Ahmed’s clock

If there was ever an incident that deserves the well-worn “galactically-stupid” tag, this is it.

For those who have not heard the story by now, it made CNN. A student named Ahmed Mohamed brought a clock he had made himself to school to show off. Apparently, to one of his teachers, it “looked like a bomb.” I’m not sure where the teacher got this idea, or if the teacher even knows what a real bomb looks like. The story ends with Ahmed getting arrested for a violation of the hoax bomb law, Texas Penal Code 46.08. (The charges were later dropped, but Ahmed still got suspended from school.)

Except that there’s no violation of that law here. I don’t think the school authorities or the police ever thought this was a bomb, and certainly Ahmed had no intent to make anyone believe this was anything but an electronic time measuring device (i.e. clock). That’s what he told the cops, and they refused to believe him:

Irving Police spokesman Officer James McLellan told the station, “We attempted to question the juvenile about what it was and he would simply only tell us that it was a clock.”

The teenager did that because, well, it was a clock, he said.

Gee whiz, guys, what else did you want him to say? And yet you arrested him anyway. Shame on you, Irving PD.

I don’t think the cops ever thought Ahmed had a bomb, even a so-called “hoax bomb.” None of the usual protocol and precautions used to handle this so-called “bomb” were taken with this device. The school wasn’t evacuated, the bomb squad was not called, and in general this device was handled as though it was harmless (i.e. definitely not handled like it was a bomb).They even took pictures of it. Sure, the pictures show wires hanging out, but that’s going to be the same with any electronic device. I certainly don’t see anything in those pictures that looks like it could be an explosive. It doesn’t look much different than most of the other prototype-level electronics projects I’ve seen.

Their only “suspicion,” if you can call it that, was the student’s name and race. In other words, in an act of flagrant racism, he was arrested and later suspended from school for little other reason than he was of Middle Eastern descent. Completely un-American, and certainly un-Texan. And apparently I’m not the only one to come to this conclusion.

Among other things that have happened since, President Obama invited Ahmed to the White House to show off his clock. Thankfully, we have a sane president; I don’t want to think about how McCain or Romney might have handled this incident. The fact that this got as far as Ahmed actually being arrested is scary enough.

A tweet linked from the CNN story shows a (white) student building a nuclear fusion reactor, which was actually backed by his school, and contrasting this with what happened to Ahmed. Granted, the former story is out of the UK, and it remains to be seen whether or not that would fly in the US. The sad thing is, apparently the race of the student might matter… and here I am thinking we have made actual progress eradicating racism in the US.

Now, I’m saying to myself, “Shit, we’ve still got a real racism problem.” How are we going to fix it, America?

Regarding the murder of Darren Goforth

I’ve been meaning to write about this subject for a long time. I didn’t intend for things to quite literally hit close to home before I posted. It’s just the way it played out. I had intended to write specifically about the goings-on in Ferguson, Missouri, shortly after one of the major developments.

Before I go into the timeline leading up to this event, I acknowledge that the murder of Darren Goforth made national (US) news, if not international. I certainly don’t like it when my hometown makes the news like this, and I am pretty sure I’m not the only one.

Now, some of the events preceding this, so we may understand how we got here (not intended to be an all-inclusive list):

  • 2009 January 1: Oscar Grant is shot and killed by Officer Johannes Mehserle of the BART Police, when the officer claims he mistook his gun for his Taser. This incident was dramatized in the film Fruitvale Station, which I wrote a post about shortly after having watched the film.
  • 2010 November 5: Mehserle is sentenced to two years for involuntary manslaughter.
  • 2011 June 13: Mehserle is released on parole, having served only 11 months.
  • 2011 June 30: BART settles a wrongful death lawsuit with Oscar Grant’s mother and daughter for $2.8 million. A similar lawsuit from his father was denied.
  • 2012 February 26: Trayvon Martin is shot and killed by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, in Sanford, Florida. The circumstances of the shooting are considered dubious by many. Zimmerman is initially not charged with a crime, but later would be charged with second-degree murder.
  • 2012 July 13: George Zimmerman is acquitted of second-degree murder in the shooting.
  • 2014 May 21: BART settles a wrongful death lawsuit filed by five friends of Oscar Grant for a total of $175,000 split between them.
  • 2014 August 9: Michael Brown is fatally injured by gunshots fired by Officer Darren Wilson of the Ferguson (suburb of St. Louis, Missouri) PD. He was a suspect in the theft of several packages of cigarillos, during which he allegedly shoved a store clerk (which might make it a robbery, turning what would be a Class A misdemeanor into a Class B felony). Michael’s body was left at the scene for over four hours, sparking outrage from the majority-black population in Ferguson.
  • 2014 August 10-12: Memorials for Michael Brown begin peacefully, but at least one evening candlelight vigil gets out of hand, and some looting takes place.
  • 2014 August 14: Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky denounces the shooting as a tragedy and calls for the demilitarization of police forces.
  • 2014 August 15-30: Information about the Michael Brown shooting was released. At first Ferguson PD refused to name the officer involved due to security concerns (death threats against the officer). Eventually Darren Wilson is identified as the officer who fired the fatal shots.
  • 2014 November 24: The grand jury in Ferguson no-bills Darren Wilson.
  • 2014 November 29: Wilson resigns from the Ferguson PD with no severance, due to security concerns, and through his attorney states he “will never be a police officer again.”
  • 2014 December 20: Two NYPD officers are shot and killed in the Bedfort-Stuyvesant neighborhood in Brooklyn in an apparent revenge for the murders of Eric Garner and Michael Brown.
  • 2015 March 4: The US Department of Justice announces Darren Wilson will not be charged in the shooting of Michael Brown.
  • 2015 August 28: Harris County Sheriff’s Deputy Darren Goforth is shot and killed at a gas station in Cypress, Texas (suburb of Houston).

Now for my thoughts.

With every fiber of my being, I condemn the murder of Darren Goforth. I know very little about Darren’s career as a sheriff’s deputy, only that it lasted ten years, which is a rather long time in any line of work. Given what little I have read seems to point to Darren as a good person, if not a good cop as well, I feel comfortable giving the benefit of the doubt.

A lot of the previous posts on this blog may have left readers with the impression I’m “anti-cop”. Strictly speaking that is not true, though I am not shy in the least about speaking out against law enforcement officers, law enforcement agencies, judges, and other people and elements of our legal system, who have done rather reckless and stupid things in the name of the law. To the best of my knowledge, Darren wasn’t one of those cops.

To say the least, Darren’s death was undignified, brutal, and barbaric. He died as the result of an absolutely senseless crime. He didn’t deserve this. Nobody in decent society deserves to die like this.

In the United States, we are a society governed by laws enacted to maintain order and civility. We are not governed by the law of the jungle, and we aren’t just a bunch of wild animals. In that vein, I would like to remind everyone out there that, according to our laws, the suspect in this case is innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. The suspect in this case has the right to due process of law including a fair trial, the right to a trial by jury (if desired), the right to not incriminate himself (Fifth Amendment), and the right to effective counsel (a defense attorney), the same as any other suspect accused of a crime.

The trial is probably months away, maybe even over a year away. But regardless of the outcome when it is decided, I am asking everyone to keep the peace, particularly in the Houston area. Rioting as a result of the outcome, either way, won’t accomplish anything either. Peaceful protesting is fine, but the key word is “peaceful.” Violence will not solve any problems at hand here, it can only make them worse.

That’s all for now. I’ll have more to say on the topic in a followup post.

The great bus route do-over: thoughts on Metro’s New Bus Network

Not too long ago, fans of public transit in Houston were eagerly awaiting the opening of two new light rail lines, the Green Line and Purple Line, to complement the existing Red Line. The new rail lines were great, but the bus routes around them did a poor job of bringing riders to them. For that matter, in certain contexts the bus routes did a poor job of connecting people to destinations at all.

Many routes in their current system trace their lineage back to the days of streetcars, and so we had bus routes that existed just because there at one time used to be a streetcar running on a given street or set of streets. It also did not help our bus network’s organization that many changes to bus routes been made in a somewhat haphazard fashion. A quick bandage fix for keeping part of a route when the rest of it needed to be discontinued was often to just slap that route onto the end of an existing route that terminated nearby. The “best” examples of this are the 58 Hammerly (which conveniently took on the end of the 48 West Dallas when the latter route bit the dust) and the 24 Northline (which absorbed the end of the 15 Fulton when the majority of the latter route was made redundant by the opening of the Northline extension of the Red Line).

Thankfully, as of Sunday, 2015 August 16 (a little over two weeks ago as of the time I am finishing up this post), not anymore. Metro launched the New Bus Network. Most existing bus stops remained, though the routes serving them changed in many cases. The first week was a free ride week; I got to ride during that week twice. I had hoped to ride more, but both of the trips I made were either impractical or impossible under the old bus route network, so I did get to use the new network to at least some of its potential. Before getting into the details of those trips, I’ll compare three routes of the old and new bus networks to give an idea of the changes that were made.

First I’ll compare the 78 Irvington on the old bus network, with the current 79 West Little York (its effective replacement) on the new bus network. There were at least three routes with alternate “via” routing on the old network, and the 78 Irvington was one of them, with the main routing via Irvington (north of Berry) and Turner (east of McGallion), and the other “Via Berry” routing had the bus turn left on Berry and then right on McGallion before rejoining the main route on Turner. In addition, the 78 did not directly connect to the rail line until Fulton/North Central Station, and furthermore the 78 did not connect to any other routes north of Tidwell. In short, it only made sense to ride the 78 north of where I live to go to Dairy Queen, Shipley’s, and maybe the convenience store on Rittenhouse.

Contrast this with the new 79 West Little York, which takes over a large portion of the 78 Irvington route. After the right turn on Bauman, the 79 turns left on Turner, right on Irvington, then right on Berry and left on Fulton stopping at the Northline Transit Center (the northern terminus of the Red Line). After that, the 79 turns left on Crosstimbers and then right on Irvington where it picks up most of the old 78 Irvington route before terminating at the Burnett Transit Center. (Downtown-bound passengers are expected to transfer to the Red Line at either Northline TC, Fulton/North Central, or Burnett TC.)

One of the bigger changes is to three routes on the old system: the 56 Airline Limited, the 24 Northline, and the 34 Montrose Crosstown. (Quick sidenote: the entire “Crosstown” label has bit the dust with the new network, as its purpose was to differentiate routes that did not go downtown when the majority of them did.) Under the old system, the 34 Montrose Crosstown looked nice on paper, but was almost useless for the actual trips I wanted to make on it. It ran infrequently and ended service rather early. Also, many trips that would otherwise be a relative straight shot down Airline required a transfer from the 56 to the 24 or vice versa, due to the former’s routing onto I-45 into downtown.

The new 56 Airline/Montrose route essentially combines the most important parts of all three of those routes. Instead of getting on I-45 to go downtown, the new 56 turns left on Berry, right on Fulton (serving the Northline TC including connecting to the rail), then right on Crosstimbers and left on Airline. To connect to Studemont and Montrose, the route turns right on Cavalcade and then left on Studemont. The new 56 is a much more useful route, which also runs later and much more frequently than the old 24 and 34 while retaining connectivity to the other routes, including the TMC Transit Center and thus the Red Line. (You may notice the new 56 is no longer a “Limited” either, due to the fact it no longer gets on the freeway.)

Finally, the old 44 Acres Homes Limited has been changed up ever so slightly. Instead of going downtown via I-45, it serves the portion of North Main between Crosstimbers and I-45, and then turns on Houston Avenue to connect to the frontage road of Memorial Drive which become Capitol Street and Rusk Street downtown. It’s a small change made necessary by the fact the old 9 North Main no longer exists in the new system. (The new 44 is also no longer a “Limited” and it would appear that at least for the moment there is no such thing as a “limited” route in the new system.)

For me, the sum total of these changes are that I’ll wind up riding the 79 northbound much more often than I ever would have taken the old 78 northbound. If I’m going north, I ride northbound to connect to the 56, 44, 96 (Veterans Memorial), etc. The old system required me to ride south to wind up going north. (Though, due to the low frequency of the 79, sometimes Google Maps transit directions will tell me it is faster to connect to the 56 at Airline and West Little York by riding north/westbound, even if I’m eventually going south. The same is true for trips connecting me to the 27 Shepherd at North Shepherd Park & Ride.)

The only oddity with the new 79 is the new timetables list “westbound” and “eastbound” which stem from the fact that’s the direction the route’s new namesake street runs. I expect there are more of these quirks to be found, though many of these quirks will at least make more sense than the quirks in the old bus network. Overall I am quite happy so far.

Some of the other more notable changes:

  • All routes which are not “peak only” run seven days per week. Each such “peak only” route has alternative service which runs seven days per week (pretty sure on this, but I may need to double check). No more swearing when you realize you need to make a trip on Sunday when your closest route only runs on weekdays!
  • The 1 Hospital is gone, and the number has yet to be re-used for a different route. The service has been taken over by several different routes, most notably the 97 Settegast, 51 Hardy/Kelley, and 52 Hardy/Ley, with parallel service to the TMC on the Red Line.
  • The 26/27 Outer Loop/Inner Loop Crosstown routes are gone. The numbers were reused for the 26 Long Point/Cavalcade and the aforementioned 27 Shepherd. Most of the former 26/27 route still has service in some form, with the remainder being taken up by the 28 OST/Wayside and the 80 MLK/Lockwood except for a very short stretch of Cavalcade between Waco and Lockwood, which does not have direct service on the new network.
  • The remaining express buses were renumbered, with the Memorial Express and new Wilcrest Express becoming the 160, 161, 162, and the new Harwin Express and Westpark Express numbered 151, 152, and 153.
  • The new 44 Acres Homes takes over the University Park/Louetta Road branch of the old 86 FM 1960, a change that is long overdue.
  • Instead of the old two-branch 86 FM 1960 route, we now have an 86 FM 1960/Imperial Valley and a 99 Ella/FM 1960. Both routes connect east of Ella and again at Spring Park & Ride.
  • The new 65 Bissonnet connects to the new 4 Beechnut on the west end. In addition, the Mission Bend Park & Ride now connects the 2 (Bellaire), 4, 25 (Richmond), 75 (Eldridge), and 151 (Westpark Express) routes.
  • The Heights Transit Center no longer has service; the transit center is still standing for the moment. Buses still serve the area, just not the transit center itself.
  • Most stops on the former 163 Fondren Express are now served by the 63 Fondren, with the exception that service for the new 63 now goes north to Westheimer connecting to the new 82. Downtown-bound riders should transfer to the 152/153 Harwin Express at Harwin and Fondren.
  • The new 45 Tidwell and 46 Gessner routes connect at Fairbanks-North Houston and Tanner (near Hempstead Highway). The 45 Tidwell remains one route for now; drafts of the reimagined transit network showed separate West Tidwell and East Tidwell routes but this has not actually happened yet.
  • The 108 Veterans Memorial Express is now a peak-only route, with the new 96 Veterans Memorial providing local service during non-peak hours and on weekends.
  • The 73 Bellfort, in addition to losing its “Crosstown” label, no longer runs north of the Fannin South Park & Ride. It consists solely of West Bellfort between Fannin South Park & Ride and Broadway, before turning south on Broadway to Hobby Airport.
  • The new 23 Clay/West 34th no longer runs east of Fulton. The new 29 Cullen/Hirsch connects Northline TC to Kashmere TC.
  • The 40 Telephone/Heights no longer has branches, instead going straight down Telephone Road to Airport Boulevard and then to Hobby Airport.
  • The 81 Westheimer-Sharpstown and the 25 Richmond’s Sharpstown branch don’t exist in the new system. There are alternate routes within walking distance of the old service.

For further reading:

The first day of school at Houston’s Arabic Immersion Magnet School: What could possibly go wrong?

Recently, the Houston Press ran this story by Jef Rouner about the first day of school at Houston ISD’s Arabic Immersion Magnet School (AIMS for short). I won’t quote the whole story here, however this paragraph serves as a rather nice summary (complete with the original mild profanity):

HISD has opened its first Arabic-immersion magnet school, and Houston rushed to prove its two favorite contradictory truisms. One, that we remain the most diverse city in the country, embracing new cultures and peoples and ideas as only befits America’s headquarters for the exploration of the cosmos and all its wonders. Two, that within that diverse grouping are still terrible bigoted assholes who have nothing better to do than show up to prove they’re terrible, bigoted assholes on the first day of class.

The article goes on to say how these people are confusing “Arab” with “Muslim” and both of these with “terrorist” to boot. Which, honestly, I find rather offensive, especially taking into account I’m an atheist white male. Former President George W. Bush, in an extremely rare moment of brilliance during his eight-year tenure from 2001 to 2009, made it clear that he understood Islam is a peaceful religion, and attacks such as those on 2001 September 11 made in the name of Islam are in fact a blasphemy against it. If he can get it, why can’t everyone else?

Another good point is made later on, regarding our numbering system originating from Arabic. This is something a lot of people forget; indeed, put next to Roman or other numbering systems, those other systems look rather archaic by comparison. As just one example of how primitive Roman numerals are by comparison: there is no way to write zero, nor is there an easy way to write decimal fractions that I am aware of.

A couple of the signs in the picture appear to say things beginning with “QATAR OUT…” with the rest not being easily legible. I’m not even sure where to begin with this one. I get what HISD is doing with AIMS; it’s certainly not being sponsored by the Qatar government, it’s being done with Houston’s tax dollars, for the benefit of not just Houston and Texas, but potentially the entire US.

Even if this is an issue worthy of protest (and obviously it is to at least some people), there are certainly far better ways and locations to protest this than the first day of school just outside school grounds. If you really feel that way, vote against the elected officials (school board trustees) that let this happen. But for the love of humanity, please understand that ruining the first day of school for these kids is just not going to accomplish anything useful, either to you or to them. Think back to your first day of school, and what it would have been like to face protesters.

I will say I think it is a bit unfortunate on one level that our dependence on oil has indirectly led to schools like AIMS being necessary. That said, AIMS is how HISD is making lemonade out of those lemons. AIMS is actually about more than just the Arabic language, it is also about learning the culture of the countries in the Middle East where Arabic is spoken. Even if, hypothetically, more of the people over there learn English to communicate with us (which is a really big “if”), the culture still needs to be learned for the most harmonious relationships.