Workplace harassment? There’s an app for that….

July 17th, 2014

Rate your co-workers. That’s what a new smartphone app, Knozen, promises. The app asks a series of questions, pitting one co-worker against another, with the app user giving the answers.

It asks about attributes: who is more assertive? who is more sympathetic? spontaneous? And it asks about some “real world” scenarios: who is more likely to buy cookies from a girl scout? who is more likely to leave work early for a date? And Knozen raises one more question: what could possibly go wrong? I’ll answer that for you: plenty.

Even though the questions themselves seem fairly innocuous, there’s subtext to everything, particularly when workplace politics and roles come into play. That’s where the creators of Knozen have been shortsighted. It’s a small step from being labeled an “assertive” woman to being labeled “bossy” or a “bitch.” It’s a small step from being called “spontaneous” to being called “unreliable” or a “flake.” And, because Knozen claims to maintain the anonymity of the person answering the questions, there’s extra temptation to use it for less than complimentary purposes, despite the purported “upbeat” tone of the various questions.

In short, the makers of Knozen have developed a tool for workplace harassment outside the workplace. Incidentally, the app is specifically tied to employment. It asks for a work email address, in particular, for registration purposes, and it will not allow a user to go forward and “rate” people until at least seven from the same workplace have signed up. This is posited as a way to ensure users’ anonymity because apparently Knozen’s developers have never heard of the process of elimination.

Perhaps I’m being paranoid, but Knozen seems to me like a recipe for disaster, if not a surefire one. Rather than fostering an “open door” workplace environment where the inevitable conflicts get worked out face to face, Knozen would seem to encourage back-channel, would-be anonymous grousing about co-workers’ various foibles and habits. That’s exactly the kind of stuff that starts out innocent enough before turning into lawsuits and liability when left unchecked.


Setting the Standard

July 16th, 2014

Asbestos litigation is a horrid corner of tort litigation in Texas.  It’s a rote practice.  Every case looks pretty much like every other case.  The facts are all the same, the witnesses are interchangeable, and there’s generally no creativity exercised by anyone on either side of the counsel table.  It’s a business, not a profession, and you can pretty much mark it as “Exhibit A” in the case of Why People Hate Lawyers.  It probably has more in common with direct mail advertising than law practice.  Everyone established a long time ago that it’s much cheaper to settle cases than to try them, and defendants long ago quit asking for real proof.  The cases became a cash cow and very little else.  Consequently, any new lawyer who found himself heavily involved in asbestos litigation came out five years later with no marketable skills to speak of, despite having attended hundreds or even thousands of depositions.  The only way anything of interest happens in the area is if the Legislature or an appellate court—preferably the Texas Supreme Court—takes some sort of action.  Otherwise, the machine just keeps humming along.

Some years ago, the Legislature did take action.  It introduced new statutory requirements for proof in asbestos litigation and laid the foundation for an inactive docket for plaintiffs who claim exposure to asbestos but who have not developed any sort of symptoms, as a result.  And, thus, asbestos litigation took a step toward normalcy as Texas adopted the rule that you actually have to be sick to sue someone for giving you a disease.  Granted, previously statutes of limitation created problems for plaintiffs because, as soon as you know about exposure, limitations begins to run, whether you’re sick or not.  But plaintiff’s lawyers trolling for new clients didn’t help the situation.  They established mass “screenings” where hundreds of plant workers would file through a mobile x-ray lab to be checked for evidence “consistent with” asbestos exposure, even though asymptomatic.  It did little for the workers–asbestosis being acknowledged as an untreatable condition–but it kept the flow of clients into the machine.

In 2007, the Texas Supreme Court issued its opinion in Borg-Warner Corp. v. Flores.  Flores was a landmark case in that it held that the causation standard—substantial factor—that applies to every other product liability case in Texas also applies to asbestos cases.  Thus, Flores confirmed that, in order to prove his case against a defendant, a plaintiff would have to show that the defendant’s activities or products were a substantial factor in causing asbestos-related disease.  This makes sense because asbestosis—the disease most plaintiffs claim—is based on the amount of exposure, but previously, defendants were unable to get out of a case without paying a settlement, even where a plaintiff might allege or be able to prove only an hour or two’s worth of exposure to a defendant’s products, worksite, or asbestos workers.  An hour’s worth of exposure over the course of a forty or fifty year career was enough to push a defendant to trial.

About a week ago, the Court took the next step, applying the Flores causation standard to mesothelioma cases in Bostic v. Georgia-Pacific Corp.  Now, mesothelioma is a different animal from asbestosis.  It is a cancer and a truly horrible, inevitably fatal one.  It might not rear its head for forty years after exposure, and, while even experts for plaintiffs will tell you that there is a “safe” level of asbestos exposure vìs-a-vìs asbestosis, no such level exists with regard to mesothelioma.  And, as a result, plaintiff’s experts for years testified that any exposure—any exposure at all, even a single fiber – caused by a defendant was a factor in causing mesothelioma.  Bostic put the brakes on that.  Despite their “one fiber” evidence, mesothelioma plaintiffs have to meet the same standard as any other.

The Court’s decision might appear fundamentally non-scientific, if not for one fact.  As virtually every expert in this sort of litigation regularly testifies, asbestos fibers are everywhere, particularly in urban environments.  That means that there is always a level of “background” asbestos in the air, and everyone inhales it.  So to suggest that one asbestos fiber from a product manufacturer caused mesothelioma when none of the background fibers were sufficient to do it seems non-scientific to a fault.

Justice Lehrmann, joined by two others, dissented from the majority opinion, and the rejection of science was her main criticism of the majority.  (I’m quite a fan of Justice Lehrmann, as anyone who has read my writings on SCOTX has likely noticed, and she makes a good point here, just not good enough, in my opinion.)  But, ultimately, this was more a case about Texas evidentiary standards and whether expert testimony—scientific or not—is going to allow parties to fudge those standards.  The Court held “no,” and it’s pretty hard to argue with the policy if not with the some of the details.  The quest for the “next asbestos” is always underway (and there have been some notable false starts in recent years), so it can hardly hurt to establish standards and stick with them.  Justice requires some principles that are not always “real world” ones.  Law is more than a mail-order service.


Unwritten rules

April 25th, 2014

The baseball season isn’t even a month old as of this writing, but we’ve still had our first two instances of “unwritten rules” violations.  What are “unwritten rules”?  Well, they’re the customs that everyone agrees to follow, except when they don’t agree on them or don’t agree to follow them.  Get it?  Baseball has a mess of them, and they often seem peculiar, arcane, or just plain silly to an outsider.  Anyway, here are the first two instances from this season (or at least, the ones I know of).

 First came the Houston Astros’ manager Bo Porter having not-so-nice words with Jed Lowrie, shortstop for the Oakland Athletics.  The A’s were cruising as early as the first inning against the Astros, putting up seven runs to the Astros’ zero.  With Lowrie coming up to bat, the Astros played the shift, meaning they positioned all the fielders to the right, resulting in the third-baseman playing about 20 feet off the third-base line.  With his team already up 7-0, Lowrie tried to lay down a bunt along the third-base line, which would have made a near-impossible play at first for the Astros’ fielders.  On his next at-bat, Lowrie found himself the target of several retaliatory brush-back pitches.  He flied out to end that inning but had a few choice words he shared with Astros’ second baseman Jose Altuve.  And that was when Porter got involved, leaving the dugout to read Lowrie the riot act.

 A manager chewing out an opposing player is an unusual sort of thing.  It’s kind of like an invited guest yelling at the help.  It’s just not done.  But that’s not the unwritten rule I’m talking about here.  Porter was incensed because he seemed to feel Lowrie violated the unwritten rule of “thou shall not take extraordinary measures to pile on to an already beaten opponent.”  This may apply doubly when the opponent has the Astros’ anemic offense.  Whether or not Porter really had any right to get upset is a matter for debate.  If your team is capable of being beaten before the end of the first inning, it doesn’t make much difference what the other team does, and because it was only the first inning, more than arguably, Lowrie was just doing his job.  But the fact that Porter felt justified in being incensed shows how seriously some take the unwritten rule.

 In another instance, just in the last week, Yankees’ pitcher Michael Pineda got ejected from his club’s game against the Boston Red Sox and landed a 10-game suspension, to boot.  Formally, the ejection and suspension were punishment for doctoring the surface of the baseball with pine tar to allow himself a better grip.  Baseball has a long history of pitchers scuffing the ball with nail files, emery boards, or sandpaper; smearing the ball with Vaseline, to make it slip off the fingers; and the liberal use of pine tar by both hitters and pitchers.  (Don’t get me started on corked bats and PEDs.)  It’s an express violation of the written rules, but the conventional wisdom is that “everybody does it.”  It’s the nasty little habit everyone has:  like picking your nose, scratching inappropriate places, or sniffing your armpits.  As long you don’t advertise it, everyone is willing to act like it doesn’t happen.

 But, Pineda’s sin was doing it to the same opponent twice in a row and being so obvious that the Red Sox couldn’t help but catch him at it.  (The smear of pine tar on his neck was readily visible in game photos.)  Red Sox manager John Farrell brought it to the attention of the umpire and said after the game, “when it’s that obvious, something has to be said.”  Again, the unwritten rule:  “Cheat discreetly.”  Pineda’s violation was so great that Yankees’ GM Brian Cashman felt the need to express his embarrassment about it.  (Of course, a person more cynical than I might suggest that it’s rather nice the Yankees are still capable of feeling shame about something.)

It got me thinking about the unwritten rules that govern my own profession and my own little corner of it.  In litigation, generally, but especially in the appellate arena, we’re all expected to play nicely together and avoid disagreement for its own sake.  So when a fellow appellate lawyer—a smart, experienced, and honorable practitioner of my acquaintance—mentioned on Facebook this week that he had received pushback from his opposing counsel on getting an extension of time to file a brief (and this, when he had only just entered an appearance in the case), the opprobrium was palpable.  Every appellate practitioner has been in that situation of having looming deadlines and too much to do to meet them all.  Our unwritten rule is that you don’t oppose someone when he asks politely for your position on his extension.  You agree to hold your tongue, regardless of how you feel about it and explain it to your client as a strategic decision.

 So, in some ways, the attitude of legal practitioners mirrors that of baseball players.  Even if the rules don’t require civility in certain areas, custom certainly does, and the lawyer who flouts the unwritten rule risks becoming a pariah.  No one wants to be on the business end of that brushback pitch.


Scary times…..

March 24th, 2014

I don’t claim to be a student of world history or politics, but I do remember my high-school studies in world history, and that’s why Vladimir Putin scares the hell out of me. Because Putin is the shiny new face on, not just the old Soviet Union, but the ethnic philosophies that Hitler espoused after he rose to power with the Third Reich. Yes, I’m aware of Godwin’s Law, but hear me out.

Putin is ex-KGB. Everyone knew it when he rose to power, but he seemed to be a benevolent version of it. He was invited to join in with G7 and NATO discussions, and the belief was that he represented the face of a kinder, gentler Russia. But the arguments Putin is putting forth these days smack of the same stuff that was used to annex portions of Czechoslovakia in the years leading up to World War Two. Back then, Hitler argued that the Sudetenland—the western-most portion of Czechoslovakia—was heavily populated with ethnic Germans and should be annexed as a part of Germany. This is, of course, the exact same argument Putin has used for annexing the Crimea. Hitler argued the same thing with regard to Austria before annexing the entire country. It remains to be seen if Putin will do the same with the rest of Ukraine, but it doesn’t look promising for anyone who holds peace as a priority.

Dealing with the devil carries a cost. Putin became a part of the international community and received legitimacy from U. S. administrations. It seems that no one knew he would become this. These are scary times we live in.


The Blockbuster Decline (or, a Unified Theory of Netflix)

December 12th, 2013

In the last month, the once mighty Blockbuster Video chain has gone pretty much entirely out of business.  Oh, there are one or two holdouts, but the business that once was is basically no more.  No more driving to the store on Friday evening and picking up the action flick du jour.  It’s a bit of a surprising turn for a business that was thriving ten years ago.

But, of course, times changed.  Netflix became a major competitor to Blockbuster as customers avoided the trip to the store and the lines in favor of just walking to their mailboxes.  So what if the drive is a short one?  The walk is even shorter.  But that’s not what killed Blockbuster.  It managed to co-exist with Netflix’s mail-out DVD business, but the whole house of cards came crashing down with the advent of streaming video from a multitude of sources.  And it got me wondering, what’s the difference?  The answer I came up with was instant gratification. 

I always noted a tendency in myself whenever I filled up the old Netflix queue with DVDs to be mailed out, and I contrast that to my tendencies when filling the streaming queue that I currently have.  It made me think there are two sides to every subscriber (or at least, to me as a subscriber).  The mail-out subscriber has a particular image of himself—erudite, interested in fine film and artistic quality.  The mail-out subscriber is the one who queues up foreign films, classics, and Oscar nominees.  He seeks out challenging material that will make him think and that displays the best moviemaking has to offer.  And he’ll probably almost never watch any of this stuff.

And then there’s the streaming subscriber who can barely be bothered to put on pants and shake the Cheetos dust out of his t-shirt.  He wants to see something funny or watch people die, and he wants it right now.  He’s not willing to wait the three or four days it takes for the movie he wants to see to get mailed from Netflix’s distribution warehouse to his home, so he’s willing to go hit the local vid store if that’s the only way to satisfy his craving.   But, hey, now there’s streaming!  And that means those pants can stay in a crumpled heap on the bedroom floor, and he can start in on the Doritos, while still getting his movie fix. 

Instant gratification is what separated the new competition from the old for Blockbuster, and I think it’s what signaled its demise.  What does this have to do with law—the ostensible purpose for this blog?  Well, not a whole lot.  I could say something about patience being a virtue for an appellate lawyer because you never know how long an appellate court is going to take to decide your case, but that would be a stretch.  Truth is I just thought it was interesting and a real sign of the technological changing of the guard we see so much of these days.  Technology has made my solo practice possible (or at least, much more feasible), and our court system is continuing to adapt it to new use.  For lawyers, I think the new frontier is an electronic one, as courts push firms to modernize and likely as clients insist on the efficiency that technology can bring about.



What we become….

December 10th, 2013

A few months ago, I saw the movie Zero Dark Thirty.  If you’re not familiar with it, it’s an account of the hunt for Osama bin Laden, beginning with the World Trade Center attack in September of 2011, through his eventual killing.  (Incidentally, if you’ve not seen the movie, but want to, stop reading now.  There are spoilers ahead.)

 The movie is fascinating.  It presents a behind-the-scenes picture of the hunt.  Frequently, it’s not pretty, but neither was what bin Laden orchestrated.  Let me set a few things straight from the outset.  I think bin Laden “needed killing.”  What bin Laden did—financing and planning the destruction of the World Trade Center in New York and the murder of thousands there and elsewhere—marked him as less than human in my mind.  I shed no tears when his death was announced.

My interest, however, was in what the hunt did to us.  Zero Dark Thirty presents an unflinching look at the start of the hunt.  There are scenes of what has been euphemistically labeled “enhanced interrogation techniques.”  Those might involve leaving a subject of interrogation strung up by his arms overnight, with loud music blasting at him, depriving him of food and water, and allowing him to soil himself.  These scenes are particularly difficult to watch because we know that they are likely real.  And we know that the things depicted were done in our name.

 In the movie, unlike in the real world, there was no taunting from bin Laden.  His face is barely seen.  The video recordings that we saw on the nightly news make no appearance.  The film is journalistic, but with a definite slant.  Even though the story is about bin Laden, what he did, the hunt for him, the events of September 11, 2011, and other terrorist episodes are told in black screen or with short, episodic revelations.  The villain of the piece, himself, barely shows up at all. 

 Because, ultimately, it’s not about the hunt for bin Laden.  It’s about what the lust for . . . justice . . . vengeance . . . does to us.  The final shot of the movie is of the protagonist, who has spent her entire CIA career hunting bin Laden, with tears rolling down her face.  They don’t look like tears of joy. 

 This is not to say that justice never wears black.  It’s only to say that justice can come at a cost.  Sometimes, that cost is personal and extraordinary, and it reflects as heavily on the one who extracts it as from the one receives it. 


Healthcare Round-Up

July 5th, 2013

The high nine in Austin continue to give and to take away when it comes to healthcare liability, and you have to wonder if the insurance industry is starting to think it bought a pig in a poke with the Texas Medical Liability Act (MLA).  What is emerging from the Texas Supreme Court’s continuing efforts to grapple with the MLA is an expansive reading of the coverage of the MLA but a more forgiving stance toward claimants under it.  Read on, for details.

 On June 28, 2013, the Court issued its opinion in PM Management-Trinity NC v. Kumets.  In that case, the claimants argued that a nursing home had unlawfully discharged a resident because of complaints made by her family.  The facts are pretty straight forward.  Yevgeniya Kumets was admitted to the Trinity Care Center nursing home to recover from a stroke.  Her family members said that Trinity provided inadequate care, and that it caused her to suffer a second stroke.  When the family complained, Trinity kicked her out, and the family sued, asserting a host of claims that implicated the MLA and that also asserted claims under the Texas Health & Safety Code, which—at that time—allowed a claim against a nursing facility that retaliates or discriminates against a resident or family member who makes a complaint.

 After Kumets’s family filed expert reports under the MLA, the trial court ultimately found them deficient, but refused to dismiss the retaliation claim.  The basis was that it wasn’t covered by the MLA, so no report was needed.  On appeal, a divided panel of the Austin Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court, holding that only the retaliation claim—which was about pure economic loss and not injury or death of a claimant—survived Trinity’s Motion to Dismiss.  But a dissent argued that the retaliation claim related to healthcare as well.  The dissent argued that the retaliation claim was based on the same essential facts as the claims about treatment, so it should have been dismissed, too.

 The Texas Supreme Court agreed with the dissent.  It held that the retaliation claim—although authorized by a completely different statute—was still a healthcare liability claim and subject to all of the MLA’s procedures.  So if the report was inadequate, the claim got dismissed.  And, thus, the Texas Supreme Court affirmed that a whole mess of cases that don’t involve actual medical treatment to patients now falls under the MLA and has to be covered by medical liability insurers.  Granted, this is no different from the direction the Court has moved in past, but it can’t make insurance executives sleep well at night.

 Just a week earlier, in CHCA Woman’s Hospital v. Lidji, the Court made a very different holding.  Lidji involved the timeliness of an expert report.  Under the MLA, a claimant has 120 days from the filing of the original petition in the case—the case’s inception in court—to file an expert report outlining the details of the case.  In Lidji, the claimants filed suit against CHCA for injuries sustained by their daughter following her premature birth.  They argued that she suffered severe neurological injury—a crippling, lifelong condition—as a result of improper treatment, and filed suit on April 2, 2009.  On July 27, 2009—116 days after they started their suit—they voluntarily dismissed it, without having filed an expert report.  And, just over two years later on August 15, 2011, they filed a new suit against CHCA, alleging the same facts and served an expert report the same day.

 CHCA howled.  (This is editorializing on my part; I don’t actually know if it did, but I’ve been there enough times to imagine what transpired.)  CHCA argued that the report was untimely because it had to have been served within 120 days of the original filing of suit; that is, within 120 days of April 2, 2009.  That is, the report had to be in CHCA’s hands no later than the last day of July, 2009.

 CHCA had a good argument.  It had the Austin Court of Appeals’s decision in Estate of Allen v. Scott & White Clinic on its side.  And several Texas Courts of Appeal have held that a claimant’s dismissal of his suit doesn’t re-start the 120 day deadline for filing an expert report.  But that’s not what the claimants in Lidji argued.  Instead of arguing that the MLA’s 120 day period restarts after a voluntary dismissal, they argued that the period simply stops with the dismissal and picks up again, if and when suit gets re-filed.  And the Texas Supreme Court agreed.

 Noting that the MLA neither expressly allows nor expressly prohibits tolling an expert-report deadline in the event of a voluntary dismissal, Justice Lehrmann, in her decision for the Court, set out to do two things.  She set out to preserve the absolute right of a plaintiff in Texas to dismiss his case without consequence (known as “taking a nonsuit”) and preserve the overall structure of the MLA.  The result?  As long as there is no lawsuit on file, the MLA’s clock—a ticking timebomb for many claimants—stops ticking.

 In a lot of cases, this will not come into play.  Developing a medical liability case takes time, and, if a claimant is already of age to bring suit and aware of the facts, the two-year limitations period may stop the Lidji decision from having a broad impact.  But, in cases involving birth injuries, limitations may have little effect.  In Texas, anyone under the age of 18 years is presumptively unable to bring a lawsuit.  That means they have until their 18th birthday to file a lawsuit.  The MLA narrows this with a statute of repose limiting all claims to ten years, but that still means that a claim brought strictly on behalf of a child injured during birth can sit for ten years before it is barred.  Ten years is a lot of time in which to work.  And it means that, where Lidji applies, its impact can be huge.

 Because now a plaintiff can file suit and threaten a defendant and invoke its insurance coverage . . . and then simply disappear, only to re-appear later on.  And it doesn’t have to be a birth injury case.  Lidji’s impact may well be felt the most in smaller cases.  If a claimant has a smaller claim and would prefer not to have to pay expert witnesses, he can file suit and test the waters (and the defendant’s desire to settle) and dismiss his suit within 120 days if the waters aren’t to his liking.  Then he can get those expert reports while the case is dismissed and re-file, without the time pressure that would otherwise exist under the MLA.

 Is this what insurers intended when they lobbied so intensively for the MLA?  Is this what the Texas Legislature—fat with insurance money—thought it was passing?  It seems unlikely.  The ostensible purpose of the MLA was to make medical liability insurance cheaper, but you don’t do that by increasing the number of potential claims covered by medical liability insurance and making them easier to prosecute, and the Texas Supreme Court has done both in the last two weeks.  One can only wonder what the insurers are thinking now.


What drives us?

June 29th, 2013

The downside of being an appellate lawyer is that your clients don’t often get to see how hard you fight for them. It’s a technical practice, devoted to battling legal interpretations, and clients usually either don’t understand it or just don’t show up, particularly when the fight is in the trial court. Yesterday, in San Antonio, I had the pleasure of representing a client who showed up to that trial court, and I got to explain to her what it was all about, albeit after the fact. It was good. This lady lost her husband, and I had the privilege of being her hero, if only for one day. This is why I do what I do.


What is a whistleblower?

June 24th, 2013

In 2002, Time magazine named “The Whistleblowers” as its “Persons of the Year.”  It was a tip of the hat to insiders who revealed shenanigans at Enron, WorldCom, and even the Federal Bureau of Investigations.  These insiders were held up as heroes, finding “the strength to stand for what’s right.”  The law, at both the federal and state level, protects whistleblowers, at least when they’re calling out the government for wrongful acts.  And there’s a good reason for that—because these are people who are uniquely placed to know of wrongful activity and expose it to public scrutiny.

Enter Edward Snowden.  In case you’ve been hiding in a cave or haven’t picked up a newspaper in weeks, Snowden is a 30-year-old Booz Allen Hamilton contractor who, until a few short weeks ago, was doing work for the National Security Agency.  In the course of his work, Snowden learned that the NSA was keeping tabs on internet and telephone use by thousands of individuals.  Snowden released this information to Glenn Greenwald, a reporter for The Guardian and claims to have much more in store for future release.  The whole thing has caused a huge uproar, with bloggers and talking heads at both ends of the political spectrum condemning the NSA and calling for the government to leave Snowden alone or aiding his defense and others condemning Snowden, while calling for him to be brought to answer for committing a crime.

And thus has commenced a game of global “whack-a-mole” with Snowden playing the part of the mole and the United States government wielding the mallet.  Snowden was stationed in Hawaii with Booz Allen—a spell of employment that lasted only three months, though he reportedly planned his leak of information for two years (suggesting that he took the job in order to gain access to the leaked information)—but then fled to Hong Kong and later to Moscow.  (As of this morning, Snowden was scheduled to be on a flight from Moscow to Cuba but failed to appear for the flight.)

So what is Snowden?  Is he a whistleblower or a college dropout unilaterally making up security policy?  That may require a bit of an exploration of what whistleblowing actually is.  I think of it as a form of civil disobedience—violating the law in the name of a greater good.  But the tough part of civil disobedience is that you have to suffer the inevitable crackdown before being vindicated by history.  Before he became a worldwide icon and recognized as an historically significant figure, Martin Luther King, Jr., went to prison for breaking the law.  He knew this was the price of disobedience.  Gandhi was imprisoned in 1922, 1930, 1933, and 1942 for his protests.  Snowden claims to have the courage of his convictions, but he certainly hasn’t showed it yet.

And that’s what bothers me about Snowden.  If he were so convinced that the government’s acts are egregiously wrong (and, incidentally, I am not calling them right), why run?  You can tell a lot about a man by the company he keeps, and, so far, Snowden has sought asylum in China, Russia, and Cuba, none of which is exactly a bastion of free speech or open government.  The true whistleblower throws him or herself on the mercy of the courts of law and public opinion.  Snowden appears not to have the courage to do that, and until he does —until he acknowledges that he committed a wrong even if he did so to out a greater one—he’s no MLK or Gandhi.  He’s no whistleblower, at all.


A work in progress

April 3rd, 2013

I apologize in advance for the shamelessly “homerish” tone of what follows, but I felt the need to write this.  I’ve been in Houston for many, many years now, and I see things happening that I am proud to see.  I think we are doing well.

A few days ago, I had need to visit the Clerk’s office of the Fourteenth Court of Appeals.  The Clerk’s office is in the same building as the Court, itself, the recently restored 1910 Harris County courthouse, which has now become home to the Fourteenth and also to the First Court of Appeals.  I parked on Preston Street, in the area known as Market Square, and headed southeast toward the courthouse.

As I walked by the corner of Preston and Travis Street, I saw the beginnings of a mural that was being drawn and painted on a two-story wall.  The painting was in its infancy, but the outlines of the mural were already drawn.  It was a drawing of Houston’s downtown skyline with the word “Houston” prominently displayed in the middle of it all.  Colors were being filled in, bit by bit, though the end product was far from complete.  Nevertheless, it was obvious, even at this early stage, that the end product would be full of vibrant color and energy.

And I thought to myself:  “This wouldn’t have happened ten or twelve years ago.”

Because, strangely, I think I find myself in a city that is experiencing a renaissance.  Houston has, for many years, had a civic inferiority complex.  There have been scams and scandals here, but nothing that would draw anyone in; nothing—besides money —that would make them want to be here.  But, it seems that may be coming to an end.  What I see recently is a new sense of pride.  It’s been tried before, but this time it seems like it’s sticking.

Suddenly, Houston is cool.  Houston is a destination.  Even in neighborhoods off the beaten path (and I include my own humble home which has become known as “the GOOF,” where new restaurants and one of the best craft beer bars in the country now reside), there seems to be a sense of possibility and maybe a feeling that there is actually something unique here and worth exploring.  Maybe it’s a transient thing.  Maybe it’s just the fact that Houston survived the recent economic turmoil with less fallout than most cities.  Maybe having a job constitutes being hip, these days.

The truth is that the Bayou City (yes, that’s what we call it) has always been a strange amalgam of go-for-broke business (see, the Allen brothers), artistry, and immigration.  Houston is now the most ethnically diverse city in the entire country, and it’s a leading indicator of where the country is going, ethnically, politically, and demographically.  It’s increasingly progressive.  And now, it’s being discovered.  It‘s kind of nice.  Because there’s always been a lot here.  We’re still building, but it’s not done yet.  We’re still making it better, because it needs to be and because we can.  And if we weren’t, we’d be abandoning the very foundation of Houston’s success.  If there’s one thing I’ve learned from being here, it’s that Houston doesn’t stand still.  That’s just not the way we do things here.

UPDATE:   And the Daily Beast confirms it.