Author: Brien Straw

Can Graffiti Art Become A Historic Landmark In Houston






January 4, 2018

Can graffiti on a highway overpass be considered a historic landmark? A local man is hoping the answer is yes.

Coleton Emr, is the person behind the petition. In a brief interview he explains the reasoning behind his petition and his hopes for the “street art’s” future.

Since 2012, a painted sign proclaiming “Be Someone” has been displayed on a Union Pacific trestle above I-45 south, just outside downtown Houston. According to a petition on, the message should be protected as a historic landmark because it’s known as a symbol for the city.

There are currently more than 16,000 signatures on the petition. But the artwork becoming a landmark is unlikely. Union Pacific, which owns the bridge, is opposed to the designation. Jeff DeGraff, a spokesperson for the railroad said they support the message and the sentiment, but not the historic designation.

“Any application of artwork is a potential safety threat to both the artists, as well as the trains and the automobiles below it,” said DeGraff. He added that Union Pacific is aware of the petition and has no plans to change or alter the bridge.

Minnette Boesel, who chairs the 13 member Historic Commission for the city of Houston said no form of street art has ever been given historic status. In a statement Boesel says: 

“Thank you for contacting the Houston Archeological & Historical Commission (HAHC) re city historic designation of the culturally important urban artwork “Be Someone” on the I-45 railroad bridge located on the edge of downtown. While we applaud those wanting to preserve a symbolic urban artwork through city historic designation the possibility is challenging.  The online petition calls for designation as a “Protected Landmark” which requires owner approval/consent.   The city does not own the bridge and you may want to contact Union Pacific. The language in the city’s Historic Preservation Ordinance provides for a process for the designation of buildings, structures, historic districts, objects and sites (such as archeological) that meet certain criteria stated in the ordinance.  The term “artwork” is not included in the language. The historic preservation ordinance does not have review over paint unless it is on unpainted masonry.  We hope this information is helpful. Thank  you.”

The state guidelines also don’t address the historic value of graffiti art.

Houston Man Sentenced To 16 Years For Attempting To Assist ISIS






December 18, 2017

A Federal Court on Monday sentenced Omar Faraj Saeed Al Hardan — who was living in Houston at the time of his arrest in 2014– to 16 years in prison for plotting to leave the United States and join ISIS as a soldier and bomb-maker.

According to court records the Iraqi-native was also trying to build a bomb for use in Texas.

After federal officials discovered Al Hardan had acquired manuals on circuitry and military circuitry, a federal informant met with him 17 times and learned that he planned an attack on a military facility in Grand Prairie, Texas. The convicted man also discussed how a mall could be bombed with the informant.

Judge Lynn N. Hughes, of the U.S. Southern District of Federal District Court said that lying in an attempt to obtain a passport so the convicted man could join ISIS as a bomb-maker and soldier, is why he determined the sentence of 16 years. Making claims on social media, having and ISIS flag in his home, watching training videos on how to build a bomb, and obtaining five cell phones to use in detonating bombs was not why he was giving the 192 month sentence, which is guidelines of 51 to 71 months.

Al Hardan arrived in the U.S. in 2009 and got his green card in 2011. Federal authorities began monitoring his activities in 2012.

The judge called the sentencing process, “almost mechanical,” and said his decision was, “cold, rational, and a fully informed decision.”


Ed Emmett: Harris County Has Nation’s Toughest Floodplain Development Regulations






DECEMBER 5, 2017

The Harris County Commissioners Court unanimously approved new construction requirements. Starting January 1, 2018 all new buildings – homes as well as commercial – must be at least 24 inches above the 500 year flood plain. Harris County Judge Ed Emmett believes these new building regulations are the nation’s toughest.

There are some experts that estimate in some areas of the 100 year floodplain, new construction would need to be built almost eight feet above ground. This new building code is for unincorporated Harris County only.

The city of Houston is not affected by today’s Commissioner’s vote, however, Judge Ed Emmett said the County needs the City’s help in flood prevention.

“That’s something for the city of Houston to decide. Our concern, as you heard expressed this morning, is we don’t have a count of the number of homes flooded in the city of Houston. An accurate count. We don’t know where, we don’t know how deep the water was, and for us to be doing the flood control projects we need that information,” said Emmett. 

Emmett said that they didn’t worry about 500 year and 100 year flood plains.  “Nobody really cares about that [floodplains], what they care about is how high’s the water going to get,” 

So with that in mind, they created a building code that would protect as many people as possible. “So, if those maps are wrong [flood maps], we need to error [sic] on the side of caution going forward. I think what you saw was a unanimous Commissioner’s Court, and to the credit of builders and developers nobody’s against it, everybody is saying, yes flood control is job one and we’re going to do it,” said Emmett. 

Are Profits Killing Youth Sports







November 30, 2017

Many parents are spending a lot of hours, and a lot of money to give their kids the best shot at doing well, in sports.

But some athletes think things are getting out of hand, that kids are being pushed too hard and given false hopes about their chances to make it big. One of those athletes, who made it very big lives right here in Houston.

Carl Lewis is often considered one of the greatest Olympic athletes of the twentieth century. Now, as a track coach at the University of Houston he says there’s no comparing when he was growing up, to youth sports today.

“Sports has gone from something that was important for kids to have; PE was important, health, and diet, and nutrition, participating, those were all important things. And it’s gone from that to pay to play,” Lewis says.

Lewis worries that some sports, like baseball, have simply become too expensive to play for some kids.

Jenea Bender would probably agree. As a full-time teacher and driver who shuttles to practices and games a middle school aged son and daughter, she says her family is busy with youth sports typically five to six days a week. But time is not the only cost. “Her stuff itself is around $300.00 a month. My son’s baseball, probably $200.00 a month,” Bender says as she describes the financial commitment the family makes for their children. Bender says that monthly cost for baseball practices and games doesn’t include the $1,000-plus they’ve spent on equipment, or the thousands it can cost for a child to compete in an out-of-town tournament, or camp.

And tournaments and camps have become a big business. So big in fact, that the majority of these elite camps and club teams have become the gateway to future participation and success.

“You don’t use your high school sport anymore, if you’re that good to get recruited to college except for football, everything’s club. Why is there so many clubs? Well, it’s a business, you can make money,” says Meredith Walton. She played tennis in college and professionally, before coaching on the college level and now locally. She thinks profits are altering goals.

“I think youth sports have gotten away from what’s in the best interest of kids development. You get into, you know hey if I open up an indoor sports center, how much money can I make? So the more leagues I run, the more tournaments I run, the more programs I run, I’m going to make more money,” she says.

Walton also worries that the financial opportunities for clubs and youth leagues results in unneeded pressure. “I think parents feel the pressure that if their kids not doing it, they’re gonna miss out. I mean there’s no doubt like in baseball, and I hear it all the time. As soon as their kid doesn’t play season of select, they’re not going to go back to that team.” 

Carl Lewis says while it’s great to dream of what could be, parents and their kids have to be careful when a coach starts talking about a “college scholarship,” or “going pro.”

“If they show any aptitude at any level, they’ll say, “Oh my God, they can be a pro one day, and they can be professional.” People just get completely discombobulated and jaded to this, to these facts and they invest, invest, invest. And then when you’re in a youth sports, “Oh your kid is really good, my God he’s great!” Freeze! Okay he’s nine, you know. There’s no correlation between a nine year old great one and an adult. It just isn’t,” Lewis says.

There’s something else to consider: the toll of taking sports too seriously at any early age. Dr. Alfred Mansour is a pediatric orthopedic surgeon with Memorial Hermann.

“It’s almost a society’s unintended consequence. You want your kids to still be able to participate, and so you get a private lesson. And then everyone else is doing two private lessons and so you get a third private lesson. And it’s really the snowball, crazy unsustainable cycle where everybody is maxing out what they think they can do at the level when their bodies aren’t really built to handle that at this age. Kids are made to play,” says Dr. Mansour.

Doctors say specializing in one sport can raise the risk of over-use injuries. Mansour sees injuries that used to occur only in older kids, is now becoming more commonplace in kids under ten.

And when it comes to kids choosing one sport to specialize in, Lewis says it could have been a big mistake for him had he specialized too early.

 “If I was coming up now, around thirteen or fourteen I was clearly more advanced in soccer than I was in track. So I probably would’ve been told, to stop track and go for soccer all year long,” says Lewis.

Instead, he kept he kept doing both sports through his junior year of high school, and went on to win ten Olympic medals for track in four different Olympic Games.

Harris County Voters To Test $1 Million iPad Voting Poll Book







November 6, 2017

At almost 100 voting locations, election officials in Harris County will be testing a new way for voters to sign-in at polling places. As it stands right now on Election Day, a Harris County voter goes to their voting precinct, an assistant helps them find their name in a paper poll book, they sign in and proceed to vote.

But, at the testing locations, voters will instead use a system in which they electronically sign in to vote using an iPad. The experts call it an electronic poll book. And if the system works, it may be the way all voters sign in to cast their ballot in future elections.

“As you know last year we had people waiting in line. I don’t like people waiting in lines, especially when there’s a voting booth sitting empty. So the electronic poll books allows us to qualify the voters much faster,” said the Clerk of Harris County Stan Stanart. Since 2010 Stanart has served as the chief election officer for the county.

In addition to saving time voting the major advantage of an electronic poll book for voters is that it allows them the freedom to cast their ballot at any polling location, or Voting Center, in the county. If that system sounds familiar, it is. It’s the system used for early voting in Harris County.

There doesn’t seem to be any critics of voting centers and the electronic poll book, just how long it’s taken to get the system into place. Kevin Hoffman is a Democratic Chair in Precinct 207. He addressed the Commissioner’s Court in June.

“We received a group of iPads that have been in the custody of the County Clerk’s Office that have been gone unused. These to my knowledge are still in storage,” said Hoffman.

According to previous news reports Stanart purchased 2,400 iPads, at a cost of over $1,000,000, in July of 2015. Stanart admits most of the iPads remain in the boxes they were shipped in, and told Judge Ed Emmett the early voting poll book currently used wouldn’t work on Election Day.

“It just will not scale to be able to handle Harris County,” Stanart told the Commissioner’s Court on June 27.

The problem Stanart said is that on an Election Day like today, Harris County will operate 735 voting locations. And he said there’s currently no software that can handle that many voting locations. (The County operated 45 “Voting Centers” for early voting this fall.)

But others disagree. Ben Martin is the Chief Operating Officer for VR Systems, based in Tallahassee, FL which sells software for such iPad voting systems, software Harris County does not have.

“Our software is capable of handling more than two-point-four-million voters. Our largest jurisdiction currently is Miami-Dade County and that has one-point-six-million,” Martin said. Martin adds that VR Systems is pursuing the business of a jurisdiction with over 5,000,000 voters using an electronic poll book and that their software can handle early, and election day voting.

The city of Chicago sits in Cook County Illinois. And while the city is separated from the County on Election Day, the County said it still has over 2,000,000 voters outside of Chicago.

VO-Tech, based in San Diego, CA provides the electronic poll book for Cook County.

They also provide voting software to Harris County, but not for the iPads. President John Metcalf said they’ve never received a “Request for Proposal” from the County to provide an electronic poll book. Neither has VR Systems.

Stanart estimates he’s saving the County money by writing its own software. “It’s taken a while, taken uh, oh gosh I don’t know a year and a half, two years, I mean it’s been a good while, we’ve working on it diligently,” he said.

In Arizona, Maricopa County has 2,200,000 voters, though fewer people voting on Election Day than Harris County. Adrian Fontes oversees voting there and said they wrote their own software, in less than six months.

And what Fontes and others can’t understand, is why Stanart would purchase so many iPads before a software program that could handle Harris County’s size, was created. “I don’t want to second guess Stan but maybe he got deal on those things and went out and bought ‘em and said, Hey we’re gonna work them into the system bit by bit,” he said.

Stanart said he doesn’t think the County saved money by purchasing the iPads three years before Voting Centers would become Election Day reality, and second guesses himself.

“In hindsight, yeah I would have not bought ‘em quite as early as we did, but we’re still going use them. They work fast. They work great. They’ll serve the purpose. They have lots of life left in them,” said Stanart who plans to have all the iPads in use by 2018.

Texans Should Show Interest In Kaepernick

FEBRUARY 28, 2016

Are they or aren’t they? Not long after Ian Rapaport of the NFL Network tweeted that the Texans and Browns were interested in San Francisco QB Colin Kaepernick if the 49ers were not, The Chronicle’s John McClain shot down the idea.


How likely it is that San Francisco actually tries to trade Kaepernick is anyone's guess. Just last week new head coach Chip Kelly said, “It’s never been a question [keeping Kaepernick]. I’m excited to work with Colin.” About six hours later reports surfaced that Kaepernick’s agents requested permission to seek a trade.

Assuming that Kaepernick is attainable, why wouldn’t the Texans be interested? Owner Bob McNair has repeated multiple times his desire to obtain a franchise QB this offseason. It shouldn’t have to be via the draft.

Kaepernick has a better winning percentage, completion percentage, touchdown-to-interception rate, and quarterback rating than any QB short of Tom Brady that Bill O’Brien has managed.

That O’Brien has compiled a 16-16 record (0-1 in playoffs) with seven different starting quarterbacks is both recognition of his head coaching/quarterback guru skill, and an indictment of the talent procuring process of the Texans.

With the 22nd pick it’s impossible to believe the Texans can acquire either Carson Wenz or Jared Goff the “can’t miss” quarterback prospects in the ’16 draft. So instead of reaching with a first round pick, why not see what your quarterback whisperer can do with a QB that actually has some skills?

Sportsmanship, Try It Cam


FEBRUARY 8, 2016

Once upon a time, sporting events were as much about building character, learning fairness and how to conduct yourself as they were about perfecting a skill. Today it would appear that "sportsmanship" has little to do with sports.

Instead, sports are all about building self-worth and personal enjoyment. Heaven help anything that gets in the way of those two goals.

Winning? Well, that's somewhere on the list of goals but certainly not above self esteem and fun.

I hate to boil this post Super Bowl discussion down to it's simplest form - okay no I don't mind at all. This love or hate of Cam has nothing (or very little) to do with race, it's about old school versus new school. Should our athletes display sportsmanship in victory - and defeat, or should they be completely self-absorbed and we can then be either entertained or outraged by their actions?

Newton acted as he wanted in running up a 17-1 record showing no regard for the feelings of those the Panthers were beating along the way. Cam simply called it "having fun" and anyone who saw it for what it truly was, a classless acts completely devoid of sportsmanship, were painted as racists. (Now, full disclosure, there are still too many fans that are racists and don't like Cam because of the color of his skin.)

Let me see if I can highlight the difference between old school versus new school as opposed to racism in viewing the public's love or hate for Cam Newton. Let's compare the general feeling most NFL fans have for Russell Wilson and Johnny Manziel. Wilson, a black person who carries himself in a way most old school fans would want to see their quarterback behave, is generally liked and respected. Manziel, who seems to care little about the consequences of his actions, is extremely polarizing. Much like Newton you either love or hate Johnny Football, not because of the color of his skin but because of the way in which he seems to show no regard for anyone other than himself.

Newton visiting hospitals or donating footballs to kids after touchdowns, much like the thousands of autographs Manziel gave freely to memorabilia dealers while at A&M, doesn't change the way they carry themselves as celebrities.

Newton couldn't show any class or sportsmanship in victory so it comes as no surprise that he couldn't handle defeat without petulance and the behavior of a spoiled brat.

I can do without the "dab" but I still enjoy watching Newton play. He's become a better NFL quarterback than I thought he'd be. He earned the MVP this season and I enjoyed watching him play. I also enjoyed watching Manziel at A&M and was hoping to see that QB in Cleveland, but his immaturity and personal demons seemed to have taken that opportunity away.

But don't blame the player. The "old school generation" is the one that can't understand why their children seem entitled and lacking grace and understanding. After-all they gave them 4' trophies for participating in tee-ball at five years old because the risk of having their kids earn a trophy by winning might have hurt their self-esteem if they actually had to, you know, earn it by winning.

College Football Restructuring At The Top


NOVEMBER 23, 2015

It seems inevitable now that a coach with a 60-27 record in SEC play (110-32 overall), two conference titles, three division titles and a BCS title will lose his job a week from today. He might be joined by the dean of SEC coaches who has won 144 games in 15 seasons, along with two SEC titles and three division titles.

If the reports are true, and guys like Scott Rabalais of The Baton Rouge Advocate and Tommy Krysan of Pelican Sports Network are respected and trustworthy, then it would seem Les Miles will coach the LSU Tigers once more, when they host Texas A&M this Saturday. Will Mark Richt be coaching his last game as Georgia’s head coach next Saturday when the Bulldogs play Georgia Tech in Atlanta? (Lose to the 3-8 Yellow Jackets and that answer will be an easy YES.)

Regardless of how competitve college football has become, it is hard to believe a coach with a .775 winning percentage (Miles) or a .738 winning percentage (Richt) would be in severe danger of losing his job, particularly when both teams stand at 8-3 on the 2015 season and are favorites to finish 9-3. (As of this writing LSU is a 5 1/2 point favorite over A&M, the UGA-GT game is presently “off” the books.)
One the other hand, after 15 or 11 years at their respective schools, the decision-makers (AD’s, school presidents, and most importantly - influential alumni) at Georgia and LSU can’t be accused of making hasty decisions.

At LSU where reports today say that AD Joe Alleva has the boosters willing to pay Miles’ $15-million buyout if necessary, the “Mad-Hatter” has always been an enigma. On paper, the record speaks for itself. Using the “eye test” the results also speak volumes, just not flattering ones.

Whether it be poor preparation, clock management, or a general look of being unprepared, Miles has often looked “in over his head” on the LSU sideline. No team in college football during Les Miles tenure has been more talented (including Alabama). Miles deserves the credit from procuring that talent, but also the condemnation for not doing enough with the talent.

In Athens, GA, Richt can be viewed much the same way; a “players coach” that does an outstanding job recruiting, but even more damning for Richt, Georgia seems to lose at least a couple games each year that have no business losing. The Bulldogs were the SEC East favorites this year, but will likely finish third in a weak Eastern division.

Both Richt and Miles have also committed the fatal sin of looking bad in the games that matter most. Richt is just 5-10 against bitter rival Florida, and has been embarrassed three straight times by Alabama. (That’s 1-3 for Richt vs. Saban)

Miles has also found it difficult to beat a Saban-led Crimson Tide. Though 6-6 overall against Bama, LSU has dropped five straight    to Alabama.

I’ve never been a fan of the mindset, “We can’t fire [him/her] who will we get to coach?!” That’s a loser mentality, if you want to compete for national titles - which UGA & LSU clearly do, and more importantly should - ACT LIKE IT!

However, the “who will you get” syndrome applies here. The Dawgs and Tigers are not .500 teams, they are programs winning 75% of their games under their current coaches. A change cannot be made for change sake.

Word on the bayou is that Jimbo Fisher tops the LSU wish list. When asked today about the rumors, Fisher appropriately said he wouldn’t comment on them out of respect for the players at both Florida State and LSU. (The non-denial, denial.) Solid move Jimbo. Even more solid, and necessary, is for LSU to already have a deal in place for Fisher.

Same goes for Claude Felton, athletic director at UGA. If the timing is right for a change at head coach, Georgia better have a confirmation from Richt’s replacement already in place.

Both programs, fan bases, and head coaches deserve as classy a turnover as possible.

Don't Overlook Most Significant Message At Missouri







NOVEMBER 19, 2015

When the African-American football players joined the protests against Missouri president Tim Wolfe and said they wouldn’t play until Wolfe was out, their wish was granted in about 24-hours. Jonathan Butler, a graduate student at Missouri and a member of a group of students called #ConcernedStudent1950 (I believe in today’s social media-driven collegiate society the hashtag is required.) had started a hunger strike on November 2nd. Nobody outside of Columbia took notice. When the football team threatened to strike, and team meetings were canceled on Sunday, Wolfe was done. 

The university and the social media mafia will celebrate and chalk up the president’s resignation as a victory for race relations. Those are self-absorbed, agenda-driven, myopic projections. I predict the events at Mizzou will be remembered years from now as the events that forever changed college athletics, not race relations.

The threat of players striking brought immediate reaction. Tigers head coach Gary Pinkel tweeted (cause that’s how true sincerity is defined today - by placing a Billboard on social media) that ,The Mizzou Family stands as one.” However, neither Pinkel, or any of the coaches on his staff, or any of the players not of color also struck. 

Months of of complaints fell on deaf ears. Hours of a threat by more than 30 football players produced results. Even those supposed “dumb jocks” can recognize the power they posses. 

After back-to-back SEC Title game appearances, the Tigers football team is 1-5 in SEC play and 4-5 overall. So how could a team that has lost four straight exert so much pressure? Because if Mizzou didn’t take the field against BYU this Saturday night in Columbia, the university would have owed Brigham Young one-million dollars and refunds to ticket-holders and we’re still dealing with peanuts financially. The real cost comes from the loss of television revenue.

Would a forfeit cost Mizzou their new home in the SEC? Would the cancelation of the game cost the SEC their contract with ESPN? (A contract which, despite its unparalleled success is being panned following the continued blood-letting at ESPN) One meaningless football game and we’re already into the billions of dollars.

Expect college football players to take this new-found power and see how quickly it can provide the financial relief they have craved for decades. 

O'Brien Acting Like The Wrong Choice







OCTOBER 27, 2015

It would appear it's not going to be easy to explain the current state of the Texans following the second embarrassing defeat - this season. “I don’t have the answers to a lot of the questions I have posted…” MadRadio co-host Mike Meltser wrote in a blog post for SportsRadio 610 yesterday regarding whether or not the Texans hired the wrong coach when they named Bill O'Brien to replace Gary Kubiak. I do have an answer to that most important question Mike. I think you do as well. I think we all do. 

The deal is, we don’t want to come off as “knee jerk” by proclaiming a coach's fate 23 games into his tenure. However, the “Ready. Shoot. Aim.” approach to decision-making is as good of a reason as necessary for why we know Bill O’Brien won’t succeed as Texans head coach. 

O’Brien’s unprecedented approach to managing the quarterback position is foolhardy enough, but to willingly go into an NFL game with only one active quarterback is insane. Monday we learned that was O’Brien’s plan.

Per Garrett Heinrich’s story, “A source with knowledge of the situation told SportsRadio 610 on Monday that, “Mallett would have been walking home from South Beach” if the Texans had a suitable QB to take his spot.” Somebody in the decision-making process wanted to expose O’Brien.

Worst case scenario, the disagreement about whether or not to cut the immature Ryan Mallett before the game in Miami is the official start to the rats jumping ship. That O’Brien has final say over the roster is not breaking news. That GM Rick Smith has some veto power without needing owner Bob McNair’s vote is news - we’ve been told over and over that when O’Brien and Smith disagree, McNair steps in with the deciding vote - but that’s not what happened Sunday (or at least McNair being involved in the decision isn’t being leaked/reported). 

Best case, it’s another fatal example of a coach in over his head. A quarterback has to be a team leader. One would think “quarterback guru” O’Brien would know this, though his handling of the position would indicate otherwise. If you can’t properly manage the most important position on the team, how are you going to handle the small details that separate champions from also-rans? You won’t.

This team is a grease-fire mess right now - in every conceivable way. Bill O’Brien has now led the Texans team to its two worst losses in franchise history. The Texans have only allowed a team to score 40 points eleven times in 14-years. They’ve been down by more than 40 twice already this season. The previous “largest deficit” in franchise history was 35 points down (42-7) against New England in the famous “Letterman Jacket game” in 2012. 

I must admit I am surprised by O’Brien’s incompetence. I knew he’d come out looking good in Hard Knocks I just didn’t know it was because he was great at acting like an NFL head coach. I considered him the best available option when the Texans hired him. I’ve enjoyed interacting with him (guessing that’s over now). I thought he would be a very good coach and leader of this organization. The results say otherwise without any indication that the rapidly growing pile of horrific losses are some form of growing pains.

The verdict is in. How long will it take Bob McNair to accept that fact and move the franchise toward winning titles and away from O’Brien is anyone’s guess (mine is at least two, maybe three more years - that’s how long McNair gave Kubiak when it was already obvious to everyone Gary couldn’t get the job done).