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February 8th, 2013:

Friday random ten: You can’t say that on the radio!

You might have heard, or heard about, Ravens QB Joe Flacco’s post Super Bowl f-bomb. That got me to thinking about the things you’re just not supposed to say, or to sing, on the radio. Here are ten songs on the aubject.

1. Who Are You? – The Who
2. Money – Pink Floyd
3. Bloody Mother Fscking Asshole – Martha Wainwright
4. Cotton Eyed Joe – The MOB
5. Laura – Billy Joel
6. Darling Nikki – Christina Marrs
7. Controversy – Fuckemos
8. Shave ’em Dry – Asylum Street Spankers
9. Add It Up – Violent Femmes
10. Sh*t Got Crazy – A.Dd+

I trust you’re familiar with most of the profanities contained within these songs. “Laura”, from The Nylon Curtain, has an f-bomb in it. Having cuss words in them didn’t prevent songs like “Who Are You” or “Money” from becoming radio favorites, in their original form. That doesn’t seem to be the case with more recent music – I’m thinking of songs like “Longview” by Green Day and “You Oughta Know” by Alannis Morrisette – but that may be because the naughty words in question are more obvious. “Darling Nikki” didn’t have any cuss words in it, but the line about Nikki “masturbating in a magazine” certainly caused controversy. Speaking of which, as far as I know the song “Controversy” has no bad words in it, but I figure if you name your band The Fuckemos, you’re pretty much conceding that you will not get any airplay. Finally, if you’ve never heard of “Shave ’em Dry”, it’s easily one of the filthiest songs ever written. (Interestingly, the Spankers recorded a clean version of that song for their first CD, which as far as I know they never performed live.) I’d say its main competition for that is ZZ Top’s “Pearl Necklace”, which to this day I can’t believe has ever been on a radio station’s playlist. Must be a lot of people out there who don’t know what that means. What’s your favorite example of musical foul language?

The 288-to-the-Medical-Center connector takes a step forward

I still have a bad feeling about this.

In a first step toward providing relief, transportation officials will spend the year winnowing six possible locations for reversible toll lanes that would provide a direct connection between the sprawling medical campus and Texas 288. They hope to start construction in 2014.

Texas 288 between U.S. 59 and Interstate 610 is the 25th-most-congested freeway in Texas, according to a Texas Department of Transportation analysis. And not all the blame can be assigned to Texans games at nearby Reliant Stadium or to tourists looking for the Astrodome.

“A significant number of motorists traveling along 288 between downtown and Brazoria County are traveling to the Medical Center,” said TxDOT spokeswoman Raquelle Lewis. The center includes more than four dozen medical institutions, employs about 100,000 people and has nearly 7,000 hospital beds.

Reversible ramps would allow traffic to flow faster in and out of the area during peak commuting times, Lewis said. The ramps would complement a larger project to add toll lanes on Texas 288 from U.S. 59 to Brazoria County.

Residents have until Feb. 22 to comment on the project to add a ramp connecting the freeway and the Medical Center south or east of Hermann Park. Plans call for a roughly $12 million flyover linking Texas 288 and a street around the center.

In addition to the freeway improvements, Houston plans to add one lane in each direction to Almeda Road between South MacGregor Way and Old Spanish Trail. Transit and pedestrian improvements also are planned for Main Street.

I’ve expressed my concerns before, and I don’t really have much to add to that. At best, I think this will mostly move some congestion from the highway to the connectors and the surface roads. It still won’t do anything about the backup at 59, which is what causes most of the delay on 288 as you head north past 610. Ultimately, the only solution to to the problem of too many cars trying to park in a limited area is to reduce the number of cars trying to park, which is to say to provide viable non-car alternatives. I have no idea what, if anything, is currently on the drawing board for that.

UPDATE: The Chron editorializes on the subject.

There’s gold in them thar pawn shops

This is a police story and a Helena Brown story, because everything is better when it’s a Helena Brown story.

CM Helena Brown

Houston City Council on Wednesday passed new rules on precious metals dealers despite a lengthy attempt to water down the ordinance by Councilwoman Helena Brown, who called it “safety theater” that would burden businesses and invade jewelry sellers’ privacy.

Officers in the Houston Police Department’s precious metals unit said reputable dealers already implement many of the new rules but said the ordinance – which requires a photograph and thumbprint of each seller and mandates dealers enter transactions into an online database – will help them catch crooks and recover stolen goods.

Brown sought to remove criminal penalties for violating the ordinance, to allow dealers more flexibility in when and how to report transactions and to scrap the rule requiring sellers to have a photo and thumbprint taken. Each amendment was easily defeated.

“Why even ask the legal, law-abiding people to submit to this? It’s not going to prevent crime and it’s not going to solve any crimes,” Brown said. “It’s ludicrous. We’ve gone way beyond what our Founding Fathers envisioned for this nation.”

She paraphrased a quotation, which she attributed to Thomas Jefferson, saying those who would give up liberty for safety deserve neither.

It’s always easy to make fun of Helena Brown, and Lord knows I indulge in it. Even when she may have a valid point, her long history of fruity paranoia and millimeter-deep understanding of things like history, government, and jurisprudence make her impossible to take seriously. (As Mayor Parker noted later in the story, her quote about liberty and security originated with Benjamin Franklin.) Having said that, it is reasonable to ask if these measures are likely to be effective, or if they’ll be more intrusive bother than anything else. HPD obviously thinks this is a good idea, and they said they did extensive outreach with the community and with precious metal dealers, but the story doesn’t have reactions from anyone who would be on the hook for these new procedures, so you can’t really judge from it. Fortunately, there was an earlier story on the subject, and in it a few dealers did offer their opinions.

Brad Schweiss, owner of Houston Gold Exchange since 1979, said he supports the reasons behind the proposals but said the rules amount to burdensome “overkill” and are coming well after the industry’s fever pitch during the national recession.

“Some of the things they’re implementing right now would have been really great about four or five years ago. They’re cleaning up the mess after the cattle are already out of the barn,” Schweiss said. “It may do a little bit of a good, but I think the net effect is next to zero.”

Schweiss added that reputable dealers have implemented many of the proposed restrictions voluntarily for years.

Aaron Davis, general manager of We Buy Gold Center, which has been in Houston for four years, said the proposed rules would exceed regulations on pawn shops, giving his competitors an advantage.

“The only thing we’re against is taking their mug shot and their fingerprints. Our customers have the right to their privacy,” he said. “They might be able to catch a few more people, but it’s too much.”

Schweiss and Davis said that if the new rules are approved, prolific thieves likely will sell stolen goods outside of Houston or will sell to an unscrupulous, unlicensed dealer.

So there was some pushback, and though it was framed in less apocalyptic rhetoric, these words are similar to CM Brown’s. I wouldn’t make too much of it – there’s only two people quoted, and their rhetoric is pretty standard issue business-speak for whenever a new regulation of some kind is proposed. If there was any actual, organized opposition to this, it sure did a good job of staying beneath the radar. In other words, it sounds like no big deal, and had it not been for another performance by CM Brown, it might not have even been a story. And if it had been someone other than CM Brown bringing these items up, it might have had an effect.

Laptops for all

HISD Superintendent Terry Grier would like to bridge the digital divide in HISD.

Terry Grier

Superintendent Terry Grier said his goal is to equip all 130,000 students in grades three through 12 with a laptop and hopes to start with at least some high schools next year. He will try to rally community support for the concept during his State of the Schools speech on Friday and plans to submit a formal proposal to the school board in coming months.

Details, including the price tag, are still being worked out, though one estimate puts the first-year cost for leasing hardware and software for high school students at roughly $10 million. Students would return the laptops when they graduated or left for some other reason.

“Technology is not something of the future. It’s here,” Grier said in an interview this week. “It’s not about teaching kids how to use computers. They already know. It’s about how we teach. It’s about how we engage students.”


HISD’s recently approved bond measure includes $100 million for technology infrastructure such as wiring. Grier suggested at a recent school board retreat that some funding could be diverted from textbooks. The HISD Foundation also is willing to try to raise money to offset some costs, said executive director Krista Moser.


HISD board president Anna Eastman said she wants to see a plan that would phase in the technology or start with a pilot program.

“At face value, giving every kid a laptop is potentially really exciting – the thought of a kid not having to lug around a lot of textbooks, teachers being able to access open-source,” she said. “That said, it’s really expensive and it would be an ongoing cost.”

Such technology efforts fail when schools don’t plan enough and don’t focus on the lessons they want students to learn, said Howard Pitler, a technology expert at Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning.

“At its worst, (districts) bring in a laptop or an iPad for every student, just using it to take notes. Don’t spend $600 on a spiral notebook,” Pitler said. “At its best, the computer changes the focus of learning from teacher-directed to student-centered.”

As we know, the McAllen and Fort Bend ISDs have been distributing iPads to their students. It’s too early to know how well that’s going, I think the potential of such a program is clear. Eastman’s concerns are valid, and Pitler’s caution should be heeded, so we’ll want to have a plan before proceeding. But I think this is a good vision for Grier to have, and I’d like to see it happen.

TEC approves texting campaign contributions

From Jerad Najvar:

After brief discussion and comments by Jerad Najvar, attorney for Harris County Republicans, the TEC voted unanimously to approve a draft opinion permitting Texas political committees to accept contributions by text message. APPROVED OPINION HERE (the first page is a diagram of each method)

The request proposed two methods for processing text message contributions. One method would have permitted a political committee to accept small-dollar contributions without collecting the contributor’s identifying information, relying on the ability of political committees to accept small-dollar contributions without itemizing contributor information on its campaign finance reports. Although the FEC has approved this method for unitemized contributions, the TEC has previously decided (in Advisory Opinion 207) that Texas law doesn’t permit acceptance of even the smallest of contributions from an anonymous source. This method, therefore, was not approved.

The second method proposed that the committee use a series of reply text messages to collect the contributor’s name, address, and other required information before processing the contribution. This is the method approved today. The final opinion also confirms that the processing firms do not make a prohibited corporate contribution by advancing a portion of each confirmed text contribution to the political committee pursuant to a normal business agreement (in other words, the committee doesn’t have to wait until the contributor pays the cell phone bill before receiving some of the funds).

See here for the full opinion, and here for the background. I think this is perfectly sensible, and I’m glad to see it happen. I doubt this will be revolutionary, but it’s certainly a tool every candidate and grassroots campaign should have in its bag. I will be very interested to see how this gets deployed in the coming elections.