August 4, 2008

August 4, 2008
Welcome to my Monday! I hope your week is off to a good start.

The big news today is the tropical storm in the Gulf of Mexico that will be hitting Texas by tomorrow. Tropical Storm Edouard formed in the Gulf of Mexico on Sunday, and forecasters expected it to bring high winds and several inches of rain to the coasts of western Louisiana and eastern Texas. Forecasters at the National Hurricane Center made Edouard, packing 55-mph winds, the fifth tropical storm of the 2008 hurricane season. They expected the storm to strengthen and said it could reach hurricane strength by the time it made landfall in Texas sometime Tuesday. At 4 p.m. on Sunday, Edouard was located about 90 miles southeast of the mouth of the Mississippi River and about 400 miles east of Galveston, Texas, and moving west about 6 mph. While southwestern Texas still recovers from the damage of last month's Hurricane Dolly, the other end of the state's coast braced for several inches of rain and a potential storm surge. Emergency management officials were also conducting conference calls with officials from communities along the Texas coast, from Port O'Connor to Port Arthur, that could be affected by Edouard. Rainfall of 1 to 2 inches was expected in coastal Louisiana. About 2 to 4 inches was possible in southeast Texas, with isolated amounts up to 6 inches. Tides of 2 to 4 feet above normal levels were expected in parts of the warning area. So keep your fingers crossed for those in the affected areas. Anyone that has ever lived through a major hurricane or bad tropical storm can tell you how life impacting they can be.

The other big news has to do with the price of crude oil. Oil prices plunged to a three-month low today, briefly tumbling below $120 a barrel in another huge sell-off after Tropical Storm Edouard seemed less likely to disrupt oil and natural gas output in the Gulf of Mexico. Crude's steep drop prices fell more than $5 at one point during the day dragged down other commodities from corn to copper and mimicked the big nosedives of the past three weeks, adding to growing beliefs that the oil bubble is at least temporarily deflating. Also weighing on oil prices Monday was a report by the Commerce Department that consumer spending after adjusting for inflation fell in June as shoppers dealt with higher prices for gasoline, food and other items. That fed investors' expectations that a U.S. economic slowdown is sharply curbing U.S. demand for fossil fuels. Light, sweet crude for September delivery fell $3.69, or 2.9 percent, to settle at $121.41 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. It was crude's lowest settlement price since May 5. Earlier, prices plummeted to $119.50, the lowest level since May 6. Crude has now fallen in six of the last nine sessions and has shaved 18 percent off its trading record of $147.27 reached July 11. The dramatic dive came after traders learned that Edouard, aiming for the coasts of Texas and Louisiana, likely would not damage offshore oil and natural gas drilling platforms that sit in the storm's path. Natural gas futures also fell sharply, dropping 66.3 cents, or 7.1 percent, to settle at $8.726 per 1,000 cubic feet. And gasoline futures fell 8.41 cents, or 2.7 percent, to settle at $3.0002 a gallon. Other commodities including gold, copper, corn and soybeans also traded lower. But we are far from out of the woods as far as the economy.

In the world news, a stampede at a mountaintop Hindu temple in northern India killed at least 145 people Sunday. Witnesses and authorities had varying accounts of what caused the morning stampede at the Naina Devi Temple in Himachal Pradesh state. The stampede was caused by rumors of fighting near the temple. The rumors led to a rush of the public in a very small place. But witnesses said the initial stampede was caused by a railing in the temple that appeared to break, causing panicked worshipers to flee. The stampede was exacerbated by police who hit the fleeing worshipers with canes to keep them moving, witnesses said. "We ask the public not to fall prey to rumors," Chief of Police Verma said. Police and Punjab Health Minister Laxmi Kanta Chawla told a reporter that 145 people died and 40 were injured in the stampede. The dead were taken to a hospital in neighboring Punjab state for autopsies. Rescue workers used a cable car at the temple to help evacuate the injured from the mountaintop temple. The incident came during the second day of a nine-day religious festival at the temple. The emergency rescue was hampered by a narrow road being one of the only ways to reach the temple. As the word spread about the deaths, large crowds of mourners and onlookers gathered at the base of the temple, causing police to close a section of road leading to the area. In 2005, at least 258 people were killed during a stampede on a narrow road leading to a Hindu shrine in western India. The chaos started when a few impatient devotees started to push through the 200,000 Hindu worshipers who were making their way uphill to the Mandhara Devi shrine, authorities said. It's horrible that events can be destroyed by accidents resulting in the loss of lives.

Have you heard about the latest way for airlines to charge extra fees for your next flight? JetBlue Airways Corp. said Monday it is now charging customers for pillows and blankets. The carrier has done away with the recycled blankets and pillows used on its flights, and has started offering an eco-friendly travel blanket and pillow that can be purchased for $7 on flights longer than two hours. The pair come in a kit with a $5 coupon to home furnishings retailer Bed Bath & Beyond. The carrier claims the pillow and blanket feature a fabric technology that blocks pesky critters like dust mites, mold spores, pollen and pet dander. JetBlue already offers free "Snooze Kits" on overnight flights from the West that include an eyeshade and ear plugs. But the blanket and pillow kit is the latest in a string of a la carte items the company says are providing a revenue boost to help offset the soaring price of jet fuel. JetBlue declined to predict how much the sale of these kits will bring in, saying that the company only provides revenue details for specific items in its quarterly earnings conference calls. The carrier said last month it expects to collect about $40 million from customers buying seats with extra leg room this year. Its $15 fee for a second checked bag is expected to translate into about $20 million in additional revenue. A ticket change fee, which doubled to $100 in the second quarter, is part of a "basket of fee changes" expected to produce about $50 million in extra revenue in 2008. So just when you thought we were through with extra charges on our flight they come up with a new one. I personally wish they would just raise the overall ticket price so I know what I am really going to pay.

I spent a few hours today playing with my new photography processing software, Photoshop Elements 6.0. Now remember I am still a novice when it comes to photography. I may have spent 20 years in front of the camera but now I am having to learn the other end. Actually I wish I had paid much better attention to the back end when I was modeling. I could have seen shifting into a career as a photographer when my modeling career was winding down over a decade ago. But unfortunately I did not see the possibilities that might have been there. Now the down side would have being self employed. When you are HIV positive, I have always felt it is better to have a corporate job with benefits.

Well that's about it for me today. How was your day? I hope it was a great one.

Wishing you health, hope and happiness.

big bear hug,

Daddy Dab