Wednesday, January 23, 2019

How long will this last?

It’s been over a month since the government shut down amid a spending fight. At the center is a border wall.

Republicans see the wall as the only solution to fix immigration and send those protected under asylum and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals back to their country once protection expires.

Democrats want a path to citizenship for these recipients. These people have fled hardship or economic distress in search of a better life. They deserve to be allowed to stay.

Trump, who will not sign anything unless his wall gets funded, is keeping federal workers hostage. They have already missed one paycheck and may miss more until the government opens. This is uncalled for and not okay.

I encourage all of you to call or email your representative and senators and tell them to demand the government open up.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

US 59-IH 610 interchange to get major overhaul

For many commuters living around the Galleria area, traffic on IH 610 at US 59 is almost always at a standstill. Now, the Texas Department of Transportation is finally going to fix the problem that has plagued the area for years.

To understand the problem, you have to look at the stretch of IH 610 between IH 10 and US 59 on the west side. With exits at nearly every major intersection, traffic seems to always back up. Another problem is there is no direct interchange from IH 10 to US 59. Commuters are forced to get on IH 610 and then sit in traffic until getting off on US 59. Another problem lies in the design of the interchange itself. While it is a traditional flyover type of interchange, the influx of traffic around the Galleria trying to get on either 610 or 59 has created a real mess.

When TXDOT completed the IH 10 to US 290/IH 610 interchange, they could have also set their sights on fixing the backlog of traffic around the Galleria. This did not happen. Now, officials once again have to shut down a major interchange in order to fix the traffic nightmare.

The six year project is already underway. Some exits in the Bellaire area are already closed off. This includes some exits around the busy Meyerland Plaza shopping mall. Fournace Street exit off 610 is already closed off.

One of the main problems is the interchange design. On some parts, two lanes merge into one before entering the freeway main lanes. This forces traffic to merge and causes major traffic jams throughout the day. Another problem is the location of the interchange. With all the traffic around the Galleria, there really is no way to get on IH 610 or US 59 from the Galleria without backtracking. This also causes a lot of traffic jams during the day.

The biggest improvement will be to the ramps connecting US 59 and IH 610. The first thing that will change are the one lane connection ramps. These will be widened to two lanes to eliminate major weaving. Upgrades to the interchange itself will bring it up to current design standards. Vertical clearance and sight lines will also be improved. Detention ponds will be added to control flooding.

An article in the Houston Press said that anyone who has had the unfortunate luck of spending even a few minutes on Highway 290 between the North Loop and Cypress knows that “gridlock” can be a relative term. This entire stretch of road is also being widened because of an increase in traffic. As  the expansion of the ever congested thoroughfare continues through the end of 2017, all Houston drivers can do is lament the closures and do their best to avoid the area. If you don't live or work on the northwest side of town, that certainly helps.

But what is going to happen when what is arguably the worst freeway interchange in the state of Texas is rebuilt will make the 290 construction traffic look like a broken stoplight at 10:30 p.m. on a Sunday night in the country. For most Houstonians, the greatest concern will be the plan to completely redo the interchange at US 59 and the West Loop. It is one of the most congested interchanges in the state of Texas thanks to its proximity to the Galleria and one of the most affluent parts of Houston.

Given how awful the traffic is at nearly every hour of every day, the change should be welcome, but it comes at a price. The project is expected to take four years beginning in 2017. For those who aren't great at math, that means we will be dealing with a mess on the southwest corner of the Loop through 2021. For perspective, the miles-long stretch of 290 has been under construction for four years already and it has felt like a decade. Now, apply that torture to the most congested freeway intersection in Texas.

So, get ready, drivers. It's going to be a long four years. And, if you live in the already terribly traffic laden Galleria area, our best advice is to consider moving.

The project also addresses several needs. Many of the one-lane direct connectors are over capacity and projected growth would increase demand. There are no shoulders, low vertical clearances, below minimum sight distances, and crashes in merge areas. This all equates to major backup and delays in the area around the Galleria.

Hopefully the new connector ramps will improve traffic flow and help to ease congestion on the two freeways. Only time will tell if the project not only was done correctly, but also will pay off in the long run.

Opioid Epidemic Knows No Boundaries

By now, we have heard about the rise in deaths related to opioid abuse. What many people fail to realize is that addiction usually starts with the street drug heroin. When injected, heroin induces a high that can last for a long time. It also is why many people choose to shoot up with it. When the supply runs out, they turn to opioids.

Oxycodone, OxyContin, Fentanyl, and other powerful pain medicines have surged into homes. Normally used after surgery to ease pain, these same drugs have found their way into the hands of corrupt doctors. These so called pill mills churn out pain killers in large quantities. All it takes is a person faking a major injury to start the cycle of addiction. Once hooked, quitting is almost impossible.

Why is quitting almost impossible after a person is addicted? The reason is that opioids are more powerful than the average pain killer. This leads to needing more of the same drug to produce a high.

According to the New England Journal of Medicine and Doctor Anna Lembke, prescription opioid abuse is an epidemic. In 2010 alone, there were a reported 2.4 million opioid abusers in the U.S. alone. The number of new abusers had increased a staggering 225% between 1992 and 2000.

Over half of the abused opioids come from a doctor's prescription. In many instances, these same doctors are fully aware of the fact their patients are addicted, yet these drugs are still prescribed. In fact, many patients who are abusing these medications are not using them for the intended use or are diverting them to others who in turn get hooked.

Recent changes in the philosophy of pain treatment, cultural trends in attitudes toward suffering, and financial disincentives for treating addiction have only made the problem worse.

Over the last century, and especially as morphine derived drugs increased, a paradigm shift occurred. Today, pain management and treatment is every doctors' responsibility. In today's society, treating pain is seen as the only option in modern medicine. There are other ways to treat pain without resorting to opioids right away. Tylenol and Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs, or NSAIDs can be just as beneficial and have a lower rate of addiction.

When a physician colleague that Dr. Lembke knew was asked how they deal with the problem of opioid addiction in patients who abuse them, the answer was that sometimes the right thing has to be done and not give the opioids out. The physician also knew that this action could lead to a bad rating on Yelp. This leaves someone to wonder about the other times that opioids are intentionally given to abusers.

A cultural change has also contributed to physicians' dilemma that all suffering is avoidable. Some segments of our society believe that any kind of pain is a pathological indicator and amendable to treatment.

Some segments of society also believe untreated pain can cause a psychic scar leading to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Doctors who deny patients who report feeling pain may be seen as withholding relief and inflicting further harm through psychological trauma.

No one understands this better than addicted patients, who use their awareness of cultural narratives of victimization and illness to get their fix. One patient said that they knew they were addicted, but it was the doctor's fault for prescribing the opioids in the first place. “I will sue the doctor if I am left in pain,” the patient said.

The mainstays of treatment for addiction are both education and effective counseling, which take time. Time spent with each patient is modern medicine's least valued commodity from a financial perspective. This is especially true in emergency departments, where physicians are usually evaluated on the number of patients seen rather than the amount of time spent with the patient.

According to the American Medical Association (AMA) and Dr. Patrice Harris, the epidemic of opioid addiction has continued to take victims. Those responsible for health care and policy are looking at ways to stop these needless deaths. As medical professionals, these people have a professional and ethical responsibility to end this epidemic.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently issued a guideline on prescribing opioids. The AMA shares the CDC's goal of reducing opioid abuse and applauds the agency for making this a high priority. Specifically, the AMA is concerned about the CDC's recommendations for specific dosage and duration limits.

If the CDC proposals reduce deaths caused by abusing opioids, they will prove to be valuable. If not, the AMA will need to mitigate them. While the AMA shares the CDC's goal of saving lives and reversing the epidemic, the AMA will work with the CDC and other agencies to take steps in this direction.

In the meantime, countless patients come to emergency departments and doctors' offices every day reporting pain and receiving opioids despite known or suspected addiction to these powerful drugs. Health care providers have become hostages of the patients. The ultimate victims though are the patients themselves, who are not getting the treatment for addiction they both need and deserve.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

March For Our Lives Takes Over Houston

On March 24, 2017, demonstrators from around the country gathered to call for a reform on the nation's gun laws. Among the cities that were the site of demonstrations and protests, was Houston. While the protest was small compared to Washington, D.C., hundreds gathered to raise their voice and call for stricter gun control laws.

As I made my way through the crowds and asked people what brought them to the rally, two signs caught my attention. One was a person dressed as Santa holding a sign that had a naughty list which included Congress and the National Rifle Association and a nice list which featured students. Another sign that caught my attention was one that said arms are for hugging.

Students as young as 14 showed up at the rally to raise their voice. Teachers, students, educators, and parents gathered to hear a number of keynote speakers.

There were many student groups at the demonstration from all over the Houston area. I had a chance to speak with educators, parents, and students to find out what brought them to the march. The main reason was to make their voice heard. They all said enough is enough and that something needs to happen.

Speaking with a group of students from Lamar High School, one student said they were demonstrating in order to show support for the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Students. Another student said they wanted to get the word out about calls for gun reform. Another said they were demonstrating in order to make schools safer for students. Still another student said that it is time to reform gun laws.

Among the featured speakers was Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner. He said that the youth are the leaders of today and this is a defining moment. "When students lead a demonstration, things can change. We need to make America safe again." He went on to say that the city works for its citizens. "The city is the employee and the citizens are the employer." One of the highlights of the speech was when Mayor Turner announced his commission to end gun violence. "We need to fulfill our potential and protect our children." He concluded with the chant "NOW IS THE TIME!"

One keynote speaker at the rally stated that multiple bills addressing gun reform were never even brought to the floor for a debate. This did not sit well with the crowd as they gave a resounding disdain after hearing what was just stated. "Success is not final. Failure is not fatal," The speaker told the crowd.

Another speaker told the crowd that we are tired of our elected leaders in Washington not listening to our voices. "We will march forward. We will make change," the speaker concluded.

Speaking with a group of students from Rice University, I found out one of them graduated from Marjory Stoneman Douglas in 2017. One student told me that action needs to be taken. Another one said that the issue of gun reform needs to be addressed. The students as a whole demanded action be taken in Washington and in Houston. Another student said they were at the rally because they were inspired by the students of Stoneman Douglas High School and wanted to become involved. Still another said that gun safety needs to become a priority.

One parent that I talked with stated that she was there to stand with the students because action has not been taken. Another person, who is a teacher, said they want to be able to do their job and not worry about an active shooter situation.

A group of students from Cypress Woods High School told me they wanted to see change and that as a nation, we have become desensitized to mass shootings.

Another group of students, who wished not to identify their school, told me they wanted change. "We want to feel safe in school," one student told me. Another one said that their school does not do practice drills for mass shooter situations. "We want to feel safe everywhere," a student told me. They all agreed enough is enough and it's time for change.

I also got to speak with a group of students who attend a school where gun violence is the norm. Group leader RJ told me that there is a high rate of gun violence on the campus. "We are all against violence," she told me. RJ and her friends said they live for the purpose of preventing gun violence in schools.

A group of students from the University of Houston told me the campus has loose gun laws and that a tragedy like that of Marjory Stoneman Douglas could be prevented with tighter regulations.

"It can happen to anyone. We need to change the gun laws," Hannah Boyd, who is a student told me. She did not wish to give out where she attends school.

"It's become the norm," Kate said, wishing not to give out her school name. "People don't realize the United States is the norm when it comes to mass shootings."

Olivia, who wished to not give out her school, told me that gun violence affects everyone and that she wanted her voice to be heard.

"Kids have a voice, whether they realize it or not," Grace, who attends Spring Forest Middle School, told me. "We can make a difference."

Chants of "Vote Them Out" "Books Not Bullets" "Hey hey Ho ho The NRA has got to go" and "Hey Hey NRA, how many kids did you kill today?" filled the air on the way to U.S. Senator Ted Cruz's downtown office. When he failed to show up, the crowd began to chant: "Where's Ted Cruz?" After waiting a while longer, the protestors headed back to the park to regroup.

Ted Cruz, who represents Southern Texas, has been seen by many as not getting much done since he took office in 2012.

Many GOP representatives and senators have announced they will not seek re-election this year. This follows on the heels of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in which 17 students were killed. Lawmakers have come under increasing pressure from young and first-time voters to pass legislation on gun reform.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Students Walk Out to protest gun violence

In light of the recent school shooting in Florida and no strides being made on gun reform, students across the country walked out of school on Wednesday in protest. 

Aware of the consequences, students walked out at 10 am local time and stayed out of class for 17 minutes in honor of the 17 deaths. 

Many GOP lawmakers, including Florida Senator Marco Rubio, have come under fire for accepting campaign donations from the powerful National Rifle Association. The interest group regularly supports GOP candidates due to their stance on gun issues. 

Fed up with lawmakers taking money, many students who survived the massacre went to Tallahassee to take their issue directly to state lawmakers. What would happen is disappointing. The bill, which would essentially ban anyone with severe mental health issues from purchasing assault weapons was vetoed by GOP governor Rick Scott. 

Students even went to Washington and participated in a listening session with Donald Trump. While many were disappointed, strides have been made. Trump has promised to sign a bill to pour millions of dollars into mental health funding. 

As long as the GOP controls the Senate and Congress, gun control will remain on the back burner. 

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Buffalo Bayou Service Project

On Friday, April 15, 2016, students gathered for a day of fun and learning about wetland ecosystems. The day started off for my group with a presentation on recycling. I learned that earthworms and many types of beetles are responsible for breaking down tree and yard waste. Many types of fungi, including mushrooms, also help to break down tree and yard waste. This all turns into very rich compost, which is excellent for growing plants in.

Many people do not realize that some types of fungi are edible. If you encounter a fungi and do not know if it is edible, the best thing to do is to leave it alone. Leave the decisions to trained experts and biologists.

The next stop was the sustainable garden. With the world’s population growing, one of the main problems is growing enough food to feed everyone. One solution is home gardening. Growing your own fruits and vegetables saves both greenhouse gases and valuable land. While some members of my group spread compost in new garden beds, I helped shovel the compost into the wheelbarrow and dump it into the new garden beds.

Another thing I learned is that the sprinkler system is solar-powered. This means that a solar panel converts sunlight into electricity which in turn runs the sprinklers.

The best part of the day was a tour of White Oak Bayou and Buffalo Bayou. I learned that many of the plant species are not native to Southeast Texas. This includes Chinese Tallow as well as many of the cattails, reeds, and rushes found in the bayous. I was appalled at how much trash accumulates over the course of one week. The main reason for this is that many of the creeks and bayous drain into these two main bayous, which then flow into the Gulf of Mexico.

Many people do not realize that all of their litter and pet waste eventually ends up in Houston’s waterways. If this is not collected before reaching the Gulf, the trash poses a threat to wildlife.
Every five days, people from Buffalo Bayou Service Project come out to clean up the trash. They do this on boats with nets dragging behind. The nets capture the trash and make it easier for workers to put it into bags.

One of the neat things the groups got to see is the original Houston Ship Channel. When the Allen brothers first settled in Houston, the Ship Channel was the biggest driver to the city’s economy. As the container ships became bigger, the original Ship Channel was closed and was moved to the east side of town where it remains today. Another thing that was interesting is that an old, historic building was being restored. Once complete, the Buffalo Bayou Service Project will move in and the rooftop will house a garden.

The next thing my group did was a recycling poster. Using only the materials provided, the group had to promote the benefits of recycling products.
UHD professors who specialize in the areas discussed were available to answer questions and give lectures on the topics presented. The day was full of valuable information that can be taken into consideration when you think something is not recyclable or won’t end up in Houston’s waterways.

Crusaders clinch top seed

February 24, 2012 was a night many Crusader fans will not forget. Having already clinched the regular season title outright, the Bulldogs were the final victory needed to secure the top seed in the standings. The game would turn out to be nothing short of a thriller as the Crusaders jumped out to an early 10 point lead and never looked back.

Going wire-to-wire, Valpo never let Butler get any closer than six points. This was also helped by a technical foul on the Butler bench and one of their better players fouling out. Two more of their players would also end up with four fouls as well.

After the game, the celebration began with Ryan “Rowdy” Broekhoff accepting the Regular Season Championship Trophy. The celebration continued in the locker room. Sophomore guard Jay Harris said that everyone was jumping around and having a good time.

When asked about what it was like to sweep Butler, senior Nick Shelton said, “Butler’s always the team you want to beat. It was exciting to finally be able to sweep them.”

Jay Harris echoed the same. “Butler’s always good, so it’s a great feeling to beat them.”
This is the first time since joining the Horizon League that the team has won the regular season outright. The Crusaders also have secured a double bye into Saturday’s semi-final against Milwaukee or Butler.

Will the magic of 1998 be repeated or will an NIT berth await them? Only time will tell. One thing is for sure though, and that this team is not who everyone thought they were.