About Mark Cathcart

I am an Executive Director of Systems Engineering and a Senior Distinguished Engineer at Dell. Formerly I was an IBM Distinguished Engineer working for the Systems Group in NY and Austin. I'm also the ride leader for Jack and Adams Bicycle shop rides; I own the new Austin Triathletes and ATxD Multisports, a sports management company.

Why Nations Fail, does this apply to Texas?

Why Nations Fail is a fascinating book, by Acemoglu of MIT and political scientist, James Robinson. They posit that economies that have abundant natural resources can be easily captured by groups that become politically powerful. The authors view is that an abundance of natural resources, which may seem like a blessing, often turns out to be a blessing for a select few and, for the rest of a country’s citizens, a curse. It’s called the natural-resource curse.

east-texas-oil-field[1]The natural-resource curse is well understood economic equation, there are a number of papers on it, this one by Sachs and Warner, the show that countries with great natural resource wealth tend nevertheless to grow more slowly than resource-poor countries. Resource-abundant countries tended to be high-price economies and, benefited by the few.

With the media here in Texas, and especially Austin, currently focused, on prices, the tax burden; the impact of the thousands of people moving  Texas;  and John Stewart Daily lampooning Texas, from inside Austin itself; and an increasing sense of conflict among ordinary people, I wonder if Texas, through it’s natural abundance of land, oil, shale oil isn’t in fact setting itself up to fail?

Certainly ahead of next weeks mid-term elections, the 10/1 Austin City Council election, the vote on Prop-1. all the signs are there. While the abundance of natural-resources has lulled people into a false sense of security, allowing various groups to drive conflict in order to gain control of the State Institutions. Classic theory in practice.

While this would normally be something you’d expect in 3rd world countries such as Sierra Leone, Angola, Venezuela and Nigeria, is it so impossible that it could happen here?

The signs are that it is. Texas is increasingly dropping in national ranking, and internationally worse still. Despite the abundant wealth garnered from the Oil boom, and the more recent Gas/Shale boom, the bulk of that money resides indeed in the hands of the few. Texas has

Oxfam has a solution paper to the natural-resource curse. It starts by saying “get your hands on the money”. In this case, I think rather than get our hands on the money, it would be better to follow Norways lead and create a world leading Sovereign Wealth fund and use that to improve the State, and services that Texas itself has. What are we currently doing?  Raiding the rainy day fund to improve the roads, the rainy day fund aka The Economic Stabilization Fund, or the Texas version of a sovereign Wealth Fund, nice.

‘Born and raised’ Texans forced to prove identities under new voter ID law | theguardian.com

There are so many things wrong with this, it is hard to know where start. Yep, it’s a law that solves a problem, which for the most part doesn’t exist.

The fact it takes Eric Keniie 3-buses to get to a vital Texas state service, just shows how broken our transport system is in Austin. Here is a man, which, if as reported, seems a reasonable grasp on life, and a good approach, who makes living as a scrapper, foraging in other peoples garbage and when feeling flush, handout food to neighbors.

So much for the Texas miracle.

‘Born and raised’ Texans forced to prove identities under new voter ID law | US news | theguardian.com.

Prop-1 The Wrong Rail for Austin

One reason I have not posted to my blog recently is the fact I’ve been spending my time lobbying, writing an posting on why this is the wrong solution. Since my last blog a lot of additional material and discussion has happened. Also, long overdue I’ve joined AURA, a number of their members have produced some great information. I was also impressed with Roger Cauvins’ calm, logical argument at the recent KUT Views and Brews. You can hear the whole Views and Brews here.

From where I sit, this was never about rail, it was always about developing an under-developed corridor of central Austin. A previously undesirable corridor because of it’s proximity to I35 and the noise and associated congestion, along with specific properties, which, without rail wouldn’t be nearly as viable or valuable.

An AURA blog post nails where the funding for much of the pro prop-1 support is coming from, and by doing so also confirms what I thought, and had previously heard about the route for the rail in Prop-1.

It’s also well worth listening or watching the following City of Austin Central Corridor Advisory Group. For those that are short of time, use the menu to skip to the citizens communication section and listen to the first speaker, Mike Dahmus. Having been surprised by the direction and format of the meeting, that basically rubber stamped the route, Mike discussed  what was wrong with the selection and the proposal. If you can, continue to listen through the Mueller developers, to Linden Henry and David Dobbs, possibly the two qualified people in Austin on transport.

If you can’t be bothered to listen, Mike has written this elsewhere on the Prop-1 rail proposal.

Project Connect has ignored public input in favor of misrepresentation and obfuscation to justify the predetermined route preference of UT and speculative development interests. Please don’t fall for the premise that this somehow represents good transit planning; so far, most knowledgeable Austin transit activists oppose the plan, and every national transit advocate/expert who has spoken up about it has been amazed at how badly the process was run and how stupid the recommended plan is.

Prop-1 route was decided and heavily influenced by developers, and then a justification sought. It’s easy to see that those in the urban sprawl areas, will vote against this because they’d never use it, and will add circa $300 per year to their property taxes yet many of them commute into the central business district.Meanwhile, those, especially long term residents in the central districts, Zilker, Bouldin, Travis Heights etc. who have seen huge property tax increases as the property value increased, face another $400 per year for a system they can’t use and for which for the most part won’t help with traffic congestion.

It’s worth remembering that unless you die, or move out, an improved property value is worth zero, nothing, nada. However, the tax burden is real. The elderly, retired and those barely surviving now due to increased costs, will now be further penalized by the increased taxes which are proportionately much higher, due to their higher per sq foot property value, which will ultimately force more people to sell their properties and move out, further gentrifying those neighborhoods.

Why Millennials Are Avoiding Small-Town America

In my last post Decaying Texas, I posited that many of the smaller towns and “villages” in Texas are dying, comparing the state of things here with China.

In his blog, Why Millennials are avoiding small town America, Beau Dure has a good write-up of why the millenial generation is turning their back on small towns, and without them, there really is no future. It’s not a problem you hear politicians talking about, ever.

Decaying Texas

It’s been an interesting month. I live in Austin Texas, boom town USA. Everything is happening in construction, although nothing much in transport. In many ways Austin reminds me of rapidly developing cities in China, India and other developing countries. I’ve travelled some inside Texas, but most on I10 and out East. I’ve tended to dismiss what I’ve seen in small towns, mostly because I figured they were unrepresentative.

Earlier this month I did my first real US roadtrip. I had my Mum with me for a month and figured a week or so out of the heat of Texas would be a good thing. We covered 2,500 miles, most up from North West Texas, also New Mexico, and Colorado. On the way back we went via Taos, Santa Fe, and Roswell and then back through West Texas.

There they were small town after small town, decaying. Every now and again you’d drive through a bigger town that wasn’t as bad, but overall massive decay, mostly in the commercial space. Companies had given up, gone bust, or got run out of town by a Walmart 30-50 files away. Even in the bigger ones, there was really no choice, there were Dollar Stores, Pizza Hut, McDonalds or Burger King, Sonic or Dairy Queen, and gas stations. Really not much else, except maybe a Mexican food stop.

It was only just before sunset on the drive back through West Texas, with my Mum asleep in the backseat, I worked out that my camera and telephoto lens rested perfectly between the steering wheel and the dashboard and I started taking pictures. These are totally representative with what I’ve seen all over Texas. Just like the small towns out near Crockett and Lufkin in East Texas; pretty similar to anything over near Midland; outside El Paso; down south towards Galveston.  Decaying Texas.

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What there were plenty of, in the miles and miles of flat straight roads, were oil derricks, and tankers, hundreds upon hundreds of them. It’s not clear to me what Governor Perry means when he talks about the Texas Miracle, but these small towns, and to some degree, smaller cities have more in common with the towns and cities in China and India, slowly being deserted, run down in the rush to the big cities.

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Interestingly, while writing and previewing this entry on wordpress, it suggested the mybigfatwesttexastrip, which ends with the following

The pictures above tell the story of a dying West Texas town and the changing landscape of population movement away from the agrarian society to the city.

Let’s Go do rail like Houston!

Mark Cathcart:

Fantastic write-up on the mechanics and rights and wrongs of Prop-1. Just vote NO. I can’t vote until 2016, make your vote count for both of us.

Originally posted on Keep Austin Wonky:

Advocates for this November’s ‘road and rail’ Proposition 1 would like the electorate to believe the proposed light rail segment will achieve success similar to Houston’s stellar Red Line. Here are the top 3 reasons why they are wrong and why it matters.

rail_opex_ntsd1

Source: National Transit Database. “UPT” means unlinked passenger trip (i.e. boarding). Median values for a category in bold.

 

View original 792 more words

Rail isn’t about Congestion

It's not going to fix congestion.

It’s not going to fix congestion.

Prop.1 on the Austin November ballot is an attempt to fund the largest single bond in Austin history, almost half the $1 billion going to the light rail proposal.

Finally people seem to be getting the fact that the light rail, if funded, won’t help with the existing traffic. KUT had a good review of this yesterday, the comments also some useful links. You can listen to the segment here: Is a Light Rail Line Going to Solve Austin’s Traffic Problems?

Jace Deloney, makes some good points, what no one is saying though, and what I believe is the real reason behind the current proposal. There is a real opportunity to develop a corridor of key central Austin and, some unused and many underused land, West of I35, and from Airport all the down to Riverside Dr.

This is hugely valuable land, but encouraging development would be a massive risk, purely because of existing congestion. Getting more people to/from buildings in that corridor, by car, or even bus, into more dense residential accommodation, a medical school, UT Expansion or re-site, more office, whatever, will be untenable in terms of both west/east and south/north congestion. So the only way this could really work, is to make a rail corridor, with stations adjacent the buildings.

The Guadalupe/Lamar route favored by myself and other rail advocates wouldn’t add almost any value to that new corridor. It’s debatable that it would eliminate congestion on the west side of town either. But with a rail transit priority system, the new toll lanes on Mopac, the ability to get around at peak times, and the elimination of a significant number of cars in the central west, and downtown areas would make it worth the investment.

Voters need to remember this when considering which way to vote in November. If the city, UT, and developers want to develop that corridor, they should find some way of funding rail from those that will directly benefit. City wide economic impact; new tax revenues, new jobs is a slight of hand, a misdirection.

It’s not acceptable to load the cost onto existing residents for little benefit, just so you can developers can have their way.

Power corrupts

Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely

Famously said by John Dalberg-Acton, the historian and moralist, first expressed this opinion in a letter to Bishop Mandell Creighton in 1887. I was reminded of it on Friday when it was announced that Governor Rick Perry of Texas had been indicted.

Abbott and PerryAlthough I’m clearly more of a social activist than Republican, Conservative, this post isn’t really about politics. It may or may not be that Perry has a case to answer. What is clear is that the lack of a term limit for the Governor of Texas has, as always, allowed the Governor to focus more on his succession, more on his politics, than the people that elected him and their needs.

I’m personally reminded of Margaret Thatcher, who enacted swathing changes in her time, but in her 3rd term, spent more time inward looking, in-fighting, that outward looking. More focused on those that would succeed her than what the country needed to succeed. Major, Howe, Heseltine, Lawson. et al.

jmmtThatcher these days is remembered mostly for consolidating her own power and the debacle that ended her reign rather than her true legacy, creating the housing crisis; and the banking crisis. Thatchers government started moving people to incapacity benefit rather than unemployment to hide the true state of the economy from the people. Blair, Brown, mostly the same, after a couple of years of shifting emphasis and politics it became the same farcical self protection.

And so it has become the same with Perry and his legacy. Irrespective of the merit of this indictment, what’s clear is that Perrys normal has changed to defending his legacy and Abbott. Abbott meanwhile moves to make as much as possible secret about Perrys activities. This includes the detail of Governor Perrys’ expense claims, sensitive, secret but not limited to that. Abbot also feels the location of chemical storage is also a threat to our liberty, and not to be easily publicly accessible. Redaction it would appear, is a lost art.

For the layman it is impossible to understand how/who/what of CPRIT affair is real. Was Abotts oversight of CPRIT politically motivated? Did Abbott really turn a blind eye to the goings on at CPRIT and did Perry and his staff know about and approve this?

British Prime Minister Tony Blair (L) anIf they did, then their pursuit of Lehmberg is bogus, their attempts to stop the Public Integrity Unit(PIU), self serving, And there is the rub, it really doesn’t matter if it was legal or not. Perry needs to go, term limits should mandate not more than two sessions, and Abbott should be seriously questioned about his motivation, otherwise as Thatcher goes, Major goes; as Blair goes, so Brown goes; As Perry goes, so Abbott goes, and the result of too much power be shared out as a grace and favor does no one, not least the local tax payers any good at all.

And for the record, Lehmbergs arrest for drink driving was shameful, and yes she should of resigned. But because she didn’t doesn’t make it OK for the Governor to abuse his power to try to remove her. Don’t let the Lehmberg arrest though distract from the real issue, abuse of power and term limits.

Dishwasher Trouble

PhotoGrid_1406940761841This post if for all those people that came to my house for dinner over the last 8-years, especially the epic Of By For movie premier. Many times friends have followed my lead and we’ve cleared up and washed and dried dishes by hand.

I’m OK with that, I don’t make much mess, so rather than waste water and electric, I do them by hand. At least at the Of By For dinner, which was a mammoth day and a half prep and cooking extravaganza. A number of the guests, Kelley, Tammy, Bree, Bekah, Maria and others tidied up, loaded up the dishwasher and we switched it on and grrrrrrrr. Nothing.

PhotoGrid_1389587276525I’ve never used it since I bought the house. It may have never been used. So, it’s been months, and I can whole hardheartedly recommend Mr Appliance for the repair. for $89 the repair guy came to the house this afternoon, switched on the washer, listened, reached under the sink and switched on the water and the dishwasher worked great. D’oh…

Oh yeah, Of By For? I was a kickstarter backer.