2/09/2002

Hell to dip into low 20s tonight Rep. Tom DeLay has decided that he doesn't fanatically oppose commuter rail after all. He now supports extended the Metro light rail line out into the lower Fort Bend towns "if the residents want it".

Mighty decent of you, big guy. Of course, the mayors of Sugar Land and Missouri City have been supportive of a rail line for some time now, even back before you killed Houston's federal funds for the Metro line.

You don't suppose the fact that the local GOP was ordered to allow Michael Fjetland's name on the primary ballot had anything to do with this, do you? Nah.

UPDATE: Thanks to Larry for showing me how to fix the broken post. It's gone now.

2/08/2002

Administrivia Finally added a hit counter to the page. Dunno if it'll be enlightening or depressing, but I finally got jealous of all the other sites that had 'em and did something about it. Thanks to Erica for the info.

Also, you may have noticed that I'm now ad-free. Credit for that goes to Mikey, which he called a belated Christmas present. Thanks, Mike!
Yet another silly web-based personality quiz


Which John Cusack Are You?


Thanks to Jack for the link.
Crime and punishment redux My dad has his say about mandatory sentencing and judicial discretion. He did 14 years on the bench in New York, so he's got some perspective on the issue.

Speaking of such things, the California Supreme Court just dealt a blow to the state's three-strikes law. They didn't overturn it, but declared that giving a life sentence for petty theft is "cruel and unusal".
Yet another reason to love Houston Baseball season has officially begun, with Rice's wild 10-9 win over Baylor last night in the second annual Astros Collegiate Classic at the Venue Soon To Be Formerly Known As Enron Field. I'll be there tonight to watch the Owls take on the Aggies. Baseball in February - do you need another reason to want to live here?
The Houston blog community had its first get together last night. Sadly, I was unable to attend this time, but it sounds like there will be other opportunities in the future. Thanks to Hanna for playing photojournalist. I think this is a slightly more respectable-looking group than the Los Angeles bloggers, but then again, I'm not in the picture so that's gonna throw things off. We have better margaritas, that's fer sure.

2/07/2002

Mieszkowski alert Hey, Katherine! This guy thinks Silicon Valley sucks! And he lives there!

UPDATE: Ken Layne hates San Francisco too! Be sure to follow the links, especially this one from Nick Denton's blog to one of Layne's old Tabloid.Net pieces. Woof.

For the record, I don't hate San Francisco. I have a bunch of friends there, and I've enjoyed my visits to the Bay Area. What I do hate is snotty provincialists from either coast who think that it's all tumbleweeds and J. R. Ewing down here, and can't understand why anyone would choose to live here rather than wherever they are. As such I'm happy to give equal time to dissenters.

Back in 1994 a sportswriter for the New York Post, down here to cover the Rockets and Knicks in the NBA Championships wrote a piece called "Houston is Hell" or something like that. It was clear from reading it that he came in with his mind made up about Houston and made no attempt to see if maybe he was wrong. Having lived in Clear Lake, Mieszkowski has certainly earned the right to whatever opinion she wants about Houston, but if it's gonna infect her writing then Salon had no business asking her to write that story. Shame on them all.
You keep using that word... Megan McArdle takes issue with liberals' use of the word "fascist" as a code word for "people I don't like". She suggests the following experiment:

1) Find a liberal
2) Get him to say someone is a 'fascist'
3) Then say, "Other than one fascist's regimes penchant for genocide, what specifically do you have against fascism?"

That sure is a ringing endorsement for fascism, I gotta say. Sorta like the old joke "Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you like the play?"

If you want to play that game, I'll point out that libertarians and conservatives have their own code word for people they don't like, too: "jackboot". Go to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, look up "jackboot", then click on their link for the Ten Most Popular Sites For "jackboot". Among them (it actually returns 20 links), you'll find four references to John Perry Barlow calling proponents of the Clipper chip "jackboots of the InfoBahn", this quote from The National Review which says "Wherever there is a jackboot stomping on a human face there will be a well-heeled Western liberal to explain that the face does, after all, enjoy free health care and 100 percent literacy", this article from the Cato Institute entitled "'Jackboot Liberalism' Residues", and this guest comment from The National Review calling Janet Reno a jackboot for daring to enforce the law by returning Elian Gonzales to his father.

I wonder what the response would be if I said to these folks "The primary definition of 'jackboot' is 'a heavy military boot made of glossy black leather extending above the knee and worn especially during the 17th and 18th centuries'. What, specifically, do you have against jackboots?"

By the way, weren't Generalissimo Francisco Franco and Benito Mussolini both fascists as well? That'd be more than one objectionable fascist regime, I think.

Oh, and one last thing: Why are jackboots also a metaphor for people we don't like? Because of who wore them.

And that would be?

Say it with me now...Fascists.

2/06/2002

The readers strike back Salon's readers (mostly) give Katherine Mieszkowski the business for her sweeping generalizations of Houston. Ginger notes something we both missed the first time around, that Mieszkowski hails from Clear Lake. And as she notes, that explains a lot.
A dozen Hare Krisha congregations are filing for bankruptcy. I was going to make a cheap Arthur Anderson joke about this, but the Chapter 11 filing is in response to a lawsuit that alleges sexual and emotional abuse of children, so it's not really funny.
Julia Child's kitchen is going to the Smithsonian, while the legendary chef moves into a retirement community in Southern California. If they really want to honor her life, the kitchen should be fully operational and properly staffed at all times.
The long arm of the law The chief of police in West University Place, a small incorporated city within Houston, will be docked two weeks' pay for surfing naughty web sites at work. That's $3000 in pay that he'll be forfeiting. What really makes that hurt is this:

"[At] the work station in the police chief's office, there was a pattern that showed there were frequent visits to these sites during a six-day period," [the West University Place city manager] said.

According to the surveillance software, [he] made 34 visits to cybersex sites, spending about 3.4 minutes a day perusing porn.

Damn. That's $3000 for 20 minutes, or $150 per minute. Even Miss Cleo doesn't charge that much.
The Troubles of Being Tiffany My wife's name is Tiffany. She's a graduate of Georgetown University. She holds a doctorate in Science and Technology Policy from The University of Manchester. She's a sweet, intelligent, serious person.

And she's got a name which is routinely and unfortunately associated with bimbos and bitches. Jake's ditsy girlfriend on Once and Again is named Tiffany. Luann's arch-nemesis is named Tiffany. And in today's Doonesbury we discover that Jim Andrews' third trophy wife is named Tiffany.

It's just not fair. Anyone know if there's a support group for this sort of thing?

Even worse, Tiffany tells me, is that when she was a kid there were no personalized chotchkes with the name "Tiffany" on them. You know, like the little license plates with a name on them that kids put on their bicycles. There were no "Tiffany" license plates to be found when Tiffany was a kid. Once all the kids in the extended family were given personalized toothbrushes. No problem for her sister Pamela or her cousins Jennifer and Vanessa, but hers had to have her middle name Ann on it because there were no Tiffany toothbrushes.

In short, my wife was Tiffany before it was cool.

UPDATE: Larry reminds me that I've overlooked perhaps the most famous Tiffany, namely the teenage pop singer from the 80s. Apparently, the now-fully-grown-up Tiffany is featured in next month's Playboy. I don't think I can add anything to that.

2/05/2002

Why I'm not a libertarian Charles Dodgson sums it up pretty well for me. I like the free market just fine, thanks, but I've never viewed it as magic. I agree with Molly Ivins here - government is like a hammer. It can be used for good and it can be used for evil, but it is inherently neither.
Fish In A Barrel Dept Britney Spears is starring in a new movie. According to the IMDb, the plot summary is as follows:

Three high school girls, from a small Georgia town, who used to be best friends when they were younger, but now have very different personalities (a cheerleader, a straight-A student and a "burnout", whatever that means) (Spears plays the smart one) get together for a trip across the country. Along the way, they meet a musician who persuades them to go to Los Angeles to compete in a musical contest.

Britney plays the smart one...Well, I guess she won't have to worry about typecasting. I can't wait to see what she says about the experience in her blog.

UPDATE: Well, my friend Amy Hemphill has to actually consider seeing this movie because she knows the guy who plays Britney's boyfriend. Yet another examples of the dark side of show business.
The local angle Chronicle political columnist John Williams makes this interesting observation about Enron: For all the lobbying power Ken Lay had, the company "never won a big government contract in Houston."
Life in the not-so-fast lane As part of its effort to clean up the air and comply with EPA regulations, an eight-county area covering Houston and its hinterlands is now under a 55 MPH speed limit. Some folks are not too happy about this, saying that lower speeds will have no effect. Naturally, officials defend the science behind the lower speed/fewer emissions link.

I'll stipulate the benefits of driving 55 MPH - it's safer, it burns less fuel, and yeah, it's more emissions-efficient. I'm a leadfoot, so this is gonna be hard on me, but I'll try my best.

Of course, I wouldn't bother blogging about this if I didn't have some gripes. First off, I can't help but think that the real problem is with jammed freeways during our everlasting rush hour. Surely going 70 MPH is better on the air than stop-and-go driving. And speaking of stop-and-go driving, don't get me started on Houston's bizarrely unsynchronized and poorly timed traffic lights. I'd like to see more light rail plans and better traffic light management before I'm willing to make nice about driving slower.

One nice thing about this is that I have yet another reason to feel smug about not driving an SUV:

In general, the lighter a vehicle and the smaller and cleaner its engine, the less improvement in pollution from a lower speed.

As a group, [Randy Wood, deputy director for environmental policy at the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission in Austin] said, heavy-duty vehicles, including big trucks and larger pickups and sport utility vehicles, release about 10 times the [Nitrogen oxides, called NOX for short] per mile as light-duty vehicles, which include cars and smaller pickups and SUVs.

Of course, even if everyone started driving Geos at 55 MPH, we'd still be a long way from compliance:

The 55-mph speed limit is part of a two-prong plan to cut vehicle emissions, which the H-GAC estimates produce 24 percent of NOX emissions in the region.

The other prong, certain to also elicit howls of complaint from motorists, is a tightened tailpipe testing program scheduled to begin May 1.

The slower speed limit is projected to account for a NOX reduction of about 12 tons a day, the tailpipe test about 36 tons. Together, they would achieve about 7 percent of the needed reductions, set at 750 to 800 tons a day under the state's air plan.

Can't wait to see what industry (read: refineries) will have to do. You can read about the plan here and here.
Confirming what we already knew There will be no contraction in baseball in 2002, as Minnesota's Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal of an injunction that forces the Twins to honor their lease this year. Many folks in Minnesota, including the players, are glad to hear it.

I'll be rooting for the Twins to win the Central Division this year. I just can't see Bud and the boys trying to eliminate a team that makes the postseason. How can you claim that a winning team is doomed to failure?

For those of you who'd like to better understand baseball's complicated and obfuscated finances, I highly recommend this series of articles from The Baseball Prospectus. I've linked to article 6 of 7 (the seventh is forthcoming). It has links to all of the previous articles. You will have a much better understanding of the facts after you've read them.

2/04/2002

More on guns I really don't want to get into the whole gun debate here. It's been done to death in blogdom, and frankly I find the whole thing boring. If there's one issue on which a lot of bloggers (including myself) who otherwise consider themselves bastions of critical thinking do a lousy job of seeing other perspectives, it's guns.

That said, I want to address a couple of points raised by Megan McArdle. First, as Megan says in the comments to this post, I did not and do not advocate a ban on guns. I'll get back to this in a minute. My point in picking on Glenn Reynolds was that his argument about guns as a metaphor for cars can be easily turned around to support something he wouldn't like. As this site shows, gun control advocates do exactly that. They try to turn it back around, but I think they get into hairsplitting. If the ultimate aim of registration and licensing is acheived, I don't think gun control advocates will care whether it's at the federal or state level.

I think the confusion comes from this statement that Megan makes:

Because the fundamental aim of the more prominent groups is to outlaw handguns entirely, and in some cases long guns as well. The fundamental vision of the gun control groups is that there is no legitimate right to self defense with a weapon.

Well, for what it's worth, here's the Mission Statement at Handgun Control:

As the largest national, non-partisan, grassroots organization leading the fight to prevent gun violence, the Brady Campaign and the Brady Center are dedicated to creating an America free from gun violence, where all Americans are safe at home, at school, at work, and in their communities. The Brady Campaign and the Brady Center believe that a safer America can be achieved without banning all guns.

The Brady Campaign works to enact and enforce sensible gun laws, regulations and public policies through grassroots activism, electing progun control public officials and increasing public awareness of gun violence.

The Brady Center works to reform the gun industry and educate the public about gun violence through litigation and grassroots mobilization, and works to enact and enforce sensible regulations to reduce gun violence including regulations governing the gun industry.

Emphasis added. Of course, there's lots of room for weaseling there, since they say "all" guns. But still, that's what they claim.

Now obviously, their view of "sensible" gun laws and Megan's are different. For that matter, their view and mine are, too. I think if I had a beer with Megan, we'd find we're not too far apart on this issue.

I used to be very anti-gun. I didn't grow up with guns, so I don't have any of our "gun culture" in me. Perhaps that's why they don't give me the feeling of security they give some folks. For the record, to answer Swen Swenson's claim that "[y]ou are far better off defending yourself with a gun than you would be going mano e mano with ball bats against some 250# goblin," I'd rather face that scenario than deal with a goon with a gun. For one thing, I might be able to outrun the 250-pound goon. I might even be able to disarm him before he can get a good swing at me - all I need is some room, a rock to throw, and good aim. I ain't outrunning a bullet, and if he's got the drop on me my piece isn't gonna help me much. I should say that I have had several opportunities to fire guns, both handguns and rifles. I still don't much like them, but they don't mystify me.

My position on guns began to change as I realized that a virulent anti-gun stance is not consistent with many of my other beliefs. I believe in abortion rights. As such, the argument that [a]ll of the gun control laws - some 20,000 of them - were proposed as 'reasonable restrictions' - 'just between us folks of good will' has some resonance with me, since it's exactly the tactic that the anti-abortion advocates have been using. Of course, abortion rights has only a reversible Supreme Court ruling on which to hang its hat while gun rights has an actual by-god Amendment to act as a backstop. But still, I couldn't reconcile the dichotomy, so I had to adapt. My strong feelings about the First Amendment took me further along this path.

Of course, as Megan herself has written, Constitutional rights are not unlimited. "Constitutional rights can be regulated, so long as the regulation is narrowly constructed to resolve a particular, definite harm," says she. I like her approach to education as a prerequisite for ownership. I'd want some assurance that there'd be a way to prevent felons from getting certified, and to remove certification once someone gets convicted. That opens the background check can-o-worms, but you're gonna have a hard time convincing me that the state has no compelling interest in keeping guns away from criminals. If we're still talking after that point, then we can argue over the least intrusive way to make this work and still be effective.

Maybe the misunderstanding is mine. My stance on guns has moved away from close agreement with the Brady folks, perhaps far enough that they wouldn't consider me one of them. Down here in a gun-loving state, I'm considered a gun control nut. Megan lives in New York City, which is a very anti-gun place. It's also full of the elitism that she refers to. I grew up there, I recognize what she's talking about. I suppose Megan stands out as a gun rights nut in NYC. It's all about the perspective.

Anyway. I'd rather talk about sports. Is it baseball season yet?
Broadband and blogging Ginger says that blogs rely heavily on broadband. She cites some blogs with sizaeable front pages (including mine, though I'm tied for third smallest at 52K) as evidence that bloggers assume we all have fast connections.

Well, for what it's worth, we're still using a 33.6 modem at home for dialup. Between the prospect of moving, an old computer that is scheduled for an upgrade Real Soon Now, and the need for a plain old dial line for connecting to Tiffany's work, we haven't hopped on the DSL bandwagon just yet. I do quite a bit of blog reading and research at home on this slow line, and with the exception of QuasiPundit I generally don't notice how long it takes for the pages to load. If QP got rid of their scrolling Java stuff, I probably wouldn't notice their time to load, either. Just a data point for you.

Reading Ginger's previous post about blogging's costs and who bears them, I have to admit that I've enjoyed freeloading so far. Given that I've been adding entries every day, and that people do actually read them, I really should do something to pay my fair share. I hereby resolve to look into getting BloggerPro.

2/03/2002

Random Super Bowl observations

  • Tiffany and I were heading over to her sister's place to watch the game on their amazing HDTV-ready widescreen TV when we passed a Ford Excursion with a baby stroller attached to its rear door on a bike rack. This made us wonder: Do these people really have so much stuff (or so many kids) in there that they need to carry the stroller on the outside?

  • The Rams defensive coordinator is named Lovie Smith. What the heck kind of name is "Lovie" for a football coach? Every time I hear it, I think of Mrs. Howell.

  • Was it just me or were the ads boring this year? The only ones that stand out to me are the Budweiser valentine-card ad, and the Docker's little-black-dress ad. Other than that, snoozeville.

  • I admit it - we switched to NBC to watch Fear Factor with the Playboy Playmates. We laughed at it, but in the end we were hooked enough to turn back after the game. Poor Angel Boris. She was robbed.

  • Pretty damn good game, too. I was sure it was going to go into overtime. I still can't believe the Rams' defense let the Pats down the field like that at the end.

  • Top story on the local news after Fear Factor: Ken Lay is now refusing to testify before Congress. Oooohhh...