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June 14th, 2008:

A night at the ballpark

Here’s where I was last night, along with my dad, thanks to my friend Danil and a last-minute invitation of extra tickets:

Some thoughts from the game, in no particular order:

– Good decision #1: We parked a fair distance from the stadium, near Milam and Rusk, and walked. This enabled me to rationalize the beer I bought, it totally avoided traffic, and it was free to boot. What more could you want?

– The pedicabs were out in force. These have apparently been around since the Super Bowl, but I can’t say I’d noticed them till this year. Lots of people took advantage, though we chose to hoof it.

– Rudy Giuliani was in town for the state GOP convention, and he threw out the first pitch. In a show of bipartisan unity, my dad and I reached across the aisle and booed him lustily.

– My camera has a pretty good zoom lens. Here’s Derek Jeter leading off the game:

And here, pulled back a bit, is the first pitch:

There were a lot of flashbulbs popping when Jeter and Alex Rodriguez took their first turns at bat.

– There were quite a few fans wearing Yankee colors, but the Astros crowd was loud and proud.

– Good decision #2: Buying the 24-ounce Shiner beers, instead of the regular 12-ounce size. At the price ($9.50) for twice the beer, it’s actually a pretty good deal. The beer vendors are going to rake in the tips this weekend, with all three games sold out.

– Who knew Shiner made 24-ounce bottles? I must not shop in the right stores.

– The Astros not only have recycling receptacles everywhere for cans and bottles, they also ran a PSA video pointing this out to fans, and explaining that every time you stick a bottle or can into one of them, you can win free tickets to upcoming games. The beer vendors were also recycling their glass bottles. Now that’s how you do it!

– In the top of the 9th, the home plate ump called Jose Valverde for a balk; he apparently fast-pitched Jason Giambi with Hidecki Matsui on first. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a pitcher called for a balk for not coming to a complete stop in the stretch before delivering before.

– Two people in our row actually left the game during the bottom of the ninth. What kind of baseball fan does that in a one-run game with the tying run on base? After Wiggington was nailed stealing second, some others joined them, and that I understood a bit more. But still. It was a one run game in the bottom of the ninth! Where’s the fire?

– Best of all, we get to see tonight’s game as well. Woo hoo!

The definition of insanity, Harris County style

Harris County Commissioners Court will be considering a number of thins for its Capital Improvement Projects budget soon, including a proposal to build a smaller jail in place of the bigger one that voters rejected last year. In doing so, the powers that be demonstrate that they still don’t get it.

As they weigh each jail option, court members will need to decide how they want to control the growth in the inmate population and house the prisoners already in the system, county Budget Officer Dick Raycraft said Friday. Building space for more beds may be one priority, but working with judges and prosecutors to divert defendants from going to jail could be another, he said.

“There’s different ways to look at this,” he said.

The new downtown jail would serve almost exclusively as a central processing facility for Houston and Harris County under the revised plan. While that change drops the project’s cost to $144 million, it also means there will be room for about 1,500 fewer inmates than originally planned. That is almost as many prisoners as the county currently plans to send to Louisiana.

Three hundred beds would be available for inmates with medical and mental health needs, about 500 fewer than planned. Another 672 beds would be assigned to inmates expected to be released within 72 hours, with 200 reserved for the city’s short-term prisoners. A holding area also would be available for people jailed for just a few hours.

As with the previous plan, the city of Houston would be expected to contribute at least $32 million, Raycraft said. The county may seek additional money to cover the increase in building costs since the plan first was developed.

The county likely would finance its share by borrowing funds on a short-term basis and refinancing later, Raycraft said. However, county officials could take another stab at seeking voter approval to issue bonds.

It would cost another $43 million to build the 1,150-bed Atascosita jail and an accompanying sewage-treatment plant.

Sheriff’s Office spokesman Deputy David Crain said the office will have to continue sending inmates to Louisiana until something is done to address the jail’s population problems.

“Unless we’re going to see a dramatic decrease in the jail population, we’re going to have to have space,” Crain said. “Exactly how that space is going to become available is going to be up to the governing fathers.”

How many times do we have to say it? Harris County’s jail overcrowding problems are the result of needlessly locking too many people up for things like drug possession, bail mismanagement, and overly burdensome probation requirements. We can solve this problem now and going forward by better utilization of our scarce resources, or at least not acting as though we can always build more jails to lock up however many people we feel like locking up. This is a problem of our own making, and if we do right at the ballot box this November, it’s a problem we can solve as well. What’s so hard about this?

For what it’s worth, I can see the value in a separate facility to house ill inmates. But until county government, and the judges sitting on the bench, get a grip on the reason why our jails are overcrowded, I can’t and won’t support building any more jails. I will not enable those who are the cause of the problem.

State secrets

While the state GOP convention going on right now in Houston will surely present plenty of opportunities for snark, I think this is the most noteworthy thing I’ve seen so far.

Texas GOP Chairwoman Tina Benkiser said Bush still is popular in Texas, but few convention speakers mentioned him by name.

I was all set to make a joke about how Benkiser is as out of touch regarding Bush as Pauline Kael was alleged to be about Richard Nixon, but it turns out to be surprisingly hard to find recent polling data that includes an approval or favorability rating in Texas for George W. Bush. The one result I found was from Rasmussen, which broke down as 40% excellent or good, 59% fair or poor; the “poor” total was 40% on its own. Beyond that, good luck with the Google – the majority of the results I got for “Bush approval Texas” were for national polls, and many of them were old anyway. SurveyUSA quit doing Texas approval rating polls last June, at which time it pegged Bush with 41% approval, 57% disapproval. Archive searches of the Chron and the Morning News came up empty.

So I suppose I should cut Benkiser a little slack here, since nobody seems to be all that interested in polling Texans about President Bush any more. Maybe we’ve all just moved on and nobody cares to ponder the question any more, I don’t know. But if Benkiser and crew want to campaign this fall as if they actually believe Bush is still popular here, I say they should go for it. Mention his name all you like, it’s fine by us.

Another year, another Secretary of State

The revolving door in the Secretary of State’s office spins again.

Texas Secretary of State Phil Wilson is stepping down to work for a Dallas-based energy company, he announced Thursday. His last day will be July 6.

He’ll begin his new job as Luminant’s senior vice president of public affairs the next day, July 7.

Luminant is a subsidiary of Energy Future Holdings, formerly TXU Corp.

Wilson, 40, was appointed secretary of state by Republican Gov. Rick Perry almost a year ago. Before that, he was Perry’s deputy chief of staff.

The secretary of state is Texas’ chief elections officer. The secretary of state oversees business and public filings, acts as the governor’s chief liaison for border affairs, and oversees international protocol for the state.

According to Wikipedia, Wilson’s successor will be the sixth SOS under Rick Perry; Roger Williams’ 2.5 years in office is the longest any of them served, which appears to be pretty typical. Seems to me that’s a pretty good argument for making this an elected office rather than an appointed one. Eye on Williamson is with me on this. What do you think?

Another strip club lawsuit

The strip club owners haven’t had much luck in court with the 1997 anti-SOB law, so I’m not sure why a strip club landlord thinks they’ll do any better, but they”re giving it a try anyway.

The landlord of a topless club has sued the city for trying to shut down its tenant or force it to move to comply with an ordinance regulating sexually-oriented businesses.

The suit, filed in state district court Thursday on behalf of DXB Richmond Inc., contends that by enforcing its ordinance the city is unconstitutionally taking away the firm’s tenant, Legends Cabaret, without just compensation.

“The city of Houston should not be able to pick and choose tenants for any landlord,” said Cory Krueger, DXB’s attorney, who also has represented Legends Cabaret and other strip clubs.

Senior Assistant City Attorney Don Cheatham said the city had not been served with the suit by late Thursday, and he could not comment on it.

The suit seeks unspecified damages, including costs for finding a new tenant, remodeling the building for a new tenant and the difference in the lease amount should a new tenant pay less than what the club pays, Krueger said. The suit also asks for attorney fees and expenses.


Cheatham said several other suits remain unresolved in state district courts and deal with such issues as the businesses asking the city to allow them to recoup their investments.

I get the difference in what the suits are about, but it’s still not clear to me why this plaintiff thinks it will get a different result. Any lawyers want to comment on that?