Saturday, December 31, 2016

2017: Keep your expectations low. Without hope there is no disappointment.

Remember the beginning of 2016?

So fresh-faced and hopeful we all were.  Maybe, just maybe this would be the year that we got it all right, that we stopped electing the political equivalent of mashed potatoes to office and put a leader in place.

Instead, we went and elected Donald J. Trump to the highest elected office in the land.  The Bronzed Ego, an ape in a suit, arguably the Republican answer to Bill Clinton, minus the political savvy.

Oh, I know, you like him and he won.  In part however you have to say that he won because the Democrats decided to run the most unlikable candidate in the history of ever.  Hillary Clinton couldn't beat political unknown (at the time) Barack Obama and his hope and change rhetoric, and she didn't stand a chance against a man who's literally too stupid to insult.

Wealthy?  Yes, off his father's money. But if you believe the tales, and I do, he could have been even wealthier if he'd just invested it all in a Dow Index Fund and taken the return. This is a man who has filed for bankruptcy more times than he's been married.  He couldn't hack it in the casino business for chirssakes and those things even made Sheldon Adelson wealthy beyond the dreams of Midas.

Trump is an entertainer, and he entertained his way to the Office of the Presidency because he understands the people who are voting for him.  It's also pretty clear that the Democrats, despite their Social Justice Warrior, social-media, blockquoting rants, do not.

Contrary to what you read in Vox, poor voters are not voting against their economic interests by voting Republican. In fact, they're voting more against themselves when they vote Democrat because the party of the Donkey is admitting that they think poor people are too gormless to ever advance in life.

"We're the government and we're here to help" becomes a threat the more you actually deal with government employees. For the most part, they're the people who weren't quite sharp enough to find gainful employment in the private sector, so they took a nice public sector job where they're unlikely to ever be terminated, unless they bring a religious symbol to work, or make a Facebook post not supporting a special accommodation for transgenders when it comes to bathroom access.

America's elected officials are the epitome of the old saying "In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king".  If you can fog a mirror you can lead the bureaucracy, you can even control them. Where the entire ideal of "rule by the elite few" plank of progressive politics falls down is that the true 'elite few' aren't all that interested in controlling the lives of others.

But these people are still in the bureaucracy, and Kafka's invention is designed to not be dismantled all that easily. It is designed to endure, to move along on some perverse auto-pilot like a doomed ship making a sun dive with the American people strapped-in, all but powerless to avert the impact.

"But the vote!" you might say, "We have the power of the vote!"

Do you?  Does the poor, single mother of three working four jobs to make ends meet really have the time to investigate each of the candidates on the ballot and make an intelligent choice? Does the father of a "traditional" family, working 5 days a week (and sometimes weekends) really have the time to pour over campaign literature and websites, to analyze policy positions so that he can walk into the ballot box and try not to leave a hanging chad where the most qualified candidate would be?

How about the new voters, the 18 year-olds, happily trundling up to their first voting booths. Do we expect them to have the knowledge needed, to know how to navigate the choppy waters of campaign promises, of hugging babies and kissing women?  Given the sorry State of the United States Education System should be expect a High School Senior or a college Freshman to understand macro-economic theory? Hell, Paul Krugman won a Pulitzer Prize for his work in a very limited area of micro-economic theory and even HE doesn't really "get" the American economy.

So, we've created parties.  The Democrats and Republicans being the two that currently matter. Sure there's the ever-promised "Libertarian Wave" that gets washed away under a mass of g-string wearing, gyrating flesh at the National convention where the most un-Libertarian ticket in the history of their party was placed on the ballot. And then there are the really fringe groups. The Green Party, who nominated Dr, Jill Stein seemingly because having the honorarium in front of her name brought a sense of class to the joint.  Unfortunately, for the Greens, she had to eventually say stuff, and weigh in on policy.  This, of course, is where they all went wrong. We haven't even mentioned the Socialists, Communists and the "other" wacko parties.  Hell, even Vermin Supreme seemed like a viable option this time around.  (I was torn between Chtulu and the Sweet Meteor O' Death to be honest).

Where this all falls down, of course, is that the primary goal of the two major political parties has stopped being "good governance" long ago. It's 100% about power now. About grabbing it, keeping it, and creating possibly the greatest incumbent protection system since Mussolini went West. The Democratic Party exists solely to find and elect Democrats who are willing to prostrate themselves in front of Democratic donors and make pledges of fealty toward their policy.  Don't get too smug Republicans, you're exactly the same. Both parties succeed because people are either too busy, too lazy, too stupid, or too desperate to be involved with "something" to call them out on it.

In America we now have three broad groups of people.  1. The so-called 'average' American.  We work, we play, we pay taxes and we're too busy trying to keep our heads above water to be outraged about what's going on. A lot of us vote straight-ticket because the "other side" is just horrible. 2. The "activists" who are really just sad, pathetic people who are a) desperate to be acknowledged and b) desperate for a win.  These are the people that blog for parties, who stretch any truth to the breaking point in order to support their party's beliefs and who are the one group with whom you never want to find yourself sharing a table with at a dinner party. and 3. The Elite, who are not only elected officials but the check-writers and lobbyists, and courtesans and hangers-on who support them. You can includ politicians in this group, and certain members of the private sector, around 99% of the media, both mainstream and the so-called "alternative" one, and members of the bureaucracy.

And these people DO pay attention, and they understand better than the other two groups exactly what's going on in the world and how the narrative needs to be set. They have money, time and capitol cities in every state (and D.C.) where' they're allowed to cavort in relative solitude without having to deal with group 1, and only occasionally with group 2.

Which is why, despite the election of the Bronzed Ego and the virtual Republican dominance over most of the levers of government, not much is going to change.  The people in group 3 know no party, they know show-business, and they're better at it than most of us.

The more things "change".

Friday, December 30, 2016

The (Official) YDOP 2017 Prediction Post:

Or, things that absolutely, positively, 100% are not going to happen next year.

A few days ago we took a trip down memory lane reliving a 2016 that was widely agreed-upon as one of the worst American years in recent history.  It was a year that gave us President-Elect Donald Trump, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, a new, expansive tax on Las Vegas hotels designed solely to enrich Sheldon Adelson and a 1-13 49ers team that just needs to be put down. in all things, 2017 offers us a new hope for a brighter future as baby new year births from the loins of old man 2016 with all of the promise and hope that these things typically signify.

Now that the preliminaries are out of the way, let's look ahead shall we?

The United States.

The biggest story is, of course, Donald J. Trump. Congratulations America, you finally did it, you elected an ape in a suit to be President instead of one of the many, qualified conservatives that stood against him in the primary.  Of course, the Democrats put-up possibly the worst political candidate of the modern age to stand against him so.....

Contrary to the whinging of many, I don't predict an 'end to the Republic' in 2017. As a matter of fact, I think things will move along pretty much in the same shitty manner they are now.  The Democrats, out of any semblance of functional power and lacking ways to pay off their various constituencies, will be loud, shrill, stupid and aghast at just about everything Trump does.  They will be so shocked it will appear that a Tesla coil has taken full time residence in the Congressional chambers. The NeverTrump crowd, or what's left of them, will sheepishly move back onto their porches with psuedo-witty aphorisms such as "I'm old enough to remember" etc. etc.

The problem, of course, is that many of them are just that. Old.

Business, being what business is, will continue to saunter along without accomplishing much.  Companies, still unsure about the long-term future, will continue to hoard cash and progress will be achingly slow. The past gave us the moon-landing and the internal-combustion engine, it also gave us the computer, refrigeration, radio, television and the internet.  The future is going to give us faster internet speeds and 2-year commitment packages with phones that might, or might not, catch fire when we log onto TalkAbout, the new "big" social media platform that will enrich it's designers despite the lack of a clear path to profitability.  Facebook will become both public enemy number one and the biggest social media platform out there, while Twitter continues to fall in on itself, buried under an avalanche of anonymous trolls and social justice warriors hoping to get noticed.

But, and this is the important part, the Federal bureaucracy will still function, and it will still continue to choke-off meaningful economic growth under the name of 'consumer protection' and 'safety'. The Alphabet-soup of organizations that de-facto run this country will continue to place out-sized influence into the hands of lower-level clerks who, in many cases, barely generate enough brain-power to keep their legs functioning properly.  Due to federal employment laws that would make Franz Kafka stand mouth agape with wonder the government is unable, and unwilling, to get rid of these modern day miniature Torquemadas who run rough-shod across corporate profitability each and every day.


"Space City" as it was once called, is looking down the gun barrel of years and years of bad electoral decisions.  From the man who gave us the current pension mess to the man who never found a crony capitalism deal he didn't like to the woman whose anger threatened to rip the city apart to a career back-bench legislator whose life ambition was to become Mayor (think about that for a minute), the incredibly sub-par run of Mayors lacking basic leadership skills has crippled the city to a level that might take municipal bankruptcy to recover from.

Houston is a mess, and it's going to continue being so long as Sylvester and friends sit around City Hall wondering what speech he can give next in order to fool the citizenry into believing that he actually has a clue.  More importantly, can he forestall the coming financial vortex for eight more years allowing him to continue to claim the problem "fixed" (in the same manner former-Mayor Bill White "fixed" the pension mess and former Mayor Annise Parker "fixed" homelessness) and skate out of town with a few legacy-making projects under his belt? (Note: He might want to try and do better than Bill White, who only managed to escape with a sidewalk named after him.)

Because the financial and actual infrastructure of the city are crumbling the people have turned inward. Traffic is a mess on the best of days, a dystopian nightmare on the worst. People have gotten so selfish on the road that little things like courtesy and traffic laws have gone the way of the Dodo. Cutting people off to skip a turn line is now commonplace, as is undertaking on the right and pulling in front of people and slamming on the brakes. (Helpful hint: Stay out of the blind spot of other motorists, trust me on this one).

Houston's public transportation system has hit the skids, as reimagining turned out to be an art-installation where the artist (Christof Speiler) did little more than imagine empty buses and design a plan to make it so.  Have you seen Metro's ridership numbers lately?  It's not pretty.  Of course, the toy train is chugging along, moving moderately well-off Houstonians to bars and events, and spit-polishing itself for the upcoming Stupid Bowl.  It's Lady Gaga this year folks, let's pray we don't see HER bare breast during the halftime show.  Maybe she'll sacrifice a nutria rat?

Speaking of the Stupid Bowl, rumblings are already starting that this, LI if you've been paying attention, could be Houston's last.  The last that is unless we take a good, hard look at NRG and commit to providing Houston's middling football team with a Billion-plus dollar play-pen to compete with the likes of Dallas, Minnesota, Los Angeles and (soon) Las Vegas. NRG is not even 20-years old, and you're going to be pummeled with opinion pieces in 2017 talking about how "out of date" it already is and that only a massive injection of public funds is going to save it.

And then we get to the Astrodome, County Judge' Ed Emmet's great, gray, dingy, whale. Of course, there are plans, a parking garage-slash-er-uh-something-or-other that will be there and which will make the wheezing old building shine again because......I don't know, history?  Every other city worth a damn, and many that aren't, rightly decided to implode their former "state-of-the-art-at-the-time" complexes but not Houston.  In Houston it's been decided that almost anything older than 5 minutes is suddenly historical and deserves to remain standing, forever, even if no one really gives much of a damn about it, never visits any more and there's really no use for it.

It's much the same with Houston's restaurant and bar scene. When a place closes people lament the closure, rip their garments and dress in sack-cloth, right after admitting that they "haven't been there in years".

The Media.

2016 was the year we lost our faith in the media.  100%, totally.  It's done, finished, and there's scant evidence that they're going to try and work their way back. Today the New York Times, the Old Grey Lady, dared to lecture Americans on the 'antiquated mechanism' that is the Electoral College.  Coming from a newspaper that's a laughable argument.  TV News is all but shot, newspapers are honestly at this point just too stubborn to die and anything on the Internet is just as likely to be so-called "fake news" as it is to be the ravings of some progressive nutter.  Did you know that "Star Wars" is about *gasp* WAR?  This was news to the functional idiots working at after all.

2017 is, unfortunately, going to give us more of the same.  Because for all of the hand-wringing and concern-trolling from the media on why the American people don't understand their brilliance, there's no talk of ideological diversity, which is the thing they are lacking most.

Want to annoy a newspaper person?  Criticize them.  Even justifiable criticism, calling out a factual error, is responded to with anger and vitriol.  Pointing out bad reporting is met with "Don't you know we're PEOPLE?" and other nonesuch.  And if you disagree too strongly?  They just stop listening.  Which is the good thing about living in an ivory tower, you can just shut the windows to drown out the noise.

There are going to be a LOT of stories in 2017 about the ridiculous nature of rural White America, and how it's ruining the multicultural, fair trade, organic crunchy future that the progressives have designed. Instead of telling us the news of the day, these modern-day low-functioning idiots think they are uniquely qualified to "explain" it to us because they possess a degree in journalism and a blow-torch coupled to word processing software with dodgy spell-check. Oh, and they're hip, everyone they hang out with tells them so. They go to poetry-readings and cocktail-happy-hours at the museum and trivia night at the bars where they drink beer so crafty it was fermented in the navels of local poets.  Do you drink beer like that?  Or wait in line for two hours to eat lunch at the types of places where people wait in line two hours to eat lunch?  Do you dine at a restaurant that has a unisex bathroom?

No?  Then you will need the news explained to you because you obviously aren't worthy of much more than having the news explained to you by those who do.  Now, if you don't mind providing your credit card number and stop asking questions whenever they bill you randomly for "special issues" that have pretty much nothing to do with anything important.

The media will also be turning up their "fact-checking" and "news analysis" as means to insert their political opinion into the news of the day which was once taboo but is now widely praised and, here's a bold prediction, will result in the first Pulitzer Prize being given to a full-on opinion piece disguised as a hard-news expose.  Hell, they're not even going to hide it any longer.

The World.

News flash: There will be wars, rumors of wars, natural disasters, man-made disasters, shootings, stabbings, muggings, beatings, honor-killings etc. The Jews still won't like the Muslims and the Muslims still won't like pretty much anyone. The Americans and Chinese will continue to demonize one another publicly (while speaking diplomatically privately) because their leaders understand the controlling power of a faceless boogeyman.  North Korea will continue to live in the dark ages and Cuba will continue to oppress it's people.  Raul Castro is not a reformer, but the ideological successor of Fidel.  People will continue to wear Che shirts not understanding that, if they knew him in real life, they would either hate him or, more likely if they are women, be raped by him. The UN will continue to tut-tut at everyone and seek for more money by claiming the world is on the verge of overheating in a man-made microwave.

We'll continue to hear how climate change is going to bring about doom and gloom, despite the actual weather and climate results not matching up with the computer models.  Scientists, whose very careers are almost totally dependent on continued funding for climate disaster research, will assure us that it's the models that are correct and reality that has it wrong.

Oil will continue to be relatively low priced, as will natural gas, coal will continue to become more and more scarce in the developed world, but will be more and more valued in the developing world due to low prices.  Around once per month we'll be reassured that workable, economicly renewable energy is 'right around the corner'.

But we'll see some good things too.  We'll hear stories of generosity and bravery, of hope and kindness. There will be beauty in tragedy and mercy in times of war. We will see acts of courage so grand they bring tears to our eyes, up until the point the media/Hollywood machine seeks to capitalize on them that is.

And all of us, the wealthy, the poor, the somewhere in between, will continue to live our day to day lives trying our best to eke out an existence in spite of, not because of, our ruling class and their courtesans.

Such has it always been, such will it always be.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Without further ado: Looking back on 2016

Well, we made it, barely, through 2016.  And while my prediction that the former President of Metro Garcia would be mayor by famously riding the wave of Adrian Garcia's name ID proved to be incorrect, my prediction that Houston was in for a rough fiscal time of it proved telling. Also accurate was my tongue-in-cheek prediction that an angry Annise would burn hot, and then fade away.

Of course, the reality in 2016 was almost weirder than the fiction I created. We elected a lifetime back-bencher as Mayor of the City, who immediately did what back-benchers do: Kick the can down the road on important issues and talk, a lot.  In short, for 2017 I see more of the same. Houston will continue down her spiral of trinket governance and irresponsible spending. Progressives will do their level best to chase "world-classiness" while continuing to try and keep the poor just above water, while enjoying their "white-linen nights" in the Heights and telling us how good they have it.

But, and let's face facts here, 2016 was foul.

Not just bad, but historically bad.  Not only were we forcibly exposed to an election campaign that felt like the political equivalent of Ebola, but we had to sit through three Presidential debates where an ape in a suit and the worst political candidate in the history of ever dressed up like the Emperor Palpatine in  a pant-suit and then wondered why she wasn't "connecting with the people."

It was Sally Fields who famously gushed "You like me! You Really Really like me!" We really didn't (although the Hollywood establishment did) which is kind-of the same dynamic that Hillary has going for her.

2016 saw Katy Perry cry, Kanye West meltdown and a host of Hollywood stars welsh on their promise to leave for Canada should Trump win.  The Bastards.

Nationwide the Democrats took a political beating, their power now confined to some failing metropolitan areas, the West Coast, and pockets of New England. As the Country continues to geographically sort itself out along political ideological lines a stunning realization has hit the Left. They are currently so concentrated that they've messed up the electoral math for themselves. Plus, 1/2 of the country simply can't stand them.

This has led to some amusing temper tantrums from the dimmer of the dim lights in the Dim party. Markos Moulitsas responded to the election results with an f-bomb laced tirade against pretty much everyone, Ezra Klein has pushed Vox into La La Land with wild theories and stories of fantasy and whimsy, and has just realized that "Star Wars" is *gasp* about......war. Greg Sargent is ranting to everyone his little Washington Post blog reaches that something is amiss, and the king of clowns Paul Krugman seems perpetually stuck in the anger stage of coping.

In fact, a LOT of people are ending 2016 firmly planted in the Anger stage. Celebrities from what's-her-name to Lena Dunham have had a good public cry, shaken their fist at 'white people' (think about that) and have pretty much declared the election of the ape in a suit to be the worst thing in America since ever.

Locally however Harris County Democrats are doing fairly freaking spiffy. They had a complete sweep in the down-ballot elections taking every contested county office, judgeship, most of the Constables and contested legislative races at the State and Federal level.  In fact, it's pretty safe to say that, except for Commissioner's Court, Harris County and Houston are in total Democrat control.

What this means is for another post.  For the look-ahead to 2017.  But if the City of Houston is any predictor the County is in for a bumpy ride.

Because Houston did NOT have a good 2016.  Financially the city is struggling, Annise Parker tore us apart trying everything she could to provide the transgender community with a special accommodation, and the oil and gas industry has gotten shellacked due to a glut of supply, relatively weak global demand, and some fairly short-sighted business leadership.

But Houston keeps spending money like a terminal cancer patient on a last, blow-out-the-pension smash-up in Las Vegas.  Turner continues to take junkets like his frequent-flyer miles will expire if he doesn't, plans are in place to spend Millions on bike paths, Millions on concert venues, and Billions on as yet to be determined flood-control project whose parent funding mechanism, the rain tax, was declared null-and-void in a court of law. In short, Houston has stolen the taxpayers credit card, has maxed it out, and is now openly kiting checks from their stolen check-book.

All in the name of trinkets.

Which means that, in many respects, 2016 was not all that much different than the years that preceded it.  Just a little bit worse.

Amazingly, this is better than the 2016 that the media in Houston had.  That was like prior years but a LOT worse.  As meaningful reporting in Houston has gone the way of the DoDo and is being replaced with info-tainment and fake news.

2016 was supposed to be much, much better than 2015. Or so we hoped.  What we ended up with was a turd of a year floating around in the pool of time.

Thank goodness it's coming to a close.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Oh Christmas Tree.....

We've hit that time of the year where I take a look at real life, and keeping up with this blog, and decide that the real world, and everything in it, is more important than coming on here some evenings and 1000 monkeying words.

So with that in mind, it's time for another hiatus.

Enjoy your ChristmaHannaKwanzimas or whatever holiday you choose, or choose not, to celebrate.

Mine's an egg nog.

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Presumptuous Blogging: Things You Should Read (12/07/2016)

Been a while since we've taken a look around the world of news.....

All of this "recount business"? Attempts to undermine faith in the system. For all of the "Trump is a fascist" talk (and he could be, we don't really know yet) the actions by some on the left attempting to undermine the electoral process is just as scary.

Yes, Virginia, the Carrier Bailout is bad. And so is the Texas Enterprise Fund, the Texas Emerging Technologies fund etc.  A fairer tax code with fewer exclusions, credit opportunities and lower base rates would be a rising tide that lifts all economic boats. Not just the ones with deep pockets and political access.

Suddenly, no-witness "racist" attacks are everywhere. Many of them are outright frauds, some are just simple crimes, and a few are actual racism. It'd be nice if we had an honest media to tell us that.

Jill Stein's money grab is an odd little thing. It's blatantly obvious what she's doing. Once again however the media is unwilling to do that dot-connecting thing they enjoy doing.  Funny how that works.

If everything is slavery then nothing is slavery. When clever people overreach the true atrocities become public works of fiction.

Koch's!!!!!!!  Drink.

Progressives get "religion". When it serves their cause and rallies their sycophants to push policy toward enriching progressive campaign donors of course.  That God thing is just window dressing.

Novel idea: It's not the job of Google, Twitter or Facebook to "curb" hate speech. In fact, it's societies job.  But in order to shut down the racists we do need them to have freedom of speech so we know exactly where they are, are going to be, and what in the heck they are doing.

No Sen. Schumer, there's nothing 'sacred' about overhead bin space. More progressive religion spouted by one of society's worst.

We just lost an election. Let's alienate EVERYONE!!!!!  Instead of, you know, admitting that you nominated the least-likable Presidential candidate in recent years?  That you've built a losing coalition based on anger and bile? That you really don't have a plan outside of telling pretty much anyone who will listen that you're better than them?   Nah. Let's just piss everyone off.

Every article like this is an in-kind donation to Trump 2020. There are reasons Trump won that go far beyond racism. How the leftist media is reporting on Trump is one of them.

"Republicans" should carry a trigger warning.  These folks can't help themselves.  Hopefully, they move past the anger stage and can at least get to the bargaining stage.  It's going to be a long four years if they don't.

The freak out over "fake news" is precious.  What Abe Greenwald said.

No Chris Tomlinson, the alt-right did NOT invent boycotts. Nor is pretending they did improving your standing as America's worst business columnist.  Good grief.

Rule Number one in Climate Change club is that you don't go against the "sky if falling" hysteria of climate change club. And this is a guy who believe climate change is real, that humans are causing it, and carbon should be taxed.  Think about that for a minute.

The leftist media discovers the "working class", hilarity ensues.  After spending the last eight years pretending either they didn't exist, or they were too stupid to pay any mind to.

And finally.....

Van Jones as liberal sooth-sayer is an odd concept. Even odder, this little nugget from the preamble of the article:

Trump’s actual or apparent embrace of racism, white nationalism, ethnocentrism, misogyny, bigotry and nativism has resulted in at least 900 hate crimes against people of color, Arabs, Muslims and other marginalized groups in the United States.

900?  Actual attacks?  I mean, not including the ones that have been discounted as frauds?  In a media obsessed by "fake news" it's a miracle that they don't understand they are the biggest purveyors of the type, and the most widely read.  This makes them the most dangerous.


Thursday, December 01, 2016

Travel: Flying the "revamped" United. Some good, some still (pretty) bad.

After a couple of solid years flying Southwest airlines exclusively, a business trip to Topeka gave me an occasion to fly United for the first time since I abandoned them during what is now referred to as the "Jeffing" (Smisek) of the airline.

The results?  Improved, but nothing special (not that I expected anything special).

Since moving most of my domestic travel to Southwest I've been happy with two things:  1. The timeliness of the flights (I've only had one flight moderately delayed in 2016 and that was due to a mechanical issue, for which the FA's gave us free liquor) and 2. The friendliness of the customer service.

I also enjoy being able to check up to two bags free and, in most cases, the cost for Southwest is competitive, or slightly cheaper, than United.

The downsides.

1. I hate.  HATE, Hate, hate. flying out of Houston-Hobby.  For my money it is 1/4 of the experience of IAH. It's a pain to get to, and they don't have adequate facilities to move people to/from their vehicles to the main airport.

2. Boarding. It's been called the Southwest Cattle Call and that's pretty accurate.  If you pay for early boarding, which I always do, then it's not as bad.  The only rough bit being sitting with the angry face waiting for someone to come and take the middle seat next to you. I've found the sweet-spot to be either right before, or right after, the coveted exit-row seats.  Southwest's economy (they don't have econ + or any product like that) doesn't feel as tight as regular economy on the so-called legacy carriers.  And their seats are infinitely more comfortable.

On to United.

My first flight was a non-stop, Embraer 170.  The company purchased my economy seat, but I bought up to Econ Plus on my own for around $30.  It was money well spent.  This was a flight equipped with United's "Personal Devices" complimentary TV/Movie service, and even though it was a 2 hour flight I watched some TV on my Samsung Tablet and it worked well. Contrast this to Southwest's "free" wi-fi (which isn't really) and I thought United had the upper hand here with their current product.

The leg-room in Econ Plus for United on these E-170's is more than adequate, and it's worth the upcharge to sit in them if they're available.

Here's the thing.  On Southwest, you buy up to board early and pretty much ensure you're going to be able to place your bad in the overhead bin. On United you buy up for legroom. If you want to board early there's an additional charge.  Since the leg-room on SW's normal economy is satisfactory, for all but the tallest of fliers, I give Southwest the advantage, still, on economy product.

There is no comparison for first class because Southwest does not offer it. Although I will say that First on United Express flights feels very not-worth-it due to the fact that you're only getting a slightly wider seat, some free alcohol and etc. No meal service, other perks on short flights such as this.

For once, the service on this United flight was friendly and warm. I didn't feel like I was an inconvenience to the FA's just by existing. I've flown enough that I rarely have requests. I bring my own snacks, and a bottle of water on board, and I only get up, when the seat-belt sign goes off, to use the restroom. If I'm hungry I bring my own meal that I've purchased from the airport (another reason why I prefer IAH to HOU, food choice).

All-in all the flight was uneventful. We were a little late taking off because a piece of ground equipment malfunctioned behind the plane, but we made it up in the air.  Projected turbulence, which never happened, prevented the FA's from unlocking the snack trolleys, but they compensated and served every one by tray as they do in Business/First.

Before we get to the return leg, a moment about United's new coach "snacks".

One area where Southwest knocks United into a cocked hat (still) is in the economy snack area. On Southwest flights I not only receive the customary peanuts, but they have also taken to offering customers packages of Wheat-Thins branded flavored crackers.  The crackers, in addition to the peanuts, are a small, but decent sized snack for a short-haul domestic flight.  Unlike United however, Southwest doesn't offer anything by the way of optional food purchases.  For me this is not a problem because, again, if I'm hungry I buy food in the airport before boarding.  It is something to be mindful of however.

On the return trip I had the mythical "Stroopwafel".  The flavor was good but I'm not a fan of the chewy texture.

About that return trip.  On it I had the worst of United as far as hard product goes.  The Bombardier CRJ-700 with (horrors!) Slimline seats.  A picture:

There exists no world where these are comfortable
The Recaro Slim-line seats are about the most uncomfortable airplane seat I have ever sat in. There is no seating position in which they don't leave you with a sore ass. They are rock hard, and the headrests on them make catching a quick, in-flight nap next to impossible.  I had the exit row ($34) which gave me ample leg-room but whose fixed arm-rests all but destroy seat-width.  To top it off, the CRJ-700 comes equipped with the smallest overhead bins known to man.  Despite multiple warnings, everyone flying HAD to try and jam their rollerboard into the bin.  This meant that I spent 1/2 the boarding process with my leg-room acting as a staging area for baggage to be returned to the front to be gate checked.

To be clear, I don't blame United for that, they did inform passengers SEVERAL times that their rollerboards would not fit in the overhead bins.  But a majority of passengers were too selfish to heed that.  Ultimately, I ended up with another person's rollerboard shoved under the seat in front of me, in the interest of getting the plane off the ground because he didn't want to gate-check.  Sitting at the exit row this was OK for me, primarily because I have plenty of leg-room there.  The FA gave me an extra snack by way of saying thanks.  The idiot with the bag didn't say a word. (Part of the reason your flight experience sucks in economy is your own fault I've found).

Despite the hiccup on the home-leg, I was very pleased in how United performed. For one, the out-leg arrived on-time and the home-leg arrived early, something the FA jokingly reminded us to "keep in mind the next time we run late".  The FA's were friendly, responsive, and genuinely seemed to enjoy their jobs.  They even showed some personality from time to time.

All-in-all it was a marked improvement from the "Jeffed-up" days when Smisek was in charge.

One final thought:  There are a lot of issues that get blamed on the airline but are really the fault of the passengers. It's your responsibility to not try and and fit luggage befitting the Grapes of Wrath into the overhead bin and then get angry when it doesn't. If you're on a CRJ-700, gate-check your damn rollerboard. And don't fit it in sideways because that takes away from the bin-space for others.

There is nothing the airlines can do to overcome the selfish attitude toward flying that many passengers have. Little things like boarding out of turn, refusing to clear the aisle while boarding, refusing to turn off your computer, or having too much luggage to carry on all slow the boarding process, lead to delaying the flight, and ruin the flying experience of those around you.

Boorish behavior is not limited to any one airline. It's a contagion that seems to be spreading and is doing none of us any good.

And there's very little the airlines can do to prevent it, despite what some of the more anti-business travel columnists like to say.