Saturday, August 31, 2013

The donation challenge

It's looking better for the Deer Park prairie preservation effort.  When I last mentioned this initiative, it appeared that the clock would run out before enough money could be raised, but the donations continued to flow and the deadline was extended in view of the reported financial momentum.
Status as of August 31, 2013, with about ten more days available for fundraising. 

Screengrabbed from this site
If you're like me, you have trouble deciding which nonprofit causes are worthy of your hard-earned money.  There are so many of them and they all need funding.  I have an extended family member who is involved with philanthropic pursuits within one of greater Houston's core counties.  I am told that, just in that one suburban county, there are over four thousand registered nonprofit organizations. 

And a lot of them eventually make their way into the pages of your newspapers or to your front door to ask for support.  And when you tell them that you cannot donate because your charity budget has been max'd out by your existing pledges, their last-ditch persuasion is often, "Well, could you maybe just spare twenty bucks one time for a good cause, then?!"

Hmmm, let's see... doing the math, if I say yes to every local nonprofit who eventually asks me that question, I'll be out about eighty thousand bucks.  I'm afraid that's a bit beyond my reach.  Just a bit. 

It's an epic struggle for a limited number of dollars, and most of the door-knockers don't seem sensitive to the fact that we middle-class suburbanites are faced with an endless stream of heartfelt-pleading solicitors just like themselves.

Microsoft clip art. 
Even when you narrow down the list of those nonprofits that are nearest and dearest to your heart, it's really difficult to determine which are the best investments because the financial representations that you see on the surface are not necessarily the whole truth. 

Here's a prime example from my personal history.  Like much of America, I became enamored with Greg Mortenson's four-million-copy best-seller "Three Cups of Tea" and his efforts to build schools in Afghanistan.  Finally, there seemed to be a viable route by which effective and near-direct developmental support could be rendered to one of the places in the world where it was most desperately needed.
Mortenson's nonprofit Central Asia Institute (www.ikat.org) made it look soooo easy: they associated specific dollar figures with the services that could be provided for those corresponding amounts.  I looked at this list and thought, "Wow - how cool is that??!!  I can work, support my own family, save for retirement, AND pay the equivalent of one or more Afghani teachers' salaries every year!" 

List screengrabbed from this CAI fundraising guide
Alas, the situation didn't prove to be anywhere near that simple.  I had done my homework prior to investing in CAI.  I had reviewed third-party assessments including those published by Charity Navigator, which is one of the most prominent nonprofit watch-dogs.  And like the rest of America, I soon became shocked by the allegations of financial mis-use by CAI.
One of the most vocal of the CAI whistle-blowers was investigative journalist Jon Krakauer, who published an e-book titled "Three Cups of Deceit: How Greg Mortenson, Humanitarian Hero, Lost His Way".  According to Wiki, it became a number one best-seller on Kindle (web excerpt here).  Mortenson's "Three Cups of Tea" co-author later committed suicide

This Google auto-fill screengrab suggests the extent to which Krakauer, who was a prominent American writer long before his CAI expose, has become associated with his allegations. 
The corresponding 60 Minutes investigative footage can be seen here.  Regarding this list above (tap to expand image), are these the kinds of uses to which you'd like your hard-earned money allocated?  Nnnnope - me neither. 

Summary screengrab from Wikipedia
Anyway, where did that donation experience leave me?  Once bitten, twice shy, to say the very least.  It's very difficult to vet a nonprofit the way it needs to be done.  It's very difficult to know whether any given donation will be properly applied.  In the case of Bayou Land Conservancy, at this point they seem to be long on appeals but short on contingencies.  One of the most obvious questions that remains unanswered at this point about the Deer Park Prairie is, what's going to happen to all those donations if the $4 million figure is NOT reached??  What will that money be spent on instead, and will the donors approve of that? 

I don't know the answer to that and I don't know the answer to other questions surrounding this organization.  I do know that, in cases where ambiguity exists, I tend to respond by splitting the difference:  I donate, but not as much as I would if instead I had a greater level of confidence in the nonprofit. Charitable contributions are really no different than other forms of investment in which portfolio diversification is key.  By splitting the difference thusly, I can still participate as I would like to, but at the same time if the nonprofit's performance were to tank, I'm not out a large sum of money - certainly nothing approaching a third-world teacher's salary (or two, or three).   
Let's hope that Bayou Land Conservancy can get this job handled the way it needs to be. 

Screengrab from my on-line donation receipt. 

Thursday, August 29, 2013

The prayer policy: Religious informational resources

The measures reportedly being adopted by the City of League City with respect to the pre-Council meeting prayers conform to common sense except for one important point: 
  • It would make no sense to limit the outreach to congregations situated within League City
  • It would make better sense to extend the outreach to congregations most commonly attended by League City residents (i.e., voters).
The reason for this is simple.  We are not Sugar Land.  
Sugar Land / West Side is an example of a largely-suburban area that has had the time to establish a diversity of religious congregations that reflects their residential base.  League City, in stark contrast, is still at the more primitive developmental stage of attracting restaurants.  Here's a Googlegrab showing reported Hindu temples across the southern half of greater Houston (and Google tends to significantly under-report religious institutions).
League City is a bedroom community, largely a collection of residential subdivisions that exploded into being within just the past few years.  This city has not yet had time to mature and develop a full expected range of social institutions, including religious congregations.  The point of the new prayer measure is to be inclusionary, which is exactly what needs to be done (and which I applaud).   But that can't happen unless the City takes into account those extra-territorial venues which its residents have no choice but to attend given the lack of them here in newbieville.

From Wikipedia
So League City needs to compile a reference guide that includes such places.  I know of one existing public religious database for this area, but it's based on voluntary submission of information and it is limited to Galveston County, whereas League City is on the border of the behemoth Harris County with all of its additional diversity.  And it is to Harris County that many of our religious residents go. 
The public list to which I'm referring is published every Saturday in Galveston County Daily News

Low-res screengrab from the August 24, 2013 e-edition. 
I'm going to compile a list of the more prominent institutions which include those that are located a short distance outside of our city limits, but which I know from experience draw visible portions of their congregations from within League City.  Obviously this list will be incomplete and limited by my own social exposures to the various groups.  By all means, comment below or send me emails so that I can continue to flesh this out with appropriate revisions and updates. 

CHRISTIAN (all branches)
  • Too numerous to list in this space.  Refer to the GCDN source given above.
Nice crisp diagram from Wikipedia

MUSLIM
HINDU
  • The closest major venue at this time is likely Meenakshi Temple in nearby Pearland. 
  • Sugar Land, with its 35% Asian population, currently hosts the majority of greater Houston's Hindu facilities. 
BUDDHIST
  • Empty Field Zendo draws from all over Clear Lake / Galveston County and currently meets in League City.  This is primarily a western convert group. 
  • Until a few months ago, the Diamond Way congregation was meeting at a location on Dakota Avenue in League City, but they outgrew their facilities and had to move to a larger commercial location on NASA Road 1.  This is also largely a western convert group. 
  • The closest and most prominent ethnic (Vietnamese) facility is the spectacular Chua Linh Son which is alternately described as being in Santa Fe or Dickinson.  Interesting factoid:  The number of Vietnamese in Houston has been increasing at break-neck speed, particularly with recent migration from California.  About 50% of the Vietnamese community self-identifies as Buddhist. 
  • Dharma Spring Temple is located in Pearland just over its municipal border with Friendswood, and draws congregants from League City.  The Abbot of this temple frequents the Clear Lake area, sometimes leading meditation groups at local venues, including UH Clear Lake.  This is a rare blended western convert and ethnic temple. 
Linh Son is a large compound on FM 646 a bit south of its intersection with FM 517.  Dharma Spring is also situated on a large tract of land and is poised for intensification of its development.   

Screengrabbed from Googlemaps. 
JEWISH
UNITARIAN
  • The Bay Area Unitarian Universalist Church is a vibrant congregation encompassing approximately four hundred pledged members plus their families as well as semi-pledged friends of the church.  A significant percentage of the congregation resides in League City.  Clear Lake is a southern stronghold of sorts for UU-ism, owing to its preponderance of intellectual residents whose formal educations are in the natural sciences (drawn by associations with Johnson Space Center, UTMB, UHCLC, and other local institutions).   
  • There is also the Galveston UU Fellowship which I have heard is attended by some north-county-ers, particularly former islanders who chose to move inland following Hurricane Ike but who maintain ties to the island. 
BAHA'I
ATHEIST / NONTHEIST
As I mentioned above, please email me or comment below if you believe other local venues (particularly those that aren't listed in other sources such as GCDN) deserve a place in this list. 

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

A new home delivery scam?

From the blogger who brought you stories of stolen courier packages and bad behavior by a postal worker caught on security camera, I now offer you an even more sophisticated home delivery scam warning.
Oh dear God, the process should NOT be as difficult or as financially perilous as it seems to be.  But with the astonishing expansion in on-line shopping, there's bound to be a corresponding rise in attempts at hustling the consumer. 

Microsoft clip art.
I have no proof of what is happening in our latest case, but I smell a proverbial scam here, and it's one I haven't encountered before.  Let me explain.

Intrepid suburbanites that we are, my husband and I decided to order a major home appliance through a national distributor.  On such a big-ticket item, I would gladly have paid a substantial premium to deal with an actual brick-and-mortar staffed by real people, but this is a specialty item and it was not for sale in any Texas store.  Nor was it available through any Texas online retailer that we could find.  And the mark-ups on such commodities are now so low and the risks so high that no third-party retailer is motivated to get involved in a non-standard transaction by placing a special order on a consumer's behalf.  That would be like the retail equivalent of asking for a travel agent to help you book an airline flight.  Ain't going to happen. 

So we were left with no option but to order the item directly from the national distributor, whose tone was unusually ominous when warning us to carefully inspect the package, open the package and inspect it for damage prior to signing for it.  That set off my warning bells big-time. 

There's more hinging on your simple signature than you might first assume.

Microsoft clip art.
So our item arrived, unexplainably after dark (and it's summer time, so the sun doesn't set early).  It arrived well after the ground courier's normal business hours.  The driver would not allow us to remove the shipping box from the truck without first signing for it.  My husband was able to open the top of the box to inspect for damage but the driver would not allow him to pull out all the components and inspect them one by one.  This is understandable - until that signature is rendered, financial responsibility for the very-expensive item remains with the courier, and they are not going to let anyone erode their value by ripping open sealed plastic and yanking off pieces of tape because then they are left with a stigmatized and devalued "opened box" consumer item.  About a third of the value evaporates just by opening the package, even if the item is high-end.

So we signed for it and guess what?  It appeared to have been factory sealed as a blatantly-defective item to start with.  There was no evidence that any damage occurred during shipping - the inner and outer boxes were immaculate, without dents or punctures.  My guess is that the factory screwed up but packed the item for retail anyway, gambling that the loss could be passed to someone else down the line.

You may be wondering... why would they even try this stunt?  All the consumer has to do in a case like this is dispute the credit card charge if the distributor won't replace the defective item.  It's open and shut. 

The answer may lie in the fact that the shipment is apparently insured by a third party.  This is pure speculation on my part, but I think it may boil down to a case of retail musical chairs.  I think everybody in the distribution chain is hoping to pin an expensive mistake like this on the underwriter.  If the consumer discovers the damage prior to signature, all they need to do is refuse to accept the item and it goes into an insurance claim.  The distributor then gains the potential to pass it off as shipping damage and recoup what would otherwise be their loss which was passed to them, in turn, by the manufacturer. 

But I suspect that the courier is wise to this scheme, which is doubly why they won't allow the recipient to inspect the interior of the package prior to rendering signature.  Why should they allow themselves to get stiffed when it is really the fault of the manufacturer? 

The result is a retail Mexican stand-off of sorts:
  • You can't sign for the package before you inspect it.
  • The courier won't let you thoroughly inspect it prior to signing.
  • The supplier won't confirm or deny a non-transportation-related non-disclosed factory defect prior to shipping.
  • The factory certainly isn't going to volunteer any information either.
Wikipedia's depiction of Mexican Standoff involves a display by some Steampunkers.  Coincidentally, my new appliance will be somewhat steampunkish... if I can ever manage to acquire it. 
About which you may be wondering... why even bother?!  Why try to circumnavigate the impossible when there are so many other consumer appliances readily available on the market?

Well, if I can ever get the damned thing into my house in one piece, you'll see exactly why in a future post. 

Anyway, where it stands right now is that the distributor has pledged to give me "one more chance" to inspect a replacement shipment.  And this time, I'm not going to do it via delivery truck.  I'm going down to the courier office and I'm going to open it in front of the regional manager, filming the whole miserable process if they will concede to me on that point.  If insurance fraud is really what is being attempted here, the courier should welcome a filming, because that would work to their advantage as well as mine. 

Stay tuned for Part 2 to see how this mess turns out. 

Hill Country ramble, Part 2: Natural Bridge Caverns

As I noted in Part 1 of this travelogue mini-series, I sometimes evaluate well-known recreational venues, but my approach is meta-analytical rather than descriptive.  If instead you want a more mechanical assessment of Natural Bridge Caverns, that's available through their own website or write-ups such as this one

Let me frame my recent experience in Natural Bridge Caverns using an analogy. 

Do you ever wonder why birders do what they do?  Sure, most people would agree that birds are cool and interesting to see (especially from the convenience of one's own home office)... 
A mourning dove squab, newly liberated from the nest and still perplexed about his surroundings, recently overnighted on the rim of our bird bath.  Not the most conservative survival strategy, but he was a newbie who didn't know any better. 
So yes, birds are cool, but birders elevate the observational process to a whole 'nuther level.
For some, birding becomes a primary lifestyle driver, a fact that is not lost on the retailers and municipalities that pursue a share of their collective disposable income. 

Advertisement screengrabbed from Texas Parks and Wildlife Magazine.  What this has to do with Natural Bridge Caverns will become apparent in a minute. 
If you read up on the psychology of birders, you'll find the usual attributions:  They develop it as an elaborate recreational hobby.  They do it for sport.  They choose birding as a means of identifying and socializing with like-minded people. 

But there's another less-oft cited reason:  They do it as a mild form of healthy dissociation.  
  Healthy dissociation is so poorly understood by laypeople that I couldn't even find a satisfying URL to describe it, so I had to screengrab from this Google book source

Some folks might instead declare this component to be selective attention, which is a more benign-sounding idea.  But I can't tell you how many times I've marveled at a birder who was able to deftly dissociate from his or her physical surroundings, which objectively should have been quite distressing at the time, so that they could instead focus solely on the species in front of them.   They didn't register the ankle-deep car-thrown trash including animal carcasses, urine bags, and discarded hypodermic needles on the shoulder of the road as they were stalking their feathery quarry.  They saw only the beauty before them.  The birds were their psychic relief valve, of sorts. 

The "bridge" at Natural Bridge Caverns may be natural, but being almost two hundred feet underground in a confined space with a hundred other people is not a natural experience and, if not approached from an optimal headspace, can be extremely stressful.
The mantra is always "get there early", but due to family schedules, we were forced to get there mid-afternoon on the Saturday of the last full summer weekend before school started.  We could scarcely have picked a worse time.  To say the place was mobbed would be the understatement of the century.  It looked like a Katrina evacuation center - people were exhausted and stressed to the max. 
From a state-of-mind perspective, I leverage photography the way birders leverage birds.
The more intimate tours were already sold out and so we had to see it via the "Discovery Tour", which is basically a controlled open-access cattle-call.  Notice how the webpage describes it as "Departs every 40 minutes, or sooner throughout the day".  When we got there, they were mobilizing huge crowds of people in a continuous flow.  I guess there's no need for fire regulations and associated capacity limitations underground, given that the relative humidity is 100% and there are few combustibles present. 
But you'd never realize that there was a simultaneous, distressing crush of people from looking at these photos. 
Ceiling shot.  No people up there, thankfully. 
Cave features are often given names so that visitors can mentally integrate them into existing conceptual frameworks.  My teenager said, "That doesn't look like a tower - it looks like a swarm of jellyfish."
Healthy dissociation is an adaptive life skill which usually develops with the wisdom of age.  Younger people often have greater difficulty detaching from the impositional aspects of a situation such that they can maximize their productive outcomes.  "Run between the raindrops," I sometimes tell my teenager when she becomes frustrated with school or stymied by the teenaged social climate.  In an active cave, the strategy of running between the raindrops becomes literally the case. 
Raindrops were falling on my head as I zoomed in for this eerie close-up of a particularly wet and active formation. 
Moral of the story:  In any stressful situation, find your own mechanism of healthy dissociation.  It may be birds, photography, interaction with your loved ones, approaching the challenges from a spiritual perspective, or some other focus. 

And oh - Natural Bridge Caverns really are worth seeing under any conditions of stress.  I wasn't sure they would be, because I'm a cave snob.  I've hiked miles and miles of Mammoth.  I spent a few years in the Show-Me State during graduate school, and it's hard for me to imagine anything topping a few of its offerings, especially Onondaga.  But I thoroughly enjoyed Natural Bridge, despite having seen it on what must have been the craziest day of the year. 
Focus on nothing but the up-side. 

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Humming through a Tuesday

It's only Tuesday afternoon, but I'm guessing that these will be my favorite pics of the week.
Through the looking glass of my office window did suddenly to my wondering eyes appear the first hummingbird I've ever seen on our property in Centerpointe.  I don't know who he or she is yet, species-wise (I've sent out an inquiry). It may be a juvenile somethingorother with incomplete feather markings. 
Incidentally, as I was searching for a means of identification, I stumbled across a couple of sites (here and here) about the upcoming 2013 Texas Hummingbird Festival in Rockport.  Who knew there was such a thing?  I do know, however, that it only takes one hummingbird to make a person's day.
Wow!!

In a Facebook post yesterday, the Wildlife Center of Texas noted that hummingbirds are the sole pollinators for 160 different plant species.  The southward migration of hummers is currently underway, and ruby-throated hummingbirds migrate nonstop across the Gulf of Mexico.  A little thumb-sized thing can fly 550 miles in one stretch - amazing, eh? 

Central Market in Clear Lake? FINALLY?!

This post title is a spoof of sorts.  Three weeks ago, I published "Whole Foods in Clear Lake?  FINALLY?!" and it immediately went mildly viral (for a micro-blog), attracting almost a thousand legitimate hits (no bots) to date and even being referenced by name in the hallowed pages of Galveston County Daily News

And all I had was a strong rumor - no factual evidence whatsoever.  That's an indication of just how desperate Clear Lakers are for some decent groceries.   They'll grasp at whatever literary straw appears on the e-landscape, no matter how tenuous.

So it is with a conflicted conscience that I now report another rumor, knowing full well that I might ultimately be contributing to the soul-crushing disappointment of my fellow foodies if it fails to fulfill. 

The rumor says that a Central Market is being planned for an area near the intersection of El Dorado Boulevard and Clear Lake City Boulevard.
My first response to the rumor-spreader was, "Even if they were going to build one, why the hell would they put it way back there?!"

Screengrabbed from Googlemaps.
It is true that there is abundant undeveloped land in this area, something that is becoming a rarity in Clear Lake, which is almost built out by now.
It is also true that the surrounding developments (Pine Brook, Bay Oaks, Bay Forest, Brookwood) are some of the wealthiest for miles in every direction, and wealth is what stimulates the development of higher-end grocery stores.  I love that area from an esthetic and quality-of-life perspective but we chose not to live there because it's a full fifteen to twenty minutes from the freeway.  And as a Centerpointer, you know without having to ask that easy access to the freeway is a priority.  She said as she listened to the drone of speeding cars outside her window.   
It's also arguably true that those wealthiest subdivisions currently have limited access to groceries of any kind - high-end or not.
Realistically, unless those residents want to make a day-trip of it, their best recourse is the Randalls at Clear Lake City and Space Center Boulevards (the blue marker above). 

Wrap your head around that one:  These are some of the most highly-educated, high-earning, hard-working people in our society, and they are forced to shop at (gulp) Randalls.  If there was any justice in life, someone ought to be able to bring a lawsuit for emotional distress on account of conditions like those.   

Yeah, I know - there are people starving in Africa right now.  I'm just trying to use humor to diffuse a bit of the frustration we've built up over decades of retail neglect, here. 

Screengrabbed from GoogleMaps, although not all of those marker flags indicate true grocery stores.  Some of them are convenience-store type mini-marts. 
Have I been able to find even the faintest trace of evidence in support of this latest rumor?  Nnnnnnope - not one bloody bit.  As a matter of fact, historical precedent actually points to the contrary.  If you recall from this post, I was one of the people who fussed and screamed when HEB Clear Lake Market was initially developed into a mainstream HEB instead of a Central Market.  When I questioned the senior management on the wisdom of that choice, I was met with a perfunctory smile and the following memorable quote:

"Our market research indicates that this is not a health-conscious community."
Speaking of emotional distress, eh?  This is a screengrab from that original blog post
But as the old saying goes, that was then and this is now.  Maybe "market research" has begun pointing to a different conclusion.  If Central Market Clear Lake Texas does come to pass, you can say that you heard it here first.  Even if it wasn't actually true at the time. 
"We need one in the Clear Lake area of Houston".  No sh*t, Sherlock!  Keyword associations such as appear on sites like this are all I am able to find when I go trolling for evidence that this rumor might be true. 

Screengrabbed from Google. 
When hell freezes over, maybe?

Sunday, August 25, 2013

The mess on Todville

You can see people walking around in these photos, because that's arguably the only sane way to traverse this area right now:
Where there used to be a road:  Todville at 10th Street in Seabrook, as of yesterday (August 24, 2013). 
It's not a happy place for a major construction project because you have to forget about getting there via the base of the Kemah bridge.  The only way through is to go all the way north to 2nd Street and double back on Todville.  But they haven't compensated for this detour by adjusting the traffic signal at 2nd Street / NASA 1 and Hwy 146, and so you will sit there for-ev-er waiting to get back the way you came.
It's no picnic driving on Waterfront Drive either, where there is barely any right-of-way defined. 
About which you might ask:  Why even go to Waterfront Drive, especially if you have to deal with the likes of that?!

Because that's where the fish markets are, including Rose's Seafood, Golden Seafood, and others.  Somewhere in this ridiculous stack of blog posts, I've griped previously about not being able to buy decent fin fish or shellfish in our local grocery stores (I wonder will this finally change now that Fresh Market is coming to Clear Lake?!).  And with my recent harvests of okra and bell pepper, I needed Gulf shrimp so I could make jambalaya. 
It has to be done with fresh Gulf shrimp, our shrimp.  It simply doesn't work with that farm-raised, alfalfa-tasting stuff imported from Asia, but that's what I find in mainstream grocery stores. 
Anyway, here's hoping they get that mess resolved soon, because it certainly was affecting businesses down there.  I literally had my order of shrimp out of Rose's front door in less than three minutes on a Saturday afternoon, when the place should have been its usual avalanche of seafood seekers standing in long lines.
Some with seafood bags in hand, but the faint of heart appeared not to be making the trip either on foot or by car yesterday. 

Dog ate soap - what to do (warning - graphic image)

Sit back and prepare thyself for an onslaught of barfing and diarrhea, basically.  If it was a consumer grade of bar soap, it probably won't endanger the dog's life.  When in doubt and depending on your circumstances, double check with your vet, but the chat boards seem to be unanimous on this one (e.g., here and here).  Basically, soap ingestion seems to be more of a roaring inconvenience than an emergency.  But nobody is going to be comfortable, neither canine nor human family members, until the sudsy stuff has been passed back out of the system.
This one has far more beauty than brains, obviously, and that big mouth gets her in a lot of trouble.

No, that's not the graphic image I was referring to in the post title, but you'll want to quit reading now if you wish to avoid it.  
Back in 2011, I described how this very same adorable mutt chewed on sago root and almost died (it's still not clear how long her liver will last).  Following that horrific experience, we learned to be vigilant when it comes to determining what she ingests at any given time.  With some dogs, the mantra is "eat first and ask questions later".  It's not a question of whether they'll poison themselves - it's a question of when and with what.

We also learned to be adept and quick in identifying the source of any given gastric upset.   In this case, we ran through the usual list of obvious questions:

  • Did she get into the kitchen trash can?  
  • Did the teenager or her friends leave any junk food within reach in her bedroom? (chocolate is poisonous to dogs).  
  • Did any passers-by toss any trash over our fence that she might have eaten?  (we back to a public sidewalk)

We had a poorly constrained variable on this one because we had spent the previous night in an extended-family member's beach house in Galveston.  I had examined the house for dog-proofness, but I had not considered the hand soap as a potential evening-ruiner.  I think she ate it because we don't use scented soap in our house (allergies) and therefore she figured it might be a foodstuff because that particular bar had a strong smell to it.

How did I figure out it was hand soap?
She didn't just chew on it - she swallowed it whole.  Here's the mostly-dissolved core of it, with a screwdriver for scale.  I had to fish it out and examine it because whatever that white thing was, it clearly did not belong in my dog's barf.  It was readily identifiable by smell, even in the barf-coated configuration you see here.  

With both kids and with dogs, steel thy nerves and examine closely any and all vomitus, even as it is staining its way into your tile grout.  This is especially true if you cannot identify the poisoning agent by inference from your surroundings.  
We had a few other clues before all the emetic excitement:

  • She was alternately listless and anxious (not feeling well, obviously).
  • She was reluctant to eat her dinner (I'da thought it more likely that the Earth would stop spinning on its axis).
  • She drooled several times earlier in the day (and she never does that).  
  • She drank copious amounts of water in the several hours leading up to the resulting barf-a-thon (which made the clean-ups even more fun for me).  

So there you have yet another suburban existential milestone aptly described.  Happy pet parenting.  Sigh.

This is a very nice graphic (source unknown or I would credit it) showing foods that are toxic to dogs.  Of course, soap is not on here as it's not a food per se...

Butler business

Butler Longhorn Museum has released an email blast appealing for support in front of City Council this Tuesday.
Here is an excerpted screengrab from the blast, with the pertinent details.
GCDN also featured this information in a story this morning.

You would think that, with the remarkable turn-around performance the formerly-troubled Butler has recently generated, a lease renewal vote would be a non-issue at this point.  But if I read between the lines of both the GCDN story and the email blast, it sounds a bit like nobody is willing to take for granted City Council's capacity for common sense.  And I certainly can't blame them for that.
A future formerly foggy now looks bright, supposing nobody messes with it.  The museum as it appeared on a ponderous evening in 2009.  

Friday, August 23, 2013

Pride cometh before the fall, Part 2

This post deepens an exploration I began in Part 1, in which I questioned the response of the City Council of League City to the request for cessation of prayer on the public clock, as that request was rendered by the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF).  In this post, I'll frame my analysis using a detailed analogy and then conclude with a personal appeal that FFRF pursue its request as originally rendered.

First, the analogy. 

Last night, I asked my husband the following question, which I'm paraphrasing here and prefacing with context: 

"I require just three characteristics of every person with whom we associate on any social, familial, or professional level:  Sobriety, integrity, and work ethic. 

Those are the only defining metrics I care about.  I do not care if the person is immigrant or native-born.  I do not care if they are gay or straight.  I do not care if they are capitalist or socialist.  I do not care if they self-identify as Democrat, Republican, Green, Libertarian, Communist, or Independent.  I do not care whether they worship Christ, Shiva, Allah, Buddha, the Flying Spaghetti Monster, none of the above, or all of the above. 

Now my question is:  Does this stance of mine make me liberal or conservative as those terms are popularly defined in this country?"
A week and a half after I asked that question of my husband, The Economist asked the same question of itself.  You can read their explanation here.  Screengrabbed from Facebook.   
Of course, my husband had no answer to give me, because no answer exists.  What I described above is a set of personal priorities that are orthogonal to prevailing American stereotypes.  
By the way, if you haven't read the historical background underpinning the development of the Flying Spaghetti Monster (FSM) conceptual framework, I highly recommend it.

Screengrabbed from Wikipedia. 
Prevailing American stereotypes remind me very much of the paper dolls with which I used to play as a child.  We'd cut out the shape of the doll, cut out a profoundly predictable selection of costumes (dressy, sporty, businessy, etc.), and then bend little paper tabs over the shoulders and hips to successively secure each fashion fa├žade to our pulpy princesses. 

That's what American subscriptional stereotypes are - they're nothing more than facades that are either approved or disapproved according to the extent to which they conform to pre-defined expectations (dressy, sporty, businessy morph into Democrat, Republican, Independent or Christian, Muslim, Atheist).  They say nothing whatsoever about the underlying character of the person, and they have about as much depth as the paper overlays I described above. 

A big problem arises because so many people unwisely associate superior moral characteristics with their preferred paper outfits.  They engage in wildly erroneous attributions in the process of so doing.  So, for instance, they see someone wearing the "Christian" tabbed costume and not only do they automatically assume moral and ethical superiority in that person, they assume it to the exclusion of other options.   

If you doubt the shocking extent to which this type of erroneous attribution occurs in our society, I urge you to examine the recent local cases of Jason Murray and Christopher Dupuy.

I said integrity.

This particular passage is screengrabbed from this KTRK report, but the sheer number of criminal allegations against this man defies the imagination.
I said sobriety.  AND I said integrity (Murray also pled guilty to assault in a separate incident). 

Screengrabbed from this Chron article
Why did those two men gain access to prestigious elected offices despite having personal characters that arguably are fatally flawed? 

Easy peasy:  They each donned a paper cut-out that had the letter "R" scribbled hastily on the front of it.  And the voters swallowed their superficial representations hook, line, and sinker:  "They are Republicans and therefore they must be who we need in office, by automatic definition."

The voters' assumptions couldn'ta been further from the truth, obviously.  And Galveston County has a seemingly-endless stream of legal messes to show for it.  All to be cleaned up using taxpayer dollars, of course. 

I'm belaboring this distinction because it's vitally important and I'll get to the specific point of this blog post in a moment. 

I have spent the last decade and a half of my life trying to communicate this very same perspective to my daughter: 

"Don't trust someone just because they tell you they're Christian," I tell her.  "You need to read between the lines and see what that person does rather than paying attention to what he says.  Not only can you not assume morally superior intentions in someone who claims to be Christian, you have to realize that the person may be leveraging that label as a disguise that protects them as they do evil to the rest of us. 

Similarly, don't distrust someone just because they say they are Muslim or Atheist.  There are as many different interpretations of Islam and Atheism as there are people who claim to be each, and you need to determine who the speaker truly is as a person before you can make inferences about either their character or their motivations." 

I wish someone could communicate that very same perspective to the City Council of League City right about now.  When I read this account (no paywall, woot!) of the most recent City Council meeting, the first thing that came to my mind was, "They are still not getting it."  The nuances of the current prayer-in-Council-meetings conflict (paywalled) still seem to be completely lost on them.  Rather than embracing the situation on its face and delving more deeply into what actually exists here, they are frantically pinning two-dimensional paper costumes on to whatever shadowy cut-outs they believe they can discern.  "...audacity of a northern state" because, of course, people from the north prefer a density of costume that cannot be worn here in hotter climes.  "funded by the usual suspects from the left" because that's the easiest paper-thin assumption to grasp at, isn't it?  Reach into your papyrus closet and grapple onto whichever hastily-scribbled label is most handy.
If you do an image search for "paper dolls" on Google, you'll see an utter lack of any ethnic or existential diversity in the results.  In this manner, art imitates life yet another time. 

Screengrabbed from Google. 
As I suggested during Part 1 of this post, this prevailing municipal attitude at the very least represents a significant missed opportunity to actually relate to the diversity of constituents (i.e., voters - remember them?!) who live and work within the City of League City. 
I hate to break it to you Council guys, but diversity of religious opinion isn't a phenomenon that is limited to any "northern state".  This is a screengrabbed excerpt from The Racial Dot Map, roughly centered on Centerpointe.  See that concentration of red dots?  Those represent people from Asia, where Christianity is a minority religion

These results are consistent with what I revealed earlier this year in "The Immigrant Effect", although a present-day edition of the Racial Dot Map would be even redder than the version shown above, as that version does not reflect the full ethnic flower of Centerpointe Section 9 (its construction had not been completed as of the 2010 Census).   
I was not the local person who originally petitioned FFRF to make their request of League City, but may I please be permitted to enjoin the request at this time?  It seems to me that this would accomplish several objectives simultaneously:
  • It would stop the dismissive finger-wagging about the responsibility for the request originating with a rogue "northern state".  At least some of the wrath could instead be re-directed at that crazy suburban vegetable gardener who stares maniacally over her back fence at City Hall. 
No, that's not me, but it captures my mood.

Screengrabbed from this site without regard to the paper doll that it represents.  Don't look at the source URL and yank knee-jerk assumptions out of your paper closet about who I am as a person.  I intentionally chose that one just to throw you off, eh?  
  • People might actually learn something new around here if FFRF were to follow up on its initial request.  God knows that our Council desperately needs practice in dealing with both cultural and religious minorities.  FFRF would be doing us taxpayers a massive favor in helping to develop them to be more sensitive and accepting, even if such "training" needed to be accomplished via legal compulsion (as it has in the past). 
  • Although the bullet points above were delivered in a somewhat tongue-in-cheek tone, I'm not kidding.  I really would like to see the City of League City improve its public relations, deepen public awareness of its demographics, and do a better job of responding to the Constitution of the United States.  I'm sick and tired of seeing news stories about how provincial and predictable and paper-costumed this city's representatives are.  It would probably be easier to come out publicly as a homosexual around here than it would be to self-identify as a member of a religious minority.  League City could visibly improve both of those conditions if it widens its interpretation of Council meeting prayers to reflect inclusivity principles that have already been embraced elsewhere in this country.  And I, for one, would sure welcome the sight of that. 
Coming soon to an LC Council meeting near you, but do you understand why??  That's the important question.

Screengrabbed from Wikimedia.   
 

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Favorite food forensics

I regret not having the time to do a better job of this investigation, but I was already late to a business meeting this afternoon when I happened to catch sight of this sign out of the corner of my eye:
A brand spankin' new temporary vinyl sign tacked to some oriented strand board.  But Clear Lake it ain't - those are Dow Chemical's frac columns visible in the background. 
This is the establishment to which the sign belonged, at 103 W. Plantation Drive in Clute, at the corner of Plantation and Main, essentially, near where El Torro (never been there) and Brian's BBQ (it's excellent!!) are also located. 
The reason why this might be noteworthy is as follows.  If you remember back to March of this year, I wrote a post titled "Tragedy on El Dorado Boulevard". 
And by tragedy, I wasn't referring to the loss of the sign, but rather the well-known eatery (Korean BBQ) that went with it. 
At the time, Houston food critic Alison Cook had a Twitter thread going which included the following comment:
Clute... Freeport... it's all the same to just about everyone who doesn't live there. 
How many Korean restaurants could there possibly be in that area?  A Korean restaurant named alternately "Seafood Joy" and "Seafood by Joy" has been at this address for a few years now, but look at this yelp I found while trolling for information on it.
They reportedly shut down for a few months and then re-opened, which is strongly suggestive of a change of ownership or operatorship.
I had time to stop in just very briefly.  I asked an Asian gentleman behind the counter, "Is it Mia?" referring to the former proprietor of the El Dorado location.  He said little, but gave me a knowing smile.  I continued, "From Clear Lake?" An even wider knowing smile. 
He gave me a copy of the lunch menu to take with me, and it was also brand spankin' new, just like the vinyl sign outside.  Note the all-important Bi Bim Bap.  It's very different from this previous published menu for the place
I told the man that I would return as soon possible to have a meal there, so that I can confirm or deny whether the food is as heavenly as it was at the El Dorado location.  The only question at this point is, will @AlisonCook beat me to it?
:-)