Monday, June 30, 2014

Sixty days to kickoff, and an updated UH football schedule

As of today, two months remain until the 2014 University of Houston football season kicks off in its brand new stadium. The schedule has been updated since it was first released in March, with Tennessee Tech being replaced by UNLV and with some adjustments to game dates, so the Cougars' fall slate now looks like this:

     Fri Aug 29       Texas - San Antonio     Houston, TX     8:00 pm (ESPNU)
     Sat Sep 06       Grambling State           Houston, TX     7:00 pm
     Thu Sep 11      at BYU                         Provo, UT         8:00 pm (ESPN)
     Sat Sep 20       Nevada-Las Vegas       Houston, TX      TBA
     Thu Oct 02      Central Florida            Houston, TX      6:00 pm (ESPN)
     Sat Oct 11        at Memphis                 Memphis, TN    TBA
     Fri Oct 17        Temple                        Houston, TX      8:00 pm (ESPNU)
     Sat Nov 01       at USF                        Tampa, FL          TBA
     Sat Nov 08      Tulane                         Houston, TX       TBA
     Sat Nov 22      Tulsa                           Houston, TX       TBA
     Fri Nov 28       at SMU                       Dallas, TX          TBA
     Sat Dec 06      at Cincinnati                Cincinnati, OH   TBA

I'm still not too pleased with it, what with all the weak opponents and Thursday and Friday night games, but UNLV is definitely an upgrade from Tennessee Tech and I'm glad to see that, as of right now, at least four of our first five home games will be night kickoffs (so we can avoid the worst of the heat and enjoy some quality tailgating).

If I'm so inclined, I'll do my customary season preview as we get closer to kickoff. In the meantime, here's what Yardbarker has to say about the Coogs.

Who's up for a trip to Chile?

Because now you can fly there nonstop from Bush Intercontinental:
United Airlines, the U.S. airline with the most global route network, today announced the company will introduce service to Santiago, Chile, from its hub at George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston, beginning Dec. 7, 2014, subject to government approval.

Flight 847 will depart Houston daily at 9:05 p.m. and arrive in Santiago at 9:40 a.m. the next day. Return flight 846 will depart Santiago daily at 10:45 p.m. and arrive in Houston at 5:40 a.m. the following day. (All times are local.)

“Houston passengers already enjoy a high level of connectivity with Latin America,” says Chief Commercial Officer Ian Wadsworth.  “This new service strengthens those connections, allowing for even greater economic and cultural ties between the two regions.”
Santiago was the only major Latin American economic hub still not served by United from Houston (no offense to La Paz or AsunciĆ³n), so this seems like a rather obvious addition to their route network. Santiago becomes the latest in a growing list of major international destinations (along with Istanbul, Beijing, Munich, Seoul, etc.) to be accessible from Houston on a non-stop flight.

In addition to the new Santiago service, United will also begin flying from Houston to Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic this fall.

Also in December, Emirates will be upgrading its equipment on its Houston-Dubai route, becoming the second airline (after Lufthansa) to fly the Airbus A380 to Bush Intercontinental airport.

My little gardens, continued

They might be tiny, but my two little 4'x4' gardens have been awfully productive this past month:
It might not be readily apparent from the camera angle and the way I'm holding it, but this eggplant was huge! I'm also holding some basil and dill in my fingers behind the plant, which I used to season it when I cut it up and sauteed it.

Thanks in part to the decent rains we got over the course of June, my cherry tomato plants have gone crazy. I returned from vacation a week ago to find the plants overflowing with ripe tomatoes, which I harvested and could barely contain in this three-quart plastic bowl.

Vegetables aren't the only thing that has been growing in my garden; my dill plant did exactly as I had intended and provided a home for a couple of black swallowtail caterpillars. This is the first time I've successfully raised black swallowtails in several years.

I don't consider myself a master gardener by any means, so needless to say I am pretty pleased with myself right now.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Houston's sprawl, illustrated

Via Swamplot, a fascinating animation showing the pattern of Houston's residential development over the past seventy years:
This animation is one of several created by Ian Rees, as Swamplot explains:
Using data from the American Community Survey, Rees mapped structures in the region by the decade they were built, grading their concentration with varying shades of blue.  The result helps us visualize the decades-long march of Houston housing ever outward. 
Because the shading is based on housing density, darker tracts generally indicate areas where significant apartment, condominium and townhome development occurred. This map illustrates the explosion of that type of development on the western and southwestern side of town in the 60s and 70s, which ended up giving us urban artifacts such as the Gulfton Ghetto after the oil bust of the 80s. The emergence, starting in the 1970s, of suburban "master-planned" communities such as Friendswood, Kingwood, Cinco Ranch, The Woodlands and Clear Lake City is also perceptible. Finally, this map shows how denser redevelopment returned to areas inside the loop (especially areas west of downtown) after 1990; this trend continues today.

With the metropolitan area continuing to add people, jobs and houses at a rapid pace, and with no geographic boundaries to contain it, this sprawling development pattern is likely to continue into future decades. Barring some significant social or economic upheaval, of course.

No, guys, "we're" not pregnant.

One of these days, I'm going to make a list of words and phrases that I really hate and that I wish people would quit using. It will be a very long list.

One of the items on the list will be men who say "we're pregnant" when referring to the fact that he and his wife or girlfriend are expecting a baby. Aside from being biologically impossible, "we're pregnant" just sounds pretentious and stupid.

But don't take my word for it; here's Mila Kunis:

There is nothing wrong with men who want to show their excitement about becoming a father or who want to show their solidarity with the woman who is bearing their child. There is nothing wrong with men saying things like "we're expecting" or "we're going to have a baby." But men need to stop saying "we're pregnant." Because you're not.

Monday, June 02, 2014

Does a Coca-Cola ad campaign assist or exploit Dubai laborers?

Take three minutes to watch this recent advertisement from Coca-Cola. Go ahead. I'll wait.

Did this video make you feel all warm and fuzzy? You can admit it. What a wonderful thing for Coca-Cola to do, right?

However, the realities behind this ad campaign aren't quite so warm and fuzzy, as The New Yorker's Vauhini Vara explains:
The lives of Dubai’s migrant laborers are filled with hardship. Foreigners—including thousands of migrant workers from South Asia—make up more than eighty-eight per cent of residents of the United Arab Emirates, of which Dubai is a commercial and cultural center, according to a report this year from Human Rights Watch. The report found that recruiters in countries like India and Pakistan often charge fees of several thousand dollars to migrant laborers to facilitate their trips to the U.A.E. and their employment once they arrive. Once workers reach their destination, employers sometimes confiscate their passports, the report said, and laborers are barred from organizing or bargaining collectively.

For some people, “Hello Happiness” was a poignant reminder of those difficult circumstances. “Almost made me cry,” one person commented on YouTube. But that view was far from universal. “No offense, but ‘Happiness’ would be working conditions that don’t cause thousands of deaths, non-exploitative contracts, fair wages,” another person wrote. The question is whether Coca-Cola is shedding light on a little-known human-rights crisis and, in its own small way, helping to alleviate the troubles of the victims of that crisis, or whether it is adding to the exploitation of migrant workers in the Middle East and Asia.
I can see both sides of the argument. On one hand, this Coca-Cola ad is giving a voice and a face to the "invisible armies" of South Asian laborers who are toiling in merciless desert heat as they build Dubai's soaring skyscrapers and gleaming shopping malls. It clearly references the long days, hard work, crowded camps and low wages these men must endure, thereby eliciting compassion for their circumstances.

On the other hand, there does seem to be something unscrupulous and even cynical about this campaign, especially considering that only five of these special phone booths were made and that they were operational for only about a month while the advertisement was being produced. Afterwards, the "happiness" being provided to these laborers came to an end; the phone booths were dismantled and the laborers went back to having to pay approximately one-half of their day's wages if they wanted to make a three-minute phone call back home. Furthermore, the ad makes no reference to some of the more troubling realities of labor work in Dubai: dangerous working conditions, unethical recruiters and contractors, the inability to collectively bargain. Vara continues:
I sent links to the ads to Nicholas McGeehan, a Gulf researcher for Human Rights Watch who has studied labor conditions in Dubai. I was interested in his take on the questions of appropriateness and ethics that some viewers had raised. The videos, he said, were “odious.” For one thing, he said, Coke is not only using these low-income workers to advertise its product, it is also requiring them to buy soft drinks themselves—at nearly a tenth of their typical daily wages, he pointed out—to use the special phone booth. On top of that, he feels that the ads normalize and even glorify the hardship faced by migrant workers—at least some of whom may be working against their will. “If this was two hundred years ago, would it be appropriate for Coke to do adverts in the plantations of the Deep South, showing slaves holding cans of Coke?” he asked. “It is a normalization of a system of structural violence, of a state-sanctioned trafficking system.”
The comparison to slavery is a bit overwrought, as I've said before: these workers came to Dubai voluntarily, to earn wages that, while comparatively small, are simply not currently available in places like Sri Lanka, Kerala or Bangladesh. Yes, some of them might have been lured by underhanded recruiters, and yes, some of them might be facing unacceptable working conditions, but it's not quite the same as being captured, brought to Dubai in chains and auctioned off to big developers like Nakheel or Emaar.

That being said, I do find the ad somewhat creepy. The thing that bothers me the most is not that laborers were used in its making, or that they were required to buy a Coca-Cola product if they wanted to use the telephone booths, but that only five of these kiosks were built and that they were only operational for a month. That just seems cruel. Why not build more of them so more laborers can access them, or leave them operational for a longer period of time, if not permanently? Surely that's something that a multi-billion-dollar corporation like Coca-Cola could afford to do in the name of creating long-term goodwill as well as brand loyalty in the developing world.

"Happiness," indeed.

My little gardens

I know it's been awhile since I posted, but since I'm not yet ready to put this blog on "semi-permanent hiatus," a gratuitous post about my garden.

There are two small planters in the front of my current residence, both of which are roughly four feet square. They used to contain trees, but the drought did them in so the landlord removed them a couple of years ago and told me I could plant whatever I desired in its place.

So in went milkweed (to help the monarch through its current crisis, and I did successfully raise some caterpillars this spring), basil (because it thrives in Houston's climate), dill (because in addition to cooking with it, I want to attract some of these guys), as well as cherry tomatoes, bell pepper and eggplant, because a guy's gotta eat.

Needless to say, that's a lot of plants to put into two 4'x4' planters, and things can get chaotic as the various plants compete for sunlight. I'm using a lot of stakes and ties to try to keep the peace between all these plants, but the planters still look rather unorganized:

It's not easy, though. Thanks at least in part to the deluge the city received last week, the tomato plants are growing spectacularly and are throwing off tomatoes faster than I can eat them:

But the fruits of my labor, literally speaking, are worth it:

Not pictured is the huge eggplant that's growing underneath all that greenery. I'll harvest it later this week.

Good things come from small gardens!