Apr 23

The 2006 Energy Crisis – Short Term fixes

Editor’s note – this is the first of a multi-part series on the current energy crisis.  In coming weeks, I will take a look at the longer terms and what should be done.

The American Economy is in crisis. Gasoline prices have increased by $0.42 nationally in the past month (March 23, 2006 – April 23, 2006). Likewise, it has risen $0.68 cents nationally in the past year. Houston has been even harder hit over the last year, with the price jumping a whopping $0.83!

The first thing I will admit that it is not Government’s place to regulate the industry, but there are things that the legislative bodies in Washington can do to help ease the pain at the pump.

These things should be looked at and handled non-partisan, and non-special interest groups (hear me out environmentalists, this includes you).

  • Congress should pass a law requiring that all patent owners use the patents they own, and if the owner does not use them, they will be released into the public domain after 10 years – (5 years for high technology).

There have long been stories of the oil companies paying large sums of hush money to the American entrepreneurs that produce devices that can consume considerably less fuel. This law would require the patent office to review all patents held by the oil companies, and turn them over to automobile manufacturers and others who can use those technologies. It would also have a side effect of quashing the patent trolls that are rampant in the high tech industries (Eolas – this means you and destroying the User Experience).

  • Congress should suspend the gasoline tax for 18 months, or until prices are nationally below $2.50 a gallon, whichever comes first.

It’s only $0.184 per gallon of gas, but it can make a difference. State and local taxes make up a majority of the rest of the $0.62 per gallon average.

  • The Federal Reserve should immediately drop short-term interest rates to 0%. Congress should encourage all lending institutions to pass that reduction to consumers.

If I have to spend more on gasoline, I’m going to spend less elsewhere. By dropping the Federal interest rate to banks, and the banks passing it on to consumers, a consumer can afford to make purchases on credit cards, or continue to pay off the debts they have. Without this change, I suspect that people seeking the mandatory credit counseling and then filing bankruptcy will skyrocket, as they cannot afford to pay bills with the higher fuel prices.

  • Congress should pass a “windfall” tax, that affects companies when they rake in huge profits.

This kind of tax would make up for the drop of the gasoline tax for 18 months, by making these companies that rake in billions in profit every year to pay for their successes (and not reinvesting the profit in improving and expanding the infrastructure that they own).

  • Congress should extend “Fuel Credits” to transportation industries.

A fuel credit is a tax break for companies, like airlines, railroads, trucking companies and others that use large quantities of fuel. One airline has been quoted that it costs the company $42 Million more for every $1 per barrel increase in the price of crude oil.

Next time, we’ll look at a 2 to 5 year (Near Term) plan.

Permanent link to this article: http://onthespotblog.com/the-2006-energy-crisis-short-term-fixes-2/

Mar 22

Who’s Mike Jones?

Ok, so there’s a rapper out there that has the same name as me.  He seasons his rhymes with his name.

I used to be joked at when talking about football in High School, since there was a NFL player with the name Mike Jones as well.

I laughed with co-workers who see my identification badge, I let the jokes roll other places (although not my primary ringer, I have the “Who’s Mike Jones” ringtone in my cell phone).

I spoke to another co-worker, who shares the same name as “Fresh Prince” Will Smith. He said in the hey-day of the performer, he was joked at as well.

A former manager of mine was named Tim Taylor, and during the run of the Tim Allen hit series “Home Improvement” he was frequently referred to as the “Toolman” – I even would occasionally throw a “I don’t think so, Tim.” to have fun with it.

But, it comes to a point of disrespect after a certain point in time. A co-worker, routinely tries to impersonate the rapper, calling out my name for no reason but to annoy me.

Being that Mike Jones, the rapper, and myself both live in Houston, it has compounded the problem. By my count, there are 123 telephone listings for Michael or Mike Jones in the Houston area.

Despite the fact that he mentions his phone number (and according to the stories I heard, it is legitimately his phone number) in a rhyme, I have had phone calls from several teenagers from all over the country, at all hours of the day and night, wanting to talk to the performer. I’ve shunned most away, but still, getting the phone calls at 2am and 3am that pushes it over the line.

My question is, why is it that those of us virtual unknowns must suffer because one person with a common name rises to fame?

In the pre-Internet days, if I wanted to look up a phone number in another town, I made the trip to the local library, and looked it up in the phone books of major cities they had there.

I also was taught to respect privacy of those celebrities.  If I see a celebrity (even a local celebrity) I will say hello, but not create a scene. I’m reminded of a story told by a sci-fi convention promoter, when he was at the airport picking up William Shatner. Mr. Shatner had just arrived, and needed to take care of “business”. He entered the nearest men’s room, and another patron came running out exclaiming that he just did his “business” next to Captain Kirk! The resulting mob scene created a nightmare for the promoter and Mr. Shatner, since they were on a tight schedule.

I had an opportunity to see a performance at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tennessee a few years ago, and Bill Anderson, an Opry regular, made an appearance that evening, at one point inviting his son, daughter-in-law, and grandson out on stage. He commented that if anyone gets a good picture, he would like a copy. The following year, he performed at an event in my hometown, and I obliged by taking him two 8×10 prints that I took of it. He offered to autograph one for me, but I declined, asking if I could get a picture with him, to which he obliged.

In these days of school curriculums being crowded with much more than the old reading, writing and arithmetic, certain social things like respect seem to be getting forgotten. It’s time for schools to remember that social skills need to be taught as well, and respect should be at the top of the list.

Permanent link to this article: http://onthespotblog.com/whos-mike-jones/

Mar 11

It’s All About… Peace and Quiet

EDITOR’S NOTE: Beginning with this piece, I plan on writing several topics using the catch-line “It’s All About…” Hopefully, many of these will be timely (I’ve had three or four on my mind, but working on a presentation for my real job has precluded me from writing them), and I can post one a week, my time permitting.

Any city you travel to, you are inundated with noise. All hours of the day and night, noise surrounds us.

Some people in our fair city want to make noise. Some make their noise with loud stereos, or loud car exhausts. While annoying, these only last a few moments until the assault ends for the rest of us.

What I’m talking about is the stationary kind of noise. Noise that goes non-stop for all hours. Residents around Memorial Park were vocal about the noise generated by traffic on the new I-610 bridge over I-10 at a recent city council meeting.

I understand the citizens concerns, as I spent 5 years living 100 feet from a freeway in Kansas City prior to my move to Houston. All hours of the day and night, motorcycles accelerating to insane speeds, truckers using exhaust brakes to slow down, and general noise from the road — and there were no noise walls to filter it out.

Another kind of noise is business noise. As I sit here and write this, a local club has started their nearly frequent tradition of having a live DJ outside when the weather’s nice. Though the establishment is two blocks away, I can hear the bass of the music, droning constantly from about 8pm until 2 or 3 am. Last year, this even occurred on Sunday Nights, leaving me with a tough day at work the next day.

While I have reported this problem to HPD, it not always results in the establishment resolving the problem. In fact, last year, one night I reported it, they got louder, and it took a second call to quiet them.

A private hall directly across the street is frequently rented on weekends, and in the two years I have lived here, I have never heard the live bands that frequent the facility.

Much like how my apartment complex mandates not disturbing our neighbors in the overnight hours, it’s time for the city council, TXDOT and other organizations to think about what can be done to reduce the assault on our ears.

TXDOT should mandate noise-reducing technology be incorporated into all construction projects. While they are constructing “Noise Walls” along most of the Katy Freeway corridor, the resulting walls that would have fenced the park would be over 30 feet tall! Other changes could be made to reduce the impact without an ugly huge barrier surrounding the park.

The city should enforce the noise ordinance whenever possible, manpower permitting, and consider escalating fines for people and venues that frequently violate the ordinance. Failure to comply should also be considered when the business applies for liquor license renewal.

As far as the loud exhausts, any local grocery store throwing out large citrus fruit, let me know…

Permanent link to this article: http://onthespotblog.com/its-all-about-piece-and-quiet/

Feb 19

Did KTRK Miss an "Extreme" Opportunity?

I just finished watching “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” redo the East Bernard home of the Kubena Family.  I have been a fan of the show since it’s inception three years ago, and seen many families lives touched by the program.

Last year, the design team rolled into my birthplace, Kansas City, Missouri, and redid the home of a firefighter who saved the life of a fallen comrade, and then took in two orphaned brothers who were going to be sent to separate foster homes.

KMBC-TV, the local ABC affiliate, aired many live remotes on newscasts during the construction, as well as the weekend of the show’s airing on ABC.  They filmed countless hours of video, and on the Sunday night of the show’s airing, showed an hour long special prior to the network program.  The show was funded by all the organizations who pulled together to make this dream come true, including the smaller local companies who couldn’t afford a traditional commercial.  Everyone was mentioned during the course of the program.

I had hoped for something similar with the DeAeth family of Washington, Texas (which aired 2 weeks ago), or on the Kubena family.  KTRK was surprisingly absent through this project, but other local Radio Stations as well as the Chronicle mentioned it.  Royce Builders and Gallery Furniture both had commercials air during the telecast tonight, certainly marking a revenue stream to the station.

So, as a way for saying thanks (and I had the opportunity to visit the site of the Kubena family) I would like to mention a couple of companies from both builds.  These companies stepped up to the plate, and make the dreams of two deserving families come true.

Stylecraft Builders, Fingers Furniture, Royce Builders, and Gallery Furniture.

To support the DeAeth Family’s True Blue Animal Resuce, visit their website.  (And remember as Bob Barker says, help control the pet population, have your pet Spayed or Neutered).

To donate to the Kubena’s medical fund, visit Royce Builders “Extreme” website.

UPDATE: KTRK-TV is now reporting that Brandi Ward, a cancer patient from East Bernard that was featured on the show, lost her fight with the disease.  Our sympathies go out to her family.

Permanent link to this article: http://onthespotblog.com/did-ktrk-miss-an-extreme-opportunity/

Nov 29

Solicitation in Public Right of Way

According to KHOU, The City of Houston has started to pursuit a change in city ordinances that prevents any minor under the age of 16 from being able to solicit on public right of way.  Councilmember Michael Berry also solicited input from my friends over at BlogHouston to find a way to look at the bigger problem; homeless asking for handouts on every corner.

I wanted to really start an in-depth look at the issues, and why, in my post on BlogHouston, I came to a four-point process for addressing the problem and why each of these points should be considered valid.

  • Enforce no camping laws already on books.  I have seen them sleeping many times underneath the Montrose bridge that crosses Buffalo Bayou and Memorial Drive.  Same with in the park areas nearby, yet there is clearly signs that say “no camping”.  By doing the same under freeway overpasses, and enforcing it, this will encourage them to move on.

Reason:  It’s a law already on the books locally for city parks:

32-28: Camping – It shall be unlawful for any person to establish a campsite upon or use any area of the parks as a campsite.

There are signs posted on most freeway bridges (at least on the Katy Freeway) that indicate camping is forbidden there by state law.  At the time of writing, I was unable to find reference to it. Many of these homeless are camping out there at night.  By making those areas inhospitable (by night-shift police waking them up to cite them for camping) the people will move on.

  • Create an all out ban on sales of merchandise and services from the public right of way. This includes window washers, flower sellers, newspaper vendors and the like. If the street-side seller is working for a commercial enterprise, then a fine needs to be put on the commercial enterprise (Chronicle?) for violating the ordinance. And exemption could be written to allow sign holders for one-time events to stand on the public sidewalk (still part of the public right of way, which is why the exemption needs to be spelled out) and advertise their one time event that is being held on private property. This will allow carwash fundraisers and the like.

Reason: Most of these businesses do not collect sales tax, do not pay income tax, and if they’re homeless, they are unlikely to pay property tax. As an honest taxpayer, should these people be allowed to use the taxpayer paid for right of way to make money? Legitimate enterprise doing the same should be banned for safety purposes – see my next bullet.

If a business holder grants a not-for-profit group permission to have a car wash, adopt a pet or other event on their property, then the group should have the right to stand on the sidewalk and advertise their event, not in the median.

State statute already exists to deal with people walking in the street to do their selling:


  • (a) A person commits an offense if, without legal privilege or authority, he intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly:
    1. obstructs a highway, street, sidewalk, railway, waterway, elevator, aisle, hallway, entrance, or exit to which the public or a substantial group of the public has access, or any other place used for the passage of persons, vehicles, or conveyances, regardless of the means of creating the obstruction and whether the obstruction arises from his acts alone or from his acts and the acts of others; or
    2. disobeys a reasonable request or order to move issued by a person the actor knows to be or is informed is a peace officer, a fireman, or a person with authority to control the use of the premises:
      • (A) to prevent obstruction of a highway or any of those areas mentioned in Subdivision (1);  or
      • (B) to maintain public safety by dispersing those gathered in dangerous proximity to a fire, riot, or other hazard.
  • (b) For purposes of this section, “obstruct” means to render impassable or to render passage unreasonably inconvenient or hazardous.
  • (c) An offense under this section is a Class B misdemeanor.

If I read this correctly, that says that anyone who can be considered to make passage in a public right of way hazardous – and these street soliciters are every time they walk into the traffic – can be charged with a misdemeanor. I think this hits a good portion of the discussion.

The part it doesn’t cover are the ones who are constantly sitting on the median or curb only collecting from those in the left most lane. I would guess that there is probably existing laws that could deal with those for unlawful use of city property.

  • Require that anyone soliciting donations cannot occupy a curb-protected space that is less than 24 inches (or better yet, 36 inches) between traffic lanes. This would address the biggest part of the safety issue, while also getting them out of the moving lane of traffic. To allow for special events like the MDA firefighter boot-blocks, create and exemption that allows uniformed public safety officials or other charity groups to perform one-time events as long as non-uniformed participants are wearing orange safety vests. One consideration should be if the charity carries a specified amount of insurance protecting the participants.

Reason: This is safety pure and simple. If I’m standing an a median that is 12 inches wide, I’m going to be exposed unless I’m standing sideways. If a vehicle loses control, or, heaven forbid, is involved in a red-light running accident, that person in the narrow median is not going to fare too well if hit. Even a car hugging the inside of the lane could easily hit the person with a side mirror. Legitimate organizations have been trained in safety procedures (like firefighters) and can safely do so should be allowed to. If not in an official uniform, they can wear a safety vest. Mr. Homeless Hungry and Ms. News Seller are just out there for the money, and have probably never been told about safely working around or in traffic.

You think it’s not possible. I have seen a number of videos where innocent bystanders have been hit by vehicles – a six inch high curb will not stop them.

  • Ban all street solicitations from sunset to sunrise. Again, this is a safety issue.

Reason: If it’s dark outside, and I’m wearing a dark colored outfit, I am not easily visible. Again, if someone in a dark outfit is standing on a street corner and darts out to collect money or clean a windshield, they quickly become a target of vehicles approaching in the intermediate lanes. Also, at night is when more people are tired, or under the influence and do not have the attention/reaction times they do during the daylight hours, making the risks of an accident even greater. The exceptions in the above rules are only exceptions sunrise to sunset. Again, at night, all soliciation stops.

In summary, the changes are needed, and I believe they are enforceable (I’m not a lawyer, so don’t constitute this author’s opinion as a legal one). As I was researching this piece, I found the above state law reference. I have forwarded it to Councilmember Berry, and it is being reviewed, and may be discussed at a future council meeting.

UPDATE November 30: City council has postponed it’s vote on the current proposal, at the request of Councilmember Michael Berry. Watch this space for more details.

UPDATE 2: The city council did pass an ordinance prohibiting solicitation by charities in the roadways. It does not specifically address the homeless or The Chronicle merchants. The ordinance should take effect in the coming weeks. We will continue to monitor the situation to see if things improve.

Permanent link to this article: http://onthespotblog.com/solicitation-in-public-right-of-way/

Nov 27

Double Standard?

This morning, as I am preparing this site for launch, I read the news about the two trains of the 43-year-old Seattle Center Monorail sideswiping each other.

The interesting part about this is, I’m reading the same story from the Associated Press newswire on chron.com, khou.com and abc13.com. The only Houston MSM site checked that did not have the story posted was click2houston.com.

I find it irony that the MSM in Houston will cover the fourth or fifth such incident on a system that has covered more miles than our local MetroRail, yet they cannot, even as a news brief, mention EVERY accident on MetroRail.

MetroRail has had AT LEAST 115 known accidents, and one fatality in less than two years of operation. Are these weekly occurrences not newsworthy unless there’s a fatality?

While I was visiting my parents and family over the Thanksgiving Holiday, I had the opportunity to read my hometown newspaper, The Ottawa Herald. In comparison to the Chronicle, the Herald is a 10-page, 6-day-a-week paper that carries a much higher ratio of news to advertising. They also carry a police blotter, which lists every crime and accident that occurred since the last printed edition.

Most of these accident reports are along the lines of:

John Doe and Jane Doe’s vehicles collided at 5th and Cedar. Damages were estimated at more than $1000.

It’s simple, but to the point. While obviously the Chronicle couldn’t do it for every automobile accident, as it would require yet another section, they could do it for MetroRail.

Its time for the Chronicle and other MSM outlets to drop this double standard, and start giving us the facts on our local “Transportation Solution”.

Permanent link to this article: http://onthespotblog.com/double-standard/

Nov 27


Welcome to my little corner of the blogsphere. While I probably, under most circumstances, not be posting daily, I will be posting as I can find topics to post on. Stay Tuned, as I continue to refine the look of the site.

Permanent link to this article: http://onthespotblog.com/welcome/

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