Thursday, October 31, 2013

Something stinky, Part 4: Warm crap in a bag

I don't get credit for that provocative tag line - Houstonia does.
If you don't read Houstonia, you should - it's awesome.  It's like a local Texas Monthly except it doesn't take itself quite as seriously and it sets the journalistic creativity bar much higher, particularly with respect to humor and the kind of Gestaltic insight that can only derive from a passionate sense of place. 

Screengrabbed from one of their Facebook entries of this morning; referenced story here. 
I'm borrowing the phrase for use as a tag line because last night saw me carrying that very substance (much more than Avogadro's quantity of it) for a longer distance than I would have preferred.  Except mine wasn't the much-maligned Frito pie - it really was warm crap in a bag. 
This kind of bag.  Leak proof, thank God. 

Screengrabbed from this site
See, I like to go jogging on either Sunday or Wednesday evening because that's when I am guaranteed to find at least a few trash cans set by the curb for pick-up the next day.  Therefore when my furry jogging companion makes her inevitable solid waste deposit, I can bag it and promptly slip it into someone else's can without having to carry the warm, mushy thing a full mile back to my own house. 

But here's the problem with Wednesday night jogs:  As I've noted previously, League City's trash contract is very inefficient and not many people bother to put their trash cans out, because we really don't need two trash collection days per week and Thursday is perceived as our "second" trash day and therefore that's the one most people ignore. 
I don't know how those poor buggers on the corner of Elm Pointe and Heather Pointe feel about having been designated the primary dog dumping ground in Centerpointe, but their side yard is scent central.  Many dogs, including mine, will intentionally hold in their goods for the chance to deposit them at this common canine marking ground.  If you guys see dog poo remaining on your property, it's from someone else's dog, not mine - I pick up hers every time. 

And after I pick it up, I carry it to the nearest trash can.  The while line shown on the screengrab above traces the distance from the point of deposit to the nearest available can last night. 
I had to jog eleven hundred feet past two dozen houses last night before I found a trash can set out for collection.  That's how few cans were set out in that area of the subdivision for this week's second collection event. 

As of this morning, the situation was slightly improved, at least in Section 9, where 37% of residents had set out their cans (they tend to be younger and more enthusiastically ritualized here, given our section's recent genesis).  But of course, as has historically been the case, most of those cans were holding just a single small kitchen bag of trash.  If we'd wanted to, we probably could have consolidated the entire section's 75 homes worth of trash into about five of the 96-gallon rolling bins. 

But take heart: there's now only four more years to go on League City's current waste management contract.

I'd like to dedicate this post to the fine folks in Republic Waste's corporate headquarters, the folks who have been following my commentary regarding the League City trash agreement, which some of us have interpreted to represent warm crap in a contract for reasons I will not recapitulate here but which can be found under the Trash label in this blog. 

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Bamboo privacy hedge, Part 2: Pleachy keen

"What a difference four months can make!" she said, as the great b. malingensis experiment continues.  Take a look at these before-and-after shots:
Starting conditions, screengrabbed from Part 1
Same view, June of 2013. 
You don't have to "ignore the present shapeless mass" any longer.  This past weekend, my husband and I got a wild hair because we were sick of looking at The Great Bamboo Blob.  It might be too soon to begin the pleaching process (we are afraid we will discourage height if we trim out the bulk), but what the heck - we took a chance:
Yes, that IS the same view, just four months later!  It's a bit scruffy, but it's still less than two years old right now.  Additional refinements will come with time. 
It's still growing more radially (as opposed to upright) than ultimately it needs to be trained to grow, but you can start to get a better idea of where this effort is headed.  The point in this very narrow space between the houses is to create scale and privacy while not appearing oppressive when viewed from either my property or my neighbors' property. 
Here's an example of an even narrower space where the bamboo has been trained to serve as an artistic focal point as well as providing visual privacy by extending the existing fence upward. 

Screengrabbed from this excellent Australian article on bamboo pleaching.   Note that the word "pleaching" as applied to bamboo differs from the mainstream landscaping definition
Obviously I have a larger space and a more substantial height requirement than what's shown in this wonderful example above, so I have a bigger pleaching job ahead of me.  But it's looking promising so far. 
Up and up and up she goes
Where she stops, nobody knows.

As I mentioned in Part 1, I don't know how tall this malingensis will get, because I'm the only person I know of who is growing it in north Galveston County, in these soil and microclimate conditions.  But one thing is clear - it hasn't topped out yet.  The new culms are coming in around fifteen feet. 
Stay tuned for future bamboo babblings.  Who knows what the next four months might bring?!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

New grocery store for League City

It's not the announcement that many of us have been hoping for, but perhaps it will stimulate a higher degree of healthy free-market competition:  GCDN's Laura Elder reports that a new HEB grocery store will be built at the corner of League City Parkway and South Shore Blvd.
As reported, it'll go in that vacant tract you see roughly in the center of this screengrab from Googlemaps.  That light-colored building you see near the top of the photo is the existing Kroger Signature store, which is why I say "healthy competition" - they will aim to take customers from each other, so perhaps they'll accomplish some of that edging-out-the-other stuff by actually offering edible fresh vegetables for sale
At the very least, this is potentially good news for every suffering Leaguer who lives on the east side of the freeway!!  We Centerpointers have an easy jaunt to get to the existing west-side HEB - we just zip down the IH-45 feeder.  But there's only one way to get back home from it, and that involves taking one's life in one's hands by dealing with a forty-year-old obsolete freeway cloverleaf (and God knows when TxDOT is ever going to fix that mess), plus navigating the interminable construction on FM 646.  In sum, it's a short but acutely miserable transit experience to which I will gladly say good riddance. 
Even by Houston's perpetually-under-construction standards, this has been the definition of suck.  They waited wa-ay too long to improve the cow path that had remained FM 646 even as development along it increased by orders of magnitude.

Screengrabbed from TxDOT's project page
But this is not the Whole Foods that we have been hoping for, nor does it sound like it's going to be the Central Market that we were hoping for as a consolation prize

Oh well.  Each new day brings us closer to a chance at a happier announcement. 

Monday, October 28, 2013

The PID predicament

People want information about what's happening with our PID - I can tell this from my search stats.
I had to put a redirect on my original post because the older post ranks highest in Google and will continue to do so, given the way that Google works. 
Here is a synopsis of the available information. 

The PID, if you recall, is an infrastructure cost which is attached to each property as a separate assessment, rather than being rolled into the initial purchase price of the real estate.  It differs functionally from a MUD tax in that it has a finite lifespan: we only have to pay it for a certain number of years until the debt is satisfied. 

At some point and for reasons that aren't clear to me, it came to the attention of the powers-that-be that we were paying a higher-than-necessary interest rate on our PID assessments.  That set the wheels in motion for steps to be taken to get it reduced.
GCDN ran this story (paywalled) explaining the mechanism by which lower payments could be realized.  Screengrabbed from a GCDN search. 
So where are we now?  Here is a status report from the most recent POA email blast:
Screengrabbed from an email.  
The corresponding Mayor's report for October 22 didn't provide much lay language: "Council considered and took action on an ordinance levying an assessment against properties located in the City of League City Public Improvement District No. 3 (Centerpointe). This item passed 8-0 in a first and final reading." 

This explains why I'm getting so much search traffic - as stated and without elaboration, the situation is now as clear as mud to the average reader (get it?  As clear as MUD?). 

Basically what I suspect it means is that the City has leveed against us so that the original debt can be disposed of in a pending reciprocal transaction. 

In other words, you'll have to wait a little bit longer for the other shoe to drop.  Everyone wants to know how much less they'll be paying this year, but that information apparently isn't available yet.  It ought to be soon, though, because this is the time of year when our happy PID bills arrive in the mail.  I myself have a seventy-foot lot, so my assessment is usually a large, sucking number.
Many lots in Centerpointe are 60 footers or 50-ish footers, and their corresponding assessments are almost certainly lower. 

Screengrabbed from this Galveston Central Appraisal District map
I'll post again when we know more about the new calculations.  Sorry I can't be more specific at this point. 

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Dr. Ned and Fay Dudney Nature Center

What is this place, and who are the people it's named after? 

You've no doubt noticed the gate and the sign while driving down the stretch of FM 270 between Five Corners and NASA Road 1.
It's a 148-acre tract of largely wetlands adjacent to Clear Creek, roughly that elongated blob you see at photo center. 
League City's web entry describes a bit of the history of the property, but not much about its namesakes. 
Dr. Ned Dudney was a local physician who is considered to be one of the founding fathers of League City.  He was also instrumental in the formation of the hospital now known as Clear Lake Regional Medical Center, which holds a special place in my heart as it's where I gave birth to my daughter. 
In a nutshell.  Screengrabbed from this League City Historical Society newsletter
League City's current website is rather discordant, hosting this page which contains almost no information on the park, which in turn does not link to this page which does, but which is curiously anecdotal.  You'll notice that they make reference to the fact that this property was formerly called "the Davis tract".  That seems a propos of not much, until you consider that, at one time several years ago, League City had a loose ambition to acquire and link multiple wetland tracts into a larger system, of which this was only one tract, hence being called out as the so-and-so tract as distinct from the such-and-such tract.  My memories of those ambitions are both faint and incomplete because I was neither a League City resident nor was I extensively involved at the time.  But I do remember hearing about a larger plan along these lines. 
If you peruse Googlemaps, you'll see a number of analogous vacant tracts sandwiched between built-out areas and Clear Creek, including this tract north of the Clear Creek Village subdivision
There's not much that can be done with these tracts from a "developmental" standpoint.  They're situated partly within the Clear Creek floodway and almost entirely within the 100-year flood zone, and are seriously encumbered by their status as jurisdictional wetlands.  Therefore, the idea to obtain and connect a string of them as parkland made perfect sense. 
You're going to get a rude shock in a diversity of financial and logistical senses if you try to build something adjacent to the likes of this.  Pic taken from one of the Dudney Center's bird blinds.  Those are white pelicans in the background. 
Like I said, I don't know what happened to that original plan.  New Mayor, new Councilmembers, who knows??  If anyone knows, please email me a short-version summary and/or some links.  This issue has been tied up in the hike and bike trail plan, the evolution of which I'll need to address separately in a future post.  Meanwhile, let me leave you with a few non-spoiler pics I took at the Dudney center late yesterday afternoon.
I hadn't been to the place in a few years, and I had forgotten that it's a good place to walk dogs, which are permitted in the park as long as the waste and leash ordinances are observed. 
The main trail is wonderful - wide and paved in concrete, which makes it suitable for kids on tricycles, people in wheelchairs, parents pushing strollers, etc.  This one low section is finished as an elevated boardwalk. 
Yesterday afternoon was not the most peaceful time to take a walk, however, as Wings Over Houston was rehearsing in preparation of today's events!!
As usual, I was largely interested in macro photography.  The park contains quite the diversity of native and invasive plants.  It's adjacency to Clear Creek means that a lot of suburban seeds get washed into its boundaries and take root. 
Bumblebee on goldenrod.  Not to be confused with honey bees, the kind that gets Africanized, although they were certainly present, too. 
This guy above may be some species of Leschenaultia, which is apparently also known as a big black hairy fly (ya don't say!).  I don't know what they do for a living, but they were present in abundance. 

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

A mole by any other name

Tag line:  How to turn a school chemistry project into an exercise in hilarity.

It's Mole Day - 10/23, where from 6:02 a.m. until 6:02 p.m., we celebrate the definition of mole, which is 6.02 x 10^23 particles (Avogadro's number). 
The geek shall inherit the Earth:  Screengrab from the National Mole Day Foundation
My child's bonus assignment in chemistry was to creatively represent this day using a crafted mole (as in, the mammal, which is not actually a rodent), akin to this assignment.  It's the kind of project that engages the entire family, especially a family of science nerds.  There's always room for sock puppets! 

At first, we came up with "Guaca-mole-e", which would have Avocado's number of particles.  But that just seemed so obvious that we concluded it must have been done many times before.  Checking the internet this morning as I'm writing this post, I see that we were correct.

We settled on this:
A Mole in One, because one mole has Avogolfer's number of particles.  Even while dressed in golfing plaid.
Isn't that cute??  He's got his own little mole hole in the form of a tin can, which began its life with somewhat less than Avogadro's number of garbanzo beans. 

The clerk in Lowes looked at us like we were crazy when we asked him to cut us a single linear foot of Astroturf off the ten-foot mega-role in the outdoor carpeting section.  We have nine leftover feet if anyone would like to have it.  Free to a good home!
If you know anything about moles, you'll immediately conclude that, while his star nose is mildly convincing (for a sock puppet), his button eyes are too large.  But this particular mole needs large eyes if he's to perceive the full wisdom of science, so there you have it.

Regrettably, Google did not post up a Mole Day GoogleDoodle this morning.  They managed to hit their recent Schrodinger-themed Doodle out of the park, but dropped the mole ball where Avogadro is concerned.
Remember this one? Schrodinger's birthday bash, literally. 

Screengrabbed from Slate
In lieu of art, you could always peruse this collection of Mole Day gift ideas.  Have a good Wednesday.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

How to re-stain old wood

Answer:  Just do whatever Nicole Curtis says to do.  Everything I learned about re-staining I learned from watching Rehab Addict.  Here's an example described below. 

This was a bit of a tough one for me because the original maker of the furniture was long gone, and so I could not confirm how the piece was originally finished.  How many of you remember the original Cargo Furniture?  How many of you locals are old enough to remember the Cargo Furniture store that was up by Baybrook back in the late 1980's (if memory is serving me)? 
There's a bunch of subsequent business entities now using the name "Cargo Furniture".  There are even copy cats.  But none of those refer to the original retailer.   
According to internet sources, Cargo was bought by Pier 1 (and Pier 1 confirms that they acquired the retailer in 2001).  But then most of the original furniture lines were discontinued.

Screengrabbed from Google. 

This is relevant because Cargo Furniture did not finish their original wood furniture pieces the same way many other retailers did.  And because they are long out of business, there was no way for me to confirm what substance they originally applied to their wood. 

On their natural wood furniture, I recall the salespeople telling me that they were using something akin to tung oil.  In other words, it wasn't a simple varnish or polyurethane.    I remember the salespeople telling me that the finish was not conventional and that I should "oil" my furniture periodically as a result.  I never did, though.
That piece you see above is a wall shelf unit made out of what I believe is yellow pine (but not knotty pine).   It has that characteristic "honey" finish (a euphemism for yellowish orange) that is no longer in style, so my intention was to update it by staining it darker.  But I didn't know how the stain would "take", given that it had originally been oiled, so I used the Nicole Curtis method, which proceeds according to the steps I've sketched out below.

But before I get into that, a disclaimer:  This was a pretty simple project involving an older piece of furniture that had only a minimal historical treatment that needed to be overcome prior to re-staining.  If your old wood is more extensively coated with additional products such as varnish, you will need to do a more involved preparation, probably involving a chemical stripper.  This Old House published this very succinct DIY sequence that could help you with that. 

OK, here goes. 

First, I sanded the crap out of it (to use Nicole's highly-technical terminology).  Seriously, if you're going to try to re-stain old wood, make sure you sand it extensively, whether or not you need an initial chemical stripping step.  Sanding is very boring and it takes a lot of time, but the final result is worth it.  I didn't know how far the tung oil penetrated this piece, but the obvious idea was just to get as much of the outermost layers off as possible. 

Second, and here's where Nicole's method becomes very important: I opened up the wood grain with a wet rub-down.  Not sloppy wet, but enough water on the rag to penetrate the wood. 
Back when I was a DIY newbie, nobody would have done this.  Having any moisture remaining on furniture that was about to accept an oil stain was the ultimate no-no.  But as Nicole correctly deduced, a light wetting will open up the wood grain so that it will do a better job of accepting the stain. 
Third, I used the highest-VOC stain I could find.
In this case, it was Rustoleum's Kona shade.  It can be bought in these tiny cans at Lowes for about six bucks.  This is a very convenient size for small projects like this one. 

I complained out loud back in 2011 when I published this popular post on staining fences that many of the stain products on the market are just not very good right now because manufacturers have removed so much of the volatile fraction in order to meet air quality regulations.  But it's the solvents that give stain its penetrating power, so product quality has suffered, in my observation.  This is a frequent topic of discussion on internet forums such as this one, which discusses whether this Rustoleum product is oil-based or water-based (answer: probably a hybrid, but it does seem to have some petroleum distillate solvent qualities).
Fourth, I used a flood-and-wipe method of application.  Nicole uses this method when re-staining old wood, and I've always used it on new (unfinished) wood.
"Food and wipe" is just as it sounds.  You don't use a paintbrush to apply an even coat the way you would do with a paint - that's too difficult and not appropriate for most stain applications anyway.  You simply get a clean rag (I like to cut up my husband's worn-out undershirts), dip it in the stain, and rub a saturating amount onto the wood. 
And then after you let the flooded wood sit for a minute or two, you take a larger clean rag and wipe it down, removing the excess stain which hasn't soaked into the wood.  You end up with a quasi-tie-dyed looking rag as you do it. 
Fifth, after the stain has had a chance to dry, you add at least one coat of polyurethane to seal it.
I used this brand simply because I had it sitting around in my garage from another project.  The main thing to remember in order to remain trendy is don't use gloss.  Glossy wood is out of date because it looks unnatural.  This one is a satin product, but I would prefer a more matte finish than even this is capable of delivering.  If your final result still looks too glossy to you, you can knock down some of the shine by going over it with an extremely fine-grit sandpaper (use a very light touch). 
Be careful about this issue:  The polyurethane is probably going to lift some of the new stain back off your piece.  In this picture above, you see me squishing the foam brush into the drop cloth, and what's being squeezed out of it is actually dark brown instead of clear polyurethane, because the brush is picking up the underlying stain.   
That stain loss is happening because, again, I don't think the stain qualities on the market right now are what they should be, because they no longer have the penetrating power of the high-solvent products of yesteryear.  With some projects, this stain-lifting phenomenon can be a real problem in that the poly overlay will strip too much stain off the piece, leaving it pale and blotchy (been there, done that with new-wood refinishing).  But in this case, I was able to achieve a decent result, probably because I had incorporated Nicole's wood-wetting step into my preparation.
Here's the stained shelf unit next to the very trendy industrial-looking stool that I was intending to match (the stool is tipped over the lean against the shelf, so it looks a bit wonky here).  Not a perfect match but it doesn't need to be perfect.  It's close enough so that these two pieces will look OK when placed in the same part of our great room. 

This is the CB2 Contact Stool and would you believe I found it via a Facebook product placement ad?  For once, Facebook actually delivered me something I wanted to see instead of a useless stream of weight loss ads (me, at 130 pounds, as if they couldn't figure that out from their targeting algorithms).  I bought a pair of them, which means that it cost me almost three hundred bucks to update my status that day.
So there you have a stain solution.  Happy DIYing.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

More swan songs about buildings and food

Is it just me, or is the quality of the fresh fruit and vegetable supply in Clear Lake continuing to decline after being bad to start with?! 

A month after publishing "Groceries in Clear Lake:  More ugly pictorial truth", let me round out my documentary with some ugly video truth:
I followed the same procedure that I used in "More ugly pictorial truth":  I went to one of the reputationally-best grocery stores in Clear Lake and I bought a sample of the freshest broccoli I could find, so that I could take it home and document its condition without fear of being sued for identifying the retailer who is guilty of offering such poor quality to customers. 

As you can see from this video, this broccoli is inedible.  It is wilted and rubbery to the point where there's no way I could possibly prepare it as a component of any dish.  Proper broccoli is incredibly crisp and solid.  It will snap immediately if you bend it. 

Here's what makes this particular instance noteworthy:
  1. I've only observed broccoli to be impacted by this supply chain problem within the past couple of months.  For many years now, broccoli has been one of my "go to" vegetables, a vegetable of last resort to be purchased when the more delicate cultivars for sale by local grocers had been rendered inedible by post-harvesting degradation.  So this part of the problem is new - I now can't find edible broccoli in local grocery stores at least 50% of the time. 
  2. Broccoli is robust.  You have to really screw up to ruin broccoli to the extent shown above.  A properly grown, harvested, and refrigerated broccoli crown will remain crisp and fresh for weeks following harvest.  If this rubbery broccoli could talk, I'm not sure that I'd want to hear what it has to say, because it has obviously been through some kind of factory-farmed hell.  Whatever horrific treatment it was exposed to along the way, I wouldn't want to be putting the results of that into my mouth.   
As I've noted before, this whole situation feels particularly surreal to me given the increasing focus on the nationally crippling dual problems of obesity and diabetes, a focus emanating from all levels of society and through a diversity of channels. 
Wants me to eat my vegetables?  Is that a fact??  Well, if I could only buy the danged things, that might be a little easier, wouldn't it?

Screengrabbed from this People magazine site
"Do we have a vegetable on the plate??"  No, we don't, because half the time, I literally cannot buy what I need, and I live in one of the wealthiest segments of America.  There's a link on Mrs. Obama's Let's Move website which directs readers to healthier recipes.  That's great, but if the ingredients are not for sale, the information is not worth much. 

"The overall message of Let's Move is balance."  What I find for sale in grocery stores today is balanced, indeed:  It's almost perfectly split between over-processed carbohydrates and over-processed fats. 

Screengrab op. cit.
Still fuming over the broccoli bungle, yesterday evening I went to a different local grocery store intending to get my daughter some bananas as she had requested.  Bananas are a great example of a fruit-of-last-resort because it's really hard to screw them up.  Unlike tomatoes for instance, they can be harvested green without sacrificing taste, and they can spend a long time meandering through the supply chain without losing a lot of quality.  But here's what I found in League City yesterday when I went to buy bananas:
Old Mother Hubbard
Went to the cupboard,
To give the poor kid a banana;
When she came there,
The cupboard was bare,
And so the poor kid had none.

I had to crop out identifying information for the grocery store in question, again, for fear of liability.
I'm not making this stuff up.  Am I the only one singing about this particular emperor having no clothes?  This is absurd:  I'm living in a two hundred thousand dollar house (which is above the median value in greater Houston Texas).  I can afford the granite countertops you saw in the video above, and I can also afford custom stacked-stone landscaping using materials imported from Oklahoma, but I can't buy a freakin' fresh vegetable to save my soul! Nor could I buy one of the most common fruits on the market yesterday. 

And if conditions are this bad for me and my family, what are they like for Americans on the other side of the median market value?  Where do we go from here??  Those are the questions that are foremost in my mind at this point. 

The proof is in the non-pudding:  That's a best-available grocery store bok choy in the upper photo (reproduced from "More ugly pictorial truth"), and my first ever home-grown bok choy as it appeared this morning, currently growing in one of my six-foot stock tanks

When I started raising my own fruits and vegetables three years ago, my intention was to do it purely as a hobby, but it's feeling more and more like a basic necessity

Inspiration for this blog post title here, in case you're not familiar with that particular body of creative work. 

Friday, October 18, 2013

Suburban subsistence

As long as we have enough lead time to respond to whatever future upheavals may befall us, we'll never need to starve in this country.  Now that I've been backyard-gardening for three years, I'm convinced of this.

Anaheims in Warhol-esque formation, photo taken September 30, 2013. 
More stuff in Warhol-esque formation, photo taken October 18, 2013.
The photo above shows this morning's harvest from one micro-garden in one micro-backyard.  It's important to realize that all those Anaheims from both dates (Sept. 30 and Oct. 18) are not originating from one garden - they're the product of one plant (a single stem coming out of the ground).  And one plant organically grown, to boot.  I have one bell pepper plant from which I've now harvested dozens, including this morning's seven shown above, and one Anaheim plant from which I've harvested hundreds. 

And I also pulled up one sweet potato by accident while weeding, and the okra in this photo represents 24 hours' worth of production from three plants that are continuing to limp through the off-season (okra is a summer crop). 

I'm currently growing in just 82 square feet of gardening space - a size smaller than the smallest suburban bedroom.  And I'm currently harvesting from less than half of that area, because the rest is planted in up-and-coming fall and winter succession crops, particularly collards, bok choy, bunching onions, broccoli and cauliflower (plus herbs).  And still, I can barely keep up with the yield.  A lot of it has to go into the freezer for future consumption. 

In sooth, we are surrounded by an enormous quantity of land that is not being put to any productive use.  I estimate that I have 1,250 square feet of potentially-cultivatable back yard (the rest is unproductively shadowed by the house), and 850 square feet of front yard.  I've got just 4% of my own suburban property in fruits and vegetables, and I often can't keep up with what it yields. 

Hopefully, as a society, we will never need to rely on what that unused space would be capable of producing in a pinch, but it's nice to know that it's there. 

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

License and liability

Here's a great example of why mainstream commercial and nonprofit citizen journalism complement each other so well:  Galveston County Daily News published information that no blogger would ever be able to touch directly for fear of litigational repercussions. 
The source article is behind the paywall, but a PDF of its supporting graphic may be directly accessible to non-paying users through this link.  This is a small screengrabbed excerpt that encapsulates the bottom line. 
My first response to seeing this was "Oh... my... GAWD."  Not because of the wild increases in flood premiums which we all knew were coming, but because GCDN was able to make that statement in the first place, given that it could now be argued that they just put the kybosh on any further potential to sell the piece of real estate that they cite.

You might debate that statement by responding, "But the deleterious condition of disproportionate flood insurance burden existed prior to GCDN's reporting of same, was not caused by GCDN, and would persist irrespective of their news coverage, so why does it matter?" 

I'm not a legal expert, but according to what I've been told by others who have been involved with this sort of stuff, it potentially matters because GCDN caused a negative condition to become public which otherwise might have been contained to the far more private level of the individual sale transaction.  And in so doing, a litigator could potentially argue that they disproportionately impacted the market value of that piece of real estate relative to comparable properties.  It's as if GCDN pointed a finger and yelled, "It's the Amityville Horror house!!" only by virtue of an insurability predicament rather than purported evil spirits.

Again, I'm not an attorney or a legal expert of any kind, but I do know that commercial news media works within a framework of "freedom of the press"-style protections and insulation that the rest of us don't necessarily enjoy.  Hence they can do that kind of thing and remain unscathed where another source might find themselves being sued if they tried something similar. 

However, it's interesting to note that "freedom" also works both ways.  While commercial news sources may not be as vulnerable to litigation as the rest of us, they are very sensitive to the tastes of both their subscribership and their advertisership, and thus may voluntarily edit their content to maximize their appeal to both.  I keep in touch with a variety of journalists locally and nationally, and there have been times when, in discussing current events, I've been told, "We can't publish [that topic] because we simply cannot 'go there'.  But if you publish it, we would then be at liberty to publicize the fact that you produced commentary on [that topic]." 

Moral of the story:  As Joel Salatin strongly advises, read eclectically.  Don't confine yourself to any given commercial or nonprofit echo chamber.  You'll get the best cross-sectional exposure to both facts and ideas by being diverse in your sources. 

Sunday, October 13, 2013

More art criticism, please

Book-ending my "bony-butt ugly" post in which I'd applauded Council's decision to deny a Special Use Permit (SUP) to Stripes Convenience Stores on the grounds of municipally-inappropriate design, I'm reproducing and expanding my rebuttal to the GCDN op-ed titled "It's time to cut the art criticism". 

It's actually time to ramp it upGCDN argues that evaluating aesthetics is not an appropriate function for City Council by virtue of the facts that (a) Council is not qualified to do that in the first place, and (b) the issue is too subjective to be productively broached by Council anyway.  But this stance disavows the complexity of the issue and it also ignores the fact that property values are very sensitive to "the views" that they offer.
Um, yeah.  Add to this list arguably-unsophisticated retail designs that delete the use of building materials consistent with established local character and precedents. 

Screengrabbed from this source
Anyway, rather than me beating that horse to death, let me just reproduce my comments on GCDN's editorial, with visual and referential embellishments. 


By Heber's rationale, the same justification would apply if a fast food franchise applied for a permit to build a circus-themed drive-through next to the 1894 Opera House on Postoffice. Why not - it's a tax-paying business, isn't it? It's a commercial area, right? And obviously there are scores of people who do not find circus-themed fast food establishments to be unacceptably "ugly" because they patronize them with great enthusiasm. So what legitimate basis would there be for a construction permit denial in that scenario?
Made for each other??  Justified by sole virtue of projected individual tax revenues?  Really?!  Do you think this combination of development would bode well for further refinement of The Strand as having the type of distinct and irreplaceable character that draws crowds of money-spending visitors? 

You could argue that League City's Main Street isn't in the same league (pun intended) as The Strand, but if League City doesn't start acting to help cultivate a cohesive character for Main Street, it's never going to get there, either. 

Opera House photo from Wikipedia.  Microsoft clip art.
The flaw in [Heber's] logic should be obvious. If it's not, quit reading now, because the rest of what I have to say won't mean a darned thing to you.

League City has struggled for years to define a municipal identity for itself, and a lot of folks poke fun at their consistent track record of failure.

But then when Council takes a baby step toward actually doing something (rather than debating the issue to death and paying big taxpayer bucks for questionable consulting studies)... actually taking a concrete step toward constraining an identity, a lot of folks poke fun at them, including this newspaper.

They can't win, can they? I'm the first one to cry foul whenever Council screws up, but I don't think they can be faulted for drawing a line on the issue of municipal esthetics in an instance where they had every right to do that (in fact, that's their specific function).

They aren't exactly sure what it is that they're supposed to BE cultivating, but at least they realize that willy-nilly construction variances are NOT going to get us to where we need to be in terms of municipal cohesion.

For once, Council is sticking to their guns instead of obsessing about their guns. I'd encourage everyone to recognize progress when it manifests.