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August, 2002:

Back to business as usual

Now that a strike has been averted, Drayton McLane can go back to moaning about how much money he loses. We’ve been down this road before (here and here). As before, the Chron is as critical of McLane’s claims as they once were of Enron’s business model.

I don’t doubt that the Texans have diverted attention from the Astros, but c’mon. Counting the preseason, they’ll play maybe four or five home games before the World Series. Not all of those games will occur when the Stros are at Your Name Here Field. The Rockets don’t even start playing until October. Are you saying that people would rather sit at home and watch local news coverage of the Texans and Yao Ming instead of coming out to the park? If so, McLane has a bigger problem than he thinks.

Finally, as is the case with so many other teams, the Astros create their own payroll woes by overpaying for replaceable talent like Orlando Merced and Jose Vizcaino, a fact that goes largely unnoticed when they start whining about how they can’t afford to keep Lance Berkman and Roy Oswalt. It’s a simple matter of priorities and budgeting. Why are you tying up capital in non-essential commodities when you know you’ve got more important expenses looming? I’ll bet McLane doesn’t run his grocery distribution business that way.

VCR alert

Did you miss a few early episodes of 24, the best show on TV last year? Well, now’s your chance to correct your mistake. FX is running a 24 hour marathon of 24, starting at 11 PM on Sunday. This has been a public service announcement.

Pop quiz, hotshot

Did you know that Miss American contestants have to compete in a pop quiz as part of their quest for the crown? I didn’t, but that’s because I think the Miss America pageant is not quite as exciting as a bass fishing tournament, and slightly cheesier than a Quattro Fromage pizza. If only I could suggest a few questions for the hairspray divas to ponder, then maybe I’d find a reason to be interested. Well, thank $DEITY, my wishes have been granted:

Eager to prove its beauties are brainy, too, the Miss America Pageant will expand its pop quiz this year, offering fans the chance to pose questions to contestants and help pick Miss America 2003.

The new wrinkle, announced Wednesday, will allow viewers to suggest questions — via the Internet — to be asked of the five finalists in the pageant, scheduled to air live on ABC on Sept. 21.

The results will count for 10 percent of each woman’s score.

So what are you waiting for? Head on over to the Miss America homepage and help ’em out. You may very well play a small part in determining who will be the next to wear the tiara.

WNBA ref out of hospital

WNBA referee Bill Stokes has been discharged from the hospital ten days after suffering a heart attack during the Comets-Starzz playoff game.

“I feel absolutely wonderful,” Stokes, 56, said in the lobby of Memorial Hermann Southwest Hospital, where he underwent heart bypass surgery and had a defibrillator implanted after his Aug. 20 collapse at nearby Compaq Center where the Houston Comets were playing the Utah Starzz. “I have walked to the edge of death and turned and gone back the other way.”

Even better, he hopes to get back to officiating. That’s two great sports stories today.

As for whether or not the game should have gone on after he was rushed to the hospital, here’s Stokes’ opinion:

“I’m not what people came to see,” he said. “I’m not the show. I’m just part of the game, an integral part to make the game run smoothly. Obviously, that game should be completed. The kids should not have to come back another night and finish.”

Best wishes for a full and speedy recovery, Bill Stokes.

No strike!

A deal has been reached between the MLBPA and the owners, at the last minute as so many predicted, thus averting a strike. Woo hoo!

I am a bit concerned that the players have agreed not to challenge “any contraction moves in 2007”, but that’s a long way off and things may change by then. $DEITY willing, Beelzebud Selig will be selling used cars and not doing any more damage to the sport.

Meantime, I wholeheartedly agree with the following sentiments from the Baseball Prospectus, written on Wednesday when a lot of people thought there’d be a short strike:

Anyway, the strike–I hope that no one who has made any comment about not coming back after a strike comes back. I don’t want to hear “oh, I meant an extended strike”. Nope, you should have written that on the sign you held up for the cameras.

I don’t go telling my lovely and talented wife I’m going to leave her when she doesn’t (uh, for instance) clean the cookie sheets she’s cooked on. I don’t threaten it because I love her, and I understand it’s part of the package. Professional sports are no different–it takes an immense amount of money to pay the best athletes in the world on the field, and those same athletes are going to want fair compensation for their services. That they’re going to argue about it sometimes shouldn’t surprise anyone. Would it be in the best interests of everyone if the owners stopped seeing the players as an exploitable resource and instead as potential partners in growing the game? Sure. But there aren’t a lot of companies, much less industries, who have that kind of enlightened vision.

If your relationship with baseball, or any professional sport, is so filled with jealousy and anger that you can’t enjoy the beauty of the game and the talent of its players because management is inept, go watch Friends (which has been beset by labor, money, and drug issues throughout its history) and forget all about the greatest sport there is.

A seven-day strike that gets us four years of labor peace (and, likely, increasing competitive imbalance, but I digress) and clears out the angry, “players are overpaid” crowd? Sign me up.

Play ball!

Kyoto vs. RIAA

Chad Orzel makes a great point about the debate over the Kyoto Protocol:

[S]ome of the same people who vociferously oppose Kyoto on economic grounds are just as quick to argue that the entertainment industry is a lumbering dinosaur reflexively seeking to protect an outdated business model, and foolishly resisting inevitable technical progress. It wouldn’t take a whole lot of work to cast the energy industry in the same light– fossil fuels are the technology of the past, and by clinging to the current oil-and-coal-based model of energy generation, energy companies are missing a big opportunity, etc.

The whole post is worth reading. Check it out.

They get paid for this: Part II

The Ain’t Life A Bitch award for daily jounalism goes to the Chron‘s Andrew Guy for drawing the lousy and thankless task of doing a puff piece on the Houston Texans cheerleaders. Alas, the online version of this story omits most of the photos that accompanied the print version, including one of an oppressed marketing dude helping the ladies try on their shiny white boots, and another of “Jessica, Jennifer, and Erica relaxing on the sidelines”.

It’s true what Brendan O’Neill says, kids: We should all aspire to be journalists.

They get paid for this: Part I

In today’s College Football Preview section, Chron sportswriter Fran Blinebury picks BYU to win the Western Athletic Conference title. That will be quite a feat, considering that BYU hasn’t been in the WAC since 1999, when they and seven other schools left to form the Mountain West Conference. Thankfully, all his other picks for conference champion actually play in the specified conferences.

K-Mart Kiddie Roundup: Chief Bradford speaks

Well, Chief Bradford has testified before the City Council, and he appears to be wimping out.

Houston Police Chief C.O. Bradford told City Council on Wednesday that he was embarrassed by the mass arrests of 273 people on trespassing charges earlier this month, and he implied that officers should have disobeyed orders to arrest them.

Bradford, in his first public appearance since the Aug. 18 raid, said officers should have given out citations that night, rather than arresting hundreds of people at a westside Kmart Super Center and a Sonic Drive-In in the 8400 block of Westheimer.

“Officers are taught beginning in the academy that they are not to follow an unlawful order,” Bradford said. He added later that “arresting citizens for minor offenses has not been a department policy. I wouldn’t approve of a plan as it was executed that night.”

No word about the memo that Captain Aguirre wrote in May outlining his plan to arrest people for such infractions, so draw your own conclusion about whether Bradford is clueless or dishonest. This doesn’t exactly give me a warm fuzzy either:

Bradford deflected responsibility for the raid, saying he was out of town the week before it took place and never saw or heard about the plan. He said he first learned of the operation on the news the next day, leading some to question his control over the department.

As Casey Stengel once said about the hapless 1962 Mets, doesn’t anyone here know how to play this game? I have to agree with Hans Martuciuc here when he says that the chief needs to be more accountable. If the captains have the authority to do this sort of thing without the chief’s explicit knowledge and approval, then we need captains who don’t order the arrest of everyone in sight when a planned raid turns into a dud.

There’s another thing about this that has bugged me. You’ve got a huge mobilization of officers and tow trucks for a raid that is intended to bag drag racers. Would it kill you to have an advance scout in place to let you know ahead of time if there are any drag racers there?

On a side note, Kevin has spoken to the manager of the James Coney Island where a similar raid occurred prior to the K-Mart raid. He had been very critical of some comments this manager had made about the arrests, but after speaking to the man in person he has retracted his stronger comments. Since I had agreed with Kevin’s assessment at the time, I also retract my comments. Thanks to Kevin’s followup I have a much better understanding of what really happened.

Ann Coulter is the Opie and Anthony of punditry

I was reading this article in the Chron about shock jocks and crossing the line when it struck me: Ann Coulter is to punditry what Opie and Anthony are to deejays.

Opie and Anthony’s sex-in-church stunt has earned them a place in the shock-jock hall of shame, and they have plenty of company.

Broadcasting’s biggest mouths regularly push the boundaries of bad taste with the blessing of their bosses — until the day they cross an invisible and movable line.

Really, I don’t know why this came as such a revelation to me. I should’ve seen it a mile off. She’s exactly like a shock jock in every way. She coarsens the debate, as O&A coarsen the culture. She pushes boundaries and gets rewarded for it as long as she’s a cash cow. When she inevitably pisses off the wrong person, there’s always someone to defend her. Eventually, someone remembers that she’s a cash cow, so she gets a new home where all is forgiven and she can start again.

Therefore, in honor of current events, I propose we call her Ann “Opie” Coulter from here on out. Who’s with me?

Baylor suspends frat for Playboy appearance

From today’s Chron:

WACO – A fraternity has been suspended from Baylor University for a year after a picture of some members, fully clothed, appeared in Playboy magazine.

About 50 men and four women, all students at the time, posed on a sand volleyball court, some wearing Sigma Phi Epsilon T-shirts and others waving Baylor pennants.

A student who has since graduated posed nude for another photo and used an alias. The pictures are in the October issue featuring the Big 12 conference.

There’s just something funny to me about a frat being disciplined for a photo in Playboy, y’know?

Baylor and Playboy are old adversaries. Way back in 1980 when Playboy featured the Women of the (late, lamented) Southwest Conference for the first time, you’d think that Satan himself had arrived in Waco. Baylor made such a fuss that the Rice MOB saluted them the next time they visited the Bears by attaching paper bunny ears to the horns of their instruments. A photo from that event depicting a dozen or so bunny-eared tubas ran in a subsequent Playboy, and a similar shot hangs on the wall of the band office today.

Kaldi feedback

Awhile back I wrote about how the Kaldi Cafe was encountering resistance from a nearby church in its efforts to get a private members-only liquor license. Today I discovered that Stephanie, the manager of the Kaldi, had left a comment on that entry thanking me for the kind words and reminding me that the deadline to be a charter member of the Pomplemoose Lodge and Social Club is September 1. (All you Houstonians, you know what to do.) I don’t know how you found me, Stephanie, but thanks for dropping by!

UPDATE: My Pomplemoose membership is now in place. I had lunch at the Kaldi yesterday and dropped off the form to Stephanie herself. She’d found me the old fashioned way, via Google search.

Once again: Why Iraq?

From MSNBC, Iran harboring al Qaeda deputies:

Two figures who have assumed critical roles in the al Qaeda hierarchy in recent months, including one reported dead by the Pentagon, are being sheltered in Iran along with dozens of other al Qaeda fighters in hotels and guesthouses in the border cities of Mashhad and Zabol, according to Arab intelligence sources.

Combine this with Will Saletan’s recent deconstructions of Tom DeLay and Dick Cheney, and I have to ask again: Why is it Iraq we’re planning to invade? Why Iraq and not North Korea, or Iran, or Syria, or Pakistan, or Saudi Arabia? What one reason applies to Iraq and not to any other WMD-hoarding, terrorist-sponsoring, America-hating, despot-impaired nation?

If and when Team Bush ever cogently answers those questions, then they can count on my support. Until then, this threatens to be the kind of naked, imperialistic aggression that the US used to rightly denounce when practiced by other countries.

MSNBC link via Lean Left.

No Olympics for Houston

Unlike Ginger, I’m sorry to see that Houston has been dropped from consideration by the US Olympic Committee as a potential host city for the 2012 Olympics. I didn’t see Houston’s bid as a “wallflower girl throwing herself at the quarterback”, as Ginger colorfully put it, but others did.

The thing is, I saw the possibility of the Olympics as being a catalyst for more rail lines, something which I definitely consider a benefit. It’s my opinion that the biggest failure of the Lee Brown administration has been that they’ve made a piss-poor case for rail. We never should have had to go through the motions and the expense of voting (again!) to keep working on the Main Street rail line. Orlando Sanchez should have been a pariah for abetting the rail opponents instead of a serious threat to a two-term mayor. Unfortunately, Lee Brown never sold a vision for mass transit to Houston. He never made people understand that we can’t keep widening highways. Whether he didn’t think he needed to or was just incapable of doing so I can’t say, but I can say that we’d be much better off if he’d at least tried.

There’s one other thing about Houston that I think ultimately dooms efforts like the bid for the 2012 Games, and it goes hand in hand with our overall image problem: Houston has a boring downtown. Oh, there’s plenty of nice restaurants and bars and theaters, but if you’re the travelling companion of someone who’s in Houston on business and you’re staying at a downtown hotel without a car, what is there for you to do during the day?

Not a whole lot, and that’s my point. The museum district and the zoo aren’t downtown, though they will be served by the rail line when it’s ready to go. The Landry’s restaurant chain is building a restaurant with an aquarium in it, which ought to be cool. There is a shopping mall downtown, but it’s not exactly loaded with top name retailers, let alone places that are interesting in their own right such as an ESPN store, a Niketown, or an FAO Schwartz. There are a couple of small parks, which are nice but again, not exactly destinations. The one real stretch of green space is the bayou that runs along Allen Parkway, and it’s separated from downtown by I-45. I can’t even think of a single tall building downtown that has an observation deck or a family-friendly restaurant up top.

There’s a lot to do in downtown Houston at night, but a great downtown has stuff to do all day. We have bits and pieces of that, but until the day that it’s a coherent whole Houston will continue to be found lacking Olympic committees and their ilk. One may consider this a feature rather than a bug (and let’s be clear here: I love Houston anyway, and my main reaction to this announcement is that it’s everybody else’s loss), but I think it’s important to understand.

Party down Saudi style

From today’s Chron:

MARBELLA, Spain — It’s the hottest hour of the day at the Puente Romano beach club when a girl of 13 dashes out of the hotel gardens, throwing a black cloak over her flowing hair, T-shirt and jeans and leaving the topless sunbathers behind.

Sarah al-Kabbani, child of Saudi royalty, is obeying the muezzin’s call to prayer, and she’s running late.

King Fahd, leader of one of the world’s strictest Muslim nations, has come to his vacation residence in Marbella, the Mediterranean capital of sun and sin, bringing along thousands of members of the House of Saud.

As usual, Saudi princes and princesses are expected to snap up Hermes scarves and Rolex watches by the display case, slap down millions on roulette tables and boogie into the night with the bejeweled blondes at the Olivia Valere discotheque.

It’s a lifestyle strictly prohibited in Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam, where boys and girls are forbidden to hold hands in public and the constitution is based on Islam’s holy book, the Quran.

Read the story, then take a look at this picture. Makes you proud to be an American, doesn’t it?

Buffy Blog Burst

Meryl is organizing a Buffy Blog Burst for September 24, the date of the Season 7 premier. All Buffy fans (and I’m looking at you and you) should check it out and let Meryl know if you want in.

Less than four weeks till Buffy. A bit more than two weeks till The Sopranos. Life is good.

Welcome, Dr. Elmo

Ginger gives me the good news that our mutual friend Greg “Dr. Elmo” Morrow has started his own blog. He lives outside Loop 610 and thus is ineligible for the Houston Heights Area Axis of Liberal Bloggers, but he and Jack can join us all in the Greater Houston Area Axis.

Anyway, go check him out, he’s a good writer who can speak on a wide range of topics.

GWB for HOF?

Via the Daily Kos comes this report from ESPN’s Jim Caple that George W. Bush is among 60 non-players being considered by a screening committee for inclusion on the Hall of Fame veterans’ ballot. Caple gives this notion the dismissal it deserves, noting that FDR, Reagan, Nixon, and even George H. W. Bush have a better case for the baseball Hall of Fame than Dubya does.

The Veterans’ Committee, I should note, has been the big black box of Hall of Fame ballotting for some time now. In the past, it was little more than 18 old ballplayers who got together and picked a supposedly deserving yet overlooked player who was no longer eligible for enshrinement. Unfortunately, since the committee met in secret, it was highly susceptible to lobbying by one guy on behalf of his cronies. As Bill James documented in his excellent history of the HOF The Politics of Glory, when Frankie Frisch was on the Veterans’ Committee in the 1970s he helped induct quite a few of his teammates from the 1920s, many of whom (Jim Bottomley, Chick Hafey, Ross Youngs, etc) fall far short of standards.

The list that Caple writes about is part of an effort to de-emphasize this group, and a long overdue effort it is. Fortunately, the overall list is a lot more serious than the inclusion of Dubya would indicate, and the voters will have their hands full. I can see a few names that stand out to me (Gene Autry, Billy Martin, Whitey Herzog, and Marvin Miller are all good choices) and quite a few more that will send me scurrying off to do some research. I applaud the effort and am optimistic that the 15 finalists will all be worthy of consideration.

UPDATE: Edited to fix the parenthetical list of bad Hall of Famers. Thanks to Mac for the assist.

There are no homosexuals in Montgomery County

Some small-town yahoos have their panties in a bunch because they discovered a book in the libraries called It’s Perfectly Normal that doesn’t condemn homosexuality as a crime against nature. They’re trying to get the book removed from the shelves lest it seduce innocent youngsters into a lifestyle of interior design, techno music, and fashionable haircuts.

“It’s not sex education,” said Frances Brown of Cut and Shoot. “It’s pornography. It’s horrible.”

Monte Lane, a GOP state delegate also from Cut and Shoot, said the person responsible for the purchase of the library system’s four volumes of It’s Perfectly Normal should be fired.

Retired elementary school teacher Wynne Harris, also from Cut and Shoot, called the work “vulgar.”

Those gripes resonated with [County Judge Alan] Sadler, who vowed to “do everything in our power to ensure that book is taken out of the library immediately.” Commissioners concurred although no vote was taken.

[…]

Sadler said he was irked to learn that the book, as he put it, “tries to minimize or even negate that homosexuality is a problem.”

Don’t you go settin’ up any big tents around here.

K-Mart Kiddie Roundup: 12 more suspended

Twelve more police supervisors have joined Captain Aguirre on the sidelines as HPD scrambles to get its story straight. Aguirre’s lawyer says that he doesn’t think there were “innocent people” arrested at the Kiddie Roundup. A $100 million lawsuit has been filed by someone who disagrees with that assessment. Houston Police Officer’s Union President Hans Martuciuc says that the officers who made the arrests are the real victims. There’s confusion over who exactly is investigating this mess.

I can’t wait for the public hearings.

Perkins error corrected

Blah3 reports that the San Diego Union-Tribune has posted a correction (scroll down) to syndicated columnist Joseph Perkins’ claim about DNC attack ads. Perkins had come across one of the “Money” ads on the Blah3 page and had written a screed accusing the DNC of producing these ads and planning to run them in “selected” congressional districts.

I have to say, I’ve trashed more than one post after coming to the conclusion that the facts I started with were either wrong or unverifiable. I’d consider it to be profoundly embarrassing if I made a claim like Perkins did and found out later that not only was I wrong but that I could have prevented my error with five minutes’ worth of Google searches. How is it that a guy who puts out one or two columns a week, for which he presumably has an editor, can live with himself after publishing something so ludicrously wrong?

Anyway, you can read more about this here in the Blah3 archives.

Strange search requests du jour

I am the sole Google search result for Ogallala Aquifer capacity nude. I don’t even know how to make a joke about that.

Another person found me by searching for a picture of flouridated water. Be careful – you may find a picture of ordinary unflouridated water and be tempted to believe it’s the real thing. At least they weren’t searching for nude picture of flouridated water which I must say yields a disturbing number of results.

Archives

Slowly but surely I’ve started to import my Blogspot archives. July is now fully in place. I’ll be doing this one month at a time. Since I want to add categories to everything, and in some cases need to update titles, it takes longer than it would if I just imported and didn’t futz with it.

Once all that is done, I may comb through for some Greatest Hits, and I’ll also add a search button. Don’t know how long all that will take, but I’ll get there eventually.

All aboard!

A new passenger train between League City and Galveston is set to open next weekend, and if it’s a success the scope may be extended to Houston and more trains.

Financed mostly by a $750,000 federal grant, the alternative transportation program also is expected to provide free rides from the mainland to Galveston Island during the Dickens on the Strand Festival in December and Mardi Gras and Memorial Day weekend in 2003.

“The initial demonstrations will be on holiday weekends, when the congestion on the causeway reaches its peaks,” said Houston transportation consultant Barry Goodman, whose firm has helped develop the new rail plans. “We hope to demonstrate the effectiveness of rail passenger service as an alternative.”

Smart idea. I-45 into and out of Galveston is a parking lot over holiday and festival weekends, so if this is ever going to be viable, that’s the time for it.

No one expects rail service to supplant cars as the main means of rush-hour traffic, but Goodman and others say every option should be explored to help solve a problem that has existed for decades.

“I have read discussions that go back at least 70 years in which the Houston City Council was talking about the same problem,” Goodman said. “They were talking about how Houston was getting so congested and how they needed to find alternatives to cars.

Insert standard those-who-forget-the-past quote here.

I hope this project is a success. Any momentum for rail is a good thing in my book.

Haircut

So I got a haircut over the weekend. You’d think this would be a pretty unremarkable event. I would too, except for the fact that just about all of my coworkers have in fact remarked on it, some of them practically swooning when the first laid eyes on me today.

I swear, I get a haircut about every two months or so. Maybe I went a bit longer than usual this time, or maybe I just cut a shorter cut than I usually do, but I really didn’t think it was that much of a change.

Of course, I still recall my graduate student days, when my haircut schedule was approximately “once per equinox, or just before my parents see me, whichever I can afford”. Compared to that, the difference in my pre-haircut and post-haircut look nowadays is like the difference between Dubya’s economic plan pre-deficit and post-deficit.

Maybe they’re just giving me a hard time. Guess it’s a good thing I didn’t wear the brand-new shiny white sneakers as well. Some of them might have blown a gasket trying to figure out what to razz me about first.

Calling Oliver Willis!

I have just come across Britney’s Guide to Semiconductor Physics. I may never be the same again.

Be sure to visit the wallpaper page so you can make this your new desktop.

Via the MOBSHOWS mailing list.

Jim Hightower, Kickass Populist

The Sunday Texas Magazine in the Chron has a nice cover story on former Railroad/Ag Commissioner Jim Hightower. Hightower is one of the old guard of Texas liberalism. He’s a founder of Texas Observer, author of several books, columnist for The Nation, and radio broadcaster.

I’ve always liked Hightower but prefer him at a bit of a distance. He’s a fair bit farther left than I am, and he supported Nader in 2000 (though he hasn’t abandoned the Democrats). Basically, if you take Michael Moore and add in actual intelligence and writing ability while maintaining the humility and humanity of a real populist, you’d get Jim Hightower.

Everyone wants in on the act

Richard Connelly of the Houston Press takes his shots (scroll down) at Rachel Graves’ Crawford Weblog. Took you long enough, Rich.

Let’s take Iraq!

This Thadeus & Weez comic says it all.

Hatch Chile Festival

It was the final weekend of the Hatch Chile Festival at Central Market, which we discovered as we pulled into the parking lot this evening. The place was packed, but it was worth it because they were giving away lots of free samples – mostly of dishes made with the Hatch chiles – and everything we sampled was yummy. They had a pot of Hatch chile stew, complete with recipe, that was sufficiently good we altered our shopping list to include everything needed to make the stew ourselves. I’ll post the recipe after we’ve tried it.

Central Market has been one of the best reasons to live in Austin for a long time. Fortunately, parent company HEB decided to build one in Houston last year, and it’s been a big hit. If you consider yourself a foodie and you live within driving distance of a Central Market, you really need to check it out. (Note to Mom and Eileen: Make sure we take you there next time you visit.)

Now if we could only get an Italian grocery store like Pastosa’s on Staten Island, I’d officially be in heaven…

Letters to the sports editor

Not too surprisingly, Val Ackerman’s decision to keep playing Game 3 of the Comets-Starzz playoff series after the collapse of referee Bill Stokes has drawn a mixed reaction from Comets fans. Like I said, whatever she did someone was going to criticize.

On a side note, the third letter is from someone who also understands why football has “competitive balance” and baseball supposedly doesn’t. Nice to know I’m not the only voice crying in the wilderness.

K-Mart Kiddie Roundup: Aguirre Suspended

Well, Captain Mark Aguirre has been suspended with pay pending the outcome of an internal investigation into the K-Mart Kiddie Roundup. As Kevin and Ginger have noted, it looks like Aguirre will ultimately be the fall guy for this debacle, as even the Houston Police Officers Union has backed away from him.

(On a side note, will someone please explain to me the difference between “suspended with pay” and “extra vacation”? I realize that this is likely leading to Aguirre’s dismissal, and even if it doesn’t the suspension will go on his Permanent Record, but still, how exactly is paid time off a punishment?)

Kevin has already noted the similarities between the sidebar story on Aguirre and this prescient feature from the Houston Press, so I’ll just point to this Chron op-ed piece which asks some of the questions that we’ve been asking since the shinola first hit the fan, and to this somewhat self-serving op-ed piece by Houston Police Officers’ Union President Hans Martuciuc, which blames poor staffing for the raid.

One thing that has struck me about the whole Aguirre case has been the disparity between his popularity with the people in his precinct and his popularitywith the brass. Aguirre is apparently a proponent of broken-windows policing, which was used with wide success in New York City in the early 90s. Given the longstanding problems that the Houston inner city has had with nuisance crimes, it’s no surprise to me that the neighborhood associations love Captain Aguirre. I’m less clear on why this is a problem with the powers that be, though I suppose anyone can be abrasive enough to overshadow their successes.

Of course, as the TNR article linked above notes, when broken-windows policing turns into zero-tolerance policing – and the K-Mart Kiddie Roundup is a clear case of zero-tolerance policing – community support can drop off in a hurry, precisely because more innocent bystanders get swept up with the bad guys, sometimes with deadly results. I hope that when and if Aguirre is shown the door that HPD and the mayor’s office recognize that the problem was as much personal as procedural and that they shouldn’t abandon proven tactics as a response to overzealousness. On the other hand, given HPD’s longstanding reputation for being out of control, this baby may have to be sacrificed with the bath water. One way or the other, I suspect we’ll all be a little worse off.

Why first to market is important

Remember that Enron made-for-TV movie I mentioned a few days ago. The Sunday Chron has a review of the book on which it’s based. I wouldn’t prepare an Emmy speech if I were Brian Cruver. Here are a couple of bits from the review:

Cruver’s writing relies heavily on clichĂ© and superlatives, however, as he talks about his new colleagues.

“These people had money. Lots of money. And soon I would have lots of money, too.”

He later gushes about the extremes of wealth and debauchery at the company: “It was top-down sports cars and top-off dancers. It was river rafting trips and River Oaks Country Club. It was the American dream to an extreme.”

I’m trying not to giggle.

A co-worker, Liz, is used to introduce Enron’s cultural history, such as the sexual proclivities of top executives, the large bonuses and how the infamous “rank and yank” employee review program works. Bernie Bickers, a stock-analyst friend who calls frequently to complain to Cruver about Enron’s confusing accounting, serves as the voice of warning throughout.

And a character named “Mr. Blue” is used to impart the moral of the story: Don’t sell your soul for money. Mr. Blue, a senior Enron executive Cruver knows from his pre-Enron days, meets with him over drinks throughout the book to warn him about the financial and spiritual decay of the company.

Anyone want to bet that the movie will use narrator voice-overs? I can already hear some of it. Get the popcorn ready, this could be as entertaining as one of the Poseidon Adventure sequels.

Is there a wall I can beat my head on?

It’s hard for me to convey the depths of my despair when I read articles like this about baseball’s labor wars, but I’m going to try. There’s just so much distilled ignorance and misinformation, it’s almost awe-inspiring.

Let’s start at the beginning:

Alex Rodriguez offered to slash his record-setting salary if it would help baseball, a novel approach to solving the sport’s problems as it moved within a week of another strike.

“I would take a cut in pay — 30 to 40 percent — if it would make the game better,” the Texas shortstop said Friday at Yankee Stadium. “It’s not a very realistic proposition.”

Rodriguez’s $252 million, 10-year contract is the richest in sports, and many owners have pointed to it as a sign of baseball’s imbalance between rich and poor.

First of all, Tom Hicks paid A-Rod a good $5 million a year more than anyone else offered him. He was bidding against himself. Keep this in mind for later.

Second, while there is undoubtedly an imbalance between rich and poor teams, the definition of who’s “rich” and who’s “poor” is one of convenience rather than reality. As has been noted numerous times by the Baseball Prospectus, one-time sad sack small market franchises Cleveland and Seattle are now considered “haves” while poorly run teams in Anaheim and Philadelphia – metro areas with far more people – are beneficiaries of revenue sharing.

Third, as any fan of the Orioles, Dodgers, Mets, Red Sox, and Rangers can attest, being rich is no guarantee of being a winner, while teams like Oakland, Houston, Minnesota and San Francisco demonstrate that teams with limited financial resources can still win and win consistently. Yet owners continue to peddle the lie that only the rich teams win and only the rich teams can win, and damn few sportswriters call them on it.

Finally, A-Rod’s salary isn’t the problem. The problem is the plethora of players who are essentially replaceable in terms of talent but who are paid as if they’re star quality. Rosters are littered with such examples. The really galling part is that cash-poor teams are often the worst offenders. Had the Pirates not thrown guaranteed contracts at the likes of Kevin Young, Derek Bell, and Terry Mulholland but instead used their roster spots on kids from their farm system who’d be earning minimum salaries, they could have afforded to sign Barry Bonds as a free agent for the $18 million salary that he now earns. Think about that.

Meanwhile, former commissioner Fay Vincent predicted baseball won’t be able to avoid its ninth work stoppage since 1972.

For the record, only three work stoppages – not all of which have been player strikes – have actually resulted in lost games. They were in 1972, 1981, and 1994. That doesn’t really change any of the current issues, but again, it’s lazy reporting.

Some owners, such as Texas’ Tom Hicks and San Diego’s John Moores, said in the past week that baseball needs revolutionary change, but Manfred is confident he can work out an agreement owners will ratify. Moores said he would prefer a yearlong shutdown to a bad deal.

And here we come back to Tom Hicks, who bought the Rangers, spent money like Imelda Marcos at a going-out-of-business sale, and now is bleating that “revolutionary change” is needed. Never mind the fact that he paid too much for A-Rod (who’s still worth whatever you pay him) and the fact that he followed that up with the signing of other high-price low-yield veterans like Andres Galarraga and Ken Caminiti, he says we must now impose strict controls to make sure that other stupid owners like himself can’t do that again. He has all the credibility of an Arthur Andersen executive saying that the accounting industry just needs to police itself a little better, but again what he says appears unchallenged in print.

Finally, note that last statement by John Moores. Moores and fellow hardliner Drayton McLane know fully well that “greedy players” will get more of the blame for a strike than they will. They’re willing to force the issue because it plays into their hands. Keep that in mind before you rant about who’s at fault here.

All that said, I still think there won’t be a strike. The sides aren’t all that far apart, and I think they will both be under a lot of pressure to accept some kind of compromise. Even an agreement to keep the existing system in place through the next season, with renewed negotiations during the winter, would do. Until it actually happens, I refuse to worry about it.