Last night I attended the NBA game between the Houston Rockets and the Toronto Raptors.
I don’t follow basketball. I went because I had free tickets.
You’ll think I am making this up, but the tickets I had sold for $165 each.
I figured that had to be the most expensive ticket. I looked it up. It is not. $ 165 is the sixth most expensive ticket.
For $165, one sits about 20 rows up and in the center court area.
The cheapest seat is $9.
You get the idea why these teams want to build new arenas and stadiums with expensive seats and sky boxes. People will pay big money to go to these games.
It’s less clear why the public is so often willing to finance these places with tax dollars.
I entered the so-called Toyota Center by walking over a sky bridge open only to what were termed “premium guests.”
I was a premium guest.
I voted against the publically financed construction of the Toyota Center both times it was on the ballot in Harris County.
The first time the public saw the question my way.
The second time the public did not.
At the end of the skywalk were two cheerleaders greeting Rocket’s fans. The cheerleaders are termed “Rockets Power Dancers.”
This was the fourth or fifth Rockets game I’ve attended. I’m always struck by how small the court appears in relation to the size of the players. ( Above is an 1890 picture of the first basketball court which was located in Springfield, Massachusetts. Springfield is the birthplace of basketball. )
If you’ve never seen the famous Yao Ming in person, I can tell you this—He is quite tall.
The 24 second shot clock is a disturbing aspect of NBA basketball. It leads to a lot of running up and down the court and a great deal of haste in shooting for a basket.
A longer shot clock, or no shot clock at all, would lead to a more reflective and thoughtful game.
Poor shot selection by both teams last night seemed more a manifestation of the artificial constriction of the shot clock, rather than a honest reflection of the sincere desire of the players to score as many baskets as possible.
The shot clock sends the wrong message—Everybody knows good things come to those who wait.
Here is a history of the NBA shot clock. It’s said that the shot clock saved the game from tedium.
Tedium is underrated.
Music was played over the PA system while the game is taking place. Often the music would stop when play stopped.
I found this odd. Isn’t the game enough?
Below is a picture of my favorite NBA basketball player ever—World B. Free. Mr. Free changed his name legally from Lloyd B. Free to World B. Free.
The Harris County, Texas Clerk’s office reports that nearly 150,000 voters with Hispanic sounding surnames are likely to vote in the county in 2008.
Houston, where I live, is in Harris County.
I’m pretty sure I’m one of those so-called Hispanic voters. My last name is A-Q-U-I-N-O.
I once worked with someone in Houston who after knowing me a year blurted out “You don’t seem Hispanic at all.”
Right she was—I’m Italian. At least I am everywhere except the Harris County Clerk’s office.
Or when I get an occasional piece of junk mail or a phone solicitation in Spanish.
My wife and I once went to Italy. Over there they thought she was the Italian. Really she’s Jewish. The dark curly hair tricked the Italians.
(Above is a picture of my homeland—Naples, Italy. I’m glad to report that the wife and I once made it to Naples.)
Growing up on the East Side of Providence, Rhode Island, I recall many teachers who would trip over the pronunciation of my name at the beginning of the school year.
Uh-queen-o is how you say it. (The little cruds I went to school with never tired of pointing out the “queen” part. In Houston I’m a Hispanic Italian. In Providence I was a straight queen.)
The East Side had fewer Italians than other parts of Providence. So I had clueless teachers and kids who could not help but comment on my name, despite the fact I was part of the largest single ethnic group in the city.
My elementary school and middle school years were in Providence. I went to high school in Cincinnati, Ohio. The high school I went to was 95% black.
Nobody took me for black.
My father once told me to trust people with many vowels in their last name. He meant Italians, but I’ve expanded it to include anybody who fits that bill.
(My wife, who is in fact the best person ever, has kept her two-vowel maiden name. You can’t have everything)
I was in a store last week. I noticed on the name tag of the man ringing me up that he had every single vowel in last name.
All of them!
I praised him for this. I said–“Man, you have every vowel in your last name. That’s great.”
He said, “You noticed.”
I think he was proud of the fact.
I asked the ethinicity of his name.
He said “Persian.”
I said, “Iranian?”
He said yes. He was friendly about it all.
Of course he was friendly—His name was loaded with vowels.
The man seemed somewhat hesitant say Iranian because America is at odds with Iran right now.
Iran is defined as the enemy.
If Iran is the enemy, why did that guy have so many vowels in his name?
I’m not Hispanic. My wife is not Italian. That man at the store was no enemy.
When other people define who you are or what you are, they will most likely get it wrong.
It’s a simple idea—People working for you on a holiday merit the same time-and-a-half wages you would expect to be paid on a holiday.
If you eat out on New Year’s Day, or order a drink from a bartender, or take a ride in a taxi—Tip that person time-and-a-half. That’s the going rate for work on a holiday.
The above photo is of a Chinese New Year’s celebration. Chinese New Year is on February 7 in 2008. It will be the Year of the Rat.
Tip well on that day also. Tip well on all days as a measure of respect for the work that others do and because you are also a working person.
With the Iowa Presidential nominating caucuses due up on January 3, 2008, here is an explanation and a history of the modern caucus process. The source is the Congressional Quarterly Press Guide To U.S. Elections Volume I.
Does the caucus system exclude the public to the benefit of ideologically extreme and unrepresentative individuals? Or does the caucus system rightly allow for well-informed party activists to have a strong say in who will win Presidential nominations and help build strong parties after the caucus is completed?
Read the following and see what you think.
From the book—
In the current primary-dominated era of Presidential politics, which began three decades ago, caucuses have survived…The impact of caucuses decreased in the 1970’s as the number of primaries grew…Previously, a candidate sought to run well in primary states mainly to have a bargaining chip with which to deal with powerful leaders in the caucus states. Republicans Berry Goldwater ( photo above) in 1964 and Richard Nixon(photo below) in 1968 all built up solid majorities among caucus state delegates that carries them to their parties’ nomination. Hubert Humphrey did not compete in a single primary state in 1968.
After 1968, candidates placed their principle emphasis on primaries…More recently, there has been an increase in the number of states employing caucuses…mostly in smaller states. The increase was slight among Democrats, but more extensive in 2004, when Republicans saw little reason to spend money or time in an uncontested renomination…
Compared with a primary, the caucus system is complicated. Instead of focusing on a single primary election ballot, the caucus system presents a multitiered system that involves meetings scheduled over several weeks, even months. There is mass participation at the first level only, with meetings often lasting over several hours and attracting only the most enthusiastic and dedicated party members.
The operation of the caucus varies from state to state, and each party has its own set of rules. Most begin with precinct caucuses or some other type of local mass meeting open to all party voters. Participants, often publicly declaring their votes, elect delegates to the next stage of the process.
In smaller states, such as Delaware and Hawaii (photo above), delegates are elected directly to a state convention, where the national convention delegates are chosen. In larger states, such as Iowa, there is at least one more step, sometimes two. Delegates in Iowa are elected at the precinct caucuses to county conventions, which are followed by the state convention….
Participation, even at the first level of the caucus process, is much lower than in the primaries. Caucus participants usually are local party leaders and activists. many rank-and-file voters find the caucus complex, confusing or intimidating.
As a result, caucuses are usually considered tailor-made for a candidate with a cadre of passionately dedicated supporters. This was evident as long ago as 1972, when a surprisingly strong showing in the Iowa precinct caucuses helped propel Senator George McGovern (picture above) of South Dakota, an ardent foe of the Vietnam war, toward the Democratic nomination.
In a caucus state, the focus is on one-on-one campaigning. Time, not money, is usually the most valuable resource. Because organization and personal campaigning are so important, an early start is…crucial.
The lone exception is Iowa (Great Seal above). As the kick-off point…Iowa has recently become a more expensive stop…But the accent in Iowa…is still on grassroots organization.
Although the basic steps of the caucus process are the same for both parties, the rules that govern them are vastly different. Democratic rules have been revamped substantially since 1968, establishing national standards for grassroots participation. Republicans have remained largely unchanged, with the states given wide latitude in drawing up their delegate-selection plans.
For both Republicans and democrats, the percentage of delegates elected from caucus states was on a sharp decline throughout the 1970’s. But the Democrats broke the downward trend and elected more delegates by the caucus process in 1980 than in 1976. Between 1980 and 1984, six states switched from a primary to a caucus system; none the other way.
A strong showing in the caucuses by Walter F. Mondale (bust above) in 1984 led many Democrats—and not only supporters of his rivals—to conclude that the caucuses are inherently unfair. The mainstream Democratic coalition of party activists, labor union members, and teachers dominated the caucuses on Mondale’s behalf.
The major complaint about the caucus process is that it does not involve enough voters, and that the low turnouts are not so representative of voter sentiment as a higher-turnout primary.
Staunch defenders, however, believe a caucus has party-building attributes a primary cannot match. They note that several hours at a caucus can include voters in a way that quickly casting a primary ballot does not. Following caucus meetings, the state party comes away with lists of thousands of voters who can be tapped to volunteer time or money, or even run for local office.
Here is a link to some more specific history of the Iowa caucus.
Here is a link to the State Historical Society of Iowa which has a new Iowa Caucus exhibit.
What do you think? A good way to go or not? I feel a mix of the primary and the caucus is as good as anything else. There is a place for party activists and a place for a broader electorate.
Though public funding would make it all a lot better.
My longtime friend, T.R.B, who lives in Ohio, sent me a pen for Christmas.
It is a nice leather pen with a printed pattern on it.
She said in her note—“You are probably doing more typing than hand written text, but always nice to have a pen handy.”
While it’s true I type the blog on a computer, I do use a pen to write down notes and ideas for the blog. I keep a notebook near the computer for that purpose.
I will now use the pen I got from T.R.B for my blog notekeeping.
This is most helpful because up until now I’ve been using the above pictured bucket of sidewalk chalk for my notetaking.
Below is a picture of Reed Pens from ancient Egypt as seen at the Louvre.
In the government of Ancient Egypt, according to S.E. Finer in the first volume of his History of Government From Earliest Times, well-trained official scribes were a cornerstone of Egyptian administration.
From the book—In short, everything in the administration revolves around writing. In the Egyptian view, administration and writing documents are one and the same and a ‘scribe’ in an official….there are scribes who are personally assigned to overseers of the individual administrative departments….the well-known principle that what cannot be verified through documents does not exist applies to the Egyptian administration…. Because of this, business letters often include the observation, ‘And you should keep my letter so it can serve as evidence for us on another occasion’.
Both longtime friends, such as T.R.B, and the study of history, provide the context we need in our lives to help understand what is taking place around us.
With the assassination of Benazir Bhutto in Pakistan, here are some links to bloggers and other sources of information in Pakistan and some information about that nation.
Here is the blog All Things Pakistan.
Here is the blog The Insider Brief.
Here is a collection of blog reactions to Ms. Bhutto’s death.
Here is the link to the Pakistan People’s Party. This was Ms. Bhutto’s party.
Here is a link to a rundown of political parties in Pakistan.
Here is an obituary for Ms. Bhutto from the BBC.
Here is some American liberal opinion on the situation in Pakistan from The Nation magazine.
Ms. Bhutto was the daughter of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto who was President of Pakistan in the 1970’s. In 1979 he was hanged.
The following is some basic information about Pakistan from The Economist:
Background:The Islamic Republic of Pakistan was founded in 1947. East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) seceded in 1971. Since independence there have been several military coups in Pakistan. The latest took place in October 1999, when the government of Nawaz Sharif was overthrown. The chief of army staff, General Pervez Musharraf, became the chief executive of Pakistan and, in June 2001, the president. He was re-elected as president in October 2007. A general election took place in October 2002, with the pro-Musharraf Pakistan Muslim League (Quaid-i-Azam) emerging as the largest party in parliament.
Political structure: The prime minister heads the cabinet, but the president chairs the powerful National Security Council, which comprises military chiefs and cabinet members. The president can also dismiss the prime minister, the cabinet and parliament. The National Assembly (the lower house of parliament) was elected in October 2002 for a five-year term, but has frequently been adjourned as a result of challenges by the opposition to the legality of General Musharraf’s changes to the political system. An election to the Senate (the upper house), where the four provinces have equal representation, was held in February 2003. Provinces are represented in the National Assembly in proportion to the size of their populations.
I just finished reading The Argument—Billionaires, Bloggers and the Battle to Remake Democratic Politics by Matt Bai of The New York Times.
The title of this book, published in 2007, gives the idea of what it is about.
The future direction of the Democratic party is the subject of a struggle between wealthy activists, bloggers who represent the so-called “netroots”, and the old-line party establishment.
Representatives of these factions might be, among a number of others, George Soros for the billionaires, Daily Kos for bloggers and Congressman Rahm Emanuel from Chicago for the party establishment. (The Emanuel story I’ve linked with is two years old, but is still useful to read.)
If you care about the subject beyond this brief summary, you can click the book title above, read the review and figure out what you think.
Personally, I see it as an interesting question and I’m glad I read the book. However, until new ideas emerge instead of what often seems to be a zero-sum quest for power, what I feel I’m seeing is a circulation of elites and insiders (even if they are now sometimes self-created elites and insiders drawn from a somewhat wider base of people) and not real change.
What caught my eye most in The Argument was a quote by MoveOn.Org‘s Political Action Executive Director Eli Pariser. He said the following- — (To be clear, I like MoveOn and Eli Pariser just fine.)
The vision of Democrats controlling all three branches of government—That’s not the vision I’m in it for. The vision is to actually to get somewhere on the issues we care about. Democrats are a vehicle. But if I’m trying to got to Boston, you know the vision isn’t Hartford.
Contrast that to what Martin Luther King said in his great sermon Unfulfilled Dreams —
There’s a highway called Highway 80. I’ve marched on that highway from Selma, Alabama, to Montgomery. But I never will forget my first experience with Highway 80 was driving with Coretta and Ralph and Juanita Abernathy to California. We drove from Montgomery all the way to Los Angeles on Highway 80—it goes all the way out to Los Angeles. And you know, being a good man, being a good woman, does not mean that you’ve arrived in Los Angeles. It simply means that you’re on Highway 80. Maybe you haven’t gotten as far as Selma, or maybe you haven’t gotten as far as Meridian, Mississippi, or Monroe, Louisiana—that isn’t the question. The question is whether you are on the right road. Salvation is being on the right road, not having reached a destination.
On this question, more relevant to daily life and to the goals we set for ourselves in our private and public lives than what group of elites controls the Democratic Party, I stand with Reverend King.
It’s okay if we don’t reach a final destination as long as we have made a good faith effort. I say this even though Mr. Pariser’s point is well-taken. In the end it is not about the Democratic Party, it is about the things that will make people’s lives better.
Still, life is such that many aren’t going to reach the goals they set for themselves. Reverend King’s message on this fact never loses it’s resonance.
Above is a picture of Downtown Hartford. Here is a link to the tourism attractions of Hartford.
Please click here for other Texas Liberal posts on Martin Luther King including a post on his Unfulfilled Dreams sermon.
Happy whatever it is you observe from the Texas Liberal home to your home.
As it says at the top of this blog—All People Matter.
The Houston Chronicle reports today that more gay people are moving to Galveston, Texas.
Galveston is 50 miles south of Houston and is on the sunny shores of the Gulf of Mexico.
From the article–
“With its laid-back lifestyle and low cost of living, Galveston promises to become the gay tourist mecca and residential center of the South, said activist-publisher Laura Villagran, who earlier this month opened the city’s first gay and lesbian visitor’s center….
Curtiss Brown, a longtime Galveston political observer who has lived on the island more than three decades, suggested that scrutinizing the island through a prism of gay life is “putting a magnifying glass on an elephant.”
“It’s more broad than that,” he said, arguing that the city’s history as an immigration port and its devastating 1900 hurricane contributed to a far-reaching tolerance. “We learned that we just couldn’t afford prejudice.”
Of course we know that when gays come, so does the gay lifestyle.
You’ll find these people shopping at the grocery store, taking the trash out, going to movies and taking their cars in for oil changes. Some may even borrow books from the library or take the dog out for a walk.
Gays do these things in full public view.
Will gays stop at nothing as they work to convert others to the homosexual lifestyle?
The Sunfish is an amazing sea beast.
(Blogger’s Note 6/26/12–This post, which I made almost 5 years ago, still gets hits. Today a number of people came here looking for information on a world record sunfish. I was not able to find online what they looking for. The closest I saw was this report from Field & Stream about a new record freshwater sunfish from 2011. While the freshwater sunfish is a different creature than the subject of this post, I’m certain that it is also a fish worthy of further consideration.)
Here are some facts about the Sunfish from Oceansunfish.org.
The most common of the ocean sunfishes is the Mola mola. These fish, like all sunfishes, appear as if their bodies have been somehow truncated leaving them little more than a large head equipped with long sweeping fins atop and below. The body is less than twice as long as it is deep.
Mola mola have a rounded tail, gritty sandpapery skin covered with copious amounts of mucus. Typically silvery in color with a slight opalescent sheen, they can exhibit strikingly changeable spotty patterns. They presently hold the record for the world’s heaviest bony fish–a 3.1 meter (10 ft) long specimen weighed in at 2235 kg (4927 lbs).
Aren’t you glad your skin isn’t covered with mucus.
According to the map at the above mentioned website, Sunfish live near me in the Gulf of Mexico.
Sunfish live in oceans all over the world.
Here is a picture of a Sunfish that shows how big it is in relation to people. I’m sorry this Sunfish lives in a tank.
I’ve never seen a Sunfish in person. Someday I hope that I am lucky enough to do so.
I’m not a big fan of the Texas A & M University in College Station, Texas. I find its culture to be both aggressive and insular.
However, it must also be noted that A & M students are backing up what they say with service in Iraq.
26 year old Jeremy Ray of Houston, a 2006 A & M graduate, was the 14th Aggie to die in the Iraq War. He was killed last week by a suicide bomber.
If 14 have been killed, than many more must be serving. And no doubt a number of those serving have been wounded.
Regardless of whether I agree or not with the War in Iraq, with a volunteer army we need people who are willing to fight our wars. The next war, assuming it is not with Iran, may well be vital to our nation.
It’s clear that Texas A & M students are willing to be of service.
( Below is the A & M campus in 1883)
The Nordic God Odin had a hand in killing the Frost Giant Ymir. The picture is of Odin riding his horse who was named Sleipnir. Both Odin and Sleipnir seem to be doing well in the picture.
Here is a Random House Dictionary defintion of Odin….”god of war, poetry, knowledge, and wisdom; Wotan: the chief god.”
Here is Ymir—“…in Norse mythology, primeval giant and progenitor of a race of giants. Odin and his brothers slew Ymir; from his skull they fashioned the sky, from his flesh the earth, from his bones the mountains, and from his blood the sea.”
Killing a frost giant is also a reminder that with the Winter Solstice now behind us, the days will be getting longer. That is good news. Before you realize, it will be spring and summer.
Below is a picture of ice and winter. Seen this way it is very nice. Still, spring and summer are best in my view.
Shorter Posts & More Pictures For Holiday Blogging—I Am, In Essence, Serving As My Own Guest Blogger
Texas Liberal will be posting each day through the holidays. I have such regard for the blog reading public that I can’t let my shop go dark for even a few days.
However, I’ll be writing some shorter posts than normal and relying to a greater extent on pictures. I hope that you the blog reader will not take offense. I will resume more normal postings as 2008 begins.
For 2008, I plan a great deal of political history to help place the ongoing campaign in context. And, also, because it is interesting.
I’ll be writing about, as I did in the past year, books, personal relationships, some Houston and Texas politics and news to keep it at least a bit local, and, of course, about marine mammals and other sea creatures.
There will also be plenty of blogging here about Campaign 2008 and questions of political science and political philosophy.
A new goal for next year, as some political blogs across the country move into a type of adjunct or symbiotic relationship with the mainstream political parties, is to link more often to independent blogging voices in Texas, the U.S and around the world.
I think it is up to individual blog readers, more so even than the people who own and operate blogs, to define what the so-called “netroots” really are. But, as always, getting past the “mainstream” requires a bit of extra effort. I want to help with that effort.
Thanks for reading Texas Liberal. Please have a nice and safe holiday.
Above is the logo of the Christmas Resistance Movement. These folks feel you should not buy anything at Christmas.
That might be severe for some.
Here is a list of alternative gifts you could make or purchase for a small price.
Here is a link to Heifer International. These folks give people around the world animals to raise to address hunger and help work farms. This is a group you can donate to at any time of the year.
There are meaningful gifts sold at retail stores that you can buy for people. I don’t go as far as these Christmas Resistance folks. I think the challenge is in finding quality gifts for the people you know, and also keeping in mind what may be the more pressing needs of people around the world who could use your help.
It would be an act of vanity to tell you I’ve read all three volumes of Oxford scholar S.E. Finer’s The History of Government From Earliest Times.
However, since blogging is an act of vanity, I will indeed tell you that I have in fact read all three volumes.
Samuel Finer was a student of government at Oxford who lived between 1915 and 1993. Earliest Times was published after his death. He had finished all but two of the 36 chapters. The Economist saw Earliest Times as a work of political science equal to Aristotle’s Politics.
Below are Professor Finer’s five defining characteristics of a political state—
1. They are territorially defined populations each recognizing a common paramount organ of government.
2. This organ is served by specialized personnel; a civil service, to carry out decisions and a military service to back these by force where necessary and to protect the association from similarly constituted associations.
3. The state so characterized is recognized by other similarly constituted states as independent on its territorially defined—and hence confined—population, that is, on its subjects. This recognition constitutes what we would today call its international sovereignty.
4. Ideally at least, but to a large extent in practice also, the population forms a community of feeling—A gemeinschaft based on self-consciousness of a common nationality.
5. Ideally at least, and again to a large extent in practice, the population forms a community in the sense that its members mutually participate in distributing and sharing duties and benefits.
Consider your own personal favorite nation and ponder if it meets these tests.
If it were an independent state, I’m not sure my home city of Houston, Texas would pass the fourth and fifth standards.
Here is some of the 1997 review of this title from The Economist
IF THERE were a Nobel prize for political science, Sammy Finer would deserve to win one for this extraordinary trilogy—a work of scholarship so broad in its sympathies, so ambitious in its scope and so elegantly crafted that it leaves the reader gasping, literally, with astonishment and delight. To read it is like seeing the pyramids or the Taj Mahal for the first time. Sadly, Finer—who taught politics at Manchester, Keele and Oxford before retiring—died four years ago. Happily, before he died he had completed all but two of his projected 36 chapters.
The task he set himself was nothing less than to describe and account for the principal forms of government that have existed on this planet since “the first unambiguously attested states yet known emerged round about 3200 BCin the Nile Valley and southern Mesopotamia.” The sweep of his reading and research encompassed—but was far from exhausted by—the ancient states of Sumer, Egypt, Persia and Assyria, the classical states of Greece and Rome, the Byzantine and Caliphate empires of the near east, the Han, Tang and Ming regimes of China, Tokugawa Japan and the emergence of the so-called “modern” states of Europe and North America.
Earliest Times must be bought used now. I hope it is reissued. It’s well worth the effort and money to track down and buy all three volumes.