Thursday, December 31, 2009

PostHeaderIcon Looking back...

It being "the thing to do" on New Years Eve, here are some of the things that came to my mind about the last decade:

Houston & the Weather
  • Tropical Storm Allison flooded Houston causing more than $5.5 B in damage and 41 deaths -- as usual, the story was overlooked by the national media because a) it was happening in Houston and b) they were manically covering the Timothy McVeigh execution countdown.  Were it not for 9/11, Allison would have been the largest disaster of 2001.
  • Hurricane Katrina devasted the central Gulf Coast, flooding New Orleans with water and Houston with evacuees.  While the nation watched the Bush Administration fail in its duties, Mayor Bill White and the people of Houston stepped into the void -- providing shelter and a path forward for countless "new" Houstonians.
  • Hurricane Rita taught us that our own hurricane plans were inadequate.
  • Hurricane Gustav taught us how quickly a major storm could develop.
  • Hurricane Ike showed how resilient our city has grown -- and how much more needs to be done to harden our electrical infrastructure and support systems.  Notably, all the major news outlets were here for the initial hit -- even Anderson Cooper arrived on scene... but they quickly left when there were no bodies floating down the streets and the aftermath was entirely un-Katrina-like (despite having more than 2 millions people without power for more than a week.)  The exception was MSNBC, which actuall stayed with the story and let people know how devasted the coastal region had been.
Houston & Business
  • The decade's opening story had to be Enron -- the fall of the guys who were too smart (or thought they were).  When it turned out that the company's entire existence was as some sort of Potemkin Village, there was little sympathy for former Enron employees who should have know, should have seen and should have stopped the shennanigans.  In an ironic twist, Enron -- which engineered a California energy crisis -- wound up selling its real estate holdings to California-based Chevron... whose offices now fill both original buildings downtown and will soon add a third tower following the demolition of the old YMCA in 2010.
  • Oil prices started the decade at ~$25/BBL, but that soon ballooned due to global demand -- peaking at $145/BBL before declining back into the $50-80 range.  This spurred increased investment in drilling -- with large finds opening up in the Gulf of Mexico, notably the Jack Field which initial estimates doubled  proved reserves in the U.S.. Recent ultra-deep water finds like Tiber, Big Foot, Tahiti show that the resources are there -- if the technology will let you get to them.
Houston and LGBT Civil Rights
  • When a Sherriffs deputy busted into the apartment and found John Lawrence and Tyrone Garner  engaged in consensual sex, the stage was set for challenging 21.06 -- the section of Texas criminal law that made "sodomy" between persons of the same sex a crime.  The case made its way to the Supreme Court where the Texas law (and the remaining statutes in other states) was overturned.  Lawrence v. Texas -- along with Griswold v. Connecticut and several other milestone cases -- will be part of the arguments in front of the federal courts as California's Proposition 8 is challenged on the basis of equal treatment under the law.
  • Anti-gay forces in the city managed to force a referendum to change the city charter -- basically outlawing the city from providing domestic partnership benefits to city employees and explicitly forbidding the city from including sexual orientation in any non-discrimination standards for employment, procurement, etc. -- maybe in 2010, this mean-spirited provision will be ripe for repeal.
  • Over the decade, the city's only openly gay Council member, Annise Parker was elected to the post of City Controller -- and easily re-elected twice more.  Another openly gay Council member -- Sue Loveall -- was elected as well.
  • As the decade came to a close, Houston saw a blossoming of new LGBT organizations along with a revival of others, notably HATCH, Montrose Counseling Center, Human Rights Campaign, and Out & Equal Houston.
  • A fitting end-note was the election of Annise Parker to be the next Mayor of Houston.
Here's looking forward to a better decade as the "naughty aughties" fades into memory.


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