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January 29th, 2012:

Weekend link dump for January 29

To everything there is a season, and that season starts with pitchers and catchers.

“If you are a consumer of conservative media, you get constant reminders — every day, multiple times a day — that you absolutely must not believe anything you hear or read in any news outlet that is not explicitly conservative.”

Fans of soccer know that it’s boring. They like it that way.

Would “The Life Of Brian” be made today?

We just rode between the cars on the NYC subway.

This is why we need comprehensive, fact-based sex education.

The guy responsible for one of the greatest headlines ever is up for parole.

Freedom’s just another word for whining about being inconvenienced.

“Apple’s mind-bogglingly greedy and evil license agreement”

This is wrong on so many levels.

Some useful anti-social media tips.

Feel the fear and loathing the Republican establishment has for Newt.

I’m just wondering how, if this is true, it was his thigh that got injured. On second thought, I don’t want to know.

I believe those are crow tacos he’ll be eating.

Just go read The Slacktivist. I can’t say that often enough.

Fact checking should be about checking facts, don’t you think?

The conservative media cartel puts out a hit on Newt Gingrich. Pass the popcorn. Of course, they don’t anyone to blame but themselves for him.

The pill is now on sort of equal footing with Viagra.

RIP, Juan Epstein.

The climate change denial industry is getting back to basics.

About that “solution” for bike trail obstruction

Me, last month:

Meanwhile, two weeks ago there was a story about TxDOT closing the White Oak Bayou Hike and Bike Trail between Ella and 34th streets while there is construction on the service road for 610 North at East TC Jester. The closure was scheduled for two years, without an alternate route that bicyclists thought was adequate. Fortunately, after meeting with bike activists, TxDOT made some changes to accommodate riders a little better. I’ve been meaning to get over there and take some pictures but just haven’t had the chance. Anyone here have experience with what’s going on at this location?

A reader named Andy wrote to me that he had had a close look at this area, and it’s not as you would expect based on that report. He sent me some of photos to illustrate, two of which I will show here. First, a view of the White Oak Trail from the north:

That looks pretty blocked to me

And a view from street level:

A view of the blocked trail from grade level

Andy writes:

I took photos of this mess on Monday (Jan 23) […] In short, the construction company working for TxDOT decided to bury the section of White Oak Trail which runs under 610 with the dirt they removed while leveling out other sections. They didn’t have to do this, but it was faster and cheaper than having to haul the dirt somewhere else. Other than the dirt, there is absolutely no construction going on there right now, and there were no construction vehicles there at all on Monday.

TxDOT and/or Karen Othon apparently has been claiming that the trail closure was for safety reasons, but this is simply nonsense. They could use a chainlink and plywood safety barricade over the trail just as other construction companies have used downtown to keep pedestrian access open, and limit total closure of this section of White Oak Trail to the same times that they close TC Jester (when doing overhead crane work, such as lifting and setting beams, the same as they did when rebuilding Ella’s 610 overpass). This however would be less convenient for the construction company, since it would be an additional cost and they would also need to find another place to pile the dirt they removed while leveling other areas.

While taking photos, I also witnessed no less than 20-25 people in about a 30 minute or so time span going around and over the dirt piled on the trail (I had to wait for many to get out of the frame so I could take photos). A number of hikers climbed right up and over the dirt (which is not safe at all for reasons which can be seen in the photos from the north end of the dirt pile), while other pedestrians and bicyclists used the sidewalk on the west side of TC Jester which runs parallel to White Oak Trail, and then crossed under 610, (which is just dirt and loose gravel). This route likely won’t remain an option once demolition and construction begins on the three existing bridges though. I also saw several people walk down the bayou embankment and follow the flat concrete basin to bypass the blocked trail and walk right under 610 (also not terribly safe, due to the steep incline).

Somehow TxDOT is going to have to come up with an option other than blocking White Oak Trail until late 2013 because people are clearly not going to stop traveling through the area.

And in a followup email, Andy writes:

When I was speaking with Tom Gall via email yesterday, he mentioned “My understanding is that the soil on the trail will serve as a platform for the piling cranes and isn’t just spare soil but we certainly need to keep an eye on them.” If that is what TxDOT has been claiming in the public meetings (they only claim they closed the trail for “safety reasons” on their website), then it would seem TxDOT’s contractor needs to use a crane with a longer boom and/or a different sort of jib. I can’t see the ~10ft width of the trail making all that much difference anyway when they bring in a large crane with a diesel-driven pile driver attachment (which is the type of pile driver they would most likely use if they are going to be installing prestressed concrete piles). I would actually be surprised if they located a crane that close to the bayou embankment because of the steep grade and danger of tipping the crane over too. There also appear to be stockpile markings on the soil that has been piled over the trail.

You can see in the photo of the north end of the trail just how dangerous they’ve made it with all that reinforcing mesh/wire sticking up out of the dirt. It was when I was taking photos from grade level (which was around 5:30pm) that I saw people heading north on the trail and climbing over and going through that mess. With all the people clearly unwilling to stop using the trail, if TxDOT and their contractor doesn’t come up with another solution, and soon, someone is very likely to end up hurt and then turn around and sue to city. With all the budget shortfalls, the last thing the city needs is another lawsuit.

Also, the retaining wall made of decorative concrete bricks is still in place. They just buried it under all that dirt. I would like to know what they’ve done with the metal safety railing they removed though. That railing was custom made and expensive

My thanks to Andy for sending this along. It doesn’t sound like a good situation to me. I don’t know who needs to take this up with TxDOT, but they do respond when enough of a fuss is made. Let’s make that fuss for them, shall we?

SCOTUS declines to hear strip club tax case

The end of the road for this particular bit of litigation.

The U.S. Supreme Court will not take up the adult entertainment industry’s lawsuit against the state’s $5-per-patron strip club tax, justices decided Monday.

“Texas is now one step closer to a sustainable source of funding for rape crisis centers, and most importantly, for supporting sexual assault survivors in their recovery,” said Annette Burrhus Clay, executive director of the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault.

That means the Texas Supreme Court’s ruling — that the fee does not violate the First Amendment — stands. But it doesn’t mean that the industry, years into its legal battle, can’t file yet another suit against other elements of the tax.

The story doesn’t go into what other grounds there may be for litigation, and I don’t care to think about it at this time. Here’s a reminder of the timeline in this case, which first got a ruling from a district court judge in 2008. As I recall, it took about a decade for all the lawsuits over the city of Houston’s SOB ordinance to be resolved. Check back in 2018 or so, I guess.

Job growth was good last year

More hopeful news for this year.

Jobs and job growth for the region (Source: Greater Houston Parnership)

Boosted by gains in energy, manufacturing and retail trade, the Houston area added 75,800 jobs during 2011, a 3 percent increase over the previous year, the Texas Workforce Commission reported Friday.

“The numbers are impressive,” said Barton Smith, professor emeritus of economics at the University of Houston.

Improvement appeared to begin at the end of the summer and has been broadening over a greater number of sectors.

“The improvement in energy is now spilling over to the rest of the economy,” Smith said.

You may be looking at that 75,800 figure and saying to yourself “Didn’t we just see some better numbers than that for 2011? What gives?” You’re right, we did. The difference is that the numbers reported in that earlier post were for the November 2010 to November 2011 period, while these here are December 2010 to December 2011. What accounts for the difference? Barton Smith suggests the November ’11 numbers were a bit wonky. Here’s another explanation:

Last year the Austin area — and Texas as a whole — showed modest job growth at an annual rate of about 2 percent. Texas added 204,500 jobs last year, while the Austin area added 16,100 jobs over the year .

However, the rate of net job growth was negligible for December and well below the annual rates for Texas and the Austin area.

Alan Miller, executive director of the regional arm for the state workforce commission, said he doubts the survey is capturing Austin’s growth accurately.

“Personally, I think our local economy is growing and adding more jobs than what is reflected,” he said.

For example, he said there have been numerous news reports of software firms expanding or relocating here, but the workforce commission’s report reflects zero job growth in the information sector.

“I can’t explain that,” Miller said.

The data are based on a survey of employers and are updated monthly as well annually. For that reason, the monthly data indicate directions for the economy, but economists tend to favor the annual, corrected numbers.

In other words, it’s also quite likely that the December ’11 numbers are not accurate, and will be significantly revised when the next report comes out in March. So don’t panic.

“If it slowed down, it slowed down from a 100-yard dash to a mile run,” added Patrick Jankowski, vice president of research for the Greater Houston Partnership. “Maybe we’re finding the pace we can sustain over the long run.”

Jankowski also noted that local job growth in 2011 was the sixth strongest of the past 21 years. Houston saw year-over-year growth in all but four sectors: transportation, warehousing and utilities; information (which includes media); arts, entertainment and recreation; and government.

Austin saw government employment shrinkage as well. Unlike some people, I expect more of that this year, though I fervently hope not as much as there was last year. The Trib has more.