground level how invested local communities as well as state and national politicians are in attaining and keeping VA medical facilities. VA hospitals, even outpatient clinics are a welcome item for any city and not just for the veterans who need and use them. Like other government facilities they furnish jobs and income to the places in which they are built. That is not a bad thing. But these medical centers should be number one about the veteran in action and not just in words (a.k.a. dollars and cents). Nonetheless, there are largely-populated areas of Texas such as in the Rio Grande Valley and Corpus Christi which are in need of VA inpatient facilities. This is why I support the prop.

  • Proposition 9 — Establishing the Right to Use and to Access Public Beaches

WHAT: This proposed amendment would allow an unrestricted right for accessing public beaches in Texas. This would also let the state to protect beaches and its easements from encroachment even if storms or erosion causes the beach to shift under houses or businesses. VERDICT: For. The beaches and their approaches belong to the public and should remain that way.

  • Proposition 11 — Restricting the Use of Eminent Domain for Taking Property for Public Projects

WHAT: This proposition, if approved, would by constitutional edict prohibit private property to be taken by eminent domain laws for economic development means or enhancing tax revenues. VERDICT: For. There are loopholes in this prop which I hope will eventually be addressed but I think it is a good start. A two-thirds vote by the Legislature would be required for granting the power of eminent domain. This amendment won’t stop eminent domain abuse, such as was seen in building George W. Bush’s Texas Rangers Ball Park at Arlington or Jerry Jones’ Cowboys Stadium in the same city. Those monuments to commerce had a lot of public support, of course. But perhaps Prop 11 can somewhat curtail the abuse.