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Everything posted by RWB

  1. There was a very good editorial about the Rice-BCM merger in the Chronicleyesterday. It completely avoided such fuzzy pollyanna words as "synergy" and "prestige" and looked instead at BCM's finances. The editorial then examined all of BCM's sources of income and discussed the level of risk or volatility associated with each. But Rice is pretty rich, right? So Rice should be able to fill in for any BCM shortfall. Not so fast. They conclude with a statement that perfectly echoes my own fears. I am not a faculty member nor a staff member of Rice University--just a concerned alumnus. I am very happy to see someone actually looking at the numbers for a change instead of speaking in abstractions. Mergers in the business world often destroy shareholder value--but they certainly build up the egos of CEO and attract lots of adoring press reports. I think Rice+BCM is starting to look like AOL+TimeWarner.
  2. I think the objection to your post was that it was entirely ad hominem, and that it did not address either the primary concern brought up by the Faculty Review Merger Committee (the imbalance in the size and operating costs of the two institutions) or the well-documented financial concern of Dr. Vardi (that Rice, which is already carrying a debt load and a reduced endowment, would be taking on a huge debt load by buying Baylor--so much so that the school would be imperiled). Vardi offered up plentiful documentary evidence, which you have ignored. The administration has been working in secret on this for more than a year with nothing to show for it--all while BCM has been sinking closer and closer to insolvency. Is it really so shocking that the faculty and alumni (whose money Rice has been begging for with unusual ferocity for the past year) are starting to ask questions? I don't want Rice to become the next Upsala College or Barrington College. This is perhaps the biggest decision for Rice in its history, and the silence has been deafening.
  3. There is one new development in the Rice-BCM merger--an interim report by the Faculty Merger Review Committee. It's interim because the negotiations have been so secret, that the faculty committee is still in the dark on some things and not permitted to report on others. Thier main concern is the imbalance--BCM is much larger than Rice, and has much larger operating costs. (More details here.) One faculty member, Moshe Vardi, gave a public lecture on the merger that was very much against it. He based his conclusion on publicly available information, including some very damning financial numbers from Baylor (and not so great financials from Rice--who knew Rice was carrying debt? Not me, and I am an alum.) You can read about his lecture here. Some will automatically dismiss faculty concerns as whining, but the facts about Baylor's serious financial problems are true and would be inherited by Rice if the merger occurred, and frankly, the administrations of the two schools have been talking in secret for over a year now, and this lack of transparency is very worrying. And anyone who has driven around Rice in the last few years knows that President Leebron is an empire builder, but in this financial climate, perhaps what we need is a consolidator, someone who can hunker down and get Rice back on a solid footing. In any case, as an alumnus, I am disturbed at the vast silence from the administration on this matter. All I ever hear from them are endless requests for more money.
  4. I don't recall that, but I do recall that when they completed the section that ran from I-10 to 59, they opened it up a day early to bicyclists. My friiends and I all took a ride on it (quite taxing, due to a stiff, unimpeded wind that day) and then settled down for a mid-parkway concert by Joe "King" Carrasco. It was awesome.
  5. Nope. Both were inside the Beltway. I think that was the main problem--they were too close to each other and cannibalized each other. The whole T&C area is pretty fascinating and mutable. When I was a kid, it was basically an outdoor shopping mall, all the way from I-10 to Memorial, with several neighborhood streets running through it. The landmark stores were Sakowitz (a lovely department store that went bankrupt long ago) and Farmer's Market, a flea market/ice-skating rink located where the post office is now. The Aeros used to practice there. Great flea market, by the way. The mall came subsequent to the demise of both of those institutions, existed for a while, then died. In the scheme of things, it was a really short-lived mall. (Mem City preceded it and outlived it.) Mem City, on the other hand, has constantly reinvented itself, losing and gaining anchor stores all the time (remember Montgomery Wards? Lord & Taylor?). Sears, amazingly, has remained a constant. Its cruciform floor plan has evolved a lot too. I went there to girl-watch and play pinball when I was in junior high. Now in my mid-40s, I recently went to see a movie there (the movie theater is, amazingly, a relatively new addition), and I observed that boys and girls are still there, hanging out and checking each other out. Lots of stores seem to cater to them, so maybe that is one of the things that has kept Mem City vital for so long--its appeal to the ever-renewing population of teenagers in the area.
  6. I think the lack of access to the park is a problem. Sure it keeps the "bad elements" out, but at the price of making it almost a private park for people who are lucky enough to live along it. Whenever I've been there, it has struck me as being seriously underused. But I certainly agree with you about inside the Beltway. There is only one tiny park along the Bayou from the Beltway to Memorial Park, which is a damn shame. Speaking of rabbits, here's one on the Terry Hershey bike path: And here is a fantastically lovely, rolling meadow (but completely desserted, alas). You can see more Terry Hershey photos here: http://robertwboyd.blogspot.com/2007/07/ho...s-6-part-1.html
  7. Without knowing what you do for a living, I have to say this seems quite reckless. The U.S. economy is in a recession now, but Houston most assuredly is not. Houston's economic cycles are at least somewhat negatively correlated with the rest of the country, because we benefit from high oil prices. If your job is in the energy industry, I would be worried about a regression to mean prices for oil and natural gas, as happened after the last big boom in prices of the early 80s. The regression won't be as extreme as it was then, as demand will continue to be strong elsewhere in the world. But a recession in the U.S. will pull oil prices down after a while (there could be a lag of a year or more), as also will new production coming on line, new conservation-oriented laws starting to work (like increasing the CAFE standards), etc. The larger your monthly house payments, the less shielded you are if you end up in a period of financial distress. 3 months cushion seems very light. And if your job is either directly or indirectly related to the energy industry, I would be cautious and park your money in places that are, at the very least, more liquid than a house. Baring that, I would go for a smaller monthly payment with a bigger cash cushion in case of distress.
  8. I can't take credit for "robot head." I think it was swamplot.com that came up with that very apt description.
  9. James Ellroy must have read it, because Chuck Rogers and the murder of his parents became part of his novels American Tabloid and The Cold Six Thousand. When I read these books, I was surprised when the story suddenly veered into Houston. Knowing how much history Ellroy weaves into his (admittedly preposterous but very entertaining) fiction, I assumed that the Houston murders must be based on something that really happened. Now I know!
  10. This isn't the most visually fascinating neighborhood, but I got a few interesting shots. Like this 1992 Georgian (?) style house: This funky marble-clad house on Barryknoll: The skybridge over Gessner that is under construction: And of course, the Memorial Hermann robot-head skyscraper: And quite a few more...
  11. I just completed a new bike ride/blog post in the Frostwood/Memorial Forest area. (I am slowly making my way closer to Memorial Bend...) Mod-wise, this area is not particularly rich. But I did notice a couple, including this interesting, compact brown mod on Perthshire.
  12. Excellent--it's on my RSS feed.
  13. I know of three other schools with the same design in Spring Branch: the Lion Lane School, the Tiger Trail School, and the Wildcat Way School. (They not only duplicated the architecture, but replicated the naming scheme as well). I'd love to see the inside of the school.
  14. I took a final swing through Spring Valley. The modern picking were fairly slim (there are plenty of modern houses, just few that made me want to stop and snap a photo). But I was interested in the Bear Boulevard School on Westview. This is one of four pre-schools in Spring Branch with similar if not identical modern designs. They look quite nice, but it is weird that the design was used over and over. Does anyone know the story behind them? More at my blog, as usual.
  15. Yesterday I took my camera and road my bike through Spring Valley. Here are some of the photos I took: The Texas Rock Gym on Campbell. A lamp made from an augur on Randy. A hideously ugly, oppressive, looming noise wall on Bade. More photos (and to detract from them, my running commentary) at my blog.
  16. I heard today from a former resident. He confirmed that it is indeed a public street. (He had lived at 14 Farnham Park, one of the houses I photographed--the one descibed as boxy and airy. This house was designed by David Crane (dean of the architecture school at Rice and founder of the Rice Design Alliance), according to my correspondent. (He then defended the residents of Farnham Park, saying that most of them would not have had me ejected. I guess it only takes one!)
  17. I wentr to Memorial back in the Ice Age. I didn't graduate in the top 10%, but nonetheless got into Rice. At the time UT didn't have a top 10% rule, so I'm certain I could have gotten in there easily at that time, if I had so chosen. Memorial in my antidiluvian day was quite snobbish and strongly aware of its standing in the class structure. Perhaps that has changed in the years since a greater number of "north of the fvreeway" students now attend. It's harder to look down on people when you sit beside them in class.
  18. I agree. Jails are going to have to be somewhere, and that somewhere might be an undesirable or remote area when they are built, but 10-20-30 years from then, that somewhere might be very valuable and desirable real estate. They have made the jails look pretty great--so great that I'm sure people regularly assume they are part of U.H. Downtown when they first see them. In fact, they are a model for what governments should do with public property in terms of esthetics. It is reasonable to ask whether they have boxed themselves into a corner--can they really afford to expand downtown if they need to? Possibly not. But at the same time, moving the jails (and the courts) would be prohibitively expensive.
  19. There are already several parks near and adjacent to the jails now. So all that is being proposed is something to conect the existing parks. You are probably right about the homeless--they have already colonized James Bute Park (which is one of the Bayou-adjacent parks downtown). I think you are wromg about crime. There might be lots of criminals getting out of jail there, but there are also huge numbers of cops there too. Cops are usually a pretty good deterrent. crimehouston.com bears this out. The map below shows all the murders and rapes in the neighborhood from January 28, 2005 to January 31, 2008. Murders would be represented by a red dot, if there were any. There have been 8 rapes, which is 8 too many. But compared with other parts of Houston, it's not an outrageous number for a three year period. Indeed, if you scroll in almost any direction from this map (except directly west), the numbers of rapes and murders gets worse. The jails are along Baker and Allen, by the way.
  20. I think we are talking about different facilities. The one I am thinking of is definitely a county jail, and it is just north of Buffalo Bayou on San Jacinto. You can read about it and see a photo here: http://www.hcso.hctx.net/detention/701.asp
  21. Aren't they already in a warehouse district? Indeed, one of them is a converted cold-storage warehouse. In any cases, the jails need to be near the courts, so any talk of moving the jails would mean moving the entire county criminal justice apparatus. I can think of better uses for my tax dollars. (I guess it would make sense if the cost of the downtown land sold was actually less than the cost of buying land and building courts/jails elsewhere in the county.)
  22. And it is only costing the taxpayers of Sugarland $2.4 million in corporate welfare! But that's OK, because we know Coca-Cola needs the dough. http://robertwboyd.blogspot.com/2008/01/co...enterprise.html
  23. Thanks. I would invite folks who are interested in these houses to go see them for themselves--I'm not the greatest photographer (you may have noticed!) and would love to see other people's photos of some of the same sites. That "bunkhouse" is especially eccentric. Huge, like all houses on that street, but deliberately immitating a kind of working-man's housing, which is most definitely not like any other houses in the area. An analogy would be to build a McMansion-sized row house!
  24. No, the problem I'm having is that if a Rice student had, on several separate occasions during the day, robbed fellow Rice students at gunpoint, he would have been caught by now. He would have been caught because at least one of his victims would have seen him--in class, walking through the quad, at one of the serveries, whatever. Look, I have no problem with the thought that a Rice student could "go bad." It's a distressing thought, but people have problems that don't disappear just because they're bright and in a protective university environment. The problem I have with this theory is that it's illogical. There just aren't that many Rice students. The campus is not all that big. It's not one of those monster State Schools where people can have a little bit of anonymity. Even at UT or A&M, the risk of getting caught seems would be unacceptably high just because of the chance of a random encounter between victim and perp while walking between classes is not trivial. At Rice, that chance of any two people having a random visual encounter on campus is not only not trivial, but very large indeed.
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