Monday, February 06, 2017

HALV: $1.5 Billion (Yes, with a B)

As I was catching up on my Houston Stupid Bowl reading late last night and (too) early this morning my eyes wandered over to (Pulitzer Prize giftee) Lisa Falkenberg's obviously obligatory, cliche-filled "welcome to Houston column".

"Howdy y'all" and all of that.

All-in-all it's a fairly benign piece of fluff that reminds people that they are welcome in Houston, provided they behave and believe as a large slice of the ruling and courtesan classes want them to.

But then, buried within, I stumbled across this little nugget:

The bigwigs wouldn't tell us how much they spent to spruce up - it's a private NFL document! - but some officials have estimated around $1.5 billion.

That's $1.5 Billion with a capital B y'all. Money presumably spent mainly by "Houston First!" and the Super Bowl committee, with a majority of that funding coming from tax revenues. Of course, it's going to be said that this is what hotel and motel taxes are for and that the "public won't even notice it's missing" but for a city that's standing on the edge of a huge, gaping pension hole whose value determination is a little fuzzy, we might look back on that $1.5 Billion with longing eyes some day.

At this point I should mention that a real reporter (or group of them) would latch onto that document like a dog going after a T-bone steak and demand some accountability from the elected officials in City Hall, but I know they won't.  Because the heady issues in this column were an outdated ideal of holding open doors, and chastising people for the old-stereotype "Houston, we have a problem" (complete with reminding everyone that this is not what was really said).

Now, to be fair, despite my distaste for her writing, it's not entirely fair to place the lion's share of the blame on Ms. Falkenberg for this.  The editorial diktat that came down from above at the Chronicle was clearly "see no evil, hear no evil, speak (or write) no evil" about the big to do. It's very clear when  Chronicle sports dinosaur John McClain is running around on local radio shows chastising San Diego for "missing out on the Super Bowl in the future" by refusing to pony up taxpayer dollars to keep the Chargers in town that the increasingly popular idea of not providing public money to build Billion dollar play-pens for Billionaires is not something that's spread very far into the so-called watchdog press.

If newspapers want to understand, in part, why people are abandoning them in droves, they need to understand that their ideas are at least behind the time as is the technology they use to provide the news. Also, they all have people, similar to John McClain, whose careers have been so entangled in the leagues they cover that they've fully swallowed the leagues talking points and are incapable of regurgitating anything else.

The "Super Bowl is an economic shot-in-the-arm" fallacy is hard to kill. Part of the reason for that is because the NFL keeps the true expense of running the damn thing in a corporate secrets lock-box. They claim this despite having no competition that could use it to gain a competitive advantage over them.

In a time when the world is slowly coming to the realization that the Olympics are a financial disaster, it's amazing that newspapers and local TV news don't realize that the same economics apply to the NFL's cash cow.

Sunday saw the 3rd Super Bowl in Houston's history.  By all accounts the city put on a brilliant show, almost as brilliant as the game itself (which, as noted here, I didn't watch.)

Here's hoping we never have to do it again.

Monday, January 23, 2017

2017: The United States is an authoritarian country.

Americans don't like free speech, although they claim to cherish it.

This fact was driven home by all of the cheering that occurred when a Nazi got punched in the face during the inauguration. Apparently, other's right to free speech does not end where your fist begins these days.

To bolster their case supporters of l'affair de sucker punch are using old Captain America comic strips and WWII propaganda posters to support their cause.  This is OK but it ignores the fact that a.)Comic books are fantasy and b) the propaganda posters were selling war bonds, which provided the armed forces (the business end of American foreign relations) the ability to knock eight bells out of the Nazis.

These events led me to do some thinking, during which I tweeted out the following:

1. Most Republicans are not Conservative
2. Most Democrats are not Liberal.
3. A vast majority of Americans are authoritarians....PROVIDED the Government shares their values and beliefs.

By dropping the 'conservative' (corporatist/Statist) and 'liberal' (progressive/Statist) tags and viewing politics through an authoritarian spectrum what's happening right now begins to make a lot more sense.

Trump was not elected President by a conservative Republican party. He was elected by a group of people who disagreed with Obama and the Democrats trying to take away rights that they liked. It was less free-market, limited government thought than it was the thought that Trump would shut-down the crowd that they didn't like.

The media, and progressive commentators love to frame this as racism or homophobia, depending on which group is being targeted. And while there is some of that for most people it's more a desire to simply be left alone, to go about their own business and to not have to do business, or interact much, with people with whom they disagree. Their preferred method of dealing with this? Government fiat, which Trump has promised he will do.

What many conservatives really want is for progressive groups to be silenced, banned from the public square and forced to live their lives according to so-called "Judeo-Christian principles" on which they claim the country was founded.

Unfortunately, this tends to make Democrats very smug.

Democrats get that way because they've framed themselves, with ample help from the media, as the party of inclusion. The problem with this argument is that they are even more exclusionary than Republicans. Over and over in the media you see progressive talking-heads crying crocodile tears over the "death of the moderate Republican". This ignores the fact that the Democrats have long-ago shed the moderate Democrat from their party, more successfully and more completely than have the Republicans.

In truth, both parties, and their sycophants, want the same thing, just targeted toward different groups. A huge majority of Americans want the country's laws designed to support their way of life, their preferred belief system to the exclusion of everyone else. Tolerance for everyone except the intolerant is said with a straight face, and not a hint of irony.

The problem with free speech has always been that it tends to be a little messy.  True free speech means that neo-Nazis can be interviewed in the public square, that 'hate' groups are free to spew whatever vile message they want, and that around 1 Million people (mostly middle-class, Caucasian women) can gather in cities across the country and chant, scream, and ultimately litter up the place by leaving their signs behind as trash.

People are already calling this the "Left's Tea Party" which is odd because I thought that was why Occupy was supposed to be. But if this is some new-aged progressive tea party then the Republicans should be glad for this, because it was the uncertainty and political naivety of the Tea Party that led Republicans into the political desert for the last eight years. (In part, not in whole)

What the Democrats don't need right now is a political shuffling, a circular firing squad where their most moderate members (which, to be honest, is like having the most curable cancer) get picked off in primaries and are replaced with a group that can't shoot straight. They already suffer from sub-par leadership, imagine them with no leadership at all.

As the year goes on I predict that the cacophony is only going to increase in volume, will become more frequent and will suck up most of the remaining political oxygen in the country.

Because, if history has taught us anything, it's that people react the most violently when they're not exposed to differing opinions, beliefs and ideals, and begin to think that their world-view is not just different, but superior to the opinions, beliefs and ideals of "those people".

I am not optimistic that America in her current state can do much to stop this from happening.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

2017: The Year of Unprincipled Opposition.

Alternate title:  Why we are stuck with Trump.

When you lose, it's never a good look to go pout in a corner. Even IF you have a blowtorch that's willing to provide you with cover.

But that's the tack that the Democrats have decided to take.

We live in a time when America could use a healthy dose of principled opposition. Instead we're being given a partisan hissy fit that's indirectly leading to the President Elect being who he is. Even the Republicans are either marching in lock-step, or going off the deep end (Hi Evan McMullin) with no seeming middle ground.

The fact is, not everything that Trump has done so far has been awful. He's been petulant with the media of course, and has all of the tact of a constipated black bear, but aside from displaying a tendency to try and bully watchdogs and silence critics he's done an OK job selecting cabinet members etc. Most of them (gasp!) have been fairly conservative.

Of course, Conservative is the rub for the Democrats. Having an EPA director that doesn't toe the Al Gore "enrich my investment groups" line is somehow viewed as disqualifying. Groups that are beholden to the Gaia lobby suggest conflicts of interest where there are none, all while ignoring the very real, and very lucrative conflicts that they carry into the debate.

So we're up to about 30 congressional Democrats who are refusing to attend. John Lewis of course, the civil rights activist who was correct on segregation, but is a little dodgy on the Constitutional process to elect a President. Keith Ellison (D-Minn) has also said he's taking his Socialist-leanings and going to spend his time playing with a "my little tractor" toy set. Or something.

Of course, almost every celebrity is sitting this one out, either because (as John Legend claimed) artistic people tend to not like hate or (more likely) because performing there would lead to severe personal cost both financially and physically. If there's one thing our progressive elite love, it's a good outrage as a chance to financially ruin or threaten physical harm toward those who don't toe the public line (It's the same for some of you Republicans, so lose that smug look.)

Of course, a celebrity-free inauguration is a good thing for the health of the Republic, something our "hee-hee" media seems unwilling to comprehend, or an angle they are unwilling to report. In fact, any lessening of the Presidency as it currently stands can only be viewed as a positive. The President is not our national daddy, despite what Chris Rock thinks.

Nor is the President a monarch or, Constitutionally, designed to be all that powerful. Our lazy elected representatives have made the office that way by refusing to worry about the details of sweeping legislation, leaving them to unelected bureaucracies operating under the Executive branch. Separation of powers? Bah. Humbug!

But what's bad for our elected officials might be a good thing for us. And no, that's not hypocritical. Because by attending the inauguration, and supporting the concept of a smooth transition of power, the Congress persons would be fulfilling a job duty essential to the functioning of the Republic. By refusing to do so they are suggesting that the very thing that makes us American, fealty and faithfulness to the Constitution and the rule of law, is no longer valued by our leadership.

Our ignoring of the hand on the Bible thing tells a different message. It tells the government that we, the people, don't give two cents worth of care about their little dog and pony show. That we are in charge and we choose to do something else why they put on airs and prance around the yard like trained monkeys barking for coins.

Mines horse-racing and college basketball this weekend then.  What's yours?


Thursday, January 12, 2017

Texas Leadership Vacuum: Patrick's Potty Principles are dominating all other issues.

At this rate, the 140-day Texas Legislature Session can't be over soon enough....

Lawmakers spend Day 2 sparring over Capitol rules. Mike Ward and Bobby Cervantes, HoustonChronicle.com

The House spat began when Rep. Matt Schaefer, R-Tyler, offered an amendment to a general "housekeeping" resolution that House lawmakers take up at the start of every session to establish their operating rules. The proposal would have allowed restrooms on the House side of the Capitol to be used only by "a person based on the person's biological sex," the one on their birth certificate.
....
House Administration Committee Chairman Charlie Geren, a Fort Worth Republican who authored the rules resolution that typically passes without issue, immediately objected. He insisted that the amendment had nothing to with House operations and noted that policies governing statehouse restrooms are controlled by the State Preservation Board, of which he is a member. 
 
So the entire argument, which took over half an hour, was really involving something that shouldn't have been an argument in the first place.

This is just outstanding.

And it's only going to get worse as a certain wing of a certain party seems bound and determined to make this entire session about Patrick's Potty Principles, playing right into the hands of lefty bloggers and politicians who are obsessed with the matter and see this (wrongly in my opinion) as the opening toward their path back to majorities in the Statehouse.

The fact of the matter is that, even IF these laws are passed (and I don't think they will be), the impact on the work-a-day lives of the average Texan is going to be immaterial. There are a lot of ways in which State government can truly affect your lives for the worse, but these bathroom bills aren't one of them.

This is par for the course with politics today, given the recent allegations that President-Elect Donald Trump is a fan of the pee as well, and we're all going to be worse off for it.

Because every minute spent on this is a minute not spent addressing the real issues facing the State in terms of transportation, other general infrastructure etc.  You know, things the government should really be concerned about.

I never thought I'd say this, but save us Speaker Straus.  Either that or Texas Government is going to devolve into a small-time parody of the Federal Government.

If we're not there already.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

The Texas Leadership Vacuum: Patrick's Potty Principles.

The Texas Legislature begins it's bi-annual session today, and our august elected officials are going to be tasked with trying to resolve a host of issues.  Of course, there's the usual, the ONE duty that they are Constitutionally REQUIRED to perform: The passing of a budget, and then there's the usual hodge-podge of other issues for which "Something! must be done."

Education funding is always a hot topic, with the Teacher's unions and school administrators associations always promising that Texas is "just around the corner" from being "world class" if ONLY the Lege could find it in their hearts to take several more Billion from the taxpayers and place it in their care.  Roads need to be funded, bridges need to be repaired, all things we are firmly assured CAN be done with just a few Billion more of your dollars.

But Lt. Governor Dan Patrick has a different set of priorities.  Call them Patrick's Potty Principles if you will they involve ensuring that all Texans use the restroom that God intended them to, and that there be no shuck about what is, or is not proper.

My feeling is that we don't need a law.  That private businesses should be allowed to set up whatever potty arrangement they choose, that a bakery in Cleveland could have "Men's and Women's restrooms" while a restaurant in the Montrose neighborhood of Houston might opt for the gender neutral option. To each their own place to pee and all of that.

But peeing in a stall, or at a urinal with dividers etc., is a far different matter than community showers, troughs etc.  Society struggles with what to do there, especially in a public school setting. Because while we can all agree that the idea of gender neutral public showers in a High School might not be the best of ideas, it's a little harder to determine what the transgender student should do should they wish to clean themselves off after a Summer's hour of physical education. (side thought: do they even require Phys Ed any longer? Or did getting rid of sodas and bake sales in schools solve our child obesity problem?)

Is it better to force a transgendered female, who FWIW might be attracted to boys, be shoe-horned in with the male population because their birth certificate shows a certain chromosome pattern?  When framed in that manner this morality play is somewhat different isn't it?  So while there's certain to be plenty of talk about "privacy" and "perverts" it's probably better that this whole ordeal be left unaddressed right now until we really understand the reasoning behind the special accommodations we're proposing in the first place. This bill seems to be an attempt to use a hammer to remove a splinter. Perhaps an option allowing limited individual showers and restrooms would do? I'm not sure, but right now we're only being given a choice between the two extremes. Either you allow people to enter wherever they want, or you restrict them to the room that the Christian Lord intended. That's less a choice than it is a 5 year old's debating style.

Another cost?  Most of our (needed) political discussion is going to be dominated by who tinkles, and where.  This is not a good thing because, and let's face the facts here, so little of Texas' political conversation is carried out among adults (hence the 5-year old's choice).  Children obsess over potties, as well as social-conservatives and progressives obviously, and I can't see where any of this is going to do us any bit of good. Did it do Houston any good when then-Mayor Annise Parker pursued her folly to the bitter, acrimonious, divisive end?

Of course, the urban-centric progressives in Texas see this as an opportunity. They feel that business, pretty much standing against this law, is looking for an alternative and, by-golly, it should be them.  What they fail to realize is that business doesn't WANT the party of Wendy(?!?) Davis in charge, anymore than they want Dan "Potty Principles" Patrick Republicans running the joint. They want the party of Texas Speaker of the House Joe Straus, the (currently) Republican party of Straus. Because the Democratic party of Texas long ago purged itself of most of it's moderate wing, which has made their fair-trade, organic, munchy-crunchy, soak-the-wealthy and businesses brand of politics untenable except when identity politics are in play.

There's an old saying in Texas politics that, when the Texas Legislature is in session, Texans would be wise to "hold on to their wallets".  That's changed in recent years, for the worse.

When the Texas Legislature's in session most Texans would be wise to keep one hand on their wallets, and the other on their private parts.  Because increasingly both parties seem way too interested in either telling them what to do with them or flat-out trying to punch them there.

Meanwhile, there's likely to be less money to waste this time around which would seem, to me, to be a bigger issue than Patrick's Potty Principles.

Monday, January 09, 2017

Bad Media: Trump might bring so-called "fact-check" media to an end. (Maybe the one thing I support him on)

Ever since the news site that I refer to as Politifarce was awarded the increasingly worthless Pulitzer Prize in 2009 I've been over "fact-check" reporting.  For one, it rarely checks facts, instead accomplishing nothing more than allowing a reporter to opine on major issues of the day.  And no, this is not about media "bias" (which exists) but is more about just shoddy reporting and bad framing of the news of the day.  8 years later, in 2017, almost every newspaper still trying to claim they are relevant and significant in the national political conversation (none of them are) have aped the idea and have their own little "fact-checking" sites that use Pinocchios or some other silly measure of conveying to the reader which data-points align with their opinion.

With Trump however, things are finally starting to spin out of control.

First, a disclaimer.  I did not vote for Trump, I do not support Trump, His Presidency is not only not my monkeys, but it's nowhere near my circus. There are a ton of people who support Trump and I think that's A-OK, just as I thought it was A-OK that many people supported Hillary Clinton, despite her being just as bad as the Bronzed Ego.

If there's one area where Trump and I agree however it's where the media is concerned.

Need proof?

The Washington Post just "fact-checked" a statement that they admitted was an opinion.  A damned opinion.

Yahoo! (not known for journalism excellence) just fact-checked intentional hyperbole.

And both of these sites were serious.

So, if Trump's little four-year Presidential play-time run results in things like Politifarce and others being totally discredited than good for him.  I wrote earlier that I think 2017 might be the year that we stop treating celebrities like enlightened deities and if it is also the year that we require good, solid news reporting then that's also fine.

Here's an idea:  "Meryl Streep said this at the Golden Globes last night. President elect Donald Trump responded with this."


Period, end of story.  Trust the reader to be able to look at the quotes and figure it out for themselves. No need to "explain the news" or provide ham-fisted "news analysis" from some cub reporter with a journalism degree and little real-world experience, no reason to get "expert opinion" from carefully selected experts who will offer up the preferred narrative, just report the damn thing and walk away.


And yes, Streep IS overrated and hasn't made a truly great movie since Silkwood.

There, I said it.

Monday, January 02, 2017

2017: The year we stop being slaves to celebrity.

I am not now, nor have I ever been, a huge fan of New Year's resolutions.  One reason for this is that they almost never are sustained, the second is that the turning of a calendar is a silly reason to think that you're going to start anew and suddenly live a new life that you haven't for how ever many prior years you've schlepped along the surface of Gaia.

That said, I think, collectively, that the New Year CAN provide us with new opportunities to look at some things since we feel that we are "closing" one chapter and "starting" another on Jan 1.  With that in mind, it's high time that, as a society, we come to an agreement that being "famous" for whatever the reason, is no reason for a person to be allowed an outsized influence where their opinion is concerned.

In short: No, to Kanye West for President.  Just no.

Nor should we care what Leonardo "grunts" DiCaprio thinks about climate change, or that Katy Perry cried on election night, or that Lena Dunham has a deep desire to kill unborn babies to increase her activist cred. This also means that the political rantings of Amy Schumer, Harry Belafonte (who?), Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, George Clooney and Samuel L. Jackson should be roundly ignored.

When you consider that the bar for fame has been lowered to "willing to strip bare for Instagram" you start to see just how silly our infatuation with fame really is. Now, granted, I'm not a fan of fame, I've never watched a "reality TV" show, I couldn't pick many of the Kardashians out of a police line-up. Given that I'm probably akin to an old man sitting on my e-porch screaming about "those damn kids". But, and this is important, those kids are just doing what the media tells them they should do.

On the one hand, we obsess over STEM classes and knowledge while, on the other hand, we glorify a bird who thinks STEM is short-hand for people's reaction to her legs and who believes that nude selfies are the epitome of high art. Then we all sit around and wonder why Donald Trump becomes President?

Now, I don't have any problems with actors, artists, musicians, dancers, models doing their thing. I laugh at comedians, watch films with liberal actors enjoy watching dance and like a wide variety of music.  But long ago I quit worrying about the political opinions of those whose songs/shows/movies/art I enjoyed because it really doesn't matter.

If I stuck a political filter on my entertainment choices then I'd be stuck watching Kirk Cameron "Left Behind" movies and listening to the worst song ever recorded (Lee Greenwood's "Proud to be an American") on an endless loop.  And that would be awful.

The fact is that I don't care whether or not Samuel L. Jackson declared he would move to Canada if Trump won and then didn't because it's not going to affect the movies he's in. It doesn't matter to me that Mark Ruffalo is a left-wing bigot/idiot of massive proportions because he was entertaining as hell in Avengers movies and in the "Now You See Me" duo. Niki Manaj is a political dunderhead, but I enjoy her songs so I really don't care.

Granted, I don't find Amy Schumer funny or Lena Dunham all that entertaining, but that has nothing to do with their politics and more to do with their lack of talent. I'm not a Leonardo DiCaprio fan either but I did enjoy "Catch Me If You Can". (I did, however, find The Revenant to be an over-indulgent, boring piece of crap movie that had little going for it other than moaning and grunting interspread between gore. To each their own)

When it comes to movies I just want to be entertained. If I'm watching a move about monsters/robots/aliens attacking then I just want to see stuff get blown up. If I'm watching an action movie I want good fight scenes. If I'm watching a drama I want a compelling plot and characters I can get behind, a comedy, I want to laugh, etc.  When I listen to music I want the hook to be catchy. When I watch dance I want the choreography to be innovative and make sense with the narrative of the dance.  I want art to be beautiful.

If the people that make it are turds?  I honestly don't care.

Nor do I care that Leo is now grunting his way across the globe in a carbon-spewing airplane lecturing the world on our wasteful ways, or that Amy Schumer based her career on telling "I'm a slut" jokes and then dumped on a fan for joking that she's a 'slut'.

I don't care about any of these things, and neither should you.

Alec Baldwin plays Presidents on TV, he would make an awful one.

Don't confuse play-acting with real-life ability, and stop giving these walking bags of ego undue influence on things you care about and important issues. They are usually no more qualified to weigh in than your pet.  But they're famous, so society has decided we need to care.

It shouldn't. And neither should you.