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October 7th, 2012:

Weekend link dump for October 7

Only 24 more shopping days till Halloween.

“So, honey, it’s just impossible for me to say how old The Pip will be when you’re forty-one. I’m not sure it’s even a well-defined question in a relativistic universe.”

Baseball brings us together, even in Congress.

Meet Pono, Neil Young’s digital music player.

It’s important to pronounce medical conditions correctly.

Team Obama is targeting gamers with ads where they’ll see them.

Unscrewing the inscrutable, or something like that.

Eight rules of writing, by Neil Gaiman.

Photobombed by a stingray. You’re welcome.

“Focus on the Family made 34 specific, detailed predictions about what would happen in “Obama’s America” [by October of 2012.] They came up 0-for-34.”

I lived through a cricket infestation once, my sophomore year in college. Living in a dorm, I can’t claim to remember being bothered by foul odors after the crickets started to die off. I mean, I was in a dorm, surrounded by guys. Who would have noticed the difference? Be that as it may, crickets are nasty and a swarm of them will drive you crazy. Waco, you have my sympathy.

If The Bloggess were a pastor’s wife, I imagine that’s about how she’d sound.

Sleeping with your iPad is just wrong. You might damage the screen.

The typically bizarro politics of school food calorie limits.

The intersection of sports fandom and science nerdery is a wonderful place.

I don’t think the idea of renewable marriage contracts is going to catch on, but just imagine how good some people will be as spouses during their “walk” years.

When you’ve lost Nickelback…well, I’m not sure anything bad happens.

If the Disney villains had won. Very cool.

An oldie but goodie: Why the term “statistical tie” is so often badly misused.

A mysterious hatred of fedoras. Speaking as a longtime member of The MOB, that’s just wrong.

Every voter restriction that has been challenged this year has been either enjoined, blocked or weakened.”

Big Bird and Waylon Jennings, BFFs.

You “Arrested Development” fans, this is of interest to you.

Endorsement watch: The other easy call

The Chron makes a ringing endorsement of Sheriff Adrian Garcia for re-election.

Sheriff Adrian Garcia

In the 2008 elections, Adrian Garcia received more votes than any other candidate in Harris County. His record in office merits a similar outcome in 2012.

With Garcia as sheriff, a $56 million budget overrun has become a $3 million surplus, overcrowded jails have been brought into line, and rampant county jail deaths are a thing of the past. A sheriff’s office that had lost focus, facing civil rights lawsuits and constant criticism just four years ago, is now a disciplined and efficient law enforcement agency dedicated to protecting Harris County citizens and serving the community.

Sheriff Garcia has accomplished this through hard work and a certain fearlessness against an entrenched, good ol’ boy way of doing things that may have made life comfortable for some people in the sheriff’s office, but not for the people of Harris County.


As the Chronicle’s Patricia Kilday Hart has reported (“Two reasons to avoid straight-ticket voting,” Page A1, Sept. 28), [Republican candidate Louis] Guthrie’s career has been plagued by scandal, and he’s prone to power trips. He received four letters of reprimand and two suspensions before being fired from the Harris County sheriff’s office. Guthrie is not the person the county needs as its top law enforcement officer.

Sheriff Adrian Garcia has demonstrated how local government is supposed to work. He’s clearly the better man for the job.

I figured the Chron would use that Kilday Hart column as a guide in their District Attorney and Sheriff endorsements. Glad to see them prove me right. Sheriff Garcia has accomplished a lot in his four years, to fix what was badly broken and to move the ball forward. He deserves the praise, and he deserves your vote.

The felony mental health court

I’d celebrate, too.

Judge Jan Krocker

[State District Court Judge] Krocker and others celebrated the official opening of Harris County’s felony mental health court, which started putting mentally ill defendants on probation instead of sending them to jail in May.

Krocker has been working to get a special court to oversee felony cases of defendants diagnosed with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and severe depression since 2009.

“The youngest participant was 17 years old when he came in, the oldest is 61, and all of them are very sick,” Krocker told the group that included County Judge Ed Emmett, Precinct 1 Commissioner El Franco Lee and state Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston.

She said the program, paid for by an initial federal grant of $500,000 with matching funds from the county, has 45 people on probation. Krocker said the program has room for 80 probationers.


Statewide, Whitmire told the group, 18,000 inmates take psychiatric medication. Of the 153,000 people incarcerated in Texas, Whitmire said, 32,000 were in a mental health system before they ended up in prison.

“Those 32,000 people are in our penitentiaries, at a cost of millions of dollars, because they couldn’t get the mental health services they need,” Whitmire said. “When we solve the problems of the mental health defendant, we’re preventing the next criminal act.”

This is great, and the only complaint I have is that there isn’t more of it. As Sen. Whitmire notes, the need for mental health services far outstrips the state’s resources for them. As a result we lock ’em up, which is more expensive, less effective, and far less humane than treatment. Judge Krocker’s court is a small step in the right direction, and kudos to her for it.

It was nice knowing you, Lockhart

There’s so much that’s wrong with this.

Image courtesy

Community leaders believe the four lanes of Texas 130 will spur growth — despite what is expected to be a charge of about 15 cents a mile to drive on it. The tollway, which will link Lockhart to Austin to the north and will provide a much faster route to San Antonio to the south, has drawn the attention of a handful of developers, but no dirt has turned yet.

“We can only imagine what fruits it will bear for Caldwell County,” County Judge Tom Bonn told the crowd at the summit. “We are ready for industry. We are ready for development. We are ready for jobs.”

But as shown by the short history of the existing 49 miles of Texas 130, which loops east of Round Rock and Austin and opened in sections between 2006 and 2008, the presence of a tollway does not guarantee instant development. Drive that road today and, aside from concentrations of housing and retail in Hutto and Pflugerville and the nearly finished Formula One racetrack, most of the road is flanked by empty land.

And those two communities, given their proximity to Round Rock and the thousands of Dell Inc. jobs, were already booming before Texas 130 and nearby tollways Texas 45 North and Loop 1 opened. Caldwell County, at least at this point, has no such employment base. Not yet, anyway.

Caldwell County Commissioner John Cyrier, who runs an Austin commercial construction company, said bringing that first big employer to the county is the key. An 85 mph tollway could help with that, officials say.

“We’re trying to attract a business,” Cyrier said. “Then the rooftops will come, and the retail. We’re hoping for at least 10,000 rooftops.”

Those rooftops, of course, would come with people, and traffic, and all sorts of change. Lockhart, at least compared with the astonishing growth of other towns ringing Austin, has been a tranquil island of stability. Its population grew just 9 percent between 2000 and 2010, to about 12,700. And the biggest reason to visit Lockhart remains its brisket, ribs and sausage.

“I think people are very optimistic about it,” Cyrier said of the expected growth. “They’re wanting the quality of life, and the jobs to come. They’re tired of their grandkids going away.

“I’ve been very surprised with it. I thought maybe people would be upset with it, fighting it.”

Jeff Gibeaux, a civil engineer and downtown Lockhart developer who has lived in the city for 20 years, said the more dominant reaction among locals is skepticism that significant change is on the way. After all, Lockhart is about the same distance from downtown Austin as Hutto, Georgetown, Leander and Bastrop, yet unlike those towns has never taken off as a bedroom community.

Which is precisely why, Gibeaux argues, that with Texas 130 in place, his town and Caldwell County probably are about to boom.

“As I tell people, it’s the last piece of pie in the dish,” Gibeaux said. “You can’t go anywhere else” with development.

It’s sprawl in its embryonic form. I understand why Lockhart wants to grow – many small, rural towns have been steadily losing population to the cities and suburbs – but boy is it hard for me to see how being a 40-mile commute on a toll road will bring the masses in. Maybe that’s just me, though. Of course, you can go elsewhere with development, just not this kind of development. That’s more of a subject for places like Austin and San Antonio to address, however. I’m dubious about all this, but check back in 20 years and we’ll see who’s right.

On a side note, the way this toll road came to have an 85 MPH speed limit was dodgy.

Before construction on the toll road stretch began, U.S. Highway 183 in the county was a four-lane road. The road had a posted speed limit of 65 mph and a reputation for accidents. Now U.S. 183 will serve as the frontage roads to the new toll road with two one-way lanes on each side. Though it’s widely considered safer than the older road, TxDOT has set the speed limit for the new U.S. 183 through Caldwell County at 55 mph.

The news of the lower speed limit designation for U.S. 183 has been “the talk of the town,” said Caldwell County Judge Tom Bonn. For three years, local residents had patiently put up with lower speed limits because of construction and had assumed that the 65 mph limit would return once the project was completed, Bonn said. He believes that the speed limit was set at 55 mph to encourage drivers to use the toll road.

Furthering suspicion is a report by the Austin American-Statesman noting that the speed limit was chosen based on a trial run conducted last year by an engineer hired by the SH 130 Concession Company. TxDOT declined to comment on why a TxDOT engineer did not perform the test.

Chris Lippincott, a SH 130 Concession Company spokesman, said a lower speed limit is prudent considering the economic development that the toll road will draw to the frontage roads.

“Whataburger and Home Depot do not want their customers pulling out of their driveways onto a 65 mph racetrack,” Lippincott said. “When you look at frontage roads with high speeds, you tend to find limited growth and too many wrecks.”

Local elected officials are skeptical. Both the Caldwell County Commissioners and the Lockhart City Council have passed resolutions calling on TxDOT to return the U.S. 183 speed limit to 65 mph and offer a discounted toll rate for Caldwell County residents that have to commute to jobs in Travis County. Members of the Legislature are also hearing complaints about it.

“I think public opinion is going to change it,” Bonn said. “It’s a bad decision.”

The profit motive sure does skew these public infrastructure projects, doesn’t it?

The hogs are winning

So many feral hogs. So much more needed to deal with them.

Texas upped the ante in its battle with feral hogs a year ago when it passed a “pork choppers” law that allows recreational shooters to blast wild pigs from low-flying helicopters.

The state doesn’t track the number of hogs killed by aerial gunners, but a new report from the Texas AgriLife Extension Service clearly shows the prolific pigs are winning the war.

As in all conflicts, there is money to be made.

Some helicopter companies say business is better than they ever imagined for shoots that cost from $1,500 to $2,000.

On the ground, a growing number of trappers, landowners and wholesalers are cashing in on all that free-roaming protein by selling trapped hogs to meat-processing plants.

Some skeptics doubt the effectiveness of the airborne assaults, but Dustin Johnson of Cedar Ridge Aviation in Knox City says the 130 or so shooters he has flown have taken out 3,000 to 4,000 pigs since Sept. 1, 2011, when the helicopter hog hunts were legalized.

“We whack ’em and stack ’em,” Johnson said. “We went to the Paris area in December and killed 600 in one weekend. The landowners were begging us to come back.”

But those numbers amount only to minor casualties in the hog war.

Consider that, in 2010, more than 753,000 feral hogs, or 29 percent of the estimated 2.6 million wild pigs in Texas, were eradicated by some means, according to the new report by AgriLife, which is part of the Texas A&M University system.

With that annual harvest rate, it will take only five years for the Texas feral hog population to double to 5.2 million, said Billy Higginbotham, a wildlife and fisheries specialist and one of the authors of the report.

“We estimate in Texas that you have to remove about 66 percent just to hold the population stable,” he said. “If we remove 750,000 pigs a year, we are still falling behind.”

The report is not available online. As we know, porkchopping has had some effect but not that much. There just aren’t any easy answers for this.