4/13/2002

Movin', movin', movin'... Well, tomorrow is moving day. The house is almost completely packed now - boxes as far as the eye can see. You really don't appreciate how much crap you actually have until you remove all of it from its normal storage spaces. And since we're moving into a larger house, that means we get to delude ourselves into believing we need more stuff. It's times like this when I think that the anti-consumerism yobbos may be onto something.

Tiffany's mom helped us with a lot of the packing. She is a fearsome sight to behold when she's in the zone. It's a good thing we took Harry over to Tiffany's sister's place for the duration or we might have discovered him in a box on Monday.

We took a break this afternoon to go on the Houston Heights Spring Home and Garden Tour. The Houston Heights is adjacent to my neighborhood and takes its role as a historic neighborhood seriously. It's a great antidote to the soulless lotbuster townhomes now dominating Montrose and Neartown as well as generic gated-community suburbia. There are photos of the featured homes on the Home Tour page. The last one shown, built in the 1890s, is the only one of its kind left in Houston and is the most interesting house I've ever seen, from its turret-roof library to its aviary and chicken coop. You can almost picture a Victorian-era staff bustling about keeping the house running.

The thing I like to look at the most when I tour a house is books. This is partly because I'm a nosey parker and partly because, as an aesthetic retard, furnishings and wall treatments mean little to me. It's the occupants' taste in reading material that gives me a picture of who they are. And of course, especially for home-tour-type houses, I can usually feel a bit smug about how at least I don't have as much useless crap as whoever these folks are.

So anyway, I'll be shutting down the computer sometime after posting this, which means no updates until Monday at the soonest. I figure if I can find my toothbrush and a change of clothes tomorrow night we'll have done all right. Wish us luck.

4/12/2002

Not feelin' the love Well, I wasn't given a cute nickname by the warblogger watch guy. I wasn't outed as a profiteer by this guy. I suppose having a tip jar would increase my odds of getting money from this page. I figure it's like how buying a lottery ticket increases your odds of winning the jackpot - in each case, the difference is pretty minimal. And I didn't get spammed by this guy in his quest to build an audience the easy way. (Here's a free clue for the future: Add permalinks.) Some days you just feel like you're wielding a crayon on the padded walls, y'know?

Oh well. I still get love from Google whenever someone wants to see Jaime Sale or Andy Fastow naked. And surely my post about Koleen Brooks in Playboy will send a few more of the Innernut's finest my way. So I guess it all evens out.
Love thy neighbor as thyself Craig writes about Israeli doctors giving a life saving bone marrow transplant to a Palestinian boy, asks if we could imagine the reverse, and quotes an on-point passage from The Fellowship of the Rings.

Reading the cited story reminded me of a bit from Studs Terkel's wonderful book The Good War, an oral history of World War II. One person Terkel spoke to was an American army doctor. The doctor told a story of treating a young Nazi soldier's injuries. During the treatment, the soldier started to cry. When asked why he was crying, the soldier said "You're an American. I've been trying to kill you, and here you are taking care of me." The doctor then told the soldier that he was a Jew.

The Israeli doctor who will perform the transplant operation, Reuven Or, said the doctors at Hadassah treat patients of all religions.

"For us a human being is the most important thing,'' he said. We don't have any criteria.'' In a place where thousands have died because of their differences, hatreds and history, Or said, "We'll fight all day to save one life.''

That's what it's all about, folks.
Cynicism and polling Charles Dodgson disputes Josh Marshall's take on the Joshua Green story about how much Team Bush has spent on polling. Says Dodgson

It's not as if I've been any particular friend of the Bush administration, but complaining that it's "cynical" for them to even hire a pollster is naive. And complaining about remarks from Bush administration officials, including Bush himself, which soft-pedal and downplay the use of polls (even though they do in fact use them) isn't much better; to some extent, they're just acknowledging the difference Green pointed out.

He also agrees with Mickey Kaus that Bush's use of polling to spin unpopular ideas is not cynical but arguably more righteous than Bill Clinton's use of polling to determine a course of action. You can certainly make the case that Bush is using polls to figure out how best to convince the country that his ideas are optimal, rather than using them to find easy pickings. I personally don't buy it, but it's a defensible position.

But I don't understand why Dodgson says he doesn't understand why Bush's use of polling is cynical. The problem is not that polling, whether for Bushian or Clintonian means, is inherently a Bad Thing. The problem is that Team Bush made a big deal on the campaign trail about being different from Clinton, and one of the ways in which they are different is that they eschew polls. As author Green wrote

[It's] a strategy that has served Bush extremely well since he first launched his campaign for president---the myth that his administration doesn't use polling. As Bush endlessly insisted on the campaign trail, he governs "based upon principle and not polls and focus groups."

They made a big deal about not using polls when in fact they do use polls and go to some trouble to hide that fact. What would you call that if not cynical?

UPDATE: Dodgson responds to me, saying that Team Bush is using polls to spin and not govern. I think we may just be arguing semantics here. Perhaps what they've done is merely weaselly and not actually cynical. I'll say again that polling is not a Bad Thing, for the reasons Dodgson cites. I just think that claiming to not use polls when in fact you do - for spin or for policy - is a Bad Thing.
I forgot to mention yesterday that Rob and his wife Jenn, whom I met at Wednesday's Houston bloggers happy hour, are neighbors of mine here in the Heights. The Heights-area Axis of Left-Leaning Bloggers grows ever stronger! Take a moment and check out Rob and Katie and all of Houston's fine bloggers.
Freeway expansion challenge I've written several times about the plan to widen I-10, known as the Katy Freeway, here in Houston. This has attracted the attention of some folks who agree with me that there are quite a few questions which should be addressed before we rush off to pave vast stretches of west Houston. In addition to discussing issues such as the impact of added pollution and noise, the fact that rail was never adequately explored, the potential for flooding, and the likely bottleneck at the junction of I-10 and Loop 610, they will be exploring the possibility of litigation. The meeting is Wednesday, April 24. If you're in Houston and would like to know more, drop me a note and I'll pass along the full details.
Right on cue Former stripper and ousted mayor of Georgetown, Coloradao Koleen Brooks announced that she has posed for Playboy. An article and photos will appear on Playboy.com today. Says Ms. Brooks "Depending on how many hits I get will determine my fee", so be sure to drop by and help a gal who's down on her luck.

BTW, the photo accompanying this article is not particularly flattering. Here's a better one. Relax, it's work-safe.

4/11/2002

Buy me some traditional vegetarian ballpark food... PETA has released its top ten list of vegetarian friendly ballparks, and our own Ballpark Formerly Known As Enron Field made the Top Ten. PETA especially lauds our hometown boys for offering veggie dogs, a culinary treat that I must say I've not sampled, nor am I likely to. Apparently I'm not alone here. As Chron columnist and fast-food junkie Ken Hoffman notes, the veggie dogs aren't exactly selling like hotcakes, vegetarian or otherwise.

On average, Astros Field sells about 10,000 all-beef hot dogs per game.

Veggie dogs?

"So far, we've had six regular-season games and two exhibition games," says Marty Price, top dog for Astros concessions. "On average, and I'm estimating high here, we sell about ...

"Five veggie dogs per game."
Another Houston blogmeet last night in which pizza was consumed, beer was imbibed, and a good time was had by all. Quite a few people came this time, and it looks like we will have regular get-togethers. Take a look at the participants here. I daresay this will become a regular event.

In the spirit of cross-country blog siblinghood, I'll direct you to the Big Apple Blog Bash, hosted by Asparagirl and Orchid. Sorry I can't be there, ladies. Have a beer for us Houstonians.


big apple blog bash; click for details

Everybody loves lawyers who sue spammers The San Francisco law firm of Morrison and Foerster, known as MoFo, is suing a spamhaus for violations of California's antispam laws.

In its fight, MoFo is suing a Silicon Valley e-mail marketing firm called Etracks. Mr Jacobs says while it wasn't the only company sending unsolicited commercial e-mail (UCE), it was one of the biggest offenders and more importantly it's based in California.

[...]

In its suit, MoFo says Etracks broke California's anti-spam laws by sending unwanted e-mail and advertising a range of items without the required advertising label and using the company's mail server to distribute the e-mails.

MoFo also claims a legally mandated free phone number or valid return e-mail service to request removal from the marketer's list was missing.

The response from the spammer tells you all you need to know about why the current setup doesn't work:

The lawyers for Etracks did not return calls to BBC News Online but its attorney Kenneth Wilson told the San Francisco Chronicle that Etracks only uses e-mail lists provided by clients who assert the recipients have opted to receive its messages or have an existing relationship.

On its website Etracks says it is a member of the Direct Marketing Association, an 85-year-old organisation which sets out ethical guidelines to its 5,000 members on best practice.

The organisation distances itself from spamming.

"No DMA member can send spam and the DMA agrees that people should be able to ask to get off mailing lists and stay off," says DMA's vice president of ethics and consumer affairs, Pat Faley.

To that end the DMA has designed the "e-mail preference service" where anyone can submit their e-mail address to be removed from all members' lists, says Ms Faley.

The problem, she says, is that it has no control over anyone who is not a member of DMA.

First, the Etracks lawyer is (I know this may shock you) very likely lying. Just about every piece of spam I see - and in the course of my job I see quite a bit - contains a claim that the recipient is being graced with the mail because he or she signed up to receive it. If that were true, then my friend Andrea would never receive messages telling her how she could increase her penis size, and my coworker Steve would not get advertisements for breast enhancement.

Opt-in mailing is the right answer, as long as there's enforcement behind it. Opt-in means that if you want this stuff, you go sign up for it. Do nothing, and you get nothing. Historically, the DMA has opposed legislation to make opt-in the standard, as it would reduce the potential audience of their advertisements. However, it appears that they have changed their tune and now agree that "spam [is] sending a commercial e-mail to someone with whom a marketer has not had any prior business relationship and as being sent to someone who has not asked for the e-mail". Way to go, DMA!

Anyway, this is why weasel spammers like Etracks claim that everyone who gets their spam must have asked for it in the first place. The burden of proof should be on the sender, since the act of sending unsolicited email imposes the cost on the ISPs and the recipients. I join those who have praised MoFo for taking this action. As one of their partners said, "I have been practising for over 15 years and I have never done anything as a lawyer that has been this popular."

4/10/2002

A pessimistic view Jonathan Gewirtz posts a note from a friend of his who has a decidedly pessimistic view of how things have gone so far in Afghanistan. I don't know if he's right or wrong - let me rephrase that, I sure as hell hope he's wrong - but it's worth your time to read and consider.
A twisted mind is a terrible thing to waste If you were disgusted by the sicko anti-Semitic cartoons in the Arab News that Little Green Footballs linked to recently but didn't know how to respond, take a peek at File13 and see how a pro handles it. Really, you should check him out every day for a perspective on the news you won't see anywhere else. One tip: Never consume beverages while reading this site. You have been warned.
A real high school civics lesson The ongoing saga of who really won the Texas Academic Decathlon ended yesterday when the state Supreme Court told the lower courts to butt out, thus denying Pasadena Dobie a chance to challenge victorious Lubbock. Apparently, at the state match in March, one of the Dobie students' tests was misplaced and he was given a zero score. His test was later found, and the Dobie faction claimed that had it been graded at the time, it would have been enough to put them over the top. Lubbock countered by saying that some of their tests had not been graded accurately, and if they had been Lubbock would be the champ regardless. Both school districts sued in their home counties, with each getting the result they wanted upheld. After several rounds in court, with Dobie pushing for a complete retest and Lubbock demanding that the original certified result stand, the Supremes stepped in and called a halt, giving the victory to Lubbock by a TKO.

Is it just me, or does anyone else see Bush v. Gore parallels in this? Look at it this way, Dobie - now you know how the world really works. Better luck next time.
Survey says Last night I had the rather amusing experience of being called by a pollster. The young woman on the other end of the phone said she was calling on behalf of "Luntz Research". "Frank Luntz?" I said. "The Republican pollster?" She said she didn't know. Well, you didn't have to know anything about who the pollster was to have some idea of how they were hoping you'd answer the questions.

The survey started off with questions about the state of health care in America. If there was any doubt as to what angle the questions were coming from, it was erased when I was asked the question "Which of the following groups would you say are the most untrustworthy?" The choices were, and I swear I'm not making this up "Lawyers, litigators, plaintiff's attorneys, and politicians". Another question was "Who do you trust more, doctors or lawyers?" After I reeled off a list of family members who are lawyers (father, sister-in-law, father-in-law, uncle, various cousins), I very emphatically chose the latter.

Eventually, the questions focused on the prescription drug OxyContin. I was previously unaware that there's a controversy over this drug, as it is an opioid and thus rather addictive. The questions focused on whether a drug "that brings great relief to millions of people" should be banned because "a few hundred teenagers have died from abusing it". Some of the questions were truly outrageous, asking if the pharmaceutical executives should be arrested because of this. I believe in individual responsibility, and I understand risk/reward ratios, so I sided with those who want to keep the drug available. Many of the questions put the choice at total freedom for the drug manufacturers to innovate and make our lives better without interference versus the safety of drug-abusing teenagers. There was no middle ground. I refused to answer several questions because of that.

After ten minutes of that, the questions shifted to intellectual property. How did I feel about downloading music and movies for free off the Internet? Once again, the bias of the questions was obvious - brave and righteous content producers versus amoral copyright infringers. There was some lip service paid to the artists, but not too much. When the questions got around to enforcing copyright protection laws so that content producers could continue to enhance our lives, I went off on a rant about the CDBTPA, fair use, and bad business models. Unfortunately, I don't think the surveyor had any space on her answer sheet for that.

It's been a long time since I've been polled like that. It happened to me once in college. I forget what it was about, but it took forever and wasn't nearly as entertaining as last night. For that first poll, when they got around to asking about my demographic information, I told them I was a 27-year-old unemployed Jewish Eskimo automobile mechanic. I figured if they were going to waste my time, I might as well waste theirs. I didn't feel that last night's experience was a waste of time, but I do feel as though many of the questions did a poor job of capturing how I really felt about the issues. (I wish now that I'd taken notes, but the conversation started while I was blogging and ended while I was eating dinner, and I just never thought about it.) Life is not a multiple-choice test, y'know? And don't forget the leading nature of many of the questions. How can you get good results when you blatantly color the choices? Well, I suppose it depends on what you consider "good results" to be.
Everybody loves the French This morning a coworker told me a story from his visit to one of our Dutch offices last week. The hotel he was at had a little nine-hole par-three golf course on it, with a bar next to it. He wandered into the bar one evening and started chatting with another English-speaking patron. The other fellow bought him a round, then it was my coworker's turn to buy one. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a bunch of Euro coins (the beer was very reasonably priced at 2.5 Euros per glass). He was scanning his handful of coins when the other guy pointed to a particular coin and said "Get rid of that one first". This puzzled my coworker, so he asked why that particular coin had been singled out.

"That's a French Euro," the other guy said. "The other ones are Dutch Euros. Get rid of the French Euro first."
Why we blog Forget all that navel-gazing crap. The real reason we blog is for the sheer thrill of discovering that you are the #2 result on Google for Green karaoke singing aliens.

4/09/2002

Kirk wins runoff It's official, Ron Kirk has defeated Victor Morales for the Senate nomination. It will be interesting to see how he does against John Cornyn this November. Are you paying attention, Jason Zengerle?
Speaking too soon about speaking too soon The still permalinkless Mickey Kaus takes a poke at Rick Berke for this article in which Berke says that Enron will be a big political issue for the Democrats. Snarks Kaus:

Does anyone, from the distant historical vantage point of two months later, think Enron will be a huge issue for the Democrats?

Emphasis Kaus'. Well, you may be right, Mickey, but I'll remind you of this story from today's news. At the least, it'll bring Enron back into the public consciousness for a few days, and who knows? Maybe David Duncan has a few juicy tidbits to tell in return for a soft sentence. As the Chron says

As part of his plea agreement [Duncan] will meet with investigators at their bidding to testify, review documents, provide documents and share any other information he has related to "knowledge of all criminal activities."

Like I say, you may well be right, but I'll wait and see how this ends before I agree.
Land use restrictions and cheap housing Virginia Postrel has a recent column in the NYT about how a lack of land use restrictions leads to cheaper housing. I live in the capital of cheap and easy land, so I won't dispute the notion that making it easy to build makes is easy to buy. However, I think there's more to this story than Postrel's breezy overview. Here's the part of Postrel's piece that I object to:

The difference between the land prices is the implicit cost of all the local land-use controls, from zoning to the time it takes to get a permit. Some regulations simply raise the cost of building by slowing down the process. Others limit density, making it illegal to subdivide expensive land.

"If I look around me in Cambridge," Professor Glaeser explained, "there are a large number of $3 million houses on one-half of an acre. Cambridge is also filled with $1 million town houses on a 20th of an acre. If you're an enterprising developer, if you're not stymied by zoning regulations, you tear down the $3 million house, you use the half an acre, and you put up 10 town houses."

Presto: You've made $7 million, minus construction costs, and Cambridge has added nine units to meet the rising demand for housing. If land could be subdivided, that sort of process would happen whenever land prices became high.

But it cannot happen in Cambridge, or most other places in "blue America," because of land-use regulations. The result is soaring prices.

That's fine, of course, with people who already own their homes. "The overwhelming political story is that the majority of homeowners have absolutely no interest in there being affordable housing," Professor Glaeser noted. "The overwhelming reason that we have the web of zoning controls that we have is that local homeowners are powerful over their local areas, and they want to make their housing as expensive as possible."

There's an implicit assumption here that maximum housing on the available land is the most desireable end. The laws of supply and demand certainly say that more available housing means lower prices for all, and there's no question that that's generally a good thing. As I've written before, though, there are other issues involved in how much construction best belongs where, issues such as drainage (a highly nontrivial thing here in the Bayou City) and parking. The free market has no memory or concern for these things, but when ignored they can have a direct impact on everyone in the area, and that impact translates into an externally imposed cost, since after all the builders don't pay for your flood insurance.

And of course, also as I said last time, no restrictions on building may mean that someday you'll wake up to find that your new neighbor is a nasty concrete batch plant. Shouldn't homeowners have some kind of say in that matter?

There's also the fact that while fewer land use restrictions means lower housing prices overall, it doesn't mean that these lower prices are equally distributed throughout a given metro area. Right here in Houston we've seen a huge boom in the housing market in the neighborhoods near downtown. Prices have skyrocketed as builders have tripped over themselves to cram luxury townhomes on the smallest lots possible. Putting aside issues of what this sort of construction has done to the charm of these neighborhoods, it certainly hasn't done anything to make housing more affordable in the area. You used to be able to buy cheap property in Montrose or the Heights, but now even bulldozer bait goes for $100,000 or more. If you want cheap housing, you'd better aim for the outlying areas because it doesn't exist inside the Loop any more.

This has been no boon for the rental market, either. Ten years ago I shared a 3-1 duplex in Montrose, roughly 1400 square feet, for $750 a month. You'd be lucky to find a decent garage apartment in the same area for that price nowadays. Besides, with housing prices as strong as they are, hardly anyone rents anymore anyway. Why be a landlord when you can make a tasty profit selling?

My point is simply that while there's way more high-end housing now available near downtown, there's a lot less middle and low-end housing in the same area. It's not zero sum - there are quite a few more units available - but the housing boom has definitely not meant more affordable housing, at least not everywhere.

Finally, what's so wrong about homeowners controlling their local areas to "make their housing as expensive as possible"? Isn't this a weaselly way of saying to "protect their investment in their homes"? I bought my house where I did in part because I liked the look and feel of the neighborhood. I've happily signed petitions for deed and land-use restrictions in my subdivision precisely because I don't want a developer to come in and start building lotbuster townhomes all over the place. If I'd wanted to live in that kind of area, I could have, but I wanted an older neighborhood with a certain architectural style. Who gets to decide, me or the Chamber of Commerce? People pay a premium for neighborhoods like this one, and that's their choice, just as living in the low-price suburbs is a choice. How is this kind of choice any more restrictive than the one Postrel and her professors are advocating?
Civic whining Via Kyle Still comes this request by Scott Rubush for tips on how to get out of jury duty. I have to say, I have no patience for this kind of whining. Whatever complaints one may have about our justice system, it's what we've got and it needs all of us to make it work. In my opinion, anyone who expends effort trying to weasel their way out of this infrequent commitment (this is the first time Rubush has been called) loses all right to bitch about stupid verdicts and pantywaisted plea bargains, just as anyone who can't be bothered to vote has no business moaning about lousy officeholders.

Reading the comments, I see that several people believe that being too "educated" will get you excluded. Well, at the risk of being immodest, that didn't work for me. I served on a jury for a DUI case. The voir dire was very basic - other than standard questions to ensure that potential jurors did not know any of the parties involved, there were a few questions about one's attitude towards drunk driving and the police. If either lawyer could have determined my educational pedigree from that, they're smarter than I am. Being smart didn't get me excluded, it got me elected jury foreman. Caveat emptor, Scott.

For further confirmation of this, I asked my father, who spent 14 years as a state Supreme Court justice in New York. He tells me

[J]urors today are better educated than those who made up the pool when that idea became the norm. In my experience, a jury of twelve in cases I tried were almost all college graduates or at the least had education beyond high school. As a matter of fact, I tried a case when 9 of the 12 had advanced degrees.

Another commenter says that being a "hang 'em high conservative" will get you off. Being an opinionated jerk of any political stripe will probably get you exlcuded, but again, there's no guarantee that the question of your core beliefs will arise. I suppose you could interrupt the voir dire proceedings by screaming "Death to the infidel! Viva Reagan!" or some such and hope that the judge doesn't feel like citing you for contempt. Personally, I'd rather maintain my dignity but hey, it's a free country. Dad agrees that showing an obvious bias will get you out. He also confirms that a judge could cite you for contempt if you're particularly egregious. He never did it himself, but he's a pretty laid-back guy. Do you feel lucky, Scott?

Believe it or not, what everyone generally wants is impartial jurors. Certainly, attorneys will use peremptory strikes to get a jury that they think is favorable to their side, but as with many things in life you just can't tell how it's going to turn out. Here's an interesting story on that subject from my dad:

I tried a Grand Larceny case. The defendant's fingerprints were found on the cash box. Open and shut if you believed the DA. Defense counsel left on the panel a 24 year veteran detective, [a] guy [who] looked like [Don] Zimmer. Anyway, after the case was put to the jury and we waited hours for a verdict, the jury came back and acquitted the defendant. Intrigued, I spoke to the cop and asked him about the deliberations. He said he didn't say a word until they asked for his opinion. He told the jury the only issue they had to determine was when did the fingerprint get on the box. If it was as the DA claimed, during the taking, or as the defense claimed it was before he separated from his wife (they were living with the cash box owner then) the case was easy to decide. Good choice for the defendant since he needed a cop on the jury who was an investigator; good choice for the DA because he wanted someone who had worked these cases before.

So if a defense attorney would allow a 24-year veteran detective on a jury, maybe one would allow a "hang 'em high conservative" as well. Unless, of course, you think it's a sure thing that no one would believe that such a person is capable of judging facts in a fair and reasoned manner.

I did come across one pretty good strategy for getting out of jury duty, which is to profess a belief that juries have the inalienable right to ignore laws which they think are illegal. You have to scroll down on this page to see an example of this in action. Of course, the folks on this page honestly believe this is true, and the page in question is about how they can survive voir dire and get to serve on a panel. To each his own.

Finally, Scott, jury duty in Los Angeles is similar to jury duty in Houston in that it's a one trial term. Basically, you call in and see if they need you. They may never need you for the five day period, in which case you're done. If they call you in and you wind up not getting selected for any jury, you're done. Only if you're called for a jury selection that spans multiple days or if you actually get empanelled will you be there more than one day. You can postpone your service if it's inconvenient, and under some circumstances you can be excused. So quit griping already and do your civic duty.
Voting today Today's runoff day, when we finally see who gets the Democratic nomination to oppose John Cornyn for the Senate seat that Phil Gramm is vacating. Once again there are some problems with missing officials at polling places around Houston, on a day when turnout is expected to be higher than usual (which still means 8 percent for the Dems and 5 percent for the GOP).

The Senate race took a few unexpected late turns, as Tony Sanchez quietly endorsed Ron Kirk yesterday. More unusual was a charge that the GOP is attempting to influence the runoff:

Meanwhile, state Democratic Party Chairwoman Molly Beth Malcolm accused Texas Republicans of trying to sabotage the Kirk-Morales runoff.

Malcolm said that since Sunday afternoon, thousands of automated phone calls have been placed to Democratic primary voters in several parts of the state blasting Kirk for being a "paid lobbyist for corporate special interests," including tobacco giant Philip Morris.

Before he was elected mayor of Dallas, Kirk was a lawyer-lobbyist and Philip Morris was one of his firm's clients. He continues to draw a salary from the law firm while campaigning for the Senate.

The same calls praised Morales and urged voters to challenge the "Austin bosses" and encourage Morales to "keep fighting for the little guy." The calls, which didn't identify their source, didn't specifically ask for votes for the schoolteacher.

Malcolm said Republicans were trying to suppress the vote for Kirk because they believe he would be a stronger candidate than Morales against the GOP Senate nominee, state Attorney General John Cornyn.

"This is a classic Republican dirty trick," she said.

Texas Republican Party spokesman Ted Royer said the state party wasn't behind the calls.

"This is another Democrat conspiracy theory with no basis in fact," he said.

If this charge is true - and even I need more than Molly Beth Malcolm's word for it - it's interesting to think that the GOP might be worried about Ron Kirk. They've dominated state politics since 1994. Are they afraid they might lose some control this year, or are they just taking no chances? Perhaps we'll find out.

4/08/2002

Sympathy for the devil So former Enron executives are getting sued left and right by defrauded stockholders. They're likely going to lose many of these lawsuits. Do you feel a bit sorry for them because they could lose their homes and fortunes? Please. This is Texas. Texas law and some good lawyers will keep them in swag. Read it and weep.
No mystery to me The editorial writers at the Chron can't seem to understand why the Sacagawea dollar coin has been a flop, much like the Susan B. Anthony coin was years ago. It's no mystery to me, y'all. Why carry heavy coins in your pocket where they can fall out when you can carry nice thin dollar bills in your wallet? Vending machines have bill readers in them nowadays and most toll roads have some form of EZPass electronic payment system, so for the most part there's no real need for dollar coins. I understand the government's economic reasons for preferring coins, but I'll take a greenback any old day.
Dark skies at night Guess I'm blogrolling this morning...From War Liberal comes this story about a group of scientists in Arizona who are campaigning for laws to help keep the skies dark at night. Excess light from the city of Tucson is playing havoc with the observatories in the nearby mountains.

The most comprehensive study of light pollution found that it affects 99 percent of the population in the United States.

It also found that two-thirds of all people in the country live in places where they can no longer discern our own galaxy, the Milky Way, with the naked eye.

I'm a big-city boy. I grew up in New York City and I live in Houston. The smallest city I've ever lived in was San Antonio while I was in college. The first time I ever got a good look at a dark sky was when I took a trip with the Trinity baseball team to Kerrville (a small town about 60 miles west of San Antonio and the home of Kinky Friedman) for an afternoon doubleheader against Schreiner University. It was night by the time the games were over, and I still remember my amazement at how utterly dark it was. I had never experienced such darkness - there's no time in New York where you can't see outside, no place where you can hide from the city's ambient light. Here in Houston on a clear night I can count all the stars that are visible. On a murky night the Orion Constellation is about all you can see. In Kerrville that night I finally understood why ancient civilizations spent so much time looking at the sky. It was magic.

The folks at the nearby George Observatory are also pushing for a responsible outdoor lighting bill, which is working its way through the state Lege at this time. As Mac says, if the opposition is Clear Channel, who pollutes our highways with billboards as they pollute the airways with sucky radio, then there must be some merit to this.
How an engineer photographs America Via Mark Evanier comes this excellent link about Matt Frondorf, an engineer who drove from New York City to San Francisco with a camera facing out the passenger-side window. He connected the odometer to the shutter release so that the camera would take a picture every mile. He started at the Statue of Liberty and wound up at the Golden Gate Bridge. Read his story and see a slide show of the pictures along with a map showing where he was when it was taken. It's way cool.
More Norah-bashing To further demonstrate that Norah Vincent had no idea what she was talking about when she claimed that "nearly every big-city newspaper in the country" serves up a "bowdlerized opus of [left-wing] ideals" on a daily basis, we have this interesting story, courtesy of Oliver Willis. Turns out that the various companies who syndicate columnists to the newspapers have a fairly balanced stable of liberals and conservatives, with a slight tilt to the conservatives.

"Conservative columnists are a bit more popular," agreed Alan Shearer, editorial director and general manager of WPWG, which has four liberal, three conservative, and eight moderate or hard-to-pigeonhole Op-Ed columnists. He said one reason why conservatives tend to sell better is that conservative publishers, especially at smaller papers, often influence editorial-page editors' column buys.

Imagine that. A free-market solution giving the customers what they want. Ever hear of such a thing, Norah?

We're not talking about exactly the same thing here, since Norah singled out "big-city" newspapers, and Alan Shearer above talks about "smaller papers". As I mentioned last time, big city folks have plenty of options as well. I'm pointing this out to counter the claim that readers in the Bush-loving heartlands are stuck with a drumbeat of monolithic liberalism. It just ain't so.

On a side note, to Evelyn Palmeri, who wrote in to Virginia Postrel to complain that victimhood is not something the Right engages in but "is a wholly owned subsidiary of the left", I have a free clue for you: When saying that you don't love victimhood, it's best not to claim victim status in the same paragraph. It weakens your point, y'know?

BTW, Virginia, if it makes you feel better, some boys like bossy girls. Just FYI.

4/07/2002

House update We're eight days away from closing. We expect to take possession two days early, on Saturday the 13th, so we can move in. Our buyer is selling his house to someone who's selling theirs, so there's a four-link daisy chain of closings all scheduled for the 15th. We need to be out so our buyer can move in.

So that means we've been packing. We've been packing like banshees, and there's still a ton to do. We cadge boxes from wherever we can - family, friends, the office - and bring them home to fill and stack on top of other boxes. A couple of rooms are essentially done, but the master suite is untouched. We still have to live here for a week, after all.

I'm not sure if Harry is aware of what's happening. He survived the move into this house several years ago, shortly after I'd gotten him. I'm sure the chaos is upsetting to his usual routine, but beyond that I can't tell. I know when I first walk him from the new house he's going to make a beeline here, but after that he should be OK. He adjusts to things fairly well.

I just know I'll be glad when it's over. Unpacking is never as bad as packing. We should be in this house for a good long time, which suits me fine. My dad used to say that his next move would be to the cemetary - that was well before he and my mom moved from New York to Portland, Oregon. I know exactly what he meant.
Why your vote counts, part 691 Two articles in today's Chron which serve to remind us why we bother to vote. The first is about the runoff in the Democratic primary for Senate between Ron Kirk and Victor Morales. Both candidates are out trying to get supporters to the polls and to woo Anglo voters.

"White voters decide this race," said University of Houston political science professor Richard Murray. "And this time, I think they will go with Kirk."

Murray and other analysts are quick to add a caveat: Anglo voters will decide the race only if enough of them go to the polls.

"If whites don't go to the polls Tuesday, that could change everything," Murray said.

Kirk, who has Ken Bentsen's endorsement, may benefit from a runoff in Congressional District 25, Bentsen's old seat. Morales may benefit from a few hotly contested races in primarily Hispanic counties. Given that the turnout in runoffs always sucks - I won't be surprised if it's in the 10% range - every last vote is going to help.

The other article concerns the State Board of Education and how religious conservatives have caused infighting among the state GOP, in part due to their willingness to challenge GOP incumbents whom they consider to be insufficiently conservative. In this context, that means "occasionally votes with Democrats", a sin which leads to the label "liberal" and some nasty politics. Compromise is not in these folks' vocabulary.

So in this climate where, as Lt. Gov. Bill Ratliff says "not one person in 100,000 can tell who their board member is", ideologues with a dedicated voting bloc behind them can thrive. Religious conservative Board members have caused such a ruckus that the state Legislature has restricted their powers more than once.

Until the mid-1980s, social conservatives led by textbook critics Mel and Norma Gabler largely confined themselves to monitoring state textbooks and keeping out references to evolution. Their influence was checked when the Legislature abolished the elected board and appointed moderates to a new one.

But after four years, voters chose to return to an elected board, which in 1990 voted for the first time to adopt textbooks that taught evolution.

The social conservatives' efforts to regain control of the school board date from 1992, with the election of Miller and former board member Bob Offutt, R-San Antonio.

The far right won four more seats in 1994 and began opposing the education plans of then-Gov. George W. Bush.

They said the plans were insufficiently conservative, and two of them campaigned against Bush when he ran for president.

They also resumed their inspection of textbooks, objecting to such things as a photograph of a woman carrying a briefcase. They argued that women in the workplace undermined family values.

The objections caused many publishers to stop offering textbooks to Texas.

The Legislature in 1995 moved to end squabbling on the board by reducing its power, including its power over textbooks. The board could reject a textbook only for factual error, physical defects or failure to follow state policy.

This last move by the Lege did not deter the conservative members, who now claim that points of ideological difference are actually factual errors.

I attended a lecture that the Gablers gave back when I was in college. The scary thing about them, next to their fanatical devotion to their cause, which is plenty scary, is that they come across as reasonable people with a measured grievance. Well, that's the initial impression, but eventually it's pretty clear that they're not quite from the same plane of reality as the rest of us. Still, their fame and longevity are a testament to how much can be accomplished by singleminded people in pursuit of an obscure cause.

It's easy to blow off low-profile elections. I'm as guilty as anyone - I have no idea off the top of my head who my district Board member is. I'm glad for the reminder of what happens when I'm not paying attention.