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August 25th, 2006:

Wider smoking ban may be on the way

Didn’t get to this yesterday: Remember last year when a compromise ban on smoking in restaurant dining areas but not bars was enacted? Well, it looks like that ban will be extended to include bars, thanks to the unexpected support of the Greater Houston Restaurant Association.

“We want to make sure that (the ban) is fair across the board,” said Carl Walker, president of the Restaurant Association and owner of Brennan’s of Houston. “Let’s just don’t focus on restaurants only.”

That position is new for the group; last year, it supported the city’s push for a partial ban. But without a comprehensive ban, bars have a competitive edge over restaurants, Walker said.

Since the ban likely will be strengthened in some way, Walker said, he and other restaurant owners would prefer it apply to all food and drink establishments, even if that means patrons in the bar areas of their restaurants no longer are allowed to smoke.

City law now allows smoking in bars as long as operators of restaurants that include bars take measures to keep smoke from drifting into dining areas. It also allows smoking on outdoor patios, which the Restaurant Association hopes would still be allowed.

[…]

The case for extending the ban was bolstered in July by a report by the U.S. surgeon general, who called for completely smoke-free workplaces.

“I think that took it to another level,” said Councilwoman Carol Alvarado, who chairs the public health committee and supports strengthening the ordinance. “That has, I think, brought a broader coalition of people together.”

The full council will consider a new ordinance, which has not yet been drafted, after the two committee hearings, she said.

Interesting. I’m happy to see this happen, though somewhat ambivalent about forcing it to happen legislatively. I’ll be curious to see how the bar owners react to this development.

Speaking of which, HandStamp comes out in favor of a smoke-free bar scene.

I’m all for a smoking ban in Houston bars. I hate breathing in your cigarette smoke when I’m within the confining, unbreathing walls of Rudyard’s. I hate having to come home and wash my hair just so that I can sleep without continuing to smell that filthy habit. Most importantly, I hate that I might be sacrificing my health just so I can see a band. I love live music, but I don’t want to give my life for it.

Boy howdy, Rudz is as bad as it gets, smokewise. I think I’ve mentioned this before, but I was at a Spankers show there awhile back when the smoke got so bad, the band (almost all of whom smoke) actually asked everyone to refrain from lighting up for awhile.

The retort I hear from so many smokers is, “if you don’t like the smoke, leave the bar.” But I’m at the bar to see the band, I paid money to see the band, I’m not really there for the bar. And a lot of folks at the bar aren’t there for the music, they’re at the bar to smoke and talk and drink. Who gets the right of way in this situation? Will we be forced to divide music venues from the bars? It seems like such a good relationship in theory, but if the bar patrons insist on smoking and talking and live music listeners insist on breathing, how can we coexist?

Well, to use the case of Rudz again, the bar is downstairs and the stage is upstairs, so in theory you could smoke ’em if you’re there just to drink. I wouldn’t object to that. At a place like the Mucky Duck, where the only place to be during a show that won’t cost you admission is the outdoors patio, there’s no issue. (The Duck is also smoke-free now anyway; they tried a partial smoke-free solution some years ago, and apparently it was a success.)

Question for my Austin readers: Since that city passed a smoking ban over the outraged howls of the music scene, are the bars any less crowded? Have any gone out of business? Or has everyone gotten over it and adjusted to the new reality?

Questions and answers in CD22

Here’s my latest entry at Kuff’s World, in which I take the cheesy framing device of asking myself a bunch of questions, none of which were too hard for me to answer, about the state of the race in CD22. And as long as I’m tooting my own horn here, be sure to read this Reason story about what the national Libertarian Party is up to over there. I’d recommend that piece even if the reporter hadn’t quoted me, which as it happens he did. Check it out.

RIP, Maynard Ferguson

Maynard Ferguson, hero to trumpet players everywhere, has passed away at the age of 78.

The cause was kidney and liver failure, said his personal manager, Steve Schankman.

Mr. Ferguson had a stratospheric style all his own. He possessed “a tremendous breadth of sound and an incomparable tone,” said Lew Soloff, a prominent trumpeter who started out with Mr. Ferguson in the mid-1960’s. The writer Frank Conroy once noted, “He soared above everything, past high C, into the next octave and a half, where his tone and timbre became unique” – sometimes reaching, as Mr. Schankman said, “notes so high that only dogs could hear them.”

He pleased far more crowds than critics. John S. Wilson, reviewing Mr. Ferguson’s big band at the 1959 Newport Jazz Festival for The New York Times, called it “screaming” and “strident.” Yet that same year the readers of Down Beat magazine voted the band the world’s second-best, outranked only by Count Basie’s.

Today, record collectors pay hundreds of dollars for rare Fergusons. “Very few rock superstars can command that kind of prices for used CDs or records,” said John Himes, who runs the Maynard Ferguson Album Emporium in Cypress, Calif.

I still have several of his albums on cassette tape. I’m gonna need to try and find some of them on CD now.

More from the Globe and Mail:

Ferguson moved to the U.S. at age 20, playing in big bands – including Jimmy Dorsey’s – and performing solo in New York City cafes. He then joined Stan Kenton’s orchestra, where his shrieking, upper-register trumpet formed the backbone of the group’s extensive brass section.

In 1956 he formed the first of several 13-piece orchestras known for the crisp vigour of their horns. They helped launch the careers of such jazz notables as Chick Corea, Chuck Mangione, Bob James, Wayne Shorter and Joe Zawinul.

Zawinul later wrote the classic tune “Birdland”, which was one of my favorite Ferguson pieces. (The Manhattan Transfer later added lyrics to it and made it one of their staples.)

I saw Ferguson on Staten Island in 1985, when he was touring with a fairly classic big band, and again in 1987 when he visited the Trinity campus with a smaller funk/fusion group behind him. The two shows were very different, but I enjoyed the hell out of each of them. We may never see his like again. Rest in peace, Maynard Ferguson.

Pluto: Not a planet

Remember when I said that Pluto was still a planet? Apparently, I was wrong.

Astronomers debating Pluto’s future as a planet Thursday were forced to choose between science and culture.

Culture lost.

More than 75 years after its discovery by Clyde Tombaugh, Pluto has been booted from the fraternity of planets in defiance of grade-school textbooks.

It’s not a decision astronomers wanted to make, but one many felt increasingly forced to make. In recent years they have found a dizzying array of planet-like objects in the outer solar system including one, nicknamed Xena, that’s bigger than the former ninth planet.

The question was whether Xena and a host of other solar system objects should become planets. If not, however, Pluto must be disqualified, too.

“It would be disastrous for astronomy if we come away from the general assembly with nothing,” said Michael Rowan-Robinson, president of the United Kingdom’s Royal Astronomical Society, shortly before nearly 400 astronomers voted to reclassify Pluto Thursday. “We would be regarded as idiots.”

I think it may already be too late for that, dude.

SciGuy has the breakdown of the voting. As one who believes in the sanctity of childhood mnemonics, I will not accept these results. I do have an alternative idea, however, one that I think can satisfy the traditionalists as well as the scientists. Remember how back in elementary school we were taught that the vowels were “A, E, I, O, U, and sometimes Y”? I think we should start calling Pluto a “vowel planet”, as in “There’s Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Neptune, Uranus, and sometimes Pluto”. Who’s with me on this?

UPDATE: Jim Henley has a replacement mnemonic for those times when Pluto isn’t a planet.

Spare that landmark!

It’s little more than a symbolic gesture, but at least we have it.

The committee that advises Houston City Council on historic preservation unanimously approved a letter to Weingarten Realty on Thursday, urging the company not to raze the Landmark River Oaks Theatre, the former Alabama Theatre and segments of the River Oaks Shopping Center.

“Please do not deny future generations the experience of connecting to their past by erasing such vital elements of our heritage,” wrote the 11-member Archaeological and Historical Commission.

The letter, addressed to Weingarten CEO Drew Alexander, carried no threat of city action. Houston’s preservation laws are among the weakest in the country and like almost all buildings in the city, the three Art Deco structures lie outside the commission’s feeble regulatory power.

Far less than 1 percent of Houston land falls within a city historic district; and to date, only one owner of a commercial building has applied to have it designated a city landmark.

But preservationists still regard the letter as significant in a city known for a lax attitude toward protecting its heritage.

Houstonist has more on the the preservation designation process. You can see how little weight this carries. Weingarten is under no obligation to do anything different, and it has basically no example to follow.

Kevin has suggested that the way to affect Weingarten’s behavior is to contact them directly.

While petitions are an easy, feel-good form of activism, nothing gets the attention of businesses and/or politicians like swarms of calls and letters.

Unfortunately, I think this is equally useless. What really gets the attention of a business is a swarm of calls and letters from its customers (or in the case of politicians, from their constituents). The reason for that is simple: Such calls and letters carry an implied threat of taking one’s business elsewhere unless the request/demand is met. You and I aren’t Weingarten’s customers; at least, those of us who aren’t in the business of purchasing and developing real estate aren’t Weingarten’s customers. We have no more leverage over them than we do over Senators and Congressfolk from other states. Maybe calling and writing Barnes & Noble and threatening to never set foot in the bookstore that they plan to build on the ashes of the River Oaks Theater might be effective, if it gets them to have second thoughts about buying the land. Beyond that, I can’t see how Weingarten would care what any of us think about their plans. They’ve got a bottom line to worry about, and our feelings about this project don’t affect that.

No, the more I read about this plan, the more I am convinced that the only course of action that has a chance of success is CIty Council action. Unless there’s a way to force, or at least strongly encourage, developers to not tear down historically significant buildings, they will continue to do so. And we’d better get cracking on this:

Demolition of the first building – the River Oaks Shopping Center structure at the corner of Shepherd and West Gray – is expected to begin soon after Christmas.

So write those letters and make those phone calls to Mayor White and your City Council person. I say they’re the only ones who can do anything about this.

UPDATE: More from Houstonist.

Another contender in CD23

The field in the newly drawn CD23 has expanded by one.

Lukin Gilliland Jr., a San Antonio businessman and longtime Democratic fundraiser, said today he’d run in the newly redrawn Congressional District 23. And he backed up his bid by plowing $500,000 into his campaign account.

The first-time candidate will challenge Republican Henry Bonilla, a 14-year incumbent, in the Nov. 7 open election. He’ll also face at least two fellow Democrats: former Congressman Ciro Rodriguez and El Pasoan Rick Bolanos.

So far, Bonilla, Rodriguez and Bolanos have filed to run with the Texas secretary of state. Gilliland said he’d so the same Friday, the filing deadline.

Gilliland, 54, said he seeded his war chest with $500,000 to show the seriousness of his commitment.

“I will focus on the issues of critical concern in our communities,” Gilliland said in a statement released to the press. “And I won’t hesitate to defend myself or my supporters against the inevitable attacks from Washington D.C.-style politicians.”

I’ve said before that I think Democrats need to focus on this race as a golden opportunity to do all kinds of good. I don’t know if Lukin Gilliland is the guy to beat Henry Bonilla, but if he’s really going to drop a half million bucks into this, and in doing so helps drive up Democratic turnout for this race and others downballot, that’s all to the good. The goal here is to hold Bonilla under fifty percent and force a runoff, where you can be sure there’ll be plenty of money and attention to go around. We’ll see how it goes.

Meanwhile, over in CD21, John Courage has made his official filing. He’s been a beneficiary of the Netroots August fundraising push, and he’s got a BOR diary that gives an update on his campaign. (All links via Texas 21.) Check ’em out.

Debate deciding is hard work

Poor John Carter. He’s having such a hard time fulfilling his role as the debate decider.

U.S. Rep. John Carter, R-Round Rock, said Wednesday he does not know if he will join District 31 challengers Mary Beth Harrell, a Democrat, and Matt McAdoo, a Libertarian, in a public television station KNCT-TV (Channel 46) candidate’s forum in October.

The station invited candidates in five area races to participate in forums to be taped in early October and broadcast one per night the week of Oct. 16-20.

Station rules, said Max Rudolph, general manager, are that each forum must include all candidates in a race to be broadcast. In the District 31 race, Rudolph said Ms. Harrell and McAdoo have accepted the invitation but he has not heard from Carter.

“No, no, no – I don’t believe I’m going to be able to do that,” Carter said. “I mean, that’s public television and that’s public radio. I will have to think about that. I might do it. I haven’t decided yet.”

Asked if he would appear in some other forum, Carter said, “We’ll see.”

Carter was asked if he told the Austin American-Statesman that Harrell had not earned the right to appear with him on stage.

“No, not exactly,” he said. “(To) the American-Statesman, what I said was, ‘you earn the right to debate me – by (showing) your credibility,'” Carter said.

Sure is easy to see how he’s such a qualified evaluater of credibility, isn’t it? I can almost feel his authoritative aura from here. Thanks for the link to Vince, who has an appropriate picture for the occasion.

Another debate for Cohen and Wong

From the Bellaire Examiner:

Whenever the question of a debate arose early in the campaign, observers say, District 134 State Rep. Martha Wong brushed off the possibility.

Why would she want to give her opponent that stature, the value of her own high name recognition, she asked.

But last week, one debate between Wong and hard-charging Democrat Ellen Cohen was locked in and another was being negotiated.

It’s hard to brush off an opponent who has over $200K cash on hand, isn’t it?

“This district is one of the most educated – if not the most educated – in the state, and the idea that candidates don’t have to let voters compare them side by side is unthinkable,” said Cohen’s campaign manager, Bill Kelley.

“We think this is great,” said Josh Hamilton, Wong’s campaign manager. “That’s what democracy is supposed to be about – candidates meeting face-to-face to explain their positions first-hand to voters.”

Wong and Cohen, on leave as executive director of the Houston Area Women’s Center, will meet at 7:30 a.m. Sept. 20 in a breakfast debate sponsored by the Houston In-Town Chamber of Commerce, Upper Kirby District and Museum District Business Alliance at the Briar Club, 2603 Timmons Lane.

Seats are $20 for members of those organizations, $30 for non-members, and tables of 10 are available for $250.

For reservations, call 713-524-8000. Nancy Sims of Pierpont Communications will be the moderator.

I imagine this will sell out, so get those tickets now if you’re interested.

A second debate at Rice University is in the works, sponsored by the student Republican and Democratic organizations.

Campaign managers for the two candidates say they have agreed to the debate “in principle” if a mutually agreeable date can be found.

Both campaigns had commitments on the first proposed date.

“We’re very flexible,” said Ryan Goodland, president of the Rice Young Democrats, working with the Rice College Republicans.

Goodland said Rice students on both sides are interested in the race. “This is turning into a contest of ideologies,” he said. “Wong has established a conservative record, and Cohen is clearly a moderate. Voters should have every opportunity to hear them articulate their positions.”

Here’s the letter the Rice groups sent to each campaign. If you think debates should be free, this is the one to go to. Well, okay, the debate may be free but the parking won’t be on the Rice campus. Take the train if you can.