Listen, My Children...

Every Little Helps

Thursday, January 29, 2004

Think Happy Thoughts

This blog may, for the summer, turn into an India-Blog. However, that will only be the case if my language-study and grant applications, which are as of five minutes ago officially in the mail, are accepted. Developments will be posted.


The coolest blog ever:
Amaravati: Abode of Amritas

Tuesday, January 27, 2004

Quote of the Day

It is always a temptation
To a rich and lazy nation,
To puff and look important and to say:
'Though we know we should defeat you,
We have not the time to meet you,
We will therefore pay you cash to go away.'
And that is called paying the Dane-geld;
But we've proved it again and again,
That, if once you have paid him the Dane-geld,
You never get rid of the Dane.

--Kipling, quoted in the Telegraph

Civil Unions?

Ok, I give: perhaps they do have an impact.

Young College Dissidents

A lonely Dartmouth Bush-supporter writes his Minority Opinion.

On the other side of the country, Berkeley students "want Kerry to stop fighting Vietnam and start fighting for them." I doubt they're the only ones!

Saturday, January 24, 2004

Screaming Primally

Nope, not Howard -- Harvard:

Mather has apparently gone Soviet and declared war against snooty fireplace-owning (although no longer fireplace-using) Kirkland. I am proud.

They claim to have had only one case of frostbite.

My First Television Appearance

I can be seen on PBS, next fall, in this program on Freud and Lewis.

Our Neighbor State

Louisiana has some problems.

Friday, January 23, 2004

Unconscious Bias?

Josh, it might just be possible that the Britons preferring a non-Jewish PM to a Jewish one are acting more out of an anti-Howard feeling than an anti-Jewish one, as Howard's probably what pops to mind when they think of a Jewish PM!

Unfortunately, that can't possibly account for all of the respondents. But, what do you expect? it's still Europe...

I am Ephesians!

You are Ephesians
You are Ephesians.

Which book of the Bible are you?
brought to you by Quizilla
(Via Courreges.)

The relationship (or lack thereof) between education funding and student success

There's an interesting article from the Daily Texan today on charter schools' request for higher funding. Of key interest is this quote:
The charter schools discussed at the meeting displayed exceptionally higher success rates than regular schools despite the lower available resources.

Exceptional. Now, while one might read the headline and think, "oh, those charter schools, they're after tax dollars for high-funded low-quality education, just like the public schools," that would be an incorrect assumption. What they want is money to make their mortgage payments with, after investors dropped the ball when they heard about the amount of government interference in the schools! These schools prove it: the quality of education has almost nothing to do with the amount of money you put into it. (I say "almost" because, of course, there is some relationship -- a school without money for a roof will have a hard time having classes during a thunderstorm!)

So, STOP CALLING FOR HIGHER FEDERAL EDUCATION FUNDING!!! Just get more schools like these Austin charter schools, schools that will do exceptionally more with less!

Word of the Day

From OxBlog: "dissertating."

Tuesday, January 20, 2004


Everyone else has said it better, so just a few thoughts:

-overall, many good points, few original ones (at least so me -- it seemed to surprise many, and not even reach Pelosi, how many people are with us in Iraq), some weird ones. What's that with steroids? In the State of the Union? huh? And I can do without schmalz, but I suppose it's unarguable that most people are swayed by it, so I suppose little Ashley can keep her letter.

-NBC makes me laugh. "Sanctity of Marriage" -- cut to Santorum. "Steroids are bad" -- cut to Brady. "Saddam's a bad guy" -- cut to Kennedy, shaking his head (or nodding off). Whenever Hillary Clinton clapped, apparently, they cut to her. She didn't get to look glum like the rest of the democrats. And, someone unidentified, someone I assume to be Zell Miller, clapping and standing off by himself in the democrat section. And the Joint Chiefs of Staff, standing or sitting or clapping as a group, never singly, although every once in a while one would lean over and ask the other if this point were one at which it would be appropriate to clap (I guess they're not supposed to show political leanings, although they can clap at praise of the military and more military spending).

All in all, entertaining.

UPDATE: here is one of the people apparently swayed by schmalz (at least, I think he's being serious here).

AND: I was talking to my new neighbor during most of the response, but... did Teddy Kennedy make a comment about the President not doing enough to save drowning people? Even metaphorically meant, that seems a bit... un-thought-out.

Gephardt as a Schultz cartoon?

Gephardt: You have to feel bad for the guy. It's like Charlie Brown and the football -- it gets snatched away every time. He's a decent guy, and he deserved better and I feel kind of bad for him.
I agree.

A Prime Example of Occidental-centrism

This is quite unfair. UT has an excellent classics library, containing Latin and Greek works, yet no Sanskrit library! Harvard, on the other hand, has a much less blatant pro-west bias: an incredibly musty and beautiful Sanskrit library, just a few doors down from a classics library of comparable size and mustiness. Oxford, as well, does not have this outdated notion that Latin and Greek merit their own libraries, while the more ancient and linguistically-important Sanskrit deserves only to be shuffled in with modern French fiction and American military histories. Bah! Fie upon Texas!

Monday, January 19, 2004

In light of the hawkeye cauci

I thought I'd send you over to DeanForAmerica. Trust me.

The George W. Bush Conspiracy Generator

Woohoo! much fun! mine:
George W. Bush had Michael Jackson arrested so that big corporations and Ann Coulter could invade women.

Brave girls in India

Here are some girls I'd be proud to call my sisters.

Lesser of several evils

Patrick Belton's post on Pakistan is spot on. "Musharraf has gained serious negotiating power with both Washington and New Delhi, neither of which wishes to see him replaced with an Islamist successor" -- also true. Everyone sees him (as I, below, have seen Edwards) as by no means the most desirable person, but far, far better than most of the alternatives.

Vajpayee, on the other hand, should take his deputy prime minister and rot together in jail. Maybe a Dutch prison. I can think of few people who would be worse than Vajpayee -- Advani, for one, and Narendra Modi. Then again, perhaps they -- the Rev'd. Pats of India -- would be far enough off the edge that they'd be voted out instantly... but that's not a risk I'd like to take.

Edwards again

Seeing him again, I'd have to say: he reminds me somewhat of Carter. While that doesn't speak overly well for an Edwards presidency (although Carter did refuse to endorse Dean, so there's some hope!), it does confirm me in my opinion that he's a great guy and I'd love to babysit his kids.

Sunday, January 18, 2004

Odd Spam

Just got spam, the regular kind, about debt and all that.

While deleting it, I sneezed and accidentally highlighted it, finding quite a bit of "white text." Not the normal hoping-for-hits-lets-put-a-dictionary-in kind that you find on websites, not in the least:
What if God saw a slimy monkey that was bending a tail? the light bulb doesn't enjoy flying with the half melted doctor
Someday the expert will be special the king was wet
A kinky letter makes baby Jesus cry I wonder if the company was rough
kill me now! Someone is groping the computer!
I is not carefully pulling your bumpy duck Shorty was making babies with the beach

It's intriguing. I write spam while tripping!

Edwards 2004?

I've mentioned before that I like John Edwards (ahh, problems of names: as Jonathan, he's a fire-and-brimstone preacher; as John, he's a TV psychic -- well, in plural). I don't think he's the best person out there; likewise, I don't think Bush is the best person out there. We can't choose from everyone in America for President, though, so you have to pick the best of what you've got. I'm highly unlikely to begin campaigning for Edwards, but I still think you could do quite a lot worse.

As R. Alex Whitlock puts it, "next to Lieberman, he's probably the one I'd view most favorably in the Democratic field should a Dem win the presidency." He's got the same appeal to me as Kennedy -- young, optimistic, small kids, nice hair... Ok, ok, that's not the way to choose a President (although it's well proven that both men and women are more likely to vote for an attractive and tall male candidate). But he seems the best of the lot!

That's what worries me a lot about the focus on Dean. There have been many comments made, several seriously, that Republicans should be supporting a Dean campaign because he's the looniest (well, besides Sharpton!) and therefore the easiest to beat. I think that's a dangerous strategy. If something should go dreadfully wrong, causing masses of people to fall into the "well, I don't normally go Democrat, but -- anyone but Bush!" camp, we do not want Dean as a president! Should we not be hoping that the one we'd choose, if we had to choose one, will win? If he's close enough to Bush (Lieberman, for example), there's nothing to differentiate him much in a race anyhow, so he's probably less of a threat than someone (Kucinich) quirky and different and interesting.

Nine (or eight) Dwarves?

You'd think they'd try their best, if they want to avoid the "dwarves" references, to keep from having Kucinich stand out from the crowd as a Keebler elf.

Saturday, January 17, 2004

Writer overcomes prejudice, changes mind

Woohoo! Another gun convert! (via Instapundit.)

She seems to realize what my strongly anti-gun mother has had to face with the Kid Brother: almost all boys (and a few girls) will play with guns, whether or not guns are provided. The author's elementary-school son would be reprimanded for shooting people with a banana; the Kid Brother chewed his breakfast toast into the shape of a gun and obliterated the family. The solution? Refuse to let boys play with anything resembling a gun, and certainly don't let them learn a thing about it, like my mother tried and most progressives hope to do? Hardly. As the article suggests, it is much better to teach them about the horrors of misuse and about safety and the proper way to use guns. A boy who's regularly taken out with his Daisy to get rid of Coke bottles and then helped to clean it afterwards is not going to be one of the anti-gun scare cases of the kid who finds his evil neo-confederate bad-parent father's gun and accidentally shoots his friend while playing with it and trying to figure out how it works; those cases are the product of the anti-gun culture of ignorance, which breeds curiosity without any safeguards.

Thursday, January 15, 2004

Sour Grapes?

This has to be the grumpiest article I've ever read in the Telegraph. What's more, it's silly. Not only does it think NASA put a man on the moon in 1997, it makes only a passing reference to Beagle 2 while criticizing NASA for sending a probe to that "boring" been-there-done-that planet Mars.

Suppose they're feeling a bit put out that the Americans did what the British failed to do?


Primal Scream this year is going to hurt.

Never the Twain

I've just come across a fascinating article about leftism and liberalism from the 1960s to today, both sides of the Atlantic. What interests me, as always, is the way the well-meaning-but-misguided left and the ill-meaning right (in this instance; the adjectives are just as often the other way around) argue for the same goals; whereas some conservatives advocate the preservation of the rigidities of a class system, either out of unthinking nostalgia or out of a malicious desire to keep the lower classes down, leftists frequently advocate the same out of an anti-elite sentiment:
Correct grammar and properly pronounced English were, left-wing commentators argued, simply a middle-class dialect, with no claim to inherent superiority over the subliterate speech familiar to working-class children. Therefore, to inflict proper English on children who spoke the systematically ungrammatical dialects of the British proletariat was a form of cultural imperialism. Bourgeois values were the real enemy of working-class self-respect, because they made people who did not subscribe to them feel alienated and insecure. The socialist ideal was not to free people to fulfill their personal potential but to guarantee that no one would ever feel inferior to anyone else in any respect—intellectually, socially, or economically.

Things We All Knew

According to Psychology Today, it is possible that "autism represents an 'extreme form' of the male brain."


Am also having computer problems -- much the same as last summer, so, obviously, it was not a motherboard problem. Or not just a motherboard problem. Computer works for a while, then starts switching on and off quickly and repeatedly. Oh, well.

Vermin Supreme for President!

Read the real District of Columbia: Board of Elections and Ethics: Voter's Guide -- Vermin Supreme! Strong Teeth for a Strong America! Together, we can turn up the brightness knob, of the future, tomorrow, today! All politicians are vermin. I am Vermin Supreme. I shall lie to you, because I can. I will Promise anything and deliver nothing. I am the peoples' candidate, you are the people.

Reminds me of a fellow at Harvard who was running for Student Council on a nearly identical platform. Well, without the gingivitis.

It's also somewhat amusing that Howard Dean didn't submit a platform in time, although Kucinich, Mosely Braun, and (ha!) Lyndon LaRouche did.

I like Lucian -- "I wanted to run for president, to replace Alan Greenspan, but I was charged with lewd conduct and found guilty, so now my platform is to get rid of the courts and replace it all with psychics -- they know the answers!"

Ah, the joys of DC.

Tuesday, January 13, 2004

Patronising Fools

Oxblog's come up against a whiny something-or-other who's mad on behalf of Muslims that a joke was made and who makes the common (and just as commonly ludicrous) claim of "well, you'd throw a hissy fit if it happened to you!" Adesnik quite sensibly responds, no, we wouldn't.

When will they ever learn? I am made so happy by the Muslim groups, largely in England, who say: "have your Christmas trees, sing your carols; we know you're not forcing us to join in or preventing us from having our own; and for goodness' sake, stop treating us like eggshell-constructed whimpering infants ready to explode in massive violence at the slightest thing not to our liking, and stop telling us what you think we should be offended by!"

Sunday, January 11, 2004


My idol, Safire, has an article on words and phrases that have come to mean their opposite. There are many; one example is "crummy" or "crumby." According to my handy word-origins book, "crumby" used to mean "creme de la creme" -- through sarcastic use, however, it came to mean the opposite. (Similarly, "Gift," in German, began life the same way as the English word, but, over time, came to mean "poison.")

One such word that bugs me to no end is "moot." As in a moot point. (Or, as I've recently seen, "a mute point.")
When you moot a point, you set it out to discuss -- you table it. Which has its own problems -- one side of the pond, you table a question and thereby bring it up for discussion; the other side, you table it for another day -- a difference, I hear, that has caused a few arguments and many hurt feelings, when one side feels ignored by the very action by which the other meant to involve them. "Moot" seems to have followed the path of "table," and nearly every use of the word today has a moot point being a point that is no longer discussable or is silly to discuss further.

But I suppose it's silly and I'm fighting a losing battle, much like certain people who fight the non-literal use of "literally." Or like an English teacher who would be distressed to see the way I write, after making us memorize (word-for-word) dozens of comma rules, hardly any of which are followed by the Wall Street Journal or the Harvard University Press.

Thursday, January 08, 2004

No Child Left Behind

Does anyone know about No Child Left Behind? A friend was complaining that her son's school is in danger of being shut down or having its funding removed because students aren't performing anywhere near their age level. While I would agree that, in general, that is a good thing, his school is different: it's a special-needs school for autistic, speech-delayed, or otherwise mentally retarded children, few of whom could be expected to pass out of even kindergarten anywhere, no matter how accredited the school or excellent the teacher.

Is this true? Does the act really include such schools alongside normal ones? If so, that's a terrible oversight. (If not, it's just another case of anti-Bush teachers' unions spreading lies to uninformed parents.)

A woman's place?

There's a maternity store in Rice Village called "A Woman's Work: Babies, Birth, Breastfeeding."

While it's undeniable that only a woman can grow babies, can give birth, and can breastfeed, I'm not sure that that's the best choice of name. It seems more restrictive -- that, instead of "only a woman can," in the last sentence, "a woman can only." It seems to be ok in Houston; people aren't as uppity, don't care that much, and, even if they do take it as restrictive, probably don't think that a maternity store has much power in enforcing kinder-kirche-küche. I'd be interested to see the store's fortunes in a more sensitive place.

Light Rail

No matter the bias, it's impossible to argue that the Chronicle refuses to print articles that criticize light rail -- or at least articles that complain that it's not going to pay for itself, much less make more money, and that say it's mismanaged and already malfunctioning!

Tuesday, January 06, 2004

Merry Christmas!

Someone should have told Aakash Raut that Christmas, liturgically, doesn't end until today. He got all gloomy over nothing!

Gun Safety

The Angry Clam has an excellent post taking Detroit to task for a ridiculous article about Glocks.

There are basic safety measures anyone can and should use. I, for example, am a bit gun-shy and paranoid, so I keep my bedside revolver on an empty. I'm, surprisingly, a dead shot (surprising to me and to my West Point grandfather, whenever he takes me out), and, if needs be, I could pull the trigger several times in succession, so the empty doesn't bother me, but it does prevent any risk of it going off, say, should I somehow manage to sleep violently and bump/drop it. It's my grandfather's WWII revolver, so doesn't have fancy modern safeties to prevent such accidents, but, well, as one of the Clam's commenters says: guns have this habit of not shooting if they're not loaded and the trigger's not pulled. Simple as that.

LOTR - deconstructed

Go read Mark P. Shea: The Lord of the Rings: A Source-Criticism Analysis:
Experts in source-criticism now know that The Lord of the Rings is a redaction of sources ranging from the Red Book of Westmarch (W) to Elvish Chronicles (E) to Gondorian records (G) to orally transmitted tales of the Rohirrim (R). The conflicting ethnic, social and religious groups which preserved these stories all had their own agendas, as did the "Tolkien" (T) and "Peter Jackson" (PJ) redactors, who are often in conflict with each other as well but whose conflicting accounts of the same events reveals a great deal about the political and religious situations which helped to form our popular notions about Middle Earth and the so-called "War of the Ring.". Into this mix are also thrown a great deal of folk materials about a supposed magic "ring" and some obscure figures named "Frodo" and "Sam". In all likelihood, these latter figures are totems meant to personify the popularity of Aragorn with the rural classes.

University Manners?

Over at Misanthropyst is a link to a list of questions to ask your grandparents, questions meant to highlight the civil shortcomings of modern students. It includes the following: Did students ever get up and leave in the middle of a lecture if they had to go to the bathroom, without asking the permission of the teacher?

Perhaps the list should include in its focus modern teachers, also younger than the WWII generation. (They are somewhat obliquely mentioned in the original article, but left out in both subsequent citations.)

I was brought up in a home where a young lady stands when introduced to anyone except a younger female, where gentlemen open doors on houses and cars, and where age commands respect. (No, not lack of justified criticism -- an uncle swearing at his daughter was told off quite harshly. Just respect. And the rules have nothing to do with ability and the "weaker sex" and everything to do with manners -- I do most of the heavy lifting around the house, but I still expect to have the car door opened.) My school ran by the old rules as well (rules which, I hear, have been tossed out the door with the regulations on skirt length and mandatory Latin class): you stand on the first day when the teacher enters the room, and thereafter when other adults enter the room, you don't smart back, you ask permission to leave the room and do your best not to have to disrupt the class, and you behave decently and respectfully. My geographical region and that of my family was one in which I would never have dreamed of having the gall to refer to someone significantly my elder or in a position of authority over me by her first name on my own initiative. Even when requested, it felt uncomfortable. (Oddly, among my group of friends, Jewish mothers were exempted and were referred to by their first name. All other parents were Mr. and Mrs.)

Harvard was a bit of a shock. I remember painfully well the first time I, in a small freshman discussion class, asked to be excused, as this writer clearly thinks should be done. The students laughed and the teacher said, sneeringly, "this isn't kindergarten." Such practices, once thought mannerly, are apparently infantile. I have kept to the other customs, in part: I stand, alone, the first day the teacher enters the room, but not when other teachers feel a need to interrupt class; I dress well at the start of class, to show respect for the teacher, although I often end up lax; I say "sir" and "ma'am"; and maintain a very formal tone in writing and only address instructors familiarly in exceptional circumstances (my mentor being the only such exception that springs to mind). Nobody there seems to think anything of calling seventy-year-old professors by first names (of course, I spoke often of Marty and Larry, but it was Professor Feldstein and President Summers in person). I first felt like a sore thumb, largely thanks to that sneering teacher (who earned my dislike many times over), but soon got over it. I ended up feeling like the woman who arranges flowers based on their meaning and sends them to ignorant people, not caring that they don't know -- I was doing my part to respect myself and those around me, and I knew it, regardless of whether or not my fellows or superiors did.

I had a fabulous English teacher in tenth grade. She referred to us formally, saying either "Smith" and "Jones" or "Miss Truett" and "Mr. Schwarz." She explained to us that she showed us respect in that manner and expected the same in return. She took no nonsense at all from any student. She wasn't all prunes and prisms -- she was also known for armwrestling the strongest and rowdiest of the male students -- but she kept us in line and taught us well. If I teach, I hope to do the same.


I hear my comments are fritzing. I'll change them, soon. Any suggestions for a functional and free replacement? If you can't leave it in the comments, email me.

Maaaarvin Zindler, EYE-witness news!

I've been having a grand old time reading about The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. Marvin Zindler, as we all know, got it shut down. I've heard, from the Dancer's father, who is with ABC, that Marvin Zindler is the only ABC employee with a lifetime contract, which was part of the deal to get him on board. At one time, he was considered the best investigative journalist around. Here's an example of his work:
'Sheriff! Sheriff! Sheriff!' Marvin could be heard yelling on the partially destroyed film.
The camerman said, 'Step on your brake, Marvin! Step on your brake, Marvin!'
'Get out! Get out!' ordered Sheriff Flournoy.
'It's not my fault. I was sent down here on assignment,' Marvin said.
'You (profanity). You ought to (profanity)!' the sheriff hollered.
'Sheriff, don't get mad at me. Sheriff, don't do that to me. Sheriff, please Sheriff! Sheriff, stop!' Marvin pleaded.
'You son of a (profanity)!' Sheriff Flournoy responded.
'He began immediately to yell obscenities at Marvin and he began to punch Marvin,' said Mark Vela, a former assistant DA. 'He grabbed him and was beating his head up against the car door, the window. I was sitting in the back seat. At that point he grabbed (Marvin's) hairpiece. He was in a rage! (He) began waving the hairpiece around and threw it out in the middle of the street.'

Hmm. I always thought Marvin Zindler was a bit old, what with his white suits, his blue glasses, and his televised plastic surgeries. I didn't realize he wore a toupee thirty years ago! Eh, you learn something new every day.

Monday, January 05, 2004


I'm late to the game, but I'm glad to see that InSane Antonio is back up as well!

Sunday, January 04, 2004

Homage to Mr. Courrèges

Owen will enjoy this post, I'm sure.

Since I'm pretty near recovered, and only sound like I'm dying of consumption (oh, how glamorous!), I joined my family in trying out the new light rail line on this, its last day without fares. I have to say that my opinions aren't changed, in that I still like the idea but also agree that nearly everything the critics say is true. My parents, however, find their opinions (which were much less emotional than mine) quite changed.

While walking from the parking lot (behind First Presbyterian), I got to see first-hand the many side streets that are now blocked off by concrete bumps and (I would hope) temporary orange flags. Why in the world is that necessary? In Boston, you can cross the Green line quite frequently, and not only at lights. Then again, as the accidents show, Houstonians aren't as good at realizing that things are changing and they need to watch where they're going. We had a much-needed stop sign put in at a blind turn near my house a few years ago; even with a big red stop sign and two large "STOP AHEAD" signs on the approach, several cars still crashed and probably dozens more were driving in a daze and zoomed on through.

Entertainingly, the brochures which were handed out have a little diagram instructing drivers in the best techniques for making left turns across the line. As many people will follow that as follow the drivers' ed instructions for simultaneous left turns, I'm sure. (According to my handbook from way back when, which I have just re-checked, if you and the car directly opposite both wish to turn left at a regular four-way intersection, you are supposed to make very wide turns and turn around each other, crossing each other's path twice and doing your best to scrape each other's car. You are not supposed to do what every single driver does, which is to cut the corner and not come near each other.)

We got on at the museum. Like Lileks, I like the stations, which range from classy to futuristic (including spouting water jets), with only a few bland mishaps thrown in. Unlike Lileks, I don't mind wires overhead. The trains, of German design, are very spiffy. They even come with old-fashioned sound effects. (Yes, of course, this is all a waste of money. I prefer to see it as a city beautification project -- speaking of the sound effects and funky stations, not of the orange cones and other such, of course. Those nifty big metal circles above the intersections at Post Oak are also a waste of money, but I quite enjoy them as well.)

Lots of people, as would only be expected on a free day of a novelty. Everyone and his squealing child was out to ride the train. I was reminded of that unfortunate statement by the Labour politician in London, who said he didn't ride the bus because of the people he'd be riding with. He took a lot of flak for that, but I am now in total agreement. Houston is, sadly, full of exceptionally obese people, who not only take up three seats or a whole aisle, but who also reek of sweat and breathe like old pump-organs. Then there were the masters of the obvious, usually whiny and loudly-dressed women who keep saying, quite loudly, "why isn't the train here? I wonder why they're lining us up. Why are there so many people? Why can't we board? Look, there's a train, why can't I get on that one? I guess it's going the other way. Why would they go both ways? [I'm not kidding about that one.]" Not getting any responses, or forgetting them instantly, she will keep asking shrilly to the general public. And always bumping into people quite heavily and not noticing.

It also, for some odd reason, appears to be populated mainly by parents who are of the modern anti-authoritarian school of child-rearing. The train and the line for the train (more on that below) were full of screaming, running, and otherwise incredibly obnoxious children. Not just infants, mind you -- undisciplined brats who are probably in grave danger of being murdered by their second-grade teachers, as well. (This from a person who wants twelve of her own. I, however, am quite in favor of discipline. I'm sure, by that time, CPS will remove children from any parent who ever says "no" to anything, so I may as well just give up.)

The trains are, physically, quite superior to any I have ever been on, largely by virtue of their young age. Doors against which one can lean, seats which are both comfortable and clean, almost no noise except the occasional old-timey train whistle sound effect, and air conditioning. If Boston's anything to go by, all of those virtues won't last very long, however. But there's always hope...

Complaint: the trains are coupled together and run every 12 minutes by the schedule, 15 minutes by my watch. This leads to crowds of impatient people and the occasional blocked intersection. However, I hear that this is a recognized complaint and changes will be made. The trains will be uncoupled and run every six minutes instead, which is better both on crowds and on traffic disturbance.

We went to lunch at a restaurant thrilled by the existence of the rail line, as it stops near the restaurant and the road is wide enough at that point that construction was not a problem. I'd expect the line would be a great boon to businesses along it -- businesses, that is, that didn't have to close down during the period when construction cut off all access and potential customers.

Complaint: the Metro guide-people are not well organized. They appear knowledgeable, friendly, and, for the most part, competent. However, they have very little common sense. At the station where we ate, they were guiding passengers in a sensible idea gone wrong. When we got on at the museum, it was like Japan or rush hour in NYC -- cram you in at the door and hope you don't fall out at the next stop. Obviously, they realized traffic was heavier than usual on the last few hours of free rides, so they changed plans: by the time we reboarded, the Metro people were trying to limit the number of people getting on at the first few stations so that the next few stations would still have space. All well and good, and also a temporary problem (to be solved by both decreased traffic as soon as fares set in and by an improved schedule). However, they did it all wrong.

Which brings me to the next complaint: it took an hour and a half to get back from downtown to the museum. Not quite ideal. Picture this: north-south street, northbound and southbound lines running next to each other; the station is at an intersection, and the northbound station is on the north side of the intersection while the southbound station is on the southbound side. Most people, getting off at the northbound station, will approach the southbound station from the north for their return journey, as it was ridiculously hot and muggy and nobody in Houston goes for walks downtown anyhow, so they are generally already to the north of the station. The Metro people were posted at the southern tip of the northbound station (halfway across the street) and then at both corners on the southern side of the intersection. They directed people into one line on the southeast corner and allowed only the number of people they wanted to board each specific train to cross over to the southbound station. All well and good; I've seen them do the same thing both with trains in Germany and with elevators in very busy buildings (you have to let people from middle floors get on at some point). The problem was, this was not done well. Bring back to mind that picture I described, and you'll realize something the Metro people clearly did not: the southbound station is accessible from both ends, as well as from jaywalkers across the middle of the street. The Metro people would file a small group of people onto the platform, and then several dozen more would stroll on from the other end, without benefit of line, during the wait for the next train. The Metro people at the next station (Main Street Square) would radio back that trains were full by the time they arrived at that station, and so the Metro people at my station would reduce the number of people they let on from their end, making their line much longer, while doing nothing about the line-jumpers (who, I assume, were mostly innocent of the line, as the line was down the east-west street and not visible from the station). While I don't believe this specific problem will exist much longer, the ineptitude is not a good sign, no matter how friendly and dedicated the Metro people are. Niceness and good intentions don't always cut it.

By this time, trains were running northbound every twelve minutes, exactly on schedule, but going closer to twenty minutes southbound. It took 50 minutes to go through the line and get on a train (double benefit of being in the line down the side street: you don't notice the people getting on without benefit of line until you are through the line and at the station and it is much too late to do anything about it). Then, the ride to the museum took half an hour. I don't know why the southbound trains were running slowly to begin with, but I do know why they got slower: stupid and malevolent people. At every station, we had to wait quite a while during the boarding period for things that could be solved if Metro forgot about being nice and forgot about legal troubles. Half of a family gets on or off and the doors close before the rest of the family has noticed. (There is no reason why they shouldn't have noticed; there is enough time for them to notice and get on or off, just not enough brain.) The outside half alerts the Metro person, who gets the doors reopened and the family reunited. Solution: just leave with the kids on one side and the bad parents (who aren't taking care of their kids) on the other. Perhaps they'll keep their kids with them next time -- if they can find them again.

Also, while the doors are open, middle school boys think it's fun to stick their feet in the door to see if it will reopen. Of course, they do, and they do every time, until we finally leave. It's the same problem with trains in London and in Boston. In Houston, you also get the very fat people who think they are entirely in the door, compressing all the normal-sized people and displacing five of them (I did truly see two men get off to assist a 500lb-plus woman who was coming in, but she took up so much space that they could not wedge themselves back in -- where they were roomy before), but who still have a huge backside hanging out the door. Solution: just cut off the protruding part when the doors shut. Teach the boys a lesson; and automatic weight-reduction surgery! I've personally met several people, and heard more (in health magazines and on television news programs), who say they finally got it into their thick heads that they seriously needed to do whatever it takes to lose weight when they didn't fit in an airline seat / got stuck in a passageway in a castle or old building / had young kids seriously ask them if they were in costume as Shallow Hal or the fat lady in Harry Potter / broke a chair by sitting down / etc., and then went on to lose two hundred pounds (as for me, I'm well on my way to losing my extra thirty-five, after realizing I was outgrowing Express -- jolt of my own, as I don't have the money or inclination to buy a new plus-size wardrobe); perhaps Metro could do a similar jolt-of-reality service. I can think of no more effective way to deal with people whose actions are a disturbance to others, no more effective way to say, "come now -- behave!!!" or, "perhaps you should wait until there is space for someone your size; -- or, you know, walking might be a good idea."

Yes, before people attack me, this is largely tongue-in-cheek. The problem is real, but has more to do with general poor parenting and Houstonians' understandable distaste for outside exercise, their amazing gluttony, and their lazy avoidance of exercise in air-conditioned places than with anything Metro could do -- unless, of course, they wish to implement my suggestions!

It took ten minutes to get back to the car and home when we got off, making it an even ninety. It was a long afternoon.

So, in short: aesthetically right up my alley, but misdesigned, mismanaged, and full of the worst of Houston.