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October 28th, 2004:

Radio ratings

Well, so much for taking Houston’s airways by storm.

Syndicated shock jock Howard Stern’s much-bally-hooed debut in the Houston market hasn’t captured listeners. Ratings for Stern’s show, which debuted on KIKK-AM (650) in late July, were so minuscule they didn’t show up in the Arbitron rankings.

Laura Morris, general manager of Infinity Radio’s four Houston stations, including KIKK-AM, predicts it will take another couple of ratings periods before Stern shows up in the ratings.

“People are still discovering that Howard is even on the air in Houston,” she said.

Ratings for Stern’s show are hampered by the fact that KIKK is a low-wattage AM station that barely registered in the ratings under its previous business-news format.

I can testify to the low-wattageness of AM 650. I listened to the Stern show for a few weeks, the all of a sudden my radio couldn’t pick up the signal any more. I got nothing but static. It’s got to be hard to get ratings when you’re broadcasting with less power than a bullhorn.

Maybe Stern’s rating will improve in the next cycle – he’s been on the air three months all together – but it seems to me that Infinity blew a lot of free publicity by not boosting KIKK’s signal strength. Why bother bringing Howard Stern to Houston if no one can hear him?

Off to the jury in first Enron trial

The prosecution and the defense have had their final say in the Enron “Nigerian Barge” trial, which actually has some former Merrill Lynch employees in the dock. A quick reminder of what’s at stake:

Two former Enron employees and four former Merrill Lynch bankers are accused of conspiring to fake a sale of the barges so Enron could meet profit goals that generated bonuses for Enron executives. The defendants say there was no secret guarantee that someone would buy back the barges from Merrill within six months at a locked-in profit.

The case is being watched on two fronts.

“It’s important because it’s the beginning of the end of the prosecutions in a way. People have been waiting a long time to see someone at Enron tried,” said Philip Hilder, a Houston lawyer who represents several Enron case witnesses.

Though the Justice Department’s Enron Task Force obtained a successful conviction of Enron accounting firm Arthur Andersen for obstruction of justice in 2002, this case is the first to focus on a side deal like the ones that are the basis of the bigger cases against Enron’s former chief executive officer, Jeff Skilling, and its former chairman, Ken Lay.

Hilder noted this case is also significant to Wall Street because bankers are on trial and “it puts some business practices under the microscope that may have been accepted elsewhere. People will now be cautioned about stepping over the line.”

If the prosecution wins, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a few more plea bargains result. If the defendants win, I’ll bet that Andy Fastow kicks himself for pleading out so quickly. Stay tuned.

Early voting much heavier in Harris County this week

If you haven’t voted early yet in Harris County, prepare for a wait. It’s much heavier this week than last.

People are lining up to vote early in record numbers throughout Harris County, reinforcing predictions of a high turnout by the time voting is over on Election Day.

On Tuesday, with three days of early voting left, Harris County surpassed its total early vote for 2000, as the total for this year hit 240,846.

County Clerk Beverly Kaufman said she expects that 400,000 people will vote in person by the end of early voting Friday. Another 50,000 are expected to send mail-in ballots.

She predicts in-person early voting will be about a third of the total vote, as it has been in recent elections.

That would bring the total turnout out to 1.2 million of the record 1.9 million registered voters in Harris County, Kaufman projects, a turnout of more than 60 percent.

If you look at the early voting numbers so far, you’ll see that Harris County had between 20,000 and 22,000 people per day in the first Monday-Friday period, and so far this week it’s seen 42,000 and 46,000 people show up. The Multipurpose Center on West Gray is especially busy.

All during the week of October 18, early voting at the West Gray Multi-Service Center has been a frustrating mess for people hoping to dash in and quickly take care of their civic duty.

“It’s been one of our busiest sites,” says David Beirne, spokesman for the Harris County Clerk’s Office. The pace of early voting is double that of 2000, he says.

“There were waits of 45 minutes the first two days, and you don’t usually see that until the last two days,” he says.

More from the Chron story:

At the Metropolitan Multi-Service Center on West Gray, one of the most popular early voting sites in Houston, more than 100 voters an hour cast ballots.

“It’s been that way every day since we’ve started. It hasn’t ceased,” said Lee Parsley, the supervisor of the polling place. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen lines at 4:30 p.m. That’s unprecedented for us at this location.”

He estimates that the site has processed as many as 2,000 voters a day.

Depending on the time of day, the wait can be anywhere from 15 minutes to more than an hour. During the lunch hour Wednesday, early voters stood in line for about 45 minutes before they made it to the voting machine.

Pick your place and time carefully, and bring a book for the queue. If you wait until Election Day, you must go to your designated polling location. All such locations for Harris County are here – you can find what precinct you’re in here or here. Nationally, you can find that information here or by calling 1-866-OUR-VOTE.

Blogging, catblogging, and problogging

Nice article in the Press about Houston’s own Matt Mullenweg, creator of blog software WordPress. Two comments: One, if you read through the whole thing, you’ll note that I got mentioned in there. The reporter contacted me about this story in late August or so. She told me the article was due out on September 23. When that turned out to be the Best Of Houston issue, in which I got the Best Local Blog award, I thought maybe it had been a ruse of some kind. I guess the publication just got delayed. Whatever the case, it’s a nice piece, and Matt deserves the attention.

Comment number two:

It’s unlikely that WordPress will ever charge users. For one thing, since the coding is available, someone else could just distribute it for free. That’s the biggest reason for the explosion of users in the past several months. Several months ago, a competing (non-open-source) software, Movable Type, suddenly announced it would be charging its most active users. The Web exploded with posts about its developers, San Francisco-based Ben and Mena Trott, “sucker-punching the Weblogging community.” Around the same time, the number of WordPress users spiked by several thousand.

Well-known blogger Mark Pilgrim, a big supporter of open-source software, wrote about the reasons for his switch on one of his 11 blogs: “This site now runs WordPress…I’ve taken the $535 that Movable Type would have cost me, and I’ve donated it to the WordPress developers. It’s not about money; it’s about freedom.”

Another prominent switch was made by a woman who’d just written a book about Movable Type, Molly E. Holzschlag. With Movable Type, her blog was getting so much “comment spam” that she was spending hours a day cleaning it out. Where readers can post comments responding to her entries, spammers had come in and posted them about Viagra and penis enlargement. This is increasingly becoming a problem bloggers face. Molly switched to WordPress to elude the spammers, at least for a time. And while she attributes her Movable Type spam to her simple domain name, molly.com, and the fact that she’s been blogging for years, Matt and other WordPress users say it’s better at blocking spam.

For what it’s worth, I’ve had very few comment spam problems since I installed MT Blacklist. At some point, I’ll get around to upgrading Movable Type so I can get the latest and greatest MT Blacklist, which is built in. I’m intrigued by WordPress, but I’m too lazy and too time-deficient to install, learn, and migrate all my archives to a new system.

Elswhere in blogging news, I see that catblogging has made the big time. Too bad they didn’t mention Laurence‘s catcam.

Finally, congrats to Luis and Jeralyn for their new professional blogging gig. Will any Houston old media outlets grasp the concept (no, this doesn’t count) and follow suit? Don’t hold your breath.

A boost for the Innocence Network

This story about the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals offering support to the Innocence Network is a very pleasant surprise.

A decision by Texas’ highest criminal court to support the struggling Texas Innocence Network may signal a crack in state officials’ longtime resistance to innocence claims.

The growing number of exonerations in recent years persuaded the Court of Criminal Appeals to put up $10,000 from an education fund it oversees to finance a Nov. 5 conference in Austin on how to expand the fledgling Innocence Network statewide, said Judge Barbara Hervey. The network currently is based at two universities.

The appeals court has been criticized for what some consider its indifference to innocence claims, most famously when it rejected DNA evidence in the case of Roy Criner.

Criner served 10 years in prison before being pardoned in 2000 after a second DNA test showed he did not commit the rape for which he was convicted.

“The court has been criticized, particularly by the defense bar, as being prosecution-oriented,” said law professor Robert Dawson, who heads the Innocence Network branch at the University of Texas at Austin. “That’s what makes Judge Hervey’s participation so remarkable.”

Hervey is the driving force behind the initiative by the appeals court, the state’s court of last resort in criminal cases. “My goal is to see Texas lead the way nationwide,” she said.

[…]

The effort to bolster the Texas Innocence Network has the backing of all nine judges on the Court of Criminal Appeals, six of whom will attend the Nov. 5 conference, Hervey said.

I’m completely flabbergasted. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals is almost a misnomer – it’s been utterly indifferent to most actual criminal appeals. The Roy Criner case is a particularly egregious example of their bizarre views of jurisprudence, but it’s not the only one. This is such a monumental shift that I’m surprised no one felt the ground rumbling beneath them.

Many district attorneys are skeptical or even hostile to the idea of an innocence commission and the work of the Innocence Network because both review their work.

Rob Kepple, director of the Texas District and County Attorneys Association, said he will attend the conference with an open mind.

“If it’s done properly and with a set of procedures, I think it’s great,” Kepple said. “If all it’s going to do is be press conferences and bashing people in the system and a way to abolish the death penalty, I think you’ve got problems.”

Harris County District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal, whose office has been plagued by problems at the Houston police crime lab that affected hundreds of cases, was uncertain about attending the gathering. He has clashed with the founding branch of the Innocence Network at the University of Houston but says he does not oppose expanding the network.

“I have never minded people grading my papers,” he said.

But he added that the UH Innocence Network has treated his office shabbily.

“I’ve been upset that they’ve wanted to handle cases in the media as opposed to the courts,” Rosenthal said. “There have been times when they have resorted to ad hominem attacks on people in this office as opposed to legal attacks.”

Dow, head of the UH program, said the network has good relations with other district attorneys’ offices but Rosenthal’s seems “unusually defensive and reluctant to admit fault.”

Rosenthal’s been saying that “grade my papers” line for awhile now, but I don’t think he really means it. I know that Rosenthal is all about being “tuff on crime”. Well, I say you can’t really be tough on crime unless you’re also vigilant about exonerating the innocent. Every wrongly convicted person currently rotting in jail does not just represent a failure of the system, however inadvertent or understandable it may have been. He or she also represents a real criminal who got away with it and is out walking the streets. If that doesn’t concern you, then you’re not really serious about crime no matter what you may say.

And so it happens

Congratulations once again to the Red Sox, who just completed one of the hottest runs in postseason history to win the World Series. I guess once every 86 years or so I can handle the Sox being champions. I fully expect, as Lis Riba’s husband Ian suggested, that the mortality rate in New England will spike, since everyone who’s been hanging on to see the Sox win the Series in their lifetime can now die happy. Cub fans everywhere are surely taking heart.

You know, it must really suck to be a Chicago White Sox fan. They’re totally overshadowed by the Red Sox and the now-defunct Curse of the Bambino, and the Cubs and the Billy Goat Curse. Their team hasn’t been champs since 1917 (the year before the last Red Sox title), but there’s no pop culture attached to it. Hell, nobody besides them even knows about it. I mean, did you know that it’s been 87 years since the Southsiders won the Series and 45 years since their last pennant? How about Cleveland, which won its last World Series in 1948? And then of course, there’s the Astros (sigh), who have never won a pennant. At least they got some attention for finally winning a playoff series, even if it was just the Division Series. Some teams are luckier than others in their misfortunes, I suppose.

So anyway. Congrats to the Sox. Enjoy the victory, savor it through the winter and spring. But don’t get too attached to it. You know better than I how hard it can be to do it again.

UPDATE: Pete shares a few thoughts.