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April 5th, 2014:

Saturday video break: Baby Come Back To Me

Time for some vocal harmonies, and a great place to start with that is The Manhattan Transfer. Here’s their oft-covered version of “Baby, Come Back To Me (The Morse Code Of Love)”:

If you’re around my age, you probably saw them perform that on a PBS special or something like that. Possibly you knew or were in a college a capella group that performed it as well. According to Wikipedia, TMH dedicated their version of this song to The Capris, who did it before them. Here they are:

Not bad. I like TMH’s rendition better, but it’s easy to see why they’d feel a debt to The Capris. And because I so seldom get to give a shoutout to my hometown in this context, here are some of my Staten Island homeboys doing this on what must have been a public access cable show from back in the day:

Could have done with a little better sound mixing, and more camera focus on the lead singer, but overall I’d say they did a mighty fine job.

Enforcing non-discrimination

In her annual State of the City address, Mayor Parker put a long-awaited item on the table.

Mayor Annise Parker

Mayor Annise Parker

Mayor Annise Parker on Thursday said she would create a human rights commission to review violations of anti-discrimination laws, saying just talking about equality in the nation’s most diverse city is not enough.

“We don’t care where you started your life, the color of your skin, your age, gender, what physical limitations you may have or who you choose to love,” Parker told the audience at the Greater Houston Partnership’s annual State of the City luncheon at the Hilton Americas. “Yet Houston is the only major city in the nation without civil rights protections for its residents.”


Parker said she has made an effort in recent months to speak with groups concerned about the proposal, including the Greater Houston Partnership, which sponsored the State of the City address.

“Their concerns were generally, ‘Why would you even want to bring something like this up? Things are going so well in Houston, and our international reputation is so good. You will bring the crazies out. It will make Houston look bad,’ ” the mayor recalled from a meeting with President and CEO Bob Harvey and Chairman Paul Hobby last month. “But that’s never a reason not to do things and, until they actually have an actual ordinance in front of them to attack, it is what it is.”

Parker said it was the second time she met with Partnership leaders to avoid “surprising anybody” as she works to transform the idea into a written ordinance. She said she hopes to have an ordinance ready for a City Council vote in May.

The Mayor did talk about other stuff, but this is what dominated the stories. While the usual suspects did the usual whining about this, Mayor Parker also got pushback from some reliable allies.

Maverick Welsh, president of the Houston GLBT Political Caucus, said he thinks Parker’s fear is that if the ordinance includes private-sector employers, it won’t have enough votes to pass the council. However, Welsh said the Caucus supports an ordinance that includes citywide employment protections.

“If you favor an ordinance that does not include private sector employment, you’re siding with the right of employers to discriminate,” Welsh told Lone Star Q on Friday. “My opinion is, put the right ordinance on the table, let the council vote on it in the open. Let them vote on it in the open, so the community can know, and hold people accountable. I don’t see any reason for us to compromise on this issue. Discrimination is discrimination.”

Welsh added that the Caucus will still support the proposed ordinance if it doesn’t include citywide employment protections. “I don’t think the perfect has to be the enemy of the good,” he said.


Welsh said the argument against citywide employment protections is that they would amount to over-regulation that hurts business. But Welsh said citywide employment protections would actually make Houston more competitive.

“If we have these protections in place, we’re going to attract the best and brightest talent,” he said.

Welsh said some also believe that if the ordinance includes citywide employment protections, opponents will gather enough signatures to place a recall on the ballot — a relatively simple process in Houston. But Welsh said he expects that to happen no matter what.

“She’s going to take all the political heat for this anyway,” Welsh said of Parker. “We compromise against ourselves, and they still go crazy.”

The Mayor had previously come under fire for not being quicker about bringing this forward. The Houston GLBT Caucus did issue a statement in support of the proposal, but the anecdotal evidence I’ve seen so far suggests the grumbling will continue for awhile. If Mayor Parker does bring this to Council on May 7, it will be on the heels of the Uber/Lyft ordinance, so I think it’s fair to say things are about to get interesting at City Hall. Personally, I agree with Maverick Welsh – I see no reason not to go full monty on this. You may wind up where the proposal is now as a reasonable fallback, but aiming for that position from the beginning was never going to calm the haters or keep the hand-wringers from wringing their hands. It’s what they do, so you may as well budget for it. We’ll see how it goes with Council. You can see a full copy of the State of the City address here, and Campos has more.

Perry special prosecutor is “concerned”

As are we all.

Rosemary Lehmberg

A special prosecutor investigating whether Gov. Rick Perry abused his authority when he eliminated state funding of the Texas public integrity unit — which investigates government corruption and is housed in the Travis County district attorney’s office — said what he’s found so far is “concerning.”

“I cannot elaborate on what exactly is concerning me, but I can tell you I am very concerned about certain aspects of what happened here,” San Antonio attorney Michael McCrum said in an interview with the Austin American-Statesman and KVUE-TV.

In that same interview, McCrum would not indicate whether he thinks a crime was committed when Perry withheld $7.5 million in state funding from Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg’s office because she didn’t resign after she pleaded guilty to a drunken driving charge a year ago.

Asked by the Statesman and KVUE if his concerns pointed specifically at Perry or his staff, McCrum said, “Yes.”

Perry announced last summer that he would veto funding to the state’s public integrity unit if Lehmberg didn’t step down once the guilty plea was made public. Lehmberg didn’t resign, and the governor followed through on his threat, vetoing the two-year, $7.5 million in funding.

McCrum, who plans to present his investigation results to a special Travis County grand jury next month, could not be immediately reached by The Texas Tribune for further comment.

Lucy Nashed, a spokeswoman for the governor’s office, said Perry stands by his actions.

“As he has done following every session he’s been governor, Gov. Perry exercised his constitutional veto authority through line-item vetoes in the budget,” she said.

See here, here, and here for some background, and here for the KVUE story. As has been discussed before, the point of contention is not that Perry vetoed the Integrity Unit funds, but that he threatened to do so unless Lehmberg resigned. It’s the threat plus the demand that may add up to a coercion charge. I have no idea what will happen with the grand jury, but I do know that if you take a shot at the king, you’d better bring him down. I look forward to seeing how this plays out. Juanita has more.

The new North Forest High School

I’m really rooting for them to succeed. It’s not going to be easy.

While most schools measure progress by test scores and scholarship dollars, North Forest High School students point to the lack of bathroom fires as a sign that their campus is improving.

They also boast that they now have access to soap, toilet paper and paper towels, which were rarities when the campus was under the North Forest Independent School District, which was so saddled with academic woes and financial mismanagement that the state ordered that it be absorbed by the Houston school district.

Other notable changes since last summer when HISD took over, according to students, are that the school is cleaner and smells better, and teens no longer congregate in the halls after lunch for a time they called “mall,” as in ditching classes so they could socialize like they would at the mall.

“It was like a party,” 17-year-old Jarvis Dillard recalled. “More people were probably outside class than inside.”

The way students and administrators tell it, the campus had spiraled out of control during North Forest ISD’s decline. While the community didn’t initially welcome the takeover ordered last year by the Texas Education Agency after a lengthy battle, students say they are thankful it finally happened.

HISD spent more than $1.6 million renovating the dilapidated northeast Harris County campus, including removing metal detectors that gave the school the atmosphere of a prison and apparently failed to keep weapons out. Students said the instances of fights and weapons have declined this year.

“Everything has become way better,” said Ana Medina, 18, a senior.


Pamela Farinas wasn’t sure what to expect when she was tapped for the job of principal, moving from HISD’s Gregory-Lincoln Education Center.

“It was everything I thought and nothing I thought in the same breath,” said Farinas, a graduate of Houston’s Yates High School. “It kind of depends on the day, which part of the onion you peel back … There are days when we are shocked at what we find.”

The work to be done is immense and the obstacles extreme, she said. In almost every other category, the campus had nowhere to go but up.

Test scores are well below state averages and attendance had sunk to 87 percent in 2012, 9 percentage points below the state average. Just 56 percent of high school students graduated in four years in 2012, compared to the state average of 88 percent.

More than 100 students are on probation or parole. Roughly 30 girls are pregnant or already mothers. A large percentage of students have at least one parent in jail. A significant number of students have substance abuse problems, including an addiction to synthetic marijuana called Kush. (Support groups for addiction, anger management and defiance were created this school year to help students cope and build better social skills.)

The schools reputation precedes it, with organizations denying them field trips because of students’ past behavior. An out-of-state college told the principal they don’t recruit from North Forest and suggested the campus consider changing its name.

It’s a sentiment shared by some of North Forest High’s new teachers, but not the community, and that’s a battle the principal does not consider worth fighting at the moment.

“We’ve got bigger fish to fry,” Farinas said.

A large part of the work this year has been making students understand that they are required to work hard and follow rules. It’s also been a challenge to get some parents to support that mission, she said.

“That has been our clash. It’s kind of a re-education: This is what school really is supposed to be like,” Farinas said.

As we know, the condition of most North Forest schools was appalling, and those that remain open have a lot of challenges to overcome. HISD has its own challenges and its own problems, but it’s hard to see how the transition from North Forest ISD to HISD can be anything other than a big step in the right direction. As I’ve said before, I hope HISD tracks the progress of the former North Forest ISD students to see how they fare in the new regime. But at least we can feel sure that the overall student experience has improved, and no matter what else happens that’s an accomplishment.

Astrodome: Deep Space Nine

This is now my favorite idea for What To Do With The Dome.

Houston, the final frontier

Right now the folks in Houston are trying to figure out what to do with the Astrodome, which has been sitting vacant for several years. Many plans for the dome have fallen by the wayside, including this multi-use approach which I really like. I’m going to throw my esteemed hat into the ring and declare that the Astrodome be converted into Deep Space Nine.

That’s right: a mega Star Trek tourist destination in the very city where the Space Program resides. This resort would look and feel like the space station seen in the show.

This is made possible by building the central hub and encircling promenade in the middle of the field, with three bridges that connect to the existing concourse in the Astrodome. The dome’s circular shape is quite handy here!

Thanks to the dome you can create a lot of celestial facades within, making it feel like you’re in deep space when you’re looking out of the windows of the station.

The resort would feature a hotel with lots of “housing quarters”, restaurants, bars, shops, and a casino (Quark’s bar and casino, naturally). In addition to the main bridge and promenade, other destinations would include “docked” spaceships like the Defiant. There is still plenty of real estate in the dome to include rides, a few space museums (of the non-fiction and science-fiction variety), Imax theaters, and so on.

Click over to see his illustration of how this would work. I don’t care how feasible this is or what the financing situation is, this needs to happen. Who’s with me on this? Link via Swamplot.