Quick Roundup 357

Monday, August 25, 2008

A Taste of Houston

The Houstonist, a blog brought to my attention by Brian Phillips has an interesting post about Washington Street, which it argues is a "microcosm of Houston's history and future".

As you come off the dizzying traffic circle (we Houstonians aren't quite accustomed to those, although they certainly make for better aesthetics and much better traffic flow) onto Washington Avenue, the first thing you'll notice is the abundance of new construction. Not only homes, but restaurants, banks, strip malls -- a mad jumble of conflicting styles and materials that assaults the eyes. But if you look past the ubiquitous boxes of townhomes and the spaghetti-like telephone wires that crazily line the street, you'll catch glimpses of old Houston in the tiny row houses, old brick storefronts and 1930s-era tile street signs along the curbs: Houston in a nutshell.
Although I am unfamiliar with Washington Street, having driven down it perhaps half a dozen times, I enjoyed Katharine Gleave's post, which includes some good photography and mentions a few restaurants I might want to try before I leave Houston permanently.

I would add that when I arrived in Houston over a decade ago, I had the impression from casually reading the paper that Washington Street was seedy at best. It seems to be on the upswing, much like the area I have called home over the past few years. I give a good deal of the credit for the ability of such neighborhoods to emerge so quickly from depressed periods to the freedom of property owners in America's largest city without zoning to use -- or "repurpose", as Gleave once puts it -- their property as they see fit.

Time and time again, I have observed neighborhoods in Houston bounce back that in other cities, I would have had to write off for the foreseeable future.

On "Opposing" Smoking Bans

Brian Phillips discusses what, at first glance, seems like a welcome change: Some bar owners in West Virginia are refusing to comply with a recently-enacted smoking ban. Unfortunately, as he indicates, the defiance is for the wrong reason. Here is one of his excerpts from the Charleston Gazette:
Ellison said he's sick and tired of playing by the rules while his competitors secretly allow their customers to light up. He's called the Health Department to complain, but nothing is done, he said.

"Either rescind the order or enforce it," Ellison said. "Either make it happen or let it go. I want a level playing field."
Phillips correctly notes that, "While it is certainly reasonable to expect the law to be applied equally to all, the victims of unjust laws should not be demanding that the injustice be applied equally. They should be fighting the injustice."

He notes further -- as I have noted before with the malignant spread of Houston's own smoking ban -- that this kind of "opposition" greatly encourages the continued spread of such paternalistic law.

I am Noonan's "They".

In "They're Paying Attention Now", an otherwise perceptive article about why Obama's polling numbers are lackluster even against a lackluster opponent, Peggy Noonan puts the following words into the mouths of millions of American men:
As to the question when human life begins, the answer to which is above Mr. Obama's pay grade, oh, let's go on a little tear. You know why they call it birth control? Because it's meant to stop a birth from happening nine months later. We know when life begins. Everyone who ever bought a pack of condoms knows when life begins.

To put it another way, with conception something begins. What do you think it is? A car? A 1948 Buick? [bold added]
No. I buy condoms and I don't "know" that human life begins at conception any more than I think a Buick does or that burning bushes can speak.

What begins at conception is the life of a cell that, if permitted to live and develop, has the potential to ultimately become a human being. Removing this cell or the resulting growth during the first couple of trimesters via abortion is not murder because this growth is no more human than a Buick -- although its potential for becoming one is infinitely greater than that of a Buick. (Of course, if you believe that the universe is governed not by predictable laws, but by the whims of a ghost as Noonan does, you might beg to differ on that last point.)

That said, Obama's parsing of the abortion question will turn off many voters. That's a good observation, but it misses the forest for the trees. Obama's decision to participate in Rick Warren's event at all in and of itself represents a dangerous capitulation of the candidate of America's "secular" party to a theocrat. The proper response of a candidate coming from the party that its members constantly like to say was founded by Thomas Jefferson would have been, "I refuse to allow Rick Warren to pretend that any candidate for President must earn his approval for office."

As if that's a bad thing....

Awhile back, I ran across an article in the Wall Street Journal that notes a paucity of consequential new legislation coming from Congress:
Barring a burst of legislative activity after Labor Day, this group of 535 men and women will have accomplished a rare feat. In two decades of record keeping, no sitting Congress has passed fewer public laws at this point in the session -- 294 so far -- than this one.
Two things about this article floored me after I got past its perseveration on pointless resolutions: (1) 294 is a low number?!? And (2) A Republican later cites this "inactivity" as a sign that the Democrats are being ineffective.

For any Congress to be effective at its job -- which is, contrary to popular belief, to protect individual rights -- in today's context would require it to begin feverishly repealing the staggering amount of bad legislation that has accumulated over the decades.

Not all "activity" by Congress is necessarily a good thing.

A Template

Stephen Bourque pretty well sums up how opponents of freedom engage in politics today:
I am concerned with the way these numbers are used.

This has become the pattern: Fantastic predictions such as these are published in the news today, are digested uncritically by the public tomorrow, and end up appearing in the abstracts of bills on legislators' desks the day after that.
The quality of the public debate would improve dramatically if more people questioned the need for the government to be involved in solving every single problem that arises. The troublesome premise of paternalism has turned almost every factual debate into a political one, whether appropriate or not!

-- CAV


: Corrected typos.


Barrett said...

Gus, a lot of the public laws passed by every congress are comprised of naming the vast number of new post offices and other federal buildings constructed across the country every couple of years as well as re-naming old ones. Others are renewing the applicability of currently enforced laws. They've also got to pass several concerning fiscal matters.

Given all that, less than 300 actual bills passed in 20 months or so is virtual gridlock. That's just fine with me given the current political climate. Gridlock is probably the best we can hope for at the moment, unfortunately.

If you're interested, you can see what I mean by visiting http://thomas.loc.gov and clicking "public laws" in the middle of the page.

Gus Van Horn said...

That's pretty much consistent with the article, which talked many about nonbinding resolutions.

BTW, thanks for bringing up the Thomas site. I'd heard of it a few times, but never visited. Very useful.

Joseph Kellard said...

Someone better ask Peggy Noonan that if “life” begins at conception, than what is a sperm? Isn’t a sperm a “life” -- a living organism – too, before it gets to the woman’s egg?

But to come out against masturbation may be too extreme for Noonan and her "pro-life" ilk. They'd never get away with that crusade.

Come to think of it, the AIDS virus is also a “life," but those who contract it understandably do whatever they can to abort it. But will the "animal rights" crowd come out against killing microorganisms?

Gus Van Horn said...

To carry that line of thought even further: To live, for human beings, necessitates killing something else (if only the occasional plant).

But by allowing ourselves to die (in order not to kill anything else), we take our own lives.

As anyone who has ever felt it wrong to buy a condom "knows" that giving one's own life is the noblest sacrifice of all....

Matt said...

I'm going to miss your Houston-related posts after you move to Boston. I don't get out much--and I usually just go to the same places when I do got out--so with every Houston post, I learn a little something about this city that wouldn't be so bad if it weren't for the weather.

Gus Van Horn said...

What's kind of funny is that my wife and I had a bunch of favorite places and didn't get out that much!

But we were both here for a long time before we met and after we started seeing each other, so even we got to know the town over time! So take heart: If you're here for long, you'll gradually build up a good repertoire, too.

I'm glad you've enjoyed the Houston posts and jealous that you'll get to stay.

Oh, and we ought to meet and have a pint some time before I leave.