Sunday, August 31, 2008

New movies to be released this week on DVD

How to Rob a Bank (2008) ½* What's most disturbing about this movie is its lack of ambition. Maybe writer-director Andrew Jenkins will take more chances in the future. If he's lucky, this stinker will be quickly forgotten.

Married Life (2008) **½ The appeal of the cast (Pierce Brosnan, Chris Cooper, Patricia Clarkson, Rachel McAdams), the witty dialogue, the gorgeous costumes and production design, and the refreshingly grown-up subject matter can't be discounted. Maybe the film is about compromise, after all, because though it has its moments, it's bewildering as a whole.

Outsourced (2007) *** This is a sweet, good-natured surprise that takes the cliches out of an overworked genre and makes them seem almost fresh and entirely charming. Josh Hamilton gives a marvelously engaging performance in a fish-out-of-water comedy.

The Promotion (2008) ** This isn't quite as boring as it could have been, thanks to writer-director Steve Conrad's strong script and decent performances by John C. Reilly and Seann William Scott.

Reprise (2008) *** This film says many cogent things about success, what it does to people and how they define it. But it also indicts the mechanics of the culture in a way that is neither Danish nor American but globalized and all the more poignant for it.

Then She Found Me (2008) **½ The plot, as hinted, goes strictly by the "How April Got Her Groove Back" book, but it must be said that the performances push it a notch above pedestrian.

On this date in

1886 An earthquake killed 110 persons in Charleston, S.C.

1886 Mary Ann Nichols, generally believed to be the first victim of Jack the Ripper, was found murdered in London's West End.

1897 Actor Fredric March was born.

1903 Radio and television personality Arthur Godfrey was born.

1908 Author William Saroyan was born.

1918 Lyricist Alan Jay Lerner was born.

1954 Hurricane Carol struck the northeastern United States.

1962 Trinidad and Tobago became independent.

1969 Boxer Rocky Marciano was killed in a plane crash.

1980 Poland's Solidarity came into being.

1985 Serial killer, Richard Ramirez, dubbed "The Night Stalker," was captured.

1986 The Soviet passenger ship SS Admiral Nakhimov sunk.

1992 White separatist Randy Weaver surrendered, ending the siege at Ruby Ridge.

1997 Princess Diana died after an automobile accident in Paris.

2002 Jazz muscian Lionel Hampton died.

2005 1,000 people died in a stampede on a Baghdad bridge.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

On this date in

1797 Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley was born.

1791 The HMS Pandora sunk.

1835 European settlers founded the city of Melbourne.

1862 Confederate forces emerged victorious in the Second Battle of Bull Run.

1893 Huey P. Long was born.

1896 Raymond Massey was born.

1898 Shirley Booth was born.

1905 Ty Cobb made his major league debut.

1908 Fred MacMurray was born.

1918 Ted Williams was born.

1941 Nazi forces began a 2 1/2-year siege of Leningrad.

1945 General Douglas MacArthur set up Allied occupation headquarters in Japan.

1965 Bob Dylan's best album, "Highway 61 Revisited," was released.

1967 The Senate confirms Thurgood Marshall as the first African-American Supreme Court justice.

1989 Leona Helmsley is convicted of income tax invasion but acquitted of extortion.

1993 "The Late Show with David Letterman" premiered on CBS.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Does this make him a celebrity?

According to Nielsen Media Research, 38 million persons watched Barach Obama make his acceptance speech last night. That's more people than watched the opening ceremonies of the recent Olympics in Beijing or the final "American Idol" and twice the number that watched John Kerry accept the Democratic nomination four years ago. Actually, it's more like 38,000,003 because our household watched the convention on C-Span, which doesn't subscribe to Nielsen and whose viewers, therefore, are not tabulated in Nielsen's ratings.

The real origins of the Internet

My Rocky Mountain correspondent sent this to me.

On this date in

1526 The Battle of Mohacs resulted in, among other things, the partition of Hungary into the Ottoman Empire, the Habsburg Monarchy and Transylvania.

1632 John Locke was born.

1756 Frederick II of Prussia started the Seven Years War.

1809 Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. was born.

1842 The Treaty of Nanking was signed.

1877 Brigham Young died.

1898 Preston Sturges was born.

1907 The Quebec Bridge collapsed.

1915 Ingrid Bergman was born.

1920 Charlie Parker was born.

1924 Dinah Washington was born.

1936 John McCain was born.

1944 American troops marched down the Champs Elysees, in a ceremony liberating Paris from the Nazis.

1957 Sen. Strom Thurmond ended the longest filabuster in Senate history -- 24 hours and 18 minutes. He was filabustering a civil rights bill.

1965 Splashdown of Gemini 5.

1966 The Beatles performed their last full concert before paying fans, at Candlestick Park in San Francisco.

1991 The Soviet Union's parliament suspended all actitivities of the Communist party, effectively eliminating it.

1996 Dick Morris resigned as President Clinton's chief of staff when it was learned he permitted a prostitute to listen in on telephone conversations he had with the President.

2000 Pope John Paul II endorsed organ donations and adult stem cell research, but condemned human cloning and embryo experiments.

2002 Michael Skakel was sentenced to 20 years to life for the 1975 murder of a neighbor.

2005 Hurricane Katrina made landfall at the Louisiana-Mississippi border, causing massive flooding in New Orleans, widespread damage along the Mississippi coast and killing 1,836 persons.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

On this date in

1749 Johann Wolfgang von Geothe was born.

1828 Leo Tolstoy was born.

1899 James Wong Howe, Charles Boyer were born.

1922 A 10-minute advertisement for Queensboro Realty Co., for which the company paid $100, became the first commercial to be aired on radio when it was broadcast on WEAF in New York City. (The station is now the sports radio station WFAN.)

1947 Manolete was fatally gored by a bull.

1955 My Hero was born; Emmit Till was abducted from his home and murdered.

1963 Martin Luther King delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech.

1968 Police and anti-war protestors clashed at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago.

1981 John W. Hinckley Jr. pleaded innocent to charges he attempted to kill President Reagan.

1996 Democrats nominated Bill Clinton for a second term as President; Prince Charles and Princess Diana were divorced.

2005 Mayor Ray Nagin ordered the evacuation of New Orleans in advance of Hurricane Katrina.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Hillary + Bill (and Hillary's future)

Either he is one of the world's great actors or Bill Clinton really was proud of his wife's speech last night at the Democratic National Convention. Throughout her address, which you can see in its entirety here, the camera kept going to the former President to check his reaction. He seemed to be beaming throughout, except at one point where he looked close to tears. Judge for yourself.

Incidentally, last night I was having a discussion with My Hero who asked me what I thought of Hillary vis-a-vis the vice presidency or whether Barach Obama plans to name her to a significant cabinet post. I told her I thought Barach Obama has something more significant mind -- that he intends, if he wins the election, to name her to the first vacancy that occurs on the Supreme Court. I am also the personal opinion that she would make a superb Supreme Court justice.

On this date in

1770 Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel was born.

1776 British forces defeated the Continental Army led by George Washington at the Battle of Long Island.

1859 Edwin L. Drake drilled the first well in the United States to strike oil in Titusville, Pa.

1871 Theodore Dreiser was born.

1883 A volcano erupted on the island of Krakatoa resulting in tidal waves that killed an estimated 36,000 on the islands of Java and Sumatra.

1896 The Anglo-Zanzibar War, the shortest war on record, started and ended.

1899 C.S. Forester was born.

1908 Lyndon B. Johnson was born.

1916 Martha Raye was born.

1928 the Kellogg-Briand Pact was signed in Paris.

1929 Ira Levin was born.

1937 Tommy Sands was born.

1943 Tuesday Weld was born.

1951 Mack Brown was born.

1962 the Mariner 2 space probe was launched.

1967 Brian Epstein was found dead.

1975 Haile Selassie died.

1979 Lord Louis Mountbatten was killed.

1990 Stevie Ray Vaughan died in a helicopter crash.

2007 Attorney General Alberto Gonzales resigned; Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick pleaded guilty to a federal dogfighting charge.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Director Ilana Trachtman is still praying with Lior


A chance meeting at a Jewish retreat in upstate New York not only led to a multi award-winning documentary called "Praying with Lior," but a deep friendship between the film's protaganist, Lior Liebling, and its director, Ilana Trachtman (pictured here).

"Searching for spiritual inspiration outside the stale synagogue experience of my childhood, I attended a retreat for the Jewish New Year," Ms. Trachtman is quoted as saying on the film's Web site. "As I sat in the service, anxious, distracted, counting the pages until I’d be free, I heard Lior’s unabashed, off-key, ecstatic voice. When I turned to look at the source of this sound, I was struck to see a boy with Down syndrome. And I was surprised to find myself envious of this 'disabled' child, who could pray as I wished I could. Over the course of this retreat, I stalked Lior, looking for the secret to his prayer. When I heard he was having a Bar Mitzvah, I pictured the movie version. And then I realized that I could make it. "

Ms. Trachtman told me during a telephone conversation we had Monday that all this happened over a period of one day. The result is a documentary that I could argue is misnamed because we, as viewers, spend far more time actually "Living with Lior" then praying with him. We discover an earnest, passionate, fun-loving, humorous, intelligent young man, similar to many others with communications and learning disabilities I have come to know and be inspired by. It could also be called "Living with Lior's Family" because Ms. Trachtman gives viewers the opportunity to get to know Lior's father, stepmother, siblings and, most delicately of all, his mother who died before Ms. Trachtman met the family.

The film gets its title, as a matter of fact, from an essay with that same title that Devorah, Lior's mother wrote. She knew she was dying of cancer, but hoped she could live long enough to see her son, whom she believed had formed a special alliance with God, celebrate his bar mitzvah. It was not to be. Devorah died in 1997, when Lior was only 6 years 0ld. Her spirit, however, looms over the entire film, not only because of Lior's feelings about his mother but because of home movies Ms. Trachtman secured of Devorah and Lior.

"Initially, when I started working on the film, I wasn't that much in touch with (Devorah and her influence on Lior)," Ms. Trachtman told me. "I may have even actually tried to avoid it because it seemed so delicate and I didn't want to exploit the family's grief. I also wanted to be respectful of Lior's stepmother. But as I was working on the film I realized it was impossible to tell Lior's story in a real, whole way without also telling her story. And the truth is, Devorah's presence is something that is felt and is something that is connected to Lior."

But what's remarkable about Ms. Trachtman's treatment of Lior is that she expands on that person his mother talked about to show us a young man who not only prays fervently, but also plays air hockey with his brother, participates in Little League baseball, likes to exercise on the trampoline, watches TV and, yes, even throws a bit of a hissy fit when told he can't wear a white dress shirt to dinner. In other words, Lior is representative of just about any Jewish boy with Down Syndrome about to participate in his bar mitzvah.

The important question the film raises, however, is that how many Jewish boys with Down Syndrome will be able to participate in their bar mitzvahs. Because the true heroes of "Praying with Lior" are all those individuals in Lior's support network, who accept, love and encourage him. How many others in Lior's situation -- Jewish, Christian, Moslem, whatever -- have that kind of support network around them? That's one of the issues that will be explored Thursday, Sept. 4, when "Praying with Lior" has a special 7 p.m. screening at the Angelika Film Center at Mockingbird Station. Not only will Ms. Trachtman be present to discuss the movie and answer questions about it, immediately prior to the screening the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas will offer an update on the progress of its Special Needs Initiative and others will explore how to create a more "whole" community which includes and accommodates everyone.

Ms. Trachtman's film has the courage to show that this kind of support doesn't come easily or without a price. One of the more interesting persons in the movie is Anna, Lior's younger sister, who seems to resent Lior for stealing familial affection that otherwise would have come to her.

"When I thought about putting together the film, I wanted to be kind to Anna because I knew what this protrayal was going to do to her," Ms. Trachtman told me. "I also thought about the fact that we were representing millions of siblings, siblings who are younger than the siblings with disabilities and how incredibly universal her experience is. So many people see the movie and say 'My older brother has autism, my older sister has cerebral palsy and I could never say those things about being frustrated and jealous. It's really a rlief to hear somebody else say them.' So where I do feel she felt sort of robbed, I think a lot of kids in her family system and that birth order feel robbed."

Ms. Trachtman also said that Anna was at a special age when the film was being shot.

"Being 11 years old is a really uncomfortable time for every single girl," the director said. "Any girl you film at that age is going to be painful to watch. Anna is on the other side of puberty now. I actually just finished follow-up interviews with the family because the educational DVD is going to come out in October and we're putting followups on there as bonus features. (Anna) talks about how she sort of dislikes herself in the film and herself in that moment in time. The way she talked about Lior in the film is not the way she thinks about Lior today.

"Their relationship took a very intense journey because they are only a year and a half apart. For a long time they were sort of equal in terms of their intellectual ability. They were almost in the same place. And they were each other's best friend. Before Lior could speak, which was about 4, Anna used to translate for him. So, to a certain degree, as she outpaced him a few years later, they both lost their best friends. Now Anna's in high school and has high school friends and high school interests and now sees Lior has less of a confusing burdon and more as a friend for what he is, not what he isn't."

And what is Lior like today?

"He's the same person you see in the movie except he is more mature and a lot more practiced speaking before audiences," Ms. Trachtman said. "He is maturing the way any kid goes from being a 13-year-old to a 17-year-old. He has a deeper sense of himself, a more focused idea of what the future might be. He's just more grown up, but at the same time, he's the same person. He still goes to services every Saturday morning. For his 17th birthday, the present his family got him was to lead the congregation services. He's doing extremely well in school. He's on the honor roll. He takes five academic classes with kids who have learning disabilities but do not necessarily have Down Syndrome or some other mental retardation. Last year he was a sophomore and was asked to the junior prom by a junior and went to the junior prom. Yeah, he's been good."

There is a moment in the film in which Lior says he is convinced that both his mother and the messiah will return for his bar mitzvah. Because the film doesn't follow up on this in the scenes shot after the bar mitzvah, I asked the director if she discussed this with Lior.

"When I talked to him about this, it became clear that he has a pretty complicated view of messiah, which is really a reflection of the complicated religion he is absorbing," Ms. Trachtman said. "The family is observant in a very liberal way. Both this father and his late mother were reconstructionist rabbis. But the school he goes to is an orthodox school. There's a real difference in the way the messiah is thought of and taught. In the orthodox school where he goes, the messiah really is a being that will come and resurrect the dead and usher in a new world, a new consciousness. In the reconstructionist world, the messiah is much more a concept of people self-actualization. So Lior could say quite accurately that his mother's spirit was present at that bar mitzvah because, of course, everyone was thinking about her. But I don't know that he was disappointed that a being didn't show up with his mother on the back of a horse."

Although Ms. Trachtman has "a couple of other films in development," including one about Mexican-American teenagers "through the lens of a competitive high school mariachi band," the director who got her start as a production assistant on the PBS television series "Reading Rainbows" still finds herself immersed with Lior.

"It's amazing to me that the response to the film has been so big that here it is, a year after the film opened at the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, and most of my time is involved in the presentation of it. We're about to have the international premier of the film in Israel in October and then there will be the whole international run. I thought I would have moved on a long time ago, but I am still very much in the middle of this."

Tickets for the Sept. 4 screening are $9 and must be purchased in advance, either by going to the Web site of 3 Stars Cinema or by calling Melissa Bernstein at 214-239-7134. The screening is being coordinated by the Special Needs Initiative of the Jewish Federation in partnership with the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center, 3 Stars Cinema and the Down Syndrome Guild of Dallas.

On this date in

1847 Liberia became an independent republic.

1910 Mother Teresa was born.

1920, the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution went into effect. It's no coincidence that U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton will commemorate the occasion with her speech tonight at the Democratic National Convention.

1939 The doubleheader between the Cincinnati Reds and the Brooklyn Dodgers at Ebbets Field became the first major league game to be televised.

1964 Lyndon B. Johnson became the Democratic Party's nominee for President (one day short of his 56th birthday).

1974 Charles Lindbergh died.

1978 Cardinal Albino Luciani was elected Pope of the Roman Catholic Church and took the name John Paul I.

Monday, August 25, 2008

When will it ever end

The folks at City Hall were kind enough to send me a news release containing the information that folks from the Africam Safari, the place in Mexico where Dallas Zoo officials planned to send Jenny the Elephant until all hell broke loose, have trekked all the way up here to hold a news conference at 11 a.m. tomorrow in the City Hall's Flag Room (also known as the City Council's sixth floor lobby) to tell their side of the story.

It seems these folks feel their reputation was unfairly maligned by all the animal rights people who insisted (and still insist) Jenny should be shipped off to some sanctuary in Tennessee. (For those not keeping score, the Zoo has decided to keep Jenny here and expand her habitat.) Joining them at the ceremony will be council member Steve Salazar.

According to the release, the Safari people will "clarify the misconceptions" surrounding their joint in particular and the city in which the safari is located and "Mexican wildlife protection laws" in general. They will also "address how the collaborative relationship between the Dallas Zoo and the Africam Safari will be in the future."

Why, oh why is this saga continuing? Don't the folks at Africam know that the animal rights maniacs don't give a damn about Jenny or what's happening south of the border? They just constantly protest the ideas of zoos and circuses. The Dallas Zoo could build a habitat as big as the entire state of Tennessee and it wouldn't satisfy the animal rights people. So anything these people from Africam will be saying tomorrow will fall on deaf ears and I doubt they are going to convince that many Dallas residents to drive down to Puebla, Mexico, and visit their sanctuary. So why bother, especially at City Hall when the City Council (regardless of what council member Angela Hunt, who has become nothing more than a pawn in the anti-zoo campaign, says) should have absolutely no say in this matter whatsoever, according to the Dallas City Charter.

Please, can someone with some semblance of sanity put a lid on this thing.

SMU to sponsor, host Special Olympics basketball clinic

SMU basketball coaches and players will offer tips on ball handling, passing and shooting during a free basketball clinic for area Special Olympic athletes Saturday, Sept. 13, between 9 and 10:30 a.m. at the Crum Basketball Center on the SMU campus.

Although I have been inside Moody Coliseum, where the Mustangs play their home games, on many occasions for everything from athletic contests, to rock concerts to high school graduation ceremonies, the Crum Center is this $13 million, 43,000-square-foot state-of-the art practice and training facility adjacent to Moody designed, among other things, to attract a high-profile coach like Matt Doherty to SMU and to help him recruit athletes. It just opened its doors last year. It will be neat just to see this facility.

In addition, there will be a limited time after the clinic when the Special Olympians can get autographs from the instructors.

On this date in

1875 Matthew Webb became the first person to swim the English Channel.

1916 The National Park Service was created; Van Johnson was born.

1918 Leonard Bernstein was born.

1919 George Wallace was born.

1930 Sean Connery was born.

1944 Allied forces liberated Paris.

1975 Bruce Springsteen's "Born to Run" was released

1981 Voyager 2 came within 63,000 miles of the planet Saturn.

1984 Truman Capote died.

1985 Samantha Smith was killed in airplane crash in Lewiston, Maine.

1998 Former Supreme Court Justice Lewis F. Powell died.

2003 Pete Sampras retired.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

New movies to be released this week on DVD

August (2008) *1/2 Austin Chick’s underwhelming exploration of post-millennial angst is as empty and vacant as its protagonist’s inexpressive peepers.

Chicago 10 (2008) *** A vibrantly crafted evocation of a convulsive moment in 20th century American history, this film is far less interested in offering a fresh, probing look at what took place on the streets during the 1968 Democratic National Convention and the circus trial that followed than it is in celebrating the stars of the anti-war movement and rallying the current generation to follow their examples.

Gypsy Caravan (2007) *** Sounds great and if nothing else should help diminish the stereotype, blasted by the film’s subjects, of Gypsies as little more than pickpockets whom travelers need to be wary of.

Postal (2008) * Manages to be as toothless as director Uwe Boll is tasteless. Poorly framed, tone-deaf, and nonsensical, yet still Boll’s best!

Redbelt (2008) *** It’s a classic fight movie, with Chiwetel Ejiofor as an honorable martial arts instructor. But nesting inside is a sour little ‘70s-style David Mamet play about the lies, calculations, and ice-cold politics of Hollywood, as the fighter is befriended and then discarded by a callow movie star.

Son of Rambow (2008) *** A film that bristles with the anarchic energy of late childhood and a genuine respect for the life-changing power of movies — even (or especially) the schlocky ones.

What Happens in Vegas (2008) *1/2 As it is, this film is too restrained, too often — too eager to gallop toward postcard sunsets on the beach when tequila shooters and lap dances are what the moment calls for. You’d think the combination of Cameron Diaz, Ashton Kutcher and Las Vegas would be good for at least a little sexy, silly fun. But don’t bet on it.

Where in the World Is Osama Bin Laden? (2008) ** Morgan Spurlock, of the "Super Size Me" phenom, serves up a rehash of others’ 9/11 reportage, bin Laden biography, Islamic theology and suicide-bomber psychology, in a tone so aghast you’d assume he knew nothing about the War on Terror — which should this movie very appealing for those who know nothing about the War on Terror.

On this date in

79 Mount Vesuvius erupted burying the Roman cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum and killing an estimated 20,000 persons.

1814 British forces invaded Washington, D.C., and set fire to the Capitol and the White House.

1932 Amelia Earhart flew from Los Angeles to Newark, N.J., in 19 hours, becoming the first woman to fly nonstop across the United States.

1981 Mark David Chapman was sentenced to 20 years to life in prison for the murder of John Lennon.

1989 Pete Rose was banished from baseball for gambling.

1992 Hurricane Andrew, the second most destructive hurricane in U.S. history and the last Category 5 hurricane to hit the United States, struck Florida. In all, 65 deaths in were attributed to the storm.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

On this date in

1927, Italian-born anarchists Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti were executed in Boston for the murders of two men during a 1920 robbery. Up until they were strapped in the electric chair, they claimed they were innocent. A third person executed with them was Celestino F. Madieros who said he witnessed the April 15, 1920 murders and that Sacco and Vanzetti were not there.

1912 dancer Gene Kelly was born in 1912

1926 heartthrob Rudolph Valentino died at the age of 31.

Friday, August 22, 2008

City won't raise our taxes directly, only indirectly

The City of Dallas is working this shell game on Dallas taxpayers called PILOT, which stands for Payment In Lieu of Taxes. The city charges utilities such as TXU and the cable companies a franchise tax because of the fact these utilities have to dig up city streets and their vehicles are constantly traveling on and wearing down those same streets. Dallas Water Utilities, however, does not pay a franchise tax because it is part of the city. PILOT, therefore, is the money Dallas Water Utilities pays the city instead of the franchise taxes other utilities pay.

PILOT is a feature of the city manager's proposed budget for the next fiscal year. The money from PILOT is being used for new business development. Last night at District 3 council member Dave Neumann's budget town hall meeting at Kiest Park I asked Mr. Neumann to convince me that PILOT wasn't simply an example of the city taking money out its left pocket and putting it in the right pocket. His first reaction was "Well, to a large degree that's exactly what it is," but then tried to justify it by claiming that because Dallas Water Utilities is an enterprise fund (meaning essentially that it is self-supporting -- what it spends comes solely from the money it charges households and other municipalities for water and not from tax dollars). He also used some strange logic to suggest that Dallas Water Utilities, because it is an enterprise fund, is really not a part of city government (an argument that the city manager, who appoints the director of the Water Department, might disagree with). I argued that the Aviation Department is also an enterprise fund and the city is not forcing that department to make any payments in lieu of taxes. He tried to tell me, yes, but the private businesses on airport properties are taxed, which I suggested was a different subject altogether and had nothing to do with the Aviation Department itself, but only that airport property was not a tax-free zone.

But here's the real point. In another section of the budget, there are recommendations to increase the water rates. I am convinced a water rate increase is justified -- our water infrastructure is dangerously aged and I want water coming out of my faucets and not flooding city streets because of main breaks. But I keep wondering how much of that rate increase is going to reimburse Dallas Water Utilities for those payments in lieu of taxes. Because DWU is an enterprise fund, some of that increase must be going to that added expense.

So when the city claims it's not raising our property taxes to fund this upcoming budget, it is telling the truth. But it can't claim it's not indirectly raising our taxes, it is simply sneaking the tax increase as part of the water rate increase.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Build your own shopping center

The folks developing the Lake Highlands Town Center at Skillman and Walnut Hill claim citizen input is important in deciding what retailers will be recruited to locate there. They have held a series of town hall meetings to gather citizen opinions and now they are promoting this Web-based survey. If you live anywhere near the proposed center, this might be worth your time. The while survey takes less than 10 minutes to complete. Go for it!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Director to attend North Texas premiere of award-winning documentary


From everything I've heard and read, Lior Liebling (pictured here) is one amazing and unique young man and is the subject of a what Philadelphia Inquirer film critic Carrie Rickey calls a "poignant and profound documentary" called "Praying with Lior."

Lior has Down Syndrome and pretty much prays and prays loudly all the time. The film tells the story of how his faith in God and his constant praying has illuminated his family and those who surround him. That makes sense, I guess, because in Hebrew, his name means "my light." Yoni, Lior's brother says of Lior: "If there is a God, Lior is definitely closer to God than anyone I know." The film climaxes with Lior's bar mitzvah with all those whose lives he has changed in attendance.

"Praying with Lior" (you can see the trailer here) will be shown in a special screening at 7 p.m., Thursday, Sept. 4 at the Angelika Film Center at Mockingbird Station. Ilana Trachtman, the film's director, will attend the screening to discuss how she discovered Lior, how she wound up praying with him, and the challenges involved in filming the Liebling family saga. In addition, there will be an update on the progress of the Special Needs Initiative of the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas. Tickets are $9 and must be purchased in advance by calling Melissa Bernstein at 214-239-7134 or by going to the 3StarsCinema Web site.

Truth in advertising here: I must admit to a special bias on this subect. Five or so years ago, two of my best friends, James Nix and Luke Mayberry, got me involved with special needs individuals in general and Special Olympics basketball in particular. They have made me vocal proponents of raising the awareness of special needs individuals. It has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. Not only that, I'm a Jewish film fanatic with a special affection for documentaries.

I will be talking more about this film and this screening in upcoming entries to this journal.

Lieberman to be VP choice again?

Eight years ago Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut was Al Gore's choice to be his running mate in the presidential elections. Which means, of course, if the popular vote decided presidential elections, Lieberman probably would be the vice president of the United States today.

Instead, he's being seriously considered to be a bridesmaid again, but this time on the other side. Word has it that GOP presumptive presidential nominee Sen. John McCain is seriously considering Lieberman, a man McCain considers a close, personal friend, to be his choice for VP. It has already been announced that Lieberman, who currently is listed as an independent, will speak at the GOP convention.

Choosing Lieberman and the timing of an announcement of that choice makes a certain Hollywood-style diabolical sense. I have been told that McCain plans to announce his VP choice a week from this Friday. For those not paying attention, that's the day after the Democratic National Convention ends, a day when all the media attention would naturally be focused on newly anointed Democratic nominee Barach Obama. What better way for McCain to steal the spotlight away than by naming Lieberman as his running mate. No other choice would have as big of a news value.

Of course, this choice would further alienate the far-right wing, but, when push comes to shove, where is this wing going to go?

The correct answer to the Jenny destination quiz may be C):

According to this story in the Dallas Morning News, here's the Bob Dylan tune the City Council may be singing to Jenny the elephant:

Clouds so swift
Rain won't lift
Gate won't close
Railings froze
Get your mind off wintertime
You ain't goin' nowhere

I don't care
How many letters they sent
Morning came and morning went
Pick up your money
And pack up your tent
You ain't goin' nowhere

Buy me a flute
And a gun that shoots
Tailgates and substitutes
Strap yourself
To the tree with roots
You ain't goin' nowhere

One man reporting machine Robert Wilonsky over at Unfair Park spoke with Dallas Parks and Recreation Department Direct Paul Dyer about the decision to keep Jenny at the Dallas Zoo.

Finally, since this is an administrative decision and has nothing to do with overall policy, here's my plea to Angela Hunt and the rest of the City Council: BUTT OUT!!!

Inquiring minds want to know

Today in executive session, the Dallas City Council is supposed to be discussing a lawsuit titled "United States of America v City of Dallas." It's probably nothing, but still ....

Think it has anything to do with the cases against former city officials?

Hmmm....

Monday, August 18, 2008

We're No. 1

Almost two weeks ago I commented on the fact that Sports Illustrated had named Georgia as its pick to win this year's college football national championship. I brought it up because Georgia's quarterback is local hero Matthew Stafford and I even had the opportunity to see the majority of Stafford's games during his senior year at Highland Park. When I wrote that journal entry I said "I don't know if I agree with the pick."

Since I wrote that, both the USA Today and the AP preseason polls have named Georgia as their picks to win it all. And I'm beginning to see why. Georgia is returning most of its starters from a team that won its last seven games last year, the last six by scoring an average of 37.8 points a game. And, when the season was winding down, I did remember thinking that Georgia, not LSU, was the stronger Southeast Conference team.

So am I convinced now? I would be if it weren't for Georgia's schedule that features road games at South Carolina, at Arizona State, at LSU, and at Auburn. That's not to mention the annual clash with Florida in Jacksonville. That's tough. If they can finish a schedule like that undefeated, win the SEC title game and then BCS Championship Game, they would earn the right to be considered one of the greatest college football teams of all time. However, I just can't see any team surviving a schedule that tough undefeated.

The next team to be considered is Ohio State just because it has played in (and lost) the last two BCS Championship games. Could this finally be OSU's year? The Buckeyes play in the much overrated Big 10 Conference which is even weaker than usual this year and the team's only real test (and it's a doozy) will come Sept. 13 when it journeys to Los Angeles to play Southern Cal. If it wins that one, Ohio State finishes the season undefeated, No. 1 in all the polls and then gets smashed again in the BCS Championship game, possibly by Georgia. If USC wins that game, and the one the following week at Oregon State, I can see the Trojans finishing the season undefeated (they play Arizona State, Oregon and Cal--the other class teams in the Pac 10 this year--at home). And Georgia --if it can survive that brutal schedule -- will find itself in a much tougher battle against USC than it was in its bowl game last year against Hawaii.

And what about a team from the Big 12 making it into the title game? I can't see it -- the Big 12 looks like a demolition derby waiting to happen. Only Oklahoma has a shot to finish the season undefeated because it doesn't have to play Missouri during the regular season and gets Texas Tech at home. Tech has not won in Norman since 1996 (that's pre-Bob Stoops, in case you were wondering). Of course, OU would probably have to face Missouri in the Big 12 Championship Game and that could be doomsday for the Sooners.

Then there's Florida. I like Florida's schedule. It's one big test before the Nov. 1 showdown with Georgia will come Sept. 20 when it plays Tennessee in Knoxville. But then the Gators won in Knoxville two years ago, coming back from 10 points behind in the third quarter, on their way to their last national championship.

So, who am I picking to finish No. 1 and win it all? Because that Sept. 13 game is in Los Angeles, I'm going to have to go with Southern Cal, but Florida's spread offense could give the Trojans' strong defense a real fight in the BCS Championship Game.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

New movies to be released this week on DVD

Chronicle of an Escape (2007) **1/2 Turns the chilling story of Argentina’s military regime and its large scale political murders into a tense, exciting escape thriller. Though functional on its own terms, this fourth feature by Israel Adrian Caetano feels hollow at the core, leaving a feeling of lingering disappointment over a missed opportunity to probe recent history.

Deal (2008) * To think that a semi-major studio financed a production this low-rent and listless is amazing: Since when did MGM start making student films?

Freshman Orientation (2007) *1/2 This movie is not incompetently made. Nor is it badly acted. But there’s not a fresh idea in it, and everyone on screen seems to be in a different comedy.

Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds Concert Tour (2008) **1/2 For parents who were unable to secure tickets for the young fans in their households, this movie is nothing short of a godsend. She has boundless energy, a wardrobe that won’t quit, and enough real teenager in her to come across as more than a mere Disney creation.

The Life Before Her Eyes (2008) *1/2 Director Vadim Perelman is big on slo-mo lyrical effects and confusing time shifts, making the movie unnecessarily arty and detracting from what could have been a searing psychological study.

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day (2008) *** Bharat Nalluri directs with a light touch and a great eye for costumes and sets, which are gorgeous enough to make up for any contrivances in the plot. It’s pure romantic fantasy, and you won’t believe it for a minute. But it’s fun to watch Miss Pettigrew and Miss Lafosse live for a couple of hours. Francis McDormand’s performance slowly builds a solid integrity, and contrasts well with Amy Adams’ more flamboyant turn.

Prom Night (2008) * Director Nelson McCormick and screenwriter J.S. Cardone don’t have one original thought between them, but they do appear to share an obsession with characters opening hotel-room closets in which the steel hangers gleam ominously. The movie offers less gore than the average Band-Aid commercial and fewer scares than the elimination episodes of "Dancing With the Stars."

Quid Pro Quo (2008) **1/2 The first half of this film is among the most jaw-dropping things I’ve ever seen: Who knew there was a closeted subculture of people pretending to be paraplegics? Nick Stahl and Vera Farmiga give layered, restrained performances that keep what might have been a schlock fest with an improbable twist ending from devolving into trashiness. Instead, writer-director Carlos Brooks and his actors manage to render an involving and thoughtful story from some pretty dubious material.

Street Kings (2008) ** I enjoyed parts of this movie but I didn’t believe one thing about it, and I couldn’t get past Keanu Reeves’ unsuitability to his role. He may someday play a cop on the edge convincingly, but the edge needs to be sharper than this.

Legal issues surrounding raising the pay of day laborers

I would like the Dallas City Council to address some legal issues while the council members are considering forcing a private company to pay their workers more for picking up garbage and also while the council considers an even more important, although related, issue which is whether my garbage pickup schedule should be cut in half.

Let me address the second issue first. The council will consider this idea Wednesday which is whether more areas of the city should be scheduled for once a week garbage and recycling pickup. Today, most of the city is on a schedule of twice a week garbage pickup and once every other week recycling. However, that part of North Dallas located north of LBJ and west of North Central Expressway went on the "one-and-one plan" earlier this year which has resulted in an increase in recycling in those areas. Where each household averaged recycling 28 pounds before the switch, each now averages 51 pounds. The next area to switch to this schedule is that part of Dallas located roughly south of LBJ, west of North Central and north of I30. That switch is to take place next February. Phase 3, the area located east of North Central and north of La Vista/Garland Road, is to take place February 2010. That would include my area, that small forgotten area of Dallas that is located north of LBJ and east of North Central. My particular neighborhood is unique in that, for whatever reason, we can't have rollcarts. We still must use the old black bags for trash and the blue bags for recycling. And finding blue bags around here is not easy -- our neighborhood has to go to a lot of effort to recycle. The upside to this is that we already have once-a-week recycling pickup.

But I digress. The briefing to be presented to Council Wednesday will recommend that both Phase 2 and Phase 3 be implemented immediately. The briefing argues that the money saved by this implementation could be used by the Council to raise the pay of the day laborers who pick up the garbage without further increasing the proposed sanitation rate hike currently in the City Manager's proposed budget. The current proposal calls for a sanitation fee increase of $1.45 per household/per month and that's if Phase 2 is implemented (it would be higher if Phase 2 isn't approved). The cost of paying the day laborers the amount being considered by the Council would raise the rate another 27 cents a month. However, if the Council goes to Phase 3 immediately, there is even a possibility the sanitation rate increase could be lower than the $1.45 now being considered. Neat, eh?

Well, not so fast. I am concerned about legal and liability issues in raising the wages paid these workers. Here are questions I would like asked of our city officials (and hopefully answered).

1. Does the company that has the contract to provide say laborers to sanitation have contracts with any other city departments and, if so, could the city legally raise the wages of those laborers sent to work for the Sanitation Department and not those assigned to work for the other departments?

2. Can the city legally demand Company A pay more to day laborers sent to work for the Sanitation Department without requiring Company B to pay an equal amount to day laborers sent to work at other city departments? And, if the city can do this, does it incur potential liability for instituting such a plan?

3. This is more of a constitutional question: Since the federal government assumes the right to set a "minimum wage" does the city have the right to demand the minimum wage a private company pays its employees? And, if so, does that mean it will be required legally to demand every company who wishes to bid on a city project be prepared to pay its employees that minimum wage?

4. And if the answers to these questions are what I think they might be, what will be the financial impact on the City of Dallas?

These are just some things I was thinking about on a lazy Sunday afternoon while watching the opening of the English Premier League season and pondering where I might get my hands on some blue bags.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

The correct answer to the Jenny destination quiz is D): None of the above

Jenny the Elephant -- the Jenny profiled just a couple of days ago in the New York Times -- yes, that Jenny -- will not be going to Tennessee as Dallas City Council member Angela Hunt and her animal huggers want. Nor will she be going to a safari in Mexico, the original plans of the Dallas Zoo. Nor will she, as Dwaine Caraway suggested in last Wednesday's City Council meeting, remain in Dallas to be joined by another elephant or two or three to keep her company. (I actually liked that idea, although I knew it would never happen -- a city that is in as dire financial straits as Dallas is right now can't afford to expand its elephant exhibition at the zoo.)

Paul Dyer, director of the city's Park and Recreation Department (which has oversight over the zoo) has come up with a fourth option and has already brokered agreements with the animal rights folks to go along with his plan. The zoo folks will go along with it because, well, Dyer is the boss of the zoo folks. I have absolutely no idea what The Dyer Solution is, but I know he plans to reveal it soon, perhaps as early as Monday.

No Robin for this Batman

With the incredible box office and critical success of "The Dark Knight," Warner Bros. is chomping at the bit to begin work on the next Batman feature. The studio, of course, wants director Chris Nolan to return, but he has not agreed to anything as of this date, which really doesn't mean anything.

However, most people agree that the late Heath Ledger's performance as The Joker is the major reason for the success of the current film. The question is how to you top that? Batman's history includes a number of formidable villains that are being discussed, including:
Catwoman (there are a lot of people who say it's time for another woman in the mix to create some sexual tension for Batman).
The Riddler (would this character be taken seriously after being played by Frank Gorshin and Jim Carrey? Most think Nolan could do magic with The Riddler, however).
Deadshot (seems a little minor to me).
Ventriloquist and Scarface (a guy running around with a doll--I'm not too sure this would work).
Black Mask (Not that well known, but is gruesome enough to be formidable).
Hugo Strange (seems too close to the Scarecrow character, what with that fog mechanism of his).
Word is out that the Penguin and Mr. Freeze definitely won't be considered.

And neither will Robin. Warner Bros. said the introduction of Batman's well-known crime-fighting partner almost killed the franchise back in the 1990s. As one observer was quoted as saying (in what could be one of my all-time favorite quotes): "There are just too many negative connotations for Batman running around with a younger man in a leotard.’’

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Saggy pants may be banned in Midlothian (not that Midlothian)

Dwaine Caraway's campaign is catching on, albeit far from his home. Caraway tried to convince his fellow Dallas City Council members to enact an ordinance banning the wearing of pants that barely rise above mid-thigh. The rest of the council just chuckled and said "That's cute, Dwaine, now go back and play" and nothing really came of it, except that Caraway got national exposure including an appearance on, as I recall, Oprah Winfrey's television program.

Now, according to this story in the Chicago Sun-Times, a town outside of Chicago that has the same name as a town outside of Dallas is considering enacting a nuisance violation punishable by a $50 to $100 fine that would, according to the article, "curb the exposure of body parts rather than merely targeting baggy pants." Of course, a law like that could affect a number of overweight construction workers as well. It'll be interesting to see how that works out.

Incidentally, Midlothian would be the second Illinois community (the first was Lynwood where anyone exposing three inches or more of underwear in public gets hit with a $25 citation), to enact an anti hip-hop clothing ordinance.

See what you've started, Dwaine.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Leppert, Caraway get it; Hunt doesn't

I just got to hear the last few minutes of the Dallas City Council discussion surrounding the ultimate destination of Jenny the Elephant, but it was enough to hear council member Mitchell Rasansky do his imitation of another zoo animal and to see that Mayor Tom Leppert and council member Dwaine Carraway understand the responsibilities of a Dallas City Council member, but Angela Hunt doesn't. Although Ms. Hunt certainly does know how to play to the masses -- she grandstands with the best of them and, in doing so, she manages to rally a lot of supporters to her side. It just goes to prove that the right way to conduct city business is not always the most popular way.

Ms. Hunt knows that few Dallas residents have a copy of the Dallas City Charter on their bookshelves; she knows that most Dallas residents have no idea when a city council member violates that charter.

Ms. Hunt has an interesting definition of micro-management. According to her, it's not micro-managing when you interfere in a departmental decision she doesn't agree with. This is like saying she supports freedom of speech as long as the speakers are on the same side of the argument that she's on. Plus, I'm not sure she's even that good of a listener. During today's city council meeting, a representative of the American Zoological Association said the AZA supports the notion that personnel trained in animal management are the proper individuals to make animal management decisions. Right after she spoke, Ms. Hunt said, in effect, "Don't pay any attention to what this woman's telling you; she's biased in favor of this facility in Mexico." The AZA woman didn't even recommend a destination for Jenny the Elephant; Ms. Hunt was criticizing this woman for saying something she didn't even say.

But the AZA woman nailed it. No matter how Ms. Hunt tries to twist it, whether Jenny is sent to Mexico, to Tennessee, down to the 7-Eleven, or anywhere else is a management decision and not a policy issue. And, as Mayor Leppert so perfectly stated it today, "At some point we have to let the people hired to make these decisions actually make these decisions."

Carraway, on the other hand, did move the argument over to a policy discussion. He said it should be the policy of the city council to operate a first-class zoo (something I have gone on record as disagreeing with, and since I have already dealt with that, I see no need to repeat it here) and, the way he sees it, having a first-class zoo means having a first-class top-notch elephant exhibit. He is arguing that, perhaps, the city should not consider getting rid of Jenny at all, that perhaps it should be adding to the number of elephants at the zoo and not subtracting from it.

I know it's not fashionable these days, especially among local bloggers, to disagree with Angela Hunt. But those who agree with her agree on the substance of her argument. I could care less about the substance. The issue here is simply this: She is overstepping the authority given to her by the City Charter by even engaging in the argument. Leppert and Carraway seemed to understand that, at least from the brief moments of the discussion I witnessed today. I fail to see why Ms. Hunt can't grasp that.

It's interesting to note that former Mayor Laura Miller understood it as well, although she didn't like it. She wanted to be free to do what Angela Hunt is doing now. But at least Ms. Miller tried to do it the proper way, by changing the City Charter to give her more authority in daily management decisions. That effort, as we all know, failed at the polls.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Grades for movies to be released this week on DVD

CJ7 (2008) ** A bit of a letdown. Stephen Chow, the manic comedian who has gained fans worldwide for his outrageous slapstick and special effects-driven antics in "Kung Fu Hustle" and "Shaolin Soccer" takes a backseat this time — and that's part of the problem: This is lesser Chow because there is less Chow.

Felon (2008) **1/2 Stephen Dorff as an ordinary Joe trapped behind bars with warring ethnic psychopaths and Val Kilmer immerse themselves in difficult roles.

How the Garcia Girls Spent Their Summer (2008) *** Director Georgina Garcia Reidel deserves credit for depicting the possibility of finding love at all ages, something that larger and more mainstream movies so often shy away from showing.

Smart People (2008) ** The ensemble cast can't bring enough to overcome the unoriginal setup and predictable story arc.

Movies out this week on DVD I haven’t seen:
The Killing Gene (2008)
Watching the Detectives (2008)

Thursday, August 7, 2008

With apologies to Lerner & Lowe

She did it! She did it! She said that she would do it, And indeed she did. I thought that she would rue it; I doubted she'd do it. But now I must admit it That succeed she did.

Welcome to the big time

I haven't seen any other mentions of this, so I will leap into the breach. When folks talk about the Big 12 football powerhouses, the conversation usually involves Texas, Oklahoma and often Nebraska. So I found it quite interesting that Sports Illustrated's college football preview featured both Missouri and Texas Tech in its pre-season Top 10. And who did it pick to win it all? Georgia, quarterbacked by former Highland Park star Matthew Stafford. I don't know if I agree with that pick but I will say this: This year's World Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party, or whatever the game between Florida and Georgia is called, may feature the year's two best college football quarterbacks on the same field.

The ballad of Brett

I thought the Green Bay Packers were clever in the Brett Favre trade they negotiated last night with the New York Jets. The more valuable Favre becomes for the Jets, the more the Packers get in return. If Brett does nothing but show up to the Jets camp, the Packers get a fourth round draft pick in 2009. In Favre participates in half of the Jets' offensive plays this season, that draft pick becomes a third rounder. If he participates in 70 percent and somehow the Jets make it to the playoffs in a division that includes the New England Patriots, the Packers get a second rounder. If it's 80 percent and the Jets make it to the Super Bowl over the Patriots, the Colts, the Steelers et al, the Packers get the Jets' first round pick in 2009. Neat.

I also think the Pack was wise to divest itself of Favre. He's been holding the team hostage for too long -- not only this season but in his protracted will he or won't he retire announcement delays for the last couple of years. Favre admittedly had a good season last year, but that followed a couple of mediocre ones. Will the real Brett Favre stand up? I'm betting the Packers are going to have to settle for a third round pick from the Jets at best.

But this whole affair has thrown some much needed excitement and anticipation into the upcoming NFL season, as far as I'm concerned. Brett Favre in a New York Jets uniform is a wonderful wild card to throw out there and I'm anxious to see how it plays out.

Paris Hilton becomes relevant

I did not see John McCain's original attack ad in which the presumptive Republican presidential nominee accused his Democratic counterpart, Barach Obama, of being nothing more than a "celebrity" -- comparing Obama to Paris Hilton and Britney Spears -- thus, unfit to be President. I did hear a lot of folks, including many McCain supporters, said the ad crossed the line. Whatever.

But I did see this one produced by the folks at a Web site called "Funny or Die" (unknown to me before this episode but which is now bookmarked) in which Paris Hilton cleverly responds to the McCain ad. It is worth watching.

OK, we've got the Democrats, the Republicans, the Greens and the Libertarians. We need to start a party for Paris Hilton. (No, not that kind of party; I'm talking about a political party. But now that you've mentioned it, that kind of party could be fun, too.) One of the first steps is to announce the site of Paris' Party's national nominating convention. I'm volunteering my house. If not for the convention then perhaps for that other kind of party. Whatever

Divorces -- Entertainment Style

Let's see, actor Morgan Freeman is injured in an automobile wreck late Sunday night driving home in a car belonging to a female friend who happened to be in the car with him. I guess I shouldn't be surprised then at this news that Freeman and his wife of 24 years are getting a divorce. But this one, the divorce of my Emily Robison, my personal favorite Dixie Chick, caught me by surpise and saddened me.

Bowling for Cubs

Mark Cuban went bowling last night. Not here, but in Chicago, where he apparently endeared himself to members of the Chicago Cubs by participating in something called the Kerry Wood Stike Zone Celebrity Bowling Tournament. Now one could argue, albeit not convincingly, that Cuban was there not because he was interested in purchasing the Cubs but because the oft-injured Cubs pitcher who organized the tournament is from the Dallas area and he was just there showing hometown support.

But according to this story in today's Chicago Sun-Times, the Cub players participating in the tournament were pretty much taken with Cuban. In fact one of them, pitcher Ryan Dempster, was quoted by the paper as saying: "It would be great (if Cuban bought the baseball team). He's done tremendous things with the Mavericks. If he became owner of the Cubs, I'm sure he'd do wonderful things."

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

How to lose friends and negatively influence people

Suppose I sponsor a contest in which I promise the winner will receive his or her choice of the one of the following prizes:

  • A week's vacation for two on the French Riviera
  • A brand new, fully equipped Cadillac Escalade
  • A high-definition multi-media room installed in your home
  • $50,000 in cash
Now let's suppose you won the contest and you picked your prize. Doesn't matter which one you picked, but whichever one it is I tell you, "Sorry, you can't have that one. Pick another one."

"But I want the one I picked. You said that was one of the choices."

"Sorry about that. I probably shouldn't have made that one of the choices. Pick another one."

"But I don't want another one. The only reason I even entered your stupid contest in the first place was to win the prize I've picked. So give me that one."

"Can't do that. Pick another one."

"No."

"OK. Then I'll pick out one for you. Here you go, a beautiful 4-piece matching luggage set."

Now, should I wonder why you suddenly have lost all trust in me? Should I wonder why you think I'm displaying signs of cowardice? Should I wonder why you think I'm even lower on the evolutionary scale than pond scum?

Should Dallas city leaders be wondering why many of their constituents, including yours truly, think the same thing of them right now?

Look, it wasn't a bunch of fiery revolutionaries marching on City Hall that demanded a street be renamed in honor of Cesar Chavez. It was the City of Dallas that held out this carrot. And then, when the majority of respondents in a poll said "Hey, that's a great idea. Let's do that," the city pulled the carrot away. But instead of referring to these city leaders as the cowardly, spineless, untrustworthy pond scum they were, the injured parties just said, "Well, OK, let us pick another street to name after this man."

Now, instead of conceding this point, taking their victory and marching off into the sunset, the cowardly, spineless, untrustworthy pond scum are saying, "Nope, we're going to fight you on this one as well." The city leaders (except those who names are Garcia, Medrano and Salazar) have mishandled this entire affair from the beginning and, instead of owning up to their own mistakes and facing the consequences of their ineptitude, they are running away from it like cowards.

Dallas has become ashamed of what it has become. Instead of taking pride that it should be a center for diverse cultural exchanges it's trying to create more divisions than its suburbs with their illegal immigrant policies (which are not illegal immigrant policies but Hispanic discrimination policies -- I doubt if anyone with an English accent has been stopped anywhere in Dallas County in the last 20 years and been asked to prove they are here legally).

Dallas is still a backwater city divided by racial hatred. It has been ever since I moved here and sadly it continues to be that way. There is simply no other explanation for its sorry behavior in this whole street renaming controversy. It was the city that first gave people the choice of renaming Industrial Boulevard after Cesar Chavez. If the City had no intention of renaming a major boulevard after this person it should never have introduced the possibility.

I felt ashamed when I read the names on the City Council's Trinity River Committee who said they would oppose renaming Ross Avenue after Cesar Chavez. What they don't realize is the issue has nothing to do with the Ross Brothers, after whom the street was named. They were probably pretty fine folks way back in their day, but we are no longer living way back in their day so who they were and what they did is completely irrelevant. You can't turn the clock back to a Dallas that used to be. You can't click your shoes together and return to a black and white world. Besides, one of the things we're learning from the Innocent Project and the DNA evidence freeing wrongly convicted individuals, is that those black and white world was ... well ... just a white one.

Now you may be wondering whether I'm advocating randomly changing any and all street names just to suit the times we are living in. And my answer to that question is a resounding "yes," if that is the will of the people. In fact, there is name for that kind of governmental process. It's called democracy.

I don't mind the anti-renaming sentiment coming from my neighbors in the white community. That's who they are and I do not expect broad-minded thinking from them. But, frankly, I did expect more from those who claim they are "leaders" in this city. I don't know why I should expect it -- come to think of it they have never displayed any traits of real leadership to date, so I guess I shouldn't expect them to suddenly change their ways. But then those same leaders should not be wondering why so few people vote in municipal elections, why polls indicate the population doesn't trust city leadership.

Our city council does not have a Linda Koop on it, nor a Ron Natinsky, nor a Mitchell Rasansky, nor a Dave Neumann. Instead we have a Mr. Jones, a Mr. Jones, a Mr. Jones and a Mr. Jones. You know, the guy made famous in Bob Dylan's "Ballad of a Thin Man":

"Something is happening here, but you don't know what it is, do you, Mr. Jones."

Sunday, August 3, 2008

A collective Olympic yawn

Is there anyone out there who is even midly excited about the upcoming Summer Olympics?

The Chicago Cubans?

Except for George Steinbrenner, how many owners of major league baseball teams can the average person name? Sorry, Ted Turner sold his interest in the Atlanta Braves years ago. Unlike their counterparts in other major professional sports, baseball owners like to remain in the background and they certainly don't like it when someone tries to rock the boat.

It appears that prominent boat rocker Mark Cuban is the highest bidder to purchase the Chicago Cubs, Wrigley Field and all that comes with owning that franchise. But is being the highest bidder enough? In 2002, Charles F. Dolan, the chairman of Cablevision, was denied the opportunity to purchase the Boston Red Sox because the other owners and commissioner Bud Selig didn't feel he fit in. Instead, the franchise was awarded to the third highest bidder, John Henry, who, in a slight ironic twist, is now a major Cuban supporter.

All of this is examined in an interesting story in today's New York Times. But one question that is not answered is whether, if Cuban is successful in his pursuit of the Cubs, he will sell the Dallas Mavericks. It is generally agreed that the Mavericks' window of opportunity for an NBA title is shut and it will be a long time before it re-opens. With all the improvements in Western Conference teams, there is genuine concern whether the Mavs will even make the playoffs this year. This is arguably the best time for Cuban to sell if he has any desire to. However, Robert Wilonsky of the Dallas Observer posed exactly that question to Cuban recently and the Mavs owner dashed one of his famous e-mails to Wilonsky telling him in no uncertain terms he had no intention of selling. In fact, it was in the same no uncertain terms Hillary Clinton used when she said she had no intention of dropping out of the presidential nomination race until the Democratic National Convention later this month.

Grades for new movies to be released Tuesday on DVD

The Counterfeiters (2008) Swift and compelling, winner of the most recent Oscar for best foreign-language picture, "The Counterfeiters" may not be destined for the large international audience that embraced last year’s winner, "The Lives of Others." But it’s a tougher film, with a more provocative moral dilemma at its center. Grade: A-

The Killing of John Lennon (2008) The film never moves past a superficial understanding of its subject, whose transcribed ramblings may not be the best key to unlocking his fractured mind. The movie gets inside Chapman’s head but never under his skin. Grade: C-

Miss Conception (2008) Miscast and miscalculated, this move hopes to collect on Hollywood’s recent baby-on-board craze, delivering instead the least credible take on human pregnancy since Arnold Schwarzenegger gave birth in "Junior." Grade: D

My Brother Is an Only Child (2008) This film isn’t a critique of the left but a film about the consequences and responsibility of "political action." Director Daniele Luchetti measures social justice not in ideals but in positive change and the compassion with which it is accomplished. Grade: B+

Nim’s Island (2008) Jodie Foster seems to be having real fun, twitching and skittering around, that steel jaw of hers comically tense. But this family movie shouldn’t be about a shut-in trying to get from A to B; it needs to be about an unconventional girl growing up and helping an equally unconventional grownup cut loose on a volcanic island. Sadly, this movie is a missed opportunity. Grade: C+

Rogue (2008) A killer crocodile and a sturdy cast do what’s required in this competent horror yarn filmed in eye-catching Aussie outback locations. More restrained than his no-holds-barred psycho-thriller hit "Wolf Creek," director Greg McLean’s film wants only to be a good B-movie and succeeds with regular scares and a monster worth the rental price. Grade: B+

Friday, August 1, 2008

And here's some cheese for your dog

There are a number of reasons I find Los Angeles an attractive place -- the Hollywood Hills, Venice, Topanga Canyon, the ocean. The are other reasons I wouldn't want to live there -- too spread out, smog and the constant threat of fires, mudslides and earthquakes. Now you can add this as a major item in the "No to Los Angeles" column.