Reading Around on December 23rd through December 29th

A few interesting links collected December 23rd through December 29th:

  • Fun phrases in Latin – Ridiculum sum, ergo sum
  • Glenn Greenwald – Karl Rove: Champion of “traditional” divorce – [he ] engineered multiple referenda to incorporate a ban on same-sex marriage into various states’ constitutions in 2004 in order to ensure that so-called “”Christian conservatives” and “value voters” who believe in “traditional marriage laws” would turn out and help re-elect George W. Bush. Yet, like so many of his like-minded pious comrades, Rove seems far better at preaching the virtues of “traditional marriage” to others and exploiting them for political gain than he does adhering to those principles in his own life:Karl Rove granted divorce in Texas
  • Animated stereoviews of old Japan ::: Pink Tentacle – In the late 19th and early 20th century, enigmatic photographer T. Enami (1859-1929) captured a number of 3D stereoviews depicting life in Meiji-period Japan.

    A stereoview consists of a pair of nearly identical images that appear three-dimensional when viewed through a stereoscope, because each eye sees a slightly different image.

Texas and Death Row

Is there hope for Texas? We’ll see…

Dead Duck

Even in Texas they are having their doubts. The state that executes more people than any other by far – it will account for half the prisoners sent to the death chamber in the US this year – is seeing its once rock-solid faith in capital punishment shaken by overturned convictions, judicial scandals and growing evidence that at least one innocent man has been executed.

The growth of DNA forensic evidence has seen nearly 140 death row convictions overturned across the US, prompting abolition and moratoriums in other states that Texas has so far resisted.

But the public mood is swinging in the conservative state, which often seems to have an Old Testament view of justice. A former governor, Mark White – previously a strong supporter of the death penalty – has joined those calling for a reconsideration of capital punishment because of the risk of executing an innocent person.

The number of death sentences passed by juries in Texas has fallen sharply in recent years, reflecting a retreat from capital punishment in many parts of America after DNA evidence led to the release of scores of condemned prisoners.

The number of death sentences passed annually in the US has dropped by about 60% in the past decade, to around 100.

“In Texas we have seen a constant stream of individual cases that really destroy public faith and integrity in our criminal justice system,” said Steve Hall, former chief of staff to the Texas attorney general for eight years, who is now an anti-death penalty activist.

[Click to continue reading Texas accounts for half of executions in US – but now has doubts over death row | World news | The Guardian ]

The vocal and partisan Christian Taliban minority in Texas has given the state a bad name, but perhaps they might come to their senses, in our lifetimes. How can killing an innocent man be reconciled with their god’s commandments? It cannot, so either the Christian Taliban has to give up their doctrine, or change their government’s behavior in in their name. Rick Perry would rather kill a few innocents than admit he might be wrong, will he remain governor?

Lone Star Lame Duck

In Dallas county alone, 24 people have been exonerated and the new district attorney has created a conviction integrity unit to examine other suspected miscarriages of justice.

Recent attention has focused on a high profile case which may become the first officially acknowledged miscarriage of justice which led to a man being executed.

The governor of Texas, Rick Perry, has been accused of gerrymandering a commission examining the evidence against Cameron Todd Willingham who was executed in 2004 for the murder of his three young daughters in an arson attack on his home. Perry abruptly replaced the chairman of the Texas Forensic Science Commission as it was about to hold hearings into a report by its own expert, who described the conviction as based on “junk science”. The new chairman called off the hearing.

Gloves Are Off in Texas Race

Texas Governor’s race is already amusing, even though it hasn’t officially begun yet

Charges of economic cluelessness and political hackery are flying in Texas as U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison challenges Gov. Rick Perry for the Republican nomination for governor.

The primary isn’t until March and the big bucks haven’t yet been spent on advertising, polling or voter-luring barbecues in this large and heavily Republican state.

But from the get-go the race has been fierce, even by the bare-knuckled standards of Texas politics. For instance, both sides have taken to posting attack videos on YouTube, referring to one-another as “Kay Bailout” and “Tricky Ricky.”

Mr. Perry, who appeals to the conservative wing of the party, took office in December 2000 and is already the state’s longest-serving governor. Ms. Hutchison, who was elected to the Senate in 1993 with 67% of the vote, is more moderate and considered one of the most popular officials in the state.

That makes for a high-profile battle, one that is often seen as a microcosm of the national debate within the Republican party over its future direction.

[Click to continue reading Gloves Are Off in Texas Race –]


What I’m hoping for is that the loser of this race of losers pulls a Joe Lieberman, and runs in the general election as an Independent, thus splitting the Republican vote.

Drought Wilts Texas

This doesn’t bode well for my portable water slide business1

Wisconsin countryside

A combination of record-high heat and record-low rainfall has pushed south and central Texas into the region’s deepest drought in a half century, with $3.6 billion of crop and livestock losses piling up during the past nine months.

The heat wave has drastically reduced reservoirs and forced about 230 public water systems to declare mandatory water restrictions. Lower levels in lakes and rivers have been a blow to tourism, too, making summer boating, swimming and fishing activities impossible in some places.

Nearly 80 of Texas’ 254 counties are in “extreme” or “exceptional” drought, the worst possible levels on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s index. Though other states are experiencing drought, no U.S. counties outside Texas currently register worse than “severe.” In late April, the USDA designated 70 Texas counties as primary natural-disaster areas because of drought, above-normal temperatures and associated wildfires.

[Click to continue reading Drought Wilts Texas –]
[non-WSJ subscribers use this link]

Catch Anything?

[The Pedernales River running over limestone formations at Pedernales Falls State Park, west of Austin.]

and in the 21st century Water Wars we often joke about, these sorts of restrictions will only become more dire.

As Texas aquifers and reservoirs dip to record lows, threatening municipal water supplies, the biggest cities — Houston, Dallas, Austin, San Antonio — and 230 others have implemented water restrictions on residents.

San Antonio’s water department is encouraging residents to report neighbors if they catch them violating restrictions, and since April more than 1,500 citations have been issued, said department spokesman Greg Flores.

In Central Texas, Lake Travis and Lake Buchanan are down 55% and 49% in volume, respectively. They provide drinking water to more than a million people, including residents of Austin.

Sunrise Late ride
[Sunrise over Lake Michigan]

Does make me glad to be living so close to such a massive amount of fresh water in the Great Lakes, and not in Texas.

  1. lame joke indeed, but am pressed for time []

Houston versus Chicago redux

Apparently, The Economist interviewed some Social Systems Architect and Houston booster by the name of Tory Gattis who claimed that Houston’s metropolitan area would soon surpass Chicago’s metropolitan area, but Mr. Gattis goofed, and really meant to say Philly. Cecil Adams corrects him in his usual manner:

Crowne Plaza at Night

My aim here isn’t to run down Houston (well, not my main aim), but simply to point out that it’s in a different stage of development from Chicago. Chicago was a boom town a hundred years ago; Houston is a boom town now. Like a lot of other Sunbelt cities, Houston is currently experiencing double-digit population growth; metropolitan Chicago, like many more established urban areas, is growing at single-digit rates. That’s not a problem; it’s what you’d expect. The real issue in Chicago and other older urban areas in the century just past was whether the central city would be able to stabilize once the fat years ended. For a long time in Chicago that was in doubt — between 1950 and 1990 the city proper lost almost a quarter of its population. After that things leveled off. Although some parts of town continued to decline, others boomed, downtown in particular — its population increased almost 40 percent between 1970 and 2000 and is now around 165,000, larger than any other Illinois city except Aurora. So I wouldn’t worry too much about Chicago’s lack of dynamism.

The more interesting question now is how well Chicago, Houston, and other U.S. cities are preparing for the future, when life is going to be way different due to rising energy costs. This is a vast topic I won’t attempt to explore now; I’ll just say you’re probably going to have an easier time of it in Chicago — at least in the city proper. That’s because the central city is becoming more densely built up, and thus supports better (if still inadequate) public transit. Chicago’s density as of 2000 was about 13,000 per square mile, and many neighborhoods are much higher — the Near North Side is approaching 50,000 per square mile. Houston’s density in contrast is about 4,400 per square mile. When gas prices were low that didn’t matter much (although traffic congestion in Houston is notoriously bad). But prices have increased sharply and will rise more due to growing worldwide demand once the economy recovers. Largely for that reason, U.S. transit usage in 2008 rose to its highest level in 52 years, while driving declined. Some cities are better equipped to handle this shift than others. However dismal you may think CTA service is, transit in Houston is worse. The city is belatedly attempting to rectify matters by building light-rail lines, but it’s so spread out there are limits to what can be done. Suburban Chicago is also thinly populated and faces a similar dilemma. Infill housing construction in the city of Chicago, on the other hand, has become a growth industry — city residential building permits accounted for just 7 percent of the metro total in 1990-1995 but 40 percent in 2007. Greater density will make it easier (not easy) to improve Chicago transit, which Lord knows could use it. Houston? Good luck.

[Click to continue reading Straight Dope Chicago: Will Houston soon make Chicago the fourth city?]

I’ve never resided in Houston, but I have spent enough time there over the years to know that it would never1 be on my list of top 1000 cities to live in. Chicago has its problems and weaknesses, but they are piddling compared to the weaknesses of Houston.

From Mr. Gattis’s blog:

Housing repossessions are still very rare; the state budget is still in surplus even as California and New York teeter on the edge of bankruptcy. Unlike those fellow states with large populations, Texas levies no personal income tax, and with almost unlimited space on which to build, its houses are big and affordable.

All this has brought people flooding in and made Texas America’s fastest-growing state. Net domestic inflows have been running at around 150,000 people in recent years, whereas California and New York have seen net outflows. Next year’s national census is expected to show that flourishing Houston has replaced struggling Chicago as America’s third city (an unfortunate error, as we are expected pass the Philadelphia metro in 2010, but it could be decades before we pass Chicago as either a city or metrosee here). Of the ten largest cities in America, three are in Texas.

[Click to continue reading Houston Strategies: The Economist special report on Texas and TX vs. CA]

What More Can I Say

Again, fast growth is not always a plus2, and living in a city where one can walk or take public transit to places is infinitely better than having to drive a car3 everywhere.

  1. at least in its current state []
  2. just ask former Wall Street darlings like Enron and Global Crossing []
  3. and get stuck in traffic []

Reading Around on April 17th through April 24th

A few interesting links collected April 17th through April 24th:

  • FiveThirtyEight: Politics Done Right: Messing with Texas – “What Texas could choose to do, however, is to divide itself up into as many as five states, a privilege given to it as a condition of its annexation to the Union in 1845. What would Texas look like if it chose to do this? Would dividing a large, red state into five smaller, reddish states benefit Republicans in the Senate? In the Electoral College?The answers are not so clear. But first things first, we need to come up with a logical way to divde Texas into five parts.”
  • Fritinancy: Ms. Dowd Interviews the Inventor of the Telephone – MoDo “sat down with Mr. Bell, 39, and his assistant Thomas Watson, 22, and asked them to explain why they shouldn’t be condemned to a slow, painful death.

    ME: The telephone seems like letter-writing without the paper and pen. Is there any message that can’t wait for a passenger pigeon?

    BELL: Possibly the message I’d like to deliver to you right now.”

  • Gapers Block : Drive-Thru : Chicago Food – Wait, No Need to Soak Those Beans – “One revelation, to me, was the idea that beans need not be soaked before cooking–provided that they are cooked slowly for a long time. In a recipe called Gloria’s Pork Ribs and Red Beans, the red beans are rinsed, and are thrown right into the pot. The beans slowly rehydrate as they cook with the other ingredients, for about 2 hours.

    This recipe looks quite tasty: I’m making a variant as soon as I can get into my kitchen.

Reading Around on March 24th through March 27th

A few interesting links collected March 24th through March 27th:

  • Is Jon Stewart Our Ed Murrow? Maybe… – Mr. Stewart. Yes, he makes funny faces and starred in Death to Smoochy, but, along with Stephen Colbert, his ability to entertain is what lends him his authority in the first place. Think about it. Why should we care who this or that newspaper publisher endorses for president? Answer: we only care because we care about the editorial influence on the audience. Presidential candidates don’t go seeking the endorsement of high school newspapers because, well, dude, kids don’t vote. Stewart and Colbert have the audience that powerful people want to reach; yet at the same time, these two men do not participate in a pack mentality, and that’s what makes them politically invaluable (and at this point, irreplaceable).
  • The President Vs. the Press – The Daily Beast – There you have it. CNN wants emotions, theatrics, the stamping of feet, mano-a-mano anger, and outrage contests. This is a presidency defined by cable news food-fights and Maureen Dowd-style armchair psychoanalysis. Obama wants to “know what he’s talking about,” pick the best policy to achieve it, and explain it as calmly as he can to his country. … Take a look at the blogging of the news conference by the New York Times’ Helene Cooper and Jeff Zeleny: At 8:28, Cooper writes: “Finally! A break from the wonkish budget talk.” Eight minutes later, Zeleny adds, “At the half-way mark, Mr. Obama has yet to make much news.” In the meantime, Obama has been trying to explain, in part using the press and in part going over the heads of the press, why what he’s trying to do with his budget will address the source of their concern about their futures. Where’s the fun in that?
  • All Ears: Dancing with the Scars (Emotional Ones) – Photo Credit: Seth Anderson
  • Beer drinkers could purchase direct from local breweries under compromise plan | Texas Watchdog – Shiner beer photo by flickr user swanksalot, used via a Creative Commons license.

Reading Around on March 10th through March 11th

A few interesting links collected March 10th through March 11th:

  • Can't blame Perry for avoiding me at taco eating bash – "In a computer search, I discovered that since March 2, 2001, I have had at least 25 columns in which I've made references to "Rick Perry" and "hair." Now that's a lot of Rick Perry hair jokes. Now, that's not as many jokes as David Letterman has made about what the hookers are doing on Times Square, but it's up there.

    Also, over the years, I have done seven columns in which "Rick Perry" and "adios mofo" appeared in the same text. These were references to when Perry told a TV reporter just that. So after today, we're up to eight "adios mofos."

  • Sam's Club to Offer Wine in a Barrel – "Move over boxed wine — Sam's Club this week will begin offering wine in a barrel.

    The retailer will carry Sonoma. Calif.-based Red Truck Wines' new three-liter Mini-Barrel, a trademark- and patent-pending barrel design featuring the iconic wine-barrel shape, complete with rings, staves, a wood-grain look, and burned-in imagery and typography."

By Meat Alone

“Texas Monthly” (Emmis Publishing)

Calvin Trillin ruminates about Texas barbecue, and a recent Texas Monthly article purporting to list the top 50 joints. I’ve never been a huge fan of BBQ, Texas, or any style, but I’ve eaten it enough times, and have stopped into many a shack on the highway between Austin and East Texas.


In discussions of Texas barbecue, the equivalent of Matt Damon and George Clooney and Brad Pitt would be establishments like Kreuz Market and Smitty’s Market, in Lockhart; City Market, in Luling; and Louie Mueller Barbecue, in Taylor—places that reflect the barbecue tradition that developed during the nineteenth century out of German and Czech meat markets in the Hill Country of central Texas. (In fact, the title of Texas Monthly’s first article on barbecue—it was published in 1973, shortly after the magazine’s founding—was “The World’s Best Barbecue Is in Taylor, Texas. Or Is It Lockhart?”) Those restaurants, all of which had been in the top tier in 2003, were indeed there again in this summer’s survey. For the first time, though, a No. 1 had been named, and it was not one of the old familiars. “The best barbecue in Texas,” the article said, “is currently being served at Snow’s BBQ, in Lexington.”

I had never heard of Snow’s. That surprised me. Although I grew up in Kansas City, which has a completely different style of barbecue, I have always kept more or less au courant of Texas barbecue, like a sports fan who is almost monomaniacally obsessed with basketball but glances over at the N.H.L. standings now and then just to see how things are going. Reading that the best barbecue in Texas was at Snow’s, in Lexington, I felt like a People subscriber who had picked up the “Sexiest Man Alive” issue and discovered that the sexiest man alive was Sheldon Ludnick, an insurance adjuster from Terre Haute, Indiana, with Clooney as the runner-up.

An accompanying story on how a Numero Uno had emerged, from three hundred and forty-one spots visited by the staff, revealed that before work began on the 2008 survey nobody at Texas Monthly had heard of Snow’s, either. Lexington, a trading town of twelve hundred people in Lee County, is only about fifty miles from Austin, where Texas Monthly is published, and Texans think nothing of driving that far for lunch—particularly if the lunch consists of brisket that has been subjected to slow heat since the early hours of the morning. Texas Monthly has had a strong posse of barbecue enthusiasts since its early days. Griffin Smith, who wrote the 1973 barbecue article and is now the executive editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, in Little Rock, was known for keeping a map of the state on his wall with pushpins marking barbecue joints he had been to, the way General Patton might have kept a map marked with spots where night patrols had probed the German line. I could imagine the staffers not knowing about a superior barbecue restaurant in East Texas; the Southern style of barbecue served there, often on a bun, has never held much interest for Austin connoisseurs. But their being unaware of a top-tier establishment less than an hour’s drive away astonished me.

[From Letter from Central Texas: By Meat Alone: Reporting & Essays: The New Yorker]

Trillin asked Evan Smith how come Snow’s came to be chosen number one.

He did acknowledge that his decision to name a No. 1—rather than just a top tier, as in the previous barbecue surveys—came about partly because everyone was so enthusiastic about Snow’s product but partly because its story was so compelling. Smith himself was not in a position to confirm the quality of the product. Being from Queens is not the only handicap he has had to surmount in his rise through the ranks of Texas journalism: he has been a vegetarian for nearly twenty-five years. (The fact that he is able to resist the temptation presented by the aroma of Texas pit barbecue, he has said, is a strong indication that he will never “return to the dark side.”) As a longtime editor, though, he knew a Cinderella story when he saw one. It wasn’t just that Snow’s had been unknown to a Texas barbecue fancy that is notably mobile. Snow’s proprietor, Kerry Bexley, was a former rodeo clown who worked as a blending-facility operator at a coal mine. Snow’s pit master, Tootsie Tomanetz, was a woman in her early seventies who worked as the custodian of the middle school in Giddings, Texas—the Lee County seat, eighteen miles to the south. After five years of operating Snow’s, both of them still had their day jobs. Also, Snow’s was open only on Saturday mornings, from eight until the meat ran out.

Continue reading

[also the Texas Monthly piece on Snow’s is worth a glance for the photos, provenance and bona fides…]