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July 8th, 2008:

Use Twitter for good, not for evil

Various techies gave US Rep. John Culberson a round of applause last month when they noticed his use of Twitter to post updates from the floor of Congress. But a recent tweet that says Congressional Democrats “want to require prior approval of all posts to any public social media/internet/www site by any member of Congress!!!”, which he says is “outrageous and I will fight them”. Turns out it’s a little more complex than that.

The actual issue is one that we discussed a few months back. Existing House rules actually forbid members of Congress from posting “official communications” on other sites. This was first noticed by a first-term Congressman who was worried that posting videos on YouTube violated this rule. Other Congressional Reps told him to not worry about it as everyone ignored that rule, and no one would get in trouble for using various social media sites such as YouTube. However, that Congressman pushed forward, and eventually got Congress to act. Of course, rather than fixing the real problem (preventing Reps from posting on social media sites), they simply asked YouTube to allow Reps to post videos in a “non-commercial manner.” YouTube agreed, and that was that.

However, the existing rules still stood. Culberson’s complaint stems for a letter (pdf) sent by Democratic Rep. Michael Capuano, suggesting that the rules actually be changed to be loosened to deal with this situation and make it easier to post content on various social media sites. Culberson, however, bizarrely claims that this is the Democrats trying to limit what he can say on Twitter. But that’s actually not at all what the letter states. The problem isn’t this letter, but the existing rules that are already in place. In fact, based on the letter, it would appear that this would make it possible for Congressional Reps to Twitter, so long as their bio made it clear they were Reps.

A bunch of people tried to understand this, and even I asked him to clarify why the problem was with this new letter, as opposed to the existing rules. His response did not address the question at all — but rather was the identical response he sent to dozens of people who questioned his claims. He notes that based on the letter, each Twitter message must meet “existing content rules and regulations.” Indeed, but the problem is that’s already true based on those existing content rules and regulations. The problem isn’t this new effort, but those existing rules and regulations, which mean that his existing Twitter messages violated the rules.

It’s really disappointing to see someone who had embraced the technology use it to try to whip up Twitter users into a frenzy, while misleading them to do so — and then not using the tools to respond to actual criticisms. The problem here is that the existing rules for Reps is problematic. It’s not this new effort to loosen the rules, other than in the fact that the loosening of the rules might not go far enough. That’s not, as Culberson claims, an attempt to censor him on Twitter, but simply an attempt to loosen the rules with a focus on YouTube and (most likely) with an ignorance of the fact that Twitter even exists.

More here. This should be a fairly straightforward thing to resolve, if Culberson’s partisan rhetoric doesn’t get in the way. Maybe he’ll take the criticism from the techies that once praised him to heart. Link via Dwight on Twitter.

One small step for Bell

The Chris Bell for SD17 train gets ready to leave the station.

Democrat Chris Bell, a former Houston congressman who made an unsuccessful bid for governor two years ago, is expected to take a big step today toward a run for a Texas Senate seat now in Republican hands.

Bell will file official paperwork to set up a campaign committee and appoint a campaign treasurer for a possible run for the District 17 seat recently vacated by Kyle Janek, said Jason Stanford, Bell’s political consultant.

“Yes, he’s leaning toward it and is probably going to make an announcement later this month,” Stanford said. “It’s not often that a Democrat gets a chance like this.”

[…]

News of Bell’s potential interest in the seat has been reported for nearly two months, but invitations sent out last week for a July 24 reception for Democrat Joe Jaworski, a former Galveston City Council member running against GOP state Sen. Mike Jackson of La Porte, mentioned that Bell might also soon be a state Senate candidate.

That was reported last week by Alan Bernstein (link via PDiddie, and may I say happy birthday, dude). At this point, it’s hard to imagine Bell not running. It’s just a question of when he announces, and how much financial support he shows early on. I can’t wait.

On a side note, Wendy Davis and a group of supporters held a rally outside State Sen. Kim Brimer’s office today to urge him to request a speedy judgment in his suit to boot her off the ballot. I’ve reproduced the press release beneath the fold.

UPDATE: PoliTex has more from Wendy Davis’ press conference, including audio.

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Not too fast, not too slow

I confess, I didn’t know men’s fast-pitch softball leagues existed in Houston.

The Lone Star State was a men’s fastpitch mecca in those days. And Houston was one of its epicenters.

“Going back 20 to 30 years, Texas was definitely a hotbed,” said Ken Hackmeister, executive director of the International Softball Congress. “We have numerous Texans in our Hall of Fame.”

[George] Perez, 61, remembers a time when each park in Houston had its own fastpitch league. Church, industrial, company and town leagues would play each other in 80 to 100 games from the middle of March until the end of August.

“It was a lot like how you describe high school football is now in Texas,” Perez said. “Everybody goes to watch the high school teams play.

“Back then, everyone went to watch the fastpitch teams play. … The pitching was so dominant that most games were 1-0, and they were very intense.”

Thirty-eight years later, things have changed.

Local participation in men’s fastpitch is at an all-time low. Perez can count on one hand the number of teams in the private league he organizes with pitcher Henry Munoz. Including his own squad — Geo-Per Fastpitch, named for the welding and welding inspection business he owns — that number stands at four.

Munoz, who has been with the team for two years and works for Perez as an operations manager, has helped organize the league since the Houston Parks and Recreation Department decided not to fund it this summer because of escalating costs and the dwindling number of teams interested.

[…]

Benjie Hedgecock, executive director of the North American Fastpitch Association, says the instant-gratification attitude of today’s society has increased interest in slowpitch at the expense of fastpitch.

“The key draw of slowpitch is you can have a 3-for-4 night every night,” Hedgecock said. “Going 3-for-4 is a heck of a lot better than going 0-for-3 — that’s fastpitch. That contrast is a definite draw.”

Some would argue more skill is required of fastpitch players.

“I think that’s a measure of the game,” said fastpitchwest.com editor Jim Flanagan, an attorney in California. “Slowpitch, just about anybody could play.

“Fastpitch is just a smaller pool of talent.”

I agree with Flanagan. I’ve played in a couple of slow-pitch leagues in the past. What they have in common is that they’re accessible for large, slow, out-of-shape people, exactly the kind of person who would be unable to get the bat off their shoulder in time to take a swing at a fast-pitch offering. Fast-pitch is for serious athletes; slow-pitch is for the more casual types. Nothing wrong with this, of course – it takes all kinds, after all – but there’s no doubt in my mind that fast-pitch draws from a smaller talent pool.

Just a guess, by the way, but I’d theorize that the recent popularity of women’s fast-pitch softball has made it seem more like a women’s sport. Again, nothing wrong with that – I enjoy watching the NCAA softball tournament on TV – but I’d bet if you asked people what their impression was of fast-pitch softball, those that had opinions would mention names like Kat Osterman and Jennie Finch. They wouldn’t think in terms of men playing the game.

Finally, the article doesn’t mention a third option for softball, which is medium-pitch; my dad played on a medium-pitch league for years when I was a kid. It’s similar to fast-pitch in terms of being more conducive to a higher level of athleticism and competitiveness, with the main difference being in restrictions on the pitcher. Basically, at least in that league, the pitcher is not allowed to raise his arm above his shoulder on either the windup or the delivery; in other words, no big windmill-style windups. That still allows you to bring some heat, just not Eddie Feigner-type heat. It strikes a balance between the free-scoring slow-pitch game and the pitcher-dominated fast-pitch, and was a lot of fun for participate in. Maybe that’s a direction these guys should consider.

Vandalism at All Saints

This is my neighborhood church, where Olivia and Audrey got baptized.

In a shady grotto filled with plants, lilacs and daffodils, parishioners at All Saints Catholic Church would sometimes stop to pray and reflect before an Our Lady of Lourdes statue.

It was a tranquil scene — until Palm Sunday when the statue was knocked down and broken. Two replacement statues, both of Our Lady of Guadalupe, have since been defaced or destroyed.

The latest incident happened outside the church on East 10th in the Heights late Friday or early Saturday.

A spray-painted message left on a church sidewalk in March during the second incident — “You have been warned. Don’t worship idols.” — has parish officials worried that they are being subjected to anti-Catholic hate crimes, not mere vandalism.

“It sounds like that,” said Dan Schwieterman, All Saints director of religious education. “It may have deeper roots than vandalism. It may be a fanatic.”

Houston police view the first two incidents as hate crimes. Investigators will decide whether the latest attack was a hate crime after completing their probe, said HPD spokesman Victor Senties. Investigators, he said, don’t have any suspects.

That just makes me sad. All Saints is both a lovely historic church – it celebrated its centennial last year – and a good community resource. Even if this just turns out to be kids doing the damage, the church doesn’t need the expense of fixing repeated damages. I hope the cops catch the offenders quickly.

The Nation on the state of the state

I’ll recommend this Nation article about the resurgence of the Democratic Party in Texas. It’s cool to see people you know get quoted in a story like that, which is a good if somewhat rah-rah overview of the state of things. I will say that I agree with Evan Smith that this section stood out, and not in the good way:

[The Republican] party looks to be skidding toward a bloodbath in 2010, when insiders expect both Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst, a hellfire-and-brimstone Christian conservative, and Senator Hutchison, who embodies the politer, Chamber of Commerce wing of the party (and says she’s tired of Washington and wants to come home), to challenge Perry in the Republican primary.

I don’t know which insiders they spoke to for this, but I agree with Evan on his first two objections: I doubt Dewhurst gets into a three-way race with Perry and KBH – he can always stay put, or run for KBH’s open Senate seat – and I’ve no idea where the “hellfire and brimstone Christian” thing came from; maybe they confused him for Dan Patrick, which would surely be the first time that’s ever happened. As for Evan’s third objection, I’m not at all convinced Perry won’t run in 2010. He says he is, and until he says he isn’t, I plan to take him at his word.

And as long as you’re reading that, you may as well also read this 2006 story about Fred Baron and the Texas Democratic Trust, who laid much of the groundwork for the resurgence of today. You probably know most of this stuff, but it’s a good review if you don’t. Link via Frontburner.

A little less blight

Very good news.

The development group that bought the shuttered Days Inn hotel on the southern end of downtown said it will spend up to $50 million converting the dilapidated structure into another hotel.

New Era Hospitality, a group of doctors and entrepreneurs that bought the building in May, is negotiating with three hotel companies to brand the property.

But demolition has already started on the interiors, which are being gutted and will be replaced with 340 modern suites, 60 standard guest rooms, 32,000 square feet of meeting space and a swimming pool and bar on top of the attached garage.

“It’s relieving a huge negative,” said commercial real estate broker David Cook of Cushman & Wakefield. “The Days Inn has been the pariah of that part of downtown.”

[…]

The hotel opened in the 1970s and was a Days Inn before it was taken over by the group, led by late spiritual adviser Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, in the late 1990s.

The partners in New Era said they will know within the next couple of months if the hotel will operate as a Holiday Inn, Sheraton or Marriott.

The group is seeking tax abatements from the city for the project, which will “eliminate an eyesore on the Houston skyline and convert it to a productive asset for the city,” said Manzoor Hasan, a partner.

Not only has the building been a blot on downtown’s landscape, but it also rises up near the heavily traveled Pierce Elevated.

If all goes as planned, the hotel will be open by January 2010.

Link via Mike McGuff. You can read more about this building’s weird history in this old Press article.

Leavin’ on a balloon-powered lawn chair

Gotta love people like this.

Riding a green lawn chair supported by a rainbow array of more than 150 helium-filled party balloons, Kent Couch succeeded Saturday in his third bid to fly from central Oregon all the way to Idaho.

Couch kissed his wife and kids goodbye, and patted their shivering Chihuahua, Isabella, before his ground crew gave him a push so he could clear surrounding light poles and a coffee cart.

Then, clutching a big mug of coffee, Couch rose out of the parking lot of his gas station into the bright blue morning sky, cheered by a crowd of spectators.

“If I had the time and money and people, I’d do this every weekend,” Couch said before getting into the chair. “Things just look different from up there. You’ve moving so slowly. The best thing is the peace, the serenity.

“You can hear a dog bark at 15,000 feet.”

Said his wife, Susan: “He’s crazy. It’s never been a dull moment since I married him.”

Couch, 48, rode the prevailing wind to the area of McCall, Idaho, about 230 miles east, and traveled at about 20 mph.

[…]

Couch was inspired by a TV show about the 1982 lawn chair flight over Los Angeles by truck driver Larry Walters, who gained folk hero fame but was fined $1,500 for violating air traffic rules.

I hope Couch’s life story has a happier ending than Larry Walters’ did.

Couch, a veteran of hang gliding and sky diving, estimated the rig cost about $6,000, mostly for helium. Costs were defrayed by corporate sponsors.

Well so much for this being an alternative to the airlines. How’s the zeppelin business doing these days?

Texas blog roundup for the week of July 7

So did you have a good holiday weekend? Nothing like a day off on Friday to make Saturday feel like Sunday. Here’s the latest roundup from the Texas Progressive Alliance to get you back on track with your calendar. Click on for the highlights.

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