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June 2nd, 2008:

RIP, Bo Diddley

Rock pioneer Bo Diddley dies at age 79

Bo Diddley was a musical innovator who helped forge the sound and contributed to the style of rock ‘n’ roll. He sported a trademark fedora, played an iconic square-shaped guitar and from it he extracted a deep, rusty reverb and a peculiar playing style that influenced generations of players.

Diddley died Monday of heart failure at his home in Archer, Fla.; he was 79. He’d been in ill health for much of the past year, having suffered a stroke and a heart attack in 2007.

Prior to those ailments, though, Diddley remained a vigorous performer, continuing to tour regularly, as he’d done since he began performing in the mid ’50s, when he helped shape rock ‘n’ roll.

“He was by far the most underrated of any ’50s star,” says producer Phil Spector. “You listen to those (reissued box sets) and the rhythmic invention, the consistent high quality of imagination and performance, the excellence of the writing, the power of the vocals – nobody else ever did it better or had a deeper, more penetrating influence.”

Perhaps no guitarist was more influenced by Diddley’s sound and style than ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons, who carries on Diddley’s tradition of strange-looking instruments and full-bodied guitar riffs with prickly solos.

Gibbons called Diddley “the ‘artiste.’

“He was the man who constructed the sound we all grew to revolve around,” he said. “And a vision of simplicity delivered through effortless expression and sense of humor. Many times, Bo made a point to say, ‘I’ll always be around,’ and we know he will.”

Or, to put it another way:

Rest in peace, Bo Diddley.

The state’s airplanes

I tried, I really did, to work up some outrage over this story about public officials using a plane from the state’s fleet instead of a commercial flight, but I couldn’t quite do it. None of the examples cited are egregious enough to make me care; the ones that would have been so had they been funded by taxpayer dollars were paid for by the users of the plane. You can have a discussion about the purpose this thing and whether it’s being used properly, but based on what I read it’d be mostly splitting hairs. There’s bigger fish to fry than that.

Two points of interest to note:

Then-Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn and [Governor Rick] Perry talked about selling the planes during the 2003 budget crunch.

[…]

The fleet, previously under the State Aircraft Pooling Board, was targeted by Strayhorn and Perry in 2003 when the state faced a $10 billion budget shortfall. Strayhorn then said selling the planes and associated property would yield $18.2 million. Perry vetoed the pooling board, but the fleet was transferred to TxDOT.

Perry spokeswoman Kristi Piferrer said Perry “doesn’t really have an opinion one way or another” now about whether the fleet should be maintained. She said, “His main priority has always been that aircraft are used for state business and are operated on a cost recovery basis.”

I’m just amused that for all of the Governor’s privatization fetishes, from tolls roads to the Lottery, he drew the line at the state’s fleet of airplanes. You’d think that would have been a natural fit, especially given the time when the idea was floated, but apparently not. Go figure.

[Michael Quinn Sullivan of Texans for Fiscal Responsibility] said $18 million is a small percentage of the state’s $152.5 billion two-year budget but added, “It’s not a small amount of money … You take the richest person in Texas, and they notice when $18 million is gone.”

Sullivan must have pitched this story, because he’s quoted throughout. As is often the case when his name pops up, his math is a little funny. According to Forbes Magazine, the richest person living in Texas is Alice Walton, whose net worth is a tidy $19 billion. That means that $18 million represents less than 0.1% of her wealth, or less than a dime for every hundred dollars. She’d notice it, but I doubt she’d give it much thought. In terms of the state budget, which is eight times greater than that (when you count federal monies), it’s a bit more than a penny for every $100. Like I said, there’s bigger fish to fry.

The state of wind power in Texas

For the most part, the wind power industry is doing well in Texas.

Wind power in Texas was mostly a curiosity in 2000 when the state first opened its wholesale electric markets to competition. About 300 turbines were spinning away in rural West Texas, creating a mere 200 megawatts of power.

Today the state has 5,300 megawatts on line, 25 times more than in 2000 and enough power to light more than 1.5 million homes.

Texas topped ecofriendly California as the largest wind producer in the U.S. in 2006 and is on track to pass some countries in installed wind generation in the coming years, including giants China and India. With another 44,000 megawatts in wind projects on the drawing board, the forecast is for continued growth for years.

But challenges, both economic and environmental, may be looming.

The capacity to move power from West Texas’ growing fleet of wind turbines to the state’s energy-hungry cities is tapped out, leaving many turbines idle.

Solving the problem will require spending billions of dollars to build hundreds of miles of new transmission lines, the costs of which will be shared by all Texas electric customers.

I blogged about that in April. This is a drum I plan to bang next year when the Legislature convenes; it’s also something I hope our Congressional delegation is working on. If there was ever a good time to fully utilize our capacity for wind power, it’s now.

There are other issues, of course, including the continuing fight over the Kenedy Ranch wind farm project. Overall, though, I feel pretty optimistic about the future of wind power in Texas. As it happens, there’s a big conference on wind energy going on at the George R. Brown Convention Center this week, the Windpower 2008 conference – you can see its first newsletter for the event here. Among the speakers will be CD07 candidate Michael Skelly, who knows a thing or two about the business; he’ll be joined by Gen. Wesley Clark at 11:30 AM on the second floor of the GRB to discuss energy and national security issues. That ought to be cool. Details are here (PDF); other conference and speaker information can be found here. Check it out if you can.

No excuses for CPS

My reaction to this Chron story about how Child Protective Services is just a well-intentioned but misunderstood agency that made a few mistakes that maybe we can now see in retrospect is pretty much the same as Grits’ reaction.

We’re still battling the effects of CPS’ successful public relations campaign against FLDS group, including but not limited to their claims that:

* 60% of teen girls were pregnant or mothers: To get that number, CPS included 26 adult women who denied they were minors and turned out to be telling the truth, but not until after the agency repeatedly called them liars in the press.
* 10% of kids had broken bones in the past: It turned out they didn’t really know how many had broken bones, and anyway 10% would be less than the average for kids in the outside world.
* Male children were molested, although CPS never provided evidence in court for the assertion and dropped the allegation after it made media headlines.

And those are just the lowlights. This disinformation campaign is why I cannot agree with Houston Chronicle columnist Rick Casey who writes, “CPS should and will follow the law. But it’s not as though they willfully broke it.”

I think they did. I think they knew the whole ranch shouldn’t be considered a single “household.” I think they knew the group’s religious beliefs didn’t meet the legal definition of abuse. Certainly they knew claims that 60% of teen girls were mothers were false at the time they made them (the agency added the caveat two days after the headlines ran to say most of those girls claimed to be adults, which turned out to be correct).

If CPS was acting in good faith, why were we subjected to a constant stream of misinformation? That’s the part I don’t understand. Certainly that behavior significantly colored my own reaction to the raid and its aftermath; once I become convinced you didn’t tell me the truth, I start to doublecheck your statements, and CPS’ never held up under scrutiny. At the end of the day, the courts found the same thing.

I am reminded once again of The D-Squared Digest One Minute MBA – Avoiding Projects Pursued By Morons 101, which posits that “Good ideas do not need lots of lies told about them in order to gain public acceptance”. Someone ought to make a motivational poster out of that an display it prominently in CPS’s offices. Maybe then something positive will come out of all this.

Regent Square update: Please leave Allen Parkway alone!

Swamplot has an update on the Regent Square development, which is what used to be the Allen House apartments. One bit of the developers’ plans caught my eye:

They had originally asked the city to make W. Dallas one lane in either direction, with a shared left-turn lane, but have delayed it for a bit while the city analyzes all the streets over the next few years. Also mentioned further down the road would be a stoplight at Allen Pkwy & Dunlavy

I hate hate hate the idea of a stoplight on Allen Parkway at Dunlavy. I admit the intersection is not as safe as it could be, and that it will get worse once the new, much more dense, development is open, but I can’t stand the thought of spoiling that deeply satisfying and largely unimpeded drive with a light. It’s just wrong, and it’s not something I want to be rational about. Please, City of Houston, don’t give in on this!

On another matter:

The timeline was presented: they’ll start in September with preliminary clearing and site work and start construction in October. They’ll finish the north block in Sept 2010 and the south block around Dec 2010. They think they’ll have to update some of the storm sewers around W. Clay and Dunlavy.

I note that the plans include a 22-story condo tower, in addition to the office space and other mixed-use development. There was a story in the Chron the other day about the boom in high-end high-rise development here, and how construction on these beasts usually doesn’t start until about 30% of the units have been presold. I wonder therefore if this means the Regent Square folks are meeting their projections, or just telling us what they hope will happen.

On welcoming converts

Just wanted to note this interesting discussion at TAPPED about how political converts are viewed and accepted by party stalwarts. I hope given current trends it’s a topic we Democrats will have cause to contemplate quite a bit in the foreseeable future. Check it out.