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June 7th, 2013:

Friday random ten: Movin’, movin’, movin’, though they’re disapprovin’

My office is moving downtown today. This is good in a number of ways – it’s closer to home, and I will have a much broader selection at lunchtime – and it’s bad in a number of ways – now I have to pay for parking, and moving generally sucks. So here are ten moving songs to mark the occasion:

1. Are You Gonna Move It For Me? – The Donnas
2. I Feel The Earth Move – Carole King
3. I’m Not Moving – Phil Collins
4. Move – Charlie Parker
5. Move By Yourself – Donavon Frankenreiter
6. Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song) – Billy Joel
7. She Moves On – Paul Simon
8. Slow Bus Movin’ – Fishbone
9. Still Movin’ – Julius Papp
10. The Way We Move – Langhorne Slim

I’ll be back next week with more songs about cities, assuming I can find everything after this.

Trying to read the Rick Perry tea leaves

The National Journal takes a crack at it.

The corndog ain't telling

Corndogs make bad news go down easier

Conventional wisdom holds that the longest continuously-serving governor in the country is done after almost 15 years on the job. But the CW might be changing: Maybe Perry wants another shot.

This year’s legislative session was notably free of the sort of conservative red meat Perry is used to delivering the year before he runs for re-election. The bipartisan tone legislators have struck was once taken as a signal that Perry didn’t need to rile up the base in advance of a primary election. But top Texas observers see things differently — specifically, a record that Perry could turn into a campaign platform.

The Austin American-Statesman headlined its weekend Perry story, “Session puts Perry where he wants to be,” and featured a litany of quotes from Democrats, Republicans, and independent analysts saying Perry has been as hands-on as ever in 2013, having mastered the levers of power at the statehouse. The San Antonio Express-News‘s Peggy Fikac laid the situation out thusly: “If Perry launches another bid for re-election or even president … some suggest the businesslike regular session could be more of an asset than the red-meat portfolio he carried into his first run for president.” Perry oversaw passage of a major water deal and over $1 billion in tax cuts this year, among other items.

Earlier, others observing the same session and seen the lack of new abortion laws or other conservative cultural issues as a hint that Perry wasn’t looking to stick around. “The last few months been filled with the kind of partisan intensity that characterized the run-up to Perry’s 2012 presidential run, when he … used his emergency powers to push conservative priorities on abortion, voter identification laws, property rights and immigration,” wrote the Texas Tribune‘s Jay Root, one of the state’s preeminent Perry chroniclers, last week. “A governor bent on a potentially tough re-election campaign would be expected to exhibit more aggressive and confrontational behavior,” Root continued. In April, the American-Statesman surveyed opinion in the statehouse and concluded that “Perry’s relatively low-profile performance this session” had helped convince many Texas political observers that Perry was a governor with one foot out the door.

So which interpretation is right? At the moment, neither; in the unknowable future, both.

So I guess that makes Perry Schroedinger’s Governor, existing in a state of running and not running at the same time. Let me make this simple for everyone. Only Rick Perry knows what Rick Perry will do. He will tell us when he’s good and ready. Rick Perry will do what he thinks is best for Rick Perry, because that’s what Rick Perry does. Nothing and no one else, least of all Greg Abbott and all those long-frustrated Republican higher office wannabees, figure into his calculation. Do I need to say it again more slowly?

And that stuff about Perry throttling back the red meat as a campaign strategy is so much malarkey. Like Abbott, the only voters Perry cares about or talks to are the Republican primary voters. If this session happened to be longer on issues than on crazy stuff, well, Perry has his reasons. Maybe he’s just toying with David Dewhurst. Who knows? Bottom line, don’t try to figure out Rick Perry. It’s a game you’ll lose.

Pushing for the Governor to sign HB5

While a lot of big ticket items were addressed by the Legislature during the regular session, not all of those bills have been signed into law yet. Among them are the big education reform bills, and proponents of fewer standardized tests are urging Rick Perry to sign them.

Six organizations representing a statewide coalition of advocates in favor of reducing the emphasis on high-stakes testing sent a joint letter to Gov. Rick Perry Monday morning urging him to sign House Bill 5 — the omnibus bill that would drastically reduce the number of state exams students must take and overhaul curriculum requirements for high school students.

The letter calls on Perry to sign HB 5 as soon as possible, stating the delay is costing schools money and hurting students. The letter also notes that 123,000 Texas high school students failed at least one state test last year and that early reports from several school districts “indicate that the number of students failing at least one test is likely to double.”

“Parents, teachers, education support staff and, most importantly, current ninth and tenth grade students across Texas are confused and unsure of their high school future,” the letter states.

Representatives from Texans Advocating for Meaningful Student Assessment and the Texas Association of School Administrators both signed the letter.

Many districts have started to plan for summer school, which includes remediation for students that failed the State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness, or STAAR, test. Remediation may be unnecessary if students failed a test no longer required under HB 5. Instead of the 15 tests students are currently required to pass, HB 5 requires high school students to pass end-of-course exams in Algebra I, Biology, U.S. History, English I and English II.

You can see a copy of the letter here.The Texas PTA also sent out a message asking its members to call Perry’s office in support of signing the bills. I haven’t seen any indication that Perry might veto any of these bills, but the DMN’s William McKenzie is arguing that he should.

For several policy reasons, he should veto HB 5, HB 866 and HB 2824. Those are the most important education bills coming to his desk.

HB 5 would reduce from 15 to five the number of high school end-of-course exams students must take. The proposal also would make it easier to graduate without the current four years of math, science, social studies and English. HB 866 would allow some students to skip annual testing in reading and math in some grades. HB 2824 would allow some districts to no longer give some of the state’s tests in grades three through eight.

Being the politician that he is, my hunch is Perry does not veto HB 5 outright. It is the main anti-testing bill. It has passionate support from suburban parents, some of whom urged him Monday to sign the measure. They also are key voters, and I don’t see him crossing them completely on such a visceral issue.

But he could veto HB 5 on narrow grounds, such as requiring legislators to revisit in special session the type of tests HB 5 reduces. He could send it back with guidelines for requiring fewer tests but making sure those few tests include state exams in key subjects.

For example, he could request that HB 5 require end-of-course tests in Algebra II and English III. They matter because they are seen as good predictors of a student’s readiness to do college work.

He also could send it back with instructions about improving applied math and science courses in high school. HB 5 would allow math and science courses that are aimed at trade jobs. Perry could say let’s make sure Texas has the best type of applied math and science courses in the nation.

HB 866 and HB 2824 are different matters. Perry has plenty of room to veto them outright.

HB 866 would require the governor to ask Washington for a waiver from testing in reading and math in grades three through eight. Testing in those grades is the backbone of No Child Left Behind. Despite that law’s bad press, the Obama administration has never let up on testing in those subjects in those grades.

Why should states let up on testing students in reading and math in elementary and middle school?

Don’t most parents want to know whether their kids are advancing in reading and math year over year? Don’t they want to receive each year the kind of detailed information that the state provides parents about their children’s work on STAAR tests? That includes their high-achieving children, whom HB 866 would exempt from some annual reading and math tests in grades three through eight.

McKenzie is now joined in his desire to see HB5 vetoed by the Austin Chamber of Commerce.

In this special session, the Legislature can fix House Bill 5. Here’s how:

• Reduce graduation testing by at least half. Continue to expect students to demonstrate knowledge at least on par with TAKS to graduate. If the Legislature doesn’t scrap end-of-course testing altogether and return to the TAKS, they should at least choose the six tests which cover the same content: algebra, geometry, biology, chemistry, physics, and English 11/writing.

• Continue to place students on an internationally competitive course of study. In House Bill 5, this would be either an endorsement or the distinguished course of study. Continue to ensure parents have a major say in the decision made about their child’s graduation plan.

• Ensure each endorsement requires students to learn content in physics and algebra II or statistics (applied or traditional). Manufacturing is built on these skills.

• Continue to keep all incentives like college scholarships, top 10 percent automatic admission and university admission aligned to student completion of that competitive course of study.

• Ensure innovative courses which teach traditional content in a hands-on way first receive approval from Texas’ Education commissioner or the State Board of Education to ensure that, if the family moves, credits transfer with the child.

• Fund the state to train every high school counselor thoroughly on the raft of new options, graduation plans, seals and college eligibility requirements.

This approach reduces testing, reduces mandates, increases flexibility, keeps the system simple but doesn’t lower expectations.

I blogged about HB866 before, and I disagree with McKenzie on this. I think if there’s one place you can dial back on testing, it’s with the students that have already demonstrated a clear grasp of the material. I have mixed feelings about HB5, and I don’t know anything about HB2824. I don’t know how likely a veto of any of these are, but I do know that Sen. Dan Patrick sponsored HB5 and co-sponsored HB866, and I have a hard time believing Perry would stab him in the back like that. Be that as it may, Perry has till June 16 to decide on all the unsigned bills, so to whatever extent you think you can influence his opinion, now is the time to contact his office and let them know how you feel about this legislation.

What’s in a neighborhood name?

Keep Houston Houston has had enough of “fake” neighborhood names.

“Lower Westheimer” – This does not actually exist, it’s just Montrose. Or “The Montrose” if you wish to rebel against popular linguistic conventions without going full retard.

If Google says there's a Neartown, there's a Neartown

If Google says there’s a Neartown, there’s a Neartown

“Neartown” – This also does not exist, it’s just Montrose. This appears to have been an 80′s or 90′s era attempt to rebrand Montrose as something other than Montrose, and only appears on official documents. Even the Realtors don’t use it, and Realtors tend to be on the forefront of linguistic murderation (see: “Craftsman”). It should be scrubbed completely from the record.

“Washington Heights” – Again, this does not actually exist. There are legitimate grounds for nitpicking over what to call the small finger of the original Heights plat that extends south of IH-10, but this is a miniscule area – and in any event, if it’s part of The Heights, then it is simply The Heights. If you live off Washington, you live off Washington. If you live in an area covered by another historical name, like “Rice Military” or “Cottage Grove,” that works too – although I’ve always tended to look askance at people who use sub-neighborhood names. It’s as if they’re too elitist for general neighborhood or street names. “Oh you live in Avondale? Tell me more.” However, Washington Heights is right out.

OST/South Union, too

OST/South Union, too

“EaDo” – Seriously? No. No, no, no, no, no. The proliferation of faux New York City style names needs to stop, and it might as well stop here. You can say “Eastside,” or you can say “Third Ward.” There’s no other cutesy names to mine from (like “Cottage Grove”) because historically speaking, no one lived there.

Now, some might argue that this isn’t actually Third Ward. These people are wrong. If you want to see what is and isn’t the Third Ward, walk into Ninfa’s on Navigation and scope the map they’ve got hanging up front by the waitstand. Now find the area to the immediate east of Downtown. See what ward it’s in? Yep. You in the Tre, homie. You too, Eastwood.

“OST / South Union” – This is another one of those names, like “Neartown,” that appears to have been an attempt at top-down rebranding when the Super Neighborhoods were drawn up. But everything west of Cullen and south of Griggs is pretty clearly “Yellowstone” (or “The Yellowstone”), and with all the development focused on Palm Center this will probably end up being the default name for the Griggs/MLK intersection, which was originally part of the South Park plats. There is no other unclaimed land to apply this moniker to, so let’s throw it out along with the rest of ‘em.

I grew up on Staten Island, the last and least of New York City’s five boroughs. To the rest of the world, we simply say we’re from the Island when asked of our origins, but to fellow Islanders we say what neighborhood we’re from. The local newspaper, the Staten Island Advance, is obsessively meticulous about identifying the neighborhood for each person, business, or event it reports on. A part of my eighth grade social studies curriculum was the history and geography of New York City in general, and of Staten Island in particular. Our teacher, Mr. Kapacinski, showed us a map of the Island with each neighborhood detailed. I don’t recall if we were ever tested on that, which is just as well because there’s dozens of those neighborhoods and you can drive yourself crazy trying to remember where Castleton Corners ends or where Dongan Hills begins, but there was a time when I was reasonably proficient with it.

The thing about that map, though, is that it was completely subjective. No one had ever done an official survey and determined exact boundary lines. As Mr. Kapacinski told us, each neighborhood was what the people that lived there called it. Any Islander worth her salt can tell you what her own neighborhood is, but only the most hardcore can say with confidence what and who else is or is not in that neighborhood. Some older neighborhoods like Tottenville or Stapleton, one-time home of the Stapes, are fairly well-defined, but thanks to the housing boom that followed the construction of the Verrazano Bridge in 1964, there’s a whole lot of people living in places that were once empty. Those places needed to be called something, and as there’s no Department Of Neighborhood Names to rely on, what they decided to call themselves is what the rest of us now call them. If that area used to be known as something else back before it was developed, well, that’s the way it goes.

This is all a very long-winded way of saying that I disagree with Keep Houston Houston on this. Frankly, given how dynamic and ever-reinventing Houston is, I don’t see the point in saying that there is none but The Heights or The Montrose or The Third Ward, and any newfangled names are an abomination before me. Sure, some of these names are shameless attempts to glom onto the cachet of an area that has never extended to that particular location before – there’s a reason why every development on the outskirts of The Heights calls itself Something Heights – but it does at least serve the purpose of pinpointing where it is. The Third Ward is a pretty expansive place, encompassing a lot of what now really are separate and distinct neighborhoods. I don’t think anyone objects to the moniker “the Museum District”, even though it’s technically in the Third Ward. Why should EaDo be excluded from polite conversation? It maybe too cute a name for one’s tastes, but it’s nowhere close to the Museum District in location or character. Let it be its own place, I say. And if next month someone plans an EaDo Heights development – that big former KBR property is going to be called something else someday – I can live with that, too.

Note, by the way, the embedded pictures above. They’re clipped from Google Maps, the result of searching for “Neartown, Houston” and “OST/South Union, Houston”. With all due respect to KHH, if Google says something exists, I say that’s a pretty strong prima facie case for it. I’ll stipulate that the others remain figments, at least for now, but thirty years on I’ll stick with Mr. Kapacinski’s rule: A neighborhood is what the people there call it. You may not like the names they’ve picked, but as with old school grammarians and the word ain’t, it’s a fight you’re going to lose.

Since I started writing this post, KHH posted a followup that was largely in response to this riposte from John Nova Lomax at Houstonia. KHH takes the beginning premise in some other directions, and since I don’t want to rewrite all this from scratch I’ll just leave that be. Really, I just wanted to say that one can’t dictate neighborhood names, and that especially in a city that changes as much as Houston does you should expect the names to change as well. Finally, if your objection is that a lot of these new names are just marketing efforts by realtors and/or developers, isn’t that how most of the old neighborhoods got their names, too? If the likes of “EaDo” and “Washington Heights” really are ephemeral, then in the fullness of time we’ll all forget they ever existed. If not, who cares how they came to be named?

Do you want more information about potential hurricanes?

The National Hurricane Center is giving you what you want.

Sometime during this Atlantic hurricane season, which began Saturday, forecasters will start issuing five-day outlooks – that is predicting where storms may form five days in advance.

The expanded outlook is one of several new products being developed by forecasters as computer modeling of hurricane formation and movement improves.

The five-day outlook will be similar to the hurricane center’s existing graphical tropical weather outlook, which provides an overview of tropical activity anticipated within the next 48 hours. This information, which has proven accurate, in text and graphic form shows areas of possible tropical development and assigns a percentage chance they will become a tropical depression or storm within two days.

The new tool will assign probability that a certain area of disturbed weather will become a tropical depression or storm over a five-day period, said Dan Brown a senior forecaster at the National Hurricane Center and its coordinator of warnings.

In addition to longer-range outlooks on storm formation, forecasters are also considering issuing warnings for systems that have not yet developed into a tropical depression or tropical storm.

With some storms, it is apparent they will develop into a tropical system, but by the time they eventually do such a system will be too close to land for the warning to have that much practical effect. An example is Hurricane Humberto, which rapidly developed off the Texas coast in 2007 before moving inland north of Galveston.

“Watches and warnings before formation are likely several years away,” Brown said. “It will likely require another one to two years of in-house testing.”

Don’t look for these until after 2015, at the earliest, Brown said.

Hurricane Humberto formed as a tropical storm in the Gulf of Mexico, and came ashore as a hurricane the next day. If there had been any need to evacuate, there would not have been the time to do so, it was that quick. If what the NHC is doing can give a little extra notice for events like that, it could make a big difference. I look forward to seeing what they come up with.