Wednesday, March 27, 2013

"Evolving" on the gay marriage issue.

It's become habit to come on this blog and ridicule Texas Lock Step Political Media for following one meme or another down the rabbit hole in the name of forwarding the dominant message of the time.  Many look at this and choose to dismiss it at "cries of liberal bias" but that's not really the point I'm making.

Well, OK, at certain times it's the point I'm making but not always.  The real problem with the TLSPM is that they don't often think outside the box on certain issues.  Almost all of them choose to view something from a certain perspective and anything that forwards the narrative is promoted to the exclusion of every other point of view.  This is why several members of the TLSPM chose to run incredulous accounts that Gov. Perry and Sen. Ted Cruz were in opposition to same-sex marriage despite the fact that an Internet poll had revealed that most Texans were now "for" it. 

Never mentioned was the fact that public opinion shouldn't matter to the SCOTUS, and there was no mention made of possible Democratic justification for their beliefs.  As a matter of fact, support or opposition of gay marriage has been divided down the lines of a principled belief in civil rights, or outright bigotry and hatred.  Is this a false dichotomy?  Of course, but it is the narrative that the TLSPM has chosen to forward despite evidence to the contrary.

Until now.

Granted, I'm not the biggest fan of Richard Dunham but he got this one right.  And when a reporter does get it right it should be pointed out.  The fact is that, as the polling has changed, many politicians stances toward gay marriage have changed.  The biggest examples of this are President Barack Obama and prospective Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.  Once the polling revealed a political advantage for support, the accolades were sure to start flowing in.

Ironically, many who have long-been supporters of gay marriage (on both the left and the right) are kind of being overlooked due to the headline (and page-view) nature of these "evolution" stories.  At this point it's also appropriate to discuss whether "evolution" is the right term to use.  In it's current use it signifies a significant step forward, moving up the evolutionary ladder if you will, but what we're seeing here is not an advancement forward in the name of freedom, but a realization that one's career could be toast without support based on the current political winds.

I've no doubt that the fervent, pro- or anti-gay marriage activists have come about their convictions honestly. I've long stated on this (and other blogs, forms of social media etc.) that I believe marriage to be a two-tiered contract with one tier being acknowledged by the State and the second being acknowledged by the Church.  You receive a marriage license from the State which becomes your marriage contract.  In many cases the Clergy signs that document which means that the Church has recognized the State contract as valid. Because of this I can find no Constitutional justification for denying same-sex couples to be 'married' in the eyes of the State.  If you choose to categorize this as "support" for gay marriage then so be it.

But the Church also has the right of refusal, just as they have the right of refusal for divorce.  This is why the authority to enter two individuals into a marriage union also lies with others outside of the customary institutions, Justices of the Peace, ship captains etc.  The worry, for me, is that, due to the framing of the anti-portion of the issue as 'hatre-based', attempts are made to remove the Church's right of refusal that has historically been in place.  John Kass of the Chicago Tribune lays out this argument more eloquently than I ever could and displays a perspective of the situation not found in Texas media, often presented by lesser journalists than he.

The problem here is that, even today, the TLSPM and the media control and set the narrative, and all to often it's the one that's in line with their personal political views rather than the narrative that actually is.  Because of this we are allowed only to see supporters of gay marriage as principled culture warriors with right and might on their side instead of the political opportunists that many are.  Conversely, we don't see any principle from anti-gay marriage activists despite the fact that their continued stance against is probably more based on principle than the other side.

Whether or not you're a pro- or anti- reporting of this type should discourage you.  Eventually you're going to be on the wrong side of an issue and it could be you whose cast as the hate-filled Luddite with anti-social behavior. For now, however, the TLSPM river is only flowing one way.

Southwest putting an end to that low-fare mojo.

When Southwest Airlines launched their PR offensive to get approval to fly their blue and reddish-orange planes to Mexico and other points South from Hobby Airport there was much gushing and praise for the plucky little airline and their ability to move into a market and lower prices.  Such was the myth of the 'Southwest effect' thrown into the argument despite the warnings of local travel experts (and people who actually have an understanding about how airlines function).

Fast forward to today and it's becoming more and more evident that those warning against Southwest acting as a lower-fare genie are being proven out.  Yesterday in the media the following two stories ran suggesting that Southwest is now beginning to position themselves as a more serious airline without the quirkiness and "low fare" fanfare that accompanied all of their previous ads.

Southwest Airlines: We're not about cheap fares any more. Brad Tuttle, TIME

One reason that Southwest seems to be saying it no longer stands (just) for low fares is that, in recent studies, the airline has been shown to not always have the cheapest flights.

So long to the fun, funny Southwest Airlines of old. Mac Watson, KTAR.com

The low-fare, cares about you, airline with a sense of humor is gone. No more do my "bags fly for free," and you can forget about "being free to move about the country."
Now, granted, the second piece of opinion isn't reality.  For now, bags are still flying free on Southwest and the idea that they're considering unbundling the charges from their fares is just that, speculation.  The bigger point is that, for now, Southwest seems to be growing up and throwing away their devil-may-care-us-against-the-world attitude in an attempt to be seen as a fourth legacy airline, and not just a discount carrier. My guess is they're doing this for two reasons:

1. They long ago lost the single component that let them charge lower fares.  I'm talking about their fuel hedges.  For a long while WN was paying much less for fuel than were the legacy carriers, and it helped them build a brand.  Now that their cost structure is on almost equal footing with the legacies (and, in some cases higher) they can't afford to come into a market and undercut fares for long spans of time as they used to.

2. Discount carriers are suffering from some negative marketing right now. With carriers such as Spirit and Allegiant damaging the brand, it makes sense that Southwest might want to distance themselves from the realm of no-recline seats, charging for water and carry-on bag fees.

All of this serves to reinforce the point made by the anti-Hobby expansion group that spending Millions of dollars to reconfigure Houston's smaller airport into a CLE-type hub is not going to allow Houston travelers to realize the cost savings promised when the deal was inked.  The real reality is that there will now be more seats available to these destinations, at approximately the same cost, which will make the flights more empty and less profitable for the airlines at IAH (read: United)  If this happens then there's a very real possibility that route reductions will take place in order to make the routes profitable again.

Millions of dollars spent for less service and two reduced hubs instead of one International hub of distinction.  Sounds like the makings of a boondoggle to me.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Note to Houston newsies: Look inward for your fix.

You can't write about this: Between Oscars and Yahoo! a bad week for women, Kyrie O'Connor, HoustonChronicle.com ($$$)

and then expect us to take you seriously when the "features" department you oversaw (and built) from 2003 - 2012 produces this on a regular basis:
Additionally...

You can't write about this: 5 reasons we must keep BangWithFriends.com alive. Casey Michel, Houston Press

and then expect us to take seriously your writings with (intentionally?) inflammatory headlines like this:
HISD to offer free dinners to anyone under 18, whether illegal or not. Casey Michel, Houston Press

And therein lies the problem with Houston's present day media.

The Press, is a mess.  I'd argue that they're no longer a news gathering organization and are just a loose collection of freelance bloggers publishing anything they can find in the name of page hits.  Occasionally they might turn out something worthwhile, but very rarely.  Then, when they do, you look back at all of the stuff the author's written and you say "bah, they don't know what they're talking about anyway." 

Both the Chron and the Press lose all credibility on women's issues because of (shocker!) how they portray women.

While figuring the Press was fairly straight forward, the Chron is slightly more nuanced.  It took me a while to figure out exactly where they were trying to go.

At first, I thought they were trying to be a low-rent London Times. Of course, without the good news content and meaningful analysis.  First, they put some stuff behind a paywall, like the Times, and then, they made the pay site rather bland (again, like the Times), what was missing behind the Chron's paywall was meaningful content, whereas the Times has put pretty much everything behind the shield.  In contrast, the Chron has hidden AP wire reports, a few public interest stories, two c-list local political columnists, The Apple Dumpling Gang and Lisa Falkenberg from public view.  For this we should thank them.

It was only recently that I figured out what they were really going for, ChronBlog wants desperately to become The Daily Mail.

More breathy than newsy, the Daily Mail is the perfect mixture of supermarket tabloid magazine and splashy, sensationalist newsy reporting more designed to tug at the heart strings than present the facts in any case.  In many ways the Chron is trolling right down that same path choosing to frame stories designed to enrage (and bring on page views) rather than inform.  Oh, and then there's the whole We're all gonna DIE!!!! hysteria that's been coming from the Apple Dumpling Gang of late.  They wave the flag and cheer about one Billion page hits and 50 thousand twitter followers while ignoring Billions of dollars in local, public entity spending and thousands of stories that should be told.

The people want news, the Chron gives them Requiem for a make-out bar.  The problem is that this story bemoaning the demise of Houston's former Pantheon of public sex will be followed up with an eventual tut-tutting about where Texas ranks on some listing of children born out of wed-lock.  I'm not suggesting that Marfreless added to the population, but I am suggesting that glorifying casual sex does.  It's OK to write a story about a local institution closing, but an entire editorial, which glorifies the bar's "sleazy secret?" Forgive us if we don't get all worked up the next time you decide to lecture us on how we're failing as a society.

The problem is that we still need news, there still needs to be an outlet to provide news and as a society we still haven't figured out what's going to come after.  What's the next big thing?  Even the Texas Legislature is trying to figure that out as they debate where polling locations should be published now that no one is looking for them in the dead-tree editions of their former newspapers of record.  It's a real problem. A problem whose only answer, to date, seems to be to rely on Newsish non-profits and the websites of the newspapers that let us down in the first place.  Either that, or TV news, which is worse for numerous reasons.

Nope, the answer is for today's media organizations to understand what's wrong internally, either that or just give it up and leave the news game altogether.  This middle ground approach is failing miserably.

Monday, March 25, 2013

The Metro service you want vs. what Metro says you need.

Like a few of you, those few who still subscribe to the dead-tree edition of ChronBlog and actually read it instead of just grabbing the coupons and using the rest for grilling kindle, I was surprised Sunday morning to read the Outlook piece by Metro board member Christof Spieler regarding their plans to receive public input on 'making bus service better'.

The link:

Metro works to make bus service easier to use. Christof Spieler, Chron.com

This could be viewed, with reservations, as good news.  For one, it's long been the position of this blog that Metro's antiquated hub and spoke system doesn't serve the transit needs of a city with multiple employment and entertainment centers and, given that Metro has spent an incredibly large amount of money chasing the white whale of central core developing rail, Metro hasn't been putting much thought into what should be the meat of their public transit plan.  In fact, Spieler mentions these exact things in his piece, talking about the need to have bus service that matches the City's needs etc.

On the surface then it's all well and good, the people are going to explain why buses can't take them anywhere in Houston without first going downtown and being force-loaded onto the Danger Train, Metro is going to sagely smile and nod and changes for the good of all are soon to come and we can all ride around town on beautiful buses adorned with T-Mobile adverts. Only Bob Eury will be angry.

Underneath the happy-talk there's an undercurrent of heels-dug-in predetermination that starts to emerge when Spieler speaks of "goals" and "missions". It becomes clear that the blank slate he was talking about in the beginning is not as blank as one might imagine.  First, there are certainly sacred cows, bus routes in places that serve political, as well as mobility, goals.  Second there is still the Danger Train, and the beast has to be fed.  Then there's the, now required, fealty expressed to the central business district and Medical Center, areas which Metro's "stakeholders" (Read: developers) have long-held financial positions in which they've heavily invested and are not ready to relinquish.

Then there's the problem with Metro itself.  For all of the talk about "New" Metro vs. "Old" Metro the differences are basically only seen on the public relations side.  They have done a better job controlling their message and projecting the appearance of transparency.  When it comes to the actual nuts and bolts of transportation operations however they're pretty much the same. The same "side" of the transportation debate, the minority who supports Metro's stated mission of driving development inside the Loop, are the one's whose input is greeted with an open ear while others are shut out, cast as Luddites in a Siemens-constructed new-technology world.

It would seem as if the residents of the Houston region would welcome a totally re-designed bus network that got them where they needed to go quickly and efficiently.  The problem with Metro (either new or old) is that they seem to have a pre-determined preference on these matters regarding what the public should want that's given preference despite what's actually communicated.

If history is any indication then they'll do a good job disseminating the preferred plan to certain activist groups, the Apple Dumpling Gang and other fellow travelers.  If you start to see a symmetry in the "wants" between all of these groups then you know that the "Old" Metro style fix is in. Of course, the way to prevent that would be to hire a third party firm to conduct many of the surveys Metro is touting, and to have them release the full data for all to see, including cross tabs.  Given the history of Metro and its public interaction it's doubtful this option has ever been seriously discussed.  I believe what we're going to be told we want is exactly what Metro has decided we need.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Marfreless closing announcement brings wailing and gnashing of teeth.

I know, I know, I was on hiatus.  But the announcement that Houston's "make out" bar Marfreless was closing, and the response to it, made me want to bring up one quick point.

Marfreless bar announces it will be closing. Chron.com

Just months after celebrating its 40th anniversary, Marfreless, the infamous lounge of love, is closing its doors.
The bar ownership cites the excessive cost of doing business in the River Oaks Shopping Center as the reason for the closure

Predictably, this has brought out the "Houston is dying" crowd in droves.  From the comments:

TallTxn99: Thank goodness there wasn't FB or Youtube back when I used to go there.... What happened at Marfreless, stayed at Marfreless.... lol
Gimpypimp: Back when me and my wife were dating, we used go there at least a dozen times a month. I didn't even know the name of the place at first. We just called it the Blue Door. We're going to have to hit it one more time for old times sake and say farewell to one of the most romantic spots in town.
Houstonbeachgirl: When I was a bit younger in the 70's I discovered this cool bar with a blue door and no name. It's like entering a mysterious cave of unknown. Once you go in and see the super cool bar you instantly feel comfortable. I too may have to pay them a visit soon. Great Manhattans!Thanks for the memories!!!!
TEXUS: Used to go there a lot in the late 70's and early 80's. A nice place for a nightcap after a show where the music wasn't blaring and you could actually carry on a conversation. I think this is where the phrase, "Get a room you two!" originated.
Now, I've only been to the place once, back in the mid-90's.  As such I'm rather ambivalent about the place closing down.  What I find funny is that many people who "used" to "frequent" the place in the 70's and 80's, but presumably haven't been back since, are now leading the chorus of "Nooooooo!" that's fluttering around Houston's Internets.

That's Houston in a nutshell though.  We screamed about AstroWorld closing and then admitted that we hadn't really gone there in 20 years.  We declared the closing of Feast to be a sure sign Houston was not a world-class city even though we only ate their once and round the sight of pig testicles and penis to be....unsettling.  We griped about SRO closing but really we had moved on to Mongoose vs. Cobra or Anvil long ago.

All of these establishments have become places for others to go, not us.  And we can't believe it when the next wave of revelers decides that the haunts we've long abandoned are not worthy of their time.  Nevermind that we're not frequenting these places, it's the other groups that aren't that reveal a tear in Houston's cultural crazy-quilt.  We had families and children and well....you understand right?

The second whinge is directed at Weingarten, that evil, faceless company who's looking at higher property values, ever-increasing property taxes and the very real prospects of lowered profit if they don't raise rents. Because they're trying to keep the bottom line healthy and keep their employees in paychecks, their investors in the black and their tenants in properly maintained buildings their held up as someone who's tearing at the face of Houston's world-classiness.

Perhaps if more people visited Marfreless than waxed poetic about it the owners could afford to accept the increased rents like the rest of the tenants? 

Just a thought.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Yellow! Spring. Glad you could make it.

Today was the first day I noticed that my formerly red car was now covered in a powdery yellow sheen.  It also means that folks with hay fever are missing work at increasing rates and Houston is in for a slight drop in productivity at the workplace. To my surprise, there are some that sell this pollen for food.

The good news is the weather is beautiful (despite wanna-be weatherman Eric Berger telling us that we're just one stop away from a stay in Climate Changes EZ-bake) although a little dry so some rain would be welcome.  But given the proclivity of Houston drivers to go into panic-mode at the slightest sign of moisture I'm hoping the rain comes overnight, or on a day when most don't have to drive into work.

With all that said It's sure to be a beautiful week (and possibly week-end) in Houston so the blog is going to go on a little hiatus while I spend most of my free time outside doing yard work and grilling various pieces of animal for dinner.

Not a long break mind you, just enough to let me figure out my Houston Political Dictionary entries for E, F,G & H.

Oh, and to drink the Mourvedre Rose that just arrived from the fine folks at William Chris Vineyards

Houston's two-pronged vehicle reduction plan

The problem now, as it's always been, is the personal vehicle. 

Too many of them cause congestion, congestion leads to long commute times and long commute times lead to low rankings on those "best cities" lists that Chambers of Commerce and Convention and Tourist Associations love to tout.  It's not surprising then to see what passes for transportation discussion in Houston media focusing on ways to greatly reduce the number of cars on Inner Loop roads.

The Apple Dumpling Gang is all-in for complete streets. For the Inner-Loop this would mean (ideally) reducing traffic lanes for automobiles and increasing space for pedestrian, bike and transit traffic.  In areas where there are right-of-way considerations It could be argued that this is a good idea.  If Metro would work with the City it'd be an even better idea.  While it's been part and parcel of this blog to rail against the plans of Houston's quasi-new urbanist groups to shoe-horn the regions 4 Million residents inside Loop 610 there is value in the complete streets concept for the area.  And as much fun as it is to mock Pedestrian Pete his idea that a citizen should be able to walk down a sidewalk sans having to divert into traffic to avoid a utility pole makes some sense.

In short, would Houston's quasi-new urbanist group really get on board with new-urbanism while figuring out smart ways to bring the majority of the populace who lives outside the loop within to work and play it'd all be a little bit more believable and appealing.  If, as Mayor Parker recently suggested, Houston is a crazy quilt of different neighborhoods with different characteristics and needs, then it makes sense to look at the development needs of each area independently.  Creating a series of walkable neighborhoods both where the cool urban people live and where the tragically unhip, mouth-breathing suburbanite chooses to reside is a worthwhile goal. 

In other words, if we're going to spend $446 Million on transit projects, lets make sure they work.

One thing that probably won't work, is the congestion charge trial-balloon currently being floated by Tory Gattis.  For one, it's going to be horribly regressive against the poor. In his article Gattis characterizes the fee as a 'nominal' one to two Euros.  Given exchange rates that could be anywhere from $1.50 - $3.00 per day, which would make every road inside the Loop a de-facto toll road.  Given that Texans have recently come out in polls against the increase use of toll roads it would seem that this is a non-starter.

If there's one thing that the Apple Dumpling Gang does well, it's stir up the silliness on the fringes with a half-thought out editorial.  Houston Tomorrow has already jumped in with a complete streets film festival of all things.  Next are sure to come rallies and the inevitable 3rd party friendly editorial from David Crossley on how bicyclists and pedestrians are the future of Houston transit.

They're not of course.  But that won't stop some from dreaming of a day when congestion fees and complete streets keep the cars of the poor out of the city center thus allowing the well-heeled and (mostly) Caucasian upper-middle class to quaff their artisan cocktails and locally sourced beer in peace.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Texas Craft Beer Industry Meets Texas Politics, Hilarity Ensues

Ah the politics of beer. Especially in Texas, where deep pocketed distribution companies control the industry and have been (understandably) very reluctant to give up even 1% of that control. Therefore it came as little surprise to political observers that the group of Texas Senate Bills designed to give small businesses the ability to sell and distribute their product (SB 515, 516, 517 and 518) was quickly companioned with SB 639, authored by distributor ally Sen. John Carona, which clearly shifts the balance of power back to the distributors when a small craft-brewer attempts to transition from self-distribution to working with the large distribution companies. In short, a craft brewer cannot accept any lump-sum for their existing distribution network, but the large distributors can now take what they've received and sell it to another distributor for the same lump sum allowing them a huge advantage given the concept of the current value of money.

Because of this provision, the Kum-bai-yah facade of the craft brewers is rapidly deteriorating as many of the smaller brew houses feel they've been sold down the river by some of Texas' established craft brewers.  Of the dissenters the loudest has been Jester King Brewery in Austin who have all but declared their intent to sue over SB 639 and Deep Ellum Brewing Company which seems to be saying they're ready to vote the entire package down. For their part, The Texas Craft Brewers Guild (the Representative lobby for the craft brewers) is putting on a brave face and saying that this is the best result for all involved.

Whether or not any of this is a good thing probably depends on your point of view.  For consumers, it's undoubtedly a good thing because this means that you will now be able to buy some beer at a brewery when you take a tour of if you are just stopping by.  This is the same deal different from the arrangement at local Texas wineries where you can buy a bottle of wine*.  For beer brewers however this must seem like a start-up disaster and a huge give-away in terms of company value, taken in hand by the distributors who will then be seen as profiting on the backs of small businesses.

In short:  It's a mess.  A mess that can be attributed to Texas, distributor backed, three-tier system which only serves to increase the profits of the middle-man when it comes to alcohol sales at the expense of the consumer and the producer. A mess that has ignited a war of words both from the Texas Craft Brewers Guild, some of the brewing companies, and among the craft-beer enthusiast public.

For anyone who's paid attention to Texas politics for years now none of this should come as any surprise. The "free market" in Texas is somewhat of an oxymoron due to the pay-for-play attitude displayed by politicians from both parties.  You can call it "dirty politics" or "crony capitalism" or whatever you want, it's the way the liquor business is done in Texas.  There was no way the big distribution companies were going to spend all of that money, deploy all of those lobbyists and wine and dine all of those politicians and not get a return on their investment.

Despite all of this I see no reason why these laws should not pass.  There's too much support for them to fail. I do think that there will be some legislation that stems from this, certainly on the legality of banning one company from accepting a lump-sum payment from another in what is a private transaction strikes me as questionable, and I'm sure the distributors are going to weigh in as well, them still not wanting craft brewers to be able to sell from their shops.

Still, these are blue laws, and the courts have a history of treating those separately to other commerce related bills so who knows what is going to happen.













*corrected due to the input by the commenter.  I was under the impression that SB 517 gave breweries the ability to sell beer in bottle and growler form. Upon a read of the Texas Alcohol and Beverage code 64.01(2) I was wrong.  Thanks to the commenter for pointing this out.

The New (Revised) Houston Political Dictionary (v 2.4.3)

D

Dallas - The main driver, according to ChronBlog, of Houston's inferiority complex.

Dan Patrick, State Senator - The triumph of style over substance.
It could be argued that the only reason Sen. Patrick is currently sitting in a dingy office in Austin currently is because, for years, he built a constituency through a talk show of marginal quality.  This gave him a built-in voter base who were willing to overlook the fact that he hasn't fulfilled any of his campaign promises since being in office.  Property tax hasn't been fixed, the margins tax is still out there, and the "people aren't being given a voice" as Patrick promised because he's fallen victim to the "good old boy" expert mentality that has been a part of Austin for years.

Deal-Breaker - A lie used to prevent anything of importance in politics from actually getting done. Can always be found in any issue.

Democrats, Houston - Unimportant entity that has ridden on the backs of the success of candidates and officeholders who understand how local politics work.

Democrats, Texas - Only mostly dead.

Demographics - Political astrology.

Destiny - A fiction in contemporary politics.

Long in the political wilderness in Texas, the State Democratic party has been looking toward the demographic watershed for years as their only hope of salvation.  The problem with this line of thinking is that, with a couple of notable exceptions, Demographic voting patterns can (and usually do) change over time.  Still the Democrats march on, choosing to rely on mildly homophobic vulgarities to describe their political opposites while ignoring the fact that these arguments are not resonating with the public.  Of course, Texas Republicans are fine with this because, when the minority party refuses to take policy seriously, they are allowed carte blanche to make whatever decisions they see fit.  The second problem the Democrats have is that no-one, of any political seriousness, views their current slate of state-wide candidates as anything other than a mildly amusing side-show.

Discovery Green - Central Houston's potty station for the dogs of the tragically hip and urban.

Divine Reserve - The triumph of marketing over quality.

D.N.A. (Cultural) - Irrefutable proof that Houston is a test-tube baby.

D.N.A. (Personal) - Irrefutable proof that you are (or are not) the baby daddy.

Dollar - Political construct designed to place a value on the designs of the bureaucracy.
The concept of a currency only makes sense if there is something of value backing it.  In America we've long sense gone past the point of a true valuation so that now, when speaking in political terms, the dollar can "be" whatever the hosts want it to be.  This has turned out to be especially beneficial to media who no longer have to spend time running down claims of damage estimate, claims of fiscal impact by a party regarding an opposing party's policies, economic impact claims and athlete contracts.

Donut - A sure sign, when it's served at political functions, your City/State/Political party is in a financial mess.

Downtown, Houston - A booming residential/retail/dining district free from all of the problems actual residents/shoppers/diners would provide.

Drainage - Usually a problem in a swamp.

Drought - Recently discovered natural phenomenon that has the ecomentalists in a tizzy.
Never mind that there have been droughts in Texas for tens of thousands of years, of that much of the vegetation on the Comancheria has evolved to thrive in low-precipitation environments, the recent discovery, by climate scientists and faith-based, climate-change friendly science writers, of the drought in Texas is proof positive that the Earth is rapidly heating up in Satan's EZ-Bake.

Dynamo - The European and Mexican soccer leagues' farm system in South East Texas.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Still more negative potrayals of women on ChronBlog

Last weekend we discussed the hypocritical lecturing by the womynists at ChronBlog who constantly gripe how bad men are making it for women all the while running an entertainment/lifestyle section that frequently depicts women in an unflattering light all in the name of page views.

There's still more evidence of that on a recent Spring Break pictorial on Chron.com

What are women doing during Spring break?

According to ChronBlog they're taking off their clothes in a very public manner and partying hard.

And what are the men doing?

Well, in the same pictorial we see them building houses for charity and just being all-around good guys, hanging out, causing no problems at all.


I'm not suggesting that either sex has an advantage over the other when it comes to doing good work during Spring Break, or a disadvantage when it comes to partying down in various stages of undress.  It's Spring break for goodness sakes, and they are young adults who are out having a good time.

But again, before the good folks at ChronBlog lecture all of the rest of us about our deeply held cultural misogyny could we at least have a moment of introspection?

That's all I'm asking.

Friday, March 15, 2013

In case you're not thinking about taking advantage of Houston's weather this weekend....

....I give you a few items to ponder.

1. One of the problems the GOP faces is inept leadership. - Not only was McConnell stupid to make the "Golden Girls" statement, but it invites the "Angry White Men" response that the media will make hey with.

2. A second problem for the GOP is the side-show. - When party loyalists finally figure out that many of their so-called "pundits" are simply in it for personal gain (See: Hannity, Limbaugh, Josh Trevino etc.) then maybe they can free themselves from the Republican noise machine and it's embarrassing episodes.

3. Since the end of January, Paul Burka (the "Dean" of Texas' Lock Step Political Media) has gone from "Perry is done" to "Governor for Life" to "Perry is done" (again). During this same time he's attempted to redefine fiscal conservatism in a manner consistent with his Statist leanings, he's blown the analysis on the 2014 race for US Senate, he's continued to fan the flames on his poorly sourced, and unverified rumor that UT-Austin's Powers is about to be fired, he's joined the progressive herd in heaping praise on State Sen. Eltife, he's reported incorrectly (and inaccurately) on the politics of Medicare expansion and he's been a day late and a dollar short (providing neither insight or meaningful analysis) on a host of issues and yet, for many, he's still the go-to guy for political analysis in Texas.

4. DNA Dog Testing is a real thing.

5. Legitimate, business reporting outfits are running stories on Mila Kunis and where she invests.

6. ChronBlog is launching a "new" blog just for Baby Boomers.

7. The ponytailed man is telling us that the feds are now studying high-speed rail from OKC to Brownsville. - Of course, this has both the train-love and train-hate crowds in an uproar. If you want to lose some faith in the human race go look at the comment by user Peter whose high-sounding use of "facts" are really just non-sequiters and his opinions thrown in for good measure.




Now, if none of the above convinces you to turn off your TV sets and internets this weekend and get out and enjoy the beautiful weather I'm not sure what will.

The New (Revised) Houston Political Dictionary (v 2.4.2)

C

Can - Affirmative, hope-filled accomplishment based verb typically attached to your party of choice.

Can't - Or, can not. Negative, fear-filled, catastrophe based verb typically attached to the other side.

The minute Barack Obama's campaign team adopted "Yes we can!" (Si se Puede!) as a campaign slogan the politicization of these words were cast in stone.  Unfortunately, this also led to the creation of some pretty stupid alterations of party names by some of the lesser political minds in an attempt to be witty.  What it's really done, is end political satire and place us firmly in a world populated by Demoncrats and Republicants.  

Cannabis - The libertarian Holy Grail for a free society.

Car - For progressives: Beelzebub. For conservatives: 'merica

Celibate - A sex-free state of being that many conservatives incorrectly attribute to teenagers and clergy. For progressives: the worst possible thing in the world to teach in sex-ed.
To be celibate has, historically meant to be pure.  In today's sexually liberated culture someone who is celibate is viewed as either too ugly to mate or as being in possession of some mental illness. Given their hostility toward the idea of celibacy being taught in schools you wonder if some progressives are against it due to the painful childhood memories it dredges up?  Of course, for conservatives, sex is taboo and some still find it scandalous that a women exposes her ankles so their motivations are a little more clear.

Central Business District - An area where seemingly no-one wants to live but which Houston is subsidizing Millions of dollars of residential construction.

Central Heating & Air - The greatest invention in the history of Houston.

Chad Holley - Proof that Quannel X should never visit Sam Houston Race Park
Shortly after presenting Holley to Houston as St. Chaddeus the put-upon the youth was arrested for attempting to take something that wasn't his.  Then, upon his sentencing he was arrested again thus making him the test case for HPD's new continual arrest program.  Unfortunately, the fact that Holley is a punk has obscured the fact that HPD officers did something that needs a closer look and that simply because someone is a victim, doesn't mean they're good people. In short: It's OK to think the HPD officers who tried to use Holley to try out for the Texans place-kicker position need to be punished while believing, at the same time, that Mr. Holley should be a long time guest at the Gray Bar Hotel.

Charcuterie - Sausage in the language of the FoodBorg.

Children - The reason given by politicians of an authoritarian lean for every law proposed to take away the people's rights.

Chris Bell - Perennial candidate

Chris Bell - Perennial candidate

Chris Bell - Perennial candidate

ChronBlog - Houston's former newspaper of record.

Church - Tax exempt buildings where the faithful go to hear the Good News once per week in an attempt to assure themselves their actions for the week's other six days won't condemn them to Satan's EZ-Bake.

Ch$rch, Lakewood - Joel Osteen's personal ATM machine. Not to be confused with Church.

Citizens' Transportation Coalition - Christof Spieler's former one-man play.
To understand the impact that Spieler had on the CTC one only needs to look at the group's activity since it's intellectual soul has been carved out and placed on the Metro board. Once possessing the ability to create some pretty maps on iMacs the group is now relegated to offering up the occasional posting on Metro/City issues offering nothing of substance.

College - The triumph of theory over real-world experience.
Not only are many political leaders under the false impression that a college degree is a must for a healthy and successful life, but it's to the point that mortgaging one's future is now viewed as essential in order to achieve success as well.  The result of this is the collapse of vocational education thus placing several promising plumbers, electricians and other manual laborers in the unenviable position of having to listen to a lefty professor with no real-world experience explain to them the philosophical theory behind the widget.

Conservative - Republican hipsters minus the trendy eye wear.
Due to the crush of the mainstream media against Republicans the safe out for many of a small-government lean is to declare themselves "conservatives first".  This allows them to step aside when GOP bashing is going on because they can safely distance themselves from the party in their own minds.  The truth is that they almost never vote Democrat, unless it's a protest vote, and they don't have the political stones to go it alone and pull a third party lever, except when no Republican is present in the race.

Continental Airlines - Exhibit A in the "good ol' days" fallacy.

Co-Op - How business, living, breathing, eating and procreating should be done in the world of Houston's urban set.

Crane, Jim - Current owner of the Houston Astros. Unclear on the financial impact of a publicly funded stadium.

Crossley, David - One who feels he knows, better than you, what's good for you and your family and where, and how, you should be living.  In short: The man who would be King.

Crossley, Jay-Blazek - The son of Crossley, David. No other known distinguishing characteristics.

It's easy to look at New Urbanism in Houston and think that they're just a bunch of folks who want to better the city through the implementation of the movement's principles.  As a matter of fact, new-urbanism, in theory, isn't all that bad.  The idea of compact, walkable neighborhoods is something that a lot of people, many living in The Woodlands, Sugar Land, West Houston, etc., have decided is a preferred lifestyle.  The problem is that Houston's version of the theory involves moving everyone (except the poor and minority) within Houston's Metropolitan Region where they will be stacked high and forced to commute minus air-conditioning and flexibility.  When things don't go as the urbanists would like, they call the citizens stupid, when things they like fail, they call the citizens stupid for not adopting their principles.  When confronted with the fact that hard density and central planning tenets make things very difficult for the poor to cope, they shrug their shoulders and write another editorial in ChronBlog.
Crude Oil - Used to make gasoline and plastics (among other things) often confused by ChronBlog energy writers as "gas".

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Houston Metro Area growing, especially in the suburbs...wait...what?

One imagines that today's Chron.com story on growth in the Houston region has to be creating a bit of heartburn for those of a central planning, change everything about Houston ilk. In a perfect world real data such as this would cause them to re-think their stated position on moving everyone inside the Loop and using public transit to funnel people  to the central core, but the reality is it will probably only cause them to double down.

Yesterday on NoUp we discussed exactly what Houston was choosing to subsidize in terms of housing, and why it seemed impractical, and today's numbers reinforce that theory and then some.  For one, it seems that jobs, specifically in the oil and gas sector, are a main driver of growth and not urban amenities.  Second, not only are people coming to the Houston region, taking a look around and then choosing the suburbs, but it seems that the people inside the City are pulling up stakes and moving out there as well.

This presents the City with somewhat of a problem.

We all know that money, and not warm-fuzzies, are what makes the world go around and, given that a large part of the taxable-base seems to be fleeing the city, it's a certain fact that Houston is going to be looking for more revenue very soon.  Increased revenue requirements, of course, will mean tax increases which, usually, are harder for the poor and middle-class to absorb than other groups.  This then means that the exodus is going to continue at possibly greater levels than before.

What this also means is that Metro is still planning on spending Billions of dollars to move around less and less people instead of taking a hard look at their business plan and realizing it's on the cusp of going tits up.  Strangely, not a person there seems to have noticed this so it's all hands on deck to provide the most service where the fewest people in their service region are going to be living.

Another take-away from all of this is that people have an innate desire to have yards, the freedom provided by a personal automobile, good schools, and some order.  While it's true that we here at NoUp are big fans of Houston's no-zoning policy, and feel (rightly) that attempts to reverse this long-standing policy would end in disaster, there's very real evidence that planned communities such as The Woodlands and Sugar Land have very real appeal.

It's not hard to imagine that this news will cause some consternation among Houston's ruling class, and that somewhere, sometime, someone will decide that Something! Must be done!  Given the history of the current leadership that Something! will probably involve creating a commission whose job is to figure out what Houston can do to entice people to relocate back with the warm, embracing confines of the city limits.

So, get ready for it Houston, in a few months there's going to be another story in the Chronicle revealing that the commission has discovered, through on-line survey probably, that people really want to live in close quarters inside the Loop, and that they'd do so only if there were pedestrian-friendly complete streets and if the City were willing to spend 2 Trillion dollars to re-make Houston into something it's not. Groups like Houston Tomorrow will rip large amounts of journalism from behind the pay-wall quoting the Apple Dumpling Gang who will say that the secret to Houston Future is to make it more like what people are currently fleeing in droves.

They won't even realize why that's wrong.

The New (Revised) Houston Political Dictionary (v 2.4.1)

B


#BadBlogging - Twitter hash-tag used to identify examples of sub-par blogging. Can also be applied liberally to everything on NoUp.

#BadMedia - Twitter hash-tag used to identify, and catalogue various media outlets who are just doing a rotten job.

Balance - Inaccurate descriptor which guarantees that what follows won't be in a state of.

Barack Obama - A name on a bumper sticker which Caucasian progressives use to imply a certain amount of street cred.  Also, the 44th President of the United States of America.

Bats - Every city needs some.
Bat colonies, ranking right behind some type of train and a restaurant carrying the name of a celebrity chef, are one of the more curious pre-requisites for a city's being classified as "world class". The media in every city loves the bat colony and implores its residents to come out and watch the bats take off.  What they fail to realize is that, for the most part, it's really a pretty boring activity.

Battleship Texas - A cudgel to be used, when convenient, by those who feel Texas' government is not spending enough money.

Bayou City - Houston nick-name used when city luminaries want to conjure up visions of New Orleans West.

B-Cycle - A transportation solution that only makes sense, on a limited scale, in Houston for 90 days out of the year.

Beautiful - A community aesthetic which those of a central planning ilk believe can only be achieved through increased central planning.

Begley, Dug - The next in a long-line of Houston Chronicle transportation writers trying to find the balance between PR scribe for Metro and actual news the community can use.
We've nothing against Mr. Begley, except that he's a grown man with a pony-tail, but his job is sure to be a thankless one.  We would imagine that covering the transportation beat for the Chron is akin to working for Best Buy, while HP tells you exactly what your point of view will be. So far he's not been bad per se, but he hasn't written anything critical on any topic outside of road building. In other words, more of the same.

Berry, Michael - Comedian.

Bicycle - The surest sign new-urbanists don't get it.
To truly believe the bicycle is a valid transportation option in a city with 100 degree days possible in six months out of the year you also have to believe that office co-workers aren't going to mind you smelling like a battlefield hospital, that a thing designed for recreation can be repurposed to meet a wide communities needs and that a wide swath of the population is willing to pedal through the rain to get to a job they don't like much anyway.

Big Jolly Politics - A leading political blog which works to provide gravity to Republican fringe candidates.

Bill White! - The triumph of partisanship over substance.
Not to be confused with Bill White, the former mayor of Houston, Bill White! is the go-to for progressives in Houston who feel that things aren't as they should be and that, were the great man in charge, things would be much better.  This ignores the fact that, while mayor, White accomplished little of actual substance and left a series of messes for his successors to deal with.

Bins - Trash cans in polispeak.
Politicians, especially at the local level, like to use vaguely technical sounding names for every-day items in order to make it appear that they have a superior grasp on the issue than your normal person.  In fact, this often proves quite the opposite in practice.  While a single-stream recycling "bin" might make it sound as if the politician in question is well-rounded and fully versed on the issue, the more likely scenario is that they're repeating something they heard someone say once before in mockingbird fashion.

Blog - An on-line ego trip.

Brand - Something great cities embrace and middling cities wish to change.

Bridges - Increasingly, a city's phallic symbol.
The game of "mine's bigger" has been played by cities since the tower of Babel.  What used to be measured in terms of building height is now measured in terms of span, or more-often, silliness.  Where San Francisco can point to the Golden Gate and New York can point to the Brooklyn cities like Houston have floated around god-awful ideas for art-like pedestrian bridges in hopes that no-one really notices how small they are in terms of vision and scale.

Brunch - Adds a bit of class to breakfast, allowing higher prices to be charged.

Buffalo Bayou - The Money Pit.

Bulls on Parade - A good PR slogan for a mediocre defense.

Bus - A workable transit solution for Houston that's soundly rejected because it's not cool.
The thing is, buses would be a great way to solve many of Houston's public transit needs, but buses are big and unwieldy and often involve sitting next to someone who's carrying on a private conversation with Utubuntu the God of trash bins while the kids sitting across from you rub snot on your trousers.  Excepting the fact that, in many cities, none of this is true, there's a predisposition within those of a progressive lean to gravitate toward trains and conservative types do not share space well with others in a motor vehicle.  Because of this the bus, despite its flexibility and practicality in a Houston-like environment, is given short-shrift and faces another round of service adjustments every time it's decided the train needs more money.

But - Political word signifying that everything which preceded it was pap.
As in: "We want to a solution that will work for all of Houston but......"

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The New (Revised) Houston Political Dictionary (v2.4)

Prologue: The concept of the social dictionary has a long, and distinguished history.  From Voltaire to Samuel Johnson to modern-day thinkers such as John Ralston Saul (with whom I disagree politically, but really enjoy reading) the social dictionary has been used to place the modern, traditional dictionary in it's proper place.  It might have been Gustav Flaubert who first stated that the Dictionary is opinion, stated as fact, in alphabetical order.  Or it might have been Voltaire, the history of the quote (and idea) is muddled.

On the old blog, I attempted to take all things Houston and present them in the same manner, hopefully with some heart and humor thrown in for good measure. Since that time, however, things have changed.  Lose an Eye, it's a Sport has been long-shuttered and Houston's political landscape has changed.  It has also remained much the same.  While that might seem like an impossibility I believe that you'll see, in the entries (and explanations) to come that no matter how many things seem to have changed, history is, at heart, a cyclical thing.

One final note:  The title of this is the "Houston Political Dictionary" but, because Houston is a major regional city, I will frequently include items that are outside of the City.  Quite often actually.  I think you'll agree that pretty much everything I discuss however will have some impact on the place that is affectionately called H-Town by those of a nick-naming disposition.  For the rest of us, those who live here and actually really like it, I think Houston will do.  So, without further ado.......


A

Activist - One who can be fed anger from sources seeking political or financial gain and channel it with little or no pangs of conscience.
The concept of the political activist has been around for ages.  Back when farmer Joseph felt put upon by the King due to taxes there would be agrarian uprisings which were quickly put down by the power of the sword.  In rare cases (see: The French Revolution) the people were successful in overthrowing the rulers before realizing, hundreds of year later, that the inevitable result of that is Hollande. Today's political activist is nothing more than a mouthpiece for the political party of their choosing who happens to be willing to stand out in the rain holding a pre-printed sign lest the home-made ones contain misspellings of an embarrassing nature.

Aeros, Houston - Houston's explanation of the phrase "out of sight, out of mind".

Alamo - Historically, the mission in San Antonio where hundreds of Texians were slaughtered by General Santa Ana's superior force, thus sparking the battle cry for Texas' Independence.  In modern terms: The Alamo Draft House. A place where hipsters can watch art-house films while enjoying a can of Lone Star Beer

Alief - The part of Houston referred to when someone says "where those people" live.

A-List - A term for the big celebrities, of which Houston has none. 
Probably because they have no truly huge stars Houston's media is fascinated by them.  It's gotten so bad that Beyonce (a true A-list star) is still referred to as "Houston's own" despite her now living and having babies in New York city.

Allen's Landing - The romanticized origin of Houston which is really a dodgy spot on a polluted Bayou whose waters will cause a nasty rash in anyone who tries to swim in them.

Alvarado, Carol (D) - 1. An empty political suit with an odd predilection for "fighting" imaginary enemies. 2. Proof that being "the chosen one" in politics is not enough to succeed in the face of better funding.
Texas House Representative Carol Alvarado was the hand-picked successor of deceased Texas State Senator Mario Gallegos.  Unfortunately the voters didn't see it this way electing fellow empty-suit and fighter Sylvia Garcia to take over the chair vacated upon Gallegos passing.

Anadarko - Bad capitalism and one of the anti-capitalist, green-movement's strongest cases against a comfortable life.

Anvil Bar and Refuge - The central hive for the FoodBorg and leading light in the "no cars are good cars" parking movement. Also, a brilliant marketer.
Anvil co-owner Bobby Heugel's creation of "100 cocktails you must try" was a brilliant way to ensure that his stocks of obscure liqueurs maintains a profitable churn rate.

Apple - Good capitalism and the anti-capitalists' strongest argument for government sanctioned monopolies.


The problem with "capitalism" in Houston is that so much of it is responsible for the relatively good quality of life within the city but the political party of choice for the majority has decided that the oil and gas energy is slightly worse than Satan.  This causes a problem for those of a progressive mind-set due to the fact that they love the jobs, and the tax revenue, provided by the so-called "bad" companies but really want the economy to be entirely made up of the "good". This leads to rather awkward situations at fund-raisers where the progressive politician in question bashes an industry in their stump-speech and immediately follows that up by requesting the abused company write them a check.  Of course, Apple Inc. doesn't attend these parties because their too busy trying to figure out new ways to prevent their users from getting anything done.


Astros, Houston - Minor League baseball for Major League prices.

Astrodome - A metaphor for the City as a whole.
The "Dome" is frequently remembered by most Houstonians in a time capsule.  As a city we're more likely to remember the time when men in spacesuits vacuumed the carpet before games than we are to remember it in it's current state.  At the time of it's commission, the Astrodome was proof of Houston's big ideas and the force of personality of our leaders.  It's rapidly deteriorating condition and the dithering about it's eventual fate is often viewed as a measuring stick for how far local leadership has fallen.

Astronaut - The, cool, end result of a marketing campaign by engineers tired of getting kicked around due to their affinity for pocket protectors.

Astroturf - A truly horrible idea for an athletic playing surface that's morphed into a truly horrible derision for political groups with whom you happen to disagree.

At-large City Council Races - Identity politics.
At-large City Council races have two political differences from the traditional district-based races. 1. They don't represent one small geographic area. 2. The ability to succeed is solely based on one's talents in cobbling together certain ethnic groups.  The idea that Houston's political races are "non-partisan" only really applies if you agree that, across the city as a whole, a Republican is no longer able to win a race against a well-funded Democratic challenger.  Because of this the race-winners are typically determined by who can rally together enough of Houston's racial and ethnic quilt to emerge victorious.

Austin - The capitol of Texas. The home of the University of Texas-Austin.
Being both the political and sociological capitol of Texas provides Austin with some problems.  The first is that, due to the current majority of Republican office-holders in the State what goes on behind the pink dome is typically out of balance with the cultural zeitgeist of the city itself.  The second is that the cultural identity of Austin is perpetually frozen in a time-warp.  Unwilling to build roads because of the evilness of the car and unable to build a good public transportation system due to a chronic lack of funds Austin exists in a time-warp with a 70's transportation infrastructure and a sense of cool (based mainly on South by Southwest) that outlived its useful life at the same time. The main argument why this is so centers around an overabundance of journalists wearing hip, trendy eye-wear whose writing has an impact on how the rest of the state functions.

Auto-Show, Houston - The best place in Houston to see last-year's car models while this-year's debuts are circling the globe at other auto-shows.

Exactly what are we subsidizing in Downtown Houston again?

Big news this week as groundbreaking is announced for a 336 unit, 24 storey luxury high-rise somewhere in the vicinity of Downtown Houston.  This has supporters of a hip, urbanist downtown core all atwitter.  Judging from the early response it's either the 'priming of the pump' for Houston's core residential development or the beginning of the re-making of our fair city, take your pick.  A closer look at the numbers is needed, however, to get a full picture of just what it is we've decided to subsidize to the tune of $15,000 per residential unit. (That's just over $5 Million in total).

The moniker for this steel and concrete paean to sustainable, green, urban living is going to be "SkyHouse: Houston" and there are some previous examples on the market to tell us what we're getting.  SkyHouse Midtown for example, is located in Atlanta, a city very similar to Houston in layout and rents.  A quick look at the available floor plans for the unit reveal rates ranging from $1225 - over $3000 not including what are sure to be fairly hefty condo fees.  Searches for other SkyHouse properties revealed their prices not yet ready for public consumption, but, given their location in D.C. and New York City, I'm sure rents will be much higher there.

Given that information it can be assumed fairly-safely that SkyHouse Houston is going to feature rents somewhere in the $1500 - $4000 range, again not including condominium maintenance fees that I'm figuring will run somewhere between $300-$500.  That puts total rents, not including utilities I'm guessing, at somewhere around $2000 minimum assuming the best case scenario. 

Ouch. But not unexpected.

A long-held criticism, by me, of the goals for Houston's new-urbanists has been their tendency toward elitist social goals.  The idea that the European model, and not say...the Mexico City model, is where ideal urbanism lies.  While Paris is, rightly, considered an ideal 'new-urbanist' environment (by Houston's practitioners of the craft, I'm not lumping them in with National new-urbanists) it is a city not without some glaring faults.  Google "Paris suburban riots" if you're not sure what I'm on about here.

Another issue that I have with Houston's central planning set is that Houston could already be a collection of walkable, urban neighborhoods whose lack of central planning promotes this type of development (now that the market is demanding it more) although (admittedly) few residents take Houston up on it.  Much of that has to do with the weather and the fact that American cities have grown up around the concept of the automobile as a primary mode of transportation.  It's not easy to undo 100-plus years of social programming nor am I convinced we should be trying all that hard to do so.

Then there's the issue of class-warfare and whether or not Houston should be in the business of subsidizing play-pens for a certain (upper) class.  While it might be OK for .025 percent of Houstonians to think that 20-somethings in 7 for All Mankind jeans, $80 sparkly T-shirts and Italian loafers running from their downtown jobs to their downtown hair salon to re-frost their tips before heading out to a happy hour for gourmet cocktails or J├Ągermeister dropped into PBR before heading over to the local farmer's market to purchase some locally-sourced sustainable weeds for dinner are the epitome of urban cool that doesn't mean that the majority of us do, or that said behavior is really all that worth subsidizing to the tune of $5 Mil.  Yes, there are people who do not wear designer jeans or hang out at hipster bars who value that lifestyle but they are a small sub-set in the overall urbanist population.

Then you have the general NIMBYism that pollutes the sample of all of this.  Many people feel that public transportation is something that must be funded to get so many others off the road in order to make their car-based commute quicker.  Given that Houston has infrastructure problems so severe we were told all of us would drown in a flood of water leaks did we not pass a huge increase for projects that weren't clearly defined I'm thinking $5 Million could be put to some good use somewhere else.  And yes, because I know this is coming, I think it's ridiculous to provide a 100% exemption for production of shale gas as well.  A partial tax exemption?  Sure.  Because the costs of drilling said wells are much higher, but a full exemption? No way.

After looking at this there is one, disturbing, thought that comes to mind: What we're doing is not trying to spur downtown residential growth, but instead making sure the growth is of a type that's preferred by the elites.  I don't care your political persuasion, that should ring more classist to you than not being able to touch the Queen.  It also suggests the poor are somehow "bad" and even, dare I say, untouchable.

In reality, what the poor are mostly is unprofitable to the developers and that, in and of itself, is the biggest sin.  In order to remedy that groups like Houston Tomorrow are advocating a future Houston where the pretty (and wealthy) people live inside the Loop while the unwashed and, by their definition, unwanted scraggy set are relegated to a segregated existence outside the Beltway with reduced options for crashing the palace. It's everything wrong with the Paris model with none of the fun things like the Louvre or Eiffel Tower, throw in 100 degree heat to boot.

A few years back a bleak picture of future Texas was painted where well-off Caucasian Republicans spent their days at work and then retreated by car daily through a pock-marked wasteland of suck to the safety and security of gated communities.  This was, admittedly, a thoroughly awful picture that thankfully doesn't appear to be coming true.  Unfortunately, in it's place we're getting a secondary vision where well-off Caucasians live and walk in tightly controlled environments while the the grunt workers are relegated to the suburbs to/from which the elites have ensured it's very hard to commute.

That latter vision is hardly better than the former, it just changes the location of the pock-marked wasteland.  Yet, by subsidizing high-rent condominiums in the city-center at the expense of other locations, we're pretty much ensuring that it's going to come to pass.

Is this really the vision of HoustonFuture that we've decided we want to have?

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The real problem with the Astrodome.....

...is that no-one wants to go down in history as the person who oversaw it's demolition.

We've seen plans for the Dome's revival go from nifty little amusement park to big casino to (of course) resort hotel to elaborate film studio to "well crap, we don't know what to do with it now."  Watching our County leaders dither over the future prospects of the Astrodome has been like watching a Greek tragedy unfold before our eyes.  Fortunately it's not the type where the son marries the mother unknowingly but we still have the final outcome of tragedy to all.

The simple fact is the Dome is a relic, built during an age that saw the rise of the multi-purpose stadium, an age that's passed by in favor of a return to a more classical aesthetic and sports-specific (with team-owners getting a hefty share of revenues most importantly) shrines built to increase "fan experience" which can be loosely translated as providing a place where corporations will plunk down a lot of money for luxury boxes.

Much of the blame is placed on K.S. "Bud" Adams for the Dome's current, sad, state.  And while it's true he forced Harris County to spend a ton of additional money getting rid of what was another of its 'ahead of its time' features (the big scoreboard) his eventual departure to Tennessee doesn't have anything to do with the current state of affairs.

Nope, the biggest hurdles to anything getting done are contracts and legacies.

The contract is the one which the Harris County Sports Authority signed with Texans owner Bob McNair.  It provides him the right of first refusal to any plans that someone might have for the building.  It basically ensures that nothing the Dome does can be economically viable because it cannot interfere with Mssr. McNair's revenue stream.  So while it is cute, in the linked article above, (behind the Chr$n's pay wall) that McNair talks about the need to beautify Reliant Park, his control over the matter makes it hard to do much of anything.  The legacies at risk are those of the County elected officials, none of whom wants their legacy to include the tearing down of the house that Hofheinz built.

What all of this has lead up to is an impasse.  I have a feeling that McNair, in his heart of hearts, wants the hulking, dilapidated relic to be gone entirely, but he won't say that because he doesn't want to be viewed as the bad guy either.  Therefore he's quite content to keep vetoing everything until there's no other choice.  This places the two sides at logger-heads, which means that it could be "years and years" (County Commissioner Steve Radack's words) before anything is decided.

Then there's the problem of the public and what is perceived as the history and soul of Houston.  If any building had no soul, and no ghosts to speak of, it'd be the sterilized, feature free Astrodome.  Sure, my first memory of a Major League Baseball game was there as well, as was the first time I saw the Rodeo, and George Strait in concert.  These are real memories that I have of the place.  However, and if you honestly assessed it I think you'd agree, the absence of the Dome from the landscape wouldn't affect those any at all. Nor would it cheapen the Astrodome's memory any more than it's already cheapened by being allowed to slowly fall apart before our eyes.

In short: Tear. It. Down.

Given the way things are going we can turn Johnson Space Center into a movie studio.

Making all the right enemies.

Add Democratic Senator from Missouri Claire McCaskill to the list of pols that don't like Ted Cruz. At last, according to this (badly reported) story by Kevin Robillard writing for Politico.com:

"You’ve got people who are willing to compromise and who understand the beauty of compromise in our democracy and then you have people like Ted Cruz and some of the others that just think that they want to drive as hard as they can off the right edge of the world.”

Read more: http://www.politico.com/story/2013/03/claire-mccaskill-blasts-ted-cruz-88739.html#ixzz2NKt7kkJU

The Democratic cries for "compromise" ring hollow given their recent history of defining the term as "ultimately seeing things our way or else" so I don't care much about that.  I do think that reporter Kevin Robillard committed journalism malpractice by not once in the story identifying McCaskill as a Democratic Senator but I don't expect much from that shop anyway so I'm not overly surprised.

The bigger point is that Sen. Ted Cruz seems to be making all of the right enemies now.  When progressives like California Dem Senator Barbara Boxer and Sen. McCaskill are against you, you're probably doing something right.  When their stuck making ridiculous claims of McCarthyism and Akinism, despite you having no history of saying anything similar to what either said, then you're really doing something correct because that's a sign they're getting desperate.

What's even funnier is this:  None of the Democrats, including those in Texas, seem to understand that Ted Cruz is doing exactly what he said he would do in the run-up to being elected.  It's these things that helped him cruise (no pun intended) to a double digit win over Paul (outside-the-mainstream) Sadler.  Whether or not the Democrats like it is immaterial, a mainstream portion of Texans do.  As a matter of fact, I would argue that the more Progressives get angry with him, the more secure his re-election becomes.

Hou and cry

Maybe it's just me. 

What passes for clever these days when trying to give something a "hip, marketable nickname" is nothing more than shortening the thing and leaving it at that.  Creativity, especially in Houston, seems to be on a severe downswing especially where professional word-smiths are concerned.  Take the recent editorial by the Apple Dumpling Gang as an example: Embraceable 'Hou'

'Hou'?

Why not Bayou City, or H-town?  Why not the increasingly inaccurate Space City?  Or why not, in keeping with what most Houstonians call it: Houston?

I realize that, in Houston especially, there's a thought that copying New York gives the place a metropolitan feel, that somehow calling the East End "EaDo" puts us on equal footing with SoHo and everyone will be impressed with how modern and urban we are.  We're not some back-water, slack-jawed hick town with bad roads and no public transportation to speak of, we're urban dammit, just look at our nicknames. I also understand that this is a take on a song by George Gershwin, so just leave it there.  What I'm referring to is a trend larger than one editorial.

I saw, over the weekend, on Twitter where Austin's aging relic of a music industry festival, South by Southwest, is now being called "South by" by all of the 'in-the-know' Caucasian hipsters.  Given that the festival is almost solely attended by Caucasian hipsters I'm not surprised.  These are people who's greatest contribution to modern society is drinking a terrible beer and referring to it as PBR so the idea of culture and creative linguistics is lost on them.  If you have any doubt, try to make it through some of the stories in The Texas Tribune. Not only is Evan Smith and John Thornton's little excellence in journalism shop banging the "we need a full time legislature" drum loudly, but they're doing in ways that are increasingly unreadable. Give a try at reading today's primer on Medicare Expansion by Becca Aaronson without having to go back and re-read frequently to keep up with the narrative.  It's damn-near impossible.

Now, granted, judging by her Twitter stream Aaronson spent most of the weekend attending various South by Southwest workshops on removing beer stains from natural fibers or something along those lines, but the fact is what she produced in her paying job is dodgy and difficult to read, much less comprehend and walk away feeling you're got a better grasp on the issue. (And really, isn't that what good journalism should do?)

I'm not trying to pick on Ms. Aaronson here.  That's just one example of many that you can point to.  If you're not visiting the Pinboard account of PubliusTX (referred to here via hattip quite often) then you're missing one of the best run-downs of journalistic malpractice in TX there is.  It's not just the Trib or ChronBlog either.  Kevin found an apostrophe error the other day in the New York Times.  These types of things used to never happen.

It's for these reasons that I blame our current lack of creative linguistics on Texas Lock Step Political Media.  The decline has been with us for a while, I'm thinking back to the late Molly Ivins who started by calling Republicans evil, advanced to calling former Texas Governor and United States President George W. Bush "Shrub" (because, you know, it was kinda, sorta like bush spelled backwards) and left it at that.  What followed was the inevitable decline into George Bushitler and Dumbocrats and Repuglicants and even worse.  The reign of the wordsmith in public discourse has come to an end.  We're seemingly stuck in a land where adding "-gate" to the end of every scandal is enough to get you elected to the least-common denominator hall of fame and in the running for a Pulitzer.

Furthermore there doesn't seem to be much, if any, hope for escaping the downward cycle.  As text speak starts to infiltrate real writing it's going to get much worse before it gets better.  What this means is that, pretty soon, we're going to find ourselves living in a Hou where EaDo is perpetually on the cusp of being the next big thing while Disco Green tries to figure out what to do about the problem of dog bombs.

Can someone at South by..... please do a workshop on this?

Monday, March 11, 2013

Why lose an additional hour griping about a lost hour?

Today was the 2nd day, and first real morning, where Daylight Savings Time (DST) unleashed an angry wave of  missives from bloggers, twitterers and other social media types all riffing off some variation of "Gawd I feel like crap!" of "Give me back my hour!"

Now, granted, on Saturday night when the drinks are flowing I can understand being slightly tiffed that you're actually leaving and 3am and not 2am as you might have thought.  If you've really tied one on this could be very disconcerting.  I also understand the grogginess on Sunday morning and the anger when you first figured out that you've missed the early line at the Breakfast Klub and that brunch, for the most part, is down to leftovers and bottom-of-the-pitcher Mimosas.  Of course, for those of you who have a Sunday morning worship service proclivity it's just a little bit harder to pry your kids out of bed, get them cleaned, fed, and dressed in their little outfits in time to allow you to arrive and grab a pew in the back which will not bring too much attention your way when you nod off.  I'm with you on this. 

On Sunday I, in a massive oversight, forgot to set my bedside alarm ahead one hour and woke up to find out I wasn't waking up at 9:30am as I thought, but at 10:30am which means that I missed Morning Call on HRTV.  After that my whole day was off.

By nighttime however I was in my groove and, after a day spent watching basketball and horse racing, I settled into the Amazing Race, The Worst Cooks in America and then (belatedly) The 2nd episode of The Bible on History Channel.

The thing is, they say it takes one day, when jet-lagged, to overcome a jump of one time zone.  Based on this logic we should have all been up to snuff by this morning and anything bad you're felling is probably just a case of the Mondays. This Daily Caller article on why DST is a big joke anyway paints a pretty good analogy of DST being similar to "flying from Texas to New York".

But it was, in Houston, nicer driving in this morning.  For one, it's Spring break for most schools so traffic was slightly lighter and two, the sun wasn't right in your eyes as you drove East. (as, judging by congestion, most Houstonians do every morning)  A secondary plus was a beautiful sunrise that was just starting to creep over the horizon as you (probably) got to the office.

If you saw that sunrise and are still angry about losing that hour, then there could be no help for you.

Put me on a task force, I can tell you what you already know.

Back when the (now former) Houston Downtown Macy's announced their plans to close Houston was inundated with much wailing and gnashing of teeth. "Something!! Must be done!" said the champions of moving everyone within the region inside Loop 610 so Mayor Parker, with an eye clearly turned toward what many believe will be a rather tough re-election battle, decided to do something by creating a "downtown retail task-force" charged with figuring out ways to " to increase the amount of retail and supporting parking in downtown".

This task-force, as you might expect, fired up those of a central planning lean and calls were sent far and wide asking for fellow travelers to vote early and often in support of downtown retail.

Not surprisingly then, we find out today that Houstonians (GASP!) want more downtown retail and that over half of the 1,776 respondents stated that they had, in fact, shopped in downtown Houston for something, at some time and that almost all of them would "definitely" shop downtown were their stores selling things they want to buy and were it 'convenient' for them to do so.

As you can imagine, this news has our local media in a tizzy over the prospect of 1675 (that's 94.5% [roughly] of 1776 in case you were wondering) people spending their money downtown and away from established retail locations such as the Galleria.  Strangely, at the time of this writing, Houston's former newspaper of record is mute on the subject.

Ignoring the histrionics and Hosannas being sent the way of downtown retail I think the study is important for a few reasons:

  - It, inadvertently, revealed part of the problem.  The study showed that there were "74,000 residents within two miles of the urban core".  While this may sound like a good thing you have to realize that's less people than one would find in the City of Conroe.  Study proponents can talk all they want about people living in the city center but, in a region where there are 4 Million plus residents, 74,000 is statistically null.

 - It, again inadvertently, provided somewhat of a population size for Houston's central-planning faction. Considering that the people most likely to vote in surveys of this type are "activists" who really have either an axe to grind or a skin in the game, and considering that 5.5% of the population said they wouldn't vote downtown, if you strip away the duplicate votes that are inherent in any online poll you end up with an approximate figure of around 1,000 voters who say they would actually shop downtown.  Yes, these are rough, and unscientific, numbers but they sound about right.  So you have 1,000 people in a region of over 4 Million (That's .025 percent of residents for those of you keeping track) who are attempting to drive market behavior in a direction the hard numbers are revealing it doesn't want to go.

Look at the facts.  Houston Pavilions, struggling financially and, except for some big concerts at House of Blues and some busy happy hours at the high-end bowling alley, fairly empty.  Macy's, shuttered and not coming back. These are the hard financials that the Houtopians ignore, instead choosing to focus on some pie-in-the-sky futuristic shopping mecca that's just never going to exist.

What's important to note here is that this is the first, inevitable, step in the process.  In order to exist Mayor Parker's Downtown Retail Task Force had to prove that they had a reason FOR existing in the first place.  Given that reality was there ever any chance that they were going to find differently?  "Nope, sorry, downtown is a retail black hole" was never going to be the answer and it never will be, as long as Houston continues to elect politicians with no concept of market forces and who are fixated on turning Houston into something it's not.

So, put me on a task force pretty please, because I can guarantee you that I can find 5,000 people of whom 100% would say they'd be willing to shop downtown.  If you just want to hear what you want to hear and not the truth you could pretty much put anyone in charge.

It just won't matter.

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