FAN FARE FOR THE COMMON FAN

April 27, 2015 by  
Filed under Blogs, Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

By Lynn Ashby                                                 27 April 2015

Peter O’Reilly, the NFL’s senior vice president of events, recently visited NRG Stadium, aka Son of the Astrodome, and pronounced the stadium up to speed to host the 2017 Super Bowl. Oh, except for minor improvements like upgrading the stadium’s WiFi, and renovating the club seating and the executive suites. It shouldn’t cost more than $50 to $70 million. O’Reilly said the costs of upgrading the facility rest with Harris County or its tenants: the Texans and the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo, which have absolutely no plans to pick up the tab. That leaves – one guess — the taxpayers.

Hear me out. The stadium is 13 years old, and certainly needs a rehab. It is far older and more run-down than our schools, hospitals and potholes. Besides, the Super Bowl will make us a pile of money. The 2004 Super Bowl brought $350 million to the Houston area. New Orleans claims its Super Bowl had a $480 million economic impact in 2013. The Houston Super Bowl Host Committee predicts the 2017 game will provide a $500 million boost to the economy. However, according to the committee, the game and lead-up events will cost between $30 million and $70 million. That’s apparently in addition to the millions spent on the stadium.

Let’s parse these figures. “Economic impact,” “brought to the area” and maybe “trickle down” are NOT the same as bringing that much cash to town. It is voo-doo economics designed by those who will end up in the executive suites. Follow the money: A fan pays $100 for a meal while visiting Houston. The waiter gets 20 percent (the visitor is a big tipper) and spends his $20 on gas. The gas station owner gets a share which he spends on carrots. The restauranteur spends her $80 on food, utilities, pest control and protection from Vito the Enforcer. By the time that $100 for groceries, gas and toothpaste are counted, the “economic impact” is $54 million. Pay no attention to such inflated figures.

Yes, supporters say that the Super Bowl generates “free advertising” for the host city. The entire planet will be focusing on Houston as it extolls its parks and museums, the Ship Channel and the spot where Gilley’s once stood. Quick question: Where was last year’s Super Bowl held? You’re right. Miami. No, it was Seattle. No, Indianapolis. Did those TV shots of the Hoosier capital’s skyline make you want to move your regional office from Akron to Indianapolis? No? Then what, exactly, did that city receive from hosting the world’s most-hyped event? A lot of bills, that’s what. Indianapolis had expected to spend $450,000 more on the game than it made in revenue, mostly for public safety. The city eventually revealed that figure was closer to $1.3 million. The emperor isn’t wearing a jersey.

Incidentally, notice how companies using the Super Bowl to sell TV sets and Fritos always refer to the event as “the Big Game.” Most companies are not allowed to use the phrases “Super Bowl” or “Super Sunday,” both of which have been copyrighted. Also, the NFL, whose Commissioner Roger Goodell was paid more than $44 million last year, has nonprofit tax-exempt status.

At least we get to see a great football game in person. Uh, sorry. Fans in the host city receive few tickets to the game. Some tickets go to each participating team to sell. The rest go to corporations, sponsors, potential sponsors and, of course, to the Budweiser Clydesdales. The Super Bowl is an orgy for the 1 percenters. When Houston last hosted the Super Bowl in 2004, Hobby Airport was so overrun with private jets that it caused concern for safety. Today that multi-million dollar spectacle is mostly remembered for Janet Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction.”

The Super Bowl is not the only 400-pound linebacker in the room. The finances of pro sports have reached an arms race among cities. So let us look at pro sports without the cheerleaders, not on the sidelines, but on local TV and radio sports programs plus newspaper columnists. Pro sports teams do not add to, but subtract from, the local economy. According to a Brookings study, sports facilities now typically cost the host city more than $10 million a year. Oriole Park at Camden Yards costs Maryland residents $14 million a year. The net cost to local government for refurbishing the Oakland Coliseum for the Raiders was about $70 million.

As for construction, promoters are always low-balling the costs. Taxpayers in the U.S. spent about $10 billion more on stadiums and arenas for professional sports teams than the boosters forecast, according to a book by Harvard University urban planning professor Judith Grant Long. This brings up the matter of just how important a pro sports franchise is to a city. It was said that Houston needed to land an NFL franchise in order to be “a world class city.” That makes sense. The franchise put us up there with New York, Los Angeles and Green Bay, Wisconsin. Oh, I forgot, Los Angeles lost not one but two NFL teams years ago, and seems to be doing just fine.

One study determined that an NFL franchise employs as many full-time workers as a large Wal-Mart store. Meanwhile, cities like Houston and Dallas support scores of pro athletes, who collectively are raking in hundreds of millions of dollars from local fans. Where do the jocks spend that money? Check the schedule. During the playing season, the athletes are in town for half the time. Off season, most reside elsewhere. The dollars paid by Texas fans are sent to California or Florida or wherever the players live. That giant sucking sound (thank you, Ross Perot) is money being taken out of town.

So enjoy the Big Game from your den, and when the camera pans the stadium, look for Peter O’Reilly. He’ll be in one of those executive suites – and check out the new carpets.

 

Ashby is a fan at ashby2@comcast.net

 

 

 

 

Water Safety Month

April 20, 2015 by  
Filed under Events

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US Swim School Association Provides Tips to Create Safe Swim Environments During Water Safety Month in May

Preeminent swim school organization advises parents to begin water safety with kids at 6 months

Drowning is one of the leading causes of death in the United States. On average, 3,533 people die as a result of drowning each year, and most of those deaths are children under the age of four who drown in backyard swimming pools. The tragedy of these statistics is nearly all drowning deaths are preventable. To help educate children, parents, families and swim instructors on preventive measures to avoid a drowning incident, US Swim School Association (USSSA), the preeminent swim school organization in the country, has compiled the latest life-saving water safety and swim instruction tips for National Water Safety Month in May.

There are several standard water safety precautions recommended to parents including: keeping children under constant supervision, enrolling children in swimming lessons, knowing CPR, having pool fences and barriers installed. In addition to these vital steps, USSSA has created a list of tips parents can use to build extra layers of protection for their children around water.

 

Drowning Prevention & Water Safety Tips

  • Create a verbal cue for your toddler or child that must be given by you before he or she can enter the pool.
  • Never allow your baby/toddler in the pool without a swim diaper.
  • Create a process the child must go through before entering a pool such as putting on a swim diaper, a swimsuit and applying sunscreen.
  • Never use floatation devices or water wings when swimming or when teaching kids to swim.
  • Children should learn to swim without goggles. Teach your children to open their eyes under water; if they fall in they can find the side of the pool or a step and get out safely.
  • For very young children practice having them put their entire face under water in the bathtub and blow bubbles to build their comfort with water.
  • Create a water safety plan for your family and have water emergency drills with your kids covering how to recognize the signs of someone struggling in water and what to do in this type of emergency.
  • Make sure your guests and kids’ friends know your pool rules before they go outside and get in the pool.
  • Start swim lessons at 6 months of age and continue them year-round at a US Swim School member location.
  • Always make sure your children wear life jackets on boats, personal watercraft and in open bodies of water.

To find a USSSA affiliated swim school near you, or for details on becoming a member of the nation’s leading swim school organization visit: http://www.usswimschools.org.

 

About US Swim School Association

US Swim School Association (USSSA) began in 1988 to fill a gap in the swim school industry. USSSA has become the largest and preeminent swim school association in the country with over 400 members providing swim and water safety instruction to over 500,000 students each year. Swim schools receive invaluable benefits as USSSA members, receiving the latest training in water safety, swim instruction methods and tools, invitations to annual conferences, and many other benefits that help establish and build each individual business. USSSA has partnered with Safer 3 Water Safety Foundation for its official water safety program. Through USSSA, parents and students are provided with a reliable and trustworthy resource when searching for a swim school and can rest assured they have chosen a top school when they choose a USSSA affiliated location. For more information, visit www.usswimschools.org.

CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM

THE ROADSIDE – You may be wondering why I am sitting here, stopped along a busy street, with a patrol car parked behind me, its lights flashing like the Las Vegas Strip. It’s because I didn’t want to be sitting here, stopped along a busy street, with a patrol car parked behind me with its lights flashing like the Las Vegas Strip.

Lucy, this needs some ‘splaining, and virtually every word is true. I had been reading about a new transportation system whereby a customer calls a company that sends a car around and takes you where you want to go. No, not a taxi. It’s called Goober, and you don’t simply pick up a phone and call the company. That is so 2010. You iPad or email or use semaphores from your rooftop. Two if by land. Then you follow the car on your Smartphone screen as it comes to fetch you. Before it arrives, you are sent the car’s license plate number, a picture of the vehicle, the driver’s picture, name, age and DNA. You pay by credit card, tip included.

That’s a nice system for people who go to a party, have a few drinks and don’t want to drive home. My wife says we should try Goober. Why? I’m a perfectly good driver. “Because when we go to a party, you have a few drinks and I don’t want you to drive home.” So we try it. We make our pitch via Smartphone or whatever, give addresses of here and our destination, and wait on the curbside for the car. As we are waiting, we can see on, the screen, one of many Goobers in our neighborhood heading our way. It goes down a street, down the wrong street, turns around, comes back, then a driver calls us for instructions. I notice the call is from a different area code. “My makeup is running,” says my wife, sweat streaming down her face.

Our first trip begins with, “We want to take the Greeze-ee Tag Tollroad route. It lets us slip across town quicker.” Blank looks. I repeat. The driver finally replies, “No tag. First day.” In subsequent trips we find that no Goober driver has a Greeze-ee Tag, so we take a much longer route, or we are madly digging through our pockets for quarters. Before our next trip we attempt to call Goober to specifically ask for driver and car with a tag, but the company has no phone number, apparently no employees except the drivers and no way to correspond.

Undaunted, we try Goober again. “Take a left, no, your other left. Go right.” I give block by block directions because the GPS doesn’t work. Also, it’s First Day. After a party, we signal Goober. A car immediately appears on the screen – going the wrong way. Our Smartphone rings. “Where you?” My wife’s makeup is running. Then there is the matter of money. Upon arriving home one night we check the bill: $22 going over, $5 coming back. What? The driver hasn’t left yet, so we quickly give him a $20. The next time, same thing. Twenty-two going, five coming home, only this time the driver has already left. By semaphore to the head office, we point out the pricing mistake and receive this reply: “Since you didn’t take this trip, your fare has been refunded.” No. you don’t understand. We took the trip, OK? We want to pay for it and…never mind.

As you can see, there are still a few bugs to work out with Goober. But at least it’s safe. The drivers have been carefully selected, background checked, drug busts counted, everything to make the passengers feel comfy. “Goober Driver Charged with Rape!” the newspaper shouts. It seems a driver took advantage of a drunken female passenger. A later check of his background by the city revealed a 14-year federal prison sentence for drugs, multi other crimes and charges, and not carrying enough quarters.

The City of Houston and other Texas cities have discovered that their own background checks of approved Goober drivers working on the streets have turned up enough perpetrators with crimes to fill the Walls at Huntsville. Goober hired a screening company that only checks Social Security numbers rather than fingerprints. A new city report found, for example, a driver, who had been cleared, underwent a City of Houston fingerprint background check which found that she had 24 alias names, 5 listed birth dates, 10 listed Social Security numbers, and an active warrant for her arrest. “Hi, I’m your driver, Durst. Robert Durst.” Yet there is a bill before the Texas Legislature that would create a state-wide screening test which would – get this – loosen the cities’ screening, including criminal background checks.

On the flip side, Goober drivers can rate their passengers. So if you throw up in the back seat, yell obscenities at other drivers or your own, or don’t pack enough quarters, you may stand out on the curb for an hour waiting for a Goober pickup. That reminds me. We are standing on the curb again, waiting and waiting while we see the little blip on the Smartphone showing our driver is wandering all over the neighborhood, hopelessly lost. Finally, up comes our golden carriage. It’s a pickup truck — one of those with four doors. How can we pull into the Million Dollar Ballet Gala at the ballroom of the Hyatt Regis-Philbin in a Ford Red Neck Yuppie Killer? Already late, we have no choice, so I push aside the feed bags and off we go.

This brings us to our sitting here in a pickup pulled over on a local road, while all my neighbors are slowly passing by, gawking all the way. Up walks the cop. “We had a report of a stranger cruising through the neighborhood, with this license plate number.” It was our driver, guilty of driving while Nigerian. My makeup is beginning to run.

 

Ashby is driven at ashby2@comcast.net

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

MAMMA MIA! takes it all to Houston!

April 15, 2015 by  
Filed under Entertainment, Theater

mamma-miaThe Broadway hit and touring musical, featuring 22 songs by Abba, premiered at the Hobby Center last night, and H Texas was invited to attend the packed and festive event.

MAMMA MIA! is the story about a young bride who never knew her father. Upon finding out the names of three men who her mother had relationships with the year before she was born, she secretly invites all three men to her wedding in hopes of finding out who will give her away. Add in the strong and lively personality of her mother and the fun personalities of her mother’s friends, and cue the hijinks against catchy and engaging pop and disco hits!

The amazing cast poured their energy into the dancing and singing, backed by a beautiful and minimalistic Mediterranean set. The lighting and costumes were on point and the two and a half hour show breezed by, full of head bobbing and laughter as the antics played out. By the end of the show, the atmosphere was more like a concert with flashing lights, and the whole audience was on our feet in applause, swaying to encores of “Dancing Queen,” “Waterloo,” and, of course, “Mamma Mia!”

Don’t miss this incredible opportunity to see all of the amazing numbers, now showing until April 19th. Book your tickets now!

Interested in seeing more shows this year? The season ticket packages may be the right choice for you with shows like Phantom of the OperaThe Sound of Music and Cabaret coming soon. Season ticket buyers may also buy tickets for Wicked and Beauty & the Beast.

Born Abroad

April 13, 2015 by  
Filed under Blogs, Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

 

YOUR PAPERS, PLEASE

 

Anyone can spot events as they are occurring, but once again you and I are sharper than most by noticing what is not happening. There is not a flurry of emails, no callers to those nutty radio talk shows (“Rush, Obama has put Jell-O in in my kidneys.”) and no alarms from unknown scientists who claim global warming is caused by the Denver Broncos defensive line. What no one is pointing out is that Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, (or so he says) is foreign-born and thus constitutionally ineligible to serve as President of These Beloved United States of America! God bless John Wayne!

Sure, we have heard “experts” say that since Cruz’s mother was an American citizen, her children are, too. This is exactly the same – but in reverse order — as the much-maligned anchor babies racket (umbilical amnesty), whereby if Mom gets across the Rio and to the El Paso General Hospital two minutes before her child’s birth, that new American is a citizen, so the mother and the father and their other 16 children go to the head of the citizenship line.

You believe that Cruz-citizenship fairy tale? Then I’ve got some Starbucks cups touting race relations to sell you. So let’s look at the record. Rafael Edward Cruz (if Barack Hussein Obama can call himself Barry, then Rafael can call himself Ted) was born on Dec. 22, 1970, in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, where his parents, Eleanor Elizabeth Darragh Wilson and Rafael Bienvenido Cruz — who was born in 1939 in Matanzas, Cuba — were working in the awl bidness. Rafael Sr. and his family eventually had to move to Houston. Rafael Jr. went to private grade and high schools, then to college at Princeton and Harvard Law. After graduation, he worked for a series of law firms, held appointed government jobs and made his first election bid as a U.S. Senator. Hey, you have to start somewhere.

Now here’s where it gets interesting. In August 2013, after the Dallas Morning News pointed out that Cruz had dual Canadian-American citizenship, he applied to formally renounce his Canadian citizenship. He ceased being a citizen of Canada, on May 14, 2014, almost a year and a half after being elected to the U.S. Senate. Notice what did not happen: all those years, throughout appointed and elected positions, Cruz never mentioned he held Canadian citizenship, and could have just as easily been elected to the Canadian Parliament and run for King of Canada. Indeed, if the nosey left-wing press hadn’t squealed, we might never know.

And where are the birthers in all of this? Back when it was clear Barack Obama was born in Kenya and had sworn an oath to the Mau-Mau, al-Quida and the Hitler Youth, we were all inundated with this story. There was a cottage industry based on Obama the Kenyan. An acquaintance of mine from back in high school kept emailing proof of the Obama birth conspiracy. He even sent me a copy of a signed birth certificate from the Royal Nairobi African Hospital for Future U.S. Presidents, or something like that. Turned out the hospital didn’t open until years later, there was no such doctor with that name in all of Kenya and other small clues that somehow alerted those nosey reporters. Other than that, it was a genuine document. Speaking of fakes, both Honolulu newspapers ran Barack’s birth announcements back in 1961 as part of the Obamas’ long-term diabolical plan to seize the White House 48 years later.

Presidential birthplace problems are not new. Brilliant and far-seeing though he was, Alexander Hamilton couldn’t run for president because he was (a) born in Nevis, British West Indies, (b) illegitimate (c) shot dead before he could get a Green Card. (Today the illegitimate part might be an asset.) Questions were raised about Barry Goldwater who was born in Arizona Territory, not then a state, and John McCain was born at Coco Solo Naval Air Station in the Panama Canal Zone, which is close enough for government work. Presidential candidate George Romney, Mitt’s father, was born in Mexico where George’s grandfather had fled from U.S. law with his several wives. None of this mattered mainly because none of them won.

Oddly, our Founding Fathers, who wrote that must-be-born etc. part of the Constitution, were all born British subjects. They got around it by declaring in Section 1 of the U.S. Constitution: “No Person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, etc.” They grandfathered themselves in.

Have you ever actually seen, like with your own eyes, Cruz’s citizenship papers? Are they in French? Does he say, “It’s aboot time I shed-yuled to go on holiday.”? He may secretly love hockey. Do his black ostrich-skin boots (in Texas one not need not insert cowboy before boots) have clip-on skates? Cruz has long been the Number 1 critic of Obamacare, likening it to that communistic health system they have in Canada. When his wife left her job at Goldman Sachs to help in Ted’s campaign, she lost the family’s health care coverage, so what was the first thing our Canuck did? He signed up for that Canadian-inspired Obamacare, and probably gets his medicine cheaper from a pharmacy in Edmonton. Need I say more?

The father, Rafael Bienvenido Cruz, didn’t become a naturalized U.S. citizen until 2005. This brings up a question: Does Ted also have Cuban citizenship? Probably not. He’d have to be born in Miami. Also, with his constant politicking for president since his senatorial election, has anyone actually seen Cruz in the U.S. Senate? “Cruz? I’ve heard that name.” said one senator. “Is he the guy with the clip-on skates?” One final question: how long must we put up with the rhetorically challenged and their “Cruz control” line? It was shopworn when Hamilton was still trying to re-write the Constitution.

 

Ashby is a citizen at ashby2@comcast.net

Return of the Lone Star

April 6, 2015 by  
Filed under Blogs, Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

 

LONE STAR RISING, ALMOST

 

The U.S. Supreme Court has been dealing with the Texas state government’s refusal to allow the Sons of Confederate Veterans to put the Confederate battle flag (it was never the official Southern flag) on their personalized license plates. Wasn’t this decided at Appomattox? But there is still one little-known story about Texas and Dixie that could have changed everything. First some background. In the old Capitol in Austin shortly after noon on Feb. 1, 1861, amid thunderous applause, a special convention voted that Texas should secede from the United States. A parade of officials came down the aisle led by George Flournoy, a leading secessionist. The procession was brought up at the end by a group of ladies from Travis County who had with them a beautiful new hand-made flag which was hoisted to a place of honor over the platform. It was not the flag of the United States. It was not the flag of the Confederacy. It was the Lone Star flag.

For as the Union was dissolving, unlike the rest of the South, Texas did not face the alternative of leaving or staying. It had a third choice: Returning to where it had been barely 15 years before, to the Republic of Texas, a time span equal to now and the year 2000. How long ago was Y2K? Maybe a year? Many leaders were the same who had led the republic, although in the emotion toward the Confederacy, independence was not the strongest possibility, but, a choice, nevertheless. The Ordinance of Secession for Texas was different. It ticked off the accusations against the U.S. government including not protecting the frontier from Indian attacks (Virginia didn’t have that problem). Slavery was a key item.

The secession document went on to declare that all the powers delegated by the Republic of Texas to the United States in 1845 were now being transferred back to Texas. The powers were “revoked and resumed.” Resumed — a telling choice of words. The Ordinance added that Texas was absolved from all restraints and obligations incurred by the federal compact and that Texas was once again a separate and sovereign state. Then the convention declared the Annexation Resolution to be null and void.

Feelings were high. Amelia Barr, an English woman in Austin at the time, wrote, “There were bitter disputes whenever men were congregated and domestic quarrels on every hearthstone. . . . There were now three distinct parties. One for remaining in the Union; A second which demanded a Southern Confederacy, and a third which wants Texas to resume her independence.” Gov. Sam Houston was supposedly one of those who favored a return to the Republic of Texas. Houston was against secession, and told his eldest son, Sam, Jr., not to join the Confederate Army unless Texas itself was threatened. San Jr. joined anyway and was wounded at Shiloh. President Lincoln got wind of a plan that Houston and the Texas Unionists would form a military force and simply hold Texas neutral. Lincoln sent an agent to Austin to confer with Houston, and promised to make him a major general in the U.S. Army commanding 50,000 troops sent to support him, but Sam turned down the idea.

Francis R. Lubbock, who later became governor, wrote in his memoirs, “Had she (Texas) desired to desert her sister States of the South in this hour of need and peril (which she did not) and resume her former station as a republic, it was realized that she could not preserve a neutral attitude and maintain herself in that condition.” Three other leaders of the secession movement — John Henry Brown, Pryor Lea and John Stell –- wrote an “Address to the People of Texas” in which they minimized the idea of a separate Texas.

When the matter was put before the voters on Feb. 23, 1861, only two choices were given: “For Secession” and “Against Secession.” Secession won, 46,153 to 14,747. At the time, the U.S. Army had 2,700 troops in Texas — 10 percent of its entire force. The Army was sent packing and its headquarters for Texas, in San Antonio, were taken over. A picture ran in Harper’s magazine at the time showing the changing of the guard. The flag flying over the headquarters was the Lone Star flag. That was once again our official pennant until Texas joined the Confederacy.

But the dues of the club were high. Lubbock, after becoming governor during the war, wrote: “Texas has furnished to the Confederate military service thirty-three regiments, thirteen

battalions, two squadrons, six detached companies, and one legion of twelve companies of cavalry. . . .” The number of Texans in gray eventually reached 90,000. That was three times the number of male Texans between the ages of 16 and 60 who did not join, and was the highest proportion of men from any state on either side. No one really knows how many Texans were killed in the war, but two-thirds of Terry’s Texas Rangers were killed. And after the First Texas Infantry attacked through a peach orchard at Shiloh, an observer noted that he could walk clear across the orchard and never touch the ground.

An interesting side note: Despite the plea for infantrymen, two-thirds of the Texans joined the cavalry, their preferred branch of service. Lt. Col. Arthur Fremantle of the British Coldstream Guards, who visited Texas during the war, observed this fondness for cavalry service: “it was found very difficult to raise infantry in Texas,” he wrote, “as no Texan walks a yard if he can help it.” Gov. Edward Clark observed that “the predilection of Texans for cavalry service, founded as it is upon their peerless horsemanship, is so powerful that they are unwilling in many instances to engage in service of any other description unless required by actual necessity.”

So the Lone Star Republic never returned, the South lost, and the only battle left is over license plates.

 

Ashby whistles Dixie at ashby2@comcast.net