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July 17th, 2010:

Saturday video break: Powered by Mentos

Have you ever looked at one of those Diet Coke and Mentos videos and said to yourself “Sure, that’s cool and all, but can you harness that power and do something with it?” Well, wonder no more. I give you the Coke Zero and Mentos-powered car:

Admittedly, you won’t get very far with it, but it sure looks cool. And you have to admire the engineering. See more here.

HPD sends “Pay your red light camera ticket or else” letter

With predictable results.

Houston police have notified 79,000 motorists that they cannot renew their vehicle registrations until they pay red light camera fines and penalties, even though Harris County officials repeatedly have said they will not prevent people from registering their vehicles because of the outstanding citations.

Police Chief Charles McClelland denied critics’ charges the Houston Police Department’s collection campaign relies on scare tactics, but he acknowledged HPD has no legal agreement to block registration of Harris County residents who owe red-light camera fines. He said that some of the red light violations were committed by residents in adjacent counties that are enforcing the registration holds.


At a news conference at HPD headquarters Thursday a sample warning letter distributed to reporters featured a warning across the top in large lettering.

“The Texas Department of Motor Vehicles has placed a Hold on the registration renewal of this vehicle,“ the notice states. “Registration of this vehicle cannot be renewed until this past due fine is paid.’

That warning is true in counties where the Commissioners Court has agreed to block registrations or for those who attempt to renew their registration online through the state, but McClelland said it was not incumbent on HPD to inform motorists they still could register their vehicles in Harris County. He noted that tickets have been issued to vehicle owners in Fort Bend, Brazoria, and Montgomery counties.

Apparently, there’s some fine print on the back that says your local county tax assessor “may” refuse to register the vehicle. So it’s misleading and likely to fool people who don’t know that Harris County isn’t cooperating with Houston on this, but not a flat out lie. Not their finest moment, but at least there’s that. As you might imagine, camera opponents don’t much care for this.

City Councilman Mike Sullivan, an outspoken opponent of the cameras, said he found it “troubling” HPD sent out letters “stating a fact that is untrue.” He also questioned the document for having the appearance of being from HPD when it originated in Scotsdale, the home of ATS, the city contractor that installed the cameras at 70 intersections and administers the program.

“There is such a strong effort to collect a fine, that seems to be the primary message and focus of this notice,” Sullivan said. “It’s saying, ‘We’re going to tell you whatever we have to tell you to intimidate you to mail your fine in.’ They’re making their own rules and the public doesn’t know any better.”

With all due respect to CM Sullivan, the police lie to people all the time. It’s a widely accepted tactic for interrogations, with broad latitude being granted to detectives by the Supreme Court. I appreciate the concern – I certainly find a lot of this to be troubling – but if this bothers you, there’s a lot more where that came from.

And again, if the complaint is about the money, I reiterate my issues with that argument. I sympathize with the concerns about deception, but beyond that I find it difficult to feel sorry for the people who got these letters, especially since I know that if they ignore them, nothing will happen to them.

Another Wal-Mart-related neighborhood meeting

They Are Building A Wal-Mart On My Street continues to be a great resource for details about the proposed “Heights” Wal-Mart development. In this latest update, we learn quite a few things, including:

-There is a set ‘warehouse’ type of architecture; they noted the ‘Core’ apartments, and ‘Berger Iron Works’ on the corner plot of land. They intend to keep that type of neighborhood feel to the development
-It was described as a more modern warehouse/urban type of feel
-The retail anchor (walmart) has had no resistance to these requests
-Ainbinder assured that the infrastructure of the land, and surrounding, would be brought up to appropriate specs to support.


-The total development will be 24 acres; 15 acres of it will be Walmart
-The old ‘Sons of Hermann’ site is not included in the development. This is being developed by Bobby Orr.
-There is no plan for hi-rise, or mid-rise development
-Ainbinder/City are in the process of finishing traffic studies now
-Streets around the property will be widened/improved
-They are including plans to improve the Yale St. Bridge just south of I-10; they acknowledged that the bridges need to be renovated
-They are treating Heights Blvd. as a signature street in the development, central to Houston
-They are presently in the middle of all of the improvement plans
-Ainbinder has no information on delivery truck routes/planning/times
-Specifically, Yale, Koehler, Bass, and Bonner will need to be improved/widened. The current plan is to improve Koehler street up to Bonner, and Bass st. up to Bonner


-The Timeline for this project is for an opening to happen in the 1st or 2nd quarter of 2012
-14-18 months will be used for infrastructure improvements, and some parallel construction

There’s a lot more, there and elsewhere on the site, so click over and check it out. KTRK did a story on this as well. I’ll say this much – the nature and scope of the infrastructure improvements will be key to determining whether or not this is viable and ultimately acceptable to the community. We should be getting some details soon, so we’ll see.

TFN poll on public school curriculum

This is generally good news.

Eight of 10 Texans want high schools to teach contraception, including the use of condoms and abstinence, according to a statewide opinion poll that also shows high support for letting teachers and scholars write public school curriculum standards instead of the State Board of Education.

More than two-thirds of the respondents – 68 percent – agreed that “separation of church and state is a key principle of our Constitution,” although 49 percent also want to see “religion have more influence” on education. Only 21 percent said religion should have less influence in public schools.

The research arm of the Texas Freedom Network, a liberal-leaning group that monitors the board, commissioned the poll.


88 percent of the respondents believe public schools should be required “to protect all children from bullying, harassment and discrimination in school, including the children of gay and lesbian parents or teenagers who are gay.”

55 percent oppose using publicly funded vouchers that allow some students to attend private and religious schools.

72 percent want teachers and scholars to be responsible for writing curriculum standards for schools, not the elected Board of Education.

Initially, 32 percent of the respondents opposed the State Board’s revisions to Texas’ social studies curriculum standards. The opposition climbed to 57 percent after the process was described.

You can get a copy of the poll report here; you do have to provide your name and email address to get it. The poll was done by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner, and the report is detailed, though it does not give crosstabs. While I find the results positive, my optimism is tempered somewhat by my belief that this is the sort of thing that polls better than it performs at the ballot box. I feel like there’s still a lot of people out there who give the “correct” answer to these questions but then support candidates who hold the opposing view. That may be because they value other issues more highly, it may be because they don’t know enough to realize they’re not voting in their interest, or who knows what other reason. Point being, while I’d rather have these numbers than their inverse, it doesn’t mean much at this point. The TFN press release is beneath the fold, and BOR, Abby Rapoport, and The Trib have more.

RIP, Bob Sheppard

Preceding George Steinbrenner in death was the legendary PA announcer Bob Sheppard, known as both the voice of Yankee Stadium and the Voice of God. If you watched the All Star Game on Tuesday night, you got to hear a recording of Sheppard introduce Derek Jeter; at Jeter’s request, a recording of Sheppard has announced Jeter’s turns at bat since Sheppard’s retirement in 2007, and will continue till Jeter hangs up his spikes. Let me again recommend Jay Jaffe and the links he provides – be especially sure to read Ed Alstrom’s words – for the best of what is being said about this extraordinarily well-loved man. Which makes me wonder – why isn’t he in the Hall of Fame? Surely he could fit in as a broadcaster. I smell a Facebook opportunity here.

Anyway. Robert Merrill, Eddie Layton, Sheppard, and Steinbrenner – if this isn’t the last vestige of my childhood saying good-bye, I don’t know what would be. If there is a heaven, Bob Sheppard is now announcing its new arrivals. Rest in peace, Bob Sheppard.

UPDATE: The Yankees paid tribute to Steinbrenner and Sheppard at last night’s game.