4/27/2002

Small town blues Also in today's Chron, a 100-year-old synagogue in the small town of Wharton (about 40 miles southeast of Houston) is closing due to declining membership. The descendants of the original Jewish settlers have moved on to big cities here and elsewhere, and there aren't enough people left to afford maintenance on the 80-year-old brick building that served as their temple or to pay for a rabbi. It's a sweet but sad story.
Boyz only, no gurlz allowed From today'sChron:

Representatives of Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah reportedly asked that female air traffic controllers be barred from their duties during his flights in Texas.

A Federal Aviation Administration employee, speaking to The Dallas Morning News on condition of anonymity, said the request was granted on portions of the prince's flights between Houston and Waco.

Abdullah was in Texas this week and met with President Bush at his Crawford ranch on Thursday.

The prince then flew in Houston and took a train to College Station to tour former President George Bush's presidential library on Friday.

I'm sure we'll hear an explanation from the Bush camp that Prince Abdullah meant no disrespect to women and that we liberals are just being overly sensitive about the whole thing any time now. Good thing our president has moral clarity.

4/26/2002

I see that Mac Thomason a/k/a War Liberal has his own domain now. Way to go, Mac! (Thanks to Ginger for the heads up.)

As for me, I've finally given in to the dark side and signed up for a RoadRunner cable modem, thus giving AOLTimeWarner of Borg an extra few ounces of flesh every month. Once all that's in place, I'll be relocating this spot. Stay tuned.
Religion v. science, round N A "businessman and civic leader who also teaches Sunday school" named Bill White has penned an editorial about science and religion in today's Chron. I give him high marks for his attempt to distinguish between the two domains. I'm always happy to see a person of faith recognize the value of science, but I've still got a nit to pick:

Last week the Houston Chronicle reported remarks by U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land, critical of Texas A&M and Baylor universities, as part of a debate concerning the teaching of evolution. Let's not allow a false conflict between science and scripture to divide us. Many people of both science and faith have flourished at great Texas universities. And let's respect the rights of DeLay and other public figures to express their own beliefs in a house of worship.

Unfortunately, this isn't a false conflict, certainly not from DeLay's point of view or the point of view of the person who complained that Texas universities aren't teaching creationism. DeLay has followed his original remarks about Texas A&M and Baylor by expressing the firm conviction that Christianity is the only way to live. It's certainly his right as an American to believe this, but it's more than a bit distressing to hear a high-ranking government official speak with such utter disregard for Americans who don't share his faith, never mind Americans who live quite happily without one. Private Citizen Tom DeLay can think and say what he wants, but Public Official Tom DeLay has a higher responsibility to the Constitution. The whole reason why this was news in the first place was because this was a powerful Congressman speaking.

Furthermore, the anti-science forces very surely see this as a real battle that must be fought fiercely. Creationists figure prominently in this group, but they're far from the only ones. Leftist academics who think all truth is subjective and that science is just another worldview (one which is racist and sexist, naturally), pyschics and supernaturalists, Luddites of all stripes - they all reject science. I wish Bill White were correct and this were just a disagreement among friends, but it's not. Those of us who do value science and want to keep it separate from matters of faith and belief need to take this battle seriously as well. Take a look at the Talk.Origins Archive, especially the Feedback section to see how vehement and uncompromising the opposition can be. Take a look at the James Randi Educational Foundation for even more depressing examples of ingrained ignorance and willful disbelief. Every time you turn your back, the other side is gaining ground.

For that reason, I disagree with White when he says we should accept DeLay's apology and move on. Tom DeLay isn't going to move on, he's going to keep pushing the idea that religious dogma belongs alongside, or even in place of, science in the classroom. That's one place where we can't cut him any slack.
I thought I was supposed to be anti-idiotarian Well, this was a fun afternoon at work. The comm group booted my port off the network because I have a Win2K server which wasn't properly secured. Today it became one of many machines across our enterprise that came down with a bad case of the Nimda worm.

Yeah, I know. I'm an idiot. Go ahead, get it out of your system. I won't be offended.

I'll mention that I am not the only person responsible for this server, which is running some beta software. Nor was mine the only vulnerable machine, as the global outbreak would attest. The "everybody else does it" defense isn't particularly compelling, but it's all I've got.

It's times like this that I'm glad to be out of user support. This sort of crap always seemed to happen on Monday mornings and Friday afternoons. You wanna test your stress level, it's a great way to do it. I'd sometimes feel like the Lloyd Bridges character in Airplane! - "I sure picked a bad day to stop sniffing glue." Whatever else you can say about project work, my pager almost never goes off.
Successful implementation Comments have been successfully added. Thanks to Larry for letting me use his. I'm still planning on migrating to Moveable Type in the near term, so this system is not permanent, but what the heck.

I'm still not sure if I will eventually like or dislike comments. I've noticed that a few sites (file13 and Electrolite, to name two) have removed them. I don't know what I will get out of having them, but what I'm hoping for, in addition to the usual witty discourse, is to get a better feel for who actually reads this thing. I can tell from my referral log where people are coming from, but I have no idea who it is. From the Google searches that lead people to me, I apparently get a mix of folks who are looking for nekkid pictures and Poincare's Conjecture, a unique demographic if ever there was one. Clearly, more study is needed, hence the comments.

So tell me what you think. I do appreciate it.
Testing... This is a test of the emergency commenting system. This is only a test. Void where prohibited, all models of legal age, past performance is no guarantee of future results, your mama don't dance and your daddy don't rock and roll.
Here we go again Houston energy trader Dynegy saw its stock plummet and its bond ratings lowered when lower earnings and an SEC review of a natural gas deal. They're also taking a $300 million charge related to their communications business.

Reading the story, it doesn't look like anything shady. But let's face it, after Enron and Compaq, the last thing we need here is another big company going boom.
Also in the "why didn't I think of that?" category Anyone can be a patent holder! It's true! Take a look at Patent 6,368,227 and see for yourself. Maybe there's something to all those intonements about there being nothing left to invent.

Via James Randi. Be sure to scroll down the page and read Mark Evanier's hilarious story about a Psychic Reading Gone Wrong at the opening of the immortal movie Flesh Gordon.
Comedian turns tables on telemarketers Via File13 we get this amusing story about how a professional comedian called attendees of the American Teleservices convention in their hotel rooms early in the morning. Now don't you wish you'd thought of that?

4/25/2002

Anzac Day Via Patrick at Electrolite comes this story of the last survivor of Gallipoli, the terrible 1915 World War I battle fought by Australian and Turkish soldiers in Suvla Bay. Take a listen to the Eric Bogle song that commemorates it, The Band Played Waltzing Matilda, read the lyrics, and remember.
More good news for light rail A redevelopment project for Houston's north side is looking at a rail line from Intercontinental Airport to Buffalo Bayou, just north of downtown. If I could take a train to Intercontinental, I'd never drive there again. Let's keep an eye on this.
Hating Blogspot Charles at LGF hates Blogspot, and so do his many commenters. I don't deny that it has its problems, but it sure made it easy for me to get started. I've got a move to Moveable Type and my own ISP in mind for the near term, and though I know the world will be a better place for it, the move (like all moving) is gonna suck. Even with Ginger and Michael holding my hand, it's gonna suck because it'll be different, because it's Something Else I Have To Do, and because, well, just because. Give me a moment here, I feel a snit coming on...
Sorry, wrong number Today's strange entry from the referral log: a Google search for "coffee drinker demographic". I think maybe you meant to look here.
Protest music revisited Ginger writes about protest music from the 80s. I've been thinking about this subject recently. We think of the 60s as an era of political/activist music, mostly inspired by the Vietnam War and all the social upheaval surrounding it. The 80s, as Ginger rightly notes, was also a period where a lot of this music was recorded. That was largely inspired by Cold War fears and uncertainty.

The 70s and 90s, on the other hand, are more known for music that was fluffy (disco, boy bands) and self-indulgent (art rock, grunge). The 90s, of course, were a reasonably carefree decade, beginning with the fall of the Berlin Wall and ending with the longest economic boom in our history, so it's easy to see why pop music might have reflected that. The 70s weren't exactly a period of peace and prosperity, with the culmination of Vietnam, Watergate, oil embargoes, double digit inflation, and the Iranian hostage crisis, yet for the most part pop music paid little attention.

So I've been wondering - With the current decade off to a lousy start, and with all of the anger, fear, and anxiety we've gone through since September 11, will we see a resurgence in political music? I'll state up front that I am an Old Fogey who listens to Music That Caters to My Demographic (ie, classic rock and 80s stuff) because I think that most music produced today sucks. As such, there may be plenty of political music on the airwaves right now that I'm overlooking, and if so I'm sure someone will correct me. Assuming that's not the case, do you think the next wave of Bob Dylans and Tracy Chapmans are warming up, or do you think it'll continue to be All Britney All The Time?
Shameless traffic-trolling In better and more relevant news, Playboy is in town to shoot the Women of Enron feature, scheduled for the August issue. Apparently, a couple of local homes will be used as backdrops for some of the shoots. Must really suck to have a pad like that.

There's talk of a launch party for the issue at the Mercury Room, which was also used as a photo shoot backdrop. Make your travel plans accordingly.
Our friends the Saudis, yada yada yada President Bush has finally found a foreign dignitary who will feel comfortable in hot, dusty, middle-of-nowhere Crawford as he sets to host Saudi prince Abdullah. According to this story in the Chron, which gets a two Claude rating for its headline, the Saudis plan to tell Dubya that his support of Israel hurts their feelings. I think this is the wrong President to be looking for a group hug, guys. Just FYI.

Meanwhile, Colin Powell displays his skill for diplomatic understatement:

Secretary of State Colin Powell, who was absent from the Houston session but will attend the Crawford talks, said Wednesday he plans to discuss recent Saudi sponsorship of a $100 million telethon to aid relatives of Palestinian "martyrs."

"There are some troubling aspects as to how that telethon money would be distributed," Powell said, referring to reports that money raised by the Saudis was being funneled to Hamas, a Palestinian group that has claimed responsibility for attacks on Israel.

Yes, raising money to promote a group that wants to kill us is a tad bit disquieting, isn't it. I'm sure Powell furrowed his brow while giving that statement.

There's also a link to Chairman Arafat's latest condemnation of terrorism. I feel reassured now, don't you?

4/24/2002

Gambling odds update Mark Evanier points to this page which has the slot machine payout at various Vegas casinos. My statement of 97% payout was too much. All I can say is that I have seen such advertisements, but I haven't been to Vegas in about ten years, so perhaps things are different now. In any event, this page has other useful gambling info, so check it out. His overview of gambling is a must-read.
Employees are our most valuable asset Would it surprise you to learn that the Enron subsidy Portland General bought life insurance policies on its employees and that 75% of the payouts were used as long-term compensation for managers, directors, and top officials? I didn't think so.

By the way, Houston Congressman Gene Green is sponsoring legislation to require companies to notify employees within 30 days if they take out a "dead peasant" policy on them. Seems fair to me. The article says that Green's ultimate goal is to eliminate this form of policy, on the grounds that in most states one must have an "insurable interest" to take one out. This is also fine by me.
Overheard on the radio, part II One of those MasterCard commercials where they list the price of a bunch of things, followed by something that's "priceless". This one had the theme of a party weekend in New Orleans. One item was "Crawdaddy dinner for two, $63". First of all, the correct term is crawfish, also known as mudbugs. Second, anyone who spends $63 on a crawfish dinner for two is eating at a very expensive restaurant. Your basic crawfish boil, with new potatoes and corn is $4 a pound, and five pounds is more than enough for two hungry people. A fairly high-end crawfish etouffee is $12 to $15. New Orleans is a tourist town, so its prices are higher than Houston, but c'mon. No one I know would spend $63 on a crawfish dinner.
Overheard on the radio, part I Saudi Aramco is having a job fair here in Houston, for those who might like to travel to Saudi Arabia and "become a part of the Saudi Aramco experience". The line forms to the left.
Oh, my Salon gossip columnist Amy Reiter points to this, ah, interesting photo of LPGA golfer Cristie Kerr kissing a trophy she just won. All I can say is "Oh, my".
Taxing science fiction Mac Thomason pointed to this article in which a GOP candidate for Congress proposed taxing science fiction books as a means of funding NASA. Not only is it a stupid idea, it's very likely an unconstitutional one.

In the case of ARKANSAS WRITERS' PROJECT, INC. v. RAGLAND, 481 U.S. 221 (1987) 481 U.S. 221, Arkansas imposed sales tax on all general interest magazines but exempted newspapers and "religious, professional, trade, and sports journals and/or publications printed and published within this State". An Arkansas magazine publisher sued to get a refund on sales taxes, citing a previous case, MINNEAPOLIS STAR v. MINNESOTA COMM'R OF REV., 460 U.S. 575 (1983) 460 U.S. 575, in which a "use tax" on paper and ink was voided. The Supreme Court voided the Arkansas tax as well:

2. The Arkansas sales tax scheme that taxes general interest magazines, but exempts newspapers and religious, professional, trade, and sports journals, violates the First Amendment's freedom of the press guarantee. Pp. 227-234.

(a) Even though there is no evidence of an improper censorial motive, the Arkansas tax burdens rights protected by the First Amendment by discriminating against a small group of magazines, including appellant's, which are the only magazines that pay the tax. Such selective taxation is one of the types of discrimination identified in Minneapolis Star. Indeed, its use here is even more disturbing than in that case because the Arkansas statute requires official scrutiny of publications' content as the basis for imposing a tax. This is incompatible with the First Amendment, whose requirements are not avoided merely because the statute does not burden the expression of particular views expressed by specific magazines, and exempts other members of the media that might publish discussions of the various subjects contained in appellant's magazine. Pp. 227-231.

(b) Appellee has not satisfied its heavy burden of showing that its discriminatory tax scheme is necessary to serve a compelling state interest and is narrowly drawn to achieve that end. The State's general interest in raising revenue does not justify selective imposition of the sales tax on some magazines and not others, based solely on their content, since revenues could be raised simply by taxing businesses generally. Furthermore, appellee's assertion that the magazine exemption serves the state interest of encouraging "fledgling" publishers is not persuasive, since the exemption is not narrowly tailored to achieve that end. To the contrary, the exemption is both overinclusive and underinclusive in that it exempts the enumerated types of magazines regardless of whether they are "fledgling" or are lucrative and well established, while making general interest magazines and struggling specialty magazines on other subjects ineligible for favorable tax treatment. Moreover, although the asserted state need to "foster communication" might support a blanket exemption of the press from the sales tax, it cannot justify selective taxation of certain publishers. Pp. 231-232.

As they say, I Am Not A Lawyer, so take my word with an appropriate level of skepticism. My layman's reading of this sure makes me think that a tax on specific content wouldn't stand up to judicial review, however.

I was alerted to this by Kyle Giacco, a member of the Round Table mailing list, which Ginger recently mentioned. It's for reasons like this that I consider blogging and mailing lists to be complementary activities. I occasionally mention stuff I see on blogs (like this) to the list, and I occasionally point to links I've gotten from the list. Here, I forwarded something which led to an interesting thread and eventually to this post. If this were a corporate merger, we'd call that "synergy".
Whorehouse update The cast of a Conroe production of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas is moving forward on plans to stage it elsewhere. Co-authors Peter Masterson and Larry L. King have given them public support, with Masterson promising to make a personal appearance if the show goes on.
Bagel followup I recently pointed to an article in our old hometown paper about my parents' exploits as bagel testers for the Portland Columbian. Yesterday the article ran in the paper, featuring a couple of quotes from my mom. Not too surprisingly, the panel of ex-New Yorkers didn't much care for the Northwestern bagels. You tell 'em, Mom!

4/22/2002

Why the lottery really is a tax on ignorance Jeff Jarvis has been on an anti-lottery rant recently, challenging economists to prove that lotteries are not actually depressing the economy.

Calculate the total amount of income -- income at its most spendable -- drained from the economy; how much spending power did we lose? Then look at where the winnings went; what did it build? Then look at the net income to the government for all this and who paid and how much it cost to generate that income. Then answer the question: Are we better off?

Today, Max Power posted a justification for lotteries. Max correctly notes that the utility of a lottery ticket is as much its entertainment value as its chance of winning big bucks. He does a good job of deconstructing the arguments that lotteries are in "poor taste", and sums up as follows:

Maybe a better objection against government lotteries is that they're such a piss-poor ripoff. You don't see government lotteries in Nevada, because the state is full of casinos, and any casino that offered odds as bad as a state lottery would be out of business in a week. The government-enforced monopoly on gambling is what makes lotteries feasible. But the Jarvis objection to state lotteries would presumably go tenfold for legalized gambling.

I've come to the conclusion that this is indeed the best objection to lotteries, and it's a compelling one at that. I don't think people fully appreciate just how bad the odds are in a state lottery. Frankly, I think your odds would be better in a back-alley craps game. Let me crunch some numbers so you can see what I mean.

In Texas, the main biweekly game is Lotto Texas. As it says on the cited page, just pick six numbers correctly out of 54 - in any order! - and you win the millions.

Well. There are 18,595,558,800 possible ways to choose six numbers from 54. This is simply derived by noting that there are 54 ways of choosing the first number, 53 ways of choosing the second, and so on down to 49 ways of choosing the sixth. Multiply these six numbers together for the result.

Of course, as noted, the order doesn't matter. The arithmetic above considers 1-2-3-4-5-6 and 6-5-4-3-2-1 to be two different combinations whereas Lotto Texas treats them as identical. To remove the duplicates, multiply one through six to count up all the possible orderings (you'll get 720) and divide that out from the total. In the end, there are 25,827,165 winning combinations, so your odds of winning are one in 25,827,165.

A corollary of this is that the jackpot has to be at least that much for your one-dollar ticket to have an expected value equal to its cost. That's a fancy way of saying that the top prize must be that high for the odds to be favorable to you, assuming of course that no one else picks the same numbers as you.

How about the lower prizes? Lotto Texas pays off for picking three, four, or five numbers correctly as well. You can see their payout chart here. Let's compute those odds and compare them to the appropriate prize amounts.

As always, there are the same 18,595,558,800 possible ways to choose six numbers from 54. The goal is to figure out how many ways there are to win. For the five-numbers-right case, we'll start by assuming that the first number chosen is not one of yours and the rest are. There are 48 choices for the "wrong" number (if 6 out of 54 are "right", then 48 out of 54 are "wrong"). After that there are 6, 5, 4, 3, and 2 choices for each of the "right" ones. That's 48 times 720, which is 34,560.

Now notice that there are a total of six ways to order where the wrong number is chosen. What's more, there are always 48 "wrong" choices no matter when it is picked. For instance, if one of your numbers is picked on Ball #1, there are 53 balls remaining but only 5 "right" ones, so there are still 48 "wrong" ones. The upshot of this is that there are six ways to order where the wrong ball is picked, and the total number of ways to pick the five "right" balls is the same each time. That means we can multiply the 34,560 ways by 6 to get 207,360. Divide that by 18,595,558,800 and we see that your odds of hitting five numbers are a pinch better than one in 90,000.

Looking at that payout chart, you'd usually collect between $2000 and $4000 for getting five right. To put that in perspective, that's about like someone offering you even money to roll a twelve at the craps table. If you know anyone willing to take that bet, send 'em my way. I've got some dot-com stocks in my portfolio that need a new home.

It's not much better for the four-number case. There are 15 ways to order where the two wrong numbers are chosen. Therer are 48 x 47 ways to pick the two wrong numbers, and 6 x 5 x 4 x 3 ways to choose the right ones. That's 12,182,400 winning combinations, or odds of one in 1526. With the average payout of a bit more than $100, it's like being given three-to-one odds to roll a twelve in craps. Better than the five-numbers case, but still abysmal.

Finally, the three-number payout. There are 20 ways to order the three wrong numbers, 48 x 47 x 46 ways to pick them, and 6 x 5 x 4 ways to pick the three right numbers. That's 249,062,400 winning combinations, or odds of roughly one in 75. The payout here is a sure $5, so it's on par with the four-number case.

The reason this is such a sucker bet is that it's designed to make money for the state. If you look at the Texas Lottery audited financial statement for 2000 and 2001, you'll see that the payout for all games (including scratch-off games and other, smaller pick'em games) was a bit more than 55 cents on the dollar. By comparison, some Vegas casinos brag that their slots pay out 97 cents on the dollar. Of course, Vegas casinos are in business to make money, too. These high-payout slots are designed to give lots of moderate rewards, and the constant ka-ching of coins falling into their trays is to entice people to come inside to play the real games, where the casino has a bigger edge.

There's an irony here in the belief that state lottery money goes towards education funding, a notion that Max Power dispatches. Of course, if our society were doing a truly sufficient job of educating everyone, far fewer people would be tempted by lotteries. Maybe it's just as well that the lottery revenue goes into the general fund.

So where do I stand on the morality of lotteries? I dislike lotteries and never play them. I don't like the idea of the state separating people from their money in such a tawdry fashion, but who am I to say how people should spend their salaries? I do my best to convince people why they shouldn't play, and the rest is up to them.

Max didn't specifically address Jeff's question about whether lotteries are an especially inefficient means of redistributing wealth. I'm not a Professional Economist, but I'll note that the aforementioned financial statements shows that Texas sold $2.8 billion worth of tickets each of the last two years and cleared about $800 million in revenue after prizes and overhead. We're facing a large budget shortfall this year, due to a slower economy and a property tax cut courtesy of our previous governor. If we had that extra $2 billion per year, it'd make a sizeable dent in the deficit. I daresay those who spend the most on lottery tickets will feel the greatest effect of whatever measures the state implements to acheive its constitutionally-mandated balanced budget. Make of that highly nonscientific observation what you will.
McCain for President? Kyle Still has his say about John McCain's theoretical candidacy in 2004. He also points to Mark Byron's interesting number crunching on this subject. Byron concludes that McCain would be better off running in 2008 when he likely won't have to take on a popular incumbent. I say that if McCain wants to run for President, it's got to be in 2004. The reason why is here in his biography:

The son and grandson of prominent Navy admirals, John McCain was born in the Panama Canal Zone in 1936.

John McCain will be 72 in 2008. That's three years older than Ronald Reagan was in 1980. If he wants to be President, I don't think he'll want to wait that long. I agree with Mickey Kaus in that 2004 is likely McCain's last chance to run.
Why satire is on life support, chapter 683 Mac Thomason pokes fun at the proposed new ABC drama about the CDC.

At this rate, they're going to run out of government agencies and departments pretty soon.

2003: Customs
2004: D.O.E.
2005: Postmaster!
2006: Joe Collins, FDA Inspector
2007: SSA Theatre
2008: Price Supports

I hate to break it to you, Mac, but there have already been two made-for-TV movies about heroic US Postal Inspectors. I give you The Inspectors and its cleverly titled sequel Inspectors 2: A Shred of Evidence, both starring Louis Gossett. My local post office has a poster for Inspectors 2 in it, which I may have to liberate one of these days as it is sure to be a hot item on Ebay in the future.

I'm still waiting for a show about a spunky young female paralegal who specializes in immigration law...
Real Men Don't Get Intimidated is the name of this excellent Bruce Feirstein piece which was written in rebuttal to Maureen Dowd's silly column that claimed men were intimidated by powerful women. It's smart and funny and well worth your time to read. Link via Matthew Yglesias.
My last words on Cynthia McKinney I think I've not done a good job of expressing my disagreement with Avedon Carol regarding Cynthia McKinney. I'm going to take one more shot, then I'm going to move on to other things.

I have no problem with the idea of looking into the question of what we knew and when we knew it regarding 9/11. We certainly need to know how we can do better in the future. My point is that Cynthia McKinney's way of calling for investigations is absolutely the wrong way to do it. The "public inquiries" into train wrecks and plane crashes that McKinney cites are useful to our understanding of their cause because they are undertaken in an atmosphere of impartiality. A serious call for honest inquiry here would not have included speculation about profit motives. McKinney is pointing a finger first and calling for an investigation second. For that reason, I have no faith that she wants to get at the truth of the matter and not to go on a mission to find dirt to throw. It's no different than any of the investigations of the Clintons that Dan Burton was always calling for. I find that sort of thing distasteful no matter who the target is.

It turns out, by the way, that Rep. McKinney has had nasty things to say about Al Gore as well. I therefore retract my assertion that she would not have attacked Al Gore in the same fashion were he President instead. I stand by my underlying point that McKinney's statement was meant to get attention rather than to make a serious attempt at fact finding.
How children learn From my inbox, an article from 2000 about how slum children in India learned to use computers and surf the Web without any formal instruction. It's an interesting read and has some implications for how we could be doing a better job of it.

4/21/2002

Tim Fleck of the Houston Press thinks the main beneficiary of the state Democrats' "dream team" ticket will be John Sharp, the Anglo candidate for Lt. Governor. I think turnout is going to decide these races, and I think the Democrats would be wise to ensure that Tony Sanchez, Ron Kirk, and John Sharp spend a lot of time extolling the other guys to make sure that the blacks and Hispanics they draw out to the voting booth don't just vote for their guy and to make sure that whites don't feel excluded.

One possible side benefit of these Texas races is that the national GOP is going to have to expend resources they weren't expecting in Texas. The Senate race in particular will draw a bunch of outside money, as the Republicans sure don't want to lose a seat in Dubya's home state. That may help Dems in contested races elsewhere.
Olympic hosting update San Francisco and Washington, DC have modified their bids to resemble that of Houston. Mostly, that means consolidating event locations so everything is closer to the central site. 2012 is a long way off and I may feel differently as it gets nearer if Houston should win the bid, but for now I support the efforts to being the Games here for the simple reason that it would necessitate building more rail. I'm in favor of anything that does that.