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January 31st, 2015:

Saturday video break: Existential Blues

I’m sure I have a few Dr. Demento fans in my reading audience. As such, I’m sure you’re familiar with Tom “T-Bone” Stankus and his stream of consciousness masterpiece:

There are some better videos that show Stankus singing, with some bonus monologue thrown in, but they both have embedding disabled. These videos are here and here. I’ve said this before, but I’ve actually been to Butte, Montana, and I regret that I didn’t call out “Is this really Butte, Montana, or just existential blues?” as we entered the city limits. In another life, I suppose.

You would think this would be a challenging song to cover. That didn’t stop Mr. Bungle:

Yes, it’s a medley with “Pencil Neck Geek”, another Demento staple. Here’s another version with somewhat better audio. Enjoy!

Perry re-files motions to quash indictments

As expected.

Corndogs make bad news go down easier

This corndog has done nothing wrong

Following the cues provided in a judge’s ruling this week, lawyers for Rick Perry filed a request on Friday to get an indictment against the former governor dismissed.

The new request noted “serious, well-founded concerns” that Judge Bert Richardson had in his ruling on Tuesday regarding the wording of the two charges against Perry: abuse of official capacity and coercion of a public servant.

“Governor Perry asserts that the deficiencies set forth below constitute defects of form and substance,” says David Botsford, an attorney for Perry, in the new motion.

While Richardson has allowed the case to proceed, he noted in his ruling this week that both counts were vague. Richardson wrote that the first count failed to state how Perry misused the funds by exercising his power to veto legislation. And in the second, Richardson questioned how the coercion charge, as written, failed to account for an exception to the charge Perry is allowed based on his gubernatorial authority.

See here for the background, and here for the new motion. Judge Richardson more or less invited Perry’s legal team to make a new filing, but he also gave special prosecutor Mike McCrum the opportunity to refile the charges and clean up the issues he noted. I don’t know if there’s a specific deadline attached to that, but I’d guess sooner is better than later for an update from McCrum. Trail Blazers has more.

The last time Texas was in the minority on a marriage issue

Those who forget the lessons of history are likely to get an unfavorable SCOTUS ruling crammed down their throats.

RedEquality

As the U.S. Supreme Court takes up the issue of same-sex marriage, Texas once again finds itself on the lonely side of a court fight involving the right to marry.

Almost 50 years ago, Texas was among 16 states that still banned interracial marriage — until a unanimous Supreme Court struck down those laws for violating the Constitution’s promise of equal and fair treatment under the law.

[…]

With gay marriage legal in 36 states — 25 by court order, 11 via voters or legislators and Alabama still to be decided — the court has cover to act “because this is the way history is going,” said Sanford Levinson, a University of Texas law professor.

“But it’s not merely that. You look at the polls today, the cultural conservatives have simply lost. The younger the people are, the more they support (gay marriage), and the more obvious it is we live in a different country from the one we did only 15 years ago,” Levinson said.

The situation was a bit different in 1967, when the court ruled on the case of Richard and Mildred Loving, a white man and a black and American Indian woman who were given one-year prison sentences — suspended if they stayed out of Virginia for 25 years — for marrying.

At the time, polls showed most Americans opposed interracial marriage, but 14 states had repealed bans in the previous 20 years — a trend that reinforced the high court’s willingness to attack racial segregation under Chief Justice Earl Warren.

The Warren court’s decision in Loving v. Virginia not only voided a Texas law that punished “any white person and negro” who married with two to five years in prison, it continues to cast a long shadow over today’s fight over gay marriage.

When U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia overturned the Texas ban on same-sex marriage last February, he quoted extensively from the Loving decision.

Same-sex couples, Garcia wrote, “seek to exercise the right to marry the partner of their choosing, just as the plaintiffs in Loving did, despite the state’s purported moral disdain for their choice of partner.”

And, just like laws banning interracial marriage, same-sex prohibitions subject gay couples to unequal and unfair treatment, he said.

Which the state totally, totally denies, because telling gay people who they can and cannot marry is completely different than telling black people (and white people!) who they can and cannot marry. It’s obvious, right? I’ve said multiple times that the state’s arguments all along have been bizarre and lame, and that continues to be true. Sometimes I wish I could fast-forward a couple of decades just to get a peek at what society will think about these stupid arguments we’re having now. On the one hand, the arc of public opinion is clear, and it’s easy to imagine that the America of, say, 2040 will have no idea what the fuss was about. On the other hand, I look at some of the issues that seemed to be settled forty and fifty years ago that are being re-fought now, and I wonder if anything is ever truly decided. But all in all, whatever our future selves this of us now, I know I’ll be happy to say what side I was on.

A first data point on the Uber/Lyft experience

I’ve been saying since the vehicles for hire saga began that we should circle back in a year or so and review how things have gone. Thanks to an academic study of users’ experiences with Uber, Lyft, and Sidecar in San Francisco, we now have a data point to suggest what we might expect here.

Uber

The study, conducted by Lisa Rayle, Susan Shaheen, Nelson Chan, Danielle Dai and Robert Cervero, surveyed 380 people intercepted in the evening in three popular San Francisco neighborhoods, where they had either just exited a car with one of these apps or used them recently. The group isn’t representative of all “ridesourcing” users in the Bay Area, as the researchers call them. But other data makes it possible to directly compare their experiences to taxi and transit use.

In one of their more striking findings, Rayle and co-authors found that 66 percent of the trips taken by people who use these app services would have been twice as long if taken by public transit instead (that’s if nearby transit was at least available). That number includes all of the time spent just waiting for the trip to begin.

[…]

Lyft

An Uber car doesn’t move any faster through traffic than a taxi does. But the study also found that passengers were likely to wait significantly less for a “ridesourcing” car than a taxi. Using data from a taxi survey conducted by the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, the researchers compared self-reported wait times for “ridesourcing” passengers and taxi riders, depending on the time of day and location in town.

During weekdays, 93 percent of “ridesourcing” passengers said they waited less than 10 minutes for a ride. For passengers ordering a Taxi, the same was true for only 35 percent of them.

[…]

When the researchers further divided this data by taxi zone across the city, they found that taxi wait times also differed significantly depending on location. Alternatives like Uber and Lyft, in other words, provided better service and service that was more consistent across time and location. Users prominently cited these advantages, along with the convenience of electronic payments, when asked why they used these apps.

It’s clear in all of this data that companies like Uber are filling an unmet need for better transportation. By doing so, they’re both complementing and competing with existing options. Many of these trips could not have been made easily by public transit, suggesting that these services supplement the transit network to some extent. Thirty-nine percent of people surveyed said they would have taken a taxi instead if these apps weren’t available. Another 8 percent, though, said they would not have made their trip at all if Uber, Lyft or Sidecar weren’t around. That means these companies are modestly expanding the market for rides, even as they steal business from taxis.

Read the whole thing, it’s worth your time. One thing this study highlights is the need for reliable and timely public transit, since a big reason why people used the TNCs in San Francisco is because they provided such faster trips, and often were the only viable alternative. This study also confirms that at least in San Francisco, cabs are losing business to the newcomers. They’re starting to fight back, which will warm the heart of anyone who believed that cab companies needed the competition. This is one study in one city, so it may not be representative of what’s happening elsewhere. I do hope someone does something like this in Houston.

From industrial to residential

More changes coming to my neck of the woods.

Some of the old warehouses lining a stretch of Sawyer Street across Interstate 10 from the Heights are being primed for new development, as this First Ward area continues to morph from industrial hub to an upscale artsy neighborhood.

Houston-based Lovett Commercial is transforming a 1950s warehouse at Sawyer and Edwards into Sawyer Yards, which will have about 40,000 square feet of space for restaurants, retail or offices.

The company is looking to fill another 5-acre parcel at 2000 Taylor just south of I-10 at Spring Street. The property is across from the Sawyer Heights Target.

H-E-B quashed rumors that it was considering opening a store there, though the grocery chain has been looking around.

“That’s not a piece of land we’re looking at,” said spokeswoman Cyndy Garza-Roberts. “We’ve had an interest of moving into the Heights area for several years now. We just have not been able to identify a location.”

Jon Deal, who has developed artist studios in the area, is planning another project at the old Riviana rice facility at Sawyer and Summer.

The project is called the Silos on Sawyer, and it will include artist studios, creative workspaces and some retail.

The main building contains more than 50,000 square feet.

Deal said he, Steve Gibson and Frank Liu of Lovett Commercial own – separately or in partnerships – at least 35 contiguous acres in the area.

They hope to master-plan the acreage.

“Ideally we’re going to be a campus-type creative community,” Deal said. “It’ll look and feel like a master-planned development in the end, although it’ll keep its raw edge.”

The area is part of a cultural district recognized by the state, Deal said. The program is not currently being funded, he said, but when it is, it will allow artists to seek grant money.

There’s an awful lot of activity going on in this general area, which stretches from Studemont to Houston Avenue between I-10 and Washington Avenue. I consider it a positive for the most part – the existing industrial area didn’t exactly add much to the quality of life in the larger area, and a lot of it is not actively used now anyway – but there are concerns. Mostly, traffic on the north-south streets – Studemont, Sawyer, and Houston – is already a problem, and there are limited options to ameliorate it. Sawyer, for example, is a narrow one-lane-each-way street south of the Target retail center, and as you can see from the embedded image or this Google Map link, there aren’t any other options thanks to the active freight train tracks, which by the way regularly block traffic on Sawyer and Heights. (This is part of the corridor that would be used for some variation of commuter/high speed/light rail, if and when it ever happens.) There is at least the off-road Heights bike trail along Spring Street that connects the area to the Heights (passing under I-10) and downtown (passing under I-45), and there is a sidewalk along Sawyer; it definitely needs an upgrade, and there’s a lot of potential to make it much nicer when the properties west of Sawyer get sold for development, but at least it’s there. The potential exists to turn this part of town into a compelling modern urban residential/mixed-use area. In the absence of any unified vision for the myriad developers to draw inspiration, I hope at least no one does anything to permanently derail such a thing.