Saturday, January 24, 2009

Don't Sweat the Small Stuff 11

When Jail Won't Work, Try Begging
Houston City Council Member Sue Lovell proposed an inane approach to stopping graffiti in last Sunday's Chronicle.

More than ever before, we call on people who mar our buildings with graffiti to cease and desist and channel their efforts to more constructive areas. Volunteer in your neighborhood. Work with a school to help younger students paint their classrooms in an appropriate way. Teach painting techniques to kids or senior citizens.

Those who deface property should be thrown into jail and fined. Lovell has no problem using the police to apprehend such vicious criminals as taco truck owners and businesses that use "attention-getting devices", but actual criminals can be dealt with simply by begging them to cease and desist. For some reason, I don't think graffiti "artists" are going to pay much attention to her.

But property owners who get "tagged" had better pay attention to Lovell, because they only have ten days to abate the graffiti or face fines from the city. In other words, Lovell resorts to begging criminals to stop their activities, and then threatens the victims with criminal sanctions if they don't respond quickly enough. Government is supposed to protect our rights, not threaten to make us criminals after we are victimized.

A Shell Game
Former Shell President John Hofmeister appeared on Neil Cavuto on January 20. While I avoided the television and radio most of that day, Hofmeister seemed to the echo general sentiment of the day. Referring to the problems on Wall Street, he said that individual decision making might have been good for the individuals, but not for the country.

He is claiming that the people running the large financial institutions made "good decisions" despite the fact that many ran their companies into the ground. Oh, but he did say "good for the individuals", which means, the leaders made tons of money while running the companies into the ground.

Hofmeister is playing right into Obama's hand. He is painting the leaders of Wall Street as bandits, who raped and pillaged the nation and made millions off the back of Joe Six-Pack. What we need, he implies, is more regulations. What we need is for individuals to put aside their own judgment for the sake of the country. And if they won't do it willingly, by Obama we'll make them.

An Observation on Mass Transit
I spend a significant amount of time on Houston's highways and roads, and for years, one observation has gnawed at me-- METRO buses impede traffic. Maybe someone has done a study on such things, but it seems to me that they slow traffic flow significantly.

Consider the following: A bus must make regular stops to let passengers on and off. They do this regardless of the traffic or the presence of signals. They often stop in the middle of a block. In any case, while they are stopped they block one lane of traffic, which creates a bottleneck and reduces traffic flow.

A stretch of road near my office seems to be particularly bad for this. I am often caught behind a bus that stops just before my turn. If I pass the bus and attempt to turn in front of it, I could be cited for an illegal turn and possibly smashed by the bus--a bus that I partially own. So I patiently wait, burn gas, and ponder my tax dollars at work.

Name that Bridge
The Chronicle reports that the "Tolerance Bridge" will be getting a new name.

“It has too many hints of negativity,” said Councilman Jarvis Johnson.
The $7 million pedestrian bridge, which will be built primarily with public funds, is supposed "to celebrate Houston’s cultural diversity and the cosmopolitan sensibility and mutual respect". Personally, I think that city officials are asking an awful lot of a bridge. It seems like all that they should really ask of a bridge is to provide a safe walking path, but they are adding a lot to this bridge's job description. But I digress.

Local artist Bill Davenport offered some insight into the behind-the-scenes politics of public art.

Public art is “always ripe with opportunities for ridicule,” he said. “There are just so many constituencies to satisfy: the funders, the city, the public, the art people. It’s just a glacial morass of bureaucratic fumbling and bumbling around. And sometimes it works anyway, and sometimes it doesn’t.”

The same can be said about a lot of other public projects. Anytime something is done with public money, a stampede ensues to exert influence on how the money is spent. It becomes a turf war as competing groups vie for the right to speak for the public.

But the issue of the name for this monstrosity still remains. A few ideas I've come up with are:

  • A Big Pile of Crap Bridge
  • The Bridge with No Name
  • A Waste of Taxpayer Money Bridge

I'd submit these ideas to the naming committee, but I suspect that they would regard me as being less than tolerant.


Anonymous said...

In my opinion, as well as good majority in America, the root of the problem with the American economic meltdown is individual greed at many levels. You are suggesting that, because John Hofmeister points out this fact, he is implying that there is need for increased government regulations. How does that thought follow?

Brian Phillips said...

Then the opinion of a "good majority" is wrong. The financial industry is heavily regulated, and it has been well established that those regulations were the essential cause of the meltdown.

If individual decision making is bad for the country, then how is that corrected? By reducing/ eliminating/ controlling individual decision making, that is, more regulations. And this is precisely what Obama has proposed.