Sunday, June 29, 2008

100 films in less than two minutes

This is really clever. Someone who goes by the handle of barringer82 came up with his 100 favorite films of all time and then compiled clips of them into a video that's less than two minutes long.

Grades for new movies to be released this Tuesday on DVD

City of Men (2008) A mix of credible sociology and tired melodrama, along with a palpable sense of déjà vu. Because the plight of boyz 'n' the hood is a global tragedy, its depiction on the screen has become a global commonplace with its own attendant danger – the tragedy is starting to feel trite. Grade: B-

Drillbit Taylor (2008) Owen Wilson. If only it had some funny lines, a focused plot and an idea that stretched beyond the initial setup. Grade: C-

My Blueberry Nights (2008) Jude Law, Norah Jones, Natalie Portman, Rachel Weisz, David Strathairn. The use of recognizable movie stars doesn't help serve Wong's style. "My Blueberry Nights" should have played like a memory, but its hard-living, luckless losers are too beautiful to be believed. Grade: C

Sex and Death 101 (2008) Winona Ryder. In a fair universe, "Sex and Death 101" would end its miserable life after one episode as a TV show. But this unfunny "dark comedy" goes on for two hours. Grade: D-

Shotgun Stories (2008) An austere rural landscape, festering hatred, class tensions, terse dialogue - these are common currency in indie movies these days. "Shotgun Stories" uses them all, but manages to stand out from the crowd. Grade: B+

Tyler Perry’s Meet the Browns (2008) The playwright, actor, director and drag queen (yes, his bewigged and be wild Madea makes a brief and totally gratuitous appearance in his new film) knows how to give human dimension, and a dimension of humor, to the cliches and stereotypes. Grade: C-

Vantage Point (2008) The truth is that two other films with Paul Greengrass' name on them, "The Bourne Supremacy" and "The Bourne Ultimatum," have spoiled us for this kind of thriller filmmaking, and stacked against that, "Vantage Point" doesn't have a chance. Grade: C-

Scat Cat

The New York Times is doing a series of articles exploring medical treatments that are in wide use even though there is little evidence that these treatments actually do any good. I found today's article on CT scans extremely interesting. It suggests that the devices are so expensive, doctors will insist patients be tested by them, at a cost of $500 to $1,500 per treatment, just to pay for them even though the tests are not needed and less expensive methods could be employed. Here is one telling part of the article:

"Increasing use of the scans, formally known as CT angiograms, is part of a much larger trend in American medicine. A faith in innovation, often driven by financial incentives, encourages American doctors and hospitals to adopt new technologies even without proof that they work better than older techniques."

It's a rather lenghthy story but worth the read, especially if you are seeing a doctor who is recommending a CT scan for you.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

The answer to a lot of problems

It's all well and good that AT&T decided to relocate to Dallas, but the relocation we really need here -- the one that will solve all our problems -- is the relocation of an NFL football team to Dallas. And I mean to Dallas, not Irving, Arlington, Grand Prairie, or Frisco. Right smack dab in the middle of Dallas. In fact, I've got the perfect spot for a new stadium: where the soon-to-be-demolished Reunion Arena stands today.

New York has two NFL teams, so why shouldn't Dallas? In fact, New York seems to have two of everything: two basketball teams, two baseball teams. New Yorkers even have two professional hockey teams, for crying out loud. I know. You're saying New York has a larger population than Dallas, but I'll counter that by saying New York is not nearly as football-obsessed as Dallas. If the Dallas Morning News is any indication, the only two major sports seasons around here are the Cowboys season and the Cowboys off-season.

Now the team we have to convince to relocate here would have to be an AFC team because then we could dream of an all-Dallas Super Bowl. Think about it. When the Arlington Cowboys are playing at home, the new Dallas team is playing on the road and vice versa. Dallas football nuts will rarely have to spend a weekend during an NFL season without the availability of a home game to experience. Perhaps we could convince the Kansas City Chiefs to return to the city of their birth. Al Davis has never been that excited about Oakland so maybe we could convince the Raiders to move here. Oh, how sweet that would be -- two ego-driven, media-controlling owners battling for the spotlight. Fun times.

Just think about it. No longer would we have to cry over the fact that Dallas lost the Cowboys to Arlington. No longer would we wonder if we could turn that Reunion property into a money-making venture. And, unlike Arlington which thinks mass transportation is something that happens when lanes of I-30 are closed for construction purposes, this stadium will be conveniently located at a currently-existing DART rail station. You talk about an economic booster shot to downtown Dallas, this is it!

In fact, the only persons I can see being against this deal are Jerry Jones, Angela Hunt, Mitchell Rasansky and the writers at the Dallas Observer.

The reasons for Jerry Jones' opposition are easy to see. He's not going to want this kind of competition right in his own backyard. And I can see his point. Having the market cornered is definitely preferable economically than any alternative. Jones will even send his son and another staff member to City Council meetings to pose as impartial experts to say why this is a bad deal. City council members Hunt and Rasansky will argue that Dallas has no reason to be in the football business. Rasansky will even offer to fly in economists from as far away as Seattle to prove the construction of a football stadium adds little if anything to a local economy and will try to appear on a panel with Jones to debate the issue with Mayor Tom Leppert, the head of the Dallas Convention & Visitors Bureau and the entire board of whatever the Dallas Chamber of Commerce is calling itself these days. The Dallas Observer will be against it because Angela Hunt is and at least two of its writers will file open records request demanding to see all e-mail correspondence between City Manager Mary Suhm and NFL Commissioner Roger Goddell. The Observer staff will also uncover data proving the land for the new stadium is overpriced, a report that will be contradicted by the Dallas Central Appraisal District, assistant city manager A.C. Gonzales and Parker Brothers, the publishers of Monopoly.

But I'm telling you, this could work. What are we waiting for?

Friday, June 27, 2008

Emmy predictions guaranteed to be correct

You can take this information to the bank. When the Emmy nominees are announced July 17 five of these 10 programs will be the nominees for best drama series:
Boston Legal (ABC)
Damages (FX)
Dexter (Showtime)
Friday Night Lights (NBC)
Grey's Anatomy (ABC)
House (Fox)
Lost (ABC)
Mad Men (AMC)
The Tudors (Showtime)
The Wire (HBO)

And five of these 10 will be nominated for best comedy series:
Curb Your Enthusiasm (HBO)
Entourage (HBO)
Family Guy (Fox)
Flight of the Conchords (HBO)
The Office (NBC)
Pushing Daisies (ABC)
30 Rock (NBC)
Two and a Half Men (CBS)
Ugly Betty (ABC)
Weeds (Showtime)

And if you don't already know how I can make this absolute guarantee, I'm not going to tell ya. So there.

By the way, if "Damages" or "Mad Men" do make the final five, it will be the first time a basic cable television program has been up for this award. And, if "Weeds," "The Tudors" or "Dexter" gets a nomination, it will be first time a cable series not telecast on HBO has been nominated.

How the Mavs and the Bucks have helped the New Jersey Nets

The New Jersey Nets are really looking good right now. First, they pawned off Jason Kidd and his huge contract on the Dallas Mavericks. Then, last night, the Nets dumped their last bona fide all star, Richard Jefferson, on Milwaukee.

That means two years from now -- right at the time the Nets move into their new arena in Brooklyn -- they will be way, way below the salary cap but with a solid, young nucleus. And, wouldn't you just know it, that's the year that Lebron James, Amare Stoudemire, Chris Bosh and Dwayne Wade become free agents. Nets General Manager Kiki Vandeweghe (remember him, Mavs fans?) must be really licking his chops right about now.

When you wish upon a draft

What do the following people have in common? Monty Williams, John Wallace, Walter McCarty, Dontae Jones, John Thomas, Frederic Weis, Donnell Harvey, Maybyner Hilario, Michael Sweetney, Channing Frye, David Lee, Renaldo Balkman, Mardy Collins, and Wilson Chandler.

The answer is they were the first-round draft picks by the New York Knicks from 1994 through last year.

'Nough said.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Betting windows are open for one-term Dallas City Council members

Last year's freshman class on the Dallas City Council was the largest that I can remember since the inception of 14-1 election system. Half of the 14 individual council members are serving their first terms. The question for today is: How many of those are serving their only terms? Never one to shy away from stepping into the breach, here's the way I see it.

Place 7 member Carolyn Davis is toast. She's gone. Absolutely no chance she'll be back. Zero. Nada. First of all, she wasn't the choice of the voters the first time around. Billy J. Ratcliff was. Trouble was that after he filed for the election and was told he met all the qualifications to run, the City Secretary came back and said "Oh, gee, I'm so sorry, Mr. Ratcliff, but the district boundary line runs down that street there right in front of your house and, guess what?, your house is on the wrong side of that line." Ratcliff was declared ineligible, very early in the process. Trouble was, however, it wasn't early enough to remove his name from the ballot. Nevertheless, he didn't campaign and it was made clear a vote for Ratcliff was a wasted vote. STILL, HE WON THE ELECTION. Over a quarter of the voters casting votes in that district's primary cast them for Ratcliff. That's how much the people in that district favored him. Well, you'll never guess what has happened since. Ratcliff up and moved and now his residence is in the district. If he could beat Davis like a drum when he didn't campaign and wasn't eligible, think how one-sided this is going to be when he is eligible and does campaign. Not only that, Miss Davis has been an embarrassment on the council and a poor reflection on her constituents. Like I said, she's toast.

Anyone remember Joseph Hernandez? I thought not. Anyone remember Ed Oakley? I thought so. To refresh your memory, Hernandez came within 147 votes of leading Dave Neuman in the Place 3 primary and only lost to Neuman by 285 votes in the runoff. Oakley, on the other hand, surprised everyone by making the runoff against Tom Leppert for mayor. He is a expert politician and a master corraler of votes. Plus I personally witnessed Oakley during the last redistricting process, when he represented District 6, carve District 3 to his own specifications with his election to that district his sole motivating factor. There's no question he's going to be seeking some political office next year. He's not only filed all the paperwork, he recently held a very successful fundraising event WITHOUT EVEN SPECIFYING WHAT HE WAS RUNNING FOR. If he decides to seek re-election to District 3, Oakley will hand Neuman his battered hat. Newman has worked tirelessly since his election to stay in contact with his constituents and he's done a good job at those attempts. What he has failed to do, however, is really connect to these constituents, at least not as well as Oakley has. If Ed runs, Dave's gone.

After that, I don't see any of the other members of the freshman class being that vulnerable. Sheffie Kadane in District 9 and Jerry Allen in District 10 have made some major enemies because of a few of their zoning decisions. But Lake Highlands doesn't like to turn on its own and Allen didn't even face an opponent last year. (This could change, of course, if former council member Bill Blaydes, who opposed Allen's most controversial zoning decision, decides he still has a taste for active city council politics. But the last couple of times I have seen Mr. Blaydes my first thoughts were ones of concern for his health.) As for Kadane, I believe that it's going to take someone with a profile higher than that of a Jill Kotvis or a gadfly like Albert Turner (the two candidates who narrowly failed to keep Kadane from winning his place without a runoff) to unseat Kadane. Someone like Advocate publisher Rick Wamre might pull it off as might Dallas School Board member Leigh Ann Ellis. I have no idea what Wamre might do if approached, but I am convinced Miss Ellis is passionately committed to improving the Dallas school system and will remain where she is. Former members Mary Poss or Gary Griffith could win it, but I believe Miss Poss when she says she's out of elective politics and I'm not sure Griffith has the heart for it again.

Neither Vonciel Hill nor Tennell Atkins have really distinguished themselves but I think Mr. Atkins has quietly worked to solidify his position with voters in his district and Ms. Hill might be like Mr. Kadane, safe unless she has to face a real heavyweight, which makes me wonder what Larry Duncan is up to these days.

That leaves Dwyane Carraway who is not only the safest bet among the Freshmen 7 to return, but probably the safest best for re-election on the council. Carraway is so not worried about his re-election chances, he's already laying the groundwork for his mayoral campaign that will take place in 2011 if Mr. Leppert decides one term is enough or in 2015 if Leppert stays the limit. That will be the year Mr. Carraway will be term limited in his council seat as well. Works out nicely, doesn't it.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Let's see if I can get through the thick heads: the debate is NOT about pay for Sanitation employees

There are a lot of people in this town, including a number I respect and admire, who simply do not understand the debate involving the wages paid to the folks who collect residential garbage in Dallas. Are these folks grossly underpaid? Perhaps. Are they paid by the City of Dallas? No. Can the city do anything about raising their pay? (See answer to the "grossly underpaid" question.)

I'm writing this because of this story that appeared today in Unfair Park that incorrectly stated that two speakers who came before the Dallas City Council were "pleading for higher pay for sanitation workers." They weren't. Sam Merten, however, isn't the only writer/commentator who's getting this wrong, by any stretch of the imagination. He's simply the latest in the long line.

Let me see if I can make this clear. Sanitation workers, those City of Dallas employees involved in garbage, bulky trash, recycling pickup are, for the most part, truck drivers. They are paid roughly $18 an hour. The folks who (by somtimes riding along on the trucks, but more often by walking or running alongside the vehicles) actually pick up the trash and throw it into the truck are not City of Dallas employees. They work for a company that was the successful bidder (i.e., the "lowest responsible" bidder) for a contract to provide these workers. These folks are paid minimum wage, which, incidentally, will increase 12% percent next month -- a bigger raise than any City of Dallas employee will receive. But that's not the point. The point is that they don't receive a paycheck from the City of Dallas and grandstanders like Mitchell Rasansky (Merten calls his comments "hard hitting" but in reality he was being nothing more than a buffoon, as usual) can pledge $4 to $5 million all they want to, but none of this will automatically go into the pockets of these workers. Once more, Rasansky knows this. His ploy was nothing more than deal-making between him and council member Dwyane Carraway and I'm surprised that someone as observant as Merten didn't see through Rasansky's political charade.

And those speakers who came before the city council were not "pleading for higher pay for sanitation workers," but pleading for higher pay for the contract laborers who work for this outside company. One of the speakers, in fact, was one of those contract laborers.

Now, here's something the city can do. The Council can dictate that the next time the City sets out this contract for bid, it must contain a provision that these workers must be paid no less than (whatever amount the council desires). Actually, the city proposed this very notion last November. In a briefing to the council, the Sanitation Services Department recommended the contract call for these employees to be paid an amount equal to the lowest amount the city pays all its other part-time employees. The Council, however, took no action on the idea at that time.

But the council can still do this and, frankly, I have no problem if it does. And Rasansky can keep his $4 to $5 million because the money to pay for this higher contract will come from the same place Sanitation Services gets all its operating expenses: from the sanitation fees Dallas Water Utilities customers see billed to them on their monthly water bill. I have it from a very reliable source that the cost to raise these contract workers' pay to this level will be 19 cents a month. That's a measly $2.28 per household per year. Of course, that will be on top of the 50 cent increase already being proposed for the next fiscal year which begins in October. Plus, the way the council is talking now, they will probably want to raise these workers pay even higher than the minimum wage the city pays its other part-time workers, so, to be on the safe side, let's say the pay increase will cost each household 25 cents a month. That means household Sanitation Fees will increase about 75 cents a month or $9 a year. Actually that's not a bad deal.

Going to the dogs

If this story and and this story weren't related before, here's hoping they are now.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Good news for the Mavericks

The New York Times ran a story this morning on Thursday's NBA draft which contained the following sentence (good news for the Mavericks since the team traded away this year's first round draft choice in the Jason Kidd deal):

"It is a good year to be drafting in the second round, and a bad year to be drafting low in the first round, where the players get two-year guaranteed deals but may not be any better than those taken 15 spots later."

Monday, June 23, 2008

One person's vegetables is another person's desert

Sharon Boyd, a familiar voice among those who speak about city affairs, begins a recently posted article by admitting that she's "a big fan of the Dallas zoo." Good for her. I'm not, but that's me. I personally don't like the idea of animals that should be roaming free in the wilds of another continent confined for the enjoyment of urban residents. But that's a debate best left for another day. While I may not agree with her opinion, I will respect it, as I respect the opinion of my son who loves to take his 2 1/2-year-old daughter to the zoo.

I have never, ever been to the Dallas Aquarium. No reasons, specifically. It just doesn't interest me. I will go hundreds, even thousands, of miles to view a display of impressionist art in a museum, but I have no interest in seeing fish swimming in tanks. I have not even been to the super duper aquarium in downtown Dallas, although I hear it is really worth the effort. I also hear it is overpriced and that observation is what has kept me from saying "There's some place I really want to go to." However, my son has taken his daughter there as well and his only complaint, besides the admission price, was that it involved a lot of walking that may be hard on those with infants and the elderly.

On the other hand, I am excited about the prospects of the Trinity River Project because I'm convinced something like a Central Park or a Golden Gate Park would be a great addition for Dallas, especially if planners didn't spoil it by putting a high-speed roadway through it. I am also excited about the idea of a Lincoln Center-like outlet that is taking shape in the Arts District. Will I ever go to one of these buildings? Well, that depends on what is being offered. But I like to know it's there, just the same way as I take pride in the Nasher Sculpture Garden and the Dallas Museum of Art, places I visit on a regular basis. Ms. Boyd, on the other hand, is not a fan of the Trinity River Park or what's going on in the arts district and that's her right.

Ms. Boyd is complaining because, in a recent sneak peak at the 2008-09 fiscal year budget for the City of Dallas, City Manager Mary Suhm said the budget might call for the zoo to be closed one day a week and the aquarium to be shuttered permanently. Ms. Boyd wonders why we are spending money on places she doesn't care about (what she calls the "desert) at the expense of places she does (what she calls the "vegetables"). Of course, she fails to recognize the money is not coming from the same place (most of the arts district construction is being funded by private investors) or that those items were approved in different economic times.

The point I would like to make is that it doesn't have to be an either/or situation, especially because it really isn't. What Ms. Boyd fails to point out is that the Ms. Suhm isn't proposing reducing the hours of libraries and the zoo to pay for the Trinity River Park or the arts district. She's advocating these actions to pay for 200 more cops and more code enforcement officials. That's the real either/or. But even that either/or doesn't have to exist.

I remember six or so years ago when the City was going through another financial crunch, I was alone with former City Manager Ted Benavides and told him that I thought there were a lot of things the city did very well, but there were others the city not only didn't do well, but probably should not even attempt to do at all. One of them was running a zoo. I advocated then and I am advocating now that the city should get out of the zoo business. While I'm at it, I would recommend the city get out of the aquarium business as well. That does not mean permanently closing these facilities. At least, it doesn't have to mean that. The operative word here is "privatization." Turn it over to someone, preferably a non-profit organization, and let it operate these facilities so that the City can concentrate on what it's supposed to be doing and tax monies could go to these efforts.

Interestingly, that's what the city wants to do with the Convention Center hotel and it boggles my mind why the argument can be made that it's OK for the city to build and operate a zoo and an aquarium but not a hotel. Frankly, I believe in providing all, but operating none.

In fact, during this period, I would like to see the city manager focusing on what else the city could privatize. I could think of a number of things, but I'll save that for another day.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Grades for movies to be released this Tuesday on DVD

10,000 B.C. (2008) One doesn’t expect intelligent scripting or deep characterization from director Roland Emmerich, but this film’s lack of energy, poor special effects, and monotonous pacing lead to an inescapable conclusion: "10,000 B.C." isn’t only brain-dead, it’s COMPLETELY dead. It’s inert and without a heartbeat. Grade: D+

Bonneville (2008) Jessica Lange, Joan Allen, Kathy Bates, Tom Skerrit, Christine Baranski. A bland road movie running on empty. It’s depressing to see a deluxe cast wasted on such by-the-numbers material — from predictable plot to fabricated Hallmark sentiment to strenuous milking of warm-and-fuzzy laughs from the irrepressible spirit of three women whose youth is behind them. Grade: C-

Charlie Bartlett (2008) Anton Yelchin, Robert Downey Jr., Hope Davis. For the most part, it’s an uneven if amiable and occasionally inspired comedy about getting through adolescence that hits some false notes along the way. Grade: C+

Definitely, Maybe (2008) Ryan Reynolds, Isla Fisher, Derek Luke, Abigail Breslin, Elizabeth Banks, Rachel Weisz. This is a film bound and determined to do whatever it takes to be your Valentine. If it had trusted itself more, it might even have succeeded. Grade: C+

Finishing the Game (2007) This film doesn’t get anywhere that "Hollywood Shuffle" didn’t go to first, even if it has its own set of specific complaints about how show business treats Asians. Grade: C-

Honeydripper (2007) Danny Glover, Charles S. Dutton, Lisa Gay Hamilton, Stacy Keach, Mary Steenburgen. Written and directed by John Sayles. At its best when the characters sit around, dither, and ruminate. Moviemaking seems to have become almost magically easy for this independent writer-director. He builds a detailed atmosphere, brings his good people and his bad together, and lets them jabber at one another; the virtuosity is rhetorical rather than visual. Grade: B

In Bruges (2008) Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, Ralph Fiennes. Closer to films like "The Hit" and "Miller’s Crossing" than to McDonagh’s bristling, funny plays, this half-comic, half-serious account of two Irish hitmen who are sent to the titular Belgian burg to cool their heels after a job is moderately fair as a nutty character study, but overly far-fetched once the action kicks in. Grade: B

Persepolis (2007) If "Ratatouille" taught the world that rats have feelings too, "Persepolis" teaches the same thing about the people of Iran, who in the current political climate are probably in greater danger of being eradicated. Grade: A

Sea Monsters: A Prehistoric Adventure (2007) This Imax documentary is not your typical monster movie. It’s a computer-animated look back at a time when the world was covered by oceans that were ruled by giant creatures. Think "Jurassic Park" without the people. Grade: B+

The Spiderwick Chronicles (2008) Freddie Highmore, Mary Louise Parker, Nick Nolte, Joan Plowright, David Strathairn, Seth Rogen, Martin Short. It’s a good movie for its type, but it rarely stops to let us marvel at the world it creates. Grade: B-

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose

Paulville: If this wasn't so scary, it might be somewhat funny. Well, it still might be somewhat funny, especially if we could get someone like Eric Theodore Cartman to move out there and chronicle all his adventures in a television series.

A tax is a tax is a tax .... unless, of course, it's a fee

Jeff Siegel, writing on the Advocate's Back Talk blog, one of my personal favorites (both the author and the blog), maintains:
"My objection is not to paying (the City of Dallas) higher water fees, because we need the water. What's irritating is that the (Dallas City) council always pretends that higher fees aren't a tax increase. Of course they are."

Hmm. I'm not sure I can agree with that, unless his argument is that any money you pay to a government entity is a tax. OK, say today (well, perhaps, not today because there were all those thunderstorms this morning) you woke up and decided "What I want to do this morning is get in a quick 18 holes of golf." Not being a member of any of the local country clubs, you hop on over to Tennison, Elm Fork or one of the other municipal courses and play there. Of course, it costs to do that. Not being a golfer myself (Walking for miles to hack at a little while ball that will probably end up in the water anyway? No, thank you. Have better things to do with my time.), I don't know what the current price is for 18 at Tennison, but, whatever it is, does anyone really consider that a tax? And if the price for playing a round is increased, is that a tax hike? Under Mr. Siegel's definition of a tax, I guess it would be.

If TXU raises our rates (again), is that a tax increase, or does it only count if the government owns the utility. So if the city spins off Dallas Water Utilities into a private entity, would a water rate hike still be a tax increase? I guess not, then. Is the money DWU collects from other cities a tax?

Private trash haulers -- those folks who collect garbage at apartment complexes and restaurants -- take their collected booty to the McCommas Bluff Landfill where the haulers pay the City's Sanitation Services Department for the rights to dump their trash there. Is that a tax? Under Mr. Siegel's definition of a tax, I guess it would be.

I dunno. To me, there is a distinct differences between a fee paid (to whom it is paid is irrelevant) for specific services rendered -- whether that service is providing me with water, picking up my garbage or those services provided by my homeowners association -- and a tax, in which money goes into a mass account that is used to pay for public safety, road improvements, etc.

The city has this process homeowners must go through if they would like speed bumps installed on the public streets in their neighborhoods. It usually involves the homeowners agreeing to fork over some cash to get the job done. To me, that money is a fee, not a tax. Under Mr. Siegel's definition of a tax, I guess it would be a tax.

Pit bulls are the pits

While the Dallas City Council and our citizens-at-large are debating the pros and cons of a more restrictive pet ordinance, I hope they take into consideration stories like this one about another child fatally mauled by a pit bull.

Lifting restrictions on offshore drilling will not provide immediate relief at the pump

President Bush's announcement that he would seek to lift restrictions on offshore oil exploration so that Americans would not face such higher prices for fuel at their gas stations is one of the worst examples of political pandering I've seen from an administration that has made its reputation on political pandering.

The only thing lifting such restrictions would do is endanger the coasts of communities whose economies are based in large part on having clean water and clean coastlines.

It also calls into question why anyone would be stupid enough to think that additional drilling, and not conservation, is the answer. As Senator Harry Reid said yesterday (and I'm paraphrasing here), How can a country that consumes a quarter of the world's oil supplies yet owns a scant 3 percent of its reserves be foolhardy enough to think it can drill its way out of its problems. The Energy Information Administration reports that if offshore restrictions were lifted immediately on both coasts, consumers would not notice any relief at gas station pumps as a direct result of this action until the year 2030 at the earliest.

Here's some more data to file away on this issue. Oil companies already have drilling access to more 90 million acres of federal land offshore and yet they are not even drilling on 68 million acres of it (this according to the House Committee on Natural Resources and supported by studies conducted by the Wilderness Society). My question is: Why don't they drill on these lands instead of asking for the lifting of restrictions on others? And the reason is that this has nothing to do with producing more oil or helping consumers -- it is quite simply a blatant land grab the big oil companies hope to pull off before their buddies, George Bush and Dick Cheney, leave the White House.

UPDATE: It can be successfully argued that Sen. Robert Menendez is not the most objective person on this argument since he sponsored the original legislation that limited offshore drilling. But he sponsored it because his state, New Jersey, has many of those communities (i.e., the entire Jersey Shore) whose economies could be devastated by an oilspill. Nevertheless, his objections to lifting the ban merit examing. Besides, I'm naturally going to admire and promote anyone who re-inforces my arguments.

The legs have it

Manohla Dargis composed a wonderful appreciation of Cyd Charisse for today's editions of The New York Times. Here's my favorite part of the article:

"It’s impossible to imagine the Hollywood musical without her. Like the greatest American movie dancers, she showed how appearing on screen isn’t just a matter of mouthing words, but also moving through and holding space. And she was a stunning physical specimen, at once lean and beautifully curved, with a wasp waist that seems to have been naturally designed for a man’s hand to rest gently in its slope."

Last night I rewatched "The Band Wagon" and that incredibly sexy scene from "Singin' in the Rain" (a movie which, Dargis perfectly observes, "could certainly have been produced without her. But it surely would not have been as magnificent without the erotic jolt she gives [Gene]Kelly.") and marveled once again at the charismatic Cyd and those magnificent gams. And I also realized the answer to why Hollywood doesn't make great musicals these days; it's because we no longer have Gene, Fred and, now, Cyd.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Maybe there's hope for us yet

I am not going to go as far as to say that racism and sexism are dead in this country -- one only has to read the reaction from people in Dallas to the idea of re-naming Industrial Boulevard after Cesar Chavez to know that racism is alive and well here -- but here's a statistic that passed my way today that I found encouraging. During the recently completed primary election process, more than 35 million Americans voted for either senators Barach Obama or Hillary Clinton and that's more than voted for all the white males who ran -- in both parties -- combined.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Grades for movies to be released this week on DVD

Be Kind, Rewind (2008) Jack Black, Mos Def, Danny Glover, Mia Farrow. Written and directed by Michael Gondrey. An unambiguous celebration of the state of preadolescent fixation. The movie is perhaps best understood as a 12-year-old boy: You want to give it a hug and then yell at it to pick up after itself. Grade: C

Caramel (2008) Written and directed by Nadine Labaki. Beauty-parlor romantic comedy has been done to death and beyond, but what Caramel lacks in originality is redeemed by its exuberant sensuality and astute commentary on the way Lebanese women sit uncomfortably in the crosshairs of their country’s clash between patriarchal tradition and Westernized modernity. Grade: B

Chaos Theory (2008) Ryan Reynolds, Emily Mortimer. Directed by Marcos Siega. The big reason "Chaos Theory" doesn't work is that the gears are visibly grinding away, cranking out neat little ironies and life lessons without any liberating surprises. Grade: C-

Fool’s Gold (2008) Matthew McConaughey, Kate Hudson, Donald Sutherland. Directed by Andy Tennant. It's a big, cheesy, familiar bore. With its garland of set pieces featuring McConaughey in mortal danger strung together by beach-groovy musical hooks, "Fool's Gold" feels at times like a third-rate Bond movie set to a Jimmy Buffett album. Grade: D

Jack and Jill vs. the World (2008) Freddie Prinze Jr., Taryn Manning. Directed by Vanessa Parise. Parise no doubt intends the pic's attention to the disease — plus animal adoption and fair trade coffee — to be socially enlightening, but it feels suspiciously like sympathy-mongering. Grade: D+

Rails & Ties (2007) Marcia Gay Harden, Kevin Bacon, Directed by Alison Eastwood. Nobody feels anything they're not explicitly told to feel. Not even the audience. Grade: C-

Under the Same Moon (2008) Kate Del Castillo. Directed by Patricia Riggen. A harmless feel-good movie that tries to tell audiences what it's like to be a victimized immigrant, and mostly winds up telling them what it's like to have their heartstrings yanked, gratuitiously and often. Grade: C+

Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins (2008) Martin Lawrence, Margaret Avery, Michael Clarke Duncan, Mike Epps, Cedric the Entertainer, James Earl Jones. Written and directed by Malcolm D. Lee. Imagine a Three Stooges short with a feel-good ending, and you get the idea. Grade: C-

Friday, June 13, 2008

Industrial Blvd. needs to be renamed after Carsar Chavez revisited

I am glad someone else is going on record about this, and for reasons, eloquently expressed, that I neglected to mention.

Will Midwest flooding crest in Dallas?

According to this story in today's New York Times, Cedar Rapids, Iowa, was known as the city that would never flood. Today, it is under 12 feet of water and, with more thunderstorms on the way, the worst could still be yet to come.

To give you some idea how secure the city fathers of Cedar Rapids felt about their safety, they constructed the City Hall, the county courthouse and the county jail on an island in the river. News photos reveal how completely inaccessible those buildings are today.

All of which reminds me of the Trinity River Corridor Project and the, to me, foolish plan to construct a tollway inside the levees. From what I understand, this idea still hasn't met with the approval of federal officials and I'm wondering whether the flooding in Cedar Rapids could have some influence on the feds' decision.

Boston will win the NBA title

I've finally come around. After watching this game last night, I must admit that the Celtics are a better team than the Los Angeles Lakers and that Boston just seems to want to win the title more than the Lakers do. The only question now is whether the Celtics will win it on their home court or in Paul Pierce's hometown. Last night's improbable comeback by the Celtics has got to be a gut punch to the Lakers (similar to the one L.A. delivered to the San Antonio Spurs earlier in their playoffs), so that it's very likely this series won't extend beyond Father's Day.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Why did the chicken not cross the road? Because it was a suicide bomber.

My favorite line from this story is: "The road was closed while the Hartford Police Department's bomb squad came and blew up the chicken."

Monday, June 9, 2008

Industrial Blvd. needs to be renamed after Cesar Chavez

I have three good reasons why Industrial Boulevard should be named after Cesar Chavez and all three in one way or another are connected to the recent poll seeking citizen input on what the new name should be.

First, I voted for Cesar Chavez in the poll. I voted for it for a number of reasons but mainly because it was the best option of the six that were listed. Riverfront Boulevard, which will probably be the choice of the lackeys on the Dallas City Council, is a joke. It suggests that the Trinity is actually a river. It isn't. It's a stream or a creek, but it is definitely not a river. To qualify as a river, the body of flowing water in question must be one that someone would have to be in reasonably good shape to be able to swim across. You should not be able to walk across it, or hop over it, like you can the Trinity. It also suggests that the newly named road runs alongside this stream. It doesn't. The proposed tollway will run alongside it, but this road won't; that is, unless they are going to change the location of the current Industrial Boulevard. Trinity Lakes, another option, is just as laughable because it suggests those artificial ponds that will be placed out there are actually lakes. In order for a man-made body of water to qualify as a lake, there has to be a dam somewhere in the equation. The same holds true with such misnomers as Trinityview and Waterfront boulevards. All these make as much sense as renaming the McCommas Bluff Landfill something like Rose Garden Landfill.

The second reason Industrial should be named after Cesar Chavez is because it was the clear choice of those who participated in the poll. Now, the City Council, stunned at the results of the voting, are already backtracking and coming up with excuses to thwart the will of the people. But in any election in which there are six options and one of them gets over 50 percent of the vote, that's pretty clearcut to me. I will make this prediction: The city of Dallas will never have a primary election with six candidates running for mayor (assuming all six are two-legged) and have one of them pull 52 percent of the vote.

But the third and final reason is because of the comments posted to this item about the poll on the Dallas Morning News' City Hall blog. I recently had a heated discussion with my son on the subject of racism in Dallas. I maintained it was rampant and when you got to the heart of most major policy decisions made in this city, race would be the ultimate deciding factor. I am still stunned by the fact that it wasn't that long ago that Cinemark was prohibited from locating what would have been then its first movie theater in Dallas because of racial animosity (but I was also somewhat gratified that Cinemark sued the City of Dallas over this and won a huge settlement.) All one has to do is read the comments that were posted to this blog entry to realize that blatant racism is alive and well here in Dallas, Texas. Admittedly, I did not read all the comments because the first 50 or so made me so sick to my stomach I couldn't continue.

I always thought the term "ignorant racist" was inherently redundant until I read these comments. Most of them have absolutely no idea who Cesar Chavez was. Far too many of these commenters (none of whom have the courage to use their real names) didn't even know Chavez was an American, born and raised in Arizona. Too many of them wondered why we would honor someone with no connections to Texas without realizing his direct impact on the fruit workers of Starr County in the mid-'60s. I'd bet all of these idiots would be shocked to learn that the Labor Day Holiday in Dallas is officially designated as Labor Day/Cesar Chavez Day, that the state of Texas officially recognizes his birthday on March 31, that there is a statue of him on the campus of the University of Texas at Austin and that in 2003 the United States Postal Service honored him with a postage stamp.

Of course these same jerks compound their ignorant status by arguing the city should select a name that isn't even one of the options and, in the ultimate admittance of their ignorance, many of them proclaimed "I didn't even know there was a poll going on."

So a large part of me simply wants to stick it to these lamebrains and renaming Industrial Cesar Chavez Boulevard would do just that. But I have more honorable reasons as well. It seems to be the will of the people of Dallas and it's the least we can do to honor a true American hero.

Of course, do I expect our Dallas City Council to have the courage to do the right thing? It's more likely they will come across like Big Brown at Belmont.

UPDATE: The City Council committee was even more cowardly than I thought it would be, voting to delay making a decision until the first week in August when any actions will be obscured by the city manager's budget recommendations. That's when the council, in a hallucinatory state unseen since the heyday of Timothy Leary will recommend changing the name to Riverfront Boulevard. Give me a break!

"Sex and the City" is brand names if not brand new

BY PHILIP WUNTCH
Film Critic Emeritus

"Sex and the City" is no longer just a movie. It's a pop-culture landmark. Or at least it's this month's pop-culture landmark.

Its second weekend took a mighty box-office drop, but everyone involved knew it was a front-ended performer, with all "SATC" faithfuls determined to catch it opening weekend. It's still an unqualified worldwide smash hit.

So what does it all mean? Some analysts hope it will make Hollywood aware that movies starring women of a certain age can still be box-office hits, that not all "chick flicks" have to feature young chickadees. Of course, the same optimism was heard a dozen years ago when "The First Wives Club" hit big. Still, it's possible that the combined clout of this year's "SATC" and last year's "The Devil Wears Prada" could impact Hollywood think tanks. The possible success of the summer's upcoming "Mamma Mia!," with a singing Meryl Streep and Pierce Brosnan, could add more clout.

Reviews for "SATC" have been mixed, and some have been downright hostile. The wildly popular cable television show was credited with capturing the carefree consumerism of the turn of the millennium. However, the show's final episode was four years ago, and it's been a dour four years. Rampant consumerism is not so guilt-free when gasoline runs $4 a gallon.

Another criticism is that the quartet of lead female characters register a sense of entitlement rather than empowerment. I've always felt it ironic that in an era when women have grown more dominant in the business world, their roles on screen have been less dominant. For at least the last three decades, male movie characters have all preened around with a sense of entitlement. The entitlement registered by "SATC"'s women seems like equal time.

"SATC" fanatics have responded favorably to the movie. But many notice that the film lacks the cable show's flashy visuals, which would seem ideal for the big screen. The movie also carries a melancholy undercurrent, with the creators opting for a different tone than the television series. Even more disturbing to longtime devotees, the onscreen "Sex and the City" lacks an abundance of sex. Even lusty Samantha is more voyeur than participant.

At this point, I must make a confession. I watched only a few of the cable episodes, and my wife Mimi watched only a few more. So what did we think of the movie? Mimi liked it more than I, while I liked some of it and tolerated the rest. The dialogue was never as sharp as I expected. (A recent cable viewing of "The Devil Wears Prada" emphasized how its witty dialogue compensated for its totally predictable plot.) With "SATC" running close to two-and-one-half hours, we both looked at our watches frequently. Although the movie proudly tosses out brand names for the consumer, er, I mean the viewer, I will not divulge the brand names of our watches. If brand names excite you, see the movie. "SATC," all by itself, is one big brand name.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Grades for this week's new movies on DVD

The Bucket List (2007) Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson make the most of Justin Zackham’s script, but there just isn’t enough substance behind their characters to prop up the carpe diem platitudes. The result is a semi-comedic, geriatric "Brokeback Mountain" minus the sex and with a Himalayan summit. Grade: C-

Funny Games (2008) Writer/director Michael Haneke’s "Funny Games" has a current of bleak humor that comes through more clearly when you’re not reading subtitles. It remains a horrifying, implacable mind-fuck, liable to be widely misunderstood and widely despised. Grade: C-

The Grand (2008) Typical of bad improv, the inmates take over the asylum, leaving a movie that’s little more than a loose, wildly uneven assemblage of individual comedic shtick. Grade: C+

Jumper (2008) Director Doug Liman and a trio of writers eventually forget the rules they set up and hurl combatants to places they could never have seen or even known about: Who’d willingly project himself into the middle of a Chechnyan war zone? Grade: D+

The Other Boleyn Girl (2008) Can’t quite figure out what it wants to be. At times it strains to be a stately period drama about 16th-century political intrigue. Then it devolves into soap opera muck and emerges as a rather tame bodice ripper. Grade: C

Out of the Blue (2007) Chilling, often moving docudrama focuses not so much on the mayhem or murderer, but on the bewildered, occasionally courageous reactions of ordinary citizens caught in the inexplicable violence. Grade: B

The Signal (2008) Part 1, directed by David Bruckner is superb, with affecting performances, a sense of dread reminiscent of John Carpenter’s "Prince of Darkness" and many striking images. Part 2, directed by Dan Bush aims for George Romero-style ghastly humor, but it’s more grating than funny. Part 3, directed by Jacob Gentry, adds a splash of tragic love, but its preference for gore over feeling becomes monotonous. Grade: B-

Witless Protection (2008) Larry The Cable Guy is a cancerous boil on the ass of comedy, but it’s still sort of shocking how little effort he puts into his movies. Grade: F

Denver's convention center won't be the site of the Democratic Party's convention

Yes, the Democratic Party's convention will begin Aug. 25 in Denver. And, yes, Denver has a downtown convention center that was expanded just four years ago at a cost of $300 million. But, if you're a Democratic delegate to the party's nominating convention, don't expect to be spending any time at the city's convention center because the gala is going to be held at the Pepsi Center. That's where the Nuggets play basketball and the Avalanche play hockey. Interesting.

By the way, many of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's supporters, especially those from New York, may be thinking about the Supreme Court while in Denver. That's because the Supreme Court is the name of a fine tavern located in the Sheraton Hotel that will be the headquarters for the New York delegation.

Where do we go from here

With Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's eloquent and gracious exit speech yesterday, we now know who the two major nominees will be to succeed George W. Bush as president of the United States. Now steps must be taken to make sure party nominees are never selected this way again.

Here's what needs to be done.

Have all states vote via primaries and eliminate caucuses. Here in Texas (and I'm sure there is a version of this in most other states) we have something called early voting which means you are not disenfranchised if, for some reason, you know you will not be able to or simply don't want to go to your designated voting place on election day. It also allows those U.S. citizens who are out of the country (serving in the miltary, civilian job assignments, etc.) to take part in the election process. But there's no early voting in the caucus system. Caucuses also eliminate the privacy of the vote -- there are no secret ballots in a caucus. Finally they require more of a time commitment than simple voting. It took me less than five minutes to vote in my party's presidential primary, but almost 2 1/2 hours to vote in my post-election precinct caucus.

Divide the country into multi-state regions -- Northeast, Southeast, Midwest, Southwest, Far West, Northwest -- and then have the states in each region hold their primaries on the same day. Also, rotate every four years the sequence in which the regions vote. As it stands right now, two unrepresentative states, Iowa and New Hampshire, have way too much influence on the nomination process. And when candidates have to campaign in, say, Ohio and Texas simultaneously because those states have their primaries on the same day, it drives up campaign travel costs.

The Republican Party needs to begin allocating delegates according to the percentage of the vote they receive in a primary. In a four-candidate primary, the winner could have 30 percent of the popular vote (meaning 70 percent did not want this candidate to be the nominee), yet walk out of that state with all of its primary delegates. And the Democratic Party needs to do a better job of allocating its delegates based on the primaries; it's ridiculous that Sen. Barach Obama won the majority of Texas delegates when Sen. Clinton won the majority of the popular votes in the Texas primary.

The Democrats also have to get rid of that Superdelegate foolishness. That's not democratic -- it reeks of the days of Tammany Hall when party bosses decided everything and the people were powerless.

I am not arguing that candidates Sen. John McCain and Sen. Obama are not the ones favored by a majority of the voters within their respective parties. I am just saying the process needs to be made more transparent, it must be simplified and it should adhere to the concept of one-person, one vote.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Yippie Ki Yi Yay

Me thinks Ed Oakley is whistling this these days.

Bo Diddley, Bo Diddley, where have you been

I'll leave it to others to write the official obituary for one of the true pioneering giants of rock 'n' roll but I had to love this lead from the New York Times' story:

"Bo Diddley, a singer and guitarist who invented his own name, his own guitars, his own beat and, with a handful of other musical pioneers, rock ’n’ roll itself, died Monday at his home in Archer, Fla. He was 79. "

I am a product of rock 'n' roll. I was a teenager when Elvis Presley recorded "Heartbreak Hotel" and when Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis and Bo Diddley defined my life and reshaped my future.

Bo Diddley's influence might be more identifiable to many today than Bo Diddley's music. Listen to Bruce Springsteen's great "She's the One" from his "Born to Run" album. What you're really listening to is Bo Diddley, just like you're hearing Bo Diddley when you play The Who's "Magic Bus" or any version of Buddy Holly's "Not Fade Away."

But when I heard this morning that Bo Diddley had died, my mind raced back to my teenage years, to a song that he recorded called "Say Man," a call-and-response ditty where two men are trying to put down the girlfriend of the other. That song contains one of my favorite lines, not only from a Bo Diddley song, but from the entire rock catalog. You won't get the real impact of the line by reading it, you really need to seek out the song and here it for yourself. The line is: "Your girl's so ugly, she looks like she's been whupped with an ugly stick." (Part of the impact comes from the way Bo drawled that second "ugly.")

That line made me laugh out loud then and it still brought a smile to my face this morning, even though I knew it was the death of a legend that forced me to recall it.

This week's DVD releases

Boarding Gate (2008) ** There's basically only one reason to see Olivier Assayas's self-consciously hypermodern, meta-sleazy, English-French-Chinese-language globo-thriller "Boarding Gate," and her name is Asia Argento. (J. Hoberman, Village Voice)

Control (2007) ***½ Sam Riley is fascinating as Ian Curtis, a hypersenstitive young man hobbled by his incurable disease, and Samantha Morton is poignant as his put-upon wife. (Andrea Gronvall, Chicago Reader)

The Eye (2008) *½ The entire movie is an object lesson in diminishing returns: of nagging shock cuts and blaring sound cues used as indiscriminately as joy buzzers; of "look behind you" scares that wouldn't make a Boy Scout flinch; of a blurry visual scheme that was far more terrifying in "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly," where it sought empathy rather than empty sensation (Jim Ridley, LA Weekly)

Flawless (2008) **½ It's left to (Michael) Caine to wink and nod at his own contribution to real caper classics of the 1960s and '70s, produced with more emphasis on fun and less on instructive fact-finding. (Lisa Schwarzbaum, Entertainment Weekly).

Meet the Spartans (2008) no stars It's rare that a movie makes me ill these days, and it's rare that I can see a movie and hate the people behind it with such abhorrence, but "Meet the Spartans" rises to the challenge. (Felix Vasques Jr., Film Threat)

Semi-Pro (2008) ** As (Will) Ferrell's film go, "Semi-Pro" is, honestly, pretty damn boring. (Peter Vonder Haar, Film Threat)

Wild West Comedy Show: 30 Days & 30 Nights - Hollywood to the Heartland (2008) **½ It was undoubtedly a great experience for everyone involved, and the show itself might have been a romp. But as a movie, Vince Vaughn’s "Wild West Comedy Show" makes you think of the days in which troupes that didn’t deliver were run out of town, bullets pinging off their heels. (David Edelstein, New York Magazine)