Fun with Highways: #TX07

Primary election season is in full swing.  In a couple weeks, we will be having one here in California (as well as an election for mayor here in SF).  But tomorrow, there is a runoff in Texas’ 7th Congressional District (TX07) in which we at CatSynth are taking a keen interest.  As illustrated in the map, TX07 cuts an odd shape through the western neighborhoods of Houston and the adjacent towns in Harris County.  It is a diverse area and intersects with all three of Houston’s loop highways, which is no small feat.  It includes several wealthy enclaves, but also middle-class neighborhoods, and areas that have been hit by serious flooding during Hurricane Harvey and preceding events.

US 59The southeast “bulge” part of the district includes sections of Houston that lie within the I-610 loop, or “Inner Loop”.  I-610 separates the downtown sections of Houston from outer neighborhoods and surrounding communities, including towns like Southside Place.  It is bisected west-to-east by the new I-69 (US 59).  The area where these two highways intersect would not look out of place in Los Angeles.

[By Socrate76 [CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL], from Wikimedia Commons]

Heading north and west, we come to the middle section of the district, which is largely a horizontal rectangle bounded by the mighty I-10 to the north, and which extends almost to Katy in the west.  Beltway 8, also known as the Sam Houston Parkway/Tollway, bisects this segment of the district.  Just to the west of the beltway are the Briarforest neighborhood and the ominously named Energy Corridor.  Not surprisingly, several major energy corporations have operations in this area, as do several other businesses.  The Buffalo Bayou – we at CatSynth are still not entirely sure what separates a bayou from a river – cuts through the district.  It was subject to major flooding during Hurricane Harvey.  In addition to the bayou itself cresting at record levels above flood stage. releases from the Barker Reservoir caused severe flooding in adjacent low-lying neighborhoods.  We have sources that have informed us that the floodwaters in the Energy Corridor area were most unpleasant.

The final section of the district cuts an inverted “L” between State Highway 6 and State Highway 99, the outermost loop around Houston, bounded on top by US 290.  In all, the district has an odd shape indeed, but not so odd when one considers the tradition of gerrymandering, an art which has been taken to new heights by Texas’ Republican-controlled state government.  Its shape has long preserved it as a safe Republican district – it has elected Republicans to Congress consistently since George H.W. Bush in 1966.  But the city and surrounding area have been changing, and it is seen as vulnerable to flip to 2018.

Several Democratic candidates have vied to take on incumbent Republican John Culbertson, including Laura Moser, a progressive candidate who also just happens to be the sister-in-law of CatSynth author and founder Amanda Chaudhary.  As such, we are watching her candidacy with great interest and excitement.  Leading up to the main primary in March, things got a bit nasty, with the DCCC (Demoncratic Congressional Campaign Committee) throwing its weight behind another candidate, more mainstream and connected to the Democratic establishment.  This was an unusual move for a suburban primary election, and some of the opposition was rather mean-spirited.  But that is a long-standing part of elections, and it only served to galvanize support for Moser, who placed second in the crowded field and made to the runoff which happens tomorrow, May 22.  Not having learned their lesson the first time, the DCCC has continued to attack her, including some rather nasty opposition-research-style drops (in some ways, they reminded me of some recent attacks on Jane Kim on our local mayor’s race in SF).  But in this case, it was against family, and therefore personal in addition to being against my political views.  So we at CatSynth are pulling strongly for Laura Moser in Texas’ 7th Congressional District tomorrow, and hope she wins both the runoff and the general election in November.  You can find out more about her history and positions on her website, and if you have any friends in TX07, please encourage them to get out and vote!

#Houston Updates

As the heat recedes in San Francisco and we return to something closer to normal, our attention returns to our human and feline friends in Houston and elsewhere affected by the storm.

In addition to rescuing stranded pets, one of the challenges facing animals and those who care from has been the damage done to local shelters in southeast Texas by the storm. Organizations from around the country have stepped up.  From the San Francisco SPCA’s recent Facebook post:

Rescue Cats from Texas coming to SF SPCA.

Rescue Cats from Texas coming to SF SPCA.

Our little ‘Stormtroopers’ (15 pups and 15 kitties) are resting peacefully after arriving last night from a galaxy far, far away (also known as Texas). We will be providing frequent updates over the next few days and they should all be available for adoption by the end of the week. Stay tuned here and on our adoption pages for news and pictures. Thanks again to our partners–Muttville Senior Dog Rescue, The Milo Foundation, MAD Dog Rescue, Charlie’s Acres, PetSmart Charities and Austin Pets Alive!–for helping bring the ‘Troopers back to the Bay Area so we can help find them new homes. The people and pets of Texas still need your help so please consider making a donation to Austin Pets Alive or any of the other organizations that are on the ground in the Houston area helping to make a difference.

Speaking of Austin Pets Alive, they continue to be on the ground helping their friends to the east, including the hard-hit city of Beaumont.   From APA’s latest update:

– We are not only taking owner-surrendered dogs. Best Friends Animal Society opened their temporary shelter at the Montgomery County Fairgrounds on Thursday, and the City of Austin and City of Houston have both opened facilities in the past 48 hours to help take in strays and lost animals. So, we have transitioned back to working with animals who are not waiting for an owner and need to work towards adoptions – which is what APA! does every day back in Austin.

– Thankfully, the city of Beaumont has set up the Ford Center to accept stray animals – so they have a safe, albeit warm, place to be. It is important to us that the pets coming to our facilities also come with the most information possible, as we need to know whether to help animals find forever homes or reunite with their families.

Best Friends Animal Society continues to also be on the ground helping rescue and reconnect animals with their humans.

We are happy to say that our human and feline friends at Mad Macedonian and Opinionated Pussycat are safe in Houston, although perhaps a bit soggy.  This Instagram post was from the storm itself last week.  The waters have receded since then.

Others are not so fortunate. Arun Chaudhary has been documenting the devastation in and around the Houston area in exquisitely detailed but distressing sometimes terrifying photos. This first one is along I-10.

One of the big issues now with the flood waters is the pollution and toxicity unleashed by the area’s massive energy-production industry. It is impossible to get a sense from the images of just what is coming.

Laura Moser, founder of Daily Action and Congressional candidate, continues to work in the communities on the north and west of the city, including Katy. The scenes from there are pretty devasting.

You can see the entire series of photos in this Tweet thread, which features photos by Arun Chaudhary. She also made this call for specific supplies needed:

Several of us have been going back and forth to 8503 Mesa Drive with supplies. There are now 3 drop-off locations for people who want to drop off contributions: my house (in WU off Kirby), my dad’s office (in Village), and a friend’s house in RO. Please PM me for addresses. We have a few new needs, too, for people still going to the store:
Antibiotic ointment, Benadryl, Benadryl for kids, Band-Aids, first-aid kits. A lot of people are still living in these ruined houses with their kids, who already have asthma. We also have an ongoing need for formula and also BOTTLES.

For those far away (like us), the best way to help humans and animals continues to be money that organizations can use for whatever needs arise, but if you are in a position to provide specifically-needed materials, this list is a good place to start.

Support for Animals affected by Hurricane Harvey

Hurricane Harvey flooding in Texas
[By Jill Carlson ( from Roman Forest, Texas, USA (Hurricane Harvey Flooding – 8/26/17 to ?) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons]

We at CatSynth are looking to help our feline and human friends in Houston and along the Texas gulf coast as the catastrophic flooding from Hurricane Harvey continues. Here are some resources for donating and supporting people and their pets.

From Vox:

Houston Humane Society: The group is helping marshal care and shelter for pets in the area. You can give here. The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals of Texas is undertaking similar efforts. You can give here. The San Antonio Humane Society is doing the same. More here.

UPDATE! Many shelters in the flood and storm areas have been affected and need help. You can find a list here (couresy of

Some friends have also donated to Austin Pets Alive.  They are further inland and on higher ground, and are helping with pet evacuations and shelter.

We are happy to report that our friends and family in the greater Houston have all checked in safe and dry, along with their pets.  We certainly hope that they and others weather the storm.

More "Primary Highways": Texas, Austin, Hill Country, and San Antonio

Today we visit the state of Texas, on the day before its presidential primary (along with Ohio, Rhode Island and Vermont).

We start with the capital city of Austin, probably the only place in Texas I could actually live. It is considered a liberal and cultural oasis, with the University, major high-tech companies, and a lively music scene:

[photo by Larry D Moore]

Austin is also quite a scenic town. It is at the edge of the “Texas Hill Country,” and contains several artificial lakes along the Colorado River (no, it's a different Colorado River). This includes the downtown:

and nearby Lake Austin:

The last photo is the Pennybacker Bridge, carrying “loop highway” 360 over Lake Austin. Texas has several so-called “Loop” highways that must use a different definition of the word “loop” than most of us. Another of these is Loop 1, the Mo Pac expressway.

I did visit the Austin area last year, though I did not get much of a chance to explore the music or scenery. Indeed, my experience with the city itself was decidedly un-scenic, as we attempted to get from the airport to I-35, and encountered this infamous interchange:

This interchange connects I-35, the area's only interstate highway, with state highway 71, still called Ben White Boulevard even though a large portion has been converted to a freeway. However, significant portions are still not freeway, and as I discovered there is no way to connect to or from I-35 south of the interchange without going through at least one traffic light and/or stop sign. You can read more about it in my article from Austin. I think this excerpt from the site

This intersection is the worst traffic disaster in Austin. The 290/71 freeway ends about 0.5 mile to the west of the interchange, dumping all the traffic into this substandard intersection with a traffic light. But relief is on the way. The 5 level stack is under construction. Texas 71 will be depressed below grade, and the feeders will be at grade.

Fortunately, we quickly left this disaster for the bucolic Texas Hill Country. T

This is another area that doesn't fit the stereotypes, with rolling hills, woods and meadows. And towns like Wimberly with a mixture of rustic and New Age character one associates with tourist areas here in northern California – they even have a small wine industry. We meet this skinny little follow while there:

And well-known ranch critters, like white peacocks:

Heading further south from the hill country on I-35 (which I did not do myself), one arrives in San Antonio:

The former is of course Texas' most famous monument, the Alamo. THe latter is a local sculpture, the “Torch of Friendship.” Frequent readers will know I like to balance the old with the new. Speaking of strange combinations of old and new, consider this view from one of San Antonio's major freeways, US 281:

The photo above is from, which states “The 281 freeway in San Antonio was one of the more controversial freeways in Texas, and possibly the most controversial.” As the photo suggests, it weaves its way around existing structures:

This is probably the most interesting and usual feature of the freeway. Although not visible in the photo, Sunken Gardens in on the right, and Alamo stadium is on the left.

It reminds me of the freeways in New York City, which narrowly wind between over a century of previous buildings. Other, larger, highways include something you see in New York, but almost never in California: double-deckers, such as this section of I-35:

As the signs suggest, we are looking back north on I-35, towards Austin. And thus we come full circle.

Weekend Cat Blogging 106: Unpopular Border Wall endangers Ocelots

Luna and I would like to use Weekend Cat Blogging #106 to warn our readers and friends about the dangers of a proposed border fence/wall through the Rio Grande Valley in Southwest Texas.

As the truck rounds a bend near the greenish-brown Rio Grande, a bobcat scampers ahead, disappearing into the lush subtropical foliage. Lizards dart about. A tortoise lazes in the sun. Somewhere in the forest, well-camouflaged by evolution, are ocelots and jaguarundi, both of them endangered species of cats.
These are some of the natural wonders in the Rio Grande Valley that Brown and other wildlife enthusiasts fear could be spoiled by the fences and adjacent roads the U.S. government plans to erect along the Mexican border to keep out illegal immigrants and smugglers.

We featured the Texas ocelot (a subspecies) in a previous WCB post on endangered wild cats.

Seeing a photo of an ocelot, it's easy to forget that they are wild cats and not some exotic breed. But they are wild cats, who are endangered. And they are not the only ones endangered by this misguided plan. The Rio Grande Valley is a success story of ecological restoration that could be destroyed by the Homeland Security border-fence plan. Usually, there would be an ecological review of such plans, but it seems Homeland Security can simply waive that requirement.

And if wild cats and unique ecology, the local communities, including the cities of Laredo and McAllen and towns in between are all against it. They have lived with their neighbors across the river for a long time and the communities on both sides of the border are intertwined, socially and economically. And people there are pretty upset about this, as illustrated in this Houston Press article:

They don't like the fact that Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff can circumvent the same federal environmental studies they would have to undergo if they wanted to put in a road or a bridge. He has specially granted waiver powers, and if he wants a fence, he gets one ? no matter how many dead birds and ocelots are left behind to clean up.

They can't stomach the representatives they've met in the Department of Homeland Security, from Chertoff on down, who seem to them to be unreasonable, untrustworthy creatures, arrogant in manner and not always inclined to truthfulness.

Most of all, Allen and others want to know why the same federal government ? the one that for years ignored their repeated requests for an interstate (“We're the only area with 1 million population that doesn't have an interstate”), $10 million to repair their levees (“We'll be like New Orleans when Katrina hit) and money to help them improve their public schools ? all of a sudden has untold millions of dollars to plunk down on a fence that none of them want.

And now the people and wild cats of the Rio Grande Valley find themselves caught in the middle of the big immigration debate, indeed it was coming home on the radio last night that we heard this story.

We at CatSynth have some strong opinions about the immigration issue, but we'll save some of that for later – actually, that photo on the NPR article is begging for some LolCat treatment. For WCB, we simply want to let our readers know about the wild cats and people endangered by this plan. We urge U.S. readers, and especially Texas readers, to contact their representatives to try and stop this, or at the very least have it go through the same local and environmental reviews that any other major project would require.

For some non-endangered kitty fun, please go visit the big WCB 106 Roundup hosted by Kate and Puddy at A Byootaful Life. Puddy is having some fun hunting a pencil. We're also finally adding ourselves to the Friday Ark #143 and Carnival of the Cats #169.

Weekend Cat Blogging #103: Texas Cat, and some updates

Luna is taking a break this weekend while we introduce a little friend from my recent trip to Texas. While staying at a cottage outside the town of Wimberly, Texas, I encountered this fellow hiding under the deck:

Presumably, he (she) is one of the many roaming outdoor cats that one finds in rural areas. Quite shy at first, a day later the cat came out in the open and allowed me to take some better photographs:

Although quite thin (as several have already commented), this cat had a very nice coat, suggesting he does get some decent food, probably on a mixture of rodents, the occasional handout from neighbors, and naive city folk.

It's always a treat to see cats when I travel. There were a couple others in town and in the countryside, but I was not able to get any photos of them.

Check out the other cats this weekend at the The House of the (Mostly) Black Cats, where Boni and Mini are hosting. Among this weekend's entries is an update from kitikata-san on Bruno, the “little black kitty” who needed a home after being found with cuts and bruises on the side of the road. He's doing well now in his new home. You can read more about his story here.

We would also like to remind WCB'ers and others that we are donating all CD sales through June 4 to the family of TeaCup and the Bad Kitty Cats. Please consider supporting new music and our friends.

Fun with Highways: Austin, Texas

Some of you might have noticed that this site went dark for several days. During this time I was in the bucolic Texas “Hill Country,” away from any sort of computer and internet technology (not to mention cell phone service).

Like many out-of-state visitors, my first introduction to the area was the Austin airport. And you cannot leave the airport to either the city of Austin or the countryside without vist passing through this interchange:

This interchange connects I-35, the area's only interstate highway, with state highway 71, still called Ben White Boulevard even though a large portion has been converted to a freeway. However, significant portions are still not freeway, and as I discovered there is no way to connect to or from I-35 south of the interchange without going through at least one traffic light and/or stop sign. Indeed, this interchange between Austin's oldest and newest freeways is still very much under construction:

From the impressive site

This intersection is the worst traffic disaster in Austin. The 290/71 freeway ends about 0.5 mile to the west of the interchange, dumping all the traffic into this substandard intersection with a traffic light. But relief is on the way. The 5 level stack is under construction. Texas 71 will be depressed below grade, and the feeders will be at grade.

Austin seems to be a city awash in freeway construction projects. Several were plainly visible from the air. Again, the TexasFreeway site is an excellent source for more detailed information.

Another freeway of note in Austin is the MoPac expressway (aka “MoPac Boulevard”), or Loop 1. Texas has several so-called “Loop” highways that must use a different definition of the word “loop” than most of us. Loop 1 is mostly a north-south highway that fails to loop around much of anything. But hey, it's Texas, it's different, what can I say? Many readers might know Texas by its reputation, which has most certainly been harmed by George W Bush and his cronies. Austin, the state capital, has a separate reputation as a liberal oasis and thriving music/cultural scene at odds with the rest of the state. And within Austin, the MoPac is known for being quite scenic, at the interface between Austin and the Hill Country, and not having the usual frontage roads that track most Texas freeways. The frontage roads mostly attract ugly strip malls and other commercial developments that were almost as tacky as the televangelist I heard while driving on I-35 south – he seemed obessively concerned with identity theft (maybe he was bitter after sending his checking-account number to someone in Nigeria?), and decrying the assumption of power-of-attorney for elderly parents as a sin. If he has any grown children, I might advise them to do just that.

As my trip to the area was for family reasons, I will not go into details, although I probably will have some photos and other items of interest to share in a later post.