Lineup Change

The pressure is on the Chron's sports columnists

The Houston Chronicle's team of sports columnists has remained pretty stable since the firing of Ed Fowler six years ago. Then again, the lineup of My Wife and Kids hasn't changed much either lately, but that doesn't mean it's a good product.

The Chron's group -- Fran Blinebury, Dale Robertson and John P. Lopez -- comprises about as tepidly predictable a bunch as any Top 20 newspaper in the country fields. (The fourth guy, Mickey Herskowitz -- the Leon Hale of the sports section -- is in a love-him-or-hate-him niche of his own, specializing in nostalgia.)

Rumors are flying at 801 Texas that the roster may be headed for a shake-up. Some say respected baseball beat writer Richard Justice will get a slot; others are speculating on an outsider being brought in, much as San Antonio's Rick Casey shoved Thom Marshall off the Metro front. (A move that brought with it a large increase in the number of times the words "San Antonio" appear on that page.)

Which columnist(s) won't survive? No one's sure.

But if the paper's sports columnists suddenly appear to be energized and putting out their best efforts, there may be an underlying reason why.

-- Richard Connelly

A New Way to Cab It

With Metro poised to ax trolley routes, thank God for the new Lone Star BikeCAB Company.

"Drivers sit on the front half of a bicycle," the company press release explains. "Their passengers sit behind on a comfortable seat built for two."

Six bikecabbies from Lone Star's parent company in San Diego arrived recently to train a cadre of 40 local drivers. Once recruited, they'll give rides to businesspeople and bar hoppers day and night.

To test how these luxury rickshaws might fill the trolley void, this reporter asked San Diego bikecabbie Keith Torgerson to pedal him from City Hall to the Main Street rail line. A wiry fellow with Ray Bans and a deep tan, Torgerson dove into the fray of speeding cars and dumbfounded pedestrians with his bravery. Toward the end of the trip, he managed to overtake trolley No. 37 at a red light and cut the driver off -- a clear victory for pedal power.

The only disadvantage is the price, which averages $3 to $5 but often depends on how desperate you look. "Some riders are gougers, and that's not good," Torgerson said. "But we're a pretty honest group of guys." -- Josh Harkinson

In Defense of a Good Nazi

Hindsight is, of course, 20/20. But Press reader David K. Marcus did a double take reading the Houston Chronicle's October 31 review of John Cornwell's book Hitler's Scientists.

Chron reviewer Alcestis Cooky Oberg criticizes Cornwell for not being sympathetic enough to Nazi scientists: "In essence, most German scientists weren't Gandhi. And therein lies the flaw that unravels this whole book. There is an absoluteness to the author's harsh moral judgments of the German scientific community, an absoluteness that reflects a scholar's ivory-tower concept of a world in which high-minded ethical decisions are a lot easier than they are in real life."

Hmmm. Let's see. Slave labor, human experimentation, genocidal killings -- those are a few "ethical decisions" to puzzle the moral compass. It might be, as Oberg writes, "naïve and silly" to ask scientists to "keep themselves almost Christ-like in moral purity," but does it take an ivory tower (or Christ himself) to avoid trying to exterminate an entire race? Or, as Marcus suspected, has the Chron started borrowing copy from the Journal of Historical Revisionism? -- Michael Serazio

Clean Engines

Railroad engineers call them goats, but with over 2,000 horsepower, the switcher locomotives that move boxcars around rail yards are better thought of as Godzillas. And like the fire-spewing beast, they wreak havoc with their toxic breath -- in this case, diesel emissions.

In urban communities like Houston, diesel is a major cause of lung problems. It exacerbates asthma and, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, contributes to at least 70 percent of cancer risks caused by air pollution.

In a new bid to reduce diesel emissions in Houston, an enterprising company hopes to outfit the city's rail yards with its new Green Goat, an eco-friendly locomotive that runs off a hybrid gas-electric engine similar to those used by compact cars like the Toyota Prius and Honda Insight.

The RailPower Technologies Corp. of Vancouver, B.C., estimates air pollution savings from its Green Goat will equate to the removal 700 cars from the road.

The company has applied for Texas emissions reduction grants to help rail yards buy the $850,000 Green Goat -- or a smaller model, the Green Kid -- and expects a decision from the state this month.

The Green Goat would cut fuel costs in half. "If these kind of savings became widespread among America's 10,000 switchers," says RailPower founder Nigel Horsley, "that would be a huge contribution." -- J.H.

 
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