Monday, December 27, 2004

On becoming homeowners

Although it probably won't completely sink in until I write that first mortgage payment, Lori and I are now officially homeowners. We closed on our house, in the same University Oaks neighborhood where I grew up (my parents still live two blocks away), last Wednesday.

Since our lease here in Midtown runs through the end of February, we have a couple of months to do some remodeling before we move in. Which is good, because the heater needs to be replaced, the kitchen (which lacks a dishwasher, a garbage disposal, and a stove that actually works) needs a complete facelift, the yard could use some landscaping, Kirby's room needs to be painted, the leaky sunroom roof needs to be replaced, the downstairs bathroom needs immediate attention, etc. The joys of homeownership!

Lori and I are looking forward to it, however; we're glad to finally have a place we can call our own.

(Retroblogged on August 23, 2015. That old house has become a veritable money pit in the years since, but it became Lori's after the divorce, so it's not my problem anymore!)

White Christmas

That's something I never thought I'd see here in Houston, so I never even bothered to dream about it!

It was very cool; Lori, Kirby and I were eating tapas with my parents at Mi Luna restaurant in Rice Village when the flakes started falling Christmas Eve, and the flurries continued throughout the evening. Here in Midtown, the snow didn't completely melt from lawns, rooftops and parking garages until well into Christmas morning.

It made for a truly memorable holiday; I doubt I'll ever see a Christmas snowfall in Houston again in my lifetime.

(Retroblogged on August 23, 2015. Houston has only seen a couple of snowfalls since, and certainly no more White Christmases.)

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Bowl season begins with Mean Green defeat

Bowl season began yesterday evening, with North Texas and Southern Miss squaring off in the Wyndham New Orleans Bowl. Lori and I watched part of the game with other Houston-area UNT alumni at Noche restaurant on Montrose, but the game didn’t turn out to be very watchable. The Golden Eagles dominated the Mean Green 31-10; the score would have looked worse had North Texas not scored a touchdown on the last play of the game. This is UNT’s third loss in four consecutive New Orleans Bowl appearances; Darrell Dickey’s squad continues to be unable to win games out of conference.

To be fair to the Mean Green, they’ve had a rough season. Quarterback Andrew Smith was killed in a car crash shortly before the season started; Chronicle columnist John Lopez wrote a good article about the tragedy and local furniture mogul (and UNT alum) Jim “Mattress Mack” McIngvale’s response to it. The Mean Green then began the season with four straight losses. To their credit, however, they overcame these setbacks to dominate the Sun Belt conference for the fourth year in a row; they haven’t lost a conference game since 2001.

However, the Mean Green must find a way to begin winning out of conference; last night’s performance against a decent but not invincible Southern Miss team was simply unimpressive.

(Retroblogged on August 23, 2015.)

Monday, November 22, 2004

The VCR meets the dustbin of history

The show’s over for the VCR, at least at one British electronics chain. Dixon says that demand for videocassette recorders has fallen dramatically since the mid-1990s, while sales of DVD players have increased exponentially. Thus, after this Christmas, VCRs will no longer grace the store’s shelves. The format is becoming obsolete, and more retailers, including those here in the United States, will follow Dixon’s lead in the coming years. By this time ten years from now the video cassette will be just as much of an obscure anachronism as the vinyl LP or Super 8 movie film

If you’re somebody who likes to ponder the effect of technology on culture, then the videocassette is certainly a good place to start. When this technology became available to the consumer beginning in the late ‘70s, it revolutionized the way people watched TV. People were now able to record their favorite shows and watch them whenever they wanted; they were no longer at the mercy of network broadcasting schedules and, much to the chagrin of advertisers, all those annoying commercials could be bypassed with the push of the fast-forward button. A person with cable could even record movies from HBO or Showtime and watch them at his or her leisure. Although Hollywood initially worried that the rise of the VCR would lead to rampant movie piracy or impact the take at the box office as people decided to wait until movies came out on video, in the end the movie industry had no choice but to embrace the format. This led to the rise of the video store; people could now go out and rent whatever movie they wanted to see and watch it whenever they wished. Rentals weren’t limited to movies, either; there were documentaries, self-help tapes, educational tapes, do-it-yourself home improvement tapes – the VCR made a vast new realm of information readily available to the public. 

With the videocassette also came the widespread availability of video cameras. Families could now videotape the Christmas get-together or the kid’s basketball game and then immediately watch themselves on TV. There was no more waiting for Super 8 cartridges to be developed and no more fighting with the movie projector. Home movies became home videos. Furthermore, a person with a video camera could record anything and everything as it happened and immediately have the footage available for the world to see. Amateur footage became news; if the most famous amateur 8 mm film in history is the Zapruder footage of John F. Kennedy’s assassination in 1963, then the most famous amateur videotape in history is the 1991 footage of Rodney King being savagely beaten by several Los Angeles police officers - images that would eventually spark one of the biggest and ugliest riots in modern American history. 

However, technology always marches forward, and by the end of the 1990s new digital media, which offered superior quality to the analog videotape, was beginning to make its way into the consumer market. The DVD player and the digital video camera have now overtaken the VCR, and the videocassette, as revolutionary as it might have once been, is seeing its final days as a technological staple of our culture.

(Retroblogged on August 23, 2015. Ten years later, and I still haven't transferred by old VHS home videos to digital media. I guess I should hurry and get that done.)

A lousy end to a lousy season

The University of Houston Cougars ended their disappointing 2004 campaign with a 27-65 loss to Louisville last Saturday at Robertson Stadium. The Coogs were actually able to keep the score close for much of the game and only trailed the 11-ranked Cardinals 27-35 early into the fourth quarter. But the Cardinals scored 30 points in the fourth quarter, including two points on a safety resulting from a bad Cougar snap, and the Cougars ended a sour season on a sour note. 

The 2004 season was, needless to stay, a huge step backward from the success of 2003. A grossly unfavorable schedule, combined with the loss of several key players to graduation, academic ineligibility or injury, resulted in a 3-8 record – the Coogs’ 14th losing season out of the last 20. A Cougar offense which scored an average of 34.5 points per game last year sustained key losses to the offensive line and receiving corps and only managed to score 20.9 points per game this season. There was only minor improvement in the porous defense over last season, and special teams saw a wholesale regression from the previous year. 

Bright spots? If you’re somebody who believes in so-called “moral victories,” then you’re pleased that the Cougars covered the spread against the powerhouse Miami Hurricanes or that they were able to force Southern Mississippi into a thrilling overtime game. But, quite frankly, I find it hard to find many positives about the 2004 Cougar football season. It started badly (with a loss to Rice) and went downhill from there. Thankfully, it is over. 

Some Cougar fans are already looking forward to 2005; there’s hope that, with a good recruiting class, some offseason adjustments, and a more favorable schedule, the 2005 season could be a good one for Houston. But I’m not going to get excited yet; the start of the 2005 season is over 9 months away, and, as this past season clearly showed, there’s a lot of work that needs to be done between now and then. 

(Retroblogged on August 23, 2015.)

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Tweedle-dum defeats Tweedle-dee

Right before the election I said that Bush would get re-elected because he would hang on to Florida and Ohio and pick up one or more of New Mexico, Iowa and Wisconsin (he won two out of the three). I also predicted that Bush would lose New Hampshire to Kerry, but that it wouldn’t matter. Acknowledge my political prowess!

I’m not particularly enthused about the results of this election, as I’m not looking forward to another four years of the arrogant unilateralism, crony capitalism and pandering to the fundamentalist right that the Bush administration represents, but the voters of this nation have spoken. And I’m glad it’s over. This election was ugly and hateful and neither side should be particularly pleased with the way they conducted themselves.

As for the result, the Democrats really only have themselves to blame. Bush was very vulnerable and probably could have been defeated by a better candidate. But the Democrats chose an uninspiring northeastern liberal (didn’t the Democrats learn anything from Michael Dukakis?) with a murky, contradictory voting record. Kerry couldn’t articulate his plans or visions in a manner that the voter could understand; he couldn’t shake his reputation as a “flip-flopper,” and he did a poor job of defending himself against character attacks from opponents such as the so-called Swift Vote Vets for Truth. He chose to attack Bush where he was strongest by focusing on the war in Iraq and didn’t spend enough time attacking Bush where he was weakest, such as on health care costs or prescription drug benefits. Simply put, Kerry was a lousy candidate who ran a lousy campaign.

Being the “we’re not Bush” party just wasn’t enough for the Democrats. They needed to give the electorate somebody to vote *for* as well, and they didn’t do it with John Kerry.

The Republicans saw the election as a huge victory, because in addition to Bush's successful re-election they were able to increase their margins in the House and the Senate (even adding insult to injury to the Democrats by ousting Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle). However, boasts of a Republican "mandate" are merely rhetoric. 

The nation is still bitterly divided and extremely polarized. 51% of the voting public supports Bush; 49% voted for somebody else. Deep divisions remain along urban /rural and secular/evangelical lines. Although this nasty election is over, the political climate in this nation will unfortunately remain ugly for a long time to come.

(Retroblogged on August 23, 2015. Eight years later, the Republicans would make a similar mistake, choosing an uninspiring northeastern elite with a murky and contradictory record, Mitt Romney, to run against the otherwise-vulnerable Barack Obama.)

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Houston 27, TCU 34

The Coogs lose again, this time to TCU in Fort Worth, in a game that apparently wasn’t even as close as the score indicated. I didn’t get to see the game because I was in Las Vegas over the weekend, but according to reports from people who were there the Coogs played uninspired football until the fourth quarter, and by then it was too late.

This loss, the sixth of the season, cements a losing record for the Coogs. They’ll return to Robertson Stadium to play Tulane this weekend, a game which won’t be easy. Considering how poorly the Cougars are playing right now, even the following week’s game against woeful East Carolina is going to be tough. A 1-10 season looks like a real possibility at this point.

(Retroblogged on August 23, 2015.)

Thursday, October 21, 2004

It was fun while it lasted...

Even though they were only one game away from the World Series, the Astros just couldn’t pull it off and lost to the Cardinals in an exciting seven-game National League Championship Series. 
I was trying not to get my hopes up, even after Houston’s amazing victory in the fifth game of the series, because I knew that the Astros had been in this same situation once before but couldn’t pull it off – in 1980, against the Philles, the ‘Stros were one win away from the World Series with two games to play – and also because I knew that the Cardinals were the ultimate comeback kids – they have never lost a best-of-seven series after trailing three games to two. Nevertheless, I’d be lying if I said I’m not disappointed right now. Just once, in my lifetime, I’d like to see the Astros go to the World Series, and this season they were so close. But I guess the Astros just aren't meant to reach the World Series.

But I’m not really angry. If you had told me in mid-August, when the Astros were four games below .500, that the team would make an improbable late-season rally, get into the playoffs, beat the hated Atlanta Braves, win their first postseason series in franchise history, and take the team with the best record in baseball to a full seven games in the NLCS, I would have called you a liar. Instead of underachieving, as Houston sports franchises are wont to do, this season’s Astros overachieved. Like I said after they beat the Braves: they could have been swept by the Cardinals and I’d still have considered this postseason a success.

So now the Cardinals go on to face the Boston Red Sox in the World Series. The Red Sox, who made baseball history by being the first time to rally from a three-game deficit to win a playoff series, are hoping that this is the year that the “Curse” comes to an end. It won’t be easy to do against the Cardinals’ amazing batting order, but it will be fun to watch. And even if Boston doesn’t win, I still enjoyed watching them beat the Yankees. I like it anytime anybody beats the Yankees.

I don’t necessarily hate the Yankees themselves, although their fan base certainly makes it easy to do so. I simply dislike what the Yankees represent. To me, they are the epitome of everything that is wrong in baseball. George Steinbrenner can pull out his checkbook and buy himself a World Series appearance virtually every year; only a handful of franchises can compete with the Yankees’ financial resources and many of the “small-market” teams have no hope of being in the World Series chase before the season even begins. The disparity between the rich franchises and the poor franchises makes Major League Baseball a rather uncompetitive sport (much like, say, Division I-A football), and it’s really a shame.

(Retroblogged on August 23, 2015. I'd have to wait one more year to see the Astros finally make it to the World Series.)

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Cursed no more!

I really didn’t expect the Houston Astros to be able to beat the Braves, in Atlanta, with Roy Oswalt pitching on only three days’ rest. After all, the Astros had never won a postseason series in seven previous tries, and three of those frustrating playoff losses had come against the Braves. When the Astros blew a three-run lead and lost to the Braves in Houston the day before, I thought for sure that history would repeat itself.

So you can imagine how elatedly surprised I was last night, when the Astros won their first postseason series in the 43-year history of the franchise by pounding Atlanta, 12-3, in game five of the National League Divisional Series. The curse was lifted, the jinx was broken, the demons were cast aside with an exclamation point, as the Astros scored five runs in the seventh inning and three runs in the eighth to turn what had been a close contest into a blowout. Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio, oft-criticized for their poor offensive production during previous postseason appearances, finally broke out and combined for four hits and three RBIs, which was especially remarkable considering that they were playing with the news that their friend and former teammate, Ken Caminiti, had died of a heart attack the previous day. Carlos Beltran, who dominated during this series, added two home runs.

I guess Astros owner Drayton McLane took my advice and hired that exorcist.

Now, the Astros face the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Championship Series, with the winner advancing to the World Series. St. Louis, with the best record and the best line-up in the majors, is going to be a tough test. But even if the Astros don’t get past the Cardinals, this season will still be a success. Their late-season really from four games below .500 to earn a trip to the playoffs was quite remarkable, and the fact that they’ve gotten the can’t-win-in-the-playoffs monkey off their backs is even better. The Astros, for once, are exceeding expectations, instead of falling short.

It’s a good thing I don’t bet on sports. I would be dirt poor right now, otherwise…

(Retroblogged August 23, 2015. I'm only slightly less pessimistic about Houston sports today than I was a decade ago...)

Coogs fall to Southern Miss in overtime

Last Thursday evening a national TV audience watched Southern Mississippi rally from an 8-point deficit late in the fourth quarter to overcome a spirited University of Houston squad and win in overtime, 29-35. The Cougars, playing on a short week of rest and decimated by injuries, played with just enough heart to win but made just enough mistakes to lose. While their better-than-expected performance gave the dwindling cadre of Cougar faithful hope, especially coming on the heels of a disappointing 41-14 loss to Memphis a few days before, the end result was Houston’s fifth loss of the season and their seventh loss in ten games. The Coogs’ undermined their bid to upset the Golden Eagles in Hattiesburg by committing numerous penalties and playing horribly on special teams.

This would have been a huge win for the tortured UH program, if they could have pulled it off. It’s hard for teams to bounce back from games like last Thursday’s, where the underdog gets oh-so-close but can’t find away to put it away. I’ve seen it happen to the Coogs before, where they play beyond their abilities, come up short, and are unable to recover from the hard-fought loss.

In late October of 2000, for example, when 14th-ranked Southern Mississippi came to town, the Cougars were struggling with a 3-4 record (with all three UH victories by a combined six points). The Coogs put everything they had into an attempted upset of the Golden Eagles, but came up short in a heart-breaking 3-6 loss. Houston never bounced back from the anguish and lost their final three games by a combined score of 56-135 on their way to a 3-8 season. The following year, the winless Cougars made a bid to defeat a decent Cincinnati squad, and even held a 28-17 lead over the Bearcats into the fourth quarter. However, Cincinnati rallied to win, 29-28. The Cougars could not put the sting of the close loss behind them and were uncompetitive for the remainder of the season, which was the first winless season in UH football history.

Will this time be different? Will the Coogs be able to bounce back from this loss and remain competitive for the remainder of this difficult season? Or will this loss demoralize them to the point that they pack it in? The only way to find out is to see how they fare against TCU in Fort Worth two Saturdays from now. One thing that does work in the Coogs’ favor is that this is a bye week, meaning that they have an extra week for the sting of Southern Miss game to fade. The injury-plagued team also gets an extra week to heal…

(Retroblogged on August 23, 2015.)

Sunday, October 03, 2004

They both suck.

Watching last Thursday night’s debate between George W. Bush and John Kerry made me want to wretch. The United States is the world's only superpower and is supposedly the world's greatest democracy, yet these two clowns are the best guys we can come up with to lead this nation? This "debate" was essentially little more than 90 minutes of both of these morons endlessly repeating their list of talking points: Bush's invasion of Iraq was a mistake, Kerry is a flip-flopper, etc. Neither candidate said anything new or insightful.

And what was the deal with CNN's pre-debate program? It looked like ESPN College Gameday, with all the college kids in the background shouting and holding signs. I was almost expecting Lee Corso and Kirk Herbstreit to show up on the set next to Wolf Blitzer.

(Retroblogged on August 23, 2015.)

The Astros: credit where it's due

I really didn't think they could come back from their midseason slump to even compete for playoff contention, let alone clinch the NL wild card. At one point, the Astros were 4 games below .500 and appeared to be on their way to the NL Central cellar. However, since August 15th the Astros have clawed their way back with an amazing 36-10 record, and the payoff for them is a postseason berth (they got some help from the Chicago Cubs, of course, who took themselves out of playoff contention with an impressive late-season disappearing act).

Of course, now the 'Stros, who have never won a playoff series, get to face the evil Atlanta Braves, who OWN the Astros in the postseason. I can tell you right now how this is going to turn out. I'll be surprised, in fact, if the Braves don't sweep.

Even though the Astros will be knocked out in the first round of the playoffs like they always are, they nevertheless deserve credit for the way they bounced back from an abysmal June and July to make the postseason. It really was enjoyable to watch.

(Retroblogged on August 23, 2015. Of course, the Astros didn't get swept by the Braves. They actually beat them!)

Houston 14, Memphis 41

Well, so much for allowing the "better than expected" performance against Miami to get my hopes up. I should know better.

I remember how happy we generally were with the “better than expected” 42-24 loss to fifth-ranked UCLA at Robertson Stadium in 1998. The Cougars played the Bruins tough; they had more first downs, had more time of possession, piled up 173 rushing yards against the vaunted Bruin defense, sacked that whiny, overrated prick Cade McNown (where is he these days?) three times, and only trailed 21-14 at halftime.

Many people thought that game showed just how improved the Cougars had become after close losses to California and Minnesota, and that the game was a turning point.

Of course, it was not. The following weekend the Cougars went to Knoxville, got rolled by eventual national champion Tennessee 42-7, and ended the season with a 3-8 record. The Cougars even lost to a 2-9 Cincinnati team and a 3-8 Army squad.

The Miami game in many ways reminds me a lot of the UCLA game. The Coogs played a top-ranked opponent tough at home and many of us were happy because the Coogs showed signs of life as they covered the spread and in some statistical categories even beat the Hurricanes. Now they follow it up by traveling to the state of Tennessee and regressing horribly (even though Memphis is not going to be confused with the '98 Vols).

7 offensive points. Against the same Memphis defense that gave up 28 points to Arkansas freakin' State! Even Division I-AA Chattanooga scored 21 against these guys! I am I really supposed to believe that our offense is worse than either of those teams? Maybe so. As another fan recently pointed out to me, the Coogs' offensive point production has so far been nothing short of, well, offensive.

I also find it troubling that the defense only gave up 172 yards against Miami and sacked Brock Berlin 5 times, yet allowed 333 yards against Memphis (262 by DeAngelo Williams alone) and didn’t get to the Tigers' quarterback (Wimprine?) once.

All in all, a huge step backwards. I don't know if I was really expecting the Cougars to beat Memphis on the road, but I can honestly say I wasn't expecting the team to perform this badly.

Yes, Memphis had motivation to clobber us after losing to UAB the week before. But did the Cougars not have motivation of their own, after being embarrassed by the Tigers in their home stadium the year before? Did the Coogs come to play today, or not? I don't know because I wasn't there, but it certainly didn't sound like it.

Even though I knew it would be tough to do so with this schedule, I really was hoping for a 6-5 record this year because this program needs, more than anything else, to string together some consecutive winning seasons if it is going to make any progress. But now it looks like the Coogs will be lucky to end this season with a 3-8 record. TCU is certainly an underperformer this season, but I'm not sure the Coogs will be able to take advantage of it, and at this point you know Tulane and East Carolina are looking forward to their trips to Robertson.

The Coogs just lost too much from last year's team and are playing too difficult a schedule this year. Add in other areas of regression, such as special teams, mental mistakes (penalties, fumbles, dropped passes) and the like, and the result is that this season simply represents a big step back for the team and the program. Unless a miracle happens, the Coogs are looking at their 14th losing season in the last 20 years.

(Retroblogged on August 23, 2015.)

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

It could have been a lot worse.

Last Thursday, the Cougars played the Miami Hurricanes a lot closer than the 13-38 final score might indicate. Houston gained more first downs and more total yards than Miami, held the ball longer than Miami, sacked Cane QB Brock Berlin five times and even scored the first touchdown against the Miami defense this season. However, mistakes killed the Coogs; a blocked punt less than a minute into the game and a fumble in the second half were both returned for touchdowns. Houston also couldn’t convert in the red zone, coming away with a touchdown and two field goals on four trips inside Miami’s 20.

While you can definitely take away a lot of positives from this game if you’re a Coog fan – the team performed much better against Miami than they did against Oklahoma two weeks earlier – there are still a lot of areas of concern that the coaching staff needs to address. It will be interesting to see how the Cougars fare against Memphis this weekend.

After the game Thursday night, while I was at McGowen Station waiting for the train to take me downtown, a couple of thugs came up to me, asked me for money, and then cursed at me when I wouldn't give them any, pulled my cell phone off my belt and ran away. I guess I’m lucky that they didn’t pull a gun on me or take my wallet as well.

Why would you steal somebody’s cell phone, anyway? The minute I got downtown I called Lori and told her to call Sprint to have the phone deactivated, and now the thing is useless.

Anyway, I’ve learned my lesson: from now on my cell phone stays in my pocket, not on my belt.

(Retroblogged on August 23, 2015. I reported the theft to METRO Police and got a new phone.)

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Houston 35, Army 21

It was ugly, but I’ll take it.

The Cougars secured their first win of the season with a victory over Army last Saturday night, 35-21, at Robertson Stadium. Houston pulled out the victory with a lot of help from Anthony Evans, who racked up 282 rushing yards. Army played tough and even tied the game midway through the fourth quarter, but they could not snap their losing streak – the nation’s longest – which is now at 16 games. In spite of the win, it’s clear that there are many areas of concern for the Coogs as they head into Thursday night’s mauling against Miami at Reliant Stadium.

The game was also noteworthy because Kirby made his tailgating and football debut. He decided not to stay for the entire game, however; he and his mommy were getting too hot.

Speaking of which, today marks the official start of fall, my favorite season of the year. Of course, there really isn’t much to “autumn” in Houston: the oppressive heat and humidity lingers until at least mid-October and there’s never any colorful fall foliage to see here. But those few short weeks between mid-October and late November, after the first cool fronts have blown through but before the truly cold weather arrives, when the skies are clear and the temperatures perfect, are worth the wait.

(Retroblogged on August 23, 2015.)

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Houston 7, Rice 10

So I spend eight months waiting for football season to arrive, and it turns out to be a huge letdown when it finally gets here.

I knew it was going to be a long afternoon when the Cougars fumbled the opening kickoff. Special teams miscues were just one of the many weak spots exhibited by the Cougars during this game. The biggest weak spot was the offensive line. I'm not sure I can recall ever seeing a Houston O-line get dominated by a D-line as thoroughly and as badly as they did Sunday afternoon. I knew the O-line was an area of concern after losing three starters from last year, but I never thought it would be this bad. Kevin Kolb was sacked six times and the Coogs netted exactly eight (8) rushing yards in the entire game. It took a touchdown with nine seconds left to keep the game from being a shutout. If the offensive line doesn't improve quickly, the Coogs will be lucky to go 3-8 this season. That's not hyperbole.

On the bright side, the Cougar defense looks a lot better. Marquay Love, Joe Clay and Lance Everson looked really good, and the defense did a great job in spite of the fact that they got no support from special teams (oftentimes Rice would begin their drives on the Houston side of the field) or the offense. They held Rice's potent triple option attack to a single touchdown. When you hold your opponent to ten points, you should usually be able to win the game.

Props to Rice. They were the better team this afternoon. Ken Hatfield and his staff did their homework and they had the Owls ready to play. The Cougars, on the other hand, really looked unprepared.

Rice has now won five out of the last nine meetings between the two schools.

The Reliant Stadium experience was underwhelming. The crowd of 28,726 – unsurprisingly small, since there seemed to be almost no marketing of this game to the casual sports fan – looked lost in the cavernous environs of the 69,500-seat pro stadium. In fact, with the roof closed and the crowd scattered among the vastness of empty seats, the stadium’s atmosphere was just as sterile and uninviting as the Astrodome. The grass was in poor condition. The acoustics were horrible. The concession stands were understaffed and some weren’t even open at all. I received my tickets ahead of time and I took the train to the game, so I didn’t have the same bad experiences as some other fans with regards to parking and ticket-buying. But, in general, I can’t say I was too impressed with Reliant as a college venue.

I’m trying to stay optimistic about the season – it is only one game, after all – but this loss does not bode well for the Cougars. Houston has never had a winning year after beginning the season with a loss to Rice. Given the murderous nature of the 2004 schedule, this was a game the Coogs could ill-afford to lose.


(Retroblogged on August 23, 2015.)

Saturday, August 21, 2004

Kirby Benton Gray

Kirby Benton Gray was born this evening at 9:07 pm CDT at the Womans Hospital of Texas, weighing 6 pounds 15 ounces. Lori is doing well; however, Kirby has been taken to NICU for observation. I'm simply too exhausted to go into detail right now; I'll provide more information on his page in the coming days.

Kirby Benton gets his name from both sides of his family. Kirby is Lori's grandfather's name, and Benton is my middle name (as well as my father's and my grandfather's). He has a huge family to help take care of him: three great-grandparents, all four grandparents, three uncles, two aunts, one cousin and numerous great aunts and uncles and second cousins.

(Retroblogged on August 23, 2015. "His page" was taken down when I got rid of my old website. Hard to believe he's now 11 years old.)

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

UNT quarterback perishes in crash

North Texas quarterback Andrew Smith was killed in a car crash this past weekend. Smith, who would have been a junior this fall, had already started 16 games during his career at UNT and was expected to battle senior quarterback Scott Hall for the starting spot this fall. Lori and I got to see Smith play in person on a few occasions, including the 2002 New Orleans Bowl, where North Texas defeated Cincinnati 24-19 to win its first bowl game in over 50 years. While he wasn't going to be a Heisman contender, Smith was a solid athlete who led his team well.

Ironically, Smith led his high school team, Bay City, to a state title by beating a team from Denton - Denton Ryan - in the 2000 Division 4A championship game.

Andrew Smith was 21.

Condolences go to Mr. Smith's family, his classmates and teammates at the University of North Texas, and to Mean Green fans everywhere.

(Retroblogged on August 23, 2015.)

Sunday, July 18, 2004

When ill-informed homebuyers attack

Two Thursdays ago, I had business to attend to at the City of Houston’s Planning Commission meeting. It was the first time I had been to a Commission meeting in Houston, and it brought back memories from my days in Denton, with discussions about plats, variances, Texas Local Government Code regulations, and the like. It was all so eerily familiar; the only difference is that, since Houston has no zoning, the Commission obviously doesn't hear rezoning applications.

Despite the fact that there is no zoning in Houston, homeowners here complain about unwanted development in their neighborhoods just as much as homeowners in Denton did. Several replat and variance cases regarding new townhome construction (which, over the past several years, has become ubiquitous inside Loop 610 as people begin moving back into the inner city) drew protests from property owners who didn't like the fact that a developer was about to bulldoze a nearby single-family tract, subdivide it into three or four narrow lots, and build boxy three-story townhomes on them. However, their protests were for naught; if the replats conformed to all applicable city regulations and there were no deed restrictions to prohibit such types of development, then state law required the Commission to approve the replat. Without zoning, the question as to whether such proposed development is compatible with surrounding land uses or densities is irrelevant.

Which made me wonder: were these complaining property owners around eleven years ago, when Houston's most recent attempt at zoning was narrowly defeated in a referendum? If so, how did they vote?

Then there was the new homeowner in Fourth Ward who came to complain about the narrow streets in his neighborhood. He thought the city was stupid and irresponsible for allowing such narrow streets to be built in the first place. He apparently didn't understand that he had purchased a townhome in what was once an historic African-American neighborhood settled by freed slaves after the Civil War (which has since been almost completely bulldozed by townhome developers). Because these freed slaves were collectively allocated a relatively small tract of land on what was then the outskirts of Houston, they had to conserve space by building narrow streets and small houses. Even after this bit of history was explained to him, however, he was not satisfied and continued to complain.

Ah, the joys of gentrification. Inner-city home-buyers, like their suburban counterparts, need to do their research before buying that new inside-the-loop townhome. The history behind your new neighborhood is an important a thing for you to learn and know.

(Retroblogged on August 23, 2015.)

The Astros suck.

The slumping Astros skidded into the All-Star break with a .500 record, having lost 7 out of their last ten games. This triggered the replacement of Jimy Williams, whose tenure as manager of the Astros can best be described as mediocre. Phil Garner takes over as the team's skipper, and the hope is that this change in management will cause the underperforming team, which as of July 18th is in 5th place in the NL Central Division and 12 games behind division-leading St. Louis, to turn things around and claw its way back into title contention.

Yeah, right. The Astros have about as much chance of contending for the NL Central title as Ralph Nader has of winning the presidency. Even if the Astros could somehow right their sinking ship, they're no way they'll be able to catch up to the red-hot Cardinals. Their best hope for the postseason, should they actually start winning again, is to get into a position to compete for the NL wild card spot. And at this point, the chances of that happening appear to be very slim. Especially since something like eight or nine teams are ahead of them in the wild-card race. The Astros, quite frankly, will do well to avoid a losing season.

In a word, they suck.

2004 was supposed to be "the" year for the Astros. With the much-hyped offseason signing of Andy Pettite and Roger Clemens, the 'Stros were supposed to not only contend for the division crown but be in the World Series picture. And indeed, the team started the season well and at one point enjoyed sitting at the top of the NL Central with a 21-11 record. However, by mid-May the downhill slide began; between May 12th and the start of the All-Star Break the Astros went 23-33 and quickly found their way into the division cellar. Even the trade for Carlos Beltran, intended to augment the team's anemic performance at the plate, had little effect.

As disappointing as it is to watch, I am not surprised by the team's descent into oblivion. These are the Astros, after all: the biggest underachievers in a city full of underachieving sports teams (hey, even the freakin' Oilers managed to get past the first round of the playoffs now and then). This team has broken my heart so many times that I've come to expect this type of performance from them. In fact, the only thing that surprises me at all about this year's slump is that it's occurring so early. Usually, the Astros wait until the end of the season to begin sucking and fall out of playoff contention. Or, they make it to the playoffs and lose in the first round (as they did in 1997, 1998, 1999 and 2001). That's why I chuckled at all the offseason hype surrounding Pettite and Clemens: I knew it wouldn't do any good.

New manager? Please. What this team needs is an exorcist...

(Retroblogged on August 23, 2015. The Astros, of course, would make an impressive rally over the second half of the season and get into the playoffs.)

Monday, July 05, 2004

The home stretch!

As of July 6, Lori and I have only 60 more days left until the baby's due date. Right now Lori is in full "nesting" mode. She's rearranging furniture and cleaning closets in order to make room for all the baby's stuff, and she's constantly on my case to put away my drafting table and my film editing equipment so there will be enough room for the crib and other baby-related items. Needless to say, life is going to dramatically change for all of us soon. Especially for these guys:
At least Lori and I know what's coming. The cats don't. How are they going to react when we bring home a small, hairless animal who sleeps and cries a lot and demands all of Lori's and my attention?

Here's what I predict: Athena (squinting, on the left) will absolutely hate the baby. She doesn't think she gets enough attention as it is and is always jealous of the other two cats. Come September, she will probably spend all her time hiding under the couch, sulking, and won't go near the baby. Elektra (staring, on the lower right) is the curious one and will probably spend a lot of time observing this new creature, even if only from a safe distance. At least until the baby begins to cry; then she'll get scared and run away. And Hermes III (looking away, at the top) will probably try to sleep in the crib with the baby. He likes to be as close to the center of attention as possible, and he'll therefore hang out as close to the baby as he can.

(Retroblogged on August 23, 2015. We more or less accurately predicted how the cats would react to Kirby, although Athena wasn't quite as skittish around the baby as we expected. And yes, Hermes III did try to sleep in the crib with the  baby!)

Justice in sports

Over the past month a couple of sporting events proved to me that, indeed, there is at least some justice in this world.

First, it was the Detroit Pistons knocking off the heavily-favored (and heavily-hyped) Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA finals. The Lakers, featuring a lineup of superstar players such as Shaq and Kobe and a superstar coach in Phil Jackson, were expected to walk all over Detroit. What the Pistons lacked in flashy superstars, however, they more than made up for it by playing solid, fundamental basketball as a team. The Lakers, on the other hand, played like a group of bored, spoiled prima donnas. The result was a thorough ass-kicking; in fact, it would have been a sweep had Kobe Bryant not drained a miracle three-point shot late in game 2. The 2004 NBA Finals truly were a victory of substance over style, and I enjoyed every minute of it.

Second, it was Cal State - Fullerton defeating the Texas Longhorns to claim the NCAA baseball championship. This is the second year in a row that a small school from a so-called "mid-major" conference has made it to the College World Series and vanquished a big-time school to claim the title. Cal State - Fullerton is a Big West member that doesn't even field a football team, but that didn't keep them from knocking off one of the biggest and wealthiest programs in the nation. It just goes to show what can happen in college athletics when there is a level playing field between the big schools and the little schools (which, by the way, occurs in every sport except football).

Also, the refusal of the Longhorn players and their coach, Augie Garrido, to come out of their locker room to accept the second place trophy after the game was over was disappointing. It reinforces a commonly-held perception about UT athletics and its lack of class.

(Retroblogged on August 23, 2015. This is the oldest entry.)