Thursday, August 8, 2013

Closing the cabin door

When I got busy in real life a little over a month ago I truly thought that I'd be back to this blog in a few weeks and would, fairly quickly, get back into the swing of things. Then a funny thing happened: I stopped blogging and realized that I really didn't have any desire to start again. Because of this, I'm shutting down the blog and don't see myself making a return to blogging any time soon. At least, not in the same manner that I've been approaching blogging since I started back in 2006. In that time I've blogged numerous elections, many Houston political events, State politics, some limited national politics and a whole bunch of City of Houston quality of life stuff. I've also dabbled in sports, travel, food and even won an award for my old blog (Lose an Eye, It's a Sport). Right before winning however I shuttered LaE which then guaranteed that I'll never win an award again.

Thank you to everyone who's been reading here all this time, even those of you with whom I disagree. With a few, obvious, exceptions I have always appreciated the banter. Thanks to to my friends at BlogHouston, the late and lamented Texas Watchdog, Perry vs. World and a host of others with whom I've shared many a beer and Idea over the years. Thank you as well to the Political Science Department at St. Thomas University, especially Dr. Taylor for some great reads, good beer and good discussion.

Finally, a shot goes out to the Houston Chronicle and the rest of Texas Lockstep Political Media. If it weren't for y'all, there would have been no blog throughout the years. It was the Houston Chronicle that got me started in blogging, and really their writers, Mrs. White, The writers formerly known as Mrs. White, the Apple Dumpling Gang (all iterations of the Chronicle Editorial Board) truly awful opinion columns and a host of agenda based reporting kept me going. In recent years, as ChronBlog fell off in credibility and relevance, it was the truly awful writing of PolitifarceTX and the "newsish" style of Texas Tribune that kept it interesting. For the last few months, however, I realized that I just don't care. Probably after almost no-one in the TLSPM questioned whether or not hero worship was a good thing did I realize that I'm just tilting at windmills. State political media in Texas is dead, continuing to blog about it is akin to kicking a corpse. Best to just ignore them, for the most part, and move on.

To be fair though, there are some reporters at the Chronicle that do some good work. Brian Rodgers is one, as is Mike Morris (at times) and I still find the writing of Alison Cook to be very entertaining, Hoffman as well. So I'll continue reading them and I'll continue being active on Twitter. I might even decide to post from time to time on sports and travel on another blog, but my blogging political days are behind me.

So that's it then.

Goodbye Houston.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Slow blogging alert as real life intrudes

Due to a busy real (read: paid) life blogging here is going to be on slow-down for the foreseeable future.

I'd love to sit down and blog 4-5 times a week but recent events are making that difficult (at best).

Until then, I'll leave you with some thoughts to ponder:

Travel related:

1. Why have Wi-Fi on a plane with no power ports in the seats? (I'm looking at you United)

2. When was the last time you boarded a United flight that was NOT delayed?  (It's been a while for me)

3. Are you considering flying a route that's booked to a 787? (I'm not, at least for a while)

4. Now that revenue requirements are here, what's going to change in how you travel? (My travel is going to change pretty drastically, I'll outline how in a future post.)

Non-travel related:

1. Is this the worst non-solution to a city made problem this year? (It's got to be pretty close)

2. Is Critical Mass doing more to hurt their cause than help? (Short answer: yes)

3. Has Houston City government lost it? (There is data to make that case.)

4. Is Harris County spending out of control? (Of most concern is that there's a total lack of voter/taxpayer input. These folks are a a spending binge with no end in sight.)

5. Are the Astros at-risk of losing a generation of fans? (Yes)

Sunday, June 23, 2013

You'll want to use those United Premier Miles before your status expires....

...or you're going to pay a lot more should something go wrong.

United increases award change fees for non-Premier members effective immediately. Scottrick, Hack My Trip

Talk about a day of United devaluations! It’s still June 18th on the west coast, but I noticed that United has changed its award fees for non-Premier members on tickets issued on or after June 19, 2013.Details in the screenshot below. Premier members are not affected by this change.This does not affect tickets issued on or before June 18, 2013!
ua award change deval
In a word, ouch. And boo on United for trying to sneak this through (with no advance notice) when it's expecting to see many travelers falling off of the Premier rolls and onto non-Premier member status once their revenue requirements kick in.  In short, not only does United not want a certain type of passenger on their airline, but they also don't want to make it easy for them to use up their remaining miles as well.  My plan, such as it is, is to use all of my miles before I fully lose United Premier Status in 2015.  I'd advise everyone else to do that as well.  Don't stockpile your miles, because it's only going to get more difficult, and less lucrative, to use them in the future.

The flaw in United's business plan.

Last week I explained my reasons for abandoning my pursuit of Premier status with United given their recent decision to require high revenue requirements for level attainment.  In that story I mentioned that United doesn't have their house in order to attempt to charge a premium that would gather them the high-value, high-ticket price fliers that they're obviously craving.

Then I ran across this story, which placed all of United's flaws into stark relief:

United Airlines forgets toilet paper on 10-hour flight from San Francisco to London. Robin Wilkey, Huffington Post.

Before embarking on a 10-hour international trip from San Francisco to London, the crew for United Flight 931 failed to stock the plane with toilet paper, forcing flight attendants--and passengers--to improvise.
Some of the bathrooms reportedly ran out en route, leading flight attendants to stock them with cocktail napkins instead.
Passenger reactions ranged from eye rolls to outrage.
"That's disgusting, that's just so terrible," said United passenger Gretchen Holland to ABC. "If I'm paying for a ticket, that should include the price of toilet paper, I would think."
United later apologized for the incident, releasing the following statement:
We apologize to our customers on this flight for the inconvenience and would like the opportunity to welcome them back.
 United explained that if the plane had stopped to stock toilet paper once the shortage was discovered, the flight would have been delayed.

Now, I don't fault United for deciding to go ahead with the flight, after all, it would have been much worse had the plane been late and a group of people missed connections.  I do fault them for their ham-handed customer service, ridiculous stuff that shows a remarkable lack of understanding of how to deal with issues and, more importantly, the people who are dealing with them.

It also shows United's increasing lack of attention to details.  The fact is, since the merger, this is a mediocre airline with serious operational issues that is taking a huge gamble in telling a large portion of their loyalty base that they no longer wish to do business with them. On top of that, they're treating the remaining customers like an afterthought.

That United is scrambling for a solution right now is not in question. What will matter is whether or not the industry has the wherewithal to take advantage of United's current weaknesses.  Historically in the industry t he answer is no.  Given that United will probably be OK, but I think there current business plan is doomed to fail.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Where United and I part ways (despite me agreeing with the business decision)

By now, if you're a MileagePlus member, or just interested in traveling, you've probably heard about the recently announced changes to United's MileagePlus program.  Boiled down to it's essence, United is now adding revenue minimums in an attempt to cull out low-value, high-use Premier members by requiring minimum spend.

The new chart is as follows:
It all works out to 10 cents per mile needed to be spent to attain certain levels of status.  However, every dollar you pay in ticket costs will not go to qualifying as a PQD.  To whit:

The following spending counts toward the PQD requirement:
  • Base fare and carrier-imposed surcharges
  • Flights flown by United, United Express, or Copa Airlines
  • Flights operated by a Star Alliance® or a MileagePlus partner airline and issued on a United ticket (ticket number starting with 016)
  • Economy Plus purchases

What this means is that taxes, fees and other government charges will not count toward your PQD making the total outlay required for qualification at various levels much, much* somewhat higher than that. As an example, the screenshot below is a typical fare breakdown (from ITA Matrix) of a United fare from IAH to LHR (London-Heathrow)

In the above example you have not spent approximately $1,100 toward your PQD, you have actually only earned $421* $878. This is without taking into consideration bag fees etc, which are free to an extent for most Premier members.  In order to increase the PQD on this fare, you can buy up to economy plus, greatly increasing the price of the ticket.  So in reality you are only receiving approximately 40-50% of your total outlay in PQD, which raises the cost per mile to somewhere around 20-25 12-13 cents per mile.  In effect, this makes buying an economy plus ticket next to worthless in terms of attaining Premier status.

Here's the thing:  That's exactly what United was trying to do when they rolled this out.  And I agree with their business logic 100%.

Yes, there are going to be those who whinge that "loyalty no longer matters to airlines" and they are about half-right.  Profitable loyalty matters, loyalty that's less (or not) profitable does not.  Especially when that less (or not) profitable loyalty sucks up the majority of available resources.  As I said, I'm OK with this.  It's a decision that United has made and it makes good business sense.  We're just at the moment where United and I part ways.

This is not to suggest that I'll never fly United again.  Flying out of Houston, I most certainly will. I might even fly on them enough to retain Silver Premier status, but I doubt it.  The fact is that I've been remaining loyal to United because there was something that was in it for me.  I would typically pay a little bit more (not a lot more mind you) to stick with the airline because my Gold Premier status made it worth my while.  All of that is changing now.

With the carrot of Premier status gone for the leisure traveler (it's still very much there for the business traveler) it's time to start judging the airlines on their merits, and by price.  United is rarely the cheapest option out of IAH.  Yes, with other airlines you have to connect (and that will be a factor in decisions) but those connections are often less dodgy than with UA because their planes have a tendency to be on time more often.  The fact is United, at this moment, is a very unreliable airline in relation to the rest of the industry.  Not only do they do a poor job of getting you to your destination on time, but their service is sub-par and their planes are (to be nice) starting to show their age.  While United has done some work to upgrade their premium cabins, their economy product is among the worst in the industry, especially on trans-continental flights.

The way I see it United is taking a big risk.  When everything started falling apart after the merger United lost a lot of high-value customers.  They seem to be thinking that, by culling the Premier ranks through revenue requirements, they're going to bring these passengers back into the fold.  The problem that I see is that United is still charging premium prices for an average product and hoping that people overlook that while they continue to get their house in order.

Because of all this the way I travel will most certainly change.  I'm going to be much more price conscious and will start to look at a la carte offerings (such as premium economy) much more closely as it relates to total ticket price. For those of you reading this of a credit card lean, I'm beginning to think that the airline branded credit card (unless you're not a light packer) is going to become somewhat worthless as other cards offer better points/miles values and increase flexibility.

Why limit yourself to one carrier when you have a choice of several?

*Note: As CW on twitter pointed out to me here. I made an error reading the fare schedule from Matrix software.  YQ is, of course, included. As always, I appreciate the free proof-reading.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

How to take advantage of #BadMedia (Houston Ecomentalist Edition)

Last week I touched on some poor reporting by Chron Transportation reporter Dug Begley surrounding a ruling for a temporary injunction in Wisconsin that didn't do exactly what transit activists were suggesting.  This fact hasn't stopped Houston Tomorrow from doubling down on the mis-characterization of the ruling, and even going one step further and using the lazy reporting as a mask for credibility by appealing to the authority of a story they, quite obviously, fed to Houston's former newspaper of record.

Federal judge says sprawl, transit, must factor in to highway building decisions. Matt Dietrichson, Houston Tomorrow

A Wisconsin court ruling may require planners across the country to publicly consider the effects on sprawl and transit before approving highway expansions, according to The Houston Chronicle:

Never mind that the ruling, in no way, states what they are suggesting (a fact that was clearly established by reading the request for a temporary injunction). The real problem here is that Houston Tomorrow is using the implied authority of the Chronicle in a story where they provided much of the opinion themselves. 

Wisconsin court ruling could mean Houston thinks more about transit, Dug Begley,

“It feels like it is almost the sky is the limit for our team on these kinds of issues to stop wasteful highway building and increase transit,” said Jay Blazek Crossley, program development and research director with Houston Tomorrow, an urban planning nonprofit.


Crossley said past decisions in the Houston region — building the Grand Parkway and Texas 288, widening U.S. 290 — were made with the full knowledge they would benefit future users and open up more land for development. The Wisconsin ruling, if it stands, helps ensure that planners have to explicitly study the effects of sprawl in a wider capacity than they do now, and have that discussion publicly.
“I think what the judge is talking about is meaningful public input,” Crossley said.

In fact, other than the snippet from the Natural Resources Defense council ALL of the "expert opinion" offered up in Begley's story comes from: Jay Blazek Crosby, Head of program development and research for......Houston Tomorrow.

So basically, Houston Tomorrow (and several other transit activists) displayed a stunning lack of knowledge about the trial process, were able to convince a reporter (who was either lazy or also possessed the same lack of knowledge about the legal process) to run a story touting the "ruling" as a potential game changer based SOLELY on their opinion, without bothering to include a dissenting opinion, and then touted that same story as being objective proof their opinions are correct.

Cozy relationship isn't it?

Back n' Forth on racism by racist people.

People tweeting out racist statements to children are disgusting. They should be, and were, publicly shamed, this time on Twitter.  The problem with discussing race is always going to be one of response.  Often, what's said after the racist act can be just as racist as the first event.  Take the recent story revealing that some idiots decided to send racist tweets following a young Mariachi's singing of the National Anthem.

Little S.A. Singer proves he is a class act. René A. Guzman,

A soft-spoken boy with a big voice isn't about to let obnoxious online remarks bring him down — especially when he has so many positive ones in his virtual corner.
Fans of Sebastien De La Cruz have rallied on social media to support the young mariachi, whose rendition of the national anthem Tuesday at the Spurs game against the Miami Heat set off a flurry of racist tweets criticizing the 11-year-old.
“On the positive remarks, I just want to thank everybody for their support,” Sebastien said at a hastily organized news conference Wednesday. “With the racism remarks, to be honest, it's just the people how they were raised. My father and my mother told me that you should never judge people by how they look. You should judge them on the inside. And the saying that I go by is never judge a book by its cover.”
On his Twitter account @selcharrodeoro, he said, “Please do not pay attention to the negative people. I am an American living the American dream. This is part of the American life.”

So what we know, is that the kid is way, way smarter than the morons who are tweeting racist drivel his way.  Unfortunately, he's also much smarter than the "expert sources" that Guzman chose to quote for this story.

Several San Antonio civil rights activists and academics had their own take on the racist online comments spurred by Sebastien's emotional delivery of the national anthem.
While proud of Sebastien, they said crude reactions to his appearance on national television Tuesday night — clad in a mariachi traje — reflected a wider anger aimed at Latinos and immigrants, and over immigration reform legislation in Congress.“I was very proud of him,” said Jaime Martinez, founder and chairman of the César E. Chávez Foundation. “But it shows we still have a long way to go. There's still a lot of bigotry in this country.”
“The Star-Spangled Banner doesn't just belong to white people,” he said. “It belongs to all of us.”
As I understand it, and as it was reported, there were several racist tweets directed at Mr. De La Cruz, and it has not been reported that all of them (or even most of them) came from Caucasians.  While I don't deny that there are many Caucasians out there who are not fond of those of Hispanic descent, there are also many in the Black community, the Asian community and the Middle Eastern community who have been known to make anti-Hispanic statements as well.  The statement "The Star-Spangled Banner doesn't just belong to white people" is as racist as the anti-Mexican tweets directed at Mr. De La Cruz.  The difference is, those who made the offending tweets are portrayed as rubes, while Mr. Martinez is cast as an expert in the field of civil rights.

It doesn't stop there:

Irma Mireles, a civil rights activist since the 1960s Chicano Movement, said she was horrified by the tweets.
“At first, I got angry,” she said. “Then I realized these are ignorant people, and they're afraid of the future, and the future is brown.”

No Ms. Mireles, the future is not "brown" at all.  The future, is multi-colored. As a matter-of-fact, the PAST was multi-colored as well. Now, by making that statement I'm not suggesting that some colors didn't have an advantage over others, only that the American cultural tapestry, especially in Texas, is an intricate weave of a multitude of cultures, all (in their own ways) trying to work, somewhat, together to achieve a better society.  If "white privilege" is a bad thing, then it stands to reason that "brown privilege" (which is what Ms Mireles seems to be advocating) would be equally bad.  The reason we have the past is to (hopefully) learn from it.  If we continue to follow the narrow-minded down the paths of racial division then we're always going to be less of a Nation than we can be.

It's taken all of that to get to my point.  Namely, that the media (especially bad media outlets such as ChronBlog) are incapable of reporting a story on race without enabling racists from one side or the other.  Whether it's in the style-book or just a piece of outlook bias on the part of the reporter rearing its ugly head, racism is still racism, no matter how it's doctored up.  This doesn't mean that, historically, racial tensions and attitudes were different, only that we shouldn't be held hostage to them (which many, especially white progressives with a huge yoke of white guilt think we should) when we attempt to move forward.

For some reason the MSM seems incapable of grasping this fact, and intent on promoting the worst in our society when it comes to race.  Because it's important to note, that for all of the idiots on-line tweeting stupidity there were many more tweets of support from people of ALL colors.  This is a big thing, a thing that reveals a truth:  Yes, we still have some way to go on racism, but we are making progress each and every day.  We'll never eradicate it fully from the world because you cannot fully control the mind and hearts of man, but you can minimize the effects, and remove them from public policy.

To accomplish these goals however we need to have an honest conversation on race, and stop relying on academic definitions and justifications for certain groups to continue practicing it with no negative connotations.  Racism, in every form, is a disgusting world-view.  Leave it to the ChronBlog to try and make value judgements on one group's racism vs. another.  All in the name of page views (of course).

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Why Houston can't have anything nice. (Tear down the Dome edition)

Oh. My. Gawd.

A not so modest proposal for the Astrodome. David Kaplan, Prime Property a blog

It’s Niagara Falls meets Paris World’s Fair meets “2001: A Space Odyssey.”

And that's just the header.  The remainder of the article is a reminder of just how bereft of ideas the so-called "creative class" in Houston really is.

Niagara Falls? - Um, not really. Especially when you consider Niagara Falls is one of the seven wonders of the Natural world.  An inside waterfall would be like the Dubai Mall, only less so because it would be a weak copy without all of the beauty of the silver figures diving down it.

Paris World's Fair? Look, the Eiffel Tower works because it is the perfect (phallic) symbol for the Nation of France.  Obviously such symbolism doesn't work for perpetually whingeing Houston.  What is the symbol for an inferiority complex again?

2001: A Space Odyssey?  Actually, Kaplan is setting his sights a little lower trying to COPY.......Fort Worth.  If you're the biggest city in Texas and you're trying to COPY Fort Worth, you're doing it wrong.

The rest of the 'idea' is nothing more than a wish-list of things that the so-called 'creative class' wishes they had in Houston instead of other places.  Copy an Apple store design? Check.  A Space Needle (complete with revolving restaurant). Check. River Rides?  Check.

To my mind that's been the problem with every idea that's been floated for the Dome. They're all weak attempts at knocking off things that make other cities special.  Even the most creative idea, stripping down the Dome and turning the area into a park, was ruined when Chris Alexander, the project director, described it as "a potential Central Park in Houston".  The problem here obviously being that the Reliant Complex is NOT centrally located and that Disco Green was supposed to be "Houston's Central Park" and you can't have two.

Outside of the obvious, a casino - currently illegal in Texas - there's not much there that's going to be approved by both the Texans and the Houston Livestock show and Rodeo.  Given this reality we're running full steam toward the point where we demolish the thing, fill the hole, and build either a parking lot or garage. When this happens there will be much wailing, gnashing of teeth and blame casting.  In reality, the blame falls with the contract that was written with the Texans and the HLSR back when Reliant was constructed, and the fact that Houston has allowed those with a chronic lack of imagination take charge of planning and ideas.

Houston needs a creativity infusion and it needs it soon. The same ol', same ol' from the Sardine Urbanists could be the one thing that causes us to grind to a halt.

UA 'Slimline' seat review: It doesn't look good.

My friend Stephan Seagraves recently flew in an UA Airbus 320 with the new Reparo 'slimline' seats supposedly possessing what United refers to as the "comfort package" and the results were not pretty:

New United Seats: Not an improvement. Stephan Seagraves,

My immediate reaction to the flight last night was a little bit of the knee-jerk, “I hate change!” type but after gathering my thoughts and reading through my notes, my summary is this – the seats are not a one for one swap with regards to passenger comfort when compared to the previous United A320 seats and the new seats are certainly not an improvement. United’s reasoning for these seats was clear from the get-go, they wanted to fit an extra row of seats on the plane and these seats allowed them to do that by moving the rows closer together.

I encourage you to go read the entire article, where Stephan does a great job breaking down what's wrong with the new UA seats in great detail.  What really struck me is that this is the "new" direction that United is taking and it seems to be more in line with adding six seats of revenue per flight while totally ignoring the customer experience. Also disturbing is the fact that the promised improvements with in-flight amenities haven't materialized, but the new, uncomfortable seats are already being put into place.

This is, to my way of thinking, a pretty big deal and it signals, on the part of United, a conscious decision to ignore the in-flight experience in lieu of a few more dollars per flight.  This is an outlook that I feel will damage the airline in the long-run, as more and more high-value Premiers decide that it's not worth the money to stew for a few hours in an uncomfortable seat while they can pay less on competitors such as Southwest and (gasp!) Spirit for a more comfortable domestic flight experience.

This is just another example of UA's push toward "operational excellence" which is not about ensuring customer satisfaction, but includes metrics such as revenue optimization, on time percentage etc.  Not that an airline shouldn't worry about being on-time. United has, since the merger, been fairly awful at meeting industry standards, even considering recent improvements.  They do seem more interested in putting lipstick on the pig than they are handling the bare-bones of any customer service industry, namely, providing good service to the customer.

I've previously stated that I believe UA (and other airlines) are eventually going to move to eliminate the low-to-mid tier elite statuses in favor of co-branded credit cards that offer up a host of amenities on par with what is already received.  They will do this to a.) free up First Class and Business upgrade space for their upper-tier elites and b.) to maximize the guaranteed income stream that those cards provide.  In doing so, however, I think it's a mistake to markedly downgrade the economy and economy+ flight experience for a newly volatile customer pool by making the seats unflyable on red-eyes and transcontinental flights.  It's a textbook case of stepping over a dollar to pick up a dime.

A dime that might not be there, should their competitors figure out that theirs is a better economy product that can be used as a selling point for the customer who is suddenly untethered by loyalty.  With all of UA's improvements seemingly focused on the premium cabins, they're leaving themselves open to falling behind in steerage to the point that the fliers who used to exhibit some semblance of loyalty will find themselves with no compelling reason to continue doing so.

My long-standing position on United is that I'm sticking with them due to their routing advantages flying out of IAH.  As things continue to spiral downward for the average passenger, it's getting closer and closer to the point where I'm reconsidering that position.  In 2014, for example, my current plans are to not requalify at my current level, but to go one level lower and give the competition a try on a trip or two.  I fully plan by 2015 to be a straight value flier, substituting loyalty for a credit card.

Monday, June 10, 2013

A quick thought on the purpling of Texas.

Texas, as we all know, is just a small demographic tweak away from turning blue.  Listening to the State's Democrats all they have to do is sit around and wait until Texas rising minority populations hit critical mass and then they'll be free to spend all of the money in the rainy-day fund, increase taxes, get rid of the spending cap and spend even more. 

Add to that the joy surrounding the arrival of Battleground Texas and certain political consultants of a progressive lean are already giddily making home improvement and expansion plans in anticipation of the increased revenues they are expecting during 2014.  Even the progressive blogosphere is weighing in, although some of them are taking a longer view. All of this is well and good, and the images on Twitter of Caucasian progressives working phone banks for Battleground Texas are firing up the base despite being unintentionally humorous. None of the discussion addresses the biggest problem.  Namely, there's no one actually running as of yet.

While I don't believe that demographic change necessarily has to equate to the purpling of Texas (there is fertile ground to plow for Republicans with the State's rising Hispanic population if they would ever perform a rectal/cranial extraction on immigration for instance) I do believe that Democrats are going to have to do more than just sit around and wait things out.

To my thinking, the first step is quality candidates and on that front they are lacking.

It's very easy for political consultants (hoping to make money) and political bloggers with no real skin in the game to promote a "run everywhere" philosophy, to actually do so means offering up a strong slate of candidates who actually have a chance of winning.  The long-term damaging potential of a slate full of Chris Bell and David Van Os type candidates is very real.  The political humor of "a Moon-shot for Texas education" and "Big Oil, I'm coming after you" has lasting, damaging effects. In order to win you need voters to take you seriously, and you need candidates with a vision the majority of Texans can get behind.

Currently Texas Republicans are having it easy.  The State Democrats due, in part, to a vacuum of leadership, haven't put up viable candidates in many races.  The result of this is that several Republicans who probably shouldn't be in elected office (See: Susan Combs) are getting elected.  They are winning because the alternative is much, much worse than electing a fringe candidate from the majority party who's perceived impact is going to be more benign. Add to this the fact that Republicans no longer need to campaign to the majority, due to Texas Democrats basically surrendering, and you have a situation where the entire State is damaged due to no electoral accountability. 

Yes, a lot of this is do to how the electoral maps are drawn, with the creation of "safe" districts leading to the de-facto unchallenged re-election of many bad candidates (on both sides of the aisle) but there's an argument to be made that some (not all) of these "safe" districts would not be so had one side not thrown in the towel before the election even started.

All of that said, politics is a pendulum.  And there will come a day when Texas Democrats find themselves back holding the reins of Texas political power.  If they continue to do so while running marginal candidates just to fill ballot holes then it won't just be Republicans who suffer, it will be all of Texas.

Happy Dome Day!

Well, today is the day, the last day for private groups to submit proposals (with funding attached) to the Harris County Sports and Convention Corporation regarding what to do with the Astrodome.  As you might imagine, there is no shortage of opinions regarding the Dome's future and the staff at ChronBlog (predictably) has weighed in suggesting that the only solution is a rather large taxpayer outlay, an outlay, if recent reports are to be believed, would add to an already troublesome problem.

Never mind the cost of renovating the place, there are several hurdles which make any private concern difficult at best.

First, there's what's best described as existing "non-compete" clauses with both the Texans and the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo.  I understand that Bob McNair is a community-minded individual, and by all accounts a pretty nice guy, but why would he be willing to green-light a project that might interfere with Texans game-day operations? 

Then there's the fact that the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, despite public perception, is NOT as community minded as is Mr. McNair.  There's no way they're going to green-light something that interferes with their gravy-train (have you seen their offices?) no matter what the positive effects to the county might be.

In short: Whatever happens to the Astrodome needs to be something that works in tandem with the HLSR AND is closed on Sundays.  This really leaves us with only two options:

Either we tear the thing down and re-develop it into a parking garage, or we turn it into the world's largest Chick-Fil-A.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Why I've given up "food" television.

There was a short span of time when I was hooked on cooking, or food related, shows.  I was a big fan of Top Chef, had a year or three where I watched the original Iron Chef (subtitled) religiously (although I never could quite bridge the gap to Iron Chef America) and I even fell in for Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares, Gordon Ramsay's F-word, Hell's Kitchen and Food Network Star (for the first two seasons).

Now, out of all of those shows, I'm only still watching Hell's Kitchen, and I rarely make it through an entire season of that.  Last night the wife and I watched a re-broadcast of the premier episode of Food Network Star and I won't be watching any more of that either.  I never have made it through an entire season of MasterChef and based on the first few episodes this season I won't be finishing it up either.

The thing is, I still like to eat, I still enjoy watching some reality TV (Amazing Race is still my favorite show on TV and I've watched every episode of The Voice this year) and I enjoy it.  I'll even admit to being a fan of Dancing with the Stars (granted, my level of interest wanes if neither Peta, Sharna or Karina are still dancing).  But for various reasons I'm just done with food reality television.  I think it's ran its course and here's why:

"I live for food" - There is nothing more annoying, to me, than hearing one contestant after another tell us how important food is to them and their lives.  It's either this or "I've been working my whole life for this".  No you haven't.  In most cases the show is not even a decade old and many of you have been around for much longer than that.  And we ALL live for food from some perspective.  Certainly we all need to eat it to live.

This answer is the food equivalent to "I don't know" when the contestant is asked why they should stay.  "Uhh..I live for food" isn't an answer, it's a cop out, but the producers love it because they think it shows passion in some warped way.

The superior chef mentality - If anything has given the professional chef a bad name, it's professional chef reality TV.  Listen up cookie, there's nothing in the ability to be able to craft a good sauce that makes you superior to anyone else.  Just like there's nothing in my ability to turn a phrase or (professionally) instruct you on the finer points of accounting as it relates to the oil and gas industry that makes me a better person either.  Neither is your taste superior to anyone else.  Taste is a very personal thing.  I like Brussels sprouts, my wife is not a fan.  My wife likes steamed vegetables while I prefer them steamed but topped with some Cholula hot sauce.  Neither of this is right (or wrong), it's just food.  The attitude of these wanna-be superstar chefs have gotten so bad (possibly a put on for TV) that I can't help but wonder if the wife and I are getting bad-mouthed for daring to mention that she's Celiac?

Lack of creativity - Let's face it, we've run out of challenge ideas.  The only thing left is to take away all of the food and ask the chefs to make stone soup.  Even that's probably been tried though, I just missed it.

The talent pool is only so deep - And I'm starting to wonder if we've hit the bottom of it.  There comes a point when you can't force-feed the nation a star and you just have to let it grow organically.  Almost every season of "Food Network Star" has been evidence of this.  Outside of Guy Fieri and Vince Vegas (who didn't win, probably because he was just a bald, muscular Guy Fieri) Star hasn't produced any TV personality of note.  Yes, I blame part of this on Bob Tuschman and Sarah Fogleman, who are two of the least relatable personalities on TV.  Five minutes listening to the pair of them drone on and you realize why Food Network has lost it's fast-ball. 

But there's also a talent question, and we seem to be cutting pretty deep into the stack at this point in an effort to force a new face onto TV screens.  Besides, Food Network already has better staff in place to fill this hour, and an Alton Brown road-trip piece is way overdo.

Why do I not watch any of the food television shows that I used to?  Mainly because they've forgotten their original mission and have stopped providing useful cooking information.  In it's place they've brought me rock jock wanna-be TV chef's with an overinflated sense of self who "live for food" despite not having the slightest idea what to do with it.

Thank God for Chopped, where they're not supposed to know what to do with it and that's half the fun.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

The Highwayman and Houston Tomorrow: An introduction to Trinketland

First I read this:

Wisconsin Court Ruling means Houston could think more about transit. Dug Begley, The Highwayman,

A federal court judge in Milwaukee might have made it a little trickier to widen Texas roads.
Leaving aside whether that’s a good or bad thing, the ruling has certainly energized Houston-area people who push for more transit and less freeway building.
“It feels like it is almost the sky is the limit for our team on these kinds of issues to stop wasteful highway building and increase transit,” said Jay Blazek Crossley, program development and research director with Houston Tomorrow, an urban planning nonprofit.

Then I read this:

Federal court says highway sponsors must first study transit, impacts on suburban sprawl. Kaid Benfield, Switchboard

It is just an interim ruling, but it is potentially an important one:  In a suit brought by inner-city, minority plaintiffs, the US District Court in Milwaukee has indicated that the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT) cannot enlarge a major urban freeway connection without further study of the project's impacts on transit-dependent populations and on regional suburban sprawl.  For now, the case is headed to mediation; but the court's ruling on legal issues in the case, as articulated in an opinion signed by federal judge Lynn Adelman, is potentially significant to other highway-expansion controversies with similar circumstances.

Then I went and read the entire opinion:

Court Opinion

Before me now is the plaintiffs’ motion for a preliminary injunction. The plaintiffs seek an order prohibiting the agencies from taking further action in connection with the project pending a final decision on the merits of this case.
For the reasons stated below, I find that the plaintiffs have a likelihood of success on the merits and that they are likely to suffer irreparable harm in the absence of an injunction.

There's a lot more in the 36 page court opinion that makes what was reported, breathlessly here, ring hollow.  First, this was a preliminary injunction which doesn't mean that the court is stating firmly that the plaintiff's case has merit, only that there's a likelihood that it does.  Second, even IF it's determined that the case has merit there's no getting around this:

The controlling statute at issue here, NEPA, “declares a broad national commitment to protecting and promoting environmental quality.” Robertson v. Methow Valley Citizens
Council, 490 U.S. 332, 348 (1989). It has been described as a “procedural” or actionforcing” statute that does not “mandate particular results” but instead requires agencies to study and describe the environmental consequences of their proposed actions. Id. at 348–51; Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Corp. v. Nat. Res. Defense Council, 435 U.S. 519, 558 (1978). Thus, under NEPA, if an agency has adequately identified and evaluated the environmental effects of its proposed action, it is permitted to take that action even if the environmental effects will be devastating. Robertson, 490 U.S. at 350. Put differently, “NEPA merely prohibits uninformed—rather than unwise—agency action.”

This is NOT the wording of a ruling that's got the potential to be a "game-changer" as the sardine urbanists are currently classifying it. What it appears to be is more of a procedural hand-slap to an agency that tried to half-ass their way through an EIS review hoping that no-one would notice.  However, even IF the EIS revealed a benefit to attaching some form of public transportation component to this project, when you consider that the agency in charge of the project has no jurisdiction over mass transit, it's inherently clear in the judges decisions that they would be under no obligation to add it.

In other words, this is not a tool Blazek-Crossley, his dad and other members of the non-productive class can use to "stop" highway construction, but it is a possible way for TxDOT to distract them down the line by giving them input and then completely ignoring it. 

In a way, this shouldn't surprise anyone. After all, those who are constantly amazed by trinket governance are typically unaware when different trinkets are used to distract them from the real issues. 

Oooh!  Look!  Peak Oil!

Friday, June 7, 2013

One step closer to making Post Oak even more impassable

We're getting there:

Uptown transit plan back on the road. Dug Begley,

Uptown's plan centers on offering bus rapid transit service along Post Oak, between a planned Westpark transit center south of U.S. 59 and west of Loop 610, and the Northwest Transit Center near 610 and Interstate 10. Buses would run the route in special center lanes along Post Oak, then using either elevated lanes along 610, or existing city streets north of where Post Oak meets Loop 610.

There's a reason several business owners are in opposition to this (dissenting voices unsurprisingly omitted from the article) and it's because construction of these lines is going to eat into existing lanes for automobile traffic which is going to cut down on their potential exposure to customers during the construction phase.  Of course, the office tenants will be happy because, if they can force buy-in, then they can have their employees park in the off-site park-and-ride lots and save money on parking costs in building garages.  Building management companies (were they thinking clearly) would oppose it because they would lose said parking revenue.  However, my suspicion is that many will be for it because they've been convinced amenities such as BRT lines give a whiff of world classiness to the joint.

Never mind that, based on current estimates, construction is estimated to last 4 years. And while the district promises that there will be as many automobile lanes post construction as pre-construction, it's the interim that is always of concern.  As with any road/mass transit project, the controlling entity is basically asking their current tenants to survive on greatly reduced revenues for an extended period of time.  In many cases the businesses that benefit are not the ones that were in place when the construction started, especially when you're talking about smaller, locally owned stores who cannot just absorb the losses as can larger chains.

None of the above is a reason why it should, or should not, be done, it's just adding some context that was (sadly) missing in the Begley piece.  Too often, especially in ChronBlog, anti-mass anything opponents are criticized as spend-thrifts with a default "no" response to spending any money whatsoever.  That's frequently not the case, but there's no onus to present the issue fairly when you've already stated your position on the matter and abdicated your role as a news agency.

A larger conversation surrounding why this points to the failures of Metro should also occur, but those are only happening on the outskirts, and will not get full shrift in ChronBlog if history is any indication.  That's too bad, because there's fertile ground to plow but no one wants to plow it.

Houston Neighborhood Naming Conventions.

So, this is a thing:

Fake names, It's gotta stop. Keep Houston Houston

Yes, EaDo is lame, but you're wrong about everything else. John Nova Lomax, Houstonia

What's in a name, Part Deux. Keep Houston Houston

What's in a neighborhood name? Kuffer, Off the Kuff.

If you took the time to read through all of that back n' forth (including the incredibly lame comment by John Nova Lomax on the second KHH post) then you probably have come to the same conclusion as I.  EaDo (and, by extension NoDo) has got to go. 

Outside of that you have pretty much what should be expected from a City that's re-gentrifying at a steady rate, flexible area names. Many of these names are brought about by developers, who have an interest in making areas seem as idyll and pastoral as possible. "Sawyer Heights"?  Brilliant.  It sounds edgy and homey at the same times.  Never mind that the entire area is being rebranded after a fairly unremarkable multi-family building best known for one side being constantly bombarded with noise from I-10.

I will say this however, outside of John Nova Lomax, the conversation did get on fairly well and was conducted at something close to an adult level.  Not that we expect anything more from a former member of Village Voice Houston, but hey, at least we're getting there.  Heck, even Houston's bestest blockquoter took some time off from the indentation and added a worthy riposte to the discussion.  In terms of Houston blog conversation, this was fairly solid.

Long-time readers of this blog (all 3 or so of you) will not be surprised to discover that I'm ambivalent about the entire matter, other than about EaDo and NoDo obviously, which are just sad. To me neighborhood names are more an indicator of current community aesthetics than they are a tribute to the historical significance of where people live. They are also good indications of the vanity of the masses.  Where the "wards" have a negative connotation to some, Neartown or Midtown invoke images of a futuristic Norman Rockwell setting where kids play in busted fire hydrants, men wear suits and fedoras and women walk around in flowery dresses holding shopping baskets full of vegetables and steak wrapped in butcher paper purchased from a man named Saul.

In short, all of these newish names are about marketing, and what could be more Houston than that?

Thursday, June 6, 2013

When bad reporting leads to confusing results. (Houston Parks edition)

First we're great.....(sorry for the link to the pathetic article FWIW)

How's about another heaping helping of Houston economy porn. Craig Hlavaty, The Texican at

Everybody loves parks. Houston’s got more of them than any other top 10 metropolitan area.
Come to Discovery Green, take off your shoes, and watch a free concert on a Thursday evening. Make a night of it and take a nap in a nearby bush.

And then we're not.....

Houston ranks near bottom of national list of park access. Carol Christian,

When it comes to parks, Houston ranks near the bottom of the 50 largest U.S. cities, according to a national conservation organization.
The Trust for Public Land's new report on urban park systems ranked Houston at No. 38 among the nation's 50 largest cities.

The problem lies in context, which (when reporting on studies where Houston ranks poorly) ChronBlog is notorious for leaving out, especially if that context would distract from the ideas fostered by the leadership of Houston's former news daily.

The idea being that Houston needs more parks.  Pocket parks, downtown parks, big parks, little parks, parks for things for the kiddies, parks for dogs, parks where people can lay out in the sun, parks where skateboarders can roll, all paid for by City Government and containing nice plaques containing the names of the current elected officials who oversaw their construction.  In short, legacy makers.  That's why parks are so popular with the elected set. Do you not think former Mayor Bill White and his wife Andrea still don't get a thrill out of the fact there's a walkway in Discovery Green that's named after them?

Never mind that the park access study was seriously flawed, failing to take into account geography etc.  It was negative toward Houston in a way that the Sardine Urbanists like to see so, ergo, it must be reported as fact.  The problem is....reality.  Which is often the problem when the sardine urbanists and Houtopians get together at their workshops and public forums.  The reality that yards substitute for the local park in many occasions, parks being more useful for those in multi-family establishments etc.

These things aren't mentioned, because it makes David Crossley and his acolytes angry when they are.  Their anger leads to silly little editorials and comments in comment sections of stories which cause normal Houstonians to want to pat them on the head and send them to bed with a cookie.  'Awwww....poor David, he's not getting his way again.  Time to stop telling us how stupid we all are Crossley and head off to bed."

This leads to more anger which leads to incivility which ultimately leads to somebody, somewhere deciding to take action in a marketable manner, which leads to the Ashby High-Rise situation.  All in the name of Sardine Urbanism when it should really be placed at the feet of a lack-luster media who refuse to admit to themselves that Houston is pretty good as it is.

If only the Astros would start winning.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Good news for MLife & Hyatt Passport members

The two programs have announced a major partnership.

Hyatt, MGM announce huge new partnership. Seth Miller, The Wandering Aramean

Today is a major day in the world of hotel loyalty and Las Vegas. In short, 12 properties – all part of the MGM portfolio – have essentially become Hyatt affiliates for the purposes of earning and redeeming points. Las Vegas is historically one of the last markets where earning hotel loyalty credit for stays at the more popular hotels is somewhere between difficult and impossible. Starting on 20 June 2013 guests at any of the 12 MGM hotels in Las Vegas, including Bellagio, MGM Grand, Mandalay Bay and The Mirage, will be eligible to earn Hyatt Gold Passport points and stay credits. Later this summer there will also be reciprocity between the MGM M life program and the Gold Passport program, with elite status matching between the two.

Seth goes on to provide a few more details, like that Hyatt Passport members will earn a base of 5 pts per dollar spent (up to $5000 per stay*) with the top tiers receiving bonuses and, the best part, that earning of MLife points will be ADDITIVE to the deal.

For someone like me, who makes 2 to 3 trips to Las Vegas each year, has status with both programs, and who already frequents MLife properties when in town, this deal is a win/win.  If you're not a member of either program and go to Vegas you might want to consider it.

The only downside to MLife properties is the $25/day resort fee that's added on but, if you are a member of MLife the promotional rates you receive are so low as to make the rate with the fee competitive with the same special offers you receive from other properties in town anyway.  Adding the value of Hyatt Passport rewards to this makes the decision where to stay a no-brainer.

Not only is the MLife program tied to many of the best places to stay on the Strip, but it's also a much better bargain than the Total Rewards program offered up by Caesars, and the quality of the hotels are frequently going to be better.

With all of the devaluations that have been occurring in the travel industry of late it's nice to see two entities coming together and creating a value-add.

*Note: I'm pretty sure casino (gambling) expenditures do not earn Hyatt points.  I could see some serious legal issues there.

United laying the groundwork for big changes to MileagePlus?

In what seems to be a product launch without a customer base United has announced new "subscription" services for things that are (currently) covered by attaining MileagePlus status:

United Airlines Launches Annual Subscriptions for Economy Plus and Checked Baggage. United, PRNewsWire

United Airlines has launched subscription options that offer customers access to Economy Plus seating or pre-paid checked baggage charges for a year.
"The Economy Plus and checked baggage subscriptions offer our customers more of the comfort and convenience they value year round," said Scott Wilson , United's vice president of merchandising and e-commerce. "We are pleased that, as we launch these services, we are able to provide new options for customers to tailor their travel experiences."

Couple this with Jeff Smisek's recent comments during an Address to the Chicago Chamber of Commerce  that the airline was moving away from the "stack 'em deep, sell 'em cheap" to focus more on profitability per seat and I think the picture becomes a little more clear.

Back to the press release.

At first blush, this feels odd.  You can already get a free checked bag, and other perks, through using a co-branded United credit card when booking your flight.  You also receive priority boarding (now on-par with low & mid-level Premiers) not to mention club access etc.  All things that are currently "perks" at the Silver and Gold Premier status.  Looking at the price points for the service it doesn't make much sense either.  In order to gain anything resembling a decent ROI you'd have to fly to a level that you would receive Silver Premier status regardless.  In short: the only people this would benefit are (possibly) large families making two to three trips per year or first year fliers taking an initial stab at Premier status.

For this to make sense I believe you have to imagine what MileagePlus is going to look like in 2015, and make assumptions that big changes are coming soon.

1. The elimination of Silver and Gold Premier status. - I truly believe that this is coming.  I had an inkling of it when they grouped credit card boardings with the same group as these two statuses.  Given the profitability of selling miles to banks for the airlines on these cards there's a clearer profit model than worrying about the bottom half of the Premier group who, if scheduling carefully, can qualify for somewhere around $1K.

2. Broadening of Platinum Premier status - There's still a large swath of loyal fliers that United is going to want to protect below the Platinum level.  Because of this I see them lowering the base qualification to 60,000 miles with a revenue minimum of around $5K.  While that seems low it prices out the flier whose only going to use the 4 cents per mile "special" or "mistake" fares and prices in the business flyer to makes 3 to four trips to Asia every year.

3. Adding additional perks to the Credit Cards. - Pre-boarding is great, but I think you'll soon also see complimentary domestic upgrades added to a credit card soon. If not this, then they'll do it in the form of certificates, much as they do with lounge access for MileagePlus Explorer Card holders already.

These changes are not only going to help the airlines trim their loyalty pools, thus freeing up upgrade space for the upper-tier members, but it's also going to create some pretty intense competition among the former mid-to-lower tier members who are now on par with the credit card (and subscription) customer.  It's going to be incumbent on these credit card companies to recoup their investment in miles with increased interest-income collections.  I believe you are going to see many, many commercials on TV and hear many of them on the radio in the coming years, probably with the above increased perks and generous mileage bonuses for signing up, annual spend etc.

This also means that travel miles & points blogging is going to continue down the "pimp my card" road and that the "game" for them is certainly not over, in fact, I'll argue that it's really just about to begin, in earnest.  Whether or not this is a good development for THE TRAVELLER (you know, that person whom all of this consolidation was supposed to help?) remains to be seen.  In the early analysis, my guess is no.  While airline prices might dip slightly, the fees charged will be going up with fewer ways to prevent paying them.  Also, not included into the price of the ticket is the interest cost that's going to be incurred buying one with interest on rewards cards being significantly higher than those for non-rewards cards.

Of course, the financial prudes among us will state that you should pay with a credit card and pay it off immediately anyway and, in a perfect world, they'd be right.  The fact is though that the majority of consumers do not do this so, for them, these changes will end up costing them more money in the long-haul.  I'm not suggesting that this is a reason why these changes should (or shouldn't) occur, but it is reality and, no matter how hard you try, you can't tut-tut it away. It should be good news for the credit-card peddling bloggers however, as a large group of newly devalued, former loyalty program members will be scrambling to figure out new ways to fly in a market that's made a sea change while they were napping.  Undoubtedly the legacies will be paying this group a rather sizable dividend, whether by design or by chance.

Unknown in any of this analysis is the coming effect of the US Airways/American Airlines merger and what impact their reduced capacity will have on certain routes.  Regardless of this, it seems safe to say that big changes will be coming soon and it would seem that the smart money lies with them taking effect in 2015.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

When insiders and political experts really aren't.

One of the funniest, albeit rather new, recurring stories by Texas' Lockstep Political Media is the Texas Tribune's "Inside Intelligence" series.  The premise, in short, is that Ross Ramsey sends out a list of questions to Texas political pros (on both sides of the aisle) who will then regale us with their wit and insight into the Texas political process.  This exercise, along with Paul Burka's annual list of friends/enemies that is the Texas Monthly Best/Worst Of* frequently provides some of the most knee-slapping political humor of any Legislative session.

Occasionally, you have to wonder what the so-called "experts" are thinking when they issue their edicts. You also have to wonder who said it because the blurbs are presented anonymously by the Tribune.  Today's Inside Intelligence has just such a case....

Inside Intelligence: Grading the 83rd Legislature. Ross Ramsey, Texas Tribune

Who were the heroes this session, and who were the goats?

Goats have to include Sen. Davis and Rep. Wu (seriously, we don't need your comments on every bill)

I'm not sure who wrote this but I'm going to guess it was one of the Republican "experts" trying to get a cheap shot in at opposing party legislators.  Left out of this thinking is the reality that both Sen. Davis and Rep. Wu were busy all session positioning themselves for future runs at other offices.

Sen. Davis seemed to have two strategies this session.  One, speak as often as possible on a wide range of issues. Two, get the TLSPM squarely on her side.  On the first, the Senator was very successful.  Not only was she the go-to policy wonk for the TLSPM on a variety of issues, but she doubly succeeded at getting them on her side.  After extensive searching I was unable to find one story by the TLSPM that disagreed with Davis on any single piece of policy.  Rumor is Davis is not going defend her seat and will instead return to local politics for a while (Say, the Mayor of Fort Worth?) to better position herself for an eventual run at a State-wide position.  The leader in the clubhouse is Governor once demographics change and Perry is out of the picture.

Rep. Wu is gunning for the same thing, albeit I think it will even be further down the line for him.  I think he'll serve at least one more session in the Texas House and then make a play for Sen. Whitmire's Senate seat once the latter retires.  After that, if successful, I see him taking aim at Lt. Governor, again when the mystical demographic wave hits and several Democrats are presumed to be washed into state-wide office on it.

Either way it's imprudent to say either of these legislators were goats. They certainly weren't "heroes" of the 83rd as neither of them did much to advance progress in the body politic, but acting in one's political self-interest has a long tradition in Texas on both sides of the aisle.

Another popular choice as a goat was Euless Republican Rep. Jonathan Stickland.  Stickland was a Tea Party Freshman who did his best to upset the apple cart on numerous bills, much to the Twitter enjoyment of Rep. Wu.  While he was unsuccessful in all of his efforts (and on numerous occasions I find myself wondering what he was doing) at least he had the fortitude to stick up for what he believed in the face of defeat.  Compare this to Rep. Wu, whose argument against the bill authorizing some drug testing for welfare recipients was limited to: "It will bring a lawsuit, which we might lose."  Thank goodness Wu wasn't around to cast a vote on civil rights legislation back in the day or Texas might still be segregating schools.

To my mind it still seems way too early to name any Best/Worst or Hero/Goat Legislators because the 83rd Lege is still on-going in special session.  If anything, we are giving out incomplete grades that, at least in Burka's case, were probably preordained before the session started.

Such is the lean of TLSPM today however.  Reporting the news to you filtered, with a healthy dose of personal opinion, often incomplete, and usually truly devoid of actual fact and/or context.

Maybe it's the Texas citizen who needs a shield law from them?

*Increasingly, Burka's analysis of good/bad/furniture in the Lege seems to be based more around who pays fealty to him and his status than any actual success in legislating.

Sometimes you don't know what you think you know

Case in point: Chron.commenter "Sterling Minor" on David Barron's AT&T vs. CSN Houston story today

I think you are an unusual sports watcher. This town is brimming with people who have an interest in SEC and UT sports. Next year, I predict many more people will want to see the Rockets than answered they did this year, but that is an educated guess only. Dynamo? You betcha for me, but the large racist and anti-immigrant crowd in the viewership area could be expected by a betting man to boycott a station showing soccer.

Emphasis added by me.

"Knowing" that everyone who won't watch the Dynamo are racist and anti-immigrant is a piece of common-knowledge information held by a certain set that, when examined, falls flat. Americans don't like soccer because it's perceived to be too slow and there's not enough scoring.  Last I checked, a lack of goals isn't racist, it's boring to some.  It, the perceived slow pace, is the same reason many don't watch baseball any more, or why tennis has fallen so far back in the ratings.  Of the major "slow" sports, only golf has, mysteriously, held on.

Many, not all, of the soccer enthusiasts that I know simply don't watch MLS because it represents soccer in the minor leagues.  I far more enjoy watching matches from Barclay's Premier League or La Liga or Serie A than anything MLS has to offer.

When most people watch pro sports they like to see the game being played at the highest level.  That's why the WNBA hasn't taken off.  Rather than sexism (along with racism the other -ism thrown around when people don't like your sport of choice) it's the fact that the Yates boys basketball team would best their best team by 40.

I don't watch the Dynamo because MLS' brand of soccer bores me.  It's slow, basic and not really all that entertaining of a brand.  Yes, some people say you should watch because it's the key to the future of International soccer in the US.  To that I say, go Scotland.

As a final note: ESPN shows soccer, you don't see a large contingent of "racist and anti-immigrant" Houstonians boycotting that channel do you?  Point, set, match.

Blog and InterNet open comments: Time to cut the cord.

When user comments were rolled out on several media sites they were heralded as the next logical evolution of user/news interaction.  Not only could the average citizen now read a news story, but they could weigh in and rationally discuss things with other citizens which would, it was theorized, lead to a more personal, interactive experience with the news.

Now that we've seen the experiment, it's time to say that it's failed and just move on. 

The sad fact is, the average Internet commenter, posting behind a shield of anonymity, has devolved into a low-rent shock jock or semi-literate partisan ram-rod who's inability to avoid a logical fallacy is rivaled only by their ability to bungle the English language.  If you don't believe me then take a look at the comment strings from these stories:

Al Sharpton's long bill of goods, from Tawana Brawley to Prime Time, Stuart Stevens, The Daily Beast

Wal-Mart to speed it's delivery of produce to stores. Nancy Sarnoff,

Commentary: Queen Michelle is dead, long live Ted Cruz, King of the Tea Party. Jason Stanford,

Granted, the third link is a little hard because what Jason Stanford managed to do there was take one long, rambling essay on the intellectual level of an Internet anonymous comment and convince the Chron's staff it was worthy as running as news.  Given content of that quality it's not fair to expect the readers to respond any other way but in kind.  In the race to the bottom, has not only taken the lead, their editors are pulling a Ronnie Turcotte and turning around in deep stretch to see just how far back the competition has fallen.

It's time to end this experiment in citizen commentary, to shutter comments and re-hire serious reader reps who will do a better job answering reader questions.  There's news that the Chron is already moving this way, stopping the practice of paying certain free-lancers for content on "reader" blogs.  And this is a good thing.

An even better thing would be ridding the world of these comments sections.  Until they do however I'm just going to stop reading them.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Snap Review: In n' Out burger: Allen

I finally tried my first burger from In N' Out, the burger chain that has those transplanted from the Western US to Houston sick with depression that it's not available in our fair town.  We stopped at the location in Allen on Hwy 75.

I had the Double Double (w/onions, no fancy off the menu ordering for the first time) with fries and a sweet tea while the wife had a cheeseburger "protein style" due to her Celiac.

The burgers were great, the fries were horrible.  And by horrible I mean soggy, under-fried and strangely wrinkly looking.  Not to mention over-salty despite not appearing to have a lot of salt on the surface.

I did really enjoy the burger however, as did my wife, who appreciated the several layers of lettuce substituting for the bun.

The place was clean and the staff were friendly, overall it was a good place for an early dinner*.

Just skip the fries.

*overall I still prefer Whataburger for overall taste, especially their ketchup and fries.  The burgers were about even though although I do like how much easier it is to customize under the orange and white roofs.

Missing the obvious point......

It's always fun to watch the local kiddies harp and moan after big events like last weekend's Free Press Summer Fest. Fortunately, I was disconnected and camping over the weekend so I missed the real-time coverage.

I'm constantly amused by complaints that a. bottled water isn't free or b. it's too expensive, when the festival organizers have water stations available and you're allowed to bring in refillable water bottles at no cost whatsoever.

The best howler however was courtesy of Neph Basedow of the Houston Press "Rock's Off" blog:

Free Press Summer Fest: The Worst things inflicted upon us 2013. Various, Houston Press Rock's Off.

I think water should be cheaper. Actually, I think it should be free for press and media. (There, I said it!)  - Neph Basedow

OK.  Since you said that, I'll say this:  If you're writing for the Houston Press "Rock's off" blog you're neither press nor media, you're a blogger.  A paid blogger maybe (putting you one rung higher than me on the blogosphere ladder) but a blogger nevertheless.

(There, I said it!)

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

#BadMedia Just tell us the truth KPRC

Last Sunday I tweeted my disappointment that KPRC Local 2 (Houston's NBC affiliate) decided to not broadcast live the Formula 1 Grand Prix of Monaco.  It was unfortunate because the National Network (as well as NBC Sports Network) heavily advertised that the flagship would be broadcasting the race, live, at 7AM EDT.  Since KPRC Local 2 never offered up a notice saying they wouldn't broadcast the race, I was up for a 6AM (local time) broadcast only to be greeted with their morning news show.

Today then, KPRC has issued a "statement" regarding the incident, and it seems as if it was designed to insult the viewers.

A letter to Formula One fans. Jerry Martin, KPRC

I wanted to let you know that we heard from many Formula One fans this weekend regarding our decision to air our local news in lieu of the Monaco Grand Prix. We will reevaluate the decision for next year's race. That evaluation will not only be based off ratings data, but also the amount of viewer confusion caused by not airing the race after NBC promotes the coverage heavily in their programming. 
Our rationale for not airing the race was based on KPRC being a "news comes first" local television station, which includes holiday weekends
Yes, what you have just read is a flimsy rationalization.
Were there breaking news on Sunday that could cause the race to be preempted I would heartily agree, but there was no "news comes first" event that would call for preempting the race.  And, were the event Sunday Night Football or some higher rated show they would not preempt with a local newscast for regular news.

They based this decision on expected ratings, period. That's fine if you don't think enough people will tune in to watch who makes it through Rassgass unscathed to make it worth your while but don't insult our intelligence by claiming to be following some time honored "news comes first" principle that we all know doesn't exist.

If you choose to air local news because it will rate higher then that's fine. I can live with that.  F1, in America, is a very small niche sport and I don't have an expectation that it will run live on TV unless, that is, you constantly run advertisements with no disclaimer that it's running live on your station.

But then, when all is said and done, don't come back and lie to us.

Because, if you're telling the truth, then I expect to see the 10PM coverage of the upcoming Olympics to be preempted for the local news cast.  We all know that's not going to happen.

How did this not exist before now?

The horrible transit agency addition:

Metro starts shuttle to Houston Food Bank today.

METRO is adding a new route today.

The new route will include a stop at the Houston Food Bank to accommodate families who have trouble picking up their food

Sometimes the only thing to say is just WOW and shake your head and walk away.

Friday, May 24, 2013

A quick observation on Texas' LockStep Political Media

I realize the ol' blog hasn't had any updates for a couple of weeks, but life (esp. the paying and family parts) gets in the way of typing thoughts for free.

I would like to make one observation however, regarding Texas LockStep Political Media.

Outside of Burka the Clown, no group has done a worse job covering the 83rd Texas Legislative session than the Dallas Morning News.  Robert T. Garrett has devolved into a gossip writer, Wayne Slater has not only lost his fastball, but his change-up is gone as well (he never really had a working curve that could surprise), Christy Hoppe seems to have no idea what the issues are, much less how to report on them and Karen Brooks Harper needs to go back to the lifestyle section and write articles on fashion trends that few read.

Yes, The Texas Tribune is populated by young staffers who, more often than not, miss the key points behind what they're watching, are continuing their unique obsession to have Carol Alvarado be paid a living wage and are seemingly edited by a spider monkey, but at least they are making an attempt to report it straight, at times.  Jay Root's piece on Sen. John Carona is evidence of that.

I never had any hopes for Hearst's Austin bureau, they have a limited budget, no editors and no indication that they are really into news reporting (their focus seeming to be limited to gathering [and then providing snark to] actual news reported by others). Quorum Report is more interested in getting involved in Twitter flame wars with conservatives than it is actually working on it's product (their website is horrible, and their reporters view Twitter victories as something important), and other news outlets are either too self-involved, or too uninformed to really care.

I guess I have to put the DMN Texas politics team at the bottom of the heap because they're past reporting was (comparatively mind you) pretty strong.  And let's be honest, being a strong political reporter in Texas is like coming in first in a Congressional popularity poll.  The bar is pretty low.

Now that Paul Burka has officially removed himself from the realms of political journalists by basing all of this year's work on personal grudges and unsubstantiated rumors fed to him by political consultants (instead of just most of it, as he did in the past) the DMN is setting the official floor.

At the top?

Taking a page from Ring Magazine, I'm going to declare the belt vacant.  Overall it's been a very lackluster reporting season, and Texans are worse off for it.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Breathless overselling of what might be a good idea. (Yup, it's ChronBlog)

"Two hot, new bars set to open downtown" shouted the headline on last Friday as their entertainment portal, 29-95 (now less vulgar, still pretty uninteresting however), published a glorified press release from the folks that brought you Anvil Bar & Refuge (and their high prices and brilliant scheme to ensure obscure liqueurs don't go to waste) announcing the opening of two new concepts downtown.

The headline for the story itself however was a little more muted.

Clumsy Butcher to open new wine/beer bar on Main St. Alison Cook, 29-95 a blog

Ironically, this new wave of bars and party spots opening downtown is reminiscent of the wave of openings that occurred right before Houston's, now infamous, SuperBowl event.  Of course, soon after Janet Jackson revealed herself to the world.........*crickets*

But, this being Houston and Houston being ever the optimist about downtown drinking and revelry here we go again. Maybe it means something that a majority of the new space opening has a connection to Bobby Heugel and maybe it doesn't.  Right now he and Brian Caswell seem to be the two owners who, with the obvious exception of Stella Sola, have the magic touch when it comes to making recycled concepts stick.

I think part of this is because both operators have learned to expand their demographic appeal beyond Houston's FoodBorg.  The problem with catering to the collective is that the collective soon grows bored with your establishment and, having run out decent folks who just want to grab a cocktail without being regaled with the history of the British rum industry by some know-it-all food blogger who might (or might not) moonlight occasionally in one of the city's print outlets,(or, they might have a job at said publication blogging about food, who knows?) decides to move on to the newest and greatest bauble in order to ensure the great unwashed stay away from there as well.  The notable exception to this is the aforementioned Anvil, which seems to remain a favorite of the Borg while continuing to draw from the general population. I attribute this to the fact that no one has been able to approach Anvil's concept with anything resembling the success of Heugel. Sure there are other high-concept cocktail places in Houston, but none pull it off as well.

Now you might think that I find all of these bars and restaurants opening to be silly. That I might think they're whistling past the graveyard trying to reinvigorate a downtown area that's notoriously barren after office hours.

You'd be wrong. I think having a block of bars/restaurants on Main St. is a great idea and I wish the proprietors of the new establishments much luck in their happy hour catering to the downtown business-person.  If they can also perform the function of containing the FoodBorg to downtown during nights and week-ends all the better as this would mean being able to enjoy a beer at Christian's Tailgate without some foodie telling you the origin of the hops and that they know the brewmeister personally.

All that said, "Hot, new bars"?  Before they even open?

C'mon ChronBlog, you can do better than that.

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