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April, 2003:

Spam spam spam spam

There’s a spam summit going on in DC right now as the powers that be grapple with The Scourge Of The Internet ™.

On the first day of the Federal Trade Commission’s “spam summit,” participants could not even agree on what type of online marketing was unacceptable enough to earn the pejorative tag.

Marketers said that deceptive messages with misleading subject lines like “Re: your account” were to blame, squeezing out more reputable operators who only send messages to consumers who want to hear from them.

Internet providers and consumer advocates said it was the sheer number of messages, not their content, that posed the biggest threat.

“The deception does not mitigate the problem of bulk,” said Laura Atkins, president of the SpamCon foundation, an anti-spam group.

Defining spam is trickier than you might think. If they left it up to me, I’d probably be too broad. Not that this would break my heart, but the courts might take a dim view of it.

Personally, I believe that technology will eventually solve this problem, though in the interim it’s going to get worse. I read awhile back about a new mail service that only allows mail through from specified senders; everyone else gets an autoresponse that requires them to go to a web page and click a URL to confirm that they’re not a spammer. This manual step nullifies bulk mailers. You can specify trusted addresses to spare your friends and desired bulk mailers the annoyance. Can’t remember the software’s name, unfortunately, but it’s brand new.

Sens. Conrad Burns and Ron Wyden said their bill, which outlaws the use of false return addresses, would help track down spammers because it would override the 27 state spam laws already in place.

Without a single national law, “spammers will play one state off another,” said Wyden, an Oregon Democrat.

But the Burns-Wyden bill, which so far has won the most support from industry and on Capitol Hill, came in for criticism from providers who said it should include criminal penalties and not override stronger state laws.

All of the proposed bills would prove toothless because they would not allow consumers to sue directly, said Washington State Attorney General Christine Gregoire.

Virginia already has such a law, so I agree with the critics here.

E-mail marketer Bill Waggoner, sporting sunglasses and a ponytail, said that although he did not send messages to customers who did not want them, spam was unavoidable in such an open, global system.

“If you get your e-mail added to the Internet, somebody’s going to contact you,” Waggoner said. “It’s a public deal all over the world.”

And some ISPs are blocking all email from notorious spam-relay countries like China until they clean up their act. I must say, I have a lot of sympathy for that approach as well.

Not what I call good community relations

Back in 2000, in better financial times, the city of Houston passed a referendum to fund a new downtown basketball arena. A similar referendum had been defeated before, thanks in large part to well-funded opposition from conservatives (not to mention some personal animus between Houston Rockets owner Les Alexander and Houston Aeros owner Chuck Watson – see here for background on both). The measure passed this time with the support of black voters, who were persuaded to vote for the measure in return for promises from the Rockets that 30% of arena contracts would go to minority-owned businesses.

It hasn’t quite worked out the way they expected, and now some local minority groups have filed a lawsuit to halt construction of the arena until this is settled to their satisfaction.

Representatives of the Baptist Ministers Association, NAACP and the Houston Area Urban League told District Judge John Coselli that Alexander had met with them in September 2000 to solicit their support for an upcoming referendum on the arena’s construction. In exchange, they said, Alexander guaranteed that minorities would get 30 percent of the arena contracts.

Rockets attorney Mike Goldberg said today that the goal will be met — but not necessarily the way the minority groups might like.

Goldberg called the request for a temporary restraining order “extortion,” saying the plaintiffs want to pick the minority contractors.

Former city attorney Benjamin Hall, who represents the minority groups, said one major contract already has been awarded to a Chicago company with no minority participation, but Goldberg countered that the next contract will have minority representation of 60 percent to 70 percent.

The arena is still under construction but is scheduled to open in September.

About 20 prominent members of the black and Latino communities appeared at today’s hearing, including state Rep. Ron Wilson, the Rev. William Lawson, former LULAC director Johnny Mata, Urban League president Sylvia Brooks and former Houston councilwoman Gracie Saenz.

Lots more background on this story here and here. Say what you want about quotas, it sure seems to me that if you’re gonna make a promise like that, you really ought to keep it. I don’t understand why Les Alexander is playing hardball here – it just seems to me he’s alienating potential customers and jeopardizing his new playground in the process. I don’t see the upside. If the plaintiffs get their injunction, this will be a huge embarrassment for him. Why is he going to the mat on this? I must be missing something.

Penguin dreams

Ann Salisbury has de-lurked to bring us some good news: Bloom County comics are being rerun for UComics subscribers. The direct link is here, but you need to subscribe first.

Comic historians will find this even more exciting:

We are pleased to announce that we also intend to re-publish the full run of Breathed’s 1978-1979 college strip ACADEMIA WALTZ, which has long been unavailable. Details to come!

Did you know that Berkeley Breathed was one of several excellent cartoonists to come out of the University of Texas? He was followed by Sam Hurt, who drew Eyebeam, and Martin Wagner of Hepcats fame. I’ve never seen the Academia Waltz stuff (rumor has it that Steve Dallas was a character), and am sorely tempted to lay out the ten bucks for a subscription. Thanks, Ann!

Senate regrets its own budget

Well, the state Senate finally passed its not-as-godawful-as-the-House-but-still-pretty-bad budget yesterday, and from all the wailing and gnashing of teeth that followed you’d think that maybe it didn’t have to be that way.

“I wish I could say I was proud of this product. I can’t say it. I don’t think it is worthy of the state of Texas,” declared Sen. Bill Ratliff, R-Mount Pleasant, former lieutenant governor and former Senate Finance Committee chairman.


“Some of these expenses are going to be picked up at the next level, the next level being the county level,” warned Sen. Jon Lindsay, R-Houston.

“I think the (health care) providers need to be prepared for an onslaught,” Lindsay said. “We’re probably going to have a 5 percent ad valorem (property) tax increase … what I think is an almost certain ad valorem tax increase in Harris County.”


“You’ve heard a lot of talk about things we’re not doing,” said Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst after passage of the budget, 26-5. “We’ve focused on maintaining our core essential services. Is it the best budget in the world? It never is.”

Dewhurst pointed out the budget, which is a $4 billion increase over the current budget, fully funds the foundation school program and said state and federal funding for higher education is only 1.3 percent less than it is currently.

Sen. Judith Zaffirini [D-Laredo], vice chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, however, said the cuts to health care run deep, based upon the Legislative Budget Board’s estimate of projected needs.

By 2005, she said, more than 17,000 elderly and disabled Texas would lose home assistance, while some 13,500 pregnant women would lose prenatal care and delivery services.

Another 208,700 elderly or disabled Texans who are not in nursing homes would no longer have prescription drug coverage. The Senate also placed stricter assets tests on children receiving Medicaid, which is expected to cut enrollment growth by 298,600.


The Senate budget also calls for 2.7 million fewer textbooks for public school children, cuts health care supplements for teachers from $1,000 annually to $500 and shifts $220 million of the cost for retired teacher health care to local school districts. For the Houston Independent School District, the cost would be $4.5 million.

“We have basically exploded the population in TRS (Teacher Retirement System) Care,” said Sen. Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, noting that beneficiaries are using the care at a 14 percent higher rate.

“I think we can do better. I believe the time has come for us to look seriously at revenues,” said Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, who voted against the bill along with fellow Democratic Sens. Mario Gallegos of Houston, Eliot Shapleigh of El Paso, Juan Hinojosa of McAllen and Gonzalo Barrientos of Austin.

Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, said he’d vote for the bill but said the state’s $1 billion rainy day fund should be completely drained to restore funding to pay for HIV/AIDS drugs, college educational training for prisoners, after-school programs and community care for the disabled and elderly.

“This budget doesn’t have a pay raise for state employees and in fact asks them to pay a little more for their health care,” he said, urging senators who will reconcile the budget with the House to drain the $1 billion rainy day fund.

“I would spend every dime of the rainy day fund,” he said. “As they say, it is raining in Texas.”

Ratliff took umbrage with Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn, who has blamed the budget crisis on a “spending party” in the past few sessions.

“I take serious exception,” he said.

When the state funded the frail and elderly, community colleges, maternity care and others who will feel “brutal impacts,” he said, “I did not consider that a party. I could not bring myself to call it a spending spree.”

This budget is a failure of leadership, and by that I mean a failure of Governor Rick Perry and his bizarre fetish about spending instead of revenue. Perry trumpeted his love of education during the campaign, then pushed for education funding to get slashed once he was safely elected and denied all responsibility for it afterwards. Meanwhile, our byzantine and broken tax system ensures that our revenue stream will continue to shrink over time and will continue to place a high burden on homeowners. But hey, at least Governor Goodhair is fighting for his economic development slush fund.

The failure also belongs to our Comptroller, Carole Keeton Strayhorn of the ever-inaccurate revenue projections and mulish insistence that there’s no such thing as a Rainy Day. If Strayhorn had given an honest assessment of the hole we’re now in back during the 2002 campaign, then maybe (just maybe) we could have had an honest debate about how the state pays for itself and why the well is running particularly dry. Instead, we got assurances that better times were just around the corner, leaving everyone free to indulge in budget-scrubbing fantasies at the expense of reality. (Yes, that’s an indictment of Tony Sanchez and his pusillanimous promises, too.) How exactly this woman has a reputation for being good at her job is quite beyond me.

I can’t say I’m happy with the job that David Dewhurst has done, but he gets full marks for trying to be serious about this. Given the weasel that we have in the Governor’s mansion and the hardline heartlessness of the state GOP, it’s hard to see how he could have done any better.

There’s not much more that I can say that I haven’t already said, so I’ll close by noting that four of the five Senators who couldn’t bring themselves to rubberstamp this atrocity are Hispanic, and the fifth represents El Paso. Keep that in mind when you hear about the GOP’s grand plan to woo Hispanic voters.

Now that’s an innovative revenue stream

Tom Spencer points to this article about doings in the Missouri Senate, which contains the following rather amazing proposal to add to the state’s coffers:

After defeating the governor’s plan, Republicans took up their own blueprint for raising additional revenue. The plan, which would raise an estimated $182 million, is a package of 39 separate proposals.

About two-thirds of the revenue would come from one-time sources, including several changes recommended by Gov. Bob Holden. Other provisions include:


• Generating $5 million by imposing a 5 percent tax on adult entertainment. The tax would apply to sales of sexually explicit material and services, such as live nude performances and actual or simulated sex acts.


The adult entertainment tax would apply to fees for bestiality, masturbation and sadistic or masochistic abuse. Sen. Sarah Steelman, a Rolla Republican, distributed a proposed amendment to add lap dances to the services that would be taxed.

Does Rick Santorum know about this? Maybe the Daily Show was right about Santorum’s real meaning!

I’m still boggling about “fees for bestiality, masturbation and sadistic or masochistic abuse”. I’d hate to be the poor tax compliance officer for that. As for the tax on lap dances, I’m imagining a new strip club policy: Put $20 in the dancer’s G-string for the lap dance, and 50 cents in the coin collecter for the Lap Dance Tax. Please try not to drop the coins in the G-strings.

All joking aside, one wonders if this isn’t a sneaky way to try to regulate sexually oriented businesses (known around here as SOBs) out of business, especially given that another legislator is proposing a tax on “marijuana and other illegal drugs”. You know how there’s a line item for ill-gotten gains on 1040 forms, so the Feds can bust otherwise untouchable miscreants for tax evasion? This feels like that to me. Of course, if that’s true and the intent is to force these places out of business, a large number of people would be thrown out of work, which would in turn depress state tax revenue. Gotta watch those unintended consequences.

One wonders if Our Fair City, which has its own revenue issues, might consider adopting such a tax instead of continuing its quixotic pursuit of tougher anti-SOB laws. If nothing else, debate over the issue would finally give me a reason to watch Council proceedings on the Municipal Channel.

More Santorum ugliness

Via LeftLeaner, I see that not only are religious conservatives lining up behind Sen. Rick Santorum, they’re now aiming their fury at the AP reporter who interviewed him, as if this is somehow her fault:

Joseph Farah, editor and CEO of, has gone so far as to suggest that Ms. Jordan deliberately targeted Santorum.

“It’s not Rick Santorum who should be forced from office for clearly stating views that have been considered mainstream for the last 5,000 years. It’s Lara Lakes Jordan who should be drummed out of the news profession for scoring cheap political points under the guise of news reporting. Rick Santorum should [not] apologize to anyone. It’s the Associated Press for sponsoring this political hit piece,” Farah said in a recent WND editorial.

Farah also noted that Ms. Jordan was one of several signatories on a letter to her employer in January attacking the news organization for “rolling back diversity” by not extending benefits to domestic partners.

“It seems Mrs. Jordan’s ideological fervor is not reserved only for her private life and her corporate politicking,” said Farah. “This woman clearly ambushed Santorum on an issue near and dear to her bleeding heart.”

Anyone with reading comprehension skills past the third-grade level can see for themselves that Santorum led the way in this interview. Lara Jakes Jordan followed along and wrote down what he said. I suppose that counts as an ambush in Joseph Farah’s world, but I think the rest of us on planet Earth would agree that the Senator eagerly grabbed all the rope that he used to hang himself.

Keep your eye on this, for it’s just a matter of time before the standard attack in the wingnut crowd is to call her a slut, just as many attacks on the Dixie Chicks include rude comments about Natalie Maines’ weight. (Frankly, after examining the evidence, I don’t see how any sane person could call her fat, but hey, what do I know?) It’s ugly and demeaning, but hardly surprising.

Nearing the halfway point

We are now five games into our 12-game schedule, and we are still looking for our first win. I think this is going to be harder on me than it will on the kids, who seem for the most part to be having fun. According to my assistant coach, we lost a game while I was in California that we should have won. We blew a large lead, and one of the opponents actually hit a ball over the fence to help his team win. The good news is that the kids weren’t crushed by this – they had played well and accepted the coach’s words of encouragement.

If anyone took that loss hard, it was one of the team moms, who has helped out in the dugout by keeping track of whose turn it is to bat. Unfortunately, late in the game the batter who made the last out in the previous inning led off. The error was discovered during that at-bat with the count one ball and two strikes, at which time the umpire ruled Batter 1 out. Batter 2 was then told to take his place, inheriting the count of 1-2. He struck out on the next pitch. Team Mom was pretty upset about this, but we’ve assured her that these things happen, and I think she’s feeling better now.

I should note that I was pretty sure when I heard this from my assistant coach that the ruling was incorrect, and having looked it up, I’m quite certain of it:


(a) A batter shall be called out, on appeal, when he fails to bat in his proper turn, and another batter completes a time at bat in his place. (1) The proper batter may take his place in the batter’s box at any time before the improper batter becomes a runner or is put out, and any balls and strikes shall be counted in the proper batter’s time at bat.


To illustrate various situations arising from batting out of turn, assume a first inning batting order as follows: Abel Baker Charles Daniel Edward Frank George Hooker Irwin.
PLAY (1). Baker bats. With the count 2 balls and 1 strike, (a) the offensive team discovers the error or (b) the defensive team appeals. RULING: In either case, Abel replaces Baker, with the count on him 2 balls and 1 strike.

So, we had one fewer out that inning than we should have, and this helped keep enough time on the clock for one more inning to be played. What rotten luck. Too late to do anything about it now, too.

Everyone was glad to see me at Friday’s game, my first game back. We had a bigger than usual crowd among the players’ families as well. Alas, we didn’t play our best game. The pitching was off, the defense was off, and we couldn’t buy a run until late in the game. Our batters are still too tentative at the plate. They are good at laying off bad pitches and drawing walks, but we’ve been called out on strikes on hittable pitches too many times. I’ve pulled guys aside when this happens to talk to them about it, but it’s still sinking in.

Once again, we got the short end of a bad umpire’s ruling. With the bases loaded and one out, our batter struck out and the catcher failed to hold strike three. The runners danced off the bases, everybody started yelling, and the next thing you knew, the batter was running to first even though he was automatically out (since first base was occupied with less than two outs). The catcher threw the ball anyway, and it got away from the first baseman as two runners scored. The umpire then announced that the batter was out (correct) and all runners had to return to their bases (incorrect, since league rules say they can advance at their jeopardy once the ball passes the batter). We argued to no avail, but at least this time the league president was there and he had some words for the ump after the inning. It didn’t affect the outcome, but it was still annoying.

Next game is tonight. We’ll see how it goes.

Cracks in the armor?

Two stories today highlight issues that I believe will be long-term problems for the GOP here in Texas. First off is this one in which a state House subcommittee rejected a bill that would have imposed a lower cap on property tax appraisals.

The bill replaced a similar bill authored by state Rep. Martha Wong, R-Houston, that would have lowered the cap to 5 percent on homestead appraisals only. [State Rep. Dwayne] Bohac’s bill lowered or set a cap on homestead, commercial and apartment property.

Currently, property appraisals on homesteads and apartments can increase by as much as 10 percent each year. There is no cap on businesses.

Bohac is a Republican, also from Houston. The key vote on the House committee was cast by another Republican, Rep. Jodie Laubenberg of Wylie. Laubenberg had no comment on her rather shocking vote, which is a real departure from the lockstep nature of House Republicans.

The problem here for the GOP is that the supporters of this measure are, shall we say, rather zealous about it:

Bohac and others believe that confrontational and vitriolic criticism from supporters of Wong’s bill offended some committee members at a March 13 hearing.

“There were hurt feelings, and it was hard for some on this committee to overcome those hurt feelings,” Bohac said, “and that’s a shame, because taxpayers lose because they couldn’t get over personal issues.”

About 100 Houstonians stormed out of the March 13 hearing after waiting seven hours to testify. Some in the group shouted down committee Chairman Fred Hill, R-Richardson, and accused the committee of siding with lobbyists and business interests.

At the hearing, Houston radio talk show host Dan Patrick likened committee members to “money changers” and Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector Paul Bettencourt said the county was on the verge of a tax revolt.

“When public officials will do nothing to help ease the tax burden of citizens that are being overtaxed, then they better be ready for protest, because if they thought that was a protest, they haven’t seen anything yet,” Patrick said Monday.


“She does not deserve to be seated in office if she is going to put her personal feelings in front of what is in the best interest of Texas,” Patrick said of Laubenberg. “She should be ashamed of herself.”

Bettencourt believes the assertion that feelings were hurt was a smoke screen. He said Laubenberg’s questions on other legislation reflect a basic philosophical difference on tax relief.

He said he cannot explain why she would not follow the lead of House Speaker Tom Craddick, her committee chairman or the Republican Party on tax relief.

“It’s an emotional vote against your core principles, what your party believes in. It’s a very strong vote against your base,” Bettencourt said. “It would be a grave mistake for anyone to go and vote against their core beliefs.

“She’s a lightning rod now for tax relief.”

I commented on this story back in March when Patrick and Bettencourt threw their temper tantrums. These guys brook no compromise, can’t abide any principles that differ from their own, and will probably work to unseat Rep. Laubenberg in the next election; whether it’s to a Republican who’ll do their bidding more reliably or a Democrat who won’t do it at all likely won’t matter to them. With friends like these, and all that.

What makes this even more amusing is the pitchfork brigade’s charge that the House committee was under the spell of “lobbyists” and “business interests”. Well, duh! This is the Texas GOP we’re talking about! Of course, one would normally expect “lobbyists” and “business interests” to favor a property tax appraisal cap. After all, this bill would have imposed a cap on commercial property appraisals, so why wouldn’t business support it? Logic and rationality are not the strong suits here.

The other story features state GOP chair Sarah Weddington defending her party from charges that they’re heartless and uncaring, despite their relentless push for a budget that would deny health care and other services to thousands of sick, elderly, and other needy folks.

In a conference phone call with members of the State Republican Executive Committee, Weddington urged party leaders and grass-roots supporters to encourage Republican lawmakers to hang tough in the face of criticism from Democrats and many newspaper editorial writers.

She said Democrats, during the budgetary debate, have attempted to “make Republicans look like heartless, cruel, mean, ugly people who just want people to die, want people to be thrown out of nursing homes, and that is not the case.”

“The fact of the matter is that we want a new philosophy, a new policy toward spending that helps those that really need help, and they have no other options,” she added.

“We want to cease and desist helping those who have other options but choose to use government because it’s cheaper and it’s more convenient. You know, the Democrats want to create a government-funded middle class, and we’ve got to have the courage to take the hits so that we do what’s right by the people of Texas.”

I suppose these desperate folks didn’t get Weddington’s message. The AARP isn’t impressed, either, a notion that might normally make a political party think twice.

But never mind that. Let’s compare Weddington’s statement about how Democrats are making the Republicans look like a bunch of meanies with this statement from her second in command:

David Barton, the party’s vice chairman, added that it is important for Republican leaders to warn lawmakers not to “get bent out of shape over (allegations) you’re killing elderly people by starving them, or whatever.”

The Republicans here don’t need any assistance from Democrats on this. They do a fine enough job on their own. Sooner or later, that’s going to be a problem for them.

Poincare solved?

A year ago I blogged about the Clay Mathematics Institute and its million dollar prize for solving one of seven longstanding problems. One of those problems is the Poincare Conjecture, which is a statement about how shapes and surfaces can be classified. Today, Tiffany handed me an article from Science magazine (not available online to a non-AAAS member such as myself) which states that a Russian mathematician named Grigory Perelman may have solved it. Here’s an statement of the conjecture and how Ricci intends to solve it. For a mathophile like me, this is nearly as big as Andrew Wiles’ recent conquest of the Fermat Theorem.

What makes this even cooler is that Perelman’s work stems from a groundbreaking idea of William Thurston, who recently commented on this Calpundit post about math education. You get all of the best comments, Kevin!

Anyway, Perelman has a ways to go before claiming his million. The conditions of the prize say that the proof has to have been reviewed for two years first. So stay tuned.

Those unemployment blues

There’s a new kid on the Texas Political Bloggers block, a joint effort from Austin called the Burnt Orange Report. They have a post about Texas’s depressing unemployment rate, currently at 6.5%, or 6.7% if you adjust for the season. Austin itself is doing better, but the tech industry is still on its knees and average wages dropped by $24 per week between Q1 2001 and Q1 2002.

Over here in Houston, our famed optimism is taking it on the chin from the recent hard times:

A quarter of those interviewed named the economy and poverty as the greatest problems facing Houston-area residents, compared to 8 percent who chose these issues three years ago. And just 39 percent this year rated local job prospects as excellent or good — a sharp decline from last year’s 52 percent and the lowest figure since 27 percent provided this assessment in 1993.

“This year, it seems clear that the generalized optimism about the future — so typical of Houstonians — is now also being affected by the deepening insecurities” about the economy, said Stephen Klineberg, the Rice University sociology professor who has directed the annual survey since 1982.

He said this year’s findings suggest that growing economic worries may no longer be merely short-term concerns.

For example, the proportion who said the United States is headed for better times in the next few years dropped from 44 percent in 2002 to 37 percent this year. And on a question that Klineberg said taps into “the vaunted Houston ideology” and its “can-do spirit,” 82 percent agreed that Houstonians who work hard eventually will succeed. Last year, 88 percent agreed with this premise.

For all the talk about how traffic problems are a high priority for Houston voters, I bet this will be a big campaign issue in the upcoming mayoral race. Too bad, since I think the mayor will have far greater influence over Metro’s proposals than over the local economy, not that that will stop anyone from promising large tax giveaways in an effort to attract businesses to relocate here.


It looks like the University of Virginia pep band, also known as “The Award-Winning Virginia Fighting Cavalier Indoor/Outdoor Precision(?) Marching PEP Band & Chowder Society Revue, Unlimited!!!!”, may have finally met its match in the form of rich alumni who’ve ponied up to fund a traditional marching band:

Yesterday, the university announced a gift of $23.5 million from a pair of longtime benefactors and Virginia football fans, Carl and Hunter Smith of Charlottesville. Although most of the money will go to the construction of a performing arts center, $1.5 million has been earmarked for the endowment of a creature heretofore unknown to Thomas Jefferson’s academic village — a traditional college marching band.

University officials confirmed that the new band, to be run under the auspices of the music and athletic departments, will supplant the infamous Pep Band at all sporting events. Though the new group won’t be ready to play until fall 2004, the Pep Band is disinvited effective this coming fall.

Director of Athletics Craig K. Littlepage said the move to a traditional band — one that will wear uniforms and march in formation — will complement Virginia’s ascension in the ranks of big-time college sports. U-Va. is the only school in the Atlantic Coast Conference that lacks a marching band. “As our football program has evolved, there’s a desire on the part of those who support our program to have a band that demonstrates the same pursuit of excellence,” he said.

The article references the silly Continental Tire Bowl controversy from last year, in which some tightassed bowl bigwigs pitched a hissyfit over some standard pep band hijinks. Naturally, the AD insists that this had nothing to do with it:

Littlepage said the replacement of the Pep Band has nothing to do with the West Virginia controversy or any other incident.

“It’s about the university having a unique opportunity to enhance itself in the performing arts,” he said. He added that there’s room for only one band on the field.

Oh, please. This is about the university getting a check from some fat cat alumni and being only too willing to say “How high?” when told that they must jump before they can endorse it. Getting a marching band makes you like every other big state school in the country. If you want to conform, that’s fine, but don’t think it makes you special.

As a longtime scatter band member, I salute my soon-to-be-former colleagues. Their demise makes the already exceedingly dull world of bigtime college football even more colorless. May the University of Virginia some day realize what they’ve done to their identity.

Bye bye Beelzebud?

Baseball Commissioner Beelzebud Selig is claiming that he will retire when his current term expires. Doug Pappas has a Premium article in the Baseball Prospectus that basically boils down to “I’ll believe it when I see it”. Selig said many times when he was first installed that he only intended to do the job briefly, but along the way several candidates were strung along and abandoned, one of whom went on to bigger things, according to former Commissioner Fay Vincent:

His reign as commissioner lasted fewer than three seasons before he was undone by a cabal of owners who felt he wasn’t pushing management’s interests hard enough with the union. As the buildup to the showdown began, several people began expressing an interest in Vincent’s job — including a longtime friend who was president of the Texas Rangers.

But Vincent told him the owners had already picked a successor and urged George W. Bush to stick with the family business. ”If it hadn’t been for Bud Selig, George W. Bush wouldn’t be president of the United States,” Vincnet said.

Pappas thinks that with the CBA, the TV contract with Fox, and the Major League Constitution all expiring in 2006 that Selig will either leave before his term ends on December 31, or that he’ll wind up as the “interim” Commish again for some period. Let me state publicly that if Bud is serious about stepping down, then I’m available to replace him. I figure my recent experience as a Little League coach is idea training for the Commissionerhood. Get me while you can, guys!

Louisiana Purchase bonds found

Would you believe that our nation’s outstanding debts might include bonds from the Louisiana Purchase?

A find by the National Archives suggests that the United States might have shortchanged the investors who financed the Louisiana Purchase 200 years ago last week.

President Thomas Jefferson’s purchase from France is recorded as having cost $15 million — $230 million in today’s dollars. The archives has found three apparently unredeemed $2,000 bonds that the Treasury sold to finance the Louisiana Purchase from a cash-strapped Napoleon.

The bonds, then called “stock certificates,” were not canceled or stamped, so the Treasury may never have reimbursed the money that Dutch investors paid for them — a $6,000 saving to the American taxpayer, $86,000 in today’s change.

“That’s what we think,” said Milton Gustafson, the agency’s expert on treaties. “But maybe they were just kept as samples.”

He said no figure survives for the total repaid. None of the other bonds is known to have survived.

There’s no truth to the rumor that Bechtel was awarded a contract in the post-purchase construction.

Riding on a rail

Everyone knows I’m a fan of rail, so Metro’s recent announcement about building extensions to the current light rail line as well as a heavy rail line out to the southwest is a Good Thing, as far as I’m concerned. It’s going to be a tough package to sell, as it’s sure to generate opposition from those who believe the only solution to traffic problems is to pour more concrete, but the nature of how Metro disburses existing funds and how it plans to use those funds for these future projects is a sticking point as well.

Residents of Katy, Missouri City and Humble have the most to lose from Metro’s proposal not to renew the street funds past 2009. Through special agreements, they get 50 percent of the one-cent Metro sales tax revenue generated there.

Loss of street money “would affect us,” said Johnny Nelson, Katy city administrator. “We rely on it a good deal. We used Metro money to pave the streets around the (Katy Mills) mall. We are planning to use it to build a new north-south thoroughfare.”

Metro’s transit plan includes more express buses to Katy on the planned Interstate 10 toll road, but no rail line.

“I don’t see much in it for Katy at first glance,” Nelson said.

Humble’s relationship with Metro has been bumpy, including a push by Humble to leave Metro in 1998. Last year Humble received about $4 million from Metro. About $2.5 million was used for road repair and construction — the city’s entire street budget — while the other $1.5 million was given to the police department for traffic enforcement.

No rail lines are proposed through 2025 on the U.S. 59 corridor that leads to Humble and Kingwood.

“All of the cities recognize rail will be important in the future,” [Humble City Manager James] Baker said. “But roads will still have to be maintained.”

Under the proposed plan, Humble would receive little in return for the taxes paid, Baker said.

So basically, a big part of Metro’s constituency has come to depend on Metro funds for things that I would argue are not really about transportation. They don’t want to lose that revenue. I can’t blame them for that, but I can blame former Mayor Bob Lanier for getting them hooked on it in the first place:

Payments for street projects began after voters approved a 1988 transit referendum that included a rail system plan. The rail component later died, but the provision calling for a 25 percent annual investment in local roads has lived on.

At first, Metro funded street projects directly. But when Bob Lanier took over as Houston mayor in 1992, he instructed the Metro board to funnel huge sums of money to the city. In 1994, for example, Metro gave away two-thirds of its sales-tax revenue — $156 million — to Houston and the other 15 governmental entities.

Lanier created a shell game. He put the city’s share of that money in the city’s public works budget, then moved an equivalent amount to other departments. Lanier, for example, managed a massive hiring of police officers with the diverted street money. Metro’s reserve fund dwindled, postponing plans to start a light rail system.

And so here we are in 2003 with a Metro system that can’t do what it was supposed to do. Thanks, Mayorbob.

The plan itself isn’t what I would have picked. I don’t like the idea of having to exit a train line and hop on a bus to get to Intercontinental Airport – having the rail line go all the way there is preferable – and I think some vision of rail going all the way out the Katy Corridor is needed. Overall, though, I think there’s a lot of merit. It’s way past time that we started considering alternatives to more freeways. Rail is scalable in a way that roads aren’t. Higher ridership on a given rail line doesn’t bog the system down. You can simply add more rail cars, and everything continues on the same schedule. That simply isn’t true for highways, and it’s why adding a viable rail system into the mix is needed.

The main problem that the Metro plan has right now is that none of the mayoral candidates are fully in favor of it. Bill Whiite, who has his own mobility plan, comes the closest. He and Michael Berry would prefer that Metro delay any vote on its proposals until after the 2003 election. I understand where they’re coming from, but beyond any concerns that Metro would miss out on the federal funding cycle if a referendum doesn’t pass by then, I fear that this issue would get drowned out in the Presidential election of 2004. It’s now or never, which if nothing else should force Metro to make its best case.

Urgent assistance needed

Max Power points to this story of what happened when a Business Week reporter decided to respond to all of those Nigerian email scams. Check it out.

And now the Nigerian scammers have met the Raving Atheist. If that’s not a death blow to this industry, nothing will be. Very funny in that obsessive Make Money Fast Hall of Humiliation way. Via Frankenstein.

A film shows in Brooklyn

Man, the Bull Durham story sure has legs. There will be a 15th anniversary screening after all, at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, on Wednesday, April 30. You folks in Brooklyn ought to check it out if you can. As would have been the case with the original celebration at the Hall of Fame, before the un-American coward Dale Petroskey put the preemptive kibosh on it, this event will be nonpolitical in nature:

Brooklyn won out because aside from having a more than respectable baseball history, the borough is well connected. Mr. Robbins’s publicist, Dan Klores, a board member at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, suggested it as a place to screen the film. Tickets, which cost $10, will go on sale today. Mr. Robbins, Ms. Sarandon and the director, Ron Shelton, plan to attend. Karen Brooks Hopkins, president of the Brooklyn Academy of Music, said the event was not meant to be political. “I don’t think that people in Brooklyn will mix politics and arts,” she said. “I think the film stands on its own merits.”

The details of the anniversary celebration are in the works, but Mr. Robbins said he did not want a question-and-answer session after the movie. The most political part of the evening may just be that some of the revenue will be donated to the Cooperstown Food Bank.

Mr. Robbins had responded to the Hall of Fame president in a letter that he did not think “baseball was a Republican sport.” But asked about the controversy yesterday, he seemed to take inspiration from the film’s suggested clichés for ballplayers giving interviews (“I’m just happy to be here; hope I can help the ball club,”), saying he was just looking forward to a night of baseball and film in Brooklyn. “This has nothing to do with politics,” he said. “We’re just going to screen the movie and enjoy the movie.”

On the other hand, as Eric McErlain noted, the article mentions elsewhere that there is talk of showing the movie in conjunction with political events, an outcome that I find wholly fitting and more than a bit exciting. I say we give that idea 110%.

“Today Show” followup

Well, if TAPPED is willing to believe that Tim Robbins got cut off by The Today Show in mid-interview, maybe I should believe it, too. Did anyone reading this actually see what happened? I’d love to hear from you. Meanwhile, Avedon points to an Official Response from The Today Show about this incident. The plot thickens…

UPDATE: Mark Evanier is willing to buy the explanation that The Today Show always cuts to local stations at set times, with a proviso:

Standard Broadcasting Procedure would then be for the host, following the break, to say something like, “Our apologies to Tim Robbins for a technical error that cut him off.” On the other hand, we don’t know that this wasn’t said. I just think it’s funny that, intentional or not, Robbins got cut off while he was going after Corporate America on NBC, just like a Saturday Night Live sketch in which Tim Robbins got cut off while he was going after Corporate America on NBC. (ed. note: see this prior post for more context)

I note that Evanier has gone Movable Typing in addition to migrating to a new domain name. Now if he’d only set up a blogroll…

Not all diplomats speak diplomatically


US Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Elizabeth Jones was asked to comment on [Newt] Gingrich’s recent harsh criticism of her department’s Middle East diplomacy.

“Newt Gingrich does not speak in the name of the Pentagon and what he said is garbage,” US Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Elizabeth Jones told the Publico daily.

“What Gingrich says does not interest me. He is an idiot and you can publish that,” she added.

She should expect a visit from Dick Cheney’s goon squad any minute now. Too bad, we could use more of that kind of candor.

Never give up, never surrender

As I predicted, Tom DeLay hasn’t let an unfavorable ruling and tepid-at-best support stop his drive to redraw Congressional districts in Texas. At this point, the best strategy for Democrats is probably to try and run out the clock on the Legislative session, which ends on June 2. After all, if there’s no time to “fix” the school finance system, something which was a major Republican campaign issue last year, then I hardly see how there’s time to debate a divisive and partisan issue like redistricting. (Never mind the fact that we still don’t have a budget passed yet.) Make no mistake, though – Tom DeLay is completely impervious to such logic. He won’t rest until he gets what he wants.

Never a good sign

Those crackpots at Judicial Watch have taken a break from trying to prove that Vince Foster was murdered and have turned their attention to Houston and the death of former Enron executive Cliff Baxter.

Judicial Watch, a self-described “public interest group that investigates governmental corruption and abuse,” says crime scene photos of John Clifford Baxter’s death Jan. 25, 2002, and other information have not been made fully public, its lawyer Todd Hutton said Thursday.

Baxter, 43, who resigned from Enron in May 2001, was found shot in the head in his car near his Sugar Land home, with a .38-caliber pistol in his lap.

Sugar Land police and the medical examiner’s office, which performed the autopsy, called the death a suicide.

The Harris County attorney’s office and the medical examiner’s office said Thursday the county has already provided Baxter’s two toxicology reports to Judicial Watch.

Medical examiner spokesman Rudy Flores said, “We haven’t amended the cause of death. It is not unusual procedure to do a supplemental toxicology report.”


“The collapse of Enron and the death of Baxter raise questions. He was due to testify and we can speculate it would have been information that those involved did not want public,” Hutton said.

“We question if there was a rush to judgment on his cause of death,” he said.

I suppose given the Houston Police Department Crime Lab scandal it’s easy to see coverups and botched evidence under every rock around here, even if this case wasn’t handled by HPD. All I know is what I’ve said before about JW – they’re cranks and publicity hounds, and if they are occasionally onto something legitimate it’s a blind-squirrel-finding-acorns kind of thing.

Tom Coleman indicted

Former “Lawman of the Year” Tom Coleman was indicted on three counts of lying under oath for his made-up testimony during the Tulia drug trials. If convicted, he faces 10 years in jail and a $10,000 fine. I call that a good start.

The latest on that coercive baptism story

Once again, Ginger is on top of developments in the story of US Army Chaplain Josh Llano, who reportedly traded water for baptisms. After receiving numerous complaints about Llano’s reported activities, the Army investigated, and yesterday they cleared Llano of any wrongdoing.

The Army determined that Josh Llano, 32, did not coerce any soldiers into conversion as an April 4 Miami Herald article indicated. The article generated numerous complaints that led the chaplain chief, Maj. Gen. Gaylord Gunhus, to call for an inquiry.

Lt. Col. Eric Wester, spokesman for the Chaplain Corps in Virginia, said the Army also disputes the article’s contention that Llano’s pool was the only such source of water during a shortage at Camp Bushmaster.

The article said thousands of Army V Corps combat support troops were filthy and that Llano’s “pristine” pool offered soldiers a chance to be “clean for the first time in weeks.”

“The implication that soldiers were without water for hygiene or other purposes was false,” Wester said.

“All needs for water were met before this chaplain was offered water to provide for immersion purposes.”

Mark Seibel, the Herald’s managing editor, defended the article in a report about the Army’s findings.

That article is here, via Arguing with Signs, which also has a link to this story and the following quote from Mark Seibel that’s not found in the Chron account:

“I don’t think the story suggested coercion,” he said. “That’s just how some people want to read it. … We stand by the story as it was written. He made the remarks that he made, and Meg was not the only person who heard them.”

I’m with Bryan on this one. The original story wouldn’t have generated such a huge negative response had it not been crystal clear that coercion was implied. I don’t know what happened but if the Army’s findings are correct, then this story was an injustice. The onus is on the Herald right now.

Not to say that I think Llano is completely in the clear here. I agree with Ginger about this bit:

Wester said Llano does not recall saying, “It’s simple. They want water. I have it, as long as they agree to get baptized.”

Those are weasel words. Does Llano mean that the sentiment was accurate but the wording was off, or does he mean he never said anything like that and moreover never would say anything like that? The former requires a clarification, the latter that the reporter not produce a tape recording that contradicts him. I’ll grant that this quote does not come from Llano directly, and thus may once again be possibly inaccurate, but the question remains: what exactly did he say, and what did he mean by it? I’m willing to cut Llano some slack here, but until he says on the record what his words and intentions really were, I won’t completely dismiss the possibility that the Army is covering its rear end. Hey, Mark Seibel, how about producing one of those other people that heard Llano’s remarks along with your reporter and having them give their accounts? Until one of those things happens, Llano has the benefit of my doubt but the case isn’t closed.

Sex and the Senator

The national GOP is coming to the defense of Sen. Rick Santorum, who is currently in some hot water for his repellant remarks about gays and “deviant” behavior.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist defended Sen. Rick Santorum on Wednesday as a “voice for inclusion and compassion” while the White House remained silent on the Pennsylvania Republican’s remarks about homosexuality.

Frist, of Tennessee, and Pennsylvania’s senior Republican senator, Arlen Specter, rallied to Santorum’s side after all of the leading Democratic presidential contenders condemned him for comparing gay sex to incest, bigamy and polygamy in an interview published Monday.

“Rick is a consistent voice for inclusion and compassion in the Republican Party and in the Senate, and to suggest otherwise is just politics,” Frist told The Associated Press.

Specter said he accepted Santorum’s assurance that the remarks to the AP “should not be misconstrued in any way as a statement on individual lifestyles.”

“I have known Rick Santorum for the better part of two decades, and I can say with certainty he is not a bigot,” Specter said.

Somewhere, Trent Lott is wondering why no one loves him as much as they love Rick Santorum. Andrew Sullivan gets it right in noting that what Santorum says goes far beyond mere distaste for homosexuality:

[W]hat Santorum is proposing is far more radical. It is not simply that we should have public standards for morality, but that this can and should be imposed even on people in their private homes. He would not simply assert a social norm; he would enforce it with the power of the state. That’s why he not only believes that sodomy laws should be constitutional. He believes they should exist. And if they exist, they should be enforced.

I suppose it’s never occurred to a good upstanding Christian family man like Rick Santorum that his doctrine of majority-enforced sexual morality could ever be used against him. As Atrios notes, Santorum has a large family. I wonder how Rick Santorum would feel if a more malevolent form of the Zero Population Growth movement gained popularity and succeeded in passing laws that forbade any woman from bearing more than two children. What sort of effect would such a thing have on the sex life of someone who believes that birth control and abortion are morally wrong? I suppose that’s the nice thing about believing you’ll always be in the majority – you never have to think about such theoretical miscellania.

Redistricting is optional

The story so far: Tom DeLay has continued to push for congressional redistricting in Texas to get more Republicans in Congress. He’s drawn up a map that would likely shift five seats from Democrats, who currently have a 17-15 edge, to the GOP. This map, which was supposed to be confidential has been circulating around the state amid charges that it was stolen from one of DeLay’s legislative aides. Democratic Rep. Martin Frost has a copy and has been demanding that DeLay make it public, while DeLay has charged that one of Frost’s aides was behind the alleged theft. The DPS is investigating the theft, meaning that there are now two active investigations that have resulted from the question of redistricting.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, state Attorney General Greg Abbott has ruled that the new Congressional boundaries that were drawn in 2001 by a three-judge panel are valid through 2010 unless the Legislature chooses to replace them. DeLay had been agitating for Abbott to declare that only the Lege could set the boundaries and that the districts that were in place for the 2002 election were good for that election only. As the Senate is unlikely to tackle redistricting as things now stand, this throws a bucket of cold water on DeLay’s wishes.

Even if the Lege eventually takes this question up (perhaps in 2005), DeLay’s mysterious map is unpopular on several fronts. House Speaker Tom Craddick doesn’t like it because it splits up Midland and Odessa. Minority groups are opposed; the advocacy group MALDEF has said that if the issue comes up before the Lege they will push for the creation of two more Hispanic-majority districts, using a similar argument that DeLay has used to justify a more GOP-friendly landscape:

Texas gained two more House seats in 2000 because of its 1990s population boom. Both those seats went to Republicans, but 60 percent of the state’s growth came from Hispanic population growth. Texas’ Hispanics went from 4.4 million in 1990 to 6.7 million in 2000.

So, it looks like things will stay as they are, but never assume that Tom DeLay will let this issue rest. As long as he’s in power, he’ll keep pushing it.

Our Governor the weasel

Following the revelations that Governor Goodhair’s ultra-secret budget proposals would have made a complete mockery of most of his campaign promises, our one and only Guv is now denying all responsibility for it.

“That was a lot of different people’s ideas that were being pitched up,” Perry said. “I never saw that document. It never got to my desk.”

The draft budget released Tuesday by Perry’s office showed that his administration was considering making almost $3 billion in education cuts and $1.3 billion in Medicaid cuts that were contrary to his campaign promises last year.

“Don’t read too much into it. It was a draft document that was a working document,” Perry said.

I get such a warm and tingly feeling knowing that we have strong and principled leadership in Austin. Don’t you?

Hispanic voting in Houston (again)

This article about the ongoing National Conference of Black Mayors gathering in Houston talks about how the growing proportion of Hispanic voters in the state’s population will make it challenging for cities like Houston and Dallas to elect their second black mayors. Interesting enough, but the bit that I want to talk about is this:

In the past three high-profile mayoral runoffs [in Houston] involving black candidates, a majority of Hispanic votes went either to white or Hispanic candidates, according to exit polls and other post-election analysis.

· In 1991, Anglo businessman Bob Lanier got more than 70 percent of the Hispanic vote when he defeated Turner in a runoff.

· In 1997, Anglo businessman Rob Mosbacher got 54 percent of the Hispanic vote in his loss to Brown.

· In 2001, Cuban-American Orlando Sanchez took about 72 percent of the Hispanic vote in his loss to Brown.

Hispanic voters in Houston and in Texas have been a lot like a highly touted minor league baseball player: Lots of potential but no real results yet. Other than (maybe) Sylvia Garcia’s victory in last year’s County Commissioner’s race, I can’t think of an election in Houston/Harris County or in Texas where the Hispanic vote carried a candidate to victory. It’s bound to happen eventually, but it ain’t happened yet. Hispanic turnout is still low compared to blacks and non-Hispanic whites, and Hispanic voting preferences seem to mirror those of whites, making the concept of a “Hispanic voting bloc” more of an artificial construct than a predictable monolith.

The candidate who would seem to benefit the most from any increased Hispanic voting clout is Orlando Sanchez, but I have a few doubts. I’ve wondered before if he will get the same level of Hispanic votes in 2003 that he did in 2001. If he does, he’ll be in a good position, though he’ll still have to build on what he did in 2001 to win. If not, he may actually have trouble making it to the runoff, especially if Boy Wonder Berry succeeds in his attempt to peel away conservatives. I don’t have a feel for it right now, perhaps because Sanchez hasn’t officially announced his cnadidacy yet (his web page appears to be offline right now, presumably because it’s still under construction for this year’s race). Has Sanchez been reaching out to Hispanic voters? Has he worked on voter registration drives? Will he get a boost from party switching City Council member Gabriel Vasquez? Your guess is as good as mine.

Petroskey apologizes, sort of

While I was out of touch on the Left Coast, Hall of Fame president Dale Petroskey issued a non-apology apology to Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon for his cowardly and un-American retraction of an invitation to Cooperstown to celebrate the 15th anniversary of the movie Bull Durham. Hesiod and Eric McErlain, whom I doubt agree on much else, have both rightfully called Petroskey’s “apology”, which admitted no real wrongdoing and was faxed to Robbins and Sarandon instead of delivered personally, a sham. It’s clear by now that Petroskey doesn’t care at all about any of this and will simply ignore anyone who disagrees with him. What a complete and utter disgrace.

Bear in mind that Petroskey has had no qualms about inviting Republicans to speak at the Hall, such as former Reagan staffer Ken Duberstein, who spoke about the upcoming Presidential election in 2000 (how that relates to baseball eludes me, I must confess), and chief Bush flack Ari Fleischer, who spoke last January about the War on Terror (again, not my idea of a baseball-related topic). Really, at this point the mystery is how Robbins and Sarandon ever got invited to speak in the first place. (Thanks to Peter Jung for the links.)

On an end note, I present the following without comment, as I didn’t see the show in question and couldn’t find a mainstream press story confirming it. If anyone who saw this episode of The Today Show could say whether it’s an accurate account of what happened, I’d appreciate it.

Great moments in headline writing

Streets here not as deadly as they seem, on page one of the Metro section of today’s Chron. Next week, a headline about how the smog isn’t so bad once you get used to it.

In case you’re curious, by the way, the story is about auto-pedestrian fatalities – Houston ranks a not-as-bad-as-we-thought 41st nationally, with 2.71 pedestrian deaths per 100,000 population for the three-year period 1998-2000 – and not street crime. It’s moderately hard to believe we have enough pedestrians to account for that many pedestrian deaths, but there you have it.

Senate targets uninsured drivers

The good news is that our Lege is attempting to deal with the fact that as many as 26% of drivers in Texas are uninsured. The bad news is that they’ve picked a dumb way to do it.

[Sen. Teel Bivins, R-Amarillo, author of Senate Bill 422] said the Texas Department of Transportation will send notices seeking proof of insurance to randomly selected drivers.

While the department is allowed to include in the sample a random selection of drivers with previous records of no insurance, it otherwise will not be allowed to discriminate on the basis of income, geography, sex, race or age, according to the bill.

Drivers receiving the notices must show within 30 days proof of coverage, which must be verified by the department. Those who falsify the “proof” could be fined between $500 and $1,000.

The penalty for driving without proof of liability will rise to between $350 and $500. It is currently between $175 and $350.

So, if I’m reading this correctly, I may some day get one of these notices, which will then require me to prove that I’m not uninsured. As someone who’s never been an uninsured motorist, I find that rather annoying. Why should I have to prove my innocence?

The solution that I’ve always favored for this problem is to tack a surcharge onto gasoline, which would then go into an uninsured motorists’ pool. Since all drivers buy gasoline, this would naturally force those with no insurance to cover some of their costs, which in turn would reduce the burden on the rest of us. I’d also require insurers to reduce auto rates by a commensurate amount, since they would draw from this pool of money to pay claims arising from damage caused by uninsured motorists. It’s less intrusive and ensures that everyone pays something. I’d also increase the penalties for driving while uninsured, and require proof of at least six months’ worth of coverage to dismiss a ticket for failing to produce proof of insurance at a traffic stop. Regardless of the merits of SB 422, I’m not sure why no one has proposed those reforms.

Our Governor the liar

Earlier I noted that Governor Perry lost a battle to keep drafts of budget proposals secret. Now we see why Perry wanted to do this: his initial budget proposals broke nearly all of his campaign promises.

At a debate at Rice University, Perry bragged that public education funding has increased $6 billion over four years.

“We must continue those trends and continue to put every new dollar that we can into the public school system in the state of Texas so that we can try to mitigate the effects of Robin Hood,” Perry said, referring to the public school finance system.

But Perry’s draft budget cut $2.9 billion from the Foundation School Program, the basic allotment to public school districts. Such a cut would force local districts to pick up more of the costs of public education.

The document is not clear, but the cut also likely would eliminate part or all of a $1,000-a-year payment to teachers to help them purchase supplemental health insurance.


Perry on the campaign trail also promised to increase pensions for retired teachers. Perry’s budget writers, however, wanted to double their premiums for health insurance to raise $435 million. The budget also would have increased the retired teachers’ annual health insurance deductibles from $240 a year to $500.

The average pension of a retired Texas teacher is $2,000 a month.

In the area of human services, Perry’s budget would have eliminated Medicaid simplification, a measure he bragged about signing during the campaign. Rescinding the law would save $1.3 billion, his budget writers said.

They also proposed cutting the Children’s Health Insurance Program by at least $81 million. Perry on the campaign trail had promised to do “everything in our power to enroll more children” in the program.

I can’t say I’m shocked by this. I never believed that Perry or Dubya really gave a damn about education funding except for the warm and fuzzy photo ops that they afford. When push came to shove and good times dried up, I knew they’d gut education and not lose sleep over it. I can only hope that there’s a political price for him to pay for this, but given that the next election he’ll face is in 2006, I’m not holding my breath.

Home again

Well, that was the longest day of travel not involving passports that I’ve had in awhile. The flight out of Oakland was delayed for two hours, as the originating flight from Houston had a medical emergency and had to make an unscheduled landing. Later, we wound up circling the airport for another hour because there was no place to land. But we finally made it.

I should be back to a mostly normal schedule starting tomorrow. See you then.

Online Estonia

Here’s a nice little article about the former Soviet republic of Estonia, which is now one of the most Net-connected places on earth:

Dubbed E-Stonia by some, the country ranked No. 8 out of 82 countries in putting the Net to practical use in a recent World Economic Forum report. The country ranked No. 2 in Internet banking and third in e-government.

Last month, the government launched a one-stop home page for online state services. Estonians can use it to digitally sign government forms or legally binding contracts with other people.

The government also set up a site called “Today, I’m Deciding” to let citizens offer their own opinions on legislation. It’s got a chat room where they can debate the merits of bills or offer up legislation of their own.

One suggestion offered on the site, which is continually monitored by a webmaster in the prime minister’s office, called for easing restrictions on carrying swords in public.

Student fraternities, which use ceremonial swords in college rituals, proposed the change and left hundreds of online messages in support. The campaign succeeded.

Sure would be nice to have that kind of responsive government here, wouldn’t it? Of course, it would help if we had a higher percentage of our citizenry involved in the process, but that’s another rant for another day.

Best quote in the story:

“If a Frenchman loves to sip wine with his friends and a German enjoys his beer, then an Estonian likes to sit behind his computer on a dark evening, surfing the Net and at the same time talking on his mobile phone,” Estonian communications executive Toomas Somera once said.

Rock on, dudes.

Sunny thoughts from his own domain

Kevin Drum is the latest Blogspot refugee and Movable Type convert. Update your bookmarks and leave him a comment on his spiffy new site.

The good old days weren’t always good

In the comments to this post, Jeff Cooper says

I’m surprised to see you so cynical about [baseball’s] “golden age.” After all, one of the defining characteristics of that period is that the Yankees were in the World Series almost every year (and usually won it).

It’s certainly true that the immediate post-WWII era was a great time to be a Yankee fan. I read Peter Golenbock’s Dynasty many times as a kid, and I can relate some of those stories as if I’d experienced them myself. That helped me get through the lean times of the 80s and early 90s, let me tell you.

That said, even if the Yankees go on another championship drought I’d still rather be a fan today than back then. For one thing, if I’d moved away from New York like I did when I went off to college, I’d never get anything more than wire reports on games, plus the occasional Saturday afternoon national telecast and maybe a regional broadcast when they played the Rangers. With cable and the Internet, I can follow my team as closely as I want, as if I were still on Staten Island.

Heck, even when I was growing up in New York I’d suffer separation anxiety. Every time the Yankees visited the West Coast, I’d have to wait until the afternoon paper came out to find out if they’d won or lost. What kind of way to live is that? Let’s not even talk about the offseason, which is gloomy and grey enough as it is.

I agree with those who say that there’s no better time than now to be a baseball fan. I can follow my team wherever I am. I can keep up with minor leagues, college teams, even baseball in Japan, if I want to. Statistics, analysis, profiles, box scores – it’s all there for me.

Some people will try to tell you that today’s players aren’t as good as those who played when they were kids. (Note: Just to be clear, I’m not saying that Jeff is making this claim.) I say baloney. The talent pool is deeper than ever, and the best players are setting new standards. We overvalue players from the past for the same reason that we overvalue old movies – we only remember the few great ones that are worth remembering. We forget that for every Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays, as for every “Casablanca” and “Rear Window”, there were dozens if not hundreds of mediocrities that have long since slipped into a deserved obscurity. Today’s undistinguished masses, like movies that star Jennifer Lopez, are right there in front of us where we can’t conveniently overlook them, and this warps our perspective.

I’m a student and a fan of baseball’s history. I look on baseball’s past with fondness and admiration. I believe baseball is adding to its lore, not living off of it, and I believe that overhyping the glory of the past is counterproductive. The best is yet to come, and I believe that will be the case for a long time.