Texas: A Vision of America’s Future

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Posted by The Savvy Retiree on May 16, 2016 in Uncategorised

“The sun has risen, the sun has set, and we ain’t out of Texas yet.”
— Old Texas Saying

Today, we write to you from a nondescript coffee shop in a nameless, faceless strip mall.

We’re somewhere off of I-10, right in the heart of Anywhere America. Without checking a map (or knowing this particular area of the city very well), it’s safe to say we’re within a five-minute drive from…

A Starbucks… a Randalls… a Kroger… a Target… a sports bar… a Chinese takeout… a Barnes & Noble… a Laundromat… a Taco Bell… a CrossFit… a Walgreens… a Walmart… a McDonald’s… a hairdresser’s… a Papa Johns… a (we were going to say a “Blockbuster,” but they don’t exist anymore, do they?)

It’s right there. All around us. Stretching out for miles and miles in every direction…

One, big, urban sprawl.

We are always impressed by the Lone Star State. Even to an Australian, everything here seems BIGGER. The locals are BIG on football… BIG on Jesus… BIG on SUVs and shopping malls and meal portions and belt sizes.

And big on friendly gestures, southern hospitality, and good manners, too.

In many ways, it’s a kind of supersized America. Except, good folk are quick to assure you, when it comes to the size of government…

Texas is one of just seven states in the union (along with Alaska, Florida, Nevada, South Dakota, Washington, and Wyoming) with no state income tax.

It also has comparatively little state sales tax and, arguably, fewer rules and regulations than many of its northern, “Yankee” cousins.

Houston, for example, gets by almost entirely without a formal zoning code. Now, how on earth does a city of 2.2 million people (6.3 million including metro) function without a clearly defined, mandatory use of land code?

In a word: Co-operation.

CB Richard Ellis, the world’s largest commercial real estate services firm, does a lot of work here in Houston. The property giant had this to say about Houston’s peculiar absence of zoning in its Investment Research Quarterly publication…

Houston is well known as the only major U.S. city with no formal zoning code. Such a seeming lack of order is difficult to grasp by those unfamiliar with the area. The absence of a comprehensive land use code conjures up images of a disjointed landscape where oil derricks sit next to mansions and auto-salvage yards abut churches. To some degree these anomalies exist, yet for the most part, Houston is like any other large North American city.

What is unique about Houston is that the separation of land uses is impelled by economic forces rather than mandatory zoning. While it is theoretically possible for a petrochemical refinery to locate next to a housing development, it is unlikely that profit-maximizing real-estate developers will allow this to happen. Developers employ widespread private covenants and deed restrictions, which serve a comparable role as zoning.

Private agreements between consenting parties… Who would have thought such an outrageous proposition might actually work? And yet…here we sit, in a city buzzing with millions of people all going along to get along.

It’s true; there are no charming houses in this particular spot, as there are in other parts of the city. No grand, estate mansions. No sweeping parks. No rocking chairs on front porches or tire swings hanging from trees in the backyard or ice-houses built along the side of the road where folks can drop by for a cold beer and friendly chat.

Just concrete parking lots and concrete strip malls and concrete pillars holding up concrete highways.

But, along with the above-mentioned architectural banalities, a quick google search of the immediate vicinity also reveals (within that same five-minute drive)…

Liberty Station (“laidback neighborhood bar with a huge patio featuring beers on tap in a converted gas station”)…

Darkhorse Tavern (“hangout housed in a 1920s-era building offering drinks, darts, and free snacks”)…

Social Junkie (“modern, lounge-like bar showing games on TVs and projectors while offering pub grub and private rooms”)…

Beaver’s (“Laidback eatery serving barbecued organic meats, inventive cocktails, and microbrew beers”)…

In many ways, it’s the haphazard spontaneity of the city that lends it its charm. And the many and diverse inputs, of course.

The truth is, Texas is one of the most varied and multicultural states in the union. It has what’s called a “majority minority.” That is, most people here belong to one or another ethnic minority. It’s something demographic researchers expect to play out across the entire country in the future.

From the census bureau…

Between 2014 and 2060, the U.S. population is projected to increase from 319 million to 417 million, reaching 400 million in 2051. The U.S. population is projected to grow more slowly in future decades than in the recent past, as these projections assume that fertility rates will continue to decline and that there will be a modest decline in the overall rate of net international migration. By 2030, one in five Americans is projected to be 65 and over; by 2044, more than half of all Americans are expected to belong to a minority group (any group other than non-Hispanic white alone); and by 2060, nearly one in five of the nation’s total population is projected to be foreign-born.

At least demographically, Texas is America’s future.

It is also the kind of state that has the decency and wherewithal to at least threaten to secede every now and then. Even if it never quite makes the cut, every few years the secession discussion boils to the surface again. Should Texas—once its own, independent country—break away from the union?

Typically, the subject arises when the state is flush with oil and gas money. Right now, after two years of cripplingly low oil prices, such talk is faint.

Still, depending on who wins the White House, one gets the feeling the embers of rebellion could easily rekindle.

Maybe independence is in the winds too…

T&P Tool Shed

Something Brew for a Change

By the Staff of The Savvy Retiree Daily

Pumpkin Spice IPA. Maple Bacon Coffee Porter. Rocky Mountain Oyster Stout (contains three “rocky mountain oysters” per barrel). One of the major appeals of craft beer is in its collectability, sniffing out rare and unusual brews and tasting just that bit more than your friends (which you’ve been keeping track of with this app).

But as with all great lovers of art, culture, and food there comes a point where it’s not enough to enjoy the work of others. It’s time to get your hands dirty and enter the process.

With homebrewing, the most expensive part is getting started but over time you’ll find that brewing is very affordable, fulfilling, and you’ll taste some truly original beers (for better or worse). This starter kit will put you back about $140 to $160 and get you started on your homebrew journey.

5-gallon stainless steel or aluminum kettle ($35)
6-gallon plastic bucket with spigot ($19)
6-gallon fermentation bucket ($13)
Airlock and Stopper ($1.25)
Nylon bags (or pantyhose in a pinch) for adding hops to the boil ($4.25)
Racking cane to syphon beer out of the fermenter ($10)
Food grade sanitizer ($10)
Hydrometer and Hydrometer Jar ($11)
Waterproof thermometer with a range that includes 130 F to 190 F. ($6)
Bottle caps ($5)
Bottle capper ($17)
Bottling wand ($4)
5 feet of 3/8-inch beverage line. Use this for transferring beer and filling bottles. (85 cents)
Bottles ($0-$32) For five gallons you’ll need 30 22-ounce bottles, or you could save your empties and use those instead.

Now that you’re all kitted out it’s time to try your hand at cookin’ up some suds. Here’s a list of some of the easier recipes to get you started.