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November, 2003:

Don’t mess with Texas

Stories like this really piss me off.

On some days, Darrell Echols feels more like a trash collector than the research scientist he is.

Although his job is to monitor the 380 species of birds that frequent Padre Island National Seashore and to inspect the oil and gas companies drilling there, Echols — like everyone else employed at the park — spends part of his day picking up garbage.

“When you are on the beach, you are tasked to collect one bag of trash per day,” said Echols, chief of Padre Island’s science and resources management division.

The reason: Padre Island National Seashore, according to a nationwide survey completed in 1993 by the National Parks Service, receives more trash than any other national park along the U.S coast.

Every two days, the 68-mile-long beach yields an average of 16 bags of garbage. And that’s not counting the buoys the size of three pick-up trucks, or the 150 to 200 empty drums and buckets that wash ashore every two weeks and require pickup by the only hazardous materials crew in the national park system.

The beach receives so much trash that, during a study of eight national parks on the Atlantic, Pacific and Gulf coasts that sampled stretches of beach four times a year, there was too much garbage for Padre officials to pick up.

“Padre was so far off the scale, it made others look like they had no issue,” Echols said of the five-year study, the first comprehensive analysis of marine debris on the nation’s sea shores. “We could not get one kilometer done in a week.”

What a damned disgrace. The state of Texas should be ashamed of itself. Actually, we can narrow that down a bit.

From March 1994 to March 1998, researchers collected trash daily from Padre’s beaches and catalogued it into 43 separate categories. The items ranged in size from egg cartons or rubber gloves to 55-gallon drums.

Of the more than 104,000 items collected during that period, the most common were rubber gloves used by shrimpers to protect their hands while separating catches. One-gallon milk jugs, likely from ship galleys, came in second, the researchers found.

The majority of the waste — or 80 percent — matched what was found on shrimp trawlers, a number that Texas shrimpers say is inflated.

“We view the report as singling out the shrimping industry,” said Wilma Anderson, executive director of the Texas Shrimp Association in Aransas Pass, who admitted that in high seas some trash — including rubber gloves — gets washed off the deck.

But “every entity using the beach and water contributes,” she said.

Oh, cry me a river already. Enough with the excuses. What are you going to do about this? The next biggest contributor to the problem, the offshore oil industry, spoke about some specific things they can do to alleviate the situation. Why not quit with the victimization routine and take an objective look at the evidence?

Make no mistake, the only way anything will change here is for the cited industries to take voluntary action. The state of Texas is not going to propose new regulations, since it’s apparently better to spend money cleaning up a mess than it is to spend money preventing the mess in the first place. If the shrimpers tell the state to cram it, the problem will remain the Parks Service’s to deal with. Tragedy of the commons? Never heard of it.

Pity the poor Republicans

You know, nobody really appreciates how hard it is to govern when one party controls every branch of the government.

As Republican lawmakers wrapped up the first year in a half-century in which they controlled the Senate, House and White House, they discovered, as Democrats had before them, how hard it is to govern even with possession of the White House and slim majorities in Congress.

Congress left town last week with one major Republican-driven accomplishment — a Medicare prescription drug bill — and one big disappointment for GOP leaders, dead energy legislation. Lawmakers also delivered a long-promised ban on certain types of abortion procedures and further cut taxes.

But they were unable to finish work on an array of other priorities, including seven spending bills, a rewrite of the Head Start program, an Internet tax moratorium, a class-action lawsuit overhaul, a corporate tax measure and medical malpractice reform. Other tax, trade and pension items also remain unfinished.

GOP leaders failed to accomplish those things despite shutting out Democrats from much of the legislative process. Their narrow majorities — 51-48 in the Senate and 229-205 in the House, with one Democratic-leaning independent in each chamber — still presented challenges.

The Republicans blamed what they called the obstructionism of the Democratic minority. “We could have been more successful if we’d had bipartisan cooperation,” said Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho.

Oh, Larry. You’re breaking my heart. I think I feel a song coming on.

Would you be slighted if I didn’t speak for hours?

Of course not.

Would you be livid if I had a drink or two?


Would you be wounded if I never sent you flowers?


Why can’t a woman be like you?

If only those Democrats could be more like Republicans. I’ll get on the horn and have Daschle send you a bouquet, Larry. That oughta help dry those tears.

Good Reputation

Joan Jett, celebrated far and wide for her trip to Afghanistan to support the troops, is now supporting a candidate for President: Howard Dean.

A slate of convention delegate candidates from New York made public by the Dean presidential campaign includes Joan Jett, whose 1981 song with the Blackhearts “I Love Rock-n-Roll” has become a rock anthem.

“This whole process intrigues me,” Jett said. “I’m stepping into new territory. It’s very exciting.”

If she is elected during New York’s March 2 presidential primary, Jett would go to the Democratic National Convention next summer as a Dean delegate.

Cool. Via Avedon.

Splitting Sutton County

Not sure why this story is just getting printed today, but it’s about another no-name casualty of redistricting out in West Texas.

SONORA — To folks in this hamlet on the western edge of the Texas Hill Country, redistricting seemed an issue for cities such as Houston, Dallas or San Antonio.

That was until state lawmakers divided Sutton County between two U.S. congressmen, splitting a place where natural gas fuels the economy and where hunters fill the main drag each autumn.

“It’s an absolute absurdity,” said John Tedford, the Republican party chairman for Sutton County. “With just 3,000 people here, it’s just absurd.”

The county used to be represented by Rep. Henry Bonilla, but if the new lines are approved it will also be represented by Tom Craddick’s pet Congressman from Midland. So why did Sutton County get the shaft?

The Sutton County split was a last-minute move during a series of marathon map-drawing sessions as Republicans sought a compromise over the shape of a West Texas district.

State Sen. Todd Staples, R-Palestine, a lead map-drawer, said dividing Sonora was an unavoidable consequence of the requirement that the congressional district contain exactly 651,619 residents, with no deviation. Districts are federally required to be evenly divided according to census figures.

“Realistically, it could have been one of a hundred different towns where the boundary eventually stopped,” Staples said. “In this instance, it just happened to be in Sutton County.”

Staples said the split was probably drawn “in the wee hours of the morning, as we analyzed the map.” He said Sutton County was not a political target.

I’m sure the residents are comforted by that news, Todd. I also have to ask: Exactly 651,619 residents per district? Are our Census numbers that good? What if someone’s wife went back home to live with Mother in another county? Would the boundaries still be legal, or would we have to move a neighbor’s house into another district? Seriously, is 1200 people enough to matter?

What are the practical effects to the residents in Sonora?

Sutton County must pay to bring all four precincts in line with the new congressional districts before the March primary, a job that will cost the county an estimated $1,500, said Sutton County Clerk Veronica “Betty” Hernandez.

“If it was up to me, I wish it would remain the same. But we have to change according to the new lines now,” Hernandez said.

Sutton and other counties with new boundaries must scramble to meet an array of election filing and ballot deadlines. Counties need time to print ballots, mail new voter registration cards and alert voters of new polling places.

“Once you add in everything, we’re looking at at least $5,000,” said Sutton County Judge Carla Garner, a Democrat. “That’s a considerable amount we didn’t budget for.”

They’ll likely use money earmarked from a local improvement project, Garner said.

I’ll bet the Jurisprudence committee didn’t even give them a kiss after screwing them out of that money. And hey, if the courts rule the way I think they will, it won’t even be money well spent. Welcome to Rick Perry’s world.

Speaking of the courts, in addition to a ruling by the US District Court in Marshall about the DeLay/Barton subpoena, the Colorado Supreme Court will rule on the legality of that state’s unprecedented re-redistricting effort on Monday. Next week ought to be very interesting.

UPDATE: Beldar thinks that DeLay will be compelled to testify, and that it will be more of an opportunity than a threat for the GOP. This is really a response to an earlier post, but I’m putting it here so it won’t get overlooked.

Life in the fast lane

If you’re going to plan that road trip through Texas, beware of suburban counties near large cities, for they are the speeding ticket capitals of the state.

Of the 10 counties that got the most of the 2.2 million tickets handed out during the three-year period, Montgomery County, northwest of Houston, tops the list with more than 36,600.

Parker County near Fort Worth was a close second, followed by other suburban havens — Hunt, northeast of Dallas, fourth; Collin, home to the affluent Dallas suburb of Plano, fifth; and Bell, between Austin and Waco, ninth.

The 10 counties with the fewest tickets were San Saba in Central Texas and McMullen in South Texas, each between major interstates; Borden, Cochran, Stonewall, Kent, Foard and Lipscomb in or near the Panhandle, far from interstates; and Terrell and Loving in far West Texas.

Montgomery County earns its speedy reputation thanks to Interstate 45 on the west side and U.S. Highway 59 on the east, said Scott Markowitz, a Houston attorney specializing in traffic offenses in Houston and surrounding counties. In addition, speed limits of 55 mph in construction zones for U.S. 59 expansion projects have been strictly enforced.


Roy Crooks, who runs a defensive driving course in Fort Worth, said Tarrant County speeders keep him busy, though he gets a steady flow of students from No. 2 Parker County.

“That part of I-20 in Parker County is one of the growing areas between Fort Worth and Weatherford,” Crooks said. “It’s a nice, great big six-lane highway, and people just keep the speed up a bit on a lot of hills. Troopers patrol that area pretty heavily.”

The same goes for Pecos and Sutton counties, the only two remote areas to make it into the top 20. Capt. Ron Joy Jr., whose area includes Pecos and the state’s largest county, Brewster, said his staff has fewer roadways to patrol out in the Big Empty.

“People probably get bored and they’re trying to get through as fast as they can,” Joy said.

Funny, I feel the same way about Montgomery County.

Not that I condone such things, but if you want to know where the speed traps are in our great state, there’s an online resource for you. All I can add to this is to avoid the city of Selma, just north of San Antonio, like the plague.

Turner endorses everybody and nobody

Who needs to endorse a candidate when you can get both of them to agree to a set of ideals as Sylvester Turner did?

Standing with U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee and state Rep. Al Edwards at the Four Seasons Hotel, Turner had [Orlando Sanchez and Bill White] sign the 15-point covenant he said represents issues he campaigned for.

Sanchez and White are battling for African-American voters, who gave about 80 percent of their support to Turner when he finished third in the Nov. 4 voting.

Jackson Lee said it is important for the two candidates to sign the covenant because this is the first strongly contested mayoral election since 1989 without a black finalist.

That’s a pretty slick maneuver by Turner, especially since I’m not sure he had that much influence to peddle for the runoff. White has already gotten a number of key endorsements from various black officials (including one from Rep. Garnet Coleman from before the November ballot), and it’s a little hard to imagine anyone successfully convincing black voters to push the button for Sanchez. There’s also this to consider:

White said during the covenant signing that Sanchez has not always supported some of its elements. Afterward, the White campaign distributed a copy of a Harris County Republican Party questionnaire to support his claim.

In the GOP questionnaire, Sanchez said he would support “a policy of nondiscrimination in which everyone is equally treated as opposed to affirmative action policies that create special classes of citizens who are entitled to special treatment.”

In the “Community Covenant,” Sanchez agrees to “put forth a good-faith effort to see that diversity is reflected in city contracting and city affairs with an emphasis on those minority businesses which are locally owned and operated and are new and emerging businesses.”

Sanchez claims that support for both statements is not contradictory, but I’m willing to bet there aren’t a lot of proponents of either one who’d agree with that. Ultimately, I don’t think this covenant will make much difference one way or another.

Not very festive

This article talks about how various cities have cut back or cut out holiday celebrations like tree-lighting ceremonies in recent years due to budget crunches. Houston, despite its own fiscal woes, hasn’t done any such thing, but what I’ve noticed is the near death of the corporate holiday party. Back in the good old days of the late 90s, Tiffany and I would get to attend a couple of lavish parties, one thrown by each of our employers, usually at a local museum (the Natural Science Museum was the best, but the Museum of Fine Arts was good, too). They’d have live music, open bars, extensive buffets, and the chance to see your coworkers and their spouses all dressed up. I’d occasionally hear people complain about attending them, since they took up space on an already busy December calendar, but I always loved them.

Needless to say, this sort of thing cost a ton, and was one of the first things to go when the economy headed south. Does anyone still work for a company that throws a real holiday party, or are they as extinct as the dodo? I’m usually an optimist on things, but I fear that when we’re back in a bull market this tradition will not get revived. Damn shame if you ask me.

(Side note: I’ll bet the death of parties like these has also been a big hardship on museums’ budgets, since the rental fees had to have been huge.)

From one holiday to the next

My dad and I just got back from buying a Christmas tree. We had an artificial tree when I was growing up, and in my secret heart of hearts I still think that’s the way to go. It’s cheaper – that one tree lasted us at least 20 years – it’s environmentally friendlier, it’s less messy, and it’s predictable. You know what kind of tree you’re getting year in and year out. Tiffany, however, won’t hear of any such thing, so every year we get a real tree. I console myself with the knowledge that in January we’ll cut it up and put it in our compost heap, as we’ve done with its predecessors.

By the way, as a data point in the SUV debate, I’ll note that as we’ve done every year, we brough this six-to-seven foot Fraser fir home in my Mazda sedan. All we had to do was fold down the back seats and it fit just fine. The SUV driver who bought a slightly larger tree just before us was tying it to the roof of his vehicle as we pulled out. Must be nice to have all that cargo space!

The Astrodome: A space museum?

Just one news item for today: The winner of the what-to-do-with-the-Astrodome sweepstakes is an outfit that wants to turn it into a space museum.

The empty confines of the Reliant Astrodome could someday offer a glimpse at the vastness of outer space.

And, maybe, a roller coaster.

That is the vision of the Astrodome Redevelopment Co., a consortium of engineering and entertainment companies pursuing the idea of putting a “space theme park” in the Dome.

“It’s really more entertainment-oriented than education-oriented,” said Scott Hanson, a vice president of Bryan-based Trajen Aerospace, which is part of the consortium. “But our concept right now will have components of both. How they mesh together is part of the details to be worked out.”

Hanson said the preliminary concept involves dividing the interior of the Dome into quadrants, with each area sporting rides and attractions designed to let visitors experience some of the sights and sensations of space travel, such as a rocket launch or a journey through deep space.

“Being indoors, the Astrodome is really perfect for that kind of environment, where you control what the attendee is experiencing,” Hanson said.

The seating levels surrounding what is now the playing field would be converted into hotel, restaurant and retail space that would allow patrons to view the space world while eating or shopping.

Okay, I guess. I can picture the museum part, but I’ve never quite understood the hotel concept. But maybe I just lack vision. Construction isn’t even scheduled to get started until 2005, so anything can still happen. We shall see.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! My parents are in town and dinner is at our house, so I’ll be focusing on Real Life for today.

It occurred to me last night that this is the first time in 20 years that I’ve had Thanksgiving dinner with my parents. When I was in college in San Antonio, I’d drive with my cousins to my aunt and uncle’s house in Wichita Falls for T-Day. After coming to Houston, I did Thanksgiving with friends here until I met Tiffany, after which it’s been Thanksgiving with her family. I flew home for Christmas every year for as long as my parents lived in New York (through Christmas of 1998), and flying during one holiday was enough. This year, my folks agreed to come down here to celebrate Turkey Day. All of us, myself included, were a bit shocked when I said 1983 was the last time we’d been together on this day.

No matter, we’re together now. Have a great day, everyone!

Hilbert problem solved?

In 1900, the great mathematician David Hilbert listed 23 outstanding problems in mathematics and challenged his colleagues to solve them. Three of those problems remain unsolved today, but according to this report, one of them may have been conquered.

Elin Oxenhielm, a 22-year-old mathematics student at Stockholm University, may have solved part of one of the science’s great problems. Next week an article will be published revealing her solution for part of Hilbert’s 16th problem, Swedish news agency TT reports.

The set of 23 problems was put forward by Prussian mathematician David Hilbert in 1900 as challenges for the 20th century. Three remain unsolved, numbers 6,8 and 16.

Oxenhielm’s solution pertains to a special version of the second part of problem 16, the ‘boundary cycles for polynomial differential equations’.

The mathematical journal Nonlinear Analysis, published by Elsevier, has examined and endorsed Oxenhielm’s solution and will publish it in their next issue.

Oxenhielm believes her method can be used to unlock the mystery of the entire 16th problem, newspaper Expressen reports.

I confess that I am unfamiliar with this problem as well as with problem #6, which has to do with the axioms of physicis. Problem #8 is the famous Riemann Hypothesis, which has to do with prime numbers. You can read all about these famous historical problems here and about David Hilbert here. Some recent references on this problem are here.

More interestingly, Problem 16 has a connection to the Taniyama-Shimura Conjecture, which was used by Andrew Wiles to prove Fermat’s Last Theorem. Stephen Smale, who proved part of the famous Poincare Conjecture, also made some advances on this problem.

I imagine that we’ll be hearing more about this shortly. Via Slashdot.

Redistricting subpoena contested

Reps. Tom DeLay and Joe Barton are contesting the subpoena that they were issued to testify about their roles in redistricting.

Attorneys for DeLay, R-Sugar Land, and U.S. Rep. Joe Barton, R-Ennis, filed a motion in U.S. district court in Marshall, urging a three-judge federal panel to quash subpoenas for the congressmen’s depositions. The panel is to begin a combined trial of several anti-redistricting suits in Austin on Dec. 11.


In their motion to quash, attorneys Bobby R. Burchfield of Washington and Jonathan D. Pauerstein of San Antonio said no court had ever compelled a member of Congress to submit to a deposition in a redistricting case.

“The opportunity to place members under oath and question them regarding their political strategy and that of their political party would provide a fertile field for abuse,” they said.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but the mid-decade re-redistricting that DeLay urged and abetted is equally unprecedented, so this argument falls flat to me. As for the question of what he could be compelled to talk about, that can be limited by the judge. I see no reason why he shouldn’t be made to answer questions about his actions in this case.

Democratic lawyer Gerald Hebert said DeLay’s “deposition is clearly legally significant to this case because, unlike any member of Congress in any prior redistricting process, he unquestionably played the central role in Texas redistricting in 2003.”

He continued: “Without Tom DeLay, Texas redistricting would never have happened in 2003, and this specific map would never have been enacted into law.”

I agree, and I hope the federal court does as well.

An interview with Don Novello

Here’s an entertaining interview with Don Novello, whom you may know as Father Guido Sarducci but whom I will always think of as Lazlo Toth, American. He talks about the history of the Lazlo Letters, the challenge of keeping the idea fresh 30 years later, and why certain other comedians never acknowledged his work in this regard. Check it out. Via Mark Evanier.

Bad telemarketer!

Attorney General Greg Abbott has announced that the state is suing fifteen businesses for violating the state’s no-call law.

The Texas attorney general’s office filed suit against 15 telemarketing businesses Tuesday, claiming they violated the state’s no-call law.

The state alleges the companies, including four in the Houston area, called consumers repeatedly with high-pressure sales pitches.

“Businesses in the state of Texas must respect the law,” Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott said. “When they don’t, there will be consequences.”

The suits, which seek temporary and permanent injunctions to stop the calls, are the first to be filed against telemarketers since the law took effect in January 2002.

The defendants are subject to fines of up to $1,000 for each phone call made in violation of the law and up to $3,000 per call if the company knowingly violated it.

I have a minor quibble with this, in that if you look at the list of defendants (PDF), none of them appears to be a firm whose primary business it is to call people. As such, I don’t know why the AG refers to them as “telemarketing businesses” instead of “businesses that are breaking the anti-telemarketing laws”, but whatever. More power to you on this, AG Abbott, even if there’s no good reason for the list of defendants to be in a PDF and not plain old HTML (I’m just never satisfied, am I?).

Turkeys of the Year

Richard Connelly gives us an amusing look at the “worst flock-ups of 2003”, though given his gleeful trashing of Tom DeLay and John Culberson, it’s admittedly more amusing if you’re not a Republican. Just one minor point here, Rich: DeLay is a Congressman, not a Senator. Hard to tell with him, perhaps, but there you go.

Teachers picket DeLay

Some 300 teachers protested outside Tom DeLay’s office in Sugar Land yesterday after he refused to bring a bill that would benefit them to a floor vote.

About 300 public school employees from Houston, Fort Bend, Brazosport and other school districts rallied at DeLay’s Stafford office, blaming the House majority leader for not bringing to a floor vote House Resolution Bill 594, the Social Security Fairness Act.

The Act, which has enough votes to pass in the House, would allow teachers and other government employees who have had other jobs to receive full Social Security benefits. DeLay has said the bill could bankrupt Social Security.

Teachers such as Randy Elms, who carried signs like “DeLay denies Teachers,” say the current policy is unfair to Texas educators.

“If I would die today, he would get no Social Security benefits,” said the 50-year-old middle school teacher, nodding toward his 10-year-old son, Ryan. Both were bundled in their coats as they stood outside DeLay’s office in the cold weather.

Teachers who pay into the Teacher Retirement System receive that pension fund upon retirement but do not receive full Social Security benefits even if they paid into it and are vested, Texas Federation of Teachers secretary-treasurer John O’Sullivan said at the rally. Spouses and children of teachers do not receive full Social Security benefits either, he said.

HR 594 would allow teachers and their families to receive full Social Security benefits upon retirement or disability in addition to the teacher pension.

The bill has 277 co-sponsors in the U.S. House, including 23 from Texas, with a majority needed to pass. DeLay has the power to prevent a vote, said John Cole, president of the Texas Federation of Teachers. Texas is one of 12 states that considers teachers public servants and requires them to live off their teacher pensions, even if they had other careers before or afterward, he said.

So this bill has more sponsors than votes needed to pass, at least six of whom are Republicans from Texas, but Tom DeLay won’t let it come to the floor. Why not?

DeLay’s office released a statement that said HR 594 would add more than $50 billion over the next 10 years to the Social Security program. He was not at the rally.

Yes, between the Medicare and (thankfully now dead) energy bills, we know what a stalwart for fiscal responsibility DeLay is.

To be honest, I have no idea if this bill is a good idea or not. Fifty billion over ten years isn’t going to break the federal budget, but no matter how dishonest DeLay is on the subject, adding to the current record deficits really should give us pause. And just because a bill is popular doesn’t mean it’s good policy (see, for example, every anti-flag burning bill that’s ever reared its ugly head).

But still. Two hundred seventy-seven sponsors, and no vote? Maybe if they added in a corporate tax cut, that might do the trick. One must remember one’s priorities, after all.

UPDATE: The following comment from Diogenes gives a good reason why this bill should be passed.

My mother is approaching retirement age, and taught in Texas public schools for almost 20 years. As such, she contributed to the Texas Teacher Retirement System (TRS). But she came to teaching later in life; she worked a number of jobs before teaching, during which she contributed to Social Security for long enough to be eligible for benefits (normally) when she retires.

The only problem is this: unlike most people, who get both Social Security and pension or other retirement benefits, teachers aren’t allowed to collect Social Security.

The unspoken assumption of the system is that teachers do nothing but teach for their entire career, and so couldn’t possibly contribute enough to Social Security to be eligible for benefits. That’s just false. There’s also consequences for spousal and disability benefits. In effect, the system is set up as an unfair tax on teachers and their families.

The odd thing is that it can depend on what job one retires from. There are some teaching jobs in the state that contribute to both TRS and SS. If you retire from one of those jobs, you’re entitled to receive both benefits.

Teachers in the know search out these jobs when approaching retirement. Some of them will even let you work there for a day or two and then retire, just so that you can get the benefits to which you should be entitled. Fortunately, my mother has found one of those jobs. But many aren’t so lucky.

So now you (and I) know. Typical of DeLay to oppose something that benefits working people.

Dude, you may or may not get routed to India

Recently, a Dell spokesman announced that in response to customer complaints, they would stop routing corporate support calls to India.

Tech support for Optiplex desktop and Latitude notebook computers will be handled from call centers in Texas, Idaho and Tennessee, Dell spokesman Jon Weisblatt told The Associated Press Monday.

“Customers weren’t satisfied with the level of support they were receiving, so we’re moving some calls around to make sure they don’t feel that way anymore,” Weisblatt said.

Now a Dell spokeswoman in India says that ain’t so.

“We did not send back any calls to the U.S.,” the Dell International Services’ spokeswoman in the high-tech hub of Bangalore, said on Tuesday. The spokeswoman said she did not want to be quoted by name.

“Customers weren’t satisfied with the level of support they were receiving, so we’re moving some calls around to make sure they don’t feel that way anymore,” Weisblatt said.

“Now, I don’t know why Jon said that,” the Dell spokeswoman in Bangalore said. “We are committed to India and we are growing.”

Well, those are the quirks of doing business globally. One hemisphere doesn’t always know what the other hemisphere is doing.

Though I’ve seen firsthand the effects of offshoring, I’m not as worked up about call center jobs in India as Byron is. As it happens, I’ve just spent time on the phone with Dell’s support techs thanks to a dead sound card in our new PC. Took awhile to get through, but they’ll be sending a tech out to replace the (thankfully under warranty) motherboard, and I didn’t have any problems communicating with the people on the other end. Of course, it also helps that I know my way around a computer, so I could anticipate what they were telling me.

I did tech support work in one form or another for ten years, and I’ll say this: The quality of the support you get is directly proportional to how much the company is willing to spend on it. In good economic times (remember those?), people are willing to pay a premium for better service, and companies act accordingly. A reputation for excellent service is a strong competitive advantage, but in leaner times it’s all about cost. You may eventually see some jobs like these come back in the next boom, but the long term trend is clear: tech support workers are the steelworkers of the 21st Century.

Hell, long term a lot of these jobs won’t be going to India any more, either. Some countries in Africa are already the next big thing for offshoring.

One thing about the original story really amused me.

Among Dell customers dissatisfied with the company’s use of overseas labor is Ronald Kronk, a Presbyterian minister in Rochester, Pa., who has spent the last four months trying to resolve a miscommunication that has resulted in his being billed for two computers.

The problem, he says, is that the Dell call center is in India.

“They’re extremely polite, but I call it sponge listening — they just soak it in and say ‘I can understand why you’re angry’ but nothing happens,” Kronk said.

Yeah, that’s a technique they teach in every single customer service class ever offered, along with repeating back what the customer says (“Okay, so what you’re telling me is that your hard drive is on fire and your monitor is oozing slime. Is that correct?”), both of which are touted as methods to defuse angry callers. I always thought it was a load of crap. Maybe I’m just not a Mars-and-Venus kind of guy, but the best way to mollify me when I’m screaming at you on the phone is to fix my damn problem. I can get validation from my dog, thankyouverymuch.

The Enron blame game continues

The special examiner who’s been doing a postmortem on the Enron collapse has released his final report, in which he lays blame at the feet of Kenny Boy Lay and Jeff Skilling.

Atlanta-based examiner Neal Batson also suggests that the Houston law firms Vinson & Elkins and Andrews Kurth may have committed legal “malpractice” and aided and abetted the financing hijinks by Enron officials.

In the fourth and final report of his $100 million, 18-month investigation, Batson says Lay, Skilling, former members of Enron’s board of directors, and lawyers inside and outside the company failed to respond to “red flags” raised by Enron’s accounting practices.

The 137-page report filed Monday, with 1,000 pages of appendices, and Batson’s three earlier reports were written to guide creditors through the special purpose financing entities that caused Enron’s collapse.


Batson says that Lay and Skilling, in particular, were negligent in their failure of oversight.

“The evidence shows that, as a result of their day-to-day involvement at the company, Lay and Skilling knew or should have known their subordinate officers misused the SPE transactions in a manner that resulted in the dissemination of materially misleading financial information,” Batson wrote.

One thing this investigation did not do, however, was bolster a criminal case against either of these two malefactors.

“I am highly encouraged,” said Lay’s Houston-based attorney, Mike Ramsey. “There is no allegation of crime, no claim of intentional wrongdoing, and no assertion of fraud on the part of Ken Lay. After a nearly $100 million investigation, the bankruptcy examiner suggests only negligence, which we strongly deny.”

I’m curious as to what Mike Ramsey’s explanation for Enron’s implosion is and what Kenny Boy was doing while it was happening. What else is there if you take away fraud and negligence? I personally would have a hard time as a juror believing that it was the invisible hand and there was nothing Lay could have done differently that would have made a difference.

I know, I know, he’s talking about negligence as a legal concept, a nontrivial matter given that Enron’s creditors have asked the federal bankruptcy judge for permission to sue them to smithereens.

The legal action against Houston-based Vinson & Elkins and Andrews Kurth mirrors information contained in a fourth and final report by bankruptcy examiner Neal Batson made public Monday. Batson alleges the law firms may have committed malpractice and violated their duty to Enron Corp.

The request by creditors also named Kirkland & Ellis, which is not mentioned in the Batson report. Judge Arthur Gonzalez has approved all similar requests by creditors to initiate litigation in the past. A hearing is scheduled for next Monday.


Separately, the creditors also would like to sue more than three dozen former executives, including [former Enron Chief Financial Officer Andrew] Fastow, former Chairman Ken Lay and former Chief Executive Jeff Skilling.

That’s sure to be a barrel of laughs when it finally happens. Stay tuned.

Fiiiive Golden Tuques!

It’s a total tuque-a-rama in Quebec!

MONTREAL (CP) – The Heritage Classic has made a simple Montreal Canadiens’ hat into the hottest product in Quebec.

Demand has been “overwhelming” for the red, white and blue tuque with the Canadiens logo that Jose Theodore wore over his goaltender’s mask during the NHL’s first ever outdoor game in Edmonton, Ray Lalonde, vice-president of sales and marketing for the NHL club, said Monday.

The hats were also worn by the Canadiens oldtimers to keep out the minus-20 freeze in the Megastars game that preceded the historic NHL match at Commonwealth Stadium on Saturday.

“We’re shocked, the demand has been phenomenal,” Lalonde said. “We could not have anticipated this level of demand and now we have to deal with it.”

If there were more than three or four days a year in which wearing a tuque makes sense here, I’d want one, too.

Via Eric McErlain, who has more on the Heritage Classic here and here.

RIP, Warren Spahn

Warren Spahn, probably the greatest lefthanded pitcher ever and the winningest pitcher since the 1930s, died yesterday at the age of 82. David Pinto and Rob Neyer have some good profiles on him. Rest in peace, Warren Spahn.

Harbinger or tease?

You’ve seen this question a million times already: “If next year’s election for President was held today, do you think you would vote for George W. Bush, or some other candidate?” Suppose I told you that in a recent poll, the numbers broke down as follows:

George W. Bush 46.4%
Other Candidate 42.4%
Undecided 11.2%

Not very unusual, right? Bush has been running no better than even against an unnamed Democrat for some time now in national polls. He’s actually doing a little better here than in some of those surveys.

Now suppose I told you that this was a poll taken in Montana (scroll down to “Vote Intention in 2004”), a state which Bush carried in 2000 by a 58-34 margin over Al Gore (Nader got 6%). Some “statistically significant relationships” from this MSU-Billings poll:

A majority (52.6%) of males planned on voting for Bush, a majority of females (59.4%) favored some other candidate.

A majority (76.8%) of Republicans said they would vote for Bush. A majority of Democrats (78.6%) and Independents (48.1%) supported some other candidate.

Majorities of respondents with 1-11 years (55.6%) and 13-15 (some college) years of education (59%) said they would vote for Bush. A plurality of college graduates (46.9%) and majority of individuals with a post-graduate education (57.4%) said they backed some other candidate.

That’s actually less support among Republicans for Bush than the national average, which could be a very bad sign given how independents have soured on him.

Now, of course, there are tons of caveats: The margin of error is 5%. Other candidates combined for 42% in 2000, so while Bush has lost ground, the Democrats haven’t necessarily gained any. A generic candidate often does better than a specific one. Some 20% of Democrats still seem to support Bush.

But still. The Mountain Time Zone was very friendly to Bush in 2000, with every state except New Mexico a red state. If his support slips there (and I’ve said before that Arizona, Colorado, and Nevada are all within reach for the Democrats), he’s got trouble. The solid South can only take you so far.

Via Not Geniuses.

California not leading the way

Nevada’s governor recall drive terminated

CARSON CITY, Nev. — An anti-tax group trying to oust Gov. Kenny Guinn gave up Monday after failing to gather enough signatures to get the recall on the ballot.

The recent recall of former California Gov. Gray Davis “really crucified us,” said Chris Hansen of The Committee to Recall Gov. Guinn. “That was such a circus, such a show, with a stripper, a porn star, Gary Coleman as candidates.”

“People thought it would probably be the same here, while in truth, it would have been an election to keep or not keep Guinn as governor,” Hansen said.


Hansen said more than 51,000 signatures were gathered — far short of the 128,109 needed to force a vote next year. But recall leaders listed only three names on their petition Monday. The deadline for signatures was Nov. 18.

Dallas mayor recall drive hits roadblock

DALLAS — Opponents of Mayor Laura Miller apparently have come up short in their attempt to force a recall election, but leaders of the effort have indicated they will keep trying.

The recall movement, led by a group of black ministers, failed to produce petitions with the required number of signatures by Monday’s deadline.

Shortly before closing his office Monday, city elections director Brooks Love said “nothing has been received by my office.”

They say that where California goes, the nation follows. Nice to know this isn’t always true.

A little hacking around

I finally got around to adding MT-Search, a nice consequence of upgrading to Movable Type version 2.64 and converting my database to MySQL. It’s over there on the sidebar, between Archives and Categories. Seems to work nicely, but please do let me know if something funky happens when you try it.

I also added a couple of plugins to eliminate duplicate comments and trackback pings, both of which I found via Michael Croft. Each integrates directly into Jay Allen’s MT Blacklist plugin, which is intuitive and neat. I tested the duplicate comment part and it seemed to work as advertised, but again, if you encounter any weirdness, please let me know.

Now I just need to ask Croft to share some of that MySQL Fu he mentioned so I can clean up my own existing comment/trackback dupes…

RNCC to return illegal contributions

In case you’re wondering about those phony-award campaign contributions that Tom DeLay solicited from foreign nationals (see here, here, and here for the background), the answer is Yes, someone did notice that such things are illegal. Here’s the story, sent to me by AJ Garcia from Roll Call.

NRCC Takes Barred Funds

November 24, 2003
By Amy Keller, Roll Call Staff

Officials at the National Republican Congressional Committee said they plan to immediately refund an illegal foreign contribution received through a fundraising telemarketing program featuring House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas).

Robin Raina, a 37-year-old native of India who moved to Georgia in 1997, recently contributed $300 to the NRCC after receiving a telephone call inviting him to join the NRCC’s Business Advisory Council. As part of the fundraising push, potential donors are also told they have been selected by DeLay to receive a National Leadership Award — an honor that Raina, president and CEO of a U.S.-based company ebix, felt inclined to share with numerous news outlets in his native country in a company press release.

“Yet another Indian has made a mark in the U.S. with his appointment as honorary chairman of the Business Advisory Council in recognition of his contribution to the Republican party,” MSN India reported on Nov. 19. “A long-time supporter of Republican ideals, Raina will be a key member of the council.”

Apparently lost on Raina was the fact that it is unlawful for a foreign national to make a contribution, and also for a person to solicit, accept or receive a contribution from a foreign national.

For violations that aren’t “knowing and willful,” the statute provides for a civil penalty which does not exceed the greater of $5,000 or an amount equal to any contribution or expenditure involved in such violation if the FEC and the respondent can’t agree on a conciliation agreement.

NRCC spokesman Carl Forti said the committee had every intention of returning the money. “He did give $300 via credit card and obviously now that we’re aware of the problem the money will be refunded,” Forti said Friday afternoon in response to an inquiry about the contribution.

Raina isn’t the only Indian citizen residing in the United States who has been hit up for money lately by the NRCC. Amit Pradhan said he has been besieged with “lots of requests for contributions for different funds” but chose not to give a donation when he was offered the same award that Raina received.“The award wasn’t connected to making a contribution,” Pradhan said. “It was an option. They do use it as a vehicle for fundraising and I’m sure that there are a lot of people who get the award and do contribute … I don’t believe it’s compulsory and I didn’t contribute.”

But Pradhan, the founder and president of Iopsis Software Inc., was equally eager to share his good fortune with the folks back in India. Last Wednesday, the Times of India published an article explaining that Pradhan will be assisted by his elder brother Rajeesh “in leading a 10-member team in the U.S.” that will interact with U.S. Congressmen and “play a crucial role in the committee’s efforts to involve top business people in the process of government reform.”

“What is most surprising about Amit’s selection is, that neither he, nor his brother, is a green card holder or an American citizen,” the story stated. “While Amit has been in the US for the last three years on an L1 visa … his brother is on a regular H1 visa.”

The NRCC’s National Leadership Award fundraising scheme has received considerable attention from the press, with NBC’s Lisa Myers recently noting that awardees “have included a convicted sex offender and a maker of drug paraphernalia, both later rescinded.” But Forti said the committee is satisfied with the program. “The bottom line is that there are thousands of happy members of the Business Advisory Council and the small fraction of people we’ve had to give refunds to doesn’t mean the program’s not a success. In reality, I can only think of between five and 10 instances when this has been a problem.”

That last comment is undoubtedly true, though one wonders if they’ll have the same appeal now that it’s known just how bogus the “award” is. Nice to know that the good guys can still win one anyway.

Only Selig could go to China

I do a lot of bashing of Beelzebud Selig and his cronies for their relentless avarice and stupidity, so I owe it to them to point out when they’ve done something farsighted and intelligent.

Sunday, MLB and its fledgling counterpart, the China Baseball Association, announced they would formally team up to promote baseball in every corner of the communist nation ahead of the 2008 Beijing Olympics. It’s a decision both romantic and lucrative.

“Baseball was born in America. Now it belongs to the world,” [Jim Small, Major League Baseball’s vice president of international market development] said. “But if baseball is truly to be considered a global sport, it needs to be played in some key countries — and China is at the top of that list.”

Now, professional and college coaches will stream into China to work with young prospects. Top Chinese coaches will travel to America for stints with major-league clubs. Chinese umpires will receive training. Youth development programs — including possibly the famed Pitch, Hit and Run that so many American youngsters have competed in — will flourish.

Most significantly, MLB will start scouting in China, finding the country’s top players and grooming them for big-league play. No details were given.

Brilliant, and I mean that in the sincere, non-snarky way. This is a vital and necessary step to take, and it should reap many long-term rewards. Baseball has benefitted tremendously from its investment in Latin America, and it will do so from an equally vigorous push in the Far East.

One thing I will look forward to is to see how youth and Little League coaches develop training regimens. As I recall from the 70s and 80s, when Japanese Little League teams were dominant, they had some methods that were considered unorthodox but effective, such as using an orange baseball so players could see it better. Who knows what kind of innovation a few million new minds could bring to the table?

Speaking of Little Leagues, here’s a ticklish question: Given that their teams have also had a fair bit of success in championship competition, will MLB be pursuing opportunities in Taiwan as well? The sport has a pretty long history there. I’m sure the answer is No, which is just too bad. There are some things even the love of baseball can’t overcome.

JD Tippit

I didn’t pay a whole lot of attention to the 40-year retrospectives about the Kennedy assassination. It’s just a subject that doesn’t interest me much. I did, however, take the time to read this touching article about Dallas police officer J.D. Tippit, who was murdered by Lee Harvey Oswald as he attempted to escape after the shooting, and the wife and three children he left behind.

On the morning of Nov. 22, 1963, Mrs. Tippit made breakfast for her husband, who routinely left the house no later than 6:15 a.m. She, too, had a hectic schedule. To make extra money, she was baby-sitting a boy during the day and other children during the evening.

Later that morning, she received a call from the nurse at Allan’s school, telling her he was vomiting and needed to come home. So he was there when his dad came home for lunch one last time.

“I made J.D. a sandwich, and he had some fried potatoes with it,” she says. Officer Tippit left to return to duty, while his wife and oldest son turned on the television in hopes of hearing details about the visit of the president, for whom both the Tippits had voted.

What they heard instead was the news of his death.

“When I heard about the president, it just blows your mind,” she says. “You think, ‘This cannot be happening.’ ”

Within an hour, the news got worse. Officer Tippit’s sister, Christine Christopher, called to ask, “Have you heard from J.D.? Do you know if he’s all right?”

“Why?” his wife asked, her startled tone followed by Ms. Christopher’s admission that she had heard a news report about an Officer Tippit being shot in Oak Cliff, possibly by the same man who murdered the president.

“So I called the station,” says Mrs. Flinner. “There was so much confusion going on. But they told me he was dead. I just freaked out. I couldn’t believe this was happening. ‘Here the president and now my husband! You’ve got to be wrong!’ It was total devastation.”

You should read it, too. Via Barefoot and Naked.

Out from the woodwork

Like a zombie from a low-budget George Romero knockoff, former district Judge John Devine is coming back.

Devine is the sixth Republican candidate to announce his candidacy for the [newly drawn 10th Congressional District] seat. Others are Pat Elliott of Brenham, Ben Streusand, John Kelley, Michael McCaul and Dave Phillips.

Dream big while you can, fellas. The courts will be ruling soon enough.

By the way, I can see why Devine gave an exclusive on his story to a paper in a small town seventy miles west of where he lives: They were obviously willing to print his press release as is:

[While serving as judge, Devine] received attention for his actions to hold local government accountable when he ruled that taxpayers had a right under the law to vote on a proposed light rail system.

Yes, this was a ruling he gave in 2001 that would have halted the light rail construction after it had already started in order to force a vote on it. A three-judge panel from the 1st District Court of Appeals unanimously overturned Devine’s injunction, ruling that he had “erred in application of the law to the undisputed facts.” (Houston Chronicle, March 9, 2001) The full court refused to reconsider the appeal on an 8-1 vote, and finally the state Supreme Court refused to hear a final appeal. If he considers his ruling on this case to be a point of pride, that’s all you need to know about what kind of Congressman he’d be. Of course, if you still want more info, I’ve got a few links here to aspects of Devine’s colorful career.

Link via Rob.

October traffic report

October was a slower month than September, thanks in part to the end of the redistricting battle and the week off that I took to go to France. Still, some 27,000 hits were recorded, making it my second busiest month ever. I also had my 150,000th Sitemeter visit early on – number 200,000 should be stopping by this week.

Top referrers and search engine terms are under the More link. As always, thank you for reading.


Economic recovery watch

Looks like the secret to good economic health this holiday season is rich folks buying stuff.

“The stars are aligned for the wealthy,” said Howard Davidowitz, president of Davidowitz & Associates, a national retail consulting firm in New York. “Who’s gained most from capital gains tax cuts? The wealthy. Whose houses have gone up the most? The wealthy. The wealthy are a lot wealthier. Why not buy an $8,000 TV? No problem.”

And it’s partly because of the strength of the luxury market that retail analysts predict a 4 percent to 5 percent increase in overall holiday spending. Even the average consumer is expected to spend a bit more per gift this year compared to last year.

You know who you are, so get out there and spend. Let this be your inspiration:

Magaly Fuentes is certainly doing her part to bring up the holiday sales numbers.

On Thursday, she picked up a few things at Zadok Jewelers: a $17,700 white gold and diamond Cartier watch and a diamond necklace, totaling 24.5 carats, which cost much more. She bought them “just for fun.”

“I made too much money in the last months,” explained Fuentes, whose family owns oil and real estate businesses in Mexico and the United States.

Your country thanks you for your sacrifice, bubelah.

Opus returns

As promised, Opus has returned to the Sunday comics page. You’ll have to find a dead-tree version of it to see for yourself, as I can’t seem to locate one online, but I’m looking forward to future installments.

There’s good news and bad news in the Chron story about Opus’s reappearance.

We do know that the strip will be bigger. Physically.

It will cover a half-page in the comics section, an unusual amount of space in a business where the trend has been to squeeze more comics into less space. To make room, the Chronicle will drop Sunday versions of Monty, Apartment 3G and La Cucaracha, although all three will continue to run Monday through Saturday.

That half-page size allowed Berkeley Breathed to include a lot of visual detail, which is a very good thing, but I’m annoyed that I won’t see Monty on Sundays again. I’ve been a fan since the early days of the strip, when it was “Robotman”, and I think it’s generally one of the better Sunday offerings. Oh, well.

On a side note, I’m moderately surprised that the only one other strip (Heart of the City) made mention of this momentous occasion. Maybe Opus really had been gone too long.

Senility watch

You’d think sharing a bathroom with a guy for two years would leave more of an indelible memory on one’s brain, but apparently I’m farther down the path of total incoherence than I’d feared. It’s the only explanation I can think of for how I managed to overlook one of my old college roomies when I said that Tom Spencer’s blog retirement left me as the only Trinity person I knew in the amateur punditry trade. Sorry about that, David. Beer’s on me next time we’re together.

(And yes, you should post more often.)

DeLay subpoenaed

No, not for his many sleazy fundraising activities, but for his role in redistricting.

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land, and Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, have been subpoenaed to testify in a legal challenge by Texas Democrats to a congressional redistricting plan enacted by the Republican-controlled Texas Legislature.

The subpoenas were served Wednesday and demanded that DeLay and Barton give depositions in the case next week. But the two Texas Republicans are planning to ask a federal district court in Washington to quash the subpoenas, according to a lawyer for the Democratic plaintiffs.


DeLay was widely regarded as the driving force behind a redistricting plan that would cement the GOP’s House majority at least through this decade and increase the chances that he will eventually succeed Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., as speaker.

DeLay’s aides were seen in Austin carrying maps of congressional districts and he spent three days in the Texas capital hammering out the final form of the plan.

Barton played a less prominent role in the process but is regarded by Texas Democrats as the GOP’s “point man” on redistricting.

“Every time the process seemed to stall or the Texas legislature seemed to feel it didn’t have the stomach to do this, Joe Barton and Tom DeLay came down and twisted arms,” said J. Gerald Hebert, a lawyer for the Democrats issuing the subpoenas. “And they bragged about it. They brought the maps down and obviously played an active role in the redistricting process. We believe we are entitled to ask them about that role.”

I think that’s a fair position. They were certainly involved. We already know that DeLay overstepped bounds at least once before during this whole process, back when he got Homeland Security involved in tracking Pete Laney’s plane when the Ardmore gang had bolted, so who’s to say he didn’t get overzealous again? Let the court hear what he has to say for himself. They can always choose to believe him when he says he was just an interested bystander.

Meanwhile, Byron notes that the Illinois state legislature is preparing for the possibility of a little redistricting of its own. By the Texas GOP’s stated logic, the Illinois delegation of 10 Republicans and 9 Democrats is out of whack in a state where Democrats hold the governorship and both houses. There is one Republican Senator, but he’s not running for reelection and everyone expects the seat to revert back to the Dems in 2004. I agree with what Byron says – if the courts strike down Texas’ map, then Illinois should drop this issue, but if not, I certainly won’t condemn them for retaliating.

The future of demographically appropriate radio stations

I found this article in last week’s San Antonio Current to be pretty interesting. Hard to believe that there are four distinct rock stations in San Antone, not counting oldies and mix formats. This bit got me thinking:

Early response to K-ROCK, at least based on the station’s message-board postings, has been mixed at best. One recent posting reads: “If K-ROCK had switched to an alternative/college format, then not only would they be getting listeners from KISS (hard rock), KZEP (classic rock), and KMFR (Mighty Fine Rock, whatever that means), they would also get listeners from Mix 96.1 and Magic (the oldies station). I think there are are more listeners looking for something completely different than there are looking for some of the same old repackaged music.”

Even a more optimistic listener urges station programmers to drop its flirtation with classic rock: “If you want to listen to ’70s and ’80s rock, go back to KZEP. Bring the format up to date.”

So how exactly do you bring the classic rock format up to date? What is the future of a genre that’s so closely tied to a generation’s youthful listening habits?

I first heard the term “classic rock” in the late 1980s, when KXZL in San Antonio became KZEP. KZFX in Houston, which has since changed its format, was very similar. They focused on music from the 60s and 70s. Over time, the standard format has shifted somewhat – KZFX’s successor in Houston, KKRW (“the Arrow”) mostly touts the 70s and 80s now. Most of the 60s music that you used to hear on these stations, as well as many of the artists (CCR, Janis Joplin, Cream, Traffic) have slowly but surely migrated to the “oldies” stations, which in turn have gradually moved from playing 50s and 60s music to 60s and 70s music.

I believe this shift is due to the inevitable aging of the classic rock audience. Despite its pretentious name, classic rock is nothing but an oldies format. It came into being at the end of a decade where the prevailing style of rock music had morphed from artsy progressive rock into a more pop-influenced sound. Like the transition from the Mesozoic to Cenozoic eras, most of the dominant life forms disappeared from the landscape, leaving behind a lot of nostalgic yet loyal fans. Classic rock filled the void, giving these aficionados the comfort of familiar music without any of that Elvis-and-Motown stuff their parents were listening to.

The classic rock audience is bigger than that, though. There’s a group of people like me who are at least ten years too young to have actually grown up with that music but who nonetheless got a healthy exposure to it as teenagers and college students, thanks in large part to 60s and 70s era rockers who broke through the stylistic transformation with hit records. Albums like Yes’ 90125, Springsteen’s Born to Run, the Police’s Synchronicity, and ZZ Top’s Eliminator, which got played incessantly on both contemporary rock and Top 40 stations, gave an entry point to an exploration of a sizable back catalog by people who were more inclined to like where these artists came from than what was hot at the time. I think this helps explain the format shifts on classic rock and oldies stations – both types of station are now catering to a newer crowd.

So what will happen in another ten years? I don’t know. To a certain extent, I think the classic rock format can continue to creep forward and annex more recent music – indeed, some Guns ‘n’ Roses can be heard on KKRW these days, and I figure it’s just a matter of time before they start playing Nirvana and the rest of the grungemeisters. I don’t think there’s any new audience being grown for this format, though. There’s just not a whole lot of artists with 10- to 20-year careers getting airplay on the contemporary stations now like there were in the early to mid 80s, so the entry points aren’t there any more.

Moreover, the classic rock stations aren’t helping themselves, either. A lot of dinosaur rockers are still putting out new releases (off the top of my head, there’s Springsteen, ZZ Top, Fleetwood Mac, and Van Halen in the recent past or near future), but you’ll never hear any of that new stuff on the classic rock stations. Their playlists are pretty much preserved in amber, and I can’t help but think that this portends an inevitable death for them, even as they suck in some more recent artists. There’s only so many times you can hear “Start Me Up” or “La Grange” or (God help me) anything by Bad Company before you find yourself vowing to never ever listen to commercial radio again.

The new kid on the block of era-specific radio formats is the Eighties Station, such as Houston’s KHPT (“the Point”). It’s basically a mix format, with the music confined to a roughly ten-year span (they admit to playing stuff from the “late 70s and early 90s”). They take advantage of the same rock/pop crossover that led to the birth of classic rock stations – their playlist is a melange of dinosaur rockers who had at least one reasonably well-played album after 1980 and artists who were genuinely representative of that era, like Madonna, the Pet Shop Boys, and Depeche Mode. I don’t know how they’ll distinguish themselves from the rest of the “mix” stations over time, so I think this format is unlikely to last as long as the classic rockers have.

What I really don’t know is whether anything as successful as the classic rock format will spring up to take advantage of nostalgia for the music that’s been produced in the last ten years or so. For one thing, I have no idea if there will be any such nostalgia. I don’t follow modern pop music, so I’m speaking out of deep ignorance here, but I don’t get the impression that there are all that many long-lived acts these days who get consistent airplay. On the other hand, modern performers have a lot more opportunities for exposure on TV and in movies, so maybe in another few years there will be a demographically attractive group of people out there saying to themselves “You know, I really miss hearing Pink and the Backstreet Boys. If only there were a radio station that played the stuff I grew up with…”

Behold the power of cheese

This article about how it’s OK to enjoy cheesy movies validates Pete‘s entire existence, though I’m quite sure that Pete would have listed a much better selection of admirably cheesy flicks.