Friday, December 12, 2014

League City run-off election thoughts

No, I haven't been on vacation.  I write several blogs and I've spent the last interval of time racking up about 30 posts on one of the others.
I am unless I have activities planned, because vacations have the potential to bore me, indeed.  I'm not a fan of passive entertainment.  
Despite the unrelated blog-writing frenzy, I've been keeping one eye on League City's run-off election (municipal site here) and the usual propaganda and posturing involved with such a thing.  I was not impressed with the glossy that was mailed out in which every other LC Councilman endorsed Keith Gross (election URL apparently expired as of this writing).  Do you, the voters, really want a Council comprised of nothing but dittoheads??

I'm sorry for the term which I did not originate, and I don't find name-calling to be appropriate in most situations, but I have heard so many people refer to Council as "a bunch of conservative dittoheads" that by this time, the phrase is almost de rigueur.

Jason Long has some questionable history - I get that.  It's been well-expounded in the press.  Normally I would not even remotely endorse a candidate with his record.  But when I look at the big picture alternatives, I don't like what I see.  So, the rest of Council doesn't like J. Long, as they made clear with their mailer.  Is that really so bad in this context?  Who is going to be the counterweight, the whistle-blower, the check-and-balance, if the rest of them are all buddy-buddy?

Are you a conservative?  Good for you.  Now, engage your should-be-truly-conservative brain and remember that this is government we are talking about here.  I don't care what kind of label people are wearing - if they are uniformly buddy-buddy, the net result is frequently baddy-baddy.  Don't be the fool to assume that just because every candidate happens to be wearing your favorite label, that this has no potential to occur.  History doesn't prove it out.

As usual, the choices would seem to be less than ideal.  Maybe I should stick to that other blog I've been working on.
This is an oversimplification because it assumes there are good choices, but we should keep voting regardless, just to remain within the bounds of civic duty. 

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

2014 League City election picks for City Council

Early voting for the City Council races in League City (plus many other muni, county, state, and federal positions) began yesterday but I withheld publishing my picks until today out of a desire for fairness and balance.  I wanted to incorporate the primary alternate editorial source, which is the recommendations put forth by Galveston County Daily News (paywalled), and also see some of those forum comments, so that you could compare and contrast both sets of picks in the process of doing your own evaluation and arriving at your own voting choices.

I note again for the record that this is a non-commercial, non-politically-affiliated blog that presents personal opinions only.  This blog is not associated in any way with Centerpointe POA; we just happen to live in the same named place.
Here we go... the early vote is now on!  Signs at the corner of SH 3 and League City Parkway.  
For those of you who are not familiar with my local involvement, I gathered the information that underpins my picks from the following sources:

  1. Daily reading of our local newspapers (GCDN and Chron; I am a paying subscriber to both, ca-ching!).
  2. Daily participation in local online discussion forums, some behind paywalls, and also email discussion threads.
  3. Daily general attention to League City goings-on for the past 5 years of my residency here.
  4. A little bit of attendance at a few historical City Council meetings and watching of additional meeting videos on the internet
  5. Attendance at the City Council candidates forum held on October 8, 2014 (you can see a full video of that forum here - not paywalled - with corresponding GCDN link here). 
  6. My own October 9, 2014 public appeal for historical context and additional "back-story" information on all candidates in competing races.  

Cutting to the chase, here are my picks, and I will describe my rationale for these choices in sections to follow this graphic.


My choice is either Becker (if you can stand him) or a no-vote in this ballot position (which is called undervoting) if you cannot stand him.  GCDN picked Ewend because they obviously cannot stand Becker, but I find that their rationale for doing so was weak and didn't take all relevant decision factors into proper account.  Becker is well-known for his obvious intelligence and League City managerial experience, but GCDN essentially argues that he's too much of a hot-head to deserve a vote.  My response to this is YES, he certainly is a hot-head, and furthermore, he does not seem to be improving himself in that regard.  But the example that GCDN gave was that of the fist-fight with fellow Council member Okeeffe, which I argued was mostly a cosmetic issue that, if anything, suggests that both men are probably honest at the core.  I don't pick my political candidates based on the cosmetics of their behavior or sensationalized news accounts of same.  Far more consequential in this analysis is Becker's Achilles heel:  Despite his higher IQ, he sucks out loud when it comes to risk assessment and decisional priority weightings.  I could provide you with specific, pointed examples but I'm afraid it would make this post too long, and so I will reserve that for later.

In my opinion, voting for Ewend would simply make a questionable Council seat much, much worse.  Ewend has not represented himself well during this election cycle.  Jim Guidry's local news service, which almost never crosses my radar, explained exactly how in an op-ed titled "The circus left Houston last week - a missed calling".  The writer described Ewend as "our town jester" and I agree with that evaluation.  Ewend seems to be intentionally making a mockery of the American democratic process and he has already cost the LC taxpayers unnecessary time and money with his absolute failure (or refusal?) to comprehend Ethics 101 (sorry - paywalled; can't find an open info source on that one).

In absolutely no scenario that I can imagine would Ewend be an improvement over Becker, as imperfect as Becker is.  Becker is the clear lesser of evils, as I see it.


I pick Morris because I think he's strong enough to deserve a chance to prove himself.  He's an attorney, so we get that proverbial "free attorney" on Council which is something we desperately need (and this is particularly important because I do NOT pick attorney Gross; explanation given in the next section).

GCDN picked Cones and argued their choice on the basis that nobody knows LC better than Cones does, but that's not necessarily a good thing unless Cones can also behave in a functional manner with respect to City business and relationships.  During my public appeal, every single piece of feedback I received on Cones was strongly negative, and every email was backed up with objective information that the commenters used to justify their thumbs-down (so it wasn't  just subjective ranting on their parts).  Whatever the hell Cones did during his previous Council tenure, he made a lot of enemies.  And we don't need enemy-makers on Council when we have a potentially better choice available in Morris.


I pick Dawson for much the same reason that GCDN also picks her - because there is no other voice on Council who has proven themselves to be the least bit concerned about quality-of-life issues.  We desperately need a canary in our Council coal mine, and Dawson, as limited as she appears to be in certain functional respects (explanation omitted for brevity), has proven herself capable of filling that specialized role.  Dawson will be the whistle-blower when the rest of the WASPy conservative clones on Council step too far out of line.  And we really, really need that for counterpoint perspective if nothing else.

As further support for this pick, I note that Jason Long is not a good choice by virtue of his criminal record (paywalled) which calls his temperament into question if nothing else, and the fact that he does not represent himself well in debate (see the forum video for evidence).

As further evidence for this pick, I note that Gross is a litigator, an adversarial character whose mannerisms struck me as way, way too far toward a slash-and-burn mentality.  Watch the forum video and I think you'll see what I mean.  He does not appear to come to the table with a cooperative demeanor - rather it's a short-sighted, over-the-top attitude of (paraphrased), "You people are all screwing up spending money on moving oak trees and thank goodness I'm swooping in to save the good people of League City from your wild incompetence and dastardly influences."  We do not need that kind of attitude on Council given the personalities that we've already got.  He may be an attorney and he may have some professional strengths as a result of that, but that's not enough.


Agreeing with GCDN on this one as well, I pick Nick Long for the simple reason that he's an extremely strong candidate, so strong that if he ran against any one of those others, he'd still be a shoe-in (danged pity that he did not choose to run against Becker).  In the candidates forum, Al-Sahli proved himself to be no slouch, and if he were running against a weaker opponent, I think he would be both electable and desirable as a Council member.  He seems to be a buoyantly positive, laid back kind of guy (in some instances, probably a bit too laid back for his own self-preservational good).  I sense that Mr. Abdul has a latent potential to become a Great Dispeller of Bullsh*t, if only he were given a chance.  I hope that decides to run again in the future if he loses his current bid.

There are my opinions for you to do with as you see fit in formulating your own.  With respect to voting resources, here are a few useful links.  Following the closing meme below, I will also reproduce GCDN's contrasting election picks with their own rationales presented in full for your consideration.

But not until the skinny lady sings.  Good luck at the polls.  
In the contested races for city council in League City, The Daily News recommends:
• Council Position 1: Jay Ewend. This is a case of addition by subtraction. The incumbent, Dan Becker, was arguably the most knowledgeable candidate at a recent forum. He provided informed answers on questions about debt and infrastructure. But League City got national attention when two council members got into a fistfight in the city manager’s office. Voters shouldn’t have to worry about things like that.
• Council Position 2: Tommy Cones. Cones had a colorful run during his previous tenure on council — and he could work on decorum. Nevertheless, few people know League City better.
• Council Position 6: Joanna Sharp Dawson. Attorney Keith Gross is an articulate candidate and would be a good choice, but Dawson deserves another term. She has been a voice of decency on a council that is sometimes bitterly divided. She’s also been an advocate for parks and historic preservation — interests that ought to warrant at least one spokesman in one position on council.
• Council Position 7: Nick Long. Long, a financial consultant, gave the most detailed view on how the city should balance debt with the need to build infrastructure to accommodate growth. While Long gets the endorsement, it’s hard to argue against the experience in operating small businesses offered by his opponent, Abdul Al-Sahli.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

A request following the League City candidates forum

Last night, Galveston County Daily News hosted a question and answer forum attended by all nine City Council candidates.
GCDN editor TJ Aulds, who served as the organizer and moderator, did a superb job of maintaining a rigorous professional order.  
As a blogger, I am in the process of formulating my list of "picks" for this election.  Attending last night's forum was one step in my process of researching and evaluating the candidates.  In conjunction with this process, I invite members of the community to present me with their own opinions and evaluations.  Here are my personal areas of weakness regarding which I would appreciate specific input:
  1. I have only lived in League City for about five years.  Therefore, I lack some historical context that is relevant to this present-day evaluation.  For instance, why did Cones lose his Council seat previously?  Why have I observed Cones and Paulissen to fight like cats and dogs on occasion?  What else do I need to know about historical activities and backstories that should be weighed in the evaluation of each candidate's present-day qualifications? Questions such as these are important because they speak to the potential of the candidates to work effectively with Council rather than expending time and energy on the type of conflict and divisiveness for which League City has become well-known.
  2. I am politically unaffiliated and socially unconnected where all of these candidates are concerned.  That is a strength I cite in support of my own objectivity, but it is also a weakness because it limits my ability to know from experience who is in bed with whom and why - in other words, what behind-the-scenes alliances may or may not bode well for League City.  Local political offices are routinely exploited by people for personal gain instead of representing the genuine sense of civic duty that should be driving their participation.  A particular candidate might look wonderful on paper and may present well on his or her face, but if that candidate's primary motivation is to use League City as a stepping stone to something better for themselves, then I'm not sure that's the candidate we need.  Knowing more about this factor will help my evaluation.  

If you have information to share (hard information substantiated by facts is particularly desirable), please inbox me via -  Conversely, if you start your own blog or provide your analysis elsewhere (such as in the commercial news media), I would appreciate it if you would drop me a line to draw my attention to your content.  I do review the GCDN comment stacks almost daily, but sometimes I miss things.

Thank you!  @CenterBlog. 

There's always room for a meme, especially when it conveys information.  

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The polarity predicament, Part 1

I have been quieter than usual lately on this blog in part because I've been making some behind-the-scenes inquiries into what responsive measures might be possible with respect to the continued open animosity between the City Council of League City and some members of the local Muslim community.  I've addressed a few facets of this issue previously in this post and this post, but as a blogger, I have yet to deal with the core issue head-on.
That is, indeed, what we have on our hands in LC on the immigration resolution issue.  
Here is one hobbling limitation that has been repeatedly emphasized by the folks with whom I have spoken thus far:  The lack of available public information on this conflict, specifically as it relates to newspaper coverage.  The residents of League City would genuinely like to know more about what's been happening, but they have few options for obtaining this information.  I have complained bitterly about this limitation on many previous occasions, to the point of establishing a blog category titled "Newspapers".  Those with whom I have spoken in the past few weeks have confirmed and even elevated my own concerns, with comments such as "I subscribe to Houston Chronicle but they are not covering League City's issues" and "Galveston County Daily News may be reporting on it, but their overall product is of such poor quality that there's no way I'm ever going to grant them the satisfaction of my subscription fee, so I really can't get any information about what's been happening."
GCDN is covering it at least in a limited sense, but that content is almost entirely paywalled.

I apologize if you find the memes distracting, but I think this discussion could benefit from some much-needed comic relief and the general not-taking-of-oneself-too-seriously, among other things.  Memes are certainly good for those purposes.  
Just as an aside, GCDN is commonly accused of indulging the usual and customary liberal media bias, but some of the most negative comments I've received recently about GCDN have been from people who self-identify as having very liberal viewpoints.  Their complaints seem to center on the quality of the investigative reporting - specifically on what they perceive as a complete lack of any intellectual perspective whatsoever - rather than on the ideological slant.
I "bereave" the liberal media - yes, I most certainly do!!

The world-renowned actor Jackie Chan undoubtedly did not approve of this internet meme, although he has been known to be outspoken on political issues.   
I am currently at a loss as to how people might compensate for this informational vacuum.  I do agree (as people have noted) that it's unworkably pricey to subscribe to both Houston Chronicle and GCDN - that's going to be out of the budget of many of the Clear Lakers who are caught in the middle, geographically and otherwise (I'm considering Clear Lake to encompass League City).  It's unworkably pricey especially because neither of those publications is located in our area and neither of them do justice to our area.  Regardless of which one is chosen, you don't receive that much relevant content for your considerable amount of subscription money, frankly.

So where does that leave us?  As I've said many times before, the newspapers royally suck and our local blogosphere is nonexistent, and I never set my blog up for the kind of generalized communicative purpose that is called for here.  Effective dissemination of this kind of information requires extensive market penetration of the kind that I originally intended to deflect rather than achieve.  Those 155,000 hits you see on the counter below are all from people who had to work to get here - to make a long story short, I was shooting for readership quality rather than quantity, which is valid for its own purposes, but it is far from effective when the objective is disseminating general public information that isn't otherwise available.

Anyway, FWIW, the latest offering from GCDN is a very formulaic editorial titled "It's bad policy to disdain the public's complaints" (paywalled).   It references the fact that a few members of City Council walked out of the public comment period during a recent Council meeting.  The public participation, as always, referenced the original "radical Islamist terror groups" clause in the resolution that has already been DEBATED TO DEATH, BUT ONLY WITHIN THE PROFOUNDLY RESTRICTED FRAMEWORK OF PREVAILING ACCEPTABLE SOCIAL POLARITY.
...but not for as long as each and every one of you insist on maintaining your current polarized positions.  
The reason why I have started talking to some people in the community is that, like everyone else, I'm sick to death of the obvious ideological stalemate.  I have specific ideas about how this issue could be (brace yourself) actually moved forward in a mutually productive way.  Unfortunately, thus far, I'm not finding many other people who feel similarly and who would be willing to contribute a bit of their time and energy in order to do something about the stalemate which is continuing to manifest like a really bad broken record in Council meetings and in the press.  Mostly what I'm finding is that people have a passionate desire to continue stamping their feet and proffering their particular polarized oversimplifications.  Most people seem to want to continue taking bi-weekly baths in their righteous indignation as they pout and hold their positions with their minds clamped as firmly shut as they can possibly muster.

Anyway, as a first measure in this regard, I started calling louder bullsh*t on the polarity in response to that newest editorial linked above.  Because it's paywalled, I will reproduce my comments below FYI.  You don't really need to read the original editorial - all it basically says is that certain City Council members are bad for walking out during a public comment period.  There's no historical or contextual weighting, no suggestion as to what else might be done to really address the underlying issues (that's what op-eds are supposed to do, isn't it? Suggest things?).  It's just that little dissociated bit - Council is bad.  And that's the polarity predicament in a nutshell.


What continues to amaze me about this situation is that everyone is behaving exactly as our current ultra-polarized society expects them to behave, every step of the way. 

There's not been a shred of creativity or original thinking anywhere in this equation - I feel like I've been watching a collective Dance of the Automatons, from LC City Council to the Muslim community to this local press itself.  Every single party playing their prescribed role, right on cue.  There's no room for thinking outside the box.  There's no room for asking legitimate questions (they have been in there, but were drowned out by all the BS, especially the name-calling of which both sides are guilty).  There's no room for orthogonal viewpoints.  There's no room for thought experiments in devil's advocacy.  There is no room for anything that even remotely resembles a fresh perspective.  It is simply not allowed. 

There is absolutely no room for anything other than extremely polarized cookie-cutter views that conform to established stereotypes (especially liberal vs. conservative).  And the situation is SO BAD that when I make the observation for folks that what they are doing amounts to nothing more than cherry-picking an off-the-shelf extremist view, they literally think I'm nuts.  Twice in one week in behind-the-scenes conversations, I had the unnerving experience of pointing out to different people that they have reduced a nuanced situation to an unworkable level of black and whiteness, and they responded to me, scandalized, with (paraphrased), "What do you mean?  I'm not taking an extremist view - I'm simply taking a HUMAN view."  In other words, they've totally lost touch with their own extremism, if they even had any awareness of that in the first place.

Of course, it's the height of fashion right now to join in the American polarity movement.  It's so effortless and attractive, instant gratification in the style of illegal drugs - you can get instant street cred, an instant "in", not by having any actual ideas, but just by dropping a few key words and phrases that confirm your subscription to The Group.  But at a certain point, you have to ask yourself what you're really getting out of that kind of mindset.  OK, bully for you - you're "in", and those unfathomable guys on the other side of the issue are also "in", but what are any of you actually gaining from all this polarity?  And much more importantly, what is everyone losing because of it? 

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Section 9 burglaries

Centerpointe Section 9-ers, you may have noticed this message on your USPS clusterbox late yesterday or this morning:
It was distributed by a good Samaritan but it won't remain there for long.  Posting notices on clusterboxes makes USPS absolutely furious (ye shall receive the wrath of Mail Carrier if she catches you doing it).  They won't stand for it, even if it is in the public interest.  
I don't have full details yet, but reportedly, as many as nine (!!) vehicles may have been burgled on the night of September 23.  From what I was told, it seemed to be the usual modis operandi - a person or multiple people looking for items that could be easily grabbed and fenced.  Drug people, I speculate.

Anyway, keep your eyes open.  And for heaven's sake, park as many of your cars in your garages as possible.  A couple of years ago, I published a theory that crime is positively correlated with the number of driveway- and street-parked cars.  It makes perfect sense - if your intention is to break into cars, where are you going to go?  To the areas that have the most cars, duh.  Higher densities of cars provide a two-fold advantage:  greater potential for theft in a smaller area, plus greater opportunity for physical concealment as the cars are being broken into.  The area hit on September 23 does have a lot of outdoor cars, including some that are street-parked.  My cul-de-sac does not seem to have been affected, and it's worth noting that we have no cars whatsoever parked overnight on the street, and most of our residents garage their cars.  Slim pickens, in other words.   

It looks like yet another meme but it's not.  This doormat is actually for sale. 

Thursday, September 18, 2014

City Hall scene

Small meteorite?  Wrath of God?  Micro-hurricane come ashore when we were not watching?  Graffiti shroud?  Grand unveiling about to occur?

Yeah, I know, it's most likely to be a roof leak or structural issue.  Given that it's only two years old, I hope it's still under warranty.
The blue roof blues, as seen yesterday evening.

Friday, September 12, 2014

An open letter to City Council candidate Abdul Al-Sahli

Mr. Abdul, as a candidate for League City Council Position 7, I am curious as to why your business chose not to lower its flags to half staff yesterday to commemorate the 13th anniversary of 9/11.
September 11, 2014, approximately 4:00 p.m.

Your exact role at this business is reported variably depending on the source, but it's clear that you have substantial authority there.  The DE website does not mention any owner or controlling entity by name and neither does the corresponding Secretary of State franchise page (officers and directors information is missing), but your own LinkedIn profile describes you as DE Flooring's "President".  I've heard people verbally refer to your relationship to this business in ownership terms (partial vs. full ownership not specified), and when I signed a small services contract with DE Flooring about a year ago, you were explicitly described to me as "the man in charge".  As such, it would appear that you are the authority who would be in the position to make administrative decisions such as flag-lowering.  
Yesterday was a day of national mourning in which American flags were ordered to half staff.
Screengrabbed from this site.  
Of course, not every private business in our area complied with this directive.  For instance, a day care center not far from DE Flooring also had flags at full staff.  The crucial difference is that the day care owner has not claimed a role for himself or herself as a political figure.  He or she is not currently running for an American public office and seeking the public's trust.
All public offices and most local businesses did lower their flags, however.  About three minutes after I took the above photo of DE Flooring, I took this one of ACU of Texas' League City branch, which has established an unfailing local reputation for its tasteful displays of patriotism.  
Even the initial act of declaring political candidacy is a demonstration of leadership, and the very first task of leadership is to identify with the people and confirm a strong connection to the people.  I intentionally looked at your place of business yesterday on my way home from work because I assumed you would be showing this kind of solidarity on a day when such observances are absolutely vital to the American soul.
While DE Flooring's flags were at full staff late yesterday afternoon, this is what was going on a short distance away.

Image courtesy of the City of League City.  
In your case, of course, the participatory issue goes beyond generic political candidacy due to your ethnicity.  I mention this because I personally think it's fair game to discuss that aspect of what you potentially bring to League City's political table (which is currently characterized by a woeful lack of diversity), and because obviously you think this is fair game, too - your campaign website specifically references that element:
Screengrabbed from this campaign page.  
As a Council candidate, it cannot possibly have escaped your attention that League City has spent the last two months embroiled in conflict over a City Council resolution that contained the phrase "radical Islamist terror groups".  While most reasonable people question the motivation behind the injection of this reference (and the resolution itself, for that matter), the unavoidable fact is that the resulting social conversation is well underway, and some of the questions being raised by local residents are arguably valid and deserving of responses (e.g., see the most recent discussion threads on Galveston County Daily News here and here).  Many of those questions boil down to a very simple inquiry:  which is more important to any given individual - their ethnicity and the religious and cultural factors that go with it, or their allegiance to America?  People genuinely want to explore that issue, and I believe that it is healthy for them to do so.

It saddens me that your business did not lower its flags yesterday.  I may be the first to publish this question, but I cannot possibly be the only League City resident who noticed those flags.  By not participating in the national observance of Patriot Day, you will give additional ammunition to those of the more extreme voices in the conversation who are quick to seize upon any perceived negative development to support their fears and distrust of other cultures, especially those that they believe are associated with Islam.  They're going to say things like (paraphrasing), "WTF??  This guy named Abdul Al-Sahli is running for office and he had the nerve not to observe 9/11?  See??  I've been telling you all along that these people are not really with us!"  Even if accidental, this type of outcome hardly seems consistent with your own stated campaign intentions.

I hope you will address this question, not to me, not to this blog post, but to those who deserve your response - the good people of League City, Texas.
On top of everything else we've got going on locally, yesterday was not an "ordinary" 9/11 anniversary - it had a larger sadness component than those in recent memory.  All of America is increasingly anxious because, every single day, there is a new news story documenting the burgeoning power of the group known as Islamic State.  We don't know what will happen, but we know that thousands of people have already died, and thousands more will surely die, with or without the planned American airstrikes.  

I could not get done with work in time for League City's memorial service yesterday, but I did pause to face these half-staff flags in front of another City Hall about 50 miles from here.  I stopped to pay my respects and to say a small prayer for international peace.  I also pray that we can reach a better state on our local level, a state in which we can all understand each other more deeply than we obviously do today.   

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Beware of other critters, too

Please try not to run over that large tortoise who is currently insisting on traveling straight down West Walker Street.

I picked him up near Cypress Pointe and deposited him in a safer area, but when these guys get a mind to head toward a particular destination, they often can't be redirected, and it sometimes doesn't end well.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Beware of local area snakes right now

My husband and I met some friends for dinner Monday evening at Mamacitas on NASA Road 1.  Sitting in the passenger seat on the way home, I noticed a bit of road debris out of the corner of my eye.  "That's an odd shape for a strip of retread," I thought to myself.  As reality came into sharper focus, I bellowed to my husband, "HOLY SH*T - I JUST SAW THE BIGGEST WATER MOCCASIN EVER!" 

Twenty-four hours later, a similar encounter, only this time on our West Walker Street sidewalk a short distance from the LC police station.
Sitting there like the serpent in our suburban Garden of Eden.  I was walking our dog just after dusk and I didn't have a clear view of this critter while we were out there.  I had to come home and upload the cell phone pic before I could declare what the species was (the picture was taken with a flash, which made the details easier to see).  
You don't really need to declare the species - if you live in these parts, the safe thing to do is treat any snake you see as venomous, every time, regardless of what you can see of it.  Now that I can view the image on the computer, I'd put money on it actually being a nonpoisonous water snake.  Nevertheless, in the dark, it acted much like a moccasin, refusing to yield the right of way.  I was afraid that some hapless soul would come jogging down the sidewalk in the dark and get struck by it, so it had to clear the area.  I was compelled to put a bit of a beatin' on it before it would agree to return to the retention pond.  (He's OK though.  Just a bruised ego.)

So I saw two big snakes in the space of two days - why?  Well, the rains have been good this summer and wildlife is flourishing as a result.  We have quite a robust collection of juvenile hoppy toads (Bufo bufo) and they enjoy cruising on concrete surfaces, which brings out the snakes.
They tend to do a lot of this when environmental conditions are favorable.  And then they get eaten by other things.

Screengrabbed from Wikipedia.  
Mind also that the work crews have now buried at least one section of that new pipeline in the Interurban easement. This work is taking for-ev-er, but as soon as they get that pipe laid, they'll be removing their mile-long segment of board road.  And what I expect is that an entire summer's bumper crop of snakes is going to come boiling out from underneath all that lovely man-made habitat as they pull it up.  Maybe just in time for the grand opening of the adjacent Public Safety Building.
Ah, memes... who thinks of this stuff?!

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Questionable Decision: A strange adjunct to the LC immigration resolution

DirecTV subscribers in League City Texas can see a bizarre case of art echoing life on their very own TV sets right now.  Bear with me for a moment while I set the stage for context.

The debate over the League City immigrant resolution rages on, both within City Council meetings and in the press, largely in Galveston County Daily News, where the comment count is now among the highest I've ever seen.
Front of the proposed resolution.  I re-published the original text in this July 2014 post
The resolution's reference to Islam has long since eclipsed the original debate about whether or not to receive Latin American immigrant children in League City.  Some League City Muslims are still actively opposing the reference, but the people who support it have also been vocal.
Based on the current reporting, it doesn't seem like either side exhibits a clear majority at this point.

Screengrab courtesy Galveston County Daily News.  
It's immediately apparent from reading the GCDN comment stack that many of the resolution supporters have taken their positions out of what they perceive (rightly or wrongly) as an abundance of caution.  That stance appears to arise because many people simply don't feel like they have a reliable lens through which to discern what Islam means on a local scale.  This perspective was quoted in a GCDN piece as having been stated in a Council meeting:  “During (the public comments two weeks ago) of the individuals who spoke, representing the Muslim community, never once did I hear an allegiance to this country, to our flag, to our Constitution, to anything about the American way of life,” Russell Fielder said during the public comment portion of council to a round of applause from many on the council.  In a similar vein, one commenter on GCDN noted, "It is long past time that normal, moderate Muslims speak out against radical Islam."

What both of those communications suggest is that residents simply lack a coherent framework for parsing any of this.  What they expect or hope to see doesn't exactly match the reality that has manifested.  Thirteen years after 9/11, this is apparently where we still are socially, for reasons that I'm not sure anyone really understands.

Case in point where such confusion and discrepancy is concerned - the oddness of what's currently offered in juxtaposition on your DirecTV service: two versions of the same classic American movie, but one of these things is no longer like the other.
I'll get to the explanation in a minute.

Screengrabbed from this site.   
Executive Decision has always been one of my all-time favorite movies.  It was made 18 years ago, "back in the day" when suspense films were still built primarily on plot and character development rather than on mindless ADHD-inspired computer graphics.
The film also showcased Kurt Russell's unparalleled work ethic as an actor.

Image screengrabbed from this site.  
Not only was the film a gutsy depiction of a very difficult subject (that being "radical Islamist terror groups"), it was also noteworthy for having featured a 747 aircraft that actually was bombed by such a group, that being the following:
In 1982, a bomb was detonated on PAN AM Flight 830, resulting in the death of one minor child and the injury of 16 other people.  Despite the resulting damage, the plane was able to make a successful emergency landing in Honolulu.  The aircraft was apparently re-painted for the movie with the fictitious airliner name "Oceanic".  Either that or they just used it for interior shots.

Screengrabbed from Wikipedia.
Executive Decision was a stunning portent of 9/11 five years before it unfolded, and as far as I'm concerned, it's a creative work of national significance.  But prior to being released on Blu Ray, Executive Decision was "edited", or, some would say "censored", for reasons that are not clear.  Furthermore, I can't find a single source on the internet which describes the full extent of what was done to eviscerate the film.  Most references such as this one and user Iceboy's Amazon review primarily cite digital alterations to the imagery, including removal of certain religious references and deleted scenes.  But I believe that the most significant changes actually involved extensive dialog dubbing throughout the movie, dubbing which changes utterly the character of the film and manifests most strongly with this scene.
A suspicious glare indicating a sea change of attitude 1 hour and 24 minutes into the movie:  When the leader of the terrorist group finally reveals his plan to utilize the jet to strike a deadly blow against countless innocent American citizens, his second-in-command revolts, stating, "This has nothing to do with Islam.  This is not [the Deity's] will.  You are blinded by your hatred and I will have nothing to do with your plan."

But the same lines in the censored version are spoken very differently, indeed.

Screengrabbed from my TV set.   
The bizarre part is that, if you so desire, you can currently watch both the censored and the uncensored versions at the same time.  If this situation is of interest to you, it's an opportunity for you to compare and see for yourself what's been done to the film.
The Encore HD version is the Blu Ray version available for instant access.  The Encore Suspense ("ENCSUS") version is the original uncut version.  I recorded both versions within 24 hours of each other this past weekend.

Photo from my DirecTV list with intervening screen space eliminated for clarity.  
The resulting existential questions are as follows:

Why was the movie altered in the first place?  The original version was arguably quite responsible to Islam by forming an explicit distinction between Islam and that which has "nothing to do with Islam" but is instead driven by "[blind] hatred".  This is much the same distinction that the GCDN commenter was seeking in referring to "normal, moderate Muslims" as opposed to "radical Islam".  What benefit to understanding is derived by obscuring this essential distinction in this film or in any other context?  Clearly, we need more of that distinction, not less.

Why are Americans provided primarily with the censored version?  I can understand Warner Brothers / Warner Home Video wanting to change the tone of the movie in certain restricted distributional regions where such actions might be expected, but they only made one Blu Ray, that being the censored version.  In general terms, most Americans are probably going to default to the Blu Ray as their obvious choice (audio and video quality are both superior to the DVD). Given the age of the film, most present-day watchers may not even know that an original version of the movie exists.  In more specific terms, why am I sitting on my flat American butt in my house built on American soil accessing an American content provider streaming an American-made classic movie which has effectively been censored?!  What the hell is up with that?!

The whole thing doesn't sit well with me, and it is an example of what is working against those people who are honestly trying to put Islam into an appropriate social perspective.  "Censorship" is one of the dirtiest words we have in America, provoking immediate defensiveness and hostility in those who sense that they have encountered it.  What's been done to Executive Decision is just going to raise even more suspicions and questions and confusion about perspectives and allegiances where Islam is concerned, both locally and elsewhere.
At least the "editors" had the guts to admit what they had done.

Screengrabbed and annotated from this site.  

Saturday, August 30, 2014

League City newspaper, Part 2

Where's Woolsey?

Search hint:  Even without red and white stripes, publisher Leonard Woolsey does bear a bit of resemblance to Waldo, especially in the glasses.  
That's the large-format portion of the pile of "mail" that I excavated from my box late yesterday afternoon, viewed as it was tossed unceremoniously onto my home office conference table.  Knowing that the League City - Kemah Connection newspaper was supposed to have been launched yesterday (paywalled), I was initially disappointed - I thought my address had been passed over (not an uncommon occurrence given the young age of our subdivision section).  I almost threw the entire stack into the recycle bin, but then I spotted it.
It looks like this.  Don't throw it away without first looking at it.  
I was a bit disappointed at the mode of presentation.  I'm afraid that people really are going to have trouble distinguishing this from the constant onslaught of junk mail with which we all must deal, and I fear that a lot of folks are going to toss it without even realizing what it is (particularly true because its launch was not well advertised, so many local residents are not expecting it and did not know in advance what it was going to look like).

It may, in fact, be the case that GCDN arranged for delivery on days when typical advertising flyers were not scheduled to be avalanching.  But here's the issue with that:  Most of us no longer check our mailboxes every day.  What's the point??  Particularly for those of us who receive all of our important correspondence, bills, bank statements, etc. electronically, plus we have the security of a USPS-issued clusterbox, checking the mail is something we often do only on trash or recycling days, and only for disposal purposes.
This postal worker hit the nail on the head with this response.  If not for eBay and Amazon, I would not traipse to my mailbox at all.  I would attempt to close it and not accept hard-copy mail delivery, period (which would be the Final Solution for the junk mail that I haven't been able to control even though I paid for a service to have it stopped).  Perhaps when Google gets its delivery drones airborne, we'll be able to take that logical next step and be done with residential USPS delivery once and for all.

Screengrabbed from this "Ask a Mailman" site
But there's good news in all of this, too.  My initial fear that this newspaper would be a simple post-shelf-life content recycling mechanism was apparently unfounded.  The articles are largely original.  Furthermore, they are picking up on the types of issues I've been hoping to seed on this blog (good news given that I don't reach 30,000 homes).  Cover story?  Five Corners, for which I commenced a post category earlier this year.  Additional content?  Information on the fact that there's a $200 million TxDOT project to improve SH 146 in Kemah and Seabrook, which I also screamed bloody murder about.
Perspective such as this is intended to wake up our local politicians, who arguably are not doing their jobs in getting our practical issues resolved.  The Five Corners fiasco has been lingering for far too many years now.  Screengrabbed from this April 2014 post
So there's the potential for the transmission of issues and ideas with this thing.  Write to the editor and publisher of this new newspaper if you have local concerns (;  Write to me ( -at- gmail) if you think that bellowing needs to be done on a particular issue.

And incidentally, for those of you who engage in only periodic USPS mailbox excavation mostly for disposal purposes, I found a really neat product that might be of assistance to you.
It's the Barnes and Noble felt tote.  It's a very heavy but small bag.  And oh, the style is divine.  Very modern, just the way I like it.  Comes in three colors.  I like the gray.  They are available at the Clear Lake (Baybrook) Barnes and Noble on Bay Area Blvd. (at least they were as of August 29, 2014).
I think it was designed to be a "book bag" of sorts, but the size almost exactly matches the size of my USPS mail clusterbox.  Typically when I do excavations, I'm struggling with an armload of miscellaneous paper and at least one of the pieces will need to be chased madly down the street as it escapes my control and gets blown by the wind.  With this thing, I just scoop all the junk mail into the bag, which stays open by virtue of the stiffness of the thick polyester felt.  Much easier than trying to use one of those floppy re-usable canvas grocery sacks for the same purpose.  And given that this bag stands upright of its own accord, it is an excellent small receptacle for in-house paper recycling, too.  Nice stylish convenience for ten bucks.

As always, this is a noncommercial blog presenting personal opinions only.  I accept no compensation for recommending any particular product or service.  

Saturday, August 23, 2014

New League City newspaper

Actually it is touted as a League City - Kemah newspaper (paywalled), but given that LC's population is forty-seven times that of Kemah (2012 Census per Google), I'm betting (hoping?) that it will be weighted in favor of LC despite Kemah's outsized local economic impact.
For this one, apparently you won't have to subscribe - the first issue is scheduled to be delivered into mailboxes (? an interesting approach unlike those that currently prevail) on August 29, 2014.  The paper will be a project of Galveston County Daily News.    
I have long wailed about the abysmal state of local reporting; in fact, I have a blog post category devoted to that subject.
This dearth of coverage is not a local phenomenon but rather reflects the overall decline in conventional newspapers as a social institution.  This is the latest version of Dr. Mark J. Perry's famous newspaper free-fall chart, courtesy of this Carpe Diem post.  It's worth reading his analysis if you have any interest in what's happening with the industry.  And also this HuffPost article with an embedded slide show titled "Top 10 Dying Industries".

Update:  Amusingly, seven days after I posted this diagram, GCDN ran a story titled "Newspapers are still here and still making money" (paywalled money).     
I have no idea how the new paper will be structured and what degree of quality will characterize it.  When I read that it will be published only once a month, I immediately became concerned that it will largely amount to a content-recycling effort.   In other words, a vehicle by which paying subscribers will receive paywalled content in real time via GCDN, and non-paying subscribers will later receive that same content for free after its shelf life has effectively expired.  But do you know what??  Even that much would be a darned sight better than what we've got right now, where the majority of our population doesn't have good opportunities to receive local news at all.

I am a bit perplexed, however, at GCDN's initial positioning statements, which include the following:  "While not always sexy, keeping residents informed about taxes, property values and the decisions by locally elected officials is critical to a healthy community."  Geez, guys, be careful not to fall all over yourselves with your marketing exuberance!  With promotional representations like that, who needs enemies?!

Anyway, stay tuned for more analysis on this one.
It remains to be seen what that is.  

Thursday, August 21, 2014

How to fix a dimly-lit refrigerator

Answer:  As near as I can tell, there is currently no practical solution to this predicament.  Let me explain our attempted workarounds in the sections below so that you won't waste your own time trying the same approaches.

Do you find it a bit odd that everyone acknowledges this issue but no manufacturer has seen fit to correct it??
Yes, yes, I know what you're going to say - this falls squarely into the category of "first world problems".   
It's a first world problem but you might be surprised at how much food (and therefore money) I waste because I can't properly see what's in our fridge.  Our kitchen is in the center of our house and has no windows - it isn't very bright to start with, and light coming from our unusual kitchen skylight and our standard pot lights doesn't illuminate the fridge.
I think what happens is that manufacturers design the lighting without accounting for the food load.  In this example, there is no light whatsoever getting to most of the shelves in the fridge on the right.  
Here's the source of all this aggravation:
Each of us homeowners pays upwards of a thousand dollars for a refrigerator, but a lot of them only come with these crappy little bulbs.  Unfortunately, those obsolete bulbs make retrofitting very difficult, especially because they are so small, with correspondingly small sockets and low wattage.  
My first instinct in dealing with this problem was simply to wait until our 10-year-old refrigerator eventually died of natural causes, because surely a newer replacement model would be brighter??  But I recently went on a pre-purchase shopping trip to look at new fridges, and found that none of the models currently for sale would be bright enough for my dim-kitchen, severely-myopic needs.
Our fridge takes three of those 30-watt incandescent miniature atrocities.  Sigh.  
So upon discovering that new fridges are not significantly better than the one we've already got, we set about trying to resolve this.  We first looked at specialty bulbs.
Don't laugh, but I actually do use a flashlight to search our fridge!!  We could find no specialty bulb on the market that was measurably better than what we've already got.  This is a sampling of Amazon reviews for an LED fridge bulb model that sells for $15 apiece.  Given that I would need three, I could spend $45 on these things and still be no better off than I am right now.  
We initially thought we could achieve partial relief through adaptation of a compact fluorescent in the largest of the three bulb sockets.  
The CF bulb on top, is an "instant on" 14 watt, 900 lumen bulb (intermediate base), so it actually is compatible with the fridge.  You can see here that it looks brighter than the lower two 30 watt bulbs combined.   EXCEPT...
...CFs don't do well in the cold!!  The "instant on" feature did not save it from dimming out as soon as it got chilled.  It ended up being worse than the original incandescent.  
So here is the fridge light summary of failure:
  1. The incandescents are not bright enough
  2. The LED options marketed to replace the dim incandescents are not bright enough, and
  3. The CFs start out being bright enough, but cannot maintain their lumens at 38 degrees F (not while operated only intermittently, at least).  
So where does that leave those of us who are fumbling around in the dark?  Pretty much screwed until technology improves.  Once again, I've essentially written a place-holder post here, a post that I'll come back and update when a better product hits the market, when I discover a reasonable hack, or when someone drops me a comment or email relating a solution that finally will put me out of my half-blind misery.
How about a danged light bulb that is actually fit for purpose?  That would be enough to satisfy me.