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March 1st, 2014:

Saturday video break: Alcohol

Just because two songs have the same name, it doesn’t mean they’re the same song. In theory, there’s an unlimited number of song titles; in practice, there are a lot of repeats. We’ll be looking at some examples of those as well as we proceed, starting with today’s example. Here’s The Kinks with a lesser known tune from their songbook:

I love the old-timey sound here, with the brass instruments and the clarinet. With the subject matter of “demon alcohol”, you could imagine it being performed – non-ironically, of course – at a dive in New Orleans.

Now for a very different and much better known song of the same name, from the Barenaked Ladies:

Two things are true: One, “Stunt” was a really good disc, with multiple radio-friendly cuts on it. Two, I don’t think I’ve ever heard any of those radio-friendly cuts on any radio station I’ve ever listened to in Houston, not even the reasonably broad-based KACC. I admit, I don’t listen to Top Hits or Alternative stations, which is where I expect BNL’s songs lived in the 90s. But it’s a mystery to me why none of them have begun turning up on Classic Rock stations, given that they’re now, you know, music from two decades ago. As we know, though, there’s no such thing as “Classic Rock” after 1989, so wherever these songs live on the radio now, they’re still not on the radio stations (okay, station) where I think they ought to be.

City to Uber: Enough with the emails already

So this happened.

The battle over Houston’s taxi rules moved Thursday from the streets to cyberspace, reflecting ongoing tension between an aggressive newcomer and a city government determined to proceed cautiously.

Thousands of email messages urging elected leaders to allow the ridesharing service Uber into Houston slowed city servers and led City Attorney David Feldman to ask that the company stop the online onslaught. A similar service trying to operate in Houston, Lyft, stayed on the sidelines of the latest dispute.

“The excessive number of emails has gone unabated, to the point that it has become harassing in nature and arguably unlawful,” Feldman wrote in a letter to Robert Miller, Uber’s Houston-based attorney.

[…]

Uber started an online petition Monday, asking people to show their support. Each signature sent an automated letter via email to 23 city officials. As of 4 p.m. Thursday, more than 9,900 people had signed the petition.

The deluge left the city in the odd position of telling Uber to stop bothering it with messages from its own residents and voters. Law professors said the demand was questionable.

“I can’t think of a law that (the email deluge) is infringing,” said Jacqueline Lipton, co-director of the Institute for Intellectual Property and Information Law at the University of Houston. “Most harassment laws contain a real and not imagined threat.”

Uber posted Feldman’s letter online Thursday, accompanied by the company’s vow not to give up on entering the Houston market.

“All of the people who have signed this petition with the intention of communicating with their elected representatives should have their voice heard,” Uber spokeswoman Nairi Hourdajian said.

You can see where Uber posted Feldman’s email, plus a link to the petition, here. This was a dumb thing for Feldman to do. It’s never a good idea for public officials to tell the public to butt out of their business. He has no legal grounds for it, and it just sounds terrible. I don’t know what he was thinking when he sent that.

That said, there is a message that perhaps Uber needs to hear, and Mayor Parker delivered it in a more appropriate way:

The people who want Uber aren’t the only people the city needs to hear from. Everyone with a stake in this needs to have a chance to be heard, and not all of them are in a position to do so by entering their name on a webform and clicking Submit. It does take time to revise and update regulations, and I for one would rather the city take that time to get it right. By all means, Uber fans, sign the petition and contact the Mayor and your Council members by whatever valid means you want, but let’s have some reasonable expectations about the process and its duration. We’ll get there when we get there, which right now looks like the end of March or the beginning of April.

State of the county 2014: Let’s keep working together

Time for Judge Emmett to tell us how things are going in Harris County. (Spoiler alert: They’re going fine, thanks for asking.)

Judge Ed Emmett

Judge Ed Emmett

On the eve of what could be his final term as Harris County’s top elected official, County Judge Ed Emmett on Thursday called for the consolidation of various government entities and services, citing explosive growth in the unincorporated areas of the county, the city’s lack of annexation and deteriorating infrastructure.

Saying he was not advocating for a total fusion of city and county governments, Emmett cited several areas ripe for consolidation: ports, health care, affordable housing and law enforcement, including county and city forensic crime laboratories.

“The future state of Harris County will depend on the ability of the region to work together to best address the needs of our residents,” Emmett said in his annual State of the County address, delivered to a Hilton Americas luncheon crowd that included dozens of elected officials from the county, city of Houston and several of the 34 independent municipalities the county encompasses.

Emmett and other county leaders, particularly County Sheriff Adrian Garcia, have in recent years harped on census projections that indicate the number of people living in the unincorporated areas of the county – nearly 1.7 million in 2012 – is expected to exceed the number of people living inside Houston city limits by the end of the decade, if the city continues a policy of limited annexation.

Emmett, county judge since 2007, said that practice has created a “problem in unincorporated Harris County, where we don’t have ordinance-making power, we’ve got subdivisions where the streets are beginning to wear out because they were built 50 and 60 years ago.”

Without consolidation of services, Emmett said, “we’re going to end up with a county that is overwhelmed, with a city that is still going to not be able to take care of its streets.” He noted the creation of any “multi-county district” or consolidation of ports would have to be approved by the Legislature.

[…]

Mayor Annise Parker said Thursday the city and county “are working more closely together than any time in our history,” citing the processing center, libraries, Metro and the Port of Houston.

“We will continue to look for opportunities where we can meld operations for more efficiencies and savings for our citizens,” she said.

I have a copy of the speech here; it should be posted on Judge Emmett’s website shortly. There’s a lot to be said for further consolidation of county and city functions. A lot of functions overlap or duplicate each other, and the potential is there to make these services more efficient. I sometimes worry that the current level of harmony between Houston and Harris County is mostly a function of the cordial relationship between Mayor Parker and Judge Emmett. Whether that’s a ration fear or not, I’d still like to see if we can get a lot of this stuff formalized while the two of them are still in office, so we don’t have to worry about whether the next Mayor gets along with Judge Emmett and/or his future successor or not.

Along the same lines, taking a more regional approach to some aspects of governance and planning makes a lot of sense as well. This is a much tougher thing to do because it usually requires legislative assistance, and because as Judge Emmett notes there’s a tendency to protect one’s turf. But a lot of our problems and our needs cross political boundaries and can’t be solved or even approached without some level of cooperation. The advantage of regional agencies and districts is they can help ensure adequate levels of funding to solve those problems. And if we’re going to talk about regional approaches, and since Judge Emmett talked about transportation as a big problem that needs a lot of attention, let me suggest that maybe now would be a good time to start talking about Metro and whether it might make sense to expand its service area to include places like Fort Bend and The Woodlands. If it’s a good thing to avoid duplication of effort in government offices, it’s a good thing to avoid it in transportation agencies and function, too. Just something to think about as long as we’re thinking big.

Harris County GOP to yell at cloud on Monday

Lone Star Q:

Calling gay people “sodomites” and U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia a “would-be dictator,” the Harris County Republican Party announced it will host a news conference Monday morning in response to Garcia’s ruling Wednesday striking down Texas’ bans on same-sex marriage.

The event at county GOP headquarters seems like a pretty obvious ploy to energize the conservative base in advance of Tuesday’s primary — when, among others, Chair Jared Woodfill faces a challenger from within the party.

According to a release sent out Friday afternoon, party workers and eleted officials will “stand shoulder to shoulder with people of faith to denounce the lawless ruling of a federal court seeking to impose the whims of unelected judges on the people of Texas.”

“President Obama set a precedent of lawlessness by intimating that he would now use his ‘pen’ and ‘phone’ to circumvent the will of the people and their elected representatives. Now every petty would-be dictator this side of the Rio Grande is advancing personal agendas by decree,” said Woodfill, who is referred to as “a staunch advocate of family values.”

“This is an astonishing example of judicial activism and a violation of the separation of powers. Whatever the personal views of Judge Garcia, he does not have the power to makes laws. Our Founding Fathers would be furious to find out that the Constitution was being interpreted to allow sodomites to marry,” stated Dr. Steve Hotze.

Remember when some people said there was no difference between the Democrats and the Republicans? Those were the days, I tell you. Just another thing to keep in mind when you vote this year.

Vaccinating skunks

To prevent rabies, of course.

Texas, which has long campaigned for family pets to be vaccinated against rabies, is now attacking from the sky one of the state’s foulest carriers of the disease: skunks.

Skunks would obviously put up quite a stink if caught and hauled in to a veterinarian’s office for shots. So the state health department is taking the rabies vaccine to the vermin.

Twin-engine airplanes this month are crisscrossing 8,800 square miles of East and Central Texas to drop 1.2 million vaccine packets.

Each vaccine is the size of a fast-food ketchup packet and is coated with smelly fish meal to entice skunks to eat it.

Packets will rain down at a rate of about 150 per square mile, as pilots try to evenly disperse the vaccines over rural portions of Montgomery, Fort Bend, Waller and 14 other counties to the west and north of Houston.

The massive airdrop – which should skirt around residential neighborhoods – is part of an expanded test by the Texas Department of State Health Services of the V-RG vaccine – the same preventative used over the past two decades to nearly eliminate the canine and fox strains of rabies.

“We want to know if it will be just as effective in wiping out the skunk strain as it did the other two,” said Tom Sidwa, state public health veterinarian.

See? It is possible for uninsured people to get health care in Texas, if by “uninsured people” you mean “skunks”, and by “health care” you mean “air-dropped vaccination packets”. Details, details.

Seriously, this is a good idea that worked with one strain of rabies and ought to work equally well with another. I hope to read a future report about how successful this effort was.