It’s Lucky When a Bird Does It To You

They say it’s lucky when a bird poops on you.

But what about when you poop on birds? Sculptures thereof, that is. In yesterday’s Houston Chronicle:

A request to fund a 60-foot artwork commissioned for the George R. Brown Convention Center sparked an existential debate over Houston’s identity Wednesday, when some City Council members expressed concern that public art depicting migratory birds does not accurately reflect the city’s brand.

The mobile of perforated steel birds and clouds due to be completed by next month already has been the subject of controversy.

The Houston Arts Alliance commissioned the sculpture from Houston artist Ed Wilson in late 2014, before rescinding and re-awarding the artist’s contract amid concerns about the selection process.

Asked to approve the transfer of more than $1 million to pay for the project authorized last year, however, several council members on Wednesday questioned whether the city should be promoting artwork depicting birds.

“Bird migration. Why?” Councilman Robert Gallegos asked during an 18-minute debate alternately tense and jesting. “How are we promoting the city with global trade, space exploration? That’s what Houston is. I don’t have a problem that you want to promote the birds, but promote global trade.”

Councilwoman Brenda Stardig joined Gallegos in critiquing the avian migration and flight theme.

“I’ve expressed my concern to Houston First about our branding and trying to make us something that we’re not,” Stardig said, referring to the agency that runs the city’s convention and entertainment facilities. “We need to embrace our space. We’re known for NASA. People come here, they don’t talk about the migration of birds.”

Wilson’s 60-foot mobile, his first major public commission, is set to be installed in the downtown convention center’s central atrium.

I’ve got a lot of problems with this nonsense.

First, when government officials dictate the content of art, it ceases to be art. We did not elect them to be our aesthetic conscience.

Second, art is sometimes representational, but often has a deeper meaning. What would a sculpture designed to “promote global trade” look like?

It could look like container ships in a diorama, sure, but an artist could take a symbolic approach to it. Goods come from all over into the Port of Houston, passing through on their way elsewhere. If I had to come up with a symbol, a beautiful, elegant symbol for a bunch of stuff that lifts up our economy while passing through, I just might decide that a flock of birds would do the trick nicely. I’m just spit-balling here, CM Gallegos.

Third, Council Member Stardig, I’m sorry that you are not as familiar with the local tourist economy. Or, perhaps you heard someone use the phrase “for the birds” when talking about tourism, and you thought they were being dismissive, when they were actually describing a reason thousands of people come to Houston as the gateway to some of the richest, most accessible, and least expensive to access bird viewing territory around.

I mean, all I have to do to see a bald eagle, osprey, or hawk is keep my eyes open when I’m getting on and off I-10 at I-45 these days. I don’t even have to leave the freaking Heights. But if I did, I’d find incredible biodiversity along the Texas Gulf Coast that attracts millions of migratory birds and the tourists who obsessively stalk them.

I’m busy, so don’t have time to do extensive research right at this moment ,but found this quick reference thanks to the Googles. A 2011 study of the Rio Grande Valley, which I realize is not Houston, but I’m using as an example of the value of birding tourism in Texas, found:

This direct economic contribution from RGV nature tourism led to a total county-level economic output of $344.4 million and 4,407 full- and part-time jobs annually. This total contribution includes a $179.4 million contribution to gross regional product and a $110.1 million contribution to labor income across the region. Local taxes generated from direct nature tourist expenditures for 2011 was $2,595,600 for sales tax and $7,262,700 for hotel tax.

I mean, if you want to call hundreds of millions of dollars something that’s for the birds, go ahead, and have fun with the city budget mess you’ve got coming up.

And that’s just birding tourism. I don’t know what happens if you factor in dove and duck hunting. And all of the rest of the coastal tourism for which Houston is a gateway.

Fourth, Houston, a city that likes to brag about being the third coast of the art world, has treated artist Ed Wilson like bird poop for several years now. ¡Y basta! Give this man a break, pay for the work, and let’s start enjoying it as soon as possible.

Finally, five. If this is a proxy fight over who controls the funding, or what the power dynamic is among the City, Houston First, and the Houston Arts Alliance, grow up and discuss it like adult elected officials. Don’t take it out on a piece of sculpture that is going to look gorgeous in the new, soaring, open space of the renovated George R. Brown.

Carrion Crows by Vlado courtesy of

Image by Vlado courtesy of

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Cruz Doesn’t Want All the Votes – He’s Smarter Than That

Cruz in NH

I hate those billboards that say “Think outdoor advertising doesn’t work? It just did!”

What they mean is that you looked at it, but that’s not working. That’s just reading comprehension. Unless the person looking buys the product, the advertising didn’t work.

I also hate “if everyone just gave $5” fundraising pitches. Everyone won’t. We know that.

It is a waste of time trying to appeal to everybody.

In advertising and fundraising, you figure out who your core audience is, and you go at them hard. You speak to them in the places they go, in the language they use, and you ignore everyone else.

That’s how Ted Cruz goes after votes.

Cruz doesn’t want, and knows he can’t get, every vote. His strategy is to get enough votes from the constituencies he knows align with his vision, counting on their numbers and willingness to march lock-step to keep him near enough to the top that when Trump implodes, or when Trump becomes such a threat that desperate Republicans look elsewhere, Cruz will seem like the best and only option.

When I signed up for campaign events over the weekend, I had to provide my phone and email. All of the campaigns followed up with me except for the Cruz campaign.

His sign-up form asked for the most information, including a question about whether Ted could count on my vote or if I was undecided. I checked undecided. I did not get any follow-up. They weren’t after me. Maybe they googled me—seems entirely possible.

Mind you, this was a campaign that had headsets so that people could phone bank while waiting in line, so it wasn’t that they didn’t have the capacity to follow up.

I truly believe that they were running so lean and focused that they didn’t really care about undecideds.

Here’s something else. Most campaign events had reserved seats in the front row. Cruz’s event did not.

When people entered the events with reserved seats, they quickly filled up the rows immediately around those reserved seats, so they filled in front to back.

When we entered the Cruz event, a few people bee-lined for the front row, but not everyone. People spread out.

When Cruz came into the room, he shook hands with every single person sitting on the front row. He didn’t even look over their shoulders. He was there to connect with the most eager, the true believers.

He shook other people’s hands at the end of the event, but again, those were the people who rushed forward, not those who hung back.

Jeb Bush paid just under $1,200 per vote in the state. Cruz, by comparison, came in ~1,200 votes ahead of Jeb, but paid only $18 for each one. Trump spent about $40, Kasich, a little over $200.

Everyone I talk to says there’s no way Cruz could win. 

But he won in Texas, and everybody said he wouldn’t do that, either.

Just because you won’t vote for him doesn’t mean no one will.

Repeat after me: he’s not after everyone’s vote.

Everyone isn’t his target audience.

He’s hoping people underestimate him. He wants you to underestimate him, to call him crazy, to insult his supporters and mock him. I’m guilty of that, I know.

If people don’t see him as a threat, they have less incentive to work hard and vote for his opponent. If he gets the nomination, which seems possible, and we have low turn-out in a few keys states because Clinton or Sanders supporters get cocky, he could win.

And we’ll really lose if that happens. Time to start taking Cruz very, very seriously, and to focus all of our effort on increasing voter turnout in Democratic and progressive areas.


Posted in advice you didn't ask for, politics, Texas | Tagged , | Leave a comment

An Elegy in New Hampshire

He took to the stage, adjusting silver glasses,
returning to a place familiar yet foreign.
A state where he once earned the right to move forward,
where now, nothing unfolded according to plan.
Outside, steadily, light snow filtered winter light,
falling steadily but blowing, soft and timid.
Inside, a small stage, a long line of curious, eager
supporters who could not stop thinking about his past.
His triumph, her stumbles, what was, what might be, one day,
Could she? Would they? Their ballots, their vote, their choice.
Hands shaking, recounting achievements, showing bar charts,
her husband, champion, appeals to those unsure.
Outside, dark falls. Sharp wind, hard ground, flat sky.
Predictions aside, the loss feels like an end.

Bill Clinton pauses

President Bill Clinton on Monday, February 8, 2016 speaking in Rochester, New Hampshire.


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Texas Progressive Alliance Blog Roundup February 8, 2016

The Texas Progressive Alliance reminds everyone that early voting for the primaries begins next week as they bring you this week’s roundup.

Off the Kuff published interviews with three of the candidates who hope to succeed Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner in the Legislature.

Libby Shaw contributing to Daily Kos can’t decide whether the junior U.S. Senator from Texas, Ted Cruz, more closely resembles former Senator Joe McCarthy or President Tricky Dick Nixon in his campaign tactics. The Texas Blues: Everything is Bigger Especially the Tricksters and Their Sleazy Tricks.

Socratic Gadfly, while liking many things about last Thursday’s Democratic debate, regretted the missing foreign policy questions that likely won’t get asked in ANY “mainstream media” debate.

“What’s the most you ever lost on a coin toss?” asked PDiddie at Brains and Eggs of a prominent national political blogger.

CouldBeTrue of South Texas Chisme wants everyone to know that South Texas people are waiting for clean water, too.

Nonsequiteuse has run away to join the circus. Or, gone to New Hampshire to meet the candidates.

Neil All People Have Value said we are not always best represented by people who resemble us in some superficial manner. APHV is part of


And here are some posts of interest from other Texas blogs.

Scott Braddock reports on the latest attempt to move the Texas GOP even further to the right.

Glen Maxey dropped by Juanita’s to give an update on how the Democratic effort to get absentee ballots out to people is going.

The Lunch Tray notes that Ted Cruz wants your kids to eat more French fries.
Mary Flood calls for an end to judicial candidates spamming requests for favorable votes in the Houston Bar Association poll.

BOR implores us to support Rep. Jessica Farrar against her notoriously hateful non-Democrat primary opponent.

Posted in politics, Texas, Texas Progressive Alliance | Leave a comment

Memories of NH Primaries Past

I lived in New Hampshire during the 1988 and 1992 presidential campaigns.

The TL;dr on this blog post is that I loved that experience, and that’s why I am up here now, getting up close (close-ish, anyway) and personal with the 2016 candidates.

The whole story, in case you are curious …

In ’88, Bob Dole spoke at my boarding school, which I have to think was more about the parents of some of the students—undoubtedly big donors—than the student body, most of whom couldn’t vote.

We were required to attend, so the auditorium was full. Only one part of what was a fairly anodyne speech sticks in my mind. Making the case that his experience, especially his military experience, qualified him to be commander-in-chief, he was going through a litany of what could go wrong in the world.

In those times, what could go wrong generally meant what could go wrong in the USSR.

Dole’s speech rose to what was clearly its crescendo moment. Voice and fist raised, he warned us about “the godless communists.”

And we laughed.

Because we were 15, 16, and 17. We weren’t boomers who’d ducked and covered. We were Gen-X Macintosh users who knew that the only way to win global thermonuclear war was not to play.

We laughed. He looked baffled.

We also had a mock debate between students representing candidates. A relative of George H. W. Bush spoke for his side; someone else was convinced to play Michael Dukakis. I remember thinking how benighted the faculty were, as they’d voted overwhelmingly for Dukakis.

Ninety percent or so of students voted for Bush. I did, I’m quite sure. I didn’t know much (or care much) about politics, but superficially, I felt I had a ton in common with the Bush clan. Houston connections, for one, like going to the same church. I had relatives who lived in the same vacation towns in both Maine and Florida where the Bushes summered and wintered, and my family had moved to the same Connecticut town where he grew up (the reason I was in boarding school).

How different things were in 1992!

I knew plenty about politics, and cared a great deal, and could not believe that someone who shared as much in common with me as President Bush did could be so backward when it came to reproductive rights. I’m pretty sure there’s an FBI file with all of my letters to him, excoriating him for abandoning bedrock Goldwater Republican principles.

I saw every candidate that year, Republican and Democrat. I had lunch with Pat Buchanan, who was delightful and terrifying all at the same time.


I also dined with Paul Tsongas, who had attended my college. What a thoughtful, compelling candidate he was, an assessment many people agreed with in New Hampshire, and almost no one did after he left the state.

Bob Kerry and Tom Harkin were both perfectly engaging. Jerry Brown, a little odd.

I had already cast my ballot, since I voted absentee in a town about an hour away from school, when I waited in a hot box of a room for almost 3 hours for Bill Clinton to arrive. Four people had passed out by the time he showed up. It was late, he barely had any voice left, and he was riveting. RIVETING.

I asked him a question, a total softball about abortion rights. He gave met the Clinton treatment: he answered, looking right at me, but then went on to expand on his answer, as if he could intuit the follow-up questions someone less star-struck than I was at that point might have come up with.

The magnetism people talk about? Very, very real. Electically so. I called the clerk in my town the next morning to let him know I’d be coming to re-claim my mail-in ballot so I could change my vote. It was pretty upsetting to learn that I couldn’t actually change it.

I missed voting for him in the primary, but did so in the general, when it counted. I didn’t campaign for him. I did put in some canvassing and tabling time with a pro-choice Republican candidate from Vermont (because of course) whom I’d met during the convention that summer.

That convention—wow. Anyone in Houston remember the pink Cadillac convertible doing Klan Watch?

Clearly, I caught the bug. NH spoils you, though. You dare to think that candidates should have to show up and prove that they really do deserve your vote.

I love Houston, and don’t want to leave, but I sure would like to see a presidential candidate without having to donate the maximum. (I’ve never donated the maximum, SO STOP EMAILING ME, and you know who you are.)

So, I’m up in New Hampshire to see who I can see. So far, Bernie, Clinton, Rubio, Jeb!, and Kasich. Hoping to check off Cruz and maybe Christie tomorrow. Honestly, not sure I could stand to go see Trump, but never say never.

I’m tweeting as I go, and as I am able, using #BORinNH, since I’ll be blogging more about it on Burnt Orange Report.

One observation:

The saying is that signs don’t vote, but I have been checking out signs. Plenty of Trumps, and a surprising number of Carly Fiorina. I’ve seen several Rand Pauls and Marco Rubios, and plenty of Jeb!, Hillary, and Bernie signs. Kasich signs here and there. Even a Carson.

There’s one candidate sign I’ve not seen.

Ted Cruz.

Not a one.

I sure hope NH isn’t smelling what Cruz is cooking, and they shut him out on Tuesday.


My brother, a New Hampshire small business owner, predicts: Trump, Rubio, then Bush/Christie or Christie/Bush in the 1-4 slots, then Kasich and probably Carly, and Cruz really far back. Let’s hope as far as Cruz goes.

On the GOP side, right now, I’d put Bush ahead of Rubio and Christie, if I thought that voters were reasonable. On the D side, I and about a half dozen people I spoke with today think it’ll be tighter than predicted. We wondered what effect, if any, the North Korean launch will have.

Hope to see you over on the Tweeters while this is going on!

And, if you want the rest of the story, 3 posts on Burnt Orange Report about my experience this year:

Part I: Rubio, Bush, and Kasich
Part II: Clinton and Sanders
Part III: Ted Cruz


Posted in Burnt Orange Report, politics | Tagged | 2 Comments

Texas Progressive Alliance Blog Roundup February 1, 2016

The Texas Progressive Alliance is ready to be able to ignore Iowa again as it brings you this week’s roundup.

And while I didn’t get a post up about it yet, this blogger would like to remind the voters of state representative district 148 in Houston that Rep. Jessica Farrar needs your vote in the primary. She’s drawn a challenge from an extremely anti-equality, anti-woman, anti-democracy candidate who delights in deceiving voters in order to throw election results. Don’t fall for it.

Off the Kuff highlighted how the tables got turned on the video fraudsters who tried to sting Planned Parenthood.

Libby Shaw is quite pleased to learn that in Texas justice can trump politics, in the most ironic way. The Texas Blues: A Stunning Royal Backfire.

CouldBeTrue of South Texas Chisme knows Texas Republicans love business owners way more than citizens. Why else do they allow dangerous companies operate next to schools?

With the Iowa caucuses looming, a pair of Clinton-supporting bloggers played the “soshulist” card. PDiddie at Brains and Eggs is at least glad to see that some Democrats know how to find — and push — the panic button.

From Bay Area Houston Can the Party carry Sanders’ socialist message? And win?

With words like “pragmatism” now on the table, SocraticGadfly looks at who the more “can-do” Democratic presidential candidate is, and shows that it’s Bernie Sanders.

Neil at All People Have Value considered both everyday life and the full picture at the intersection of Main & Cosmos in Houston. APHV is part of


And here are some posts of interest from other Texas blogs.

Harold Cook reviews Jay Newton-Small’s book Broad influence; How Women Are Changing the Way America Works.

Keep Austin Wonky interviews Travis County Commissioner candidate James Nortey.

Raise Your Hand Texas quantifies Texas school enrollment.

Raj Mankad rides along on a driverless car test drive.

Rainey Knudsen pens an open letter to the other 49 states.

Grits for Breakfast wishes he had been wrong about the effect of a new law allowing police to use license plate readers.

Francisca Ortega reports that many child brides are still being forced to marry in the United States.

Rick Campbell tells of a quest to help Houston preserve its music history.

Katharine Shilcutt sets the record straight on Texas food.

The Makeshift Academic explores ways to limit the potential damage of the Friedrichs decision.

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Confederate Heroes: On the Agenda, Off the Schools

Tonight’s Houston ISD board meeting will address a resolution to re-name eight schools that currently bear the names of Confederate heroes: Henry Grady Middle School, Richard Dowling Middle School, Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson Middle School, Albert Sidney Johnston Middle School, Sidney Lanier Middle School, Jefferson Davis High School, Lee High School, and John Reagan High School.

The names need to change. I’ve written about it before, but would like to address concerns that have been raised this week about one school in particular, Lanier.

Two teachers who are held in high regard by several people I know and respect object to the renaming of this school.

Jim Henley points out that Sidney Lanier was a Confederate only reluctantly, came to regret his allegiance, and is worthy of the honor of having a school named for him for his accomplishments as an author and poet.

Mike Bordelon echoes what Henley says, and goes on to raise additional issues: not enough notice was given, he felt, to the Lanier community; the brand equity the school has built; and the danger of “placing our current morals on the past.”

The school’s brand is only as valuable as the next group of students entering it. HISD parents who send their children to Lanier will seek out the school no matter its name—from what I’ve seen of these parents, they would ferret out a good school even if it had no sign over the door and were hidden behind a hedge of prickly shrubbery. And as long as students in the school, and faculty, continue to excel, there will be brand equity almost immediately in a new name.

Renaming the school does not diminish Lanier’s accomplishments, nor does it mean that teachers can no longer use his poetry to inspire writing, art, and dialogue. In fact, renaming it provides an excellent opportunity for middle school students to tackle the complexities of American and Confederate history. After all, art is as much about the shadows as it is about the light, and the most interesting conversations happen when they start with it depends.  

It is also very healthy and powerful for students to learn that heroes are not infallible. Just as not a single one of those Confederates was entirely evil, no person is entirely good. Children need to know that it is OK to talk about good adults doing bad things.

Bordelon may not believe the school community had enough notice, but his complaint that they had only a week’s notice rings hollow. The crescendo of community voices last summer calling for exactly this change put our city, and our school district, on notice. And last summer is not the first time this issue has arisen in the public discourse.

What’s more, there are some decisions that get made without everyone’s input and agreement. If we’d waited for everyone to agree to integrate Houston schools … well, even with integration by fiat, we’re still not there.

Adults know, and children can benefit from learning, that sometimes, leaders have to make difficult choices. Often, the process isn’t perfect, and sometimes, not everyone’s voice gets equal weight or equal time. For every person who thinks that it is too soon, there are others wondering, with pain and resignation in their hearts, why it has taken this long.

So, we come to the risk of imposing modern morals on earlier eras. Is that really a risk?

That stance ignores the fact that at the very time Sidney Lanier was alive, many people already shared the “modern” sensibility that slavery was wrong, and believed treason was something to be punished rather than celebrated.

It ignores the fact that the school was named in 1926, a time in United States history when racism was very much in fashion and the Ku Klux Klan reached its peak membership. It is less likely that the school’s name was selected to honor a poet from Georgia than it was selected because of the connection to the Confederate past. Reagan opened the same year, and their architecture suggests that at least Davis and Jackson opened in this era as well. What are the odds that a passel of schools received Confederate names just by coincidence?

This argument, finally, once again implies that we are somehow turning our backs on the history and refusing to acknowledge it. That’s not what we’re doing by changing the names of these schools.

Children are tough. They can confront that history in books, in class discussions. Sadly, they will likely confront that history, in some manifestation, in the streets and throughout their lives. We aren’t changing the history, and we’re not erasing it. We’re putting it in its place: in books and in class discussions where it can be considered critically, rather than etching it in stone over the doorways we ask the children to walk through every day when they come to a place that is supposed to be safe and welcoming.

It will be tricky finding new names, and we might get it wrong. We might find ourselves reconsidering the new names in 20, 40, or 60 years. That’s OK, though, and it isn’t any reason not to make this particular change at this point in time.


Posted in Houston, politics, time for action | Tagged , , | 1 Comment