July 29, 2005

Zoning! or "I am smarter than you are"

I had to go to dinner with some really smart people this week. Well, let me rephrase that. I had to go to dinner with some people who would describe themselves as very smart of pressed. They would also describe themselves as Democrats (and democrats), and egalitarian, and concerned with the common man, and wanting to do good for the world. And by my observation, at least one of them grew up extremely wealthy (beyond all normal person’s comprehension) and the other two had achieved a certain level of fame and comfort in their professional lives.

These people consider themselves so smart, they are sure that they know what is best for you. And for me. Well, for everyone, as a matter of fact. Me, I am not so sure. I tend to believe that given a choice, your average Joe would act mostly in his best interest. (I am not naive enough to believe FULLY in the “economic man”, but I think that he sort of exists out there)

So you can imagine that as the topic veered towards cities, and my own beloved Houston, one subject that came up was zoning. I am not fan of government interference in my life. I believe in the 5th amendment (prior to the Kelo v. City of New London (04-0108) case of last month) and I don’t like the idea of a local board of yahoos and political appointees telling me what I can do with my property.

My argument for the evening, however, was more along the lines of “Zoning institutionalizes poverty” I believe that without a flexible set of rules that cities cannot change. And if they cannot change they inevitably fall into disrepair as the residents of the city move away.

The howls of protest could be heard outside! How dare I, I mean how DARE I even SUGGEST that zoning was not the answer to all the problems that Houston faced! How dare I suggest that a learned board (of course, peopled by folks like themselves) would have anything but the best interest of the poor residents in their hearts!

But then, of course, one of the people did admit, that, yes, the zoning board in Philadelphia was shot through with corruption. And yes, there was a possibility that getting the right people into those jobs may be problematic.

But heaven forbid! That would not happen here!

It was interesting.

Then, by happenstance, I was looking at Slate today and say this article.about how zoning increases housing costs. There is a very rigorous analysis done here that explains how costs go up because of zoning. Good stuff.

Too bad I didn’t have those statistics at my fingertips earlier in the week.

Quote of the day

This is from Neal Mollen posting on Mark Squire's wine BB:

"If I see one more thread about the metabolic setup of any mammal vis a vis xanthine oxidoreductase, phylogenetic loss of de novo ascorbate biosynthesis in the evolution of prosimians, or uric acid's contested role as an antioxidant in vivo, that's it! I am leaving this board! "

The discussion centered on alcohol and human evolution.

July 28, 2005

Speeding? Me? Never!

I have about an 18 mile commute. It is against traffic (I live in a neighborhood called The Montrose, and it is only about two miles from downtown. I work in Sugar Land – Tom Delay’s hometown – to the Southwest of Houston) and the traffic flows nicely. There are two other folks I work with who live rather close to me, and I occasionally see them on the way to work.

This morning, when I was about two exits away from the office, I passed one of these guys. He had recently purchased a new car – an Audi A4 – and I thought it would be fun to speed up a bit.

So I slammed the hammer down and quickly jumped from 65 to about 95. Then, I just coasted up an incline with takes me over US 90 and down to my exit.

As I crested the hill, I see a small black and white Mustang parked on the shoulder. My heart jumped into my mouth, and I looked down at my speedometer. Whew! 65 again.

I was still jazzing on adrenaline as I pass the State Trooper, and he slowly pulled out as I was passing him.

What??? This can’t be right. I was trying to figure our how he could possibly have got a read on me over the hill. But I was relieved as he let me pass by, and then jumped to the main lanes and rocketed off into the distance.

I was never so happy to be passed by a cop.

July 26, 2005

Questions to Snopes

Every time I get an e-mail warning me about people getting kidnapped in malls, or a new speech by Andy Rooney or Kurt Vonnegut, I check out snopes to see if it is real.

Here is a link to some questions that the Snopes folks have received. This sounds like an urban legend in and of itself.

July 24, 2005


Today I bought a six pack of Cerveza Cristal. Now that, in and of itself is not necessarily notable. However, I only paid $5.09 for this six pack of beer, which is brewed in Peru, (I was introduced to Cristal when I was working in an iron mine in Marcona. See Below)

What makes this interesting is that the same day, at the same store, a six pack of Shiner Bock, a beer brewed about 40 miles away from my house, was selling for $5.99

Mine at Marcona. Now partially owned by the Chinese Posted by Picasa

Marcona, Peru Posted by Picasa

Home again

There are many rules regarding air travel, and I am sure that they all have very good intent. But they DID make my flight five hours late yesterday coming home.

It seems that there were storms again in Houston Friday night, and the incoming IAH to CCS flight was two hours late. One of the flight attendants told me that the FAA rules state that a pilot has to wait twice as long as the flight time before he can get behind the yoke again. So our 9:10 AM flight turned into a 1:17 PM

The good thing was that I knew it before I got down to the airport. I still got there on time, got a good seat, and struggled through the interminable Venezuelan airport bureaucracy. It took about an hour from when I got my ticket to when I got to the gate area.

Once, when I was living in Caracas, I was on an early morning (7:00 AM, if I recall correctly) American Airlines flight. Many, many people did not get through immigration before the flight left. I asked the flight crew (with my obsessive fear of missing a flight, I was one of the folks on the plane) about the 50% of the passengers who were not there. I was told that American does not have an immigration hold policy. I don’t know what happened to those poor jokers who missed the flight.

But I am home again. It was a good trip.

July 22, 2005

Smells of the city

Every city has its own smell. For my first day here I was too sequestered in air conditioning to smell the city, but today I did. It is the same. The ripe, rich smell of a verdant rain forest combined with 20 year old cars belching exhaust from leaded gasoline. I love it.

It is interesting being here and being taken care of by a big company. No street taxis. Wear your seat belt. Lock your doors. While, admittedly, this is all good advice, I didn’t just get off the bus yesterday. Even though I lived here for two years, they are skeptical to let me get too far a field. I don’t think that they want a dead gringo on their hands.

This is a beautiful city

July 21, 2005

Another city view Posted by Picasa

Caracas City View from The Melia Posted by Picasa

View Towards El Avila Posted by Picasa


It is sort of unnerving to return to a place after ten years. Especially if you lived in that place for two years. You feel as if you should know the place, and indeed it seems familiar, but in a déjà vu sort of way. The roads have names you recognize, but you don’t know where they go. The buildings look familiar, but not enough to walk into. You think you can find your way around, and yet you are lost. You think about the route you took home everyday, the drive to the country, the streets you knew took you to your clients. But they just don’t seem to be the same.

The offices I visited I have visited many times before. But all the players have changed. That should be expected after ten years, but because of the oil strike of a couple of years ago, the corporate memory is gone also. From my standpoint it is neither good nor bad, it just is. The people I meet want to like our stuff, and I think that they will. They want to BUY our stuff, and I think that they will.

I was much younger than I am now when I lived here. To me, it was the biggest adventure of my life, and I thought it was the coolest thing that anyone could possibly do. The coolest job that anyone could possibly have. Working overseas, especially in a “hard duty” post was what I had wanted to do for years. Coming back here makes me just a tiny bit nostalgic. But more for the feeling than the experience. I have had all the experiences that I need. But that desire to be at the front of the pack, the drive to experience it all was something else.

Expats are funny. I have written about that life before, and I probably will again. I think I mentioned about the expat game where you talk about how cool it was before the new guy got here. I still see people playing that game.

I am hoping to have dinner tomorrow with someone I used to work with here. More on that later, I hope.


I generally don’t care for tropical fruits. Guanabana (usually called soupsop) is far too sweet, with a funny white pulpy texture and shiny black seeds. Lechosa (papaya) has a strange, other worldly taste and a very mushy texture when wipe. Mangos? Don’t even get me started. When I lived here in Caracas before, I had several mango trees on the property. They are VERY prolific, and I had rotting mangos around the house all the time. One of the dogs (A big, black cross between a Lab and a Doberman) would eat several a day.

But I love Parchitas. Called passion fruit elsewhere, I think that they are great. Too sour and bitter for most, the yellows skinned version you get here I find delightful. I can drink parchita juice all day long. I had some at breakfast today, and hope to have plenty more before I go home tomorrow.

En Route to Caracas

Waiting for a plane to leave is sometimes like not waiting at all. You get on the plane, and the slow process of the plane filling up is always the same. You wait to see ifteh seat next to you will be taken, and it inevitable is. You then wait for the “cross check and verify” command from the front of the plane, which means that you will be forced to turn off your cell phone. Then you wait for the “howdy” from the pilot, and you push back and get ready to live through the boredom of the next five hours.

This flight, from Houston to Caracas, was really no difference. It is, of course, imbued with a slight different frisson for me – this is the first time I have been to Venezuela in about 11 years (I need to check that to make sure), and much has happened in that time. But the waiting for the travel to commence was the same, maybe worse.

There have been afternoon thunderstorms in Houston for the entire month of July. Over a two day period a week of so ago, we got about five inches. Since then, it is a rare afternoon that goes by with no rain.

So once we loaded the plane and the rain started to fall, I cannot say that anyone was surprised. Then they stopped the loading of the luggage. Then the rain stopped, and we finally got to push back, about 45 minutes late.

But, as in any large airport, there are plenty fo other planes waiting to go as well. So we waited another hour or so. We are two hours late leaving, which means we will get to the Caracas airport about 11:30, up to the city about 12:30. That is not something that I am looking forward to.

I have also not made my own reservations, so I am at the mercy of my hosts. I have had bad experiences with this in the past, and, quiet frankly, I am expecting the worst. But before I finish this piece, the truth will be out.

I lived in Venezuela in 1993 and 1994. I was working for a software company that was international in breadth, but sometimes provincial in approach. I loved the work, I loved the countries where I spent time. I don’t want to make it more that it was, but I was an expatriate for those two years (and two years more in Asia) and I loved it.

Now, I hate to travel. I have mentioned that before, and I don’t need to belabor it here. It will be an interesting couple of days. I just hope that I will be able to drink some Polar Beer, eat some meat or maybe some cachapas, and try to get some business started.

July 19, 2005

July 18, 2005

Lavish Dwarf Entertainment

Here is a quote from today’s (7.18.05) Wall Street Journal:

The festivities began with a trip by private jet from Boston to a small airport outside New York City. There, the revelers picked up some Wall Street traders and at least two women who investigators suspect may have been paid for their attendance, say people familiar with the matter. The partygoers -- including the groom-to-be, who was getting ready to marry the daughter of former Tyco International Ltd. boss L. Dennis Kozlowski -- then continued to trendy South Beach in Miami. The fun included a stay at the ritzy Delano Hotel for some, a yacht cruise and entertainment by at least one dwarf hired for the occasion.

"Some people are just into lavish dwarf entertainment," says the 4-foot-2 Danny Black, a part-owner in Shortdwarf.com, an outfit that rents dwarfs for parties starting at $149 an hour. Mr. Black says he spent part of the weekend on the yacht and worked as a waiter on the Friday night at a high-end Miami eatery alongside what he called "regular size" people. "A good time was had by all," he said, declining to provide further details.

I don’t even think that I need to add anything to this except:


July 15, 2005

Wine Blogging Local Wines

I wanted to love this wine. Heck, I wanted to LIKE this wine! I noticed about a year ago that a little Mexican food place down the street form my office had closed (There was a photyocopied sign on the door saying something about the non-payment of rent), and would stop back occasionally to see what the great county of Fort Bend would allow us to have.

Imagine my surprise when I went by around Christmas, and noticed a sign on the door that stand Circle S Vineyards would soon be opening in that spot. A Vineyard? In Sugar Land, TX???

Now, let me say right now that I don’t LIVE in Sugar Land (Hope of Imperial Sugar and Tom Delay), I only work there. I will write about where I live by and by. S-Land is a typical Houston suburb, with typical Houston suburban leanings. I never thought that a Vinyard was one of them.

So I waited, and waited. And waited…

They finally opened, and I slipped over there one Thursday afternoon. Nice facility. They have the primary fermentation tanks (Stainless Steel) there. They have some oak barrels, too, but I was unclear as to whether or not they were for show or for real.

I talked to the Vintner, who is fifth generation at this sort of thing. He grows some grapes up around Centerville (so named because it is midway between Houston and Dallas) and imports some from Italy. I asked for a taste, and he reluctantly agreed. I had a Montepulciano. I thought it was OK, so I bought a couple of bottles of this, and a couple of his Sangiovese.

We tried the Sangiovese earlier, and found it very simple and fruity. Much like red Koolaid.

Tonight, in recognition of Wine Blogging Wednesday #12 we tried the Montepulciano. It had more to say for itself, but it was still a very simple, fruit forward wine. No tannin, no acid, no nuthin! were my notes on CellarTracker. I like to drink local wines, and I like some Texas wines. I think that this one needs more time.

My dear sweet wife with our oddball cat Little Guy. Posted by Picasa

July 14, 2005

Off to work! Yes, that is a blue seersucker suit. Blaze is trying to help. Posted by Picasa

Nancy Pelosi

About two weeks ago I got an e-mail from Doreen saying that we were invited to a book signing for Alexandra Pelosi. Her letter said “You should Google this woman -- she is Nancy Pelosi's daughter. Let me know if you want to come with me.” So I did. It turns out that she is the daughter of Nancy Pelosi, the minority leader of the House of Representatives.

Alexandra is on a book tour for her new book Sneaking Into the Flying Circus : How the Media Turn Our Presidential Campaigns into Freak Shows. She was on the Democrat’s presidential campaign bus in the last presidential election. Previously, she had done a movie about GWBush’s campaign in 2000. She followed him with a hand help camera. It is supposed to be good.

The event was this evening, and the weather has been horrible in Houston. I was reluctantly dragged out of our nice safe home to a nice house in one of the ritzier neighborhoods in town. I was convinced that we were going to be swamped with rain, but luckily I was wrong.

So we get to the house, and a couple of bodyguards are in the street blocking it almost completely. I was not amused. We finally made it inside, and Doreen started chatting with friends. I had a beer.

Soon, Nancy Pelosi herself interrupted our group and was duly introduced to us. Wow Nancy Pelosi! One of the most powerful Democrats in the US, one of the most powerful people I have ever met face to face! She was saying that her daughter’s plane was delayed, and she wanted to get started.

So she gathered the crowd (about 20 people) and started telling some anecdotes about her daughter writing the book. She admitted that she now has to avoid some of her fellow democrats in the house because of some of the stories (evidently the book pulls no punches)

The talk, naturally enough, gravitates to politics. Tom Delay and Karl Rove are covered. I ask my question, (I always feel compelled to ask questions at these things) which was whether or not she would support non-partisan redistricting boards for the entire House of Representatives. She fumbled some, but said that if all the legal requirements (voting rights act, etc) are upheld, she would support it.

I had a chance as we were leaving to discuss this one on one with her. I asked her how many seats she believed were competitive in the House. She said that only (only!) 75% were safe. She said that the press exaggerates. I will go to The Economist (my favorite) claims only 29 of the 435 house seats are competitive. That is shy under 7%. I told her that if I could make my opinion know about one thing in our system it would be this. We’ll see if it makes any difference.

July 12, 2005


When I wrote about our vacation in Spain, I mentioned that sometimes I don’t necessarily like to travel away from home.

HERE is a commentary from Marketplace in a similar theme.

Fortune Cookie

I got a fortune cookie the other day that said:

You are a fun-loving person, and you will find much happiness.

That about sums it up.

July 7, 2005

Dogs have feelings

We have a dog. A nice, mixed breed, brown dog. She is about 50 pounds, and is a brindle color. We love the dog, she loves us.

But she doesn’t like everyone. And she doesn’t dislike everyone, either. We have a yard with a white picket fence, so passers-by can interact with the dog rather easily. Some people she likes, and will run up and down the fence line with them wagging her tail.

Others, however, she hates. She tries to bite them, she tries to dig out of the fence so that she can get them. It is scary to see. Sometimes we run into these people when we walk her (and we walk very early – usually between 5:30 and 6:00 AM). She hates them then, too. So it is not merely fence aggression.

Why? What does she know that we don’t? Some of the people she hates almost seem normal. (well almost)

Generally, I trust her judgment. She has never hurt anyone either on our property or off. We even had our bikes stolen out of our garage when she was home, outside, and as far as we know, she had no interaction with the thief.

The New Yorker: The Talk of the Town

Not sure how long this link will work, but it is pretty good:

The New Yorker: The Talk of the Town

Hard to believe, but I feel sorry for Russell Crowe!

July 6, 2005

Seven Six Five

Today is my birthday. I am 48 years old. The cool thing about my birthday this year is that it is 7/6/05 – you know, Seven Six Five. Well, I think it’s cool.

My lovely and talented wife came home for lunch, and took me to eat lunch at the Original New Orlean’s Po Boy on Main street just south of Alabama. I had eaten there many years ago, and remember their food to be great. I would call it a road house or something like that.

The building is sitting pretty much all by itself in the middle of a huge parking lot. The building is painted yellow, and you can see the “shadow” of a little guy in a top hat on its sign. The guy has been painted over.

You walk into the place and are met with a long, long tray table. There is a friendly employee waiting for you to make up your mind about what you want. They have great hamburgers, but we were there for the oyster po-boys. They are the best in the cityt

These po-boys are made in front of your eyes. The oysters are not fried until you place your order, and they are fried soft – not into rock hard little dried nubbins. These are crunchy and juicy, with real oyster flavor bursting out at ever bite. The sandwiches are then dressed with tomato and lettuce, and just the right amount of tartar sauce. Add a couple of dashes of Tabasco, and it is po-boy heaven.

Coupled with crinkly fries and a glass of Ice Tea, it was the perfect birthday lunch.

July 5, 2005

Do you know who I am???

What is it about celebrity that turns adults into head bobbing, screaming teenagers?

I was at a party the other night to watch the fireworks for the 4th of July. They were serving drinks as usual, and the usual crowd was there. At one point in the evening a woman comes in whom I had met before briefly. I was introduced again, and as I was about to say, “I think we’ve met” she just couldn’t wait to blurt out “Ralph and Deborah Blumenthal are here! Well, I don’t know if they are HERE here, but they are here in the building! I saw their names in the guest register!”

Now, I know who Ralph Blumenthal is. He is a reporter for the New York Times. I have not heard of his wife, but she evidently writes children’s books. This woman was going NUTS because this fellow was in the SAME BUILDING as we were. I mean, really. She was a professional who owns her own business, and was going crazy over a reporter?

So why do people do that? Are they looking to make some money off the celebrity? Gain some credibility? Learn something?

One of the things I find most annoying on the radio is interviews with musicians and artists. I find them mostly boring and tedious. I figure if you want to know what a musician wants to say, listen to their music! If you want to know what an artist has to say, look at their art! If you want to know what a writer has to say, read what they have written! There is no reason to listen to Pete Seegar prattle on about how he came to write If I Had a Hammer. Or what Bruce Springsteen was thinking about when he went on tour the last time.

But this stuff sells, so I guess we are all voyeurs at heart. I just wish I knew why.