The Surprisingly Interesting Story of the Birth and Death of the Astrodome

AstrodomeOur man from Minnesota, James Fillmore wrote a very interesting article over at his post at Twinkie Town, The Original Field Of Dreams. It’s about the creation of the Astrodome. I have a personal interest in that because the only MLB game I’ve seen outside the Bay Area was in the Astrodome — in the early 1970s: the Reds against the Astros. I knew nothing of the Astros, but I knew Johnny Bench. And I knew Pete Rose. And I probably knew other players at that time. As I recall, the Reds were a very famous team then.

The article contains all kind of information that I never knew. To start with, the team’s name was changed from the Colt 45s (Ugh!) to the Astros, following the name of the stadium, which was a hat tip to NASA being headquartered in Houston. And apparently, NASA scientists had some involvement in the project. It is an amazing thing. These kinds of things are everywhere now, but then it was cutting edge. I’ve always wondered way the first of these was made in Houston where the weather is generally good. But as Fillmore pointed out in his article: it was all about the money. One of the owners, Roy Hofheinz, was super connected to the state government — a fact that future owners would use to steal public funds for their private endeavors.

But the most interesting part of the story is about the turf. The Astrodome was built with a roof which was “a latticework of metal and glass-ish plastic, it allowed sunlight to glow inside and grow real grass for the field.” Brilliant! Real grass! That’s great. But as everyone knows, that didn’t work out so well. The reason was because it created a huge amount of glare. The players had a hard time fielding balls. So the owners did the obvious thing: they painted over the plastic. Problem solved!

Of course, it created a new problem: the lack of sunlight caused the grass to die. So, “The Astros finished 1965 playing on a field of dead grass, spray-painted green.” There was nothing, the Astros management seemed to think, that could not be solved with a coat of paint! But that only worked for so long. As Fillmore explained:

They installed “Chemical Grass” the next year, whose manufacturer (Monsanto) quickly renamed it “AstroTurf.” Which I believe you are all familiar with. As you are its later competitor, “FieldTurf,” supposedly more grass-like but having the drawback of looking like a carpet with mange. And you know about the domed stadiums that followed.

So it was Monsanto! Of course it was Monsanto! And speaking of corporate criminals, the Astrodome was the first stadium to create “luxury boxes” — where rich jerks can right off expensive game viewing as a business deduction because they are “entertaining” other rich jerks. Of course, all that is gone now. The Astros left the stadium in 2000. It’s last “event” was to shelter victims of Hurricane Katrina. But the people of Houston want to find a use for it. It once represented the future. It’s kind of like having an actual Commodore 64 running Castle Wolfenstein in your study. Sure, there are more advanced things, but nothing more wonderful.

Could Trump Be the Republican Nominee?

Donald TrumpI don’t like writing about Donald Trump. But he actually seems like he could be the Republican nominee now. So I figure I should say something. How about this: hahahah! No, that won’t do. As I’ve pointed out, if the economy goes south next year, Donald Trump could easily become our next president. So none of that. But let’s start by considering why I think that Trump could really win.

First, there is this business of Trump signing the pledge to support the Republican nominee. Brian Beutler is correct, Donald Trump Has the Republican Party in the Palm of His Hand. His point is that Trump said what he got for signing it was the “assurance that I would be treated fairly.” Sure, that means that Trump can break his promise for any reason at all, because “fair treatment” is a vague standard. But it also means that Trump thinks he can actually win if the Republican Party doesn’t mess with him by keeping him off the ballot and so on.

Second, there is this recent SurveyUSA poll that shows that Donald Trump would beat all the Democratic candidates. There are various reasons to question this poll. To begin with: it is one poll and that means nothing. What’s more, it is forever until the primaries, much less the general election. Does anyone think that Hillary Clinton wouldn’t be beating up on Donald Trump and pointing out that he is a sexist, a racist, and a trust fund baby? But most telling of all: Trump gets 44% or 45% against all the Democrats. That means that Trump just has only 45% of the people thinking favorably about him right now — without any attacks from the left.

But as Steve M at No More Mister Nice Blog pointed out, there are other problems. The poll claims that almost of third of Hispanics would vote for Trump over Clinton. Even more telling, a quarter of African Americans would vote for Trump over Clinton. And most telling of all (this isn’t in Steve M’s article), only 44% of poll respondents think that Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic nominee. A staggering 22% say Biden will be the nominee, even though he isn’t officially running. The thing about Biden: conservative media have been pushing him — hard: “Clinton is dead, the Democrat’s only chance is to bring in Biden” — who the conservatives think is a joke and privately think would be easy to beat. The whole poll just reeks of sample bias.

But I love the poll. As I’ve been very clear about: of all the Republicans running for president, Trump would be the best if he actually got elected. But the main thing is that as long as the economy doesn’t really take a nosedive, I think Trump will be a very weak candidate against the eventual Democratic nominee. But this poll will give Trump a great weapon against those who say that he can’t win in a general election. And that is, ultimately, the only argument that the establishment has made against him. I’m sure they aren’t too keen on his position on Social Security and trade deals. But that’s not what they are willing to complain about publicly.

The way I see it is that good news for Trump right now is good news for America. He makes it far less likely that we will have a Republican president in 2017.

More on the “Police Work Is Dangerous” Myth

Ted McLaughlinI’ve written a number of times before about a relative safety of police work. But recently, Ted McLaughlin at Job’s Anger provided more detailed information than I’ve been able to find, Police Officers Do NOT Have the Most Dangerous Jobs. So I thought we should go through the issue again. The point is not that police work should be dangerous. All human activities should be safe as possible. But the issue with policing is that as a society, we make such a big deal of the danger of police work. And this is used as an excuse for all manner of police abuse and incompetence. This would be bad enough if it were true that police work were really dangerous. But even that isn’t true.

One thing that I hear all the time is an officer saying (and more commonly, it being said for them), “When I leave for work, I don’t know if I’m coming home that night.” While technically true, it is also technically true of literally every person who leaves for work. Or you want to take it to absurd levels? “When I take a bath, I don’t know if I’m leaving that bathroom alive.” It’s true! In 2000, 341 Americans drown while taking a bath.

Most Dangerous Jobs

But you might counter this, “Yeah, but people drowning aren’t shot by criminals!” True enough. But most people who drown seem to fall and hit their heads. And here’s the thing: most police officers are not shot by criminals either. I discussed this in a related article, Let’s Not Turn Dead Police Officers Into Heroes. I noted, “The majority of police officers who die on the job, do so in traffic accidents. Thus far this year, there are almost as many health related deaths (mostly heart attacks) as shooting deaths.” So really, the most dangerous thing about being a police officer is driving so much — it means accidents and bad health because they sit around so much.

Ted also presented a chart that shows both total and violent deaths of police officers has gone down by almost a third in the last ten years. I know that Ted worked in and around law enforcement. He’s got a more positive view of the industry. I tend to think there is a more fundamental problem: police work (like politics) tends to attract the wrong kind of people for those jobs. But I think he is right that the issue is mostly one of management. The problem could clearly be minimized with better management. I am always reminded of something Jim Hogshire[1] wrote in You Are Going to Prison, “Rape and other forms of violence happens in any prison in inverse proportion to the amount of time and effort the prison’s administrators put into stopping it.” I think it is largely the same thing in police departments.

But my interest in the subject is primarily about the way that police officers spend so much time whining about how difficult and dangerous their jobs are. And the bigger issue is that we as a society allow them to do it. I respect police officers in the same way that I respect any civil servants. They are people paid to do a job. They have a fair amount of power. I don’t want to make their lives hard. But I won’t stand for their abuse of power. And the “police work is dangerous” myth is nothing but an apologia for police misconduct.[2]


[1] Jim was a taxicab driver in Texas many years ago. According to the graph above, that is a more danger job than being a police officer. He told me that he once crashed his cab when a customer threatened him with a gun. Jim was certain he was going to be murdered.

[2] It’s very possible that the myth is also helpful in keeping police salaries high. I don’t want to see their salaries lowered, however. I want to see effort made to bring back the middle class so that their quite reasonable salaries don’t stand out.

Morning Music: Couldn’t Love You More

One World - John MartynNow we move forward to 1977, with John Martyn’s more experiment, more electric One World. Overall the album is a bit more “pop” in its own way. But don’t worry: Martyn is always Martyn. That’s one of the things that most defines him: he always seems to remain true to himself. He reminds me of something that was written about the artist Bernard Frouchtben, “In [his case] the ego appears worth knowing.” Indeed. (For both men.)

The song I’ve chosen from the album is one of the more classic, “Couldn’t Love You More.” The album cut is really interesting in its production. But you know, I like to get live cuts if I can. After all, I’m not on the radio here.

Anniversary Post: Battle of the Teutoburg Forest

Arminius?On this day in 9 CE, Arminius led the German tribes to totally destroy three Roman legions at the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest. As you all know, I’m not all that keen on the Germans. And really, it isn’t the Nazis. Well, I don’t know. The truth is that over the last decade in Europe, they have been as big a bully with their economic power as they were with their military power under the Nazis. But I suppose the main problem I have with the Germans is that they are so much like the Americans. Regardless, I like that the Germans put their differences aside and kicked some Roman butt.

The more I’ve learned about the Romans, the more they seem very much like fascists. I know: people have to be judged by their own times. But how far does that really get you? I mean, the Greeks came first, and they were not nearly as brutal. So I think there really was something wrong with the Roman Republican and then Empire.

Anyway, I could write a summary of this most famous battle. Buy why when you could just watch this great episode of Terry Jones’ Barbarians, “The Savage Goths.” You have to remember that Jones has an ax to grind. Basically, he thinks it was the Romans who were the real barbarians. And he is mostly right.