A little belated obit this time around. It seems I missed a call on July 3rd from an 817 number. Since I didn’t recognize the number, google informed me that it was for the Tarrant County Medical Examiner’s office, which pretty much filled in a few blanks for me. It turns out that dad had passed in his sleep a little less than 11 months after mom’s passing.

wpid-20140708_222519-1.jpgMost of these moments are just dealt with by some run-of-the-mill grieving, replaying of memories, funerals, and exchanges of some kind words with long-lost friends. This being the last of my parents, there was some added work of dealing with attorneys, banks, and insurance companies. There’s also a house and truck to sell whenever the probate process allows for. In short – there’s more work to do this time around.

On the plus side, I got to hang out with my sister for the first time since I don’t know when. I spoke with my brother for the first time since I don’t know when. And I got to show Elsie the wonders of a big back yard to play in. And little 5-month-old Elsie got to terrorize an old hunting dog for a couple of days. I’d much rather have had the opportunity to show Elsie off to dad in December, but the timing is what it is.

So that makes eleven months of losing a mom, grandmother, and dad. Hardly the most fun thing in the world. But since I’m writing a bit past due on all of this, most of the grieving has already been processed.

At some point between the time I moved out in the mid-90s and now, I’ve realized a lot of attributes that I’ve picked up from dad in particular. I remember a handful of years when dad worked as a grocery warehouse manager, the family would celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas early in the day – and then see dad off to work later in the day. It turns out that delivering groceries didn’t take much of a holiday. I suppose some families would see this as tragic and wish they could celebrate a full holiday. We chose to see it as something more heroic as dad would go off to save the day for a world in need of food. I’m sure that there’s a small part of that experience that sticks with me as I see any and all major holidays as an excuse to do more work. I’m equally sure that whatever part of my brain is in charge of understanding logistics has been aided by either genetics or osmosis. Just as well that one of the items I took with me was a model of an old Fleming 18-wheeler that dad had in his study. So those aspects live on.

It was also dad who started the Cougar tradition in our household. He was a student and mom worked on campus when they met. When I was a kid, I somehow gravitated to dad’s old yearbooks and textbooks. Dad was a running back at Galveston Ball High School. He was a backup to the great Oscar Cripps, who would go on to coach Craig James and the Klingler brothers at Stratford High School. After Cripps graduated, dad spent the next year as a starting running back for the Toros. That always made him a bit of a badass in my book.

When the family moved out to Mississippi (and continued when we moved to the DFW mid cities), we would pack up for a handful of weekend roadtrips back to Texas so that mom & dad could go to UH football games and us kids would stay with Grandma Wythe in Galveston. Along the way, we usually stopped in Center for some of Grandma Elliot’s barbeque. If there’s a better family tradition then that, I’d like to hear your case.

My parents did this during the 1975 season that had the Cougars go 2-8. The next season, UH entered the Southwest Conference and earned co-champion status. That sent us to our first Cotton Bowl (back when it meant something) and ended the season ranked 4th in the nation. Cubs fans have it easy compared to Coog fans. And getting that story told to you as a kid teaches you a great deal about loyalty.

Eventually, me and sis got to go to some games on a regular basis. Dad got field passes once so that me and my brother could watch Arkansas blow out the Coogs at the Dome. We visited games at College Station (where we witnessed our first win in that stadium), Arkansas (where I’m pretty sure I spent more time observing cheerleaders), Waco (same), and Austin (mom and dad got to see the 30-0 win; us kids got to observe a 55-to-something blowout loss). We learned heartbreak as a family when John Jenkins took a poorly-prepared team to face the Miami Hurricanes in 1991. I’ve never forgiven Gino Torretta for it, either.

I went through a lot of the leaner Run & Shoot years, attending games with my parents. We spent a Christmas Eve watching the Briles/Kolb-era Coogs get in fights with the University of Hawaii mascot. And it was never terribly unexpected to get a call from dad immediately after a UH win – or even when Trinity High School won a big game. I never suited up to play the game like dad did. But those moments help explain some of the fascination for it. I’m pretty sure that’ll live on, too.

As you might have noticed, blogging has been uber-sparse in the past few months. Typically, when I’ve explained why this is to people in the real world, I some variation of “You must be busy.” the answer to that would be a resounding yes … and no. I’m not really all that more busy than I’ve every been with anything else going on professionally. But a lot of what I am doing these days serves as a substitute for the outlet of blogging.

The biggest part of that has had me watching the fascinating world of interim hearings going on in Austin – over 60 of them since late February. So instead of flipping through my online reading list and riffing on matters of outrage and attaboys, much of that time has gone toward watching the fascinating world of interim charges being discussed at a leisurely pace by House and Senate committees, taking copious notes, and saving said notes. And with that, the outlet of finding something interesting in the world and writing up something slightly less interesting to say about it is fulfilled.

Of course, all of that comes at a point when there are some genuinely interesting things going on in the world that I’ve just had to sit back and wave at as they pass by: the fact that we’ve settled upon every statewide officeholder above the pay-grade of Railroad Commission being occupied by a new person for the first time since I-forget-when; the fact that a certain segment of the Houston-base part of the world went nuts over the idea that there is a religious right to discriminate; and the fact that I finally got around to adding a new Basset Hound to my world – Elsie B. Wythe.

The name derives from the fact that I didn’t have a perfect girl’s name set aside for a Basset and the idea that I could make a name something of an homage to my mom and two grandmothers, whose names began with two Ls and one E (Ls … E. Elsie. Get it?). I won’t even get into the time suck that comes from picking up dog poop and walking a puppy every two hours to minimize the possibility of pee flowing through the living room. We’ve already been through two dog beds, one throw blanket, and miles of patience for house training. So with that, who has time for blogging?

Of course, the reality is that I will eventually get back on the blogging horse. But I think it’s as good a time as any for rethinking the routine. I may bring a little of the Interim Hearing info onto the blog, I might rediscover the joys of aggreblogging to keep up with the information flow. I might just pick one or two issue areas that I’d like to focus on in more detail. I might pick up where TBogg has left off and provide the world a weekly dose of Basset Hound photos. And, if the stars align, I might even get back in the poorly-developed habit of updating the Almanac.

For now, though: Peace, Love, and Basset Hounds.

Consider this my feeble effort to pry myself out of a bout of “burial by research.”

» First things first, Early Voting is going on in the Houston area for City Council and HCC trustee elections. I’m covered in both of those situations and cast my vote for Robinson, Morales, and Glaser. I’ll leave it to the smart readers to figure out what offices those match up to and why I chose them. I had something approaching fun working as an Election Clerk during the November elections, but I’m skipping out on that this time around. That’s not intended to dissuade any readership who might be interested in doing so and working in the primaries next March – especially if you have any spoken language skill in Vietnamese, Chinese, or Spanish. One of the newfound joys in life is that I now get calls and requests for leads on that. Feel free to hit me up if that sounds like something you’d want to try.

» Compressing all of my football notes into the briefest possible bullet-point: I’m a little proud of myself for venturing out to see a few Coog games finally. I never thought much of the crowded environs at the old Robertson, so the travel-year for home games made it interesting to see the soccer stadium and pick up an affordable ticket at Reliant for the SMU shutout. On the high school front, my Trinity Trojans are still in the playoffs – but they go up against a team that dropped 61 points on them earlier in the season. Win or lose, though, the 5A-D1 title game *should* be an all-Metroplex affair. I’m going to love that if Trinity makes it. And I’m rooting for Allen High if they don’t. I had the good fortune of watching the Cinco Ranch Cougars play Strake Jesuit this season. Luke Klingler (David’s kid) was the QB and it looked like they were just playing catch until Luke took a hit and stayed out the rest of the game in order to avoid injury before the playoffs. Luke doesn’t seem to have a college offer. He might land at a DI school. But I’ve got to think that there’s a DII school out there that would kill to have a kid with his kind of arm and that might be a quicker path to a starting gig. His cousin, Cory Klingler (Jimmy’s kid), will be playing on the offensive line for Rice over the next four years. And on a note of small-world-itis, David Klingler works right across the freeway from me. That’s some kind of Coog overkill if you ask me. And on a sub-HS level … yes, I’m aware of Case Keenum being the starting quarterback for the Texans. I’ve already instructed Aereo to DVR “The Sound of Music” tomorrow night due to the game being of more immediate interest.

» Looking ahead to Campaign ’14, I’m just as amused as the next person about Al Hoang vs Hubert Vo. Amusing because Hubert’s district gained a few points in Dem strength due to redistricting in the 2013 special session. For my boss’s part, we gained some turf that I’m very much looking forward to working.

» Professionally, I’m finding this 2010 profile of Michigan State’s use of video editing for their basketball team to be increasingly relevant to what I do for a living. Suffice it to say, there are some interesting rules that the Texas House abides by that make this so.

» The latest read on my Kindle: “The New Democrats and the Return to Power” by Al From, formerly of the Democratic Leadership Council. I thought I might read it in one sitting, but the flashbacks kinda took me by surprise. And yes, there will be a full review posted ASAP.

» Steve Teles’s “Kludgeocracy in America” is something that I truly feel is worth a bit of written-word exploration (sometimes known as blogging). But if you’re contemplating working as an intern for my boss in 2015, there’s a higher degree of certainty that you’ll get a fuller classroom-style treatment on it in the next legislative session.

» Combining the two points above, I’m also finally getting around to reading Stephen Waldman’s (back when he was known as Steven) 1996 mini-opus, “The Bill.” It only took me 17 years to get around to it. And it looks like it will be very much in use for those same interns, come 2015.

» End-of-the-year(ish) posts remind me that it’s time to go through some of the random guitar noodling I’ve done over the past year. I’m pretty sure the pickings will be slim since the practice regimen has suffered in much the same way that the blog schedule has. I’ll find something worth posting, though. That, or I’ll finally do a recording of Whitesnake’s “Here I Go Again.” Don’t say you weren’t warned.

So, Saturday came with a phone call that mom wasn’t doing so well. That’s been a relative term for the past handful of years, as mom has been dealing with Secondary Parkinsonism for the past several years. After a few feeble efforts in years past to make some kind of arrangements to visit on something of a regular basis, I ultimately gave in for the past few years to visiting in December – during the UIL High School football championship games at Cowboy Stadium. The timing also fell close to my parents’ anniversary on Christmas Eve … and obviously Christmas itself. So, for the past few years, I’ve gotten to spend some lazy days just goofing off around the home and hanging out with Mom & Dad when I wasn’t headed to Cowboy Stadium. Occasionally, I’d get to see my beloved grandmother and equally beloved daughter of my Uncle: Brooke.

Over the past years, it was evident that mom was in a gradual state of decline. One year, she was able to ride with Dad to pick me up after the game that Trinity High should have won their fourth championship. The next few years, not so much. And there was no expectation that Dad would be able to leave her side this coming December since he was needed to be on-hand with Mom around the clock. And with each passing year, the time spent around Mom became a little more valued since you could tell she wasn’t doing as well as the year before.

Saturday’s notice was a bit more urgent and since the next day was her 66th birthday, there wasn’t much thought needed as to whether it warranted a trip to visit her. Still, it was hard to say whether there would be a few more hours left for her, a few more days, or a few more years. Stubbornness is a pretty strong quality with Wythes and Mom had outlasted a few pneumonia scares, hospital stays, and other lesser concerns. But her last few days were spent with a great deal of family around her. I could tell that she very much appreciated seeing her great-granddaughter, Haleema, in particular.

I’m grateful for having some small portion of time over the past few years to qualify as a sort of slow-motion good-bye. But the memories that will linger the longest are from many more years ago. As confusing as parents are while we’re teenagers, they do manage to get smarter as we get older. There are a lot of people that would need to be Photoshopped into the photo below to make it whole. And that goes well beyond the family Basset Hound, Claude. But it’ll suffice as a good-enough distillation of a happier time, though. Nice to know Olan Mills got something right.

Love ya, Mom!

Finally found grandpa & grandma Wythe in the 1940 Census.

(click it to big it … and get more Census details)

I think I remember hearing tales of grandpa Clem being a bus driver at some point. But I don’t recall ever knowing that grandma Edna gave the family a tie to Stephenville. As an added bonus, Uncle Delton, who lived one street over while I was a kid, is listed along with his brother. I’m not terribly sure of how the 1940s address corresponds to today’s Galveston addresses. The 1940 version is listed as 60 61st Street. By today’s standard, that would put it in Galveston Bay. Meanwhile, the stairs behind grandpa look an awful lot like the entrance of the house they lived in while I was a kid. But then again, so do the entrances to half the homes in that part of Galveston.

And since it’s an excuse to do so, here are some photos from the 1920s of both Clem Wythe & Edna Poer. The kids with grandpa were from a previous marriage (he got around, apparently). And since the info I have on the photo of grandma is that it’s from 1920, I’m guessing the background scenery is from Stephenville. Good times.

I love how grandpa Clem looks all gangster there. You can almost tell that that man would end up buying a Camaro after turning 75. True story. That’s how we Wythe’s roll.

» Chron: Unveiling of new Chron.com weeks away

Something doesn’t add up here …

Now, we are ready to show all of Houston … and the rest of the world.

In the next few weeks, Chron.com will undergo a dramatic facelift.

We can’t wait to show off our new look to you …

If only I was considered part of the “[e]lite members of Houston’s business and journalism communities” that got to look at it back in June.

Blogging will resume shortly. Yesterday, I managed to fit in a small day-cation trip to San Antonio via Megabus. The biggest accomplishments of which are that I now get to brag about how cheap I can pull off a vacation, and that my feet hurt like heck from being on them for the bulk of 10 hours. Yeah, it was like working retail … all over San Antonio.

Yes, I did the obligatory photo of the Alamo …

And I made my way to a long lost friend: the Dairy Queen at Rivercenter Mall. Other highlights: a supremely wonderful lunch at Los Barrios, flipping through a few books at The Twig – a nice indie bookstore at the refurbished Pearl Brewery, a stroll through Market Square, and a little sightseeing via local bus to a part of SA that I wasn’t familiar with.

Since my experience with San Antonio’s bus system (Via) is limited, I can’t offer this as an exhaustive comparison. But the single-day experience did make me truly appreciative of Houston’s. SA does offer text-based route information and I noticed quite a few people utilizing that. I still relied on Google Maps, which Via supports, and had no hitches with that. My biggest pet peave was that the very first route I needed to catch during the day seemed to skip the first two buses and when I did see a bus, it was followed by one other directly behind it and another a few blocks further back. Stuff happens, and that type of experience has occasionally here in Houston. But still … first impressions and whatnot.

True to myself, I talked myself out of a lot of expenses and souvenir baubles. I traipsed through a Half-Price Bookstore and picked up the very non-San Antonio-centric “All the Devils are Here” by Bethany McLean and Joe Nocero. Reason being: it was a good deal – $5.99. So, the total tab for a one-day trip:

Megabus: $12.80
One-day bus pass: $4.00
Dairy Queen brunch: about $4.00
lunch: tab picked up
rehydration during shopping: $2.00
book: $6.00
dinner: $8.00

Awesome. Now if my feet regain any feeling, I’ll be back at 100%.

I’ve been itching to work on the template for this fair website again, so feel free to take in the new digs. There are still some things I’m going to iron out in the layout, so give it time.

A few things I’ll be looking to take advantage of are the bigger sidebar area and featured content in one of the sidebars. Oh, and finding time to blog a little more in the midst of day-to-day campaign work.

Martin Luther King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” is always a great centering sort of read on this day. I usually rotate through this and a small number of other speeches each year as my means of celebrating before I bury the nose in the laptop and get to work. What I hope never ceases to amaze me is how each year, there’s a different section of each speech/letter/writing/etc… that speaks to me. This year’s point of emphasis, for instance:

Letter From Birmingham Jail

There was a time when the Church was very powerful. It was during that period when the early Christians rejoiced when they were deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the Church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Wherever the early Christians entered a town the power structure got disturbed and immediately sought to convict them for being “disturbers of the peace” and “outside agitators.” But they went on with the conviction that they were “a colony of heaven” and had to obey God rather than man. They were small in number but big in commitment. They were too God-intoxicated to be “astronomically intimidated.” They brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contest.

Things are different now. The contemporary Church is so often a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. It is so often the arch-supporter of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the Church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the Church’s silent and often vocal sanction of things as they are.

But the judgment of God is upon the Church as never before. If the Church of today does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early Church, it will lose its authentic ring, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. I am meeting young people every day whose disappointment with the Church has risen to outright disgust.

Maybe again I have been too optimistic. Is organized religion too inextricably bound to the status quo to save our nation and the world? Maybe I must turn my faith to the inner spiritual Church, the church within the Church, as the true ecclesia and the hope of the world. But again I am thankful to God that some noble souls from the ranks of organized religion have broken loose from the paralyzing chains of conformity and joined us as active partners in the struggle for freedom. They have left their secure congregations and walked the streets of Albany, Georgia, with us. They have gone through the highways of the South on torturous rides for freedom. Yes, they have gone to jail with us. Some have been kicked out of their churches and lost the support of their bishops and fellow ministers. But they have gone with the faith that right defeated is stronger than evil triumphant. These men have been the leaven in the lump of the race. Their witness has been the spiritual salt that has preserved the true meaning of the Gospel in these troubled times. They have carved a tunnel of hope through the dark mountain of disappointment.

I hope the Church as a whole will meet the challenge of this decisive hour. But even if the Church does not come to the aid of justice, I have no despair about the future. I have no fear about the outcome of our struggle in Birmingham, even if our motives are presently misunderstood. We will reach the goal of freedom in Birmingham and all over the nation, because the goal of America is freedom. Abused and scorned though we may be, our destiny is tied up with the destiny of America. Before the pilgrims landed at Plymouth, we were here. Before the pen of Jefferson etched across the pages of history the majestic words of the Declaration of Independence, we were here. For more than two centuries our foreparents labored in this country without wages; they made cotton “king”; and they built the homes of their masters in the midst of brutal injustice and shameful humiliation — and yet out of a bottomless vitality they continued to thrive and develop. If the inexpressible cruelties of slavery could not stop us, the opposition we now face will surely fail. We will win our freedom because the sacred heritage of our nation and the eternal will of God are embodied in our echoing demands.

It’s an interesting (and challenging) snippet to process alongside either Greg Boyd’s “Myth of a Christian Nation” (a book that I greatly appreciate) or any of the more Christianist tomes (… which I appreciate far less) that offer a pure counterweight to Boyd and his predecessors.

For now, food for thought. There’s also a nice datapoint in the Smithsonian mag on Roger Williams – the Massachusetts/Rhode Island “heretic”, not the car dealer hoping for a congressional district to run in.

In case you noticed anything amiss with the blog in the past 24 hours, things are mostly restored to normal now. Somehow, in the process of pruning stuff from the webhosting account, I deleted a WordPress install for a domain no longer in operation. Unfortunately, the database that got deleted was the one that operated this fair blog. One emergency restore later, I had a file that was about a month old to start over with. Most of the blog posts since then have been restored, but the comments aren’t. Plus, I’m not concerning myself with fixing links, so there may be some odd ones. If there’s a particular witticism that you feel warrants preservation, let me know and I’m sure I can restore it from a cached copy.

One bit of good fortune in all of this was that, in the process of having about 20-30 different tabs of stuff open at a time, I still had a browser open with the most recent copy. Google cache came in handy for the rest. But the lesson in all of this is that I should never prune and I should continue to work with everything open on my desktop at once. I take this to include the dozens of tabs open on my text editor for scratch pad purposes. Obviously, forced re-boots are my worst nightmare. But I think this is all God’s way of telling me to keep being a packrat.

Anyways. Now that all is well with the blog, time is too precious for any serious news blogging or whatnot. Maybe tonight.

The old-fashioned version of the reading list (ya know, the one with books and whatnot) was on the light side this year. All work and no Kindle, ya know. Here are the highlights of what I managed to fit in, though …

Blood, Sweat & Chalk: The Ultimate Football Playbook: How the Great Coaches Built Today’s Game (Tim Layden)
This was an early acquisition for the year. It’s a good overview of some of the more innovative offenses and defenses that have taken root in football over its history. There are points where it’s too brief, but the overall scope makes it a good read for anyone interested in strategy … be it sports or otherwise.

MacroWikinomics: Rebooting Business and the World (Don Tapscott)
Required reading for the open data crowd. This solves a bit of the problem with Tapscott’s first book on Wikipedia, which was that it was too celebratory and ambiguous. This one reads like a cookbook of ideas for how to translate the concepts of open data, Gov 2.0, and basic wikipedia “crowdthink” into action.

Freedom Is Not Enough: The Moynihan Report and America’s Struggle over Black Family Life–from LBJ to Obama (James Patterson)
This officially scores as the first book completed on my new Kindle. Its better for the background on Moynihan than the rest of the social history that it covers. Still an interesting read.

Gone to Texas: A History of the Lone Star State (Randolph Campbell)
This was technically a 2010 purchase for my old phone’s Kindle. The kindle price is far better than any in-store price I’ve seen and the scope of the history is as rich as any other I’ve seen. Since I’ve gotten the Kindle Fire, it’s much easier to read on a 7″ screen than my old 3″ phone screen. Either that, or maybe its due to the fact that I’ve plodded through the boring dinosaur & indian eras and now find myself at the part where people have left a written record of accounts. And started shooting at people. Technically, I’m still making my way through this one, but I think I know how it ends.

Debate now ensues over what to kick off the new year with. I’ve got gobs of samples: there’s the Oxford History of the United States series; most of the Robert Caro series; and I’ve still not really gotten knee deep in Gordon Woods’ “Empire of Liberty.” I’m considering a re-read of Michael Porter’s “The Competitive Advantage of Nations”, but the Kindle price is $33.99. It’s worth it and the book is a classic. But still.

As a means of looking back at the year that was, here are the Top 15 posts in terms of pageviews. All but one is about redistricting or demographics. What’s really funny (to me, at least) is that four of these are posts with maps drawn before the Census numbers came out.

1. The Re-Honkification of the Heights
2. Defining Seliger-Solomons, Part One
3. COH Redistricting: First Draft of a Citywide Plan
4. Perry v Obama: PPP’s Texas Poll
5. How Houston Commutes
6. Solomons-Seliger: Fracturing DFW
7. Redistricting: First Take for Harris County Commissioner Precincts
8. Solomons’ & Seliger’s Map (cont’d.)
9. COH Redistricting: Map Day [LIVEBLOGGING]
10. Three More Views of Harris County Demographics
11. COH Redistricting: About That New Map …
12. COH Redistricting: First Take at a Heights-Montrose District
13. Harris County Redistricting: Two Birds, One Stone
14. The Difference Detail Makes: Census Tract vs Block Group
15. The New Demographics of the DFW Metroplex

My thanks to those odd souls who care enough to read, discuss, debate and inform. I’m not sure what would become of the blog if the most popular items were Krokus videos.