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Posts published in “Day: September 16, 2008”

Multi-tasking-itis

Dear Angie,

As usual, I’m having trouble focusing. It’s the last day of the week that I can devote completely to my writing, and yet the gravity of that does little to motivate me. I should be taking full advantage of this day to myself, but instead I am resisting the temptations of the internet, television, and a nap. This is no easy feat – all are well within my reach. But I figure that writing to you, while not technically something that will advance my career as an author, is more productive than any of the alternatives. At least it’s writing, right?

Do you ever have trouble getting yourself to sit down and concentrate on a single task? I recently read an Atlantic Monthly article that discussed whether or not “Google is making us stupid.” It argues that modern media (the internet in particular) has reduced everything to snippets, meaning that we grow accustomed to reading, hearing, and watching information in short bursts and thus have lost our ability to stay engaged with longer works. I can’t say for sure if that’s true, but I do know that I am working in one, two, three… eight different windows on my computer screen right now. How’s that for short attention span?

(The article goes on to talk about a great many things related to how reading different types of materials – long, short, ideograms like Chinese characters, etc. – affects the circuitry of our brains, and how perhaps what we input to our minds affects what we output. It’s all very fascinating. You can, ironically, Google it to read the whole thing.)

I remember when we took World History together in our junior year of high school, and our teacher told us that unlike most teachers, she would never yell at us for doing “off-task” things in class. She said that if we were smart enough to be in her honors class, then she trusted us to multi-task. We’d only get in trouble if we didn’t do our homework or weren’t able to answer a question that she asked us.

At the time, I thought that was extremely cool and forward-thinking of her. She understood the way we worked! But now I can’t help wondering if our ability to multi-task is really a blessing in disguise. For me, doing more than one thing at a time usually means I’m just not doing any of those things very well. I think I’d rather be a master of one trade than a jack of them all.

But can I re-train myself to focus on a single task and finish it before I go on to the next?

Well, I wrote this letter to you in one sitting. I don’t think it means that I’m cured, but I think it’s a sign that the diagnosis is correct and the medicine may be starting to work.

Now that that’s off my chest, I should probably return to my writing…

Much love,
Kristan

Yikes, Ike!

Storm devastates Galveston, disrupts local electric service, water, schools, events, games


HOUSTON — A huge Category 2 Hurricane Ike changed everyone’s life in Southeast Texas starting last Friday, and continuing through most of this week. The massive storm, almost 500 miles wide, originally aimed at the coastal area around Freeport, but eventually changed its path and hit Galveston directly, causing severe flooding and structural damage to West Beach, Seawall, the Strand area, East Beach, and Bolivar Peninsula to the east. The storm had winds as high as 110 mph, and surge tides up to 20’ tall.

Amazingly, unlike the Great Hurricane of 1900 that destroyed Galveston, which was at that time the largest and most thriving city in Texas, Ike did not cause a lot of deaths. In 1900, estimates of the dead were between 6000 and 12,000. To date, Ike has been attributed with only about 26 deaths in Texas, and about 61 total along its path through other states.

Part of this minimal loss of life is due to the fact that warnings were issued for days prior to its landfall around 2 a.m. on Saturday morning, Sept. 13. A major mandatory evacuation of all of Galveston was ordered on Wednesday, and of low lying areas of Harris County by the end of the week. Eight zip code areas in Harris County were told they had to leave.

Most school districts, businesses, and other institutions decided to be safe, and closed either Thursday noon, or all day Friday, so that people could prepare, or leave the area. Because the evacuation was spread over several days, and other lessons about traffic control and fuel supplies had been learned from previous Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the mass evacuation did not cause gridlock traffic jams. It is estimated that almost one million people left their homes, in Galveston, Houston and Harris County, and other areas that were on the “dirty” side of the hurricane, in other words Beaumont, Orange and other counties to the east of Galveston Bay.

The Hurricane hit early in the morning of Saturday, and Houston had relatively quiet weather up until the actual coming ashore of the storm. Most of the wind and rain associated with this type of storm occured during the night, and homeowners awoke Saturday morning to discover their neighborhoods floods in the southern parts of the county, but only wind damage to trees, building, signs, fences and other similar structures in northern Harris County and surrounding areas.

However, some notable exceptions included two structures in the city, the Brennan’s New Orleans style restaurant downtown, which burned completely, and some fire damage to the Magic Island restaurant, an unusual structure and magic venue on the Southwest Freeway near Greenway Plaza. Firemen were dispatched to fight these fires, although high winds and heavy rain made the response less than ideal.

Galveston did not fare well. Most of the central city was inundated with flood waters, as much as 8’ high in streets of the Strand. Water breached the Seawall, destroying part of it and all the souvenir shops and restaurants built on piers out over the Gulf. Fires destroyed one major boat house in the waterfront area downtown, and many homes in the affluent western end of the island.

Hundreds of homes on Bolivar Peninsula were completely washed away, with barely any evidence that they had ever been there. Some loss of life was projected both on Bolivar and Galveston, because as many as 15,000 people had refused to heed the mandatory evacuation, and they may have been killed by the force or waters of the storm. However, as of press time, only 9 deaths have been attributed to the storm in Texas.

Since the storm has passed, media reports and photos have shown the complete devastation on the islands, but reporters say it is hard to appreciate unless you are on scene. Authorities have kept the public from returning, and it is not known when Galveston might begin to recover or repopulate as a resort city. It is obvious that a massive rebuilding program will be necessary.

To this end, representatives of the state government, including Governor Rick Perry, and the federal government, including Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, FEMA head David Paulson, and President Bush, have given the area superficial tours and promises of quick relief. However, in actuality aide has been slow to arrive, and there is some evidence that the effort is disorganized. Mayor White and HC Judge Emmett have shown frustration at the lack of results, and expressed it in their news conferences. Congressman Nick Lampson told the Star-Courier that poor performance would bring an investigation by Congressional authorities, and other local congressmen have echoed this sentiment.

Promises from the leadership team have included 10,000 power company workers from CenterPoint Energy, and 7500 National Guard troops from the state. CenterPoint said that they had extra workers coming from states far away, including California, Colorado, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. In reality, recovery has been slow, the public and community leaders complained.

Rain hit the Houston area on Saturday, after the hurricane had passed to the north. This rainstorm was a separate storm, coming from the West. It dropped several inches of water, which contributed to extensive flooding seen throughout the area on Saturday and Sunday. Many roads were closed, including I-45, I-10, and feeder roads on most of the Freeways. Authorities have said this contributed to the slow delivery of some FEMA supplies. In addition, bayous could be seen overflowing their banks, including White Oak Bayou, Greens Bayou, and Halls Bayou. The latter had extensive flooding for a while in the area where the bayou crosses Jensen Drive and US59. Due to the severity of the storms, and flooding and power problems, the city closed both airports on Saturday and Sunday to all commercial and private flights. Limited service was resumed on Monday.

Power outages were the greatest problem for most Houstonians. At one point, CenterPoint reported that almost 2 million of their customers were without power, and that it would be weeks to restore full service. Likewise, Entergy reported 97% of their customers without power, and since they serve rural areas, including the Woodlands, they thought it might take 4 weeks to restore everyone to full power. This lack of power has contributed to other problems for most residents: no gasoline, because stations don’t have power to pump gas, and no ice or refrigeration and therefore only a small amount of food that can be stored to eat. Related to this is the fact that most food stores were closed for lack of power or personnel on Saturday and Sunday and Monday.

FEMA and State authorities had promised prior to the hurricane that they would preposition supplies of food, water, and gasoline so that an orderly return to normal would be possible. Part of the plan is to set up P.O.D.s, or Points Of Distribution, throughout the city, county, and Galveston area, to serve the population until full services can return. These P.O.D.s are being manned by volunteers and federal employees. Red Cross, Salvation Army, church and civic volunteers, and TSA (Transportation Security Agency) have been involved.

In the East Harris County area, several P.O.D. locations are now active: In Highlands, at the San Jacinto Community Center; in Baytown, at West Town Mall, 4100 Decker Drive; Baytown Courthouse Annex, 701 West Baker; and in Channelview, Fonteno Courthouse Annex, 14350 Wallisville. Provisions that are being handed out include 2 bags of ice, 2 gallons of water, and a box of MRE (Meals Ready to Eat) per car or family. These PODs are currently set up, but may change in the next few days, so check. By Monday, about 19 locations were actively distributing food and water.

In addition to the official PODs, there are a number of “shelters” that were established the first night for evacuees or those who otherwise found themselves unable to defend against the oncoming storm. Many of these were in churches, schools, or community centers throught the region. The Red Cross reported that Friday night they had established 75 shelters, serving about 9500 persons. One of the first shelters was set up at Crosby High School Friday night.

Many municipalities have instituted curfews, in response to an expected increase in crime because of the areas with no power. The city of Houston had a curfew from midnight to 6am every night, according to Police Chief Harold Hurtt. On Monday, however, he reported that actual crime and arrests were down from the normally expected amount.

Almost all school districts and college districts suspended classes, most from last Friday until the end of last week. This included Goose Creek, Huffman, Crosby, Dayton and Barbers Hill as wellas San Jacinto College and Lee College.. As of presstime, most districts were planning to reopen, with different schedules announced. Most districts rescheduled football games that had been planned for last week, too.

As of Monday about 87,000 of 2.1 million customers had power restored by CenterPoint, according to the company. FEMA reported that a steady convoy of trucks with supplies was entering the Reliant Stadium staging area, where they were then redeployed to the PODs for the public to pick up supplies.

School Districts look at tax rates increases; Lone Star College district adopts major decrease

School finance is always a hot button issue during the Texas Legislative Session. However with rising fuel and consumer costs local school districts are not able to wait for the state to fix the situation and are being forced to raise property taxes.

The North Forest ISD will hold an election in December, in which they will voters to approve a rollback rate. Under state law the district raise the rate to $1.314339 per $100 valuation without voter approval.

During a pubic meeting scheduled for Sept. 22 the district is expected to ask for a property tax rate of $1.444339. The meeting will be held at the administration building board room at 7 p.m. This rate in broken down into $1.17005 for maintenance and operations and $.274289 for debt service. A comparison of last year’s budget to this year shows that the district, which has seen its share of financial difficulties, will have a 6.36% in its maintenance and operations budget. Its debt service budget, however, will increase by 12.92%. This budget will be used to pay the $69,163,755 the district has in bonded indebtedness. Documents obtained from the district show that the average property owner will see their taxes go up from $602.04 annually to $729.19 or $127.15.

North Forest is not the only local school district facing financial struggles. The Humble ISD will hold an election on Nov. 22, seeking voter approval for a rollback rate. Like North Forest, Humble is seeking a $1.17 per $100 valuation for maintenance and operations. This district said that since 2002 they have cut $27 million from their budget, but that rising costs, frozen state funding and enrollment growth has forced the tax increase.

Not all districts will need voter approval to raise their rates. Dr. Keith Clark, Assistant Superintendent for Finance for Aldine ISD, said that they plan to keep their M&O rate at $1.1338. The I&S rate of $.14362 is expected to go up by one cent.

These figures, Clark cautioned, are preliminary. The school district has not gotten the final tax rolls from the Harris County Appraisal District. Once this data is in, he said, the district will make their final recommendation for the next tax rate. The rate will then be published in the “Northeast News.”

The Lone Star College System has approved a 43-cent decrease in the tax rate, lowering it from $11.44 cents to $11.01 cents per $100 valuation. Cindy Gilliam, vice chancellor of business affairs and chief financial officer for Lone Star College System, said the decrease was made possible by the addition of a wealth of new property in the area.

The system’s territory experienced a 50 percent increase in value from the growth, allowing the college system to lower the tax rate. The college system approved a $219.6 million budget for the 2008-09 year in August and promised taxpayers the tax rate of 11.44 cents per $100 valuation would either be approved as is or decreased. This is the second year in a row the college system has not increased either the tax rate nor the tuition rate.