Thursday, May 31, 2007

You gotta be kidding

If he really runs for governor I might move to Louisiana just so I can vote against him.


Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Jennifer's boyfriend

It's a phenomenon I've observed and wondered about since high school: why some of the nicest people in the world choose to go out with complete assholes.

I am not referring to good-looking women who are with men who are only physically unattractive; this happens quite often and studies have indicated that a majority of women, when looking for a mate, value personality or financial success over looks. I am, instead, talking about guys who, regardless of their physical characteristics, have distinctly unattractive personalities: people so repugnant that they really don't deserve to be in a relationship at all, let alone one with a woman as cute and as nice as the one they're with. (In fact, I'm not even talking solely about men - I've come across several a relationship where an otherwise sensible guy was, for some reason, dating a woman who was a raving bitch. I imagine these types of relationships happen in the gay and lesbian community as well.)

Anyway, a particular case in point: I know someone who is one of the nicest people I've ever met. She is very intelligent and extremely attractive, with a pleasant personality and an infectious laugh to boot. Her significant other, on the other hand, is a creep. He is sullen, short-tempered, arrogant, aloof, rude and generally unpleasant to be around. I'm not the only person who feels this way about Jenn's boyfriend, either: a mutual acquiantance of ours once described him as a "dick."

Perhaps I could understand this relationship if the guy had any other redeeming qualities. But he doesn't - at least, not any that are readily apparent. He's not very handsome, he's not particularly wealthy and, worst of all, he really seems to treat Jennifer with the same distant and testy attitude that he uses with everyone else. I am simply at a loss to explain why she is with this jerk.

I want to ask Jennifer what exactly is it that she sees in this guy. I want to tell her that a person like her can do - and in fact, deserves - better. I don't, of course, because it would be rude on my part to do so and, besides, it's really none of my business. Obviously, she sees something in him that nobody else does and if she truly is happy with him then I guess that's all that matters.

Nevertheless, I've always found it to be a peculiar, and puzzling, phenomenon. Are some people simply attracted by such lousy and mean personalities? Do they, in spite of their outwardly-enjoyable nature, have some sort of inner guilt or lack of self-esteem that makes them think that they really deserve these kinds of people? Do they, perhaps, enter into relationships with these jerks because they feel sorry for them?

Love is not a rational emotion: it doesn't have to make sense. In relationships like these, it clearly does not.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Has it only been five years?

I've oftentimes noticed that nostalgia-drenched discussions about the past seem to center around the phrase "has it really been that long?" People, generally, fondly and clearly remember past events in their lives, and the perception that "time flies" in many cases creates a sense of astonishment that so many years have passed since an important event in their lives has occurred.

In this one personal case, however, the opposite seems to be true: today marked the fifth anniversary of Lori's and my return to Houston, and it really seems like it's been a lot longer than five years.

A bit of background: Lori began undergraduate studies at the University of Houston in the summer of 1991, very shortly after she graduated from Alief Elsik High School. I graduated from Houston's High School for the Performing and Visual Arts at the same time, but did not begin my undergraduate education at UH until the fall of 1991. Lori suspended her college education when she moved to Arizona in 1992; she did not resume classes at UH until after she and I finally met (oh, the magic of Internet Relay Chat!) in the summer of 1996 and returned to Houston. I graduated from UH with a Bachelor of Architecture degree in December of 1996 and was subsequently accepted to the Community and Regional Planning graduate program at the University of Texas at Austin. Lori wanted to join me, so she successfully transfered to UT, and the two of us moved to Austin in August of 1997. She and I both finished our courses at UT in May of 1999 (she would eventually receive a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology, me a Masters of Science in Community and Regional Planning). After graduation, we moved to the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex (I was offered a job at the City of Denton's planning department) and spent the next three years of our lives, from the summer of 1999 through the spring of 2002, there. Lori enrolled in the graduate business program at the University of North Texas; she earned her MBA in December of 2001.

After graduation, Lori began looking for jobs in the DFW area. She had no success; the twin events of the dot-com bust and 9/11 were particularly devastating to the Dallas/Fort Worth economy, and as the spring of 2002 progressed we decided that maybe it was time to look for jobs in Houston, which appeared to be more fertile employment territory (at the time, of course, we did not know about the impending collapse of Enron, which would eventually decimate Houston's economy).

By the spring of 2002, I also began to feel as if it were time to move on. I did not dislike my job at the City of Denton by any means. But after dealing with three years' worth of zoning changes, plat reviews, clueless councilmembers and P&Z commissioners, pushy developers and NIMBY-esque residential whiners who "moved to Denton because they wanted to live in a small town" (only to realize, after the fact, that thousands of others were making the exact same choices that they were and, in the process, causing Denton's population to grow at an exponential rate), I realized that the time for change had simply come. So, over the Memorial Day weekend of 2002, we evacuated our duplex, loaded our worldly possessions onto a U-Haul truck, and made the journey back to Houston.

In retrospect, who knows what might have happened had the economic situation up in the Dallas/Fort Worth area been different? If Lori had found a decent job shortly after graduation, it's possible that we might still be living up there today.

But she didn't, and we decided it was time to move back to Houston.

Was it really only five years ago? It all seems so distant now.

To be fair, a lot important events have happened within those five years which probably makes the span of time seem a lot longer than it actually is. For starters, Lori and I (finally) got married and had a child. We've lived in four different places over those five years: with my parents for the first several months after we moved back, at Lori's deceased great aunt's house in Sagemont for about nine months in 2003, at an apartment in Midtown for about a year and a half after that and, since we closed on it in December 2004, our house here in University Oaks for the past two and a half years. We've also done a lot of traveling over this time period: Lori and I spent three weeks in Europe shortly after we moved, and I've since traveled to Japan and the United Arab Emirates (thrice!). Last fall we took a cruise to Mexico and Belize. I've worked at two separate full-time jobs since we moved back; Lori is on her third.

Meanwhile, it's interesting to take note of all the things that have changed in our former home since we moved. The staff at the City of Denton's planning department has completely turned over since I worked there; while there still might be a couple of people in building inspections and code enforcement who have been there long enough to remember me, no employee in the planning department has been there long enough to remember when I worked there. A man who had served on Denton's Planning and Zoning Commission while I worked there is now the city's mayor. The once-desolate area along Loop 288 between Interstate 35E and East McKinney is now lined with big-box retailers and strip centers, a considerable amount of new student housing has popped up around the UNT campus, and new residential developments around the periphery have boosted the city's population well past the 100,000 mark. Parts of the city that was both my employer and my home five years ago are essentially unrecognizable today. From the perspective of a rapidly-growing city, five years is, indeed, a long time.

But perhaps this aspect of today's anniversary is most important: five years ago, we moved back to Houston with the intention of staying here for the long term, if not for the rest of our lives. In spite of the negative opinion that an amazingly large number of people across the nation have about Houston (most of whom, I suspect, have never spent any appreciable amount of time in this city), Lori and I love this city. Not only is it a dynamic, diverse, prosperous and comfortable place to live, but it truly is home. This is where we were both born and raised, after all, and it certainly doesn't hurt that both of our families live here (indeed, that was one of the reasons we wanted to move back - it's amazing how important proximity to family became to us after 9/11) and have provided invaluable assistance to us as we raise Kirby.

Looking back, and knowing now what I simply could not have known then, it really seems like it's been a rather "long," yet certainly productive, five years. Nobody can predict the future, and five years ago - as Lori and I finished packing and moved out of Denton - neither of us could have anticipated that we'd end up where we are today: successfully married, with a nice (if not old) house in my affluent childhood neighborhood, with a healthy and wonderful - if not hyperactive - 2.5-year-old boy, and with two rather successful jobs. It's funny how things work out.

Indeed, it's been five years. Five long, happy, years. I have no regrets.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Women in art

Somebody forwarded this to me - a take on 500 years of womens' portraits in western art - and thought it was cool enough to share:

Skybus and the race to the bottom

This past week, Columbus-based airline Skybus began operation. Skybus, a no-frills, ultra-low-fare airline modeled after highly-successful - and oftentimes controversial - European carrier RyanAir, hopes to become the lowest-cost air carrier in the United States. The airline has received much media coverage; USA Today's airline blogger Ben Mutzabaugh has been diligently following the airline's first days of service, and his colleague David Grossman has written a column about the airline as well. ABC is calling the airline "the Greyhound of the skies," and has also covered the airline's start-up.

Skybus, which leases a fleet of Airbus A-319 aircraft, plans to offer rock-bottom fares: at least ten seats on every flight will be offered for $10. Skybus offers a highly-simplified fare structure, with no advance-purchase, overnight-stay or round-trip-purchase requirements.

In order to offer such low fares, Skybus is reducing its operating costs as much as possible. All of Skybus's ticket sales will be done online; there will be no call center for reservations or ticketing. Flight attendants will be paid a base salary of $9 per hour; they will have the opportunity to augment their incomes through sales commissions from the in-flight sale of food, perfumes, toiletries, pens, watches and jewelry to passengers, a concept Skybus calls a "flying gift shop." The airline, unique among American carriers, is also keeping landing fees at a minimum by eschewing the use of jetways; passenger boarding will take place using ground-level boarding to the tarmac and stairs built into the aircraft. In order to maximize revenues, much of the interior of the aircraft space will be devoted to on-board advertising: companies will have the opportunity to place advertisements on overhead bins, carpets, and tray tables. This concept isn't limited to the interior of the aircraft; Skybus will lease the exteriors of their planes to companies wishing to pay for "flying billboards." Currently, at least one of Skybus's jets features a full-body advertisement for Nationwide Insurance.

But will the concept work?

One of the obstacles Skybus faces is its use of Columbus, Ohio as its hub. According to conventional airline wisdom, hub cities only work at locations where there are enough local passengers to supplement connecting pass-through passengers. Previous attempts at creating a hub at Columbus have been unsuccessful; America West (now part of US Airways) tried it and failed. Unlike other hub carriers, Skybus hopes that people in cities like Cleveland and Cincinnati - high-fare fortress hubs for Continental and Delta, respectively - will be so enticed by its low fares that they will make the drive from these cities to Columbus to fly their airline. Given the current situation regarding gas prices, however, I'm not sure that this will work; Cincinnati, according to Skybus's own website, is a 110-mile journey to Columbus; Cleveland is a 143-mile trek. Skybus does not offer single-ticket transfers through Columbus, either; if you fly Skybus through Columbus, you have to buy two tickets and re-check your baggage.

Skybus also appears to be following a trend of serving major metropolitan areas by flying into smaller, less expensive and less congested airports on those areas' periphery. That's perfectly sensible, since there are several airlines, Southwest among them, that employ this tactic: Oakland instead of SFO, Sanford instead of MCO, Burbank instead of LAX, Ft. Lauderdale instead of MIA. And that's fine, provided that the secondary airport is within a reasonable distance of the metropolitan area being served. Oakland is right across the bay from San Francisco, Sanford (as an example; Skybus does not [yet] fly there) is only a handful of miles further from Disney World than Orlando International, Burbank isn't much further from downtown Los Angeles than L. A. International, and Fort Lauderdale is only about 20 miles north of downtown Miami. A problem arises, however, when the secondary airport being serviced is nowhere near the primary city an airline is claiming to serve. This might be a problem for Skybus: Bellingham, Washington, is not "Seattle." Downtown Seattle is over 90 miles way from the Bellingham airport and the airport is actually closer to Vancouver, British Columbia (to their credit, Skybus advertises Bellingham as serving both cities). Making the claim that you're serving "Boston" by flying into Portsmouth, New Hampshire isn't much better.

SkyBus also employs a so-called "cafeteria" policy for added services. You want to check a bag? Fine. The first two bags are $5 each. Each additional bag, however, is $50. You want a pillow? Okay. That will be $8 (but you get to keep the pillow). Seating is prescribed on a first-come, first-served basis, much like Southwest's so-called "cattle call" boarding system; however, priority seating is available for anyone who wishes to pay a $10 fee.

In order to maximize in-flight food and beverage sales, Skybus prohibits passengers from bringing outside food or drink onto their aircraft. It remains to be seen just how carefully they will enforce this rule. Aside from the legal problems this might cause - I'd be interested to see what happens if Skybus tries to prevent somebody with diabetes or celiac disease from bringing their own food onto an aircraft - I think this is a rather cynical and greedy manner of customer service. "You want to buy a sandwich at a restaurant in the terminal and eat it during that long flight from Burbank to Columbus? Too bad! Pay to eat our food, or go hungry!" No other airline I've ever flown has ever tried to enforce this rule, and I can just imagine the discord that will ensue if a Skybus staffer tries to take a kid's candy bar away from them or tells a thirsty passenger to throw their bottle of water away before boarding.

The fact that Skybus does not have a call center means that, should you have a problem with your ticket and want to speak to a living, breathing human being about it, you're SOL. If you want e-mail or text message updates about your flight's status, that's also available - for a charge. There's no in-flight entertainment, but they'll sell you a Sudoko puzzle to keep you occupied.

Skybus's bare-bones labor policies, in fact, are a bit disconcerting. The duty of the flight attendant has traditionally been to ensure the safety and comfort of passengers; Skybus's concept of flight attendants, however, appears to cast them as in-flight salespeople. I'm not sure I'd be comfortable with a flight attendant, looking to get sales commissions, continually hawking merchandise to me throughout a flight. Skybus has outsourced the maintenance and cleaning of its aircraft to other entities. And the low wages that Skybus pays its crews - not only are flight attendants making a paltry $9 per hour (or $16,000 per year), but its pilots will be paid a starting salary of $65,000, which is considerably lower than the industry average - could have adverse implications for passenger comfort and safety. Experienced pilots and flight attendants, naturally, might gravitate away from this airline in favor of other arlines with higher wage structures, leaving Skybus with only the most inexperienced crews.

Skybus CEO Bill Diffenderffer compares his airline to another well-known discounter: "Keep in mind that most of America shops at Wal-Mart," he says. But whether air travelers will flock to "the Wal-Mart of the skies" remains to be seen. As's travel writer Ben Lovitt writes:
Personally, I hope they succeed, just as I hope their passengers accept the fact that ultra-low fares can entail hidden costs and unforeseen consequences. Most of all, though, I hope those passengers remember that they’re the ones who decided to go the no-frills route in the first place, which means no whining when the service isn’t up to snuff.

Sometimes you get what you pay for; sometimes you get more than you bargained for.

Time will tell if Skybus's no-frills, ultra-low-cost business model will work. But I personally do not see myself flying this airline. Skybus, in my mind, represents a disturbing "race to the bottom" for the nation's commercial aviation industry, and I find that to be an uncomfortable trend.

If I want to fly a low-fare airline, I'll stick with Southwest or JetBlue. (The "Target" of the skies, as opposed to Wal-Mart?) Those airlines have always treated me with dignity and respect as a passenger, and their flight attendants haven't hawked jewelry or pens or watches or perfumes to me in-flight, either.

Friday, May 25, 2007

ATA calls it quits

I didn't notice this until well after the fact, but as of May 7th ATA has discontinued their twice-daily nonstop service between Houston Hobby and New York LaGuardia. The service started a bit over a year ago, and the hope was that ATA, through its codeshare with Southwest Airlines (Hobby's dominant carrier), would be able to make the connection work. Looks like that didn't happen, unfortunately.

I had a feeling that the writing was on the wall for this service after JetBlue announced that they would begin flying between Hobby and New York JFK in last September. And indeed, the discussion about this service cut indicates that, while ATA's primary reason for dropping the route was their decision to do away with the type of Boeing 737 aircraft that flew this route, the competition with JetBlue was a factor as well. As one poster connected with ATA explained:
Yes, competition on the route was fierce and it had great loads initially, but the main reason for dropping it was returning the aircraft since a 3 aircraft sub-fleet is not cost efficient. Returning the aircraft is only capable if one aircraft's worth of flying is cancelled. The weakest route happened to be HOU-LGA and thus its ending May 7. Since the September 2006 entrance of B6, this route has been difficult.
(B6 is JetBlue's IATA airline designator.)

As somebody who prefers Hobby Airport for domestic travel (if for no other reason than the fact that it is much more geographically convenient for me than Bush Intercontinental), it's always a bit disappointing when its service offerings are reduced. But that's the nature of competition in the airline industry. Five daily flights to New York (even if to different airports) were probably too much for a secondary airport like Hobby to profitably support.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Ode on the death of a favourite cat

(As the title suggests, I'm not the only Thomas Gray who has written on this subject, even if my cat did not die in a tub of gold fishes...)

Yesterday marked one year since Elektra was run over by a car and killed.

Accepting the death of somebody or something very close to you - even if it is a family pet - is one thing; "getting over it" is something entirely different. Lori and I still miss her. We miss her purrs, we miss her gentle meows, we miss her rubbing our legs and flopping upside-down on our feet. I suspect we always will.

On a happier note, the shumard oak in our front yard that mark's Elektra's resting place is doing very well, in spite of the insects that occasionally munch on its leaves. Lori has since planted crysanthemums and dusty millers around the sapling, creating an attractive landscape feature in our yard. Elektra's tag still hangs from the young tree's trunk; Kirby runs up to it to play with it almost every time he's in the front yard.

Speaking of anniversaries, not all of them need be painful: tomorrow will mark eleventh anniversary of Lori and I meeting in person for the first time.

Which train do I take?

My brother-in-law Danny waits to get directions on his cell phone while staring at, and basking in the illumination of, a Washington Metro route map. The woman in the advertisement behind him seems to be looking over his shoulder to ask me, "do you really think this asshole knows where he's taking you?"

I took this picture two weekends ago while visiting Danny. It was my first-ever trip to the nation's capital.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Van Grumpy gone

I've made no secret of the fact that I'm not a huge Jeff Van Gundy fan, so I'm pleased to discover that the Houston Rockets, after several days of ambiguation, have finally relieved him of head coaching duties.

This isn't to say that Van Gundy was a horrible coach. His record with the Rockets - 182-146 over four seasons - isn't exactly miserable. And, to his credit, when he took over as coach prior to the 2003-04 season he led the Rockets to their first playoff appearance since 1999. During his four years at the helm, the Rockets went to the playoffs three times. But they never made it past the first round, and this simply wasn't enough for local fans who long for a return to the Clutch City glory days of yore. The most recent playoff apperance, which the Rockets lost in seven games to the Utah Jazz, was especially disappointing given the fact that the team had a relatively successful season, enjoyed home-court advantage in the series, and were up on Utah two games to none early on.

I've read other criticisms of Van Gundy that dealt with his coaching style: that it was not sufficiently offensive-minded, or that it was too rigid. I really can't evaluate those criticisms; my biggest gripe about him was his cranky persona (hence, the "Van Grumpy" nickname). Every time the Rockets won, he got in front of a TV camera to complain about the team. Every time the Rockets lost, he got in front of a TV camera to complain about the team even more. How are you supposed to instill confidence in your fans - much less your players - with that sulky attitude?

But neither his coaching style nor his persona had as much to do with his firing as his lack of success in the playoffs: those are the only results that matter. And Van Gundy, in spite of having talent like Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming at his disposal, could never get past the first round.

Getting rid of Van Gundy will not "fix" the Rockets. Their biggest problem - lousy management - is not going to go away until Les Alexander sells the team to a competent owner (the ham-fisted manner in which Alexander and the Rockets' front office handled Van Gundy's departure is, ironically, the latest example of such poor management). It also remains to be seen how much better Van Gundy's replacement - rumored to be longtime NBA coach Rick Adelman - will be. But this was a move that the Rockets simply needed to make, lest they become even more irrelevant to the local sports scene than they already are. Van Gundy is a good guy; he is not a bad basketball coach by any means. But it was simply time for him, and the Rockets, to move on.

One last taste of spring

Yesterday was nice. Today is even nicer. The warm-but-comfortable temperatures, clear skies, gentle breezes and low humidity are supposed to last through Sunday. A late-season cold front passed through the city earlier this week, knocking temperatures down into the low 80s and giving us our last taste of spring. As the local meteorologists have noted, the weather simply doesn't get much better than this for this time of year.

The big calendar in our kitchen claims that summer does not officially begin until the Summer Solstice on June 21st. As I argued last December, however, this really isn't true: the summer and winter solstices are astronomical events that have little to do with actual weather conditions. As was clear to anybody who walked outside earlier this week, before the front rolled through, and felt the heat (we hit the 90s on Monday and Tuesday) and oppressive humidity, summer in Houston has already begun. The pleasant weather we're getting right now is merely a respite. Once it's gone, the heat and humidity will be back, and they'll be here to stay through September.

So enjoy the weekend, because we won't see another one like it for a long, long time!

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Was that you, Mr. Lesar?

According to my visitor log, somebody from Halliburton came across this blog while trying to find out the distance between Houston and Dubai.

As I've previously mentioned, the distance between the oilfeld giant's co-headquarters is 8,181 miles.

Speaking of Dubai, I wonder if I'll ever get to go back there...

Friday, May 11, 2007

Quit being a jerk, Murph

Over on the Chronicle's University of Houston sports blog, sportswriter Michael Murphy mentions (see the end of the post) that he was co-hosting a sports talk show on a local AM radio station for four hours last night and did not receive a single call from anyone wanting to discuss UH athletics. According to him, the fact that nobody called in to talk UH sports means that Cougar fans are no longer allowed to complain about the lack of coverage they receive from the local sports media.

While it's true that there is a contingent of UH fans who constantly bitch and moan about a perceived lack of media coverage Cougar athletics receives, saying that UH fans don't have a right to complain about said lack of media coverage simply because no Cougar fan called into one evening AM sports talk radio show just doesn't make a lot of sense. Is media coverage of a certain team heavily correlated to the number of fans of that team who call in to AM sports talk radio shows? If UH fans suddenly began flooding these sports talk shows with calls, would coverage of Cougar sports dramatically increase? I doubt it.

What percentage of UH fans normally listen to AM sports talk radio, anyway? I know there are a few, but I'm betting that a much larger percentage don't. I don't listen to sports talk radio, because I find it to be incredibly boring (the only time I enjoyed listening to it was when I lived up in the Metroplex; everytime the Cowboys lost I'd listen to The Ticket to hear all the Cowboys fans complain, and in some cases literally start bawling). And I'd certainly not be listening to a sports talk radio show in the evening.

And what exactly is there to talk about right now, anyway? Basketball season is over. Baseball season has been rather dissapointing, and will be over soon enough. Spring practices for football are over, and football season itself is still almost four months away.

Commenters to Murphy's blog pointed that they didn't know that he'd be on last night, that they didn't know that UH sports would be discussed, that they didn't listen to his 6-to-10 pm radio slot because they're home eating dinner with their kids during that time, and the like. Judging by Murphy's testy responses to these comments, this isn't good enough for him. It's as if he's trying to argue that it is somehow the duty of every University of Houston sports fan to call into AM talk radio and create discussion about the program; that it is the responsibility of the fans, not the sports media itself, to generate coverage of UH athletics. And that's just absurd.

I know Murphy likes to ruffle feathers from time to time, but taking UH fans to task for not calling into AM talk radio to promote the program is just as futile as his constant criticism of UH fans for lousy attendance at football games. It's counterproductive and it just makes a lot of people angry.

Murph usually does good work and I appreciate his coverage of UH athletics. But this time, I think he's just being an antagonistic jerk.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Why isn't anybody watching TV anymore?

This AP article about dwindling TV veiwership, and the implications it has on the advertising dollars that the networks depend upon for their survival, was interesting.
In TV's worst spring in recent memory, an alarming number of Americans drifted away from television the past two months: More than 2.5 million fewer people were watching ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox than at the same time last year, statistics show.

Everyone has a theory to explain the plummeting ratings: earlier Daylight Savings Time, more reruns, bad shows, more shows being recorded or downloaded or streamed.
Those are all valid reasons as to why fewer people are watching TV. The article seems to focus on viewers who use technologies such as DVR recording and downloading and streaming from the internet to watch their favorite shows; more and more people are watching television programming in this manner, and ratings agencies like Neilsen haven't yet found a good way to measure these type of viewers. The article unfortunately doesn't really pay much attention to what I think is the main reason fewer people are watching TV: most of the stuff on television these days is simply crap.

The reality-show craze, to which the networks have devoted a considerable amount of airtime, has simply run its course. It's little wonder that shows like Survivor and American Idol are suffering from their lowest-rated seasons ever: more and more people are beginning to realize just how stupid and stale they really are. Unfortunately, the networks are not quick to pick up on this fact; they are going to milk the dying reality-show fad for all it's worth and will continue to throw more seasons of lame and vapid shows like Survivor, American Idol, The Apprentice, Dancing With The Stars, The Amazing Race, Hell's Kitchen, Supernanny, etc. at us. As they do that, millions of American televisions - mine included - will be turned off.

There are other shows, many of them once-watchable, and many of them long-running, that simply need to be put out of their misery. I have to agree with's list of five shows that need to be cancelled: 24 “jumped the shark” this season with the implausible plotline revolving around Jack Bauer’s family and their involvement in the very terrorist activities Jack is trying to prevent. ER, a show I actually used to watch with regularity, jumped the shark a long time ago; that it is still even on the air is a testament to NBC's ossification. Lost is just too convoluted and complex for many people to follow (ABC recently announced that the 2009-2010 season will be the last for Lost; I think that's a few years too late). We don’t need three different episodes of CSI (nor, for that matter, do we need three separate episodes of Law and Order; both of these “franchises” are currently overexposed and CBS and NBC would do well to get rid of CSI: New York and Law and Order: Criminal Intent, respectively). I even, sadly, have to agree that it’s probably time for The Simpsons to go: I still watch it, but it’s just not as funny as it used to be.

And that's just the beginning. Heroes might be watchable if I were twelve; otherwise, it's just a transparent attempt by NBC to tap into the "comic book" demographic that makes movies like the Spider-Man series so successful. Grey's Anatomy started out well enough, but seems to have quickly degenerated into just another "how many people can a given character sleep with in a given season" type of show. I've never understood all the hype surrounding Desperate Housewives (although, given that I'm clearly not part of its intended demographic, I'm willing to give it a benefit of the doubt). And don't even get me started on Dateline NBC's sleazy and cynical To Catch A Predator series. Primetime television, as we come to the end of the 2006-2007 television season, is by and large a wasteland of the old, the uninventive and the inane. When The Sopranos ends its run on HBO in a few weeks, will there be anything worth watching anymore?

Maybe that's a little harsh. To be sure, there are still a few good shows on television right now. My Name Is Earl is entertaining; it and The Office are, at this point, the only things suggesting that NBC even has a pulse. Fox's House proves that the medical drama is still a viable genre; ABC seems to be doing well with Ugly Betty and my wife has become a fan if its newest offering, Notes from the Underbelly. But the good shows are few and far between.

Every so often, critics like to speak of a "New Golden Age" of television, based on a the presence of a handful of strong, fresh and exciting shows. I, however, would like to propose the opposite: as of 2007, we are actually suffering through a "New Dark Age" of television programming. And this is one of the main reasons why fewer and fewer people are bothering to turn on their TVs.

UPDATE: A big welcome to everyone who has clicked to this post through from the Houston Chronicle's ed/op page. And thanks to the Chron for showing me some love!

A bit of good news

Once again, I apologize for the lack of recent posting activity. I do have a few items I want to write about; hopefully I'll do that over the next few days. In the meantime, I wanted to pass along this bit of good news.

You might remember that Lori was laid off from her job right after the new year began. As I noted at the time, it was probably for the best: she really didn't like that job or several of the people that she worked with, and she probably could have used some time off. Lori has spent the last four months enjoying some well-needed relaxation, working on the house and focusing on her wine-tasting business.

However, neither her wine tasting business nor her unemployment benefits replaced the salary of a full-time job, and so we were both relieved when she finally found new employment. As of last Monday, she is now a research assistant for the Texas Transportation Institute.

She's done work for them in the past, so she knows what to expect from this job. The research-oriented work she'll be doing there will be more varied and intellectually-stimulating than what she did at her last job. TTI's academic schedule - it is affiliated with Texas A&M University - means that she'll get a holidays every year that most people don't get, like a few days off for spring break or an entire week off between Christmas and New Years. Her commute will be shorter than it was for her old job. The benefits are acceptable and the pay is decent.

She's only been at this new job for a week, and it will obviously take time for her to get settled in and discover just how good of a fit the job actually is for her. But so far, things are looking like they worked out well: she's found a new job that clearly appears to be better than her previous one, and we have two solid incomes once again.