Where Was Zoning Policy In Houston Before Hurricane Harvey?

There is no doubt at all that emergency money will need to be appropriated to help rebuild Houston, America’s fourth-largest city, after this massive storm.  While compassion and dollars are most needed at this time we also must be aware of the decades-long lack of regulations regarding zoning in Houston. Some consequences of this storm are now playing out which were created due to past scorning of policies which could have alleviated some of the current suffering.

Regulations are a good thing, and now some are becoming painfully aware of that fact. Perhaps even some conservatives in congress will now understand as they provide large amounts of money to rebuild and restore people’s lives how much smarter and cheaper it would have been to not have willfully destroyed wet lands and allowed for pavement to be stretched over a massive area without regard to proper zoning.

Voters have elected to reject any efforts to pass zoning laws in Houston three different times in the past century. Today, Houston is the largest city in the country with no regulation.  Those votes against regulations were selfish and allowed for that city to be one of the most poorly designed in the nation.

Now Houston is in dire need of the nation’s help.  I fully grasp that need and the human pain that people there are feeling.  But should not the nation that now will pay for the process of renewable also have a right to demand accountability and demand that Houston have a zoning policy moving forward?

Hurricane Harvey By The Numbers

FiveThirtyEight has one of those interesting must reads today on the most amazing weather system playing out in Texas this week.  The results of this hurricane are nothing short of stunning.

3 miles per hour

Tropical Storm Harvey is very slowly creeping back toward the Gulf of Mexico. But it was moving at only three miles per hour as of early Monday, so Southeast Texas, where Harvey made landfall, is still in danger. At least five deaths, and many more injuries, have been attributed to the storm. [Dallas Morning News, The New York Times]

50 inches of rain

With Harvey expected to remain around Southeast Texas for the next several days, cumulative rainfall in isolated parts of Texas could reach 50 inches. This would be the highest ever recorded in the state. The National Weather Service is describing the storm’s effects as unprecedented. [The Washington Post, NWS]

15 to 25 inches of rain

Additional rain forecasted to fall in the Houston area through Friday. [KHOU]

18 counties

As of Sunday, 18 counties in Texas were covered by the federal disaster declaration. Nearly 7 million of the state’s 27.8 million residents live in those counties. Fifty counties have been declared state disaster zones. [The Associated Press]

56,000 calls to 911

The city of Houston had received some 56,000 calls to 911 as of mid-day Sunday. Houston did not issue an evacuation order — it was decided that moving the 6.5 million people who live in the metro area by roads one day ahead of a major hurricane was unrealistic, and risked greater loss of life than the alternative. [The Daily Beast, The Atlantic]

About 9 trillion gallons

Harvey isn’t finished, but that was the estimated rainfall in Southeast Texas and the greater Houston area as of 12 p.m. Sunday. If it were all collected, you’d have a cube of water two miles wide and two miles tall. [The Washington Post]

Boxing Is Boorish Behavior And Should Be Shunned

Last night as James and I rode an elevator up five stories in downtown Madison one of those alongside me asked if I wished to attend a watch party at a bar for the Conor McGregor and Floyd Mayweather Jr. boxing engagement this weekend.  A flyer was presented to me with all the information.  I was honest, as most know me to be, and expressed surprise at the event as I had not heard of it taking place.  The black woman reached for my wrist to check for a pulse.  Her eyes reflected what she wanted  to say.

“What type of a man are you?”

But my eyes must have told her not to venture down that path with me.

Not being known as shy with my thoughts I told her, and with the tight fit of the elevator everyone else, that boxing is a most brutal and low-brow sport.  Another person in the car strongly agreed. We finally all reached the floor we were headed to and wished each other a nice evening.

The fight was not anywhere near my radar and until less than 24 hours ago I had no knowledge of it.  I am mighty fine with that not taking rent in my brain. The fact that the two fighters made a recent promotional tour which was laced with each taunting the other with racial slurs only underscores why I want nothing to do with this sport.  That hundreds of millions of dollars are at stake or that people will belly up to bars around the nation proves my point about the general culture of our nation.     It is not a rising sun which I see.

The racial undertones emanating from this spectacle is do dispiriting to me. Using the sport’s history of racial conflict, be it genuine or ramped up for the sick desire for money, is most offensive to those of us who have been upset by the recent headlines about racial hate.    If this is what constitutes entertainment in the nation I will stick with my long walk tonight with James and perhaps encounter a late summer lightning bug.  Now that is a show I truly enjoy.

My Parents And Calvin Coolidge Had Something In Common

Listening to an interview this afternoon by author William Leuchtenburg whose latest book The American President: From Teddy Roosevelt to Bill Clinton is now for sale at bookstores made me reflect back on one of those on-going habits both of my parents had over the years in our Hancock home.   With the living room situated so that dad could view from his easy chair the traffic pass on our very rural road meant that such comments as ‘that is the third time he has driven by’ or ‘I think (so-and-so) has a different car’ would be made.  Mom was no different in the winter months to see if cars made it all the way and not deterred by drifting snow piles.  Unless one has lived in the country I can understand how this all might seem, shall we say, quaint.

But as I heard Leuchtenburg today I had to smile and call out to James as he needed to hear this too.  While in the White House President Calvin Coolidge was so bored that he counted the cars which drove around his home.   Now much has been written about the style and character of Coolidge, and I wish not to impart any of that on my parents.    Mom and dad watched the road as that just comes from living in a rural area, and never once because they were bored.   As a boy I counted the bean picking machines which passed, so I do not get out of being targeted with some of the same behavior.  In my case, though, I just yearned for something other than the life out in the country and it was rumored that some of the drivers came from out of state to work in the summer. How adventurous…..

James’ mom made sure when she designed her Maine home that would not be happening.  His dad had the same desire to see the cars pass as my parents so the living room was placed in the back of the residence.

Coolidge being bored in the White House though is simply boggling.   How could that happen?

“The Vineyard Of Liberty”

Nothing in the U.S. Constitution specifically stated that the federal government could make a purchase of a large tract of land such as the Louisiana Purchase.  But in 1803 President Jefferson found the opportunity to obtain this land from France at a most reasonable price.  The effort not only allowed for national expansion but also protection from European nations who saw North America as fertile territory along with possible efforts to destabilize a new republic.

The Constitution did not specifically allow for revenues to be made on internal improvements.  But when the need for moving products between the eastern ports and manufactures and the people living inland became of such a need the federal government intervened with a $7 million project known as the Erie Canal.

Over the course of this nation’s history the needs of the people have shaped the governing methods to allow for a robust economy, expanded equality, and all taking place within the treasured framework of liberty.  But always the questions remained.  How much equality and what degree of liberty must be checked for the type of society which the citizens desire?

After returning home this spring from a long Washington, D.C. trip I jumped into a pile of books about the founding of this nation.  One of the first–and the longest at over 700 pages and only the first of a 3-volume set–surrounds the whole notion of equality and liberty as told by the steady hand of James MacGregor Burns.

The Vineyard of Liberty has been a real treat with its heavily researched and artfully flowing narrative.  Starting with Shay’s Rebellion and taking readers up to the Emancipation Proclamation the book, though it runs in chronological fashion, is not a standard history book.  That is to be applauded.  I have described it more as an analysis of history with the emphasis on the evolution of the Constitution and its impact on citizens.

This volume has taken me through what some might refer to as the classical period of American history where the giants such as Jefferson, Webster, Calhoun, Jackson, and Lincoln all but jump off the pages and take form again as they litigate ideas and positions on  the great issues of their time.   The mighty controversial issues of the day take center stage such as slavery, the embargo, the Missouri Compromise, the Bank War, and nullification.  The pages turn from President Washington decrying political parties to the energetic emergence of national political parties.  The national growth of commerce and land size takes one to the Civil War.

What I am enjoying—yes, the pages are still being turned this summer with cups of coffee and then pondering for a while—is that Burns states he views leaders in the land falling into one of three tiers.  There are those national headline making movers and doers, the bright and often vocal orators on the state and local level, and then those who he terms ”grass roots activists.”   The book hits all groups but Burns seems to feel–from what he writes about–that the state leaders often had the most important message to impart.

History buffs will love the book and those who are adrift from caring about the past will never open its cover.  But for those who do I promise a grand thought-provoking and beautifully-written experience.  The other two volumes–The Workshop Of Democracy and  The Crosswinds Of Freedom--are on my shelves and hopefully will be a part of my winter historical journey.


Pro-Madison Police Organization Needs Credibility

It comes as no surprise to read that I am a strong and out-spoken defender of the Madison Police Department.  As such I care about the tone and content of other visible voices who share my concerns. Today one of those voices, Paula Fitzsimmons, made a dreadful effort that damages the larger cause and shows at the same time why perspective matters with every issue.

It was reported yesterday that a Madison police officer is back on patrol after she was charged last month with drunken driving.  The officer, Kelly Hoeft, was charged in July with first-offense drunken driving after she was seen in June going through a Southwest Side intersection and striking some signs.

According to the criminal complaint, on June 1 shortly before 10 p.m. a caller reported seeing a dark blue minivan go through the intersection of Raymond Road and McKenna Boulevard, taking out a couple of signs in the median.

Hoeft was stopped on Dolphin Drive by an officer, who noticed there was a child in her minivan. Hoeft, who identified herself with a police identification card, told the officer, “I’ve definitely been drinking,” the complaint states. 

A breath test found that Hoeft’s preliminary blood alcohol concentration was 0.27 percent, more than three times the limit for drivers in Wisconsin, according to the complaint.

I know most people find that story truly disturbing.  Fitzsimmons did too, but for all the wrong reasons.  Worse she made them public on a site that she has set up to grow support for police issues.

Kelly Hoeft is a human being who made a poor choice – and she’s paying for it dearly via the legal system and court of fickle public opinion. With Swiss watch predictability, the usual cop-hating cabals are using this incident to condemn not only her, but to vilify the Madison Police Department.

And the local media handed it right over to them. Out of all the big stories our journalists could report on, this is what they ran with? WISC-TV even chose this as their lead story this evening.

What Fitzsimmons wrote in just two paragraphs demands a public response.  So this is what she needs to know.

Hold on just a minute!

The person who made this a news story is Kelly Hoeft who had a staggering BAC and then decided to drive a car. My family has been touched with the impact of drunk driving (my sister’s best friend killed by a drunk driver).  So it seems to be my duty to inform you what Hoeft did was much more than “a poor choice.” It very well could have been a deadly choice.

To not report this story on the news would have been a travesty. The placement of the story in the top tier of events seems to meet the smell test as it was a local event concerning a matter that makes for headlines almost daily. That being drunk driving.  This time by a person we pay a salary to as taxpayers, and a person who has a duty to stop those who drink and drive!

I get your desire to be involved with policing matters in the city. I wish more were so inclined. But you do the larger issue you care about much damage when you fall all over yourself in trying to defend the indefensible. Fight your battles with more care for the sake of those who care about messaging.   

A Wisconsin Republican We Should Applaud Today

Wisconsin Republican Sean Duffy said that Confederate monuments should come down and denounced the Ku Klux Klan as “scum.”

“I look at those Southern leaders — that rebellion cost hundreds of thousands of American lives in the Civil War,” Duffy said. “They were fighting to keep people enslaved. I don’t honor what they were fighting for.”

Duffy, who is considered a strong ally of the president, made the comments after a roundtable on drug abuse in Wausau.  He said that communities should decide “whether they should have those statues up, whether they should be removed to museums or to other parks.”


Historical Trivia: Might James Madison Also Have Died On A July 4th?

A few hours after the Amtrak train departed Union Station in our nation’s capital on a late May afternoon, and darkness fell over the passing landscape, I relaxed in our sleeping car with a book purchased that day from The Library of Congress.  The Intimate Lives of the Founding Fathers by Thomas Fleming is a far more–and pleasingly so–read than the somewhat salacious title would have one believe.  I knew of Fleming’s work and that was the reason I selected it as one of my buys that afternoon. The book offers a fresh look at the critical role of women in the lives of Washington, Franklin, Adams, Jefferson, Hamilton, and Madison.

Today I finished the book.  What a gem of a read! Not that I am a slow reader but rather juggle a number of books and go back and forth between topics that intrigue me.  So it was in the final pages as the life of President Madison is examined that a nugget surfaced which I did not know.

We know that both Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, both so central to the formation and leadership of the young nation, died on a July 4th holiday.   Now in late June 1836 it is most evident that Madison is dying and only days remain in his life.  The doctors attending to him suggest that stimulants could be used so he too could die on the Fourth of July.    Madison could also die on a most distinguished day.  Madison declined the offer.

Madison will die the morning of June 28, 1936 after being asked if anything was wrong.  His response of “Nothing more than a change of mind, my dear” were his last words and with them also his last breath.