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January 14th, 2011:

Friday random ten: The top 500, part 9

Continuing on with the songs in my collection from the Rolling Stone Top 500 list.

1. Walk Away Renee – Southside Johnny and The Jukes (#220, orig. The Left Bank)
2. Moondance – Van Morrison (#226)
3. Fire and Rain – James Taylor (#227)
4. Mannish Boy – Muddy Waters (#229)
5. I Got A Woman – Ray Charles (#235)
6. I Fall To Pieces – Patsy Cline (#238)
7. Rocket Man – Kate Bush (#242, orig. Elton John)
8. Love Shack – The B-52’s (#243)
9. Gimme Some Lovin’ – The MOB (#244, orig. The Spencer Davis Group)
10. Mack The Knife – Bobby Darin (#251)

Back in the day when I did karaoke (we call this day “the 90s”), I loved performing “Mack The Knife”. It’s right in my range, and you can easily get a little fancy with it. Just off the top of my head, there are at least three songs here that were prominently featured in movies. “Moondance” was in “An American Werewolf In London” (the original, along with “Blue Moon” and “Bad Moon Rising”). “Gimme Some Lovin'” is another Blues Brothers song – it’s what they began their set with at Bob’s Country Bunker:

“Mannish Boy” has been in multiple movies, including “Goodfellas” and “Risky Business”, which is what I associate it with. Skip ahead to about the 5:20 mark here to see how they used it, or just watch all 15 minutes of gooey 80s goodness:

Remember when people thought Tom Cruise was cool? Those were the days. I have two versions of “Mannish Boy” in my collection, one a more folk-y version, and one more electrified, though neither is quite the same as that one. If you want to hear it through without any annoying dialog, here you go.

Entire song list report: Started with “Soul Meets Body”, by Death Cab for Cutie. Finished with “Stinkin'”, by the Asylum Street Spankers, song #5039, for a total of 117 this week. Still in the S songs, but definitely moving along. What’s on your playlist this week?

Let the redistricting begin

We’re a few weeks away from getting final Census data that will be used to redraw the boundaries for Houston City Council districts (and everything else), but here’s an early look at what to expect from the process.

City Attorney David Feldman said the city will redraw the district lines based on demographic information gleaned from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2010 population survey. The city planning department will come up with recommendations for the council by April 6, he said.

The city’s criteria will be based on creating districts with relatively equal populations, easily identifiable boundaries that maintain neighborhoods and communities of interest, that are contiguous, and that avoid concentrating minorities in only one area or in so many areas that their voting power is diluted, Feldman said.

Multiple public hearings and town hall meetings will be held before and after the planning department delivers its recommendations, and Parker promised it will be an inclusive process.

Any alternative proposals or advocacy must take into account the needs of the entire city, [Mayor Annise Parker] said.

“I have already seen individuals who are creating their own fantasy districts,” she told the council, suggesting that a lot of headaches could be avoided by remembering that “this is about a plan that redistricts the entire city.”

Parker elaborated in a news conference afterward: “The temptation is going to be for groups to say ‘You have to draw a seat that does X,’ ” she said. “We have to balance all of the issues at once and come out with a complete plan.”

Apparently, the Mayor was referring to Greg’s maps; he gives his response here. As Greg points out, anyone can run Daves Redistricting App on their personal computers, so trying to warn off the fantasy players strikes me as being about as useful and effective as imploring people to stop downloading music. More to the point, a truly transparent process should allow for this kind of input; indeed, it should welcome it. Nobody is going to get everything they want out of redistricting, but at least this way people can come to understand just how much work it is to accommodate all of the competing interests.

Honestly, I’d like to see people take the time and effort to put together a map they think is fair and can pass Justice Department muster, and then to advocate for it. Redistricting is often described as the time when the officeholders choose their voters, so why shouldn’t the voters take a turn at it? If you want to have a crack at it, start with the video of the Mayor’s Report from Wednesday’s Council meeting (parts 1 and 2). You have till May 6 to submit a plan that draws boundaries for all 11 districts and which conforms to all of the criteria Feldman lays out in that video. Best of luck to you if you try. Campos and Nancy Sims have more.

Ankle monitors

Also on the Commissioners Court agenda this week, Harris County will take another small step towards reducing its jail population by experimenting with ankle monitors for low-risk inmates.

Commissioners Court granted Sheriff Adrian Garcia permission Tuesday to do a trial run on 10 to 20 inmates who work outside the jail under armed guard. If the technology works, the sheriff would come back to the court with plans to try it on unsupervised inmates who would serve their sentences at home.

“We’ll seek permission and court orders to keep certain inmates in our custody, but not necessarily in our jail. Obviously, the idea is to keep Harris County safe and save money in the process,” Garcia told the court.

Last year, local judges sentenced about 800 offenders to serve their sentences on weekends, allowing them to leave jail and keep their jobs during the week. Those 800 inmates had to be booked into and released from jail approximately 10,000 times, the sheriff said.

“ ’Weekenders,’ as we refer to them, take up costly jail cells that we would otherwise want to save for accused offenders that are a true danger to the public,” Garcia said.

Seems sensible to me, and I hope it works out. I doubt it will have much effect on the jail population – as we’ve discussed many times by now, things like probation reform so that offenders don’t choose it as the less onerous option to jail time, and more use of personal recognizance bonds, will have a much more salutary effect – but every little bit will help, and all reasonable options should be employed. Grits has noted that ankle monitors aren’t a panacea and will still require manpower, so we’ll see how this experiment goes.

Harris County hands the Grand Parkway back to the state

Commissioners Court wants TxDOT to take over construction of the Grand Parkway.

Harris County took control of the project about 15 months ago in the belief that the Texas Department of Transportation did not have the money to build it, and that the county could come to an agreement with the state over how toll collections would be used.

Things have changed since then. First, County Judge Ed Emmett said, the Texas Transportation Commission has notified him informally that it expects to have $425 million available for the project this year.

Second, the county has not come to an agreement with the state on the use of toll revenues. The state has insisted that all toll revenue collected on the Parkway (also known as State Highway 99) needs to be spent on the Parkway itself.

The county wants to keep all the money collected on Harris County segments of the road in the county to pay for drainage projects, connector roads and other necessities the Parkway creates.

At a Transportation Commission meeting last week, Commissioner Ned Holmes said, “I think one of the challenges that Harris County faces is expending funds in counties that are not Harris County.”


“It is possible that the commission could commit some funding for Segment E in 2011,” said TxDOT spokeswoman Karen Amacker, if the county decides to give the Parkway project back to the state.

“We do believe that it is an important high-priority project, not just for the Houston area but for the entire state,” she said.

And I think it’s a terrible boondoggle that’s primarily going to hugely subsidize development in currently unpopulated areas. Why that’s a better idea than working to improve the parts of town where the people actually live remains a mystery to me. This story was written before the Commissioners Court meeting on Tuesday, at which they officially approved the plan. Let’s just say I’ll be hoping that there’s enough chaos in the Lege to make TxDOT lower the priority on this. Houston Tomorrow and KUHF have more.

Public universities can read the writing on the wall

With polling evidence suggesting that people are willing to accept some cuts in higher education funding, the only question for public universities and community colleges is how bad will it be?

“I think all of us felt as though we were making real progress for higher education in Texas after the 2009 session. Now, it looks like a lot of those gains will be lost,” said state Rep. Joaquín Castro, a San Antonio Democrat and vice chairman of the House higher education committee.

Public community colleges and universities already have begun grappling with budget cuts by increasing class sizes, shedding full-time employees and filling the teaching ranks with part-time professors.

Further cuts could force them to defer maintenance projects, reduce academic offerings and cut programs that aren’t core to the teaching mission, according to college leaders.

It also could mean higher tuition for students and families, and in the case of community colleges, higher taxes for local property owners.

“It is going to be a tough session. (Lawmakers) are not going to raise taxes, we know that,” said Ricardo Romo, president of the University of Texas at San Antonio. “There will be cuts, but no one knows where the cuts will be.”

Yes, when your local community college board of trustees votes to increase their tax rate, don’t blame it on them. The Legislature will have made them do it.