Thursday, June 30, 2011

Droughtful, just droughtful

Earlier this year, I saw it being done from the ground in Galveston:
FM 3005, May 10, 2011
In lieu of natural rain, two guys in bucket trucks washing salt and debris from electrical insulators to prevent short-circuiting and resultant power outages. 
This morning I read about it being done yesterday using choppers, also on the west end of Galveston.

But it appears as if the same chopper featured in that news article is on the north side of Centerpointe as I write this:
Looking east across a yard adjacent to West Walker Street.
Looking north across the north retention pond.
One wonders how they prioritize their washing.  Salt and sand I can see as being big issues on Galveston Island and in near-coastal Texas City where outages a couple of months ago threw some major refineries offline, but do we actually have similarly-problematic debris accumulations here in League City, 25-odd miles inland??  (Obviously we're closer than that to Galveston Bay, but prevailing winds tend not to come from the direction of the bay).  Interesting.

It sure does look like hazardous work, and it can't be cheap.
Would YOU want to be that guy hanging off the side??
Yet another reason why we're all hoping for the resumption of rainfall.  For bookend and posterity, here's a grab of the most recent Texas drought map which is available here:

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Shoulda looked left and he shoulda looked right

I don't know why my daughter fell for this ruse of mine, because it's the automotive equivalent of "pull my finger".  It started with a seemingly innocent exchange:

"Mama, why are you stopping in the middle of the road?!"

"Well, open your car door and take a look, sweetie."
Dead snake in the middle of the road,
Dead snake in the middle of the road,
Dead snake in the middle of the road
Centerpointe Drive northeast of Lilac Pointe.
A fraction of a second later, the inevitable bellow issued forth as follows:

Because parents must inflict revenge upon teenagers by occasionally turning the torture tables in ways like this, sweetie!
But seriously, folks, there's a few lessons to be learned here, and the first one is nicely represented by her equally-retortive follow-up question:


Easy answer: it was here doing what all wild things do - it was chowing down.  Where there is food, there will be something to eat it, every time and in every place - it's that simple.  Particularly in times of drought like we've been having, I expect we have many more of these in our midst.  All our fine citizens have been watering their landscaping diligently, and did you notice that we have a bumper crop of toads this year?  On a moonlight night, they make jogging hazardous.  And for snakes, them's good eatin'.   A veritable bufo buffet.

Those "No Soliciting" signs near the Calder entrance to the neighborhood?  Those signs don't apply to snakes and they sure as heck don't apply to water moccasins in particular (because nothing ever does), which is what I suspect that one was.  He's pretty much been obliterated, but when I see a stout dark snake with a rapidly-thinning tail like that, my money is on moccasin.

Incidentally, one of my very early descriptions of local snakes has inexplicably become one of the most popular posts this blog has ever produced (re-tweets aside).  Apparently there is a dearth of local information regarding Suborder Serpentes and so Google returns that one as a first- or second-page hit, depending on search string.  So you can refer to that post for general info about some of our most common venomous representatives, which are all found in subtropical suburban abundance.

Or if that doesn't float your boat, I can instead leave you with a thematically-inspired video.  Upon seeing that technicolor snake earlier today, it occurred to me that some of you have not had the social benefit of being die-hard Loudon Wainwright III fans for the past 35 years, as I have been.  In order to rectify that, what I'd really prefer to do is supply you with one of his live videos, but there isn't a good one on YouTube.  In place of that, I offer this creative interpretation (loosely defined), which uses the original studio version of his 1973 hit song "Dead Skunk" set to someone's home-made excuse for a video which is so bad that it actually starts to be good!

Friday, June 24, 2011

Fire away

A few words here about the League City Fire Department, it's current search for a paid Fire Chief, and some comments from a city resident whose house burned about nine months ago.

Last fall and winter, these signs appeared along Centerpointe Drive, near the pool and other areas:
Up until seeing these, I had no idea that our city's Fire Department was a 100% volunteer organization.  This surprised me, because with our upper-middle-class tax base, I guess I unconsciously expected a more formal or robust department structure, but apparently it's common for cities our size to have no paid firefighting employees.

Here's the part where I recap a story that I submitted to the October 2010 neighborhood newsletter.  During a business meeting, I encountered a League City resident who claimed that his house had burned down, and that it had been a needless event.  He alleged that between the time he dialed 911 and the time LCFD showed up, a full 30 minutes elapsed, such that a small kitchen stove fire had time to engulf most of his house and cause hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage.

The man described LCFD as being "absolutely unapologetic" about the fact that it took them so long to arrive, and he recommended that people keep an abundance of fire extinguishers distributed throughout their homes so that they will be able to respond to their own incipient fires, rather than relying on LCFD.

Of course, this man's account above represents only one side of that fire-fighting story, and I have no idea if his experience is typical or simply reflected a conspiracy of negative circumstances for LCPD on that particular day.  I will say that he was a medical doctor and his character seemed authentic.

And either way, there's merit to his advice:  there's no harm in having a good supply of fire extinguishers.  My husband and I bought several more and placed them strategically around the interior of our house, including mounting them on the walls inside our garage so they won't get buried in clutter.
Around the same time that this doctor's house burned, a search for a "half-salary" LCPD Fire Chief was announced.  I'm not sure how that kind of employment works logistically, because most people need full salaries to meet their personal financial obligations, but whatever - at least it's a start in further developing the department as League City continues to expand.

Today it was announced that the search has been narrowed to ten finalists.  So, despite the fact that League City has been hemorrhaging administrative talent, it seems that this hiring effort is proceeding.  Hopefully they will install a strong candidate and we'll all be better off for it.

In the mean time, be sure to check that your own fire extinguishers are present and in good working order.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

While we're at it...

My last two posts have dealt with internet hacking and brick-and-mortar consumer fraud.  It's a propos to bookend these topics with a discussion of some general steps consumers can take to protect themselves.

The usual disclaimers apply: I am not an attorney and this is not legal advice.  I'm sharing personal observations only.  Consult an attorney for your specific circumstances.  Also, this information is not complete, from a consumer protection standpoint.  I'm only hitting a few highlights here.

(1) Credit reports.  Every American consumer is entitled to one free credit report per year.  You should avail yourself of this service at a routine minimum, even if you don't think that any aspect of your identity may have been recently compromised.

The easiest way to do this is, assuming you are comfortable doing it over the internet, is via a clearinghouse site recommended by the federal government.  You could instead approach the three credit bureaus individually if you prefer, but I find that they'll distract a person by trying to sell everything under the sun, and for an exorbitant price.  Here is a screengrab of the relevant FTC site:
This is what this site looked like on the morning of this post.  You need to be careful as you're going through this process because there are scam sites on the internet advertising credit report services and they would welcome the input of your personal information.
That link highlighted above,, looked like this on the morning of this post:
Remember, whenever you're dealing with any of these sites and personal information is involved, you need to always see the secure HTML symbol in the site address:
It is a fairly efficient and user-friendly process to walk through the AnnualCreditReport site.  It directs you to each of the three credit bureaus sequentially and then there's a "back"-style button so that you can proceed to the next after you've dealt with the others.  The only lack-of-smoothness might potentially arise when you go to save your credit reports.  Experian printed easily to PDF for me yesterday, but I found I had to copy-n-paste the other two into a word processing program and save them as editable files.  There may have been another way to do it, depending on the browser used, but I took the path of least resistance.

Of course if you see activity on your reports for which you were not responsible, you need to start the process of resolution, which is a topic too intricate for me to go into here.

(2) Junk mail.  Junk mail can pose a risk to your identity simply by overwhelming your ability to monitor what's actually going on with your name and address.  I can't tell you how many times I have tossed out unopened mail that appeared to be junk and which had near-miss variants of my name on it.  At the time, I assumed that some minimum-wage person whose native language was not English simply transcribed my name incorrectly on yet another of an infinite number of mass-mailing lists.  It never occurred to me until yesterday that someone with a similar name or pseudonym might actually be up to something fraudulent and the results of their activities were starting to roll down-hill and into my mailbox.

I'm not sure what to suggest here.  Once several years ago, I took considerable effort to go through the recommended official channels to get off mailing lists and cut down the junk mail, and what happened?  Seriously, the amount of junk mail I received practically doubled as an apparent result of my efforts to stop it.  By this time, because my husband and I moved to Centerpointe from separate houses (and thus we were severally receiving huge amounts such that we are now receiving 2x a huge amount), I literally need to bring a carrying container with me when I go to our mailbox.  It's sometimes five pounds a week of junk that we're receiving!

Once again, there is a federal government site that deals with some of this issue:
The two sites it recommends are Opt Out Prescreen for cessation of credit offers (highlighted in the screengrab above), and DMA's Mail Preference Service for other unsolicited mail (if that link doesn't work, search "DMA choice" and go to the direct marketer's site).  There are also commercial services offering to stop your junk mail and personally I'd be willing to pay for them if someone could convince me they'd actually work.  I'm going to try both of these FTC-recommended options now as a first measure, and I'll report in a subsequent post whether I've noticed any positive results.

Anyway, there's a few ideas as openers for you.  Good luck with it.

Monday, June 20, 2011

A new kind of fraud?

Hot on the heels of our PayPal account being hacked two days ago, we discovered this morning that someone has been writing hot checks using our Centerpointe address, but it's still unclear whether they've also used any other facet of our identities.

I'm posting about this because it *might* be related to the fact that our house is brand new and therefore this info might be useful to other Section 9 buyers.  

The story goes like this.  My name for this blog posting purpose is "Johnelle Smith".  When I received mail addressed to "John Smith" at my address, I naturally assumed the firstname was a typo, and so I opened those envelopes.  

It turns out that one was a hot check collection notice from Kroger, and the other was an Affidavit of Fraud pursuant to a hot check that had been written by "John Smith" at Lowes hardware store.  

I called the Kroger and they revealed that the check was written on a Wells Fargo account at a Kroger in Fort Worth, and they gave me the associated checking account number.  We have no financial accounts with Wells Fargo, so obviously this wasn't an account related to us, at least not directly.  

Between the time they issued the collection notice and the time I called, Kroger had already figured out that this was a fraudulent account and so the CSR noted that they were not going to attempt to take further action at me or anyone else at my address, but the obvious questions for me still remained:  What is this all about, how did it happen in the first place, and how deep does the fraud go?

Telephone calls to Wells Fargo revealed that I needed to go to a local branch in person and present my ID in order to make inquiries, so I did.  The Wells Fargo CSR was only able to tell me the following:
  1. The person whose name was associated with the hot checks was not in the Wells Fargo computer system.
  2. There IS an active Wells Fargo account by that number, but because I'm not a signatory to that account, they can't disclose to me any information about whether there's been any fraud on it or what actions (if any) were taken with respect to it.
But here's the interesting part:  As the local CSR was talking on the phone with a Wells Fargo fraud expert, she turned to me and asked, "Is your house brand new?"  Her tone of voice had an "ah-hah" quality to it, like perhaps she was really saying, "Your house is brand new."  This is what made me wonder if this isn't a particular kind of fraud specific to new home construction.  What would have prompted her to ask that question?  There are 80,000 people in League City and only a few hundred of them live in homes that could be described as "brand new", so this does not seem like a statistically-obvious first question to ask.  

Based on the desperately-limited information that has been divulged to me so far, this is what I suspect happened:  
  1. "John Smith" went trolling through the public records to find a person whose name closely resembled his own and whose address is still virgin by computer databasing standards.  Partly because our house is so "brand new", about the only public place where my full name and address have been published together is the Galveston County Appraisal District.  
  2. "John Smith" then had fake checks printed up using his name, my address, and a third party's actual checking account number (possibly that he got because he is a dumpster diver, or maybe he worked as a cashier somewhere and lifted a number at random off a check he processed??). 
  3. "John Smith" then personally passed his fake checks at local businesses.  Of course he would have had to show his ID in order to do that, and if he used his TDL, it's address would not have matched my Centerpointe address that he had printed on his checks.  But at that point, "John Smith" could have pleaded that it was a "brand new house" and therefore TxDPS had not issued his updated TDL yet (and in fact TxDPS does take a long time to process those requests).  Even if one of the receiving merchants had parsed my address, they would have seen "Johnelle Smith" and maybe not thought twice about the apparent typo.  And because "John Smith" was using a valid third party's checking account number, his fake checks would have cleared.  
I don't know if there's any validity to those suspicions above - I'm still very much looking into this.  I'm also trying to figure out whether "John Smith" might have fraudulently switched his TDL address to mine, but so far all I get from TxDPS is the usual "We are unable to assist you due to high call volume.  Please try your call again later."  

If and when I am able to discover more about this type of fraud, I'll follow up with additional posts or by making comments below.  

Meanwhile, if you are a new home buyer in particular, watch carefully for suspicious items appearing in your mailbox, and please contact me if something similar to this has happened to you.  Two heads would be better than one in figuring out how something like this could happen, and how extensive the associated damage actually is.  

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Check your PayPal ASAP

This is a strange topic for a neighborhood / suburban lifestyle blog post, but I'm absolutely dumbfounded that it hasn't been covered by the mainstream American news media, so here goes - SOMEONE should be spreading this word.

Yesterday morning, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) reported that a hacker group publicly released a cleartext file containing 62,000 usernames and passwords to accounts including those on PayPal and Facebook.  Within a few hours, thousands of people had downloaded that file of personal information.  Most of the compromised accounts belonged to Americans but, again, no major American news media outlets carried the story.

Within a few hours, a collection of bloggers including Dwight Silverman at Houston Chronicle released links to sites (including one by Gizmodo) that published queries allowing users to check whether their passwords had been compromised.

Here's what happened to us:  we checked all our email addresses against the Gizmodo query, and the response we got each time was, "Your information has not been released to the public".  Friday morning, I went in and changed PayPal passwords on both my business and personal accounts anyway (better safe than sorry).  Unfortunately, my husband did not, and his PayPal account was hacked this afternoon.  Only because I happen to follow the CBC, we were aware of the risk and managed to freeze his account shortly after it was compromised, but we do have a collection of fraudulent charges that we are now dealing with.

I suppose this timing could have been a grand coincidence, but my suspicion is that the hackers released 62,000 passwords to the public and then silently reserved another XX,000 passwords for their own use and/or to sell to the highest bidders.  So in other words, don't get an automatic warm-fuzzy when you enter your info into any given widget and it tells you you're safe.  We certainly were not.

This is not a small-potatoes issue - PayPal is a BANK!  It's a major financial institution doing massive numbers of financial transactions on 232 million accounts and which has direct access to users' credit cards and brick-and-mortar checking accounts!  I simply can't imagine how or why the American news media would not be following this story!  

Go check your PayPal account, if you still can.  And good luck.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Mo'e water woe

League City declared a Stage 3 water emergency yesterday, although you might have difficulty confirming this from their homepage this morning, which is still running an eye-catching Stage 1 graphic:
Screengrabbed from around 9:30 a.m.
One recent news commenter wondered if the city manager and assistant manager had perhaps both resigned because of the perceived mis-handling of repairs to the regional water main that broke almost two weeks ago now, and which is largely to blame for our current water shortages and the resulting low water pressures experienced in some areas of the city.

I'll tell you what: if the city doesn't get this thing fixed and real quick, all that animated debate and speculation about the resignations and possible mayoral micromanagement is going to be moot, because citizens will be calling for all of their heads to roll, elected and hired alike.  I went to the LA Fitness on League City Parkway yesterday evening, and the water pressure was so low that no commodes could be flushed, and you can imagine what a delightful sight that was in such a heavily-attended facility.  In other words, at this point, the water issue of highest concern is not whether we should get fined $500 for trying to keep our landscape investments minimally alive - basic public sanitation is being impacted.  After witnessing LA Fitness last night, I'm now starting to refer to "League City" and "Demijohn" in the same breath (and if you don't know the Demijohn story, hit that link because it's an interesting case study in how mismanagement of infrastructure can yield third-world consequences right here in America, right now in the 21st century, and right down the road from us).

Anyway, as we watch to see what happens next, this news article provides information on the Stage 3 water use restrictions that now affect us all.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Dash cam, Part 10: What the...

Have you ever found yourself driving serenely down the road, only to come upon something like this?!
State Highway 96 eastbound, descending from the rail bridge at State Highway 3.
At first I thought it was a small refrigerator but perhaps it was a bookcase or filing cabinet.  Whatever it was, it surely didn't belong in the middle of the highway where someone could more-easily-than-not hit it while going 55 mph.

And then as I was slam-on-the-brakes circumnavigating this potential disaster, a thought occurred to me: We're not in Houston anymore, Toto.  I didn't know what number to call.  Response to this type of situation is urgent but not exactly an emergency, so 911 does not seem like the best choice.  Does League City have 311 service?  Not from my cell phone - I tried.

It turns out that LCPD does answer their landlines.  I dialed 281-332-2566 (then press 1), and a real live human being answered promptly.  Might be a handy number to enter into your contact databases.

Yesterday must have been my particular day to dodge road hazards, because several hours after my close encounter with the above-referenced filing cabinet, the scene was this:
Clear Lake City Boulevard westbound, west of State Highway 3.
That dark thing in the right hand lane appeared to be a large section of St. Augustine sod pieces having fallen off a pallet truck.  Except this one was in Houston, Toto!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

League City issues to watch

I see two trending League City issues that Centerpointe residents should be watching at the present time, and I wonder if the first issue will ultimately prove to be somewhat antagonistic to the second.

The first issue is that both the city manager and assistant manager have resigned.  Those two gentlemen were widely believed to be doing a decent job of running the city, and several City Council members expressed their approval and support of them.  I don't have time this morning to recap and link all the garbage that has plagued this city (and in fact The League City Blog can be counted on to address that stuff, so I don't need to do it), but Jahns's assertion that the work environment is toxic is not unprecedented, to put it mildly.  We may not be out of the woods yet regarding the expensive extent of mismanagement and power-struggling that has characterized our recent muni history.  Is Round 2 now underway?

Which brings me to the second issue, which manifested again recently in the mainstream news media under the innocent-sounding title "Officials to propose bond election".

To make a long story short, that beautiful tract of land to the northeast of Centerpointe is being considered as a development site for an administrative complex incorporating a regional JAIL.

This tract of land is located less than 700 feet from its closest Centerpointe residence.
Quoth Galveston County Daily News,
"The city is considering two locations for the building; on land across from the city hall complex on West Walker Street or near the Westover Park subdivision and state Highway 96 on the westside." 
I added the word "County" to the "??" in the annotated map above because of the following concerning statement from the aforesaid news URL :

"Officials from the city and Galveston County have discussed a potential partnership on the project, with the county possibly running jail operations..."

What I suspect is this:  Galveston County is not going to simply volunteer to run a jail without a fat vested interest in it - in other words, what's potentially being envisioned here is not just going to house League City prisoners - it's looking like the proposed development will be a relatively large regional correctional facility serving north Galveston County, complete with all the trappings that such a facility attracts:  a plethora of bail bondsmen, and plenty of traffic in and out of the area by persons charged with crimes, convicted of crimes, and all of their associates.

I question the potential choice of that tract of land for two reasons:

(1)  Jails are not usually sited in the middle of extensive residential developments for a variety of quality-of-life  and property-value reasons.  Sure, the existing relatively small city jail is across the street from this undeveloped tract - but that facility was constructed years ago, before this area fundamentally changed its development character.  There were no improvements on West Walker Street when the original jail was constructed - in fact, there was no West Walker Street at that time.  
1995 aerial photograph, which is the oldest I can retrieve on short notice:
West Walker stopped at the police station.  Centerpointe and Wilshire Place were distant dreams in their respective developers' imaginations.  
(2) That tract of land represents a unique opportunity for League City to instead develop assets that promote community identity and cohesion.  It's a beautiful parcel adjacent to the existing library and city pool, and it represents possibly the very last visible new-site opportunity for League City to strengthen its presence as something more than bedroom-community sprawl that most folks simply drive straight through as they're on their way to some more-desirable local venue.  Over the years, the city has spent big bucks on consultants in an effort to develop new ideas by which it might better define itself as a "destination" (I don't have time this morning to pull all the related URLs, but here's one reference story).  So here we have an opportunity to consider targeted development on a strategically-located tract of land for the purposes of raising the city's profile, and what are they considering instead?  A complex involving a regional JAIL.  Good grief!!  

So this is definitely an issue to watch, and not just by us - our surrounding neighborhoods have a vested interest in this outcome as well.  One of our POA Board told me that Centerpointe residents were instrumental in blocking the development of a dog park in that same general vicinity.  Dog park is microscopic potatoes compared to this.  What do you folks suppose might happen to property values if neon bail bondsmen signs start sprouting up like weeds around the periphery of our little area?    

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

CCISD budget issues: The vote is partially in

Last week I posted a back-of-envelope financial analysis pertaining to one of the cost-cutting measures proposed by Clear Creek Independent School District (CCISD).

I also presented that same analysis at the "town hall" meeting held at Clear Springs High School on June 7, 2011, and directed interested parties to this blog for a copy of it.

CCISD has published some of the informational materials used in its two recent town hall meetings, including a video summarizing their current financial situation.  For people who are looking to gain a basic understanding of these budget issues without slogging through an unmanageable mountain of detail, this video is a reasonable resource and it demands only 7.5 minutes of our precious time:

Along with those information resources and video, CCISD also published an interactive survey through which interested parties could render feedback.
Look for this button at the bottom of the above-linked page.
Or, here is its direct URL.
While I think this was a great start, the survey was limited in that it did not explicitly associate line items with their actual costs.  This is important because if people don't have that kind of quantitative information right there in front of them, they can't possibly comprehend what exactly they're advocating or opposing.  Just I said in my post last week, in order to sensibly evaluate anything, we first need good numbers to be staring us in the face because, to the extent that they can be objectively generated, numbers speak a language that is nonpartisan, non-pandering, and non-idealistic.

On June 10, I emailed CCISD asking them to tighten their survey by presenting those associated financial numbers, but as of this blog entry, this had not been done.  That's unfortunate, but it does not totally negate the outreach efforts that they are making.  I noted to the Superintendent and will make the same observation here that precise delivery of relevant information in this fashion is likely to become more common (and more expected) in the future.  Last November, the New York Times did exactly what I'm talking about when they published their federal budget calculator:
Screengrab from here.
That thing was a game-changer:  all of a sudden, voters didn't need to sift through a million numbers and an equal number of partisan rants in order to understand the basics of what's happening at the federal level.  Instead they could fiddle around with a simple but powerful little puzzle and get a "feel" for the magnitude of the issues using nothing but their own brains (which is all they SHOULD be using).  I was shooting for a much smaller-scale but analogous intent when I published my spreadsheet of last week.

The CCISD survey appears to be still actively accepting submissions, but Bay Area Citizen (via local journalist Mary Alys Cherry, who was sitting in front of me last Monday) has already published some preliminary results.  This is clearly a non-scientific tabulation (Mary Alys notes as much) and not only that, the survey was loosely structured in such a way that the options were not mutually exclusive (i.e., not strictly "either/or") and therefore the whole thing gets a bit fuzzy when one tries to glean from it what people truly prefer.  Nevertheless, the interim results are worth looking at (percentages rounded):

  • Tax rate increase - 79% of respondents in favor
  • Lay off employees and increase class sizes - 29% in favor
  • Eliminate Homestead Exemption - 57% in favor
  • Allow out-of-district students to attend CCISD for a fee - 66% in favor
  • Eliminate non-hazardous transportation - 57% in favor
  • Eliminate special program transportation - 39% in favor
  • Charge a $20 transportation fee for special events - 85% in favor
  • Charge fees for extracurricular activities - 74% in favor
  • Suspend funding for staff supplemental insurance - 44% in favor

There's an interesting bit highlighted above:  My argument to maintain special program transportation was based on the fact that I strongly suspect it would cost the community significantly more to do it severally than it costs CCISD to do it collectively using its present model.  Whereas eliminating this transportation would save CCISD $317,000 annually (per their analysis), I roughly estimate that it would cost the community as a whole in excess of $1 million to accomplish equivalent transportation.  Therefore adoption of that reduction on CCISD's part would be financially degenerative - penny wise for them, pound foolish for us.

The same argumentative principles probably also hold true for the "eliminate non-hazardous transportation" option, but I couldn't back-of-envelope those calculations because, unlike the special transportation case, I don't have personal observations upon which to base estimates.  But look at the disparate results of the polling:  a minority (39%) in favor of eliminating "special" transportation, but a majority (57%) in favor of eliminating "non-hazardous" transportation.  Never mind that it would be expected to take somewhere between 10 and 78 individual cars to replace each eliminated school bus in BOTH scenarios, eh?  What may be happening here is that we're seeing a partial effect of citizens being unequally informed.  I am not aware of anyone having made a strong explicit, quantitative argument in favor of keeping nonhazardous transportation, as I did with special transportation.  So some citizens may have understood one choice better than they understood the other choice, possibly contributing to disparate polling results (in postulating that, for brevity I'm eliminating details of discussion in last week's town hall).  Which, if true, would have something profound to say regarding the power of education.  Nothing that we didn't already know, but it's one thing to know that from theory and quite another to see it manifest in practice: votes based on partial information or incomplete information are a potential recipe for disaster.  Or at least degeneracy.

Anyway, I'll keep watching this issue and will post about interesting future developments.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Crime February 21 - June 12 (approx), and a local tragedy

Crime Reports tabulates an unremarkable collection of crimes in Centerpointe during the almost-four-month period that just passed.
Excerpted from
One fight at a party, one incident of cars broken into but nothing stolen, and the burglary (B) was a string trimmer snatched from an open garage.
There continue to be the usual collection of petty thefts from builder houses in Section 9, not all of which seem to get reported to police.  Last week, I was helping one of the builders water newly-laid sod in a house quite near us,  methodically shifting their sprinkler around the new yard (why not? I was the closest person and I love to work outdoors, so it made sense for me to do it).  In the middle of this process, between sprinkler positionings, someone apparently walked off with builder's garden hose.  Just the hose - they tossed the sprinkler head aside.  For crying out loud, why is this type of thing necessary?  It was a ten-dollar hose.

But as I mentioned before, the trades who steal virtually always restrict themselves to builder thefts - I have not heard of anyone losing any personal property from Section 9, and for months on end we've had probably up to 50 tradesmen per day swarming this place.

On a more serious note, last week there was a tragic incident in a neighborhood near us.  Galveston County Daily News is now reporting that a young man was murdered apparently while trying to prevent his truck from  being ransacked by thieves.  This occurred in the Clear Creek Village (CCV) subdivision which is basically located catercorner from us across IH-45.
Excerpted and annotated from
I mentioned in a previous post that CCV is one of League City's oldest and most distinctive true subdivisions.  Many of its residents are long-timers, and the 23-year-old man who was murdered was reported to have grown up there.  We offer our deepest condolences to the family.

The good news is that LCPD has three capital murder suspects in custody.  Bay Area Citizen published additional information including mug shots.  It appears as if the perpetrators of this crime are now incarcerated, which is good news for the rest of us.

This incident raises the issue of what to do if you encounter a theft in progress on your property and, in fact, that type of crime does occur routinely in all subdivisions, including Centerpointe.  Texas' castle doctrine is well-known for permitting the use of deadly force in those instances, and most Texans have an urge to dance in the streets whenever a homeowner or business owner swiftly turns the table by permanently dispatching those who seek to do harm (one of the best-known recent cases involved a Houston small business owner who shot dead three would-be robbers of his jewelry store).

But homeowners should understand the life-and-death risks they are assuming if they intend to confront criminals.  Even though one of my favorite Texas acronyms is "CHL", and despite the fact that I'm a darned good shot, my response to a property violation will always be the safest course of action, not the most noble course of action.  Unless someone's life is in danger, I would always flee a burglary situation.  Whatever property is being stolen is simply not worth a risk to your life.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

CCISD budget issues: Non-mandatory transportation

Clear Creek ISD's budget challenges have made the news recently, sometimes dramatically, and a citizens' committee was appointed to help identify the most palatable cost cuts.

There is a "town hall" meeting tonight at 6 p.m. at Clear Springs High School to discuss the options put forth by the committee.  If I were a better blogger without a "real" job demanding my time and focus, I might have re-posted this information with more advance notice.

Some of the service reductions proposed by the committee appear to be solidly within diminishing-returns territory when assessed from a community perspective.  I chose to focus on transportation-related issues in rendering my feedback to the committee, because that is an issue that I know from personal experience.  CCISD can indeed reduce its budget by eliminating busing services that it is not required by law to provide, but the corresponding cost to local families would be incredibly high - penny-wise for them becomes pound-foolish for us.  For this reason, I think it makes more sense to develop a means by which CCISD could be compensated for providing those non-mandatory services.

Blogger does not yet support content hosting, so in order to share my feedback on this blog, I have to embed my letter and supporting calculations as two photographs.  Click on each one to enlarge so that you can read.  And check out those numbers.  Note that these are only costs associated with one example group of students being transported to one Magnet school program from one location.   If these types of impacts were integrated over every family in the ISD and for every type of non-mandatory busing, the financial impacts to the community would indeed be remarkable.
Incidentally, this document is redacted but I do not mind sharing my identity if you contact me personally.  I don't want my ID to become associated with this blog NOT because I have anything to hide, but because it would likely cause a confound with my professional on-line identity.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

This means war

I am DONE with these guys.  The intense building activity in Section 9 is attracting solicitors like a swarm of summer flies.  It's every day, multiple times per day, the onslaught of hard-sell cretins ringing our bell and banging on our door.  Lawn mowing.  Electrical service contracts sold by obscure middle men.  Chemical pest management.  Magazines.  Newspapers.  Security systems.  The peddling list is endless.

When we respond with "not interested, thanks", they aren't even polite!!  They back-talk even as they have the nerve to stand there unwelcome on private property!!

I reckon it's time for Plan B:

We'll see if this has any effect.