October 24, 2014

Texas #HSR — my latest thoughts

Japanese bullet train. / Photo via Texas Tribune
It looks like high-speed rail is a tad closer to reality in Texas, at least for the Dallas-Houston run.

That said, I'm not totally enamored of any of the nine proposed route options linked above.

I could see one or two straight runs, but I'd also like to see some "non-express" runs. And, to do that, we have to have a different route.

By car, if you take I-35 and Texas 6 rather than I-45, there's two small metropolitan areas between Dallas and Houston — Waco and Bryan/College Station. One or two non-express runs are still feasible, IMO.

Right now, part of Amtrak's problem (other than having no direct service between Dallas and Houston at all) is that it's trying to be an alternative to Greyhound as much as to airlines.

Check out all the places the Texas Eagle stops between Dallas and Austin, for example:
Fort Worth (perfectly fine)
Cleburne (why?)
McGregor (greater Waco, but why not in Waco?)
Temple (why, if you're stopping at McGregor)
Taylor (OK I guess)
Austin

If Amtrak did have a Dallas-Houston line, it would probably have eight or nine stops.

The point is to find a niche between the bus and air, in my opinion.

And, you can still do that with HSR in the way I outlined.

Of course, having just one run a day each between Dallas and Austin, in addition to none between Dallas and Houston, shows another problem. Even on regular trains, you mix an additional run or two a day with fewer cars on each one, which means quicker service.

Or, run an extra non-express route or two on weekends. Wacoans go to DFW, and College Station folks to Houston, for culture, special shopping, events, etc., on the weekends, via train.

That's how it's done in Europe. Here's the route of the French LGV Nord that goes from Paris to Calais (to hit the Channel Tunnel)
Gare du Nord (Paris)


Distances?
1st leg is 129 km; second is 55 km, third is 53 km; fourth is 122 km. The short legs are perhaps a bit on the short side, but you get the idea; a stop every 75 miles, even, is not unreasonable.

Ditto as another TGV line shows:

TGV Paris - Luxembourg stops at the following destinations:
    Paris
    Meuse TGV
    Metz
    Thionville
    Luxembourg City

Distances? 264 km on the first leg, 98 on the second, then local "milk run" distance on the last two. 

Give #GregAbbott one more movie texting

"Thank" Greg Abbott for interrupting your movie.
I blogged about Greg Abbott's "text me from the movies" idea when it first came out, but, since it's the last weekend before Election Day, he probably needs to hear it once more, as does the voting public.

I'm not a big moviegoer by any means. On average, a once-a-year guy at most, though I saw Lincoln twice.

That said, I can bitch along with anybody else about the growing blizzard of pre-movie commercials in the movie houses. And now, Texas gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott, aka AG Strangeabbott, has just given me more reason yet not to go.

Combine three barf factors:
1. Ads before movies;
2. Political advertising in general today;
3. People using cellphones at movies.

Anyway, here you go on Abbott's original pitch
In a new twist, Abbott is taking his campaign to the movies. He is running an ad in two dozen movie theaters across the state, playing on every screen a film is being shown. The ad asks moviegoers to text the word “FREEDOM” to the campaign. The effort is aimed at collecting information the campaign can use to identify and boost turnout in November.

This is also another post-Citizens United sign of a political system so damned swamped with money that candidates don't even know what the hell to do with all of it, other than inundate us even more.

That said, somebody, somebody, please text "FUCK OFF" to Abbott instead if you're at a movie.

I've called him AG Strangeabbott regularly, so either that or Dr. Strangelove is appropriate.

Or, if you want to send him more than text, send him Wendy Davis' "pull up the ladder" ad, which I blogged about and defended here:



Or, since the GOP is fond of the word so much anyway, maybe just text "no." Or, the overfried egg of War on Drugs PSAs, with "This is your brain on Abbott."

October 22, 2014

#Ferguson note to #SJW folks W: Was Michael Brown maybe not so "innocent"?

Michael Brown / Photo via St. Louis Post-Dispatch
The latest on Michael Brown indicates he may NOT have been in a "surrender position." We'll see if the third autopsy, when released, has anything to say about this. That said, while not excusing past racial problems in Ferguson, it's a reminder not to let facts be overrun by a "narrative."

Yes, there are "bad cops." I've written about a lesser-level bad cop at one of my newspapers. And, I've blogged about grand juries being too credulous about cops, and being coached on that by prosecutors.

There are also criminals. And, there are people who, even though not pre-meditated criminals, who are "intoxicated" or "under the influence," whether alcohol, cocaine, or even ... yes, even marijuana, who attack cops. I've written about them, too.


Part 1: He was shot at least once at close range, it seems:

The St. Louis medical examiner, Dr. Michael Graham, who is not part of the official investigation, reviewed the autopsy report for the newspaper. He said Tuesday that it “does support that there was a significant altercation at the car.” 
Graham said the examination indicated a shot traveled from the tip of Brown’s right thumb toward his wrist. The official report notes an absence of stippling, powder burns around a wound that indicate a shot fired at relatively short range. 
But Graham said, “Sometimes when it’s really close, such as within an inch or so, there is no stipple, just smoke.” 
The report on a supplemental microscopic exam of tissue from the thumb wound showed foreign matter “consistent with products that are discharged from the barrel of a firearm.”
Note that this is for St. Louis metro in its entirety. This is not a city of Ferguson medical examiner. It's the same type of ME as in other large metropolitan areas.

Second, note that his review is being further reviewed from outside, and one part of the "narrative," as I called it above, may be wrong.
Dr. Judy Melinek, a forensic pathologist in San Francisco, said the autopsy “supports the fact that this guy is reaching for the gun, if he has gunpowder particulate material in the wound.” She added, “If he has his hand near the gun when it goes off, he’s going for the officer’s gun.” 
Sources told the Post-Dispatch that Brown’s blood had been found on Wilson’s gun.
Melinek also said the autopsy did not support witnesses who have claimed Brown was shot while running away from Wilson, or with his hands up.
 
She said Brown was facing Wilson when Brown took a shot to the forehead, two shots to the chest and a shot to the upper right arm. The wound to the top of Brown’s head would indicate he was falling forward or in a lunging position toward the shooter; the shot was instantly fatal. 
A sixth shot that hit the forearm traveled from the back of the arm to the inner arm, which means Brown’s palms could not have been facing Wilson, as some witnesses have said, Melinek said. That trajectory shows Brown probably was not taking a standard surrender position with arms above the shoulders and palms out when he was hit, she said.
Unfortunately, the narrative has long been crafted. And, it's not easy to "uncraft" even for people who are partially open-minded.

I've blogged before about how neither "side" is totally right and how there's more than two "sides" here anyway.

For the two most prominent sides, though?

For people who want to believe in narratives rather than facts, like "Social Justice Warriors" of the second hashtag on one side, this news will be filed under "the authorities said" or similar and ignored.

For those people, I'd suggest looking at Dr. Melinik's CV. She's consulted for both plaintiffs and defense in both criminal and civil cases. And, she started her training in NYC at the time of 9/11. She's unbiased and expert.

Unfortunately, judging by Facebook reaction to just the top, Post-Dispatch link, the SJW side of the "narrative" isn't changing. I've had a friend of a friend flip me off, and an actual friend, not just a "Facebook friend," bring out "Reefer Madness" stereotypes as a reason to claim marijuana doesn't matter.

On the other hand, there are people from full-out racists to "no cop is a bad cop" types who will now use these findings to support their narratives, which are also wrong.

For those people, I'd suggest ...

A mirror. The city of Ferguson's racism-tinted history is well documented.

And, whichever side ultimately comes closer to the truth with their narrative, I'd suggest ...

You stop gloating. You only become more a part of the problem.

Behind all of this is a good argument for police to wear body-mounted video cameras. When they are being good cops, it protects them, too.

Nutbar Dan Patrick blames god for being a nutbar

Friend Perry, doing yeoman's work serving on the Early Voting Ballot Board in Harris County, lists today a number of items he ethically can't blog about.

But I can! Mostly, per the header, it's about Dan Patrick. But, there's a bit about fracking, too.

First, Danny Boy.

Of course, Danny Boy doesn't admit to being a nutbar, but, he is.

Mother Jones is our first stop on the nutbar as dog's messenger tour.

Here's a few samples, starting here.:
On his first book, actually titled The Second Most Important Book You Will Ever Read: "As the author, I am obviously biased," Patrick wrote in an Amazon review of his own book. But "since God inspired me to write this book," he added, "He automatically gets 5 stars and the CREDIT!'"
Stop blaming god, who doesn't exist anyway, for inflicting dreck on us.

And, the most important book I read wasn't the Bible. That said, it was important enough to be an important part of my deconversion process, with all of its errors, contradictions, misogyny, racism, violence, genocides and more. It led me out of the Lutheran version of fundamentalism, then I moved on from there.

Then here: 
On Duck Dynasty: Patrick tried to raise money off of Duck Dynasty patriarch Phil Robertson's comments about homosexuality in GQ, boasting that the bearded reality star was channeling another bearded visionary. "This is an exciting time for Christians," he wrote on Facebook. "God is speaking to us from the most unlikely voice, Phil Robertson, about God's Word. God is using pop culture and a highly successful cable TV show to remind us about His teaching."
Really? So, if a successful cable show is the sign of divine inspiration, we should take lessons from Heisenberg and "Breaking Bad," right?

Then this:
On his inspiration for this painting of Christ's face on the Statue of Liberty:In teaching myself how to watercolor I was trying different styles. After a beach scene, I decided to try a Peter Max type of painting of the Statue of Liberty. I could not get the fact right and used water to remove the paint on her face. When it dried and I tried to clean it up suddently [sic] the face of Jesus appeared so clearly. It struck me that Jesus face on the Statue of Liberty sends an incredible message that the real light that our country has sent in the past, and needs to send once again today, is we are a nation that stands on His Word This was only my 4th try at a painting I had no idea of how to paint the face of Jesus, nor was I trying to do so.
Note to The Stinking Anglo Formerly Known as Danny Goeb™. First, as you're probably not aware, Emma Lazarus was a Jewish liberal anarchist. Second, she wanted those "huddled masses" to come here freely.

And, stop blaming god for your artistic crudity, too.

Then, there's this chestnut:
On the separation of church and state"There is no such thing as separation of church and state."
Well, wrong. Unfortunately, barring the secular equivalent of a miracle, there's no separation of Dan Patrick's ideas about church and the statehouse's Lite Guv position. 

Meanwhile, voters in Denton want to ban fracking. Interesting. Of course, next year's Lege will find a way to take this power away from cities, whether the Denton proposal passes or not.

Is there a measure short of this that is workable?

In a more liberal state than Texas, like, say, Colorado, which also struggles with fracking in urban and suburban areas, yes.

But, we ain't in Colorado, Toto. As long as the EPA pulls its punches on wellhead methane leaks, methane traceable by carbon isotope analysis from fracking appearing in water supplies and more, and the state of Texas willingly encourages the EPA on its punch-pulling, when Greg Abbott's not suing it, a ban seems justified.

At a minimum, cities need to be as restrictive as Dallas.

Speaking of, and to go beyond Perry, I wonder what fracking-friendly Wendy Davis thinks of the Denton measure. I wonder how much she'd squirm if asked.


Dear Texas voters: Vote No on Proposition 1

First, to refresh your memory, there is one constitutional amendment proposition on this year's ballot.

It reads as follows:

“The constitutional amendment providing for the use and dedication of certain money transferred to the state highway fund to assist in the completion of transportation, construction, maintenance, and rehabilitation projects, not to include toll roads.”
There's the "what."

Now, here's the "why" on voting no.

First, this is similar to Prop. 6 from a year ago, that wanted to tap the Rainy Day Fund for water projects. It's not that I'm averse to using the RDF; I certainly supported tapping it during the Great Recession for school funding, especially based on Comptroller Susan Combs' real fake projections on where the state's revenue stood.

I don't support using the RDF for non-emergency needs, though, especially when the non-emergency problem, in both cases, has been manufactured by the Republican Party.

And, with that, I'm going to do an expanded version of what I said under my overall 2014 endorsements.

In this case, I see this as further encouraging Republican bad behavior on refusing to be willing to pay adequately for an adequate level of services in Texas.

Dear Texas GOP: You want better roads? Fine — dedicate 100 percent of the state gas tax to roads and other needs. If that's not enough, then, do what the feds also should be doing. With more fuel-efficient vehicles, raise the gas tax.

If not dumping any of the gas tax in the general fund means other things are getting shortchanged? Well, then it's time for you to start being honest with the Texas general public, isn't it?

And a note to wingnuts who pull the "R-only" lever, too.

Your Texas Lege inflicts "fees" on you regularly. It forces counties to inflict even more "fees" on you.

These "fees" are nothing other than taxes by another name.

You're already paying more now for some things, even with a state that, contra the GOP talking points, isn't running at full efficiency.

Finally, there's a bait-and-switch of sorts.

Many people will see the last phrase and think this means no more toll roads in Texas, I'll venture. All this means is that the RDF won't pay for toll roads.

But, revenue is fungible. TxDOT will still be able to OK any toll project it wants.

Beyond that, none of this RDF money would be set aside for urban mass transit, so it's a failure there, too.

October 21, 2014

Time to vote; don't be a putz

And, with that said, I don't think I've ever before seen a seven-day daily paper use the word "putz" in an editorial.

But, in a piece with that "go vote" admonition, over the weekend, the Waco Trib did just that:

Finally, only a putz votes straight-ticket. We haven’t seen a slate of party candidates yet, Republican or Democrat, that didn’t have some turkeys on it. And if you think voting straight-ticket ensures that one party’s nominees meet certain qualities, think again. Right here in McLennan County, we’ve seen straight-ticket voting put some absolutely incompetent people into offices of responsibility. When that happens, you’re to blame because you voted for them out of party loyalty, not merit or civic regard.
Good as far as it went. Unfortunately, it didn't go so far as to mention Green or Libertarian alternatives as another reason to vote outside a straight ticket. Nor did it mention the option of race-by-race selective nonvoting.

But, it is good as far as it went, and it builds on that with specific examples:
For those of us gray in temple, campaigns have changed significantly the past four decades. Many Republican nominees, confident of election solely by virtue of their having an “R” behind their names, whatever their qualifications, character or viewpoints, have increasingly ducked candidate debates and interviews with newspaper editorial boards, once considered all-American traditions. When they come to town now, they often speak to small groups of party loyalists, generally telling them what they want to hear.
 In this camp, we put Republicans such as state Sen. Dan Patrick, who is running for lieutenant governor and has been blasted by some Republicans for misleading rhetoric on the campaign trail, and state Sen. Ken Paxton, who admitted violating state securities laws, a third-degree felony, and is ironically seen by some as a shoo-in for state attorney general. Amazing.
Exactly, but too many "R-only" voters in greater Waco will probably ignore this.

Anyway, here's my voting suggestions. And here, more seriously yet, are friend Perry's.