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December 15th, 2007:

Abbott rules for Craddick

You may recall that Attorney General Greg Abbott had been asked for an opinion on the matter of procedures for removing the Speaker of the House. Well, late last night, Abbott delivered it.

The Texas Constitution protects House Speaker Tom Craddick from moves by foes to “vacate the chair” and kick him out of his leadership position before his term is up, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott said Friday.

They can still move to expel him from his legislative office as Midland’s state representative with a two-thirds vote, or the House and Senate could impeach him, according to the opinion issued late Friday.

But only the Senate has the power to decide whether impeachment of the speaker would mean his removal – either from his leadership position or from office. The impeachment trial would be by the Senate.

Mr. Abbott declined to address questions over whether the speaker has “absolute authority,” as Mr. Craddick claimed, to recognize or decline to recognize any member for any reason – on a vote to remove him from his leadership position, or on any other issue. The attorney general said it was not in his authority to address House rules matters.

[…]

In a strongly worded statement, Reps. Jim Keffer and Byron Cook, both Republicans who requested the opinion in June, slammed the opinion and said it “only reaffirms the adage: ‘Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.’ ”

“We strongly disagree with the unprecedented contention that the office of Speaker is a statewide officer. Furthermore, it is unprecedented to contend that the House Speaker is subject to removal by a vote of the Texas Senate,” the statement said. “It now appears that the integrity of Texas Government is still at a critical crossroads. Enough is enough. The people of Texas need to let their local representatives know that they’ve had enough of Tom Craddick’s one-man dictatorship.”

Yes, according to our Attorney General, it takes the participation of the Senate to remove a Speaker of the House. Utterly ridiculous, yet completely typical of the Rick Perry/Tom Craddick school of governance. BOR has more, and I’m sure many others will follow.

Comets to move to Reliant Arena

I don’t quite understand this.

The Comets will leave Toyota Center and play their 2008 home games at the smaller but cozy Reliant Arena.

Comets owner Hilton Koch signed a contract with Reliant earlier this week.

“We are very excited that Reliant Arena will be the new home for the (Comets),” Koch said. “As an organization, our goal is to provide Comets fans with a phenomenal in-arena experience while at the same time maximizing the team’s long-term growth potential.

“Reliant Arena’s smaller venue (capacity 5,800) will be a great setting for our boisterous fans and will help create a powerful home-court advantage.”

I should first note that the Toyota Center is more convenient for me. Not that big a deal, but still. If they’d asked me, I’d have told them to stay put.

What puzzles me about this is the rather small capacity of Reliant Arena. Googling around a bit, I found these average attendance figures (PDF) for WNBA teams. It listed the Comets as drawing 8166 per game in 2007, and 7682 per game in 2006. It’s a bit hard for me to imagine why they’d want to move to a 5800-seat venue given those figures.

On the other hand, as the Houston Roundball Review wrote back in 2006, when it pegged the Comets’ attendance at 6,743 per game midway through that season, those numbers probably aren’t that accurate:

It’s widely believed a WNBA team needs to average at least 7,500 fans in order to “break even”. If that belief is correct, nine (not counting the 7495 of the LA Sparks) WNBA teams will lose money this season. That means more than half the league’s teams could be in financial trouble. If more than half the teams are having financial difficulties, then the WNBA may be experiencing similar money troubles…

I’m not going to discuss the actual “butts in the seats numbers” because I believe those attendance numbers would make the situation more dire. However, I will state this:

I don’t believe nearly 7,000 people per home game have seen the Comets play this season.

I have a hard time believing any of these cited numbers, too. There were oceans of empty seats at Toyota in the past few years, for nearly every game. So if this is true, then I can understand the move, in that it’s got to be cheaper to play in the smaller site. But it feels like a retreat, and doesn’t look like an especially positive thing for the franchise to do, since they won’t even be able to pretend they drew the kind of crowds they had done before. If I were Hilton Koch, I’d be a little worried about my investment.

Tunnel envisioning

Looks like Gonzalo Camacho and his I-45 tunnel concept have gained themselves a convert in Tory Gattis.

A few weeks back, Gonzalo Camacho sent me an intimidating 30-page white paper (PDF) on the tunnel option for expanding the I-45N corridor using some of the newest tunnel-boring technologies from Europe and elsewhere. It took me a while to get around to reading it, but in one fell swoop it converted me from skeptic to a true believer.

The essence of what makes it so compelling is that all of the money spent is for completely new capacity, since the existing surface 45 stays right where it is. Compare that to the current alternative being proposed, which, at the end of the day after $2+ billion is spent, only adds a net of 3 new lanes of capacity between downtown and Beltway 8 (from 8 + HOV to 8 + 4 managed lanes) – and that’s after 5+ years of nightmare construction (vs. disruption-free underground tunneling).

On top of that, the tunnel can also solve several problems not addressed in the current plans, by continuing through downtown to 45S, 288, and 59 – bypassing the downtown bottlenecks at the Pierce Elevated and the 59-288 junction. Talk about killing several birds with one stone.

What we’re talking about here is a congestion-priced, tolled set of express through-lanes that only have a few exits at major junctions. Local traffic stays on the surface freeway, which may evolve into a more sedate parkway over time, like Memorial or Allen Parkway (although I’m more skeptical of that ever happening – given the high demand and powerful commercial interests along that freeway).

That point about all new capacity is something I hadn’t considered, and I agree that it changes the lane-mile cost comparison when you think about it in those terms. You’d still have to deal with things like the 59/288 junction in this scenario, but since you don’t have the constraint of an un-widenable elevated freeway at that point, you can design that interchange in a way that won’t be a 24/7 bottleneck. It really does solve a lot of problems all at once.

Tory adds some suggestions and enhancements in a followup post. I’ve been skeptical of the idea that this thing is sellable to the folks who make the decisions about stuff like this, but pretty much everyone that talks to Camacho comes away liking his plan, so who knows? Maybe for once the big dream will come true.

From the “Why would you want to jump out of a perfectly good airplane?” department

I just have one thing to say about this article: Any time a reporter can work in a Wile E. Coyote reference to what you’re doing, that can’t be a good thing.

Jeb Corliss wants to fly — not the way the Wright brothers wanted to fly, but the way we do in our dreams. He wants to jump from a helicopter and land without using a parachute.

And his dream, strange as it sounds, is not unique. Around the globe, at least a half-dozen groups — in France, South Africa, New Zealand, Russia and the United States — are chasing this same flight of fancy. Although nobody is waving a flag, it is a quest that has evoked the spirit of nations’ pursuits of Everest and the North and South poles.

“All of this is technically possible,” said Jean Potvin, a physics professor at St. Louis University and skydiver who performs parachute research for the Army. But he acknowledged a problem: “The thing I’m not sure of is your margins in terms of safety, or likelihood to crash.”

Loic Jean-Albert of France, better known as Flying Dude in a popular YouTube video, put it more bluntly: “You might do it well one time and try another time and crash and die.”

The landing, as one might expect, poses the biggest hurdle, and each group has a different approach. Most will speak in only the vaguest terms out of fear that someone will steal their plans.

Corliss will wear nothing more than a wing suit, an invention that, aeronautically speaking, is more flying squirrel than bird or plane.

[…]

Wing suits are not new; they have captured the imagination of storytellers since man dreamed of flying. From Icarus to Wile E. Coyote, who crashed into a mesa on his attempt, the results have usually been disastrous.

But the suits’ practical use began to take hold in the early 1990s, when a modern version created by Patrick de Gayardon proved safer and led to rapid innovation.

Modern suit design features tightly woven nylon sewn between the legs and between the arms and torso, creating wings that fill with air and create lift, allowing for forward motion and aerial maneuvers while slowing descent.

As the suits have become more sophisticated, so have the pilots. The best fliers, and there are not many, can trace the horizontal contours of cliffs, ridges and mountainsides.

I’m thinking the beta testing of these things was a challenge. At least you won’t have to worry that you’ve accidentally grabbed someone’s backpack instead of your parachute, I suppose.