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February 16th, 2003:

It’s gonna be a long campaign

Get ready to start seeing Bill White for Mayor ads on the teevee and radio, as the first announced candidate tries to raise his name recognition:

The Houston lawyer and businessman has purchased enough television commercial time for each Houstonian to see him nine times over a three-week period, based on predicted viewing patterns.

His well-financed campaign also will run advertisements on English- and Spanish-language radio stations.


“Polls I have seen show Bill White has negligible name identification,” said Rice University political scientist and pollster Bob Stein. “He needs to overcome that.

“The question is, will this stick?” Stein said, noting that voters might not be paying attention so early in a mayor’s race.

It probably can’t hurt. White is not starting out with an obvious base of support, so he’s going to need to demonstrate viability in order to get money and endorsements.

In the first commercial, called “Traffic,” three White supporters talk about their belief that White can solve local traffic problems.

The ad includes a Hispanic man, radio executive Tom Castro; a black woman, small-business owner Gail Brown; and a white man, lawyer Daryl Bristow. All three say that White can “get this city moving.”

Seems like a savvy move, both in addressing an issue that everyone cares about and in showing a Rainbow Coalition of support. He’s going to have to cannibalize the Sanchez and Turner bases if he wants to make it to a runoff.

I’ll report my impressions when I come across one of his ads.

Cynthia Cooper redux?

Is two-time WNBA MVP Cynthia Cooper about to come out of retirement? Houston Comets owner Les Alexander thinks so:

“These are heady times for the Houston Rockets and Comets,” Alexander said to those in attendance at the annual Tux & Tennies Charity Gala. “With Yao Ming, we are the No. 1 focus of sports around the world. With Steve Francis, we have one of the best guards in the NBA, and Cynthia Cooper will be coming back to the Comets.

“That announcement will made soon, but we’ll go for another championship.”

Alexander seemed certain there would be no problem finalizing the deal.

“Nothing is done until it’s done,” Alexander said after breaking the news. “But I’m very optimistic. Cynthia Cooper is the Steve Francis of the WNBA. Her coming back is fabulous.”

As a Comets season ticket holder, this is exciting news. I should note, though, that Cooper’s retirement was partly the result of her unwillingness to share the spotlight with Sheryl Swoopes and Tina Thompson. A certain level of ego is expected among star players – as Dizzy Dean once said, it ain’t bragging if you can really do it – but if this second go-round is going to work, everyone involved will have to agree that there’s only one ball, and only so many shots available. We’ll see how Coach Chancellor deals with it.

From the Venus and Mars files

Tiffany and I just had the following conversation:

T: “I’m going to iron the shower curtain.”
C: “For the love of God, why?”
T: “I’ve run it through the washer and dryer, and it still has the folds from the package.”
C: “Does this really, cosmically speaking, matter?”
T: “It bothers me.”

I should note that the shower curtain is cloth, with a plastic liner for the wet side. But still. My hopes for ever understanding women have taken another hit.

Google buys Pyra Labs

Hmmm. Google has bought Pyra Labs, the company that created Blogger and Blogspot.

“I couldn’t be more excited about this,” said Evan Williams, founder of Pyra, a company that has had its share of struggles. He wouldn’t discuss terms of the deal, which he said was signed on Thursday, when we spoke Saturday. But he did say it gives Pyra the “resources to build on the vision I’ve been working on for years.”

Part of that vision, shared by other blogging pioneers, has been to help democratize the creation and flow of news in a world where giant companies control so much of what most people see, hear and read. Weblogs are also becoming a valuable communication tool for groups of people, and have begun to infiltrate the corporate, university and government spheres.


But now Google will surge to the forefront of what David Krane, the company’s director of corporate communications, called “a global self-publishing phenomenon that connects Internet users with dynamic, diverse points of view while also enabling comment and participation.”

“We’re thrilled about the many synergies and future opportunities between our two companies,” he said in a statement on Saturday. He didn’t elaborate further on what those synergies and opportunities might be, but said more details would emerge soon. Users of the Blogger software and hosting service won’t see any immediate changes, he added.

For Williams and his five co-workers, now Google employees, the immediate impact will be to put their blog-hosting service, called Blog*Spot, on the vast network of server computers Google operates. This will make the service more reliable and robust.

Making Blogger and Blog*Spot more robust can only be a good thing, that’s for sure. How many of us Blog*Spot refugees would still be there is it hadn’t been so flaky all the time? I think I would’ve eventually moved, but I can think of some other folks who might not have.

How Google manages the Blogger software and Pyra’s hosting service may present some tricky issues. The search side of Google indexes weblogs from all of the major blogging platforms, including Movable Type and Userland Radio. Any hint of proprietary favoritism would meet harsh criticism.

That I’m not worried about. I certainly agree the backlash would be loud and sustained.

Major technology companies are seeing the potential. Tripod, the consumer web-publishing unit of Terra Lycos, recently introduced a “Blog Builder” tool. America Online is expected to do something similar, and no one will be surprised if Yahoo and Microsoft do the same. Are more buyouts of blog toolmakers in the offing?

I sure won’t begrudge the Trotts any riches they may get from a sugar daddy buyout, but if that does come to pass I certainly hope that they’d stay on and continue being the vision behind MT. Though she doesn’t discuss their own existential future, Mena Trott has some thoughts on this deal on their Six Apart weblog.

Via Gary Farber.

January traffic report

January was my busiest month yet, with just over 6500 visitors, according to the SiteMeter counter. Listed below are the top referrers, according to my webhost’s report. As always, thanks to everyone for visiting, reading, and linking.


Will the budget crunch lead to casinos?

And here we go again on another well-worn subject. With the budget crisis and the doctrinal unwillingness to examine the state’s revenue streams, a bill to legalize casinos is once more making its way through the Lege. The difference is that now more people are considering it:

While most legislators publicly hold the same stance on gambling, privately they share doubts about the governor’s plan to resolve the budget crisis without finding new revenue sources.

Recently, a spokesman for Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, when asked about the chances of a casino bill reaching the Senate floor, said it was unlikely, but added that the climate may change in the coming months.

“You never say never in politics,” said Tom Rodgers, spokesman for the Alabama-Coushatta tribe of Texas, which is lobbying to revive casino gambling on tribal land in the state.

“There will come a point where the citizens of Texas may not be able to support such difficult spending decisions and they will have to look at the revenue side,” he said.

The arguments for casino gambling are roughly the same as those that led to the creation of the state Lottery in the early 90s, the last time we had a budget crisis. Basically, the argument goes, other states have casinos/lotteries, and Texans want to play casino games/buy lottery tickets, so why should that money leave the state?

I don’t have a problem with the concept of legalized gambling. I’m sufficiently libertarian for that. I do have a problem with the state coming to depend on revenue gleaned from gambling. For one thing, as we’ve seen with the Lottery, it’s not a particularly dependable source of revenue. For another, it’s mostly just another way to squeeze money from lower income folks.

I do wonder just how much extra money will be gained by allowing casinos. From what I can tell, people who cross into Louisiana to gamble do so as part of a vacation or day trip. Will those people really prefer to drive to the Astrodome to drop their change into the one-armed bandits? In other words, are casinos a lure because they’re destinations, or because they’re where you go to scratch your urge to gamble? Has anyone done a study on this? (Answer: Yes, there’s been a study done. Read more here.)

If it turns out that people would make trips to the local casino part of their regular leisure routine, wouldn’t that just be moving dollars around instead of adding them? I mean, I’d have to cut back or give up on other things if I were to add regular casino visits into my routine. Isn’t that just going to mean that fewer of my dollars will be spent at other clubs, restaurants, whatever? There’s a fair amount of evidence that this has been the case elsewhere, as well as evidence that casinos increase crime in their areas.

(It should be noted that Atlantic City is finally starting to see some of the promised benefits of casinos, and some other places have had fewer problems than anticipated. That all strikes me as rather faint praise, but take it as you will.)

I was skeptical about the promises made by pro-lottery forces in 1991 (anyone else remember how lottery money was supposed to go towards education?), and twleve years later I’m at least as skeptical of promises being made by pro-casino forces now. I don’t see any good coming from this proposal, and I hope it dies in committee.

Here we go again

Emma from The Oregon Blog, Barry Deutsch, and Nathan Newman are arguing about that moldie oldie Nader v. Gore. My sympathies are pretty firmly with Nathan on this one. In particular, I’m right there with him as he goes, for the umpty-millionth time, against the “there’s no difference between Democrats and Republicans” canard:

Just false. In last fall’s resolution on Iraq, the MAJORITY OF DEMOCRATS IN THE HOUSE voted against the war resolution.

Let me repeat. A MAJORITY OF HOUSE DEMOCRATS VOTED AGAINST THE WAR RESOLUTION. And it was the new Minority Leader, Nancy Pelosi, who led the forces to defeat the war resolution. And the man who would have been President, Al Gore, came out firmly against intervention.

It’s not bad arguments on behalf of Nader that bother me most. It’s arguments that just flat out don’t tell the truth. Maybe the Naderites are so blind that they can’t even notice reality, such as actual voting tallies or the position of Gore on intervention, but it’s what makes their whole position seem so ridiculous and disconnected from any kind of reality.

Maybe the reason why there are so many dishonest arguments on behalf of Nader is because the man himself starting using them immediately after the election, as chronicled by Matt Welch, who spent several months in 2000 covering the Nader campaign and also voted for Nader. Welch demonstrated just last year that Nader continues to dissemble and fudge. It’s no wonder that the same untruthful arguments are recycled by his supporters.

One thing that tends to get overlooked in the whole did-Nader-cost-Gore-the-election debate is that there were other factors in Florida that worked against the Democrats. Putting aside the infamous butterfly ballot, there’s the fact that thousands of black voters were improperly removed from the voter rolls before the election. Given that blacks voted for Gore at a 93% clip in Florida, that’s a sizeable chunk of support lost.

I’m not a Green voter. They don’t support my values nearly as closely as the Democrats do. Sure, I wish the Democrats were more liberal on various issues, but they’re a hell of a lot more liberal than the Republicans are.

Finally, I’m not particularly impressed by Green claims that the Democrats can’t win without them. I don’t think there’s enough Green voters to justify expending a lot of effort to woo them. Nader got 1/37th of the vote in 2000. I’d rather have that tiny slice than not, but if I can’t get it I’ll look elsewhere. There’s lots of other fish in the sea. The 2004 election is going to be won by turning out the base and by winning over independents. The Greens can get on board or stay on the sidelines. It’s up to them.