Sunday, May 31, 2009

Who the hell is Lucy Punch and what is she doing in Nicole Kidman's part?

Woody Allen had cast Nicole Kidman to play a high-priced call girl (a role, as I understand it, patterned after Ashley Dupre -- you know, the one that led to the resignation of New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer). Allen's still untitled movie is filming in London with a cast that includes Josh Brolin, Anthony Hopkins, Antonio Banderas, Naomi Watts and Freida Pinto. Problems turned up however when Ms. Kidman realized the film The Rabbit Hole, which she is producing as well as starring in, was going to take up more of her time than she originally thought. So Allen, according to Variety, has replaced Ms. Kidman with Lucy Punch (pictured here).

Now everyone with even the slightest movie I.Q. has heard of Nicole Kidman. but Lucy Punch? OK, that great resource, Wikipedia, informs me that Ms. Punch is "an award-winning English actress" known for (but not by me) her roles in a pair of television shows, Doc Martin and The Class (admittedly, I have seen neither). The award she won was best actress at the Monaco Inernational Film Fesitval for her performance in another movie I have never heard of, Are You Ready for Love.
(By the way, does anyone else think that Ms. Punch, in the picture here, bears more than just a slight resemblance to one Scarlett Johansson, who has appeared in quite a few Allen films of late?)

Happy 79th, Clint

In case anyone's wondering whether Clint will continue to make your day now that he's approaching 80, his still untitled film on the life of Nelson Mendela is the current favorite to sweep the next Oscars.

How about this for a pitching performance?

In Texas' 25-inning, 3-2 victory over Boston College last night, Texas reliever Austin Woods pitched 12 1/3 innings of no-hit ball. He pitched a total of 13 innings giving up two hits, striking out 14 and walking four. Said Texas coach Augie Garrido, who's been around college baseball long enough to see the best to have ever played the game:

"That is the best pitching performance by an individual pitcher in the 41 years that I've coached. Austin Wood did unbelievable. I've seen some great pitching performances against us, and I've seen some great pitching performances for us. But none have been any more courageous or better than the one Austin Wood put together tonight."

A little side note: Garrido coached California State-Fullerton to the 1984 College World Series title, beating Texas in the championship game. The year before, Garrido saw Texas win the World Series and the pitcher in that final game victory was a kid named Roger Clements.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Does anyone doubt this will be one of the biggest hits of the summer?

Avery's future

Mike Fisher makes the astute observation today that, since he was dumped as the Mavericks head coach, Avery Johnson hasn't really been considered for any other head coaching jobs. Hmm.

Happy 73rd, Ruta

Admission: Ruta Lee was my first and my main pre-teen movie star crush.

Blew another one

I picked Denver to play Orlando in the NBA finals and by now all NBA fans know that's not going to happen. Everyone is crediting the Laker's new-found intensity for their dismantling of the Nuggets last night. I'm not to sure that's the case. To me, the Nuggets looked tired, as though the strain of the 82-game season and the playoffs finally got to them. Many of the players on this team weren't even born the last time the Nuggets made it to the Western Conference finals so playing this many games in a single season was a new experience for them. All you have to do is look at the Denver-Dallas series to realize the Nuggets, at their peak, play with an energy level that's difficult to match. Last night (and the night before as well) they seemed to have simply run out of energy.

But I'm still going with Orlando to win the East and I'm picking them to wrap it up tonight. Orlando just looks better than Cleveland. Look, if it wasn't for that dramatic LaBron James three-pointer with a second left, Orlando would have swept this series. And James is not going to continue to get the favorable calls from the refs he has been getting (i.e., when James stumbled over his own two feet in Game 4 and, instead of calling him for traveling, the ref called a foul on Orlando that resulted in James hitting a pair of free throws that sent the game into overtime). Of course, Michael Jordan proved that refs usually will give star players more leeway.

The only thing Cleveland really has going for it is the fact I'm picking Orlando.

Friday, May 29, 2009

L.A. prosecutors finally bag one

Phil Spector was sentenced today to 19 years to life in prison in connection with the shooting death of actress Lana Clarkson who was shot through the mouth at Spector's Los Angeles mansion six years ago. The sentencing resulted in this quote from deputy District Attorney Alan Jackson:

"If you commit crimes against our citizens we will follow you and prosecute you. And no matter whether you are famous or wealthy, you will stand trial."

Notice he didn't say "you will be brought to justice," because his office has a poor track record when it comes to meting out justice for celebrities (see O.J. Simpson, Robert Blake). And even this time it took his office a couple bites at the apple before they could swallow -- Spector's first trial ended with the jury deadlocked 10-2 for conviction.

According to the AP story on the sentencing, Spector's child bride (pictured top right) said "I've lost my husband, my best friend. I feel that a grave injustice has been done and from this day forward I'm going to dedicate myself to proving my husband's innocence." Sure. Fine. Whatever. She'll undoubtedly join Simpson who would be searching high and low for the real murderers of his wife and her friend if he wasn't doing hard time himself for an unrelated crime. What do you think the over/under is in weeks before she files?

Of course she has other options. She might get a nifty sum by selling the Alhambra mansion but then she might turn it into a ghoulish museum. She could even conduct the tours hereself:

"And over here you can see the original blood spatter patterns caused when the bullet smashed through Lana's skull. And in this room you can see footage of Lana's most famous film, Barbarian Queen. Then we'll proceed to the master bedroom -- the room Phil was unable to coax Lana into -- even though Phil's first big hit record, To Know Him Is To Love Him, is piped constantly through the sound system. Because of the times I spent with Phil right here in this room I can personally vouch for the fact that he never lost that lovin' feeling."

Yup. I smell a real money-maker there. She can apply the proceeds to the Simpson-Spector Defense Fund or perhaps some Lakers season tickets.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

This is an ex-parrot

If you can believe it, I have recently learned there are still people on this planet who have never seen this.

Drag Me To Hell - Official Trailer

I am not of fan of today's brand of horror films, but Sam Raimi does raise the bar on the genre -- his "Evil Dead 2 Dead By Dawn" is one of my most entertaining times with a movie -- and this one looks extremely promising.

How moral are you?

Take this survey and find out.

Happy 64th, John


I saw this story about a Richardson elementary school apologizing for its choir singing the Mexican national anthem at a school program and thought "Why do they have to apologize for." I'm guessing the choir sang it in Spanish which I find that impressive for an elementary school. I'm not sure I've ever even heard the Mexican national anthem and I'm always open to being exposed to something new.

But the telling paragraph in this story is the last one: "Richardson school officials said they had received three complaints about the placement of the song." Three? THREE? To me, that's caving in to a small bigoted minority and the Richardson schools should be ashamed of themselves for apologizing.

Today's local news report

The good, the bad and the ugly.

I've said this once, I'm saying it again and I'll keep on saying it until the City finally does it

The City of Dallas has scheduled four community meetings next month, supposedly to get citizen input on the upcoming budget, which, as we all know, is a mess. The City is facing a $190 million deficit (excuse me, cuts approved Wednesday by the City Council "slashed" that deficit to $177.4 million.) Now at these meetings city staff leaders are either going to tell you here's what else we're thinking of cutting or, possibly, they might even ask you which items from this laundry list would you cut if you were making these decisions.

But cutting services is not the only option. The City can also increase revenues by increasing the property tax rate. I know, I know, raising taxes ranks right up there with replacing Friday night high school football with cricket matches (no, those are not what you use to set crickets on fire), but hear me out.

I work part time at a video store and we offer four $5.99 DVDs for $20. If someone comes to the counter with three DVDs marked at $5.99, I tell them about the special and they invariably decide to buy another DVD to take advantage of the offer. I'm convinced if the City does the same thing -- shows its customers exactly what they can "purchase" for X amount of cents -- these customers may be more likely to make that purchase.

So what I would like the City to do is prepare a list of options that we, as citizens, can purchase with our property taxes. And alongside each item, list the tax increase it would cost to purchase that service along with a check box. Then ask the citizens at next month's town hall meetings to check those boxes they would be willing to purchase at that price.

By the same token, the city can list other options that are already in the budget, again with their price, and ask the citizens if they want to keep them. That way we can vote to lower the tax rate as well if we think we can get along without those services.

If the City does that, then these meetings will be worthwhile and provide the staff and elected officials information that may surprise them.

These meetings will take place from 6:30-8 p.m.:
  • Wednesday, June 3, Cedar Crest Golf Course Clubhouse, 1800 Sutherland Ave.
  • Tuesday, June 9, Goodwill Industries, 3020 N. Westmoreland
  • Monday, June 22, Jewish Community Center, 7900 Northhaven Road
  • Thursday, June 25, Winfrey Point at White Rock Lake, 950 E. Lawther Drive

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Happy 66th, Bruce

Once again Texas lawmakers prove they don't have a clue

I used to have this annual ritual that began every September. Each day for two months I would check the British Airways Web site to see what specials they were having. I remember one year, I found a three-day sale in which roundtrip tickets from DFW to London were $99 each. That was cheaper than flying from here to Austin. Of course, you had to travel between Nov. 1 and March 31, not the height of the tourist season in Great Britain, but for $99 who cares.

Another time I found a package deal on the BA Web site -- one week in London and one week in Paris for $600 a person. That price included all air fares and hotel costs. My son and I spent our first week in London and just as we were ready to check out of the hotel and take the train out to Heathrow, British Airways called to inform us that firemen were on strike in Paris (some outfit is always on strike in France.) Since firemen had to be on duty at the airport, that presented a problem. The airline said there were a number of possibilities -- our flight could takeoff and land as scheduled, it could be delayed or it could be cancelled. The caller gave us two options: (1) We could head to Heathrow and take our chances or (2) our tickets would be honored on Eurostar, the high-speed rail from London to Paris. I immediately chose option No. 2.

A couple of years earlier I had taken that same rail the other way, from Paris to London and I knew the benefits. The actual trip -- from hotel to hotel -- took much less time by rail than it did by air, mainly because of the time saved traveling from downtown to the far-flung airports in both cities. Plus, on the train, it was much easier to get out of your seat and walk around and, of course, the scenes out the window were far superior.

On the French side of the channel, the train reached speeds of almost 200 miles an hour. A couple of days after arriving in Paris, my son and I were standing on line waiting to get into the Louvre and we struck up a conversation with a French couple from Calais. They had driven to Paris and told us that they were driving close to 100 miles an hour on the main motorway when the Eurostar sped past them "as though we were standing still." (The picture above left shows the Eurostar arriving in the London station.)

I mention all this because, unless you have spent time enjoying rail travel, perhaps it's difficult to realize all the benefits it can bring. And perhaps it's because the dunces in the Texas Legislature have never enjoyed riding in anything but a Ford pickup, they are acting like idiots while discussing transportation options for the state, options they are making sure don't include rail.

While a group of farsighted North Central Texans (a phrase I once considered an oxymoron), tried to fashion legislation (albeit terribly misguided legislation) that would have funded about 200 miles of additional rail lines in the area, the Texas Legislature has decided that 25 percent of the money raised by this plan must go to schools and the other 75 percent can only be spent on highways and bridges.

This entire mess reminds me of the campaign used to convince Dallas-area voters to approve a .5 cent sales tax hike to fund the construction of rail in Dallas, what we now know as DART. The campaign was based on the notion that approval of this sales tax would decrease highway congestion in the area. Even then I thought that was the wrong argument and today we see traffic problems are worse than they were when this sales tax proposal was suggested.

But the real reason I thought that was a stupid argument was because of the "why." Why would someone be so interested in reducing traffic congestion. The only answer possible was so it would make it easier for that person to drive around town. In other words, they weren't going to be pried from their pickup truck. It's that same 200-years-behind-the-times attitude that still exists in this state.

It will still take elections to pass what the Legislature is considering -- a 10-cents-a-gallon gasoline tax increase to fund all this highway construction. I will do whatever I can (which is probably not all that much) to defeat such a proposal since I have gone on record many times as opposing any transportation option that does not include a rail component.

I must also add that I am crushed by the white-flag waving comments made by people like Rowlett Mayor John Harper who was quoted as saying "I suppose 'half a loaf' is better than none." (No, it isn't, John) and Michael Morris, transportation director for the North Central Texas Council of Governments, who said his staff would waste little time crying over the lost opportunity for rail -- they'd quickly follow with a list of road projects that counties could place before voters as soon as 2010.

That's the kind of cowardly leadership that will forever condemn Texas to remain 100 years behind the times.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

D Magazine succumbs to Republican propaganda

The first item on today's Frontburner blog, provided by D magazine, misidentifies a bill currently being considered in the Texas House of Representatives. Frontburner calls it a "Voter ID" bill, which is what Republicans are trying to convince people it is.

But it isn't. First, we already have "Voter ID" laws in Texas. In order to vote you must show a voter registration certificate or, if you don't have that with you, a driver's license, a government-issued utility bill, a passport, etc.

The bill the Texas House is considering is a "Voter Suppression" bill designed specifically to make sure Republicans maintain control of Texas politics. Republicans argue that the bill is needed to prevent voter fraud. The problem is there is not one shred of evidence that the fraud Republicans talk about actually exists. According to the Commission on Federal Election Reform, "there is no evidence of extensive fraud in U.S. elections or of multiple voting."

This legislation, in reality is a concerted effort to disenfranchise those groups that have traditionally been marginalized and blocked from practicing their full rights as citizens of the United States of America. According to the National Journal, "it's not the mainstream majority of voters who are at risk here. It's the smaller percentage of Americans who are on the electorate's margins -- students, the elderly, low-income voters, African Americans, non-English-speaking residents -- who disproportionately tend to lack photo IDs. The same group is more likely to lack proof of citizenship such as passports and birth certificates. " These groups also tend to vote Democratic and one report estimates that this bill will mean a clear let loss of between 150,000 and 500,000 votes for Democratic candidates in Texas.

That's why this is a Voter Suppression, not a Voter ID, bill.

This ought to thrill KBH

Rep. Leo Berman. R-Tyler, says he will announce his candidacy for governor of Texas in July, entering a primary expected to feature incumbent Gov. Hair and the senior U.S. Senator from Texas, Kay Bailey Hutchison.

Berman claims he is not a one-issue candidate but there is clearly only one issue he cares about and that is all those dang illegal immigrants living here. He wants to do something about them, although he doesn't say what except "to enforce the laws we already have on the books."

That means Berman will try to appeal to the same far right of the Republican Party that Gov. Hair is courting, which may help Sen. Hutchison, who is telling folks she will probably announce her candidacy sometime in the fall.

Coats finding it lonely in this closet

Gromer Jeffers, the ace political reporter for the Dallas Morning News, is reporting that Sam Coats, who ran a populist campaign for Dallas mayor two years ago, is abandoning his quest to run in the Democratic Party's primary for Dallas County Judge. Coats apparently told Jeffers he was calling a halt to his campaign because he wasn't "passionate about having to be a politician for the next almost 18 months of the campaign."

Let's be honest here. That's not the reason he's dropping out. The real reason can be found later in the story after Jeffers said the others still in race are civil lawyer Clay Jenkins, Dallas County Schools president Larry Duncan and incumbent Jim Foster. The key sentence in Jeffers's story is "Most top Democratic officials have abandoned Foster's reelection bid in favor of Jenkins."

Coats dropped out because he saw he wasn't going to get the support he needed to be successful.

Monday, May 25, 2009

New movies to be released tomorrow on DVD

Forever Strong (2008) *½ A generic faith-and-redemption fare, devoid of nuance.

New In Town (2009) * The comedy is flat, the romance is listless, the pacing is sluggish, and the fish-out-of-water flops. The laughs and emotional moments are so weak that director Jonas Elmer has no choice but to tweak them with music cues and bland guitar-rock. Watching Ms. Zellweger’s joyless performance, you have to wonder what happened to this formerly charming actress who not so long ago seemed on the verge of becoming a softer, more vulnerable Shirley MacLaine.

A Thousand Years of Good Prayers (2008) **½ Very little actually happens in this film, since most of the time Mr. Shi sits alone in his divorced daughter's empty apartment, wondering how to help her. But there's a gentle beauty in these long, anguished silences, and director Wayne Wang and his actors make the most of it.

Dylan highly honored to be an almost real Texan

The current issue of Rolling Stone contains the following quote attributed to Bob Dylan, which needs no explanation or amplification (and, if it does, you won't get it from me):

"I think you really have to be a Texan to appreciate the vastness of (the state) and the emptiness of it. But I'm an honorary Texan. George Bush, when he was governor, gave me a proclamation that says I'm an honorary Texan. As if anybody needed proof. It's no small thing. I take it as a high honor."

I can't help it, I must pose the question. Is it really that much of an honor to be an honorary citizen of an empty state?

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Expect another ugly scene at council committee hearing

Of all the Dallas City Council committee meetings Tuesday (the usual Monday meetings are being pushed back a day because of Memorial Day), expect the 2 p.m. Transportation and Environment Committee to be the most interesting and the most contentious.

The first briefing the committee will hear involves concessions at Love Field, which is really becoming an ugly mess. On the one hand, you have the city staff which is arguing a perfectly sensible plan to increase the number of concessionaires at Love Field to give patrons more choices and to boost business. However, the two outfits that currently operate all the concessions at Love Field now are minority owned and minority council members want to protect them. As a result, they have put themselves in the position of fighting against the best interests of Love Field and those who use the airport. The first hearing on this last month was not pretty to witness because of its blatant racism and I don't expect this one to be any better.

After that, the committee takes up the tricky issue of booting cars on private parking lots. According to the fourth slide of this briefing, "There has been a rise in complaints from patrons
of pay parking lots and businesses near these lots regarding the use of vehicle immobilization
devices; without state or local regulation, there is an increased opportunity for fraudulent and
predatory practices that negatively impact the public."

The problem appears to be that many of these parking lots don't provide receipts. Users are supposed to stick money in slots that correspond to the spaces in which they parked. If there is no money in the slots when collectors come, then the cars are immobilized and it costs about $100 to free them. Patrons are blaming the restaurants closest to the parking lots and swearing they will never patronize them again. This is especially prevalent in Deep Ellum. (Some are claiming these payment devices lots are being looted by thieves.)

There seems to be a simple solution to all this -- install electronic payment devices that print out receipts. Parking lot owners claim this is too expensive an option. Well, I'll tell you what to do, parking lot owners -- raise your rates to pay for them. I would gladly pay a higher parking fee for the comfort of knowing that my car will not be booted or towed, even though I paid to park in your lot.

Blow: Everyone loses in District 7

Dalas Morning News columnist Steve Blow has a fine column about the District 7 Dallas City Council runoff between incumbent Carolyn Davis and challenger Ron Price, saying that, no matter who wins, the residents of District 7 lose. I call it "a fine column," because I agree with him 100 percent. Which makes me wonder again what ever happened to this guy.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

My pick for the surprise movie hit of the summer

I'm going with The Proposal which stars (of all people) Sandra Bullock as a hard-nosed book editor who, when suddenly faced with deportation to Canada, forces her beleaguered assistant to marry her. Maybe it's because I've always had a fondness for Ms Bullock ever since I ran into her in a Austin nightclub over a decade ago, got up the nerve to ask her to dance and she accepted gleefully. I am also rooting for her because she hasn't had a hit film since 2002 when Two Weeks Notice had nearly $200 million in worldwide box office receipts. The trailer also looks positive (I loved Betty White's "It's like an Easter egg hunt" line -- you have to see it in the context of the trailer), but, then, I guess all trailers do.

I'm smelling a couple of upsets

I know the NBA front office is drooling over the possibility of promoting a Kobe vs. Labron NBA finals, but I hope they'll be satisfied with Melo vs. Dwight as an alternatives, because that's the way I see the conference finals leaning.

In spite of LaBron James last second heroics to win Game 2, the Cleveland Cavaliers will be heading to Orlando only tied 1-1 and without the home court advantage. The way the Magic have played Cleveland, I can see the boys from Florida going back to Cleveland up 3-1 with the series all but locked up. Cleveland, obviously, has the best player on the court in these games, but Orlando seems to have the better overall team. And don't forget, Orlando won the regular season series with the Cavaliers.

The same thing is true out West where the Lakers have shown the world they are the taller team, but Denver has shown the world it is the better team. If it wasn't for some absolutely horrific foul shooting in Game 1, the Nuggets would actually be up 2-0, not tied 1-1, and headed for an amazing sweep of L.A. The Lakers' only hope of pulling out a game in Denver is if Sasha Vujacic missed the Lakers flight or if he's denied entry into the team's locker room. And I hate to say it but, even though he has made some spectacular crucial three's, Derek Fisher has been, overall, an offensive liability for the Lakers. I also think Nuggets coach George Karl is the smartest, craftiest coach still in the playoffs.

So based on what I've seen the first four games of these conference finals, I think it's going to be the Denver Nuggets vs. the Orlando Magic in the NBA finals.

Friday, May 22, 2009

A victim's father speaks out on guns on campus

A trio of college professors, obviously using a research grant paid for by the National Rifle Association, published an op-ed article in the Dallas Morning News last month supporting the carrying of concealed weapons on campus. If you are interested in reading their drivel, you can find it here. But what I found even more interesting was a response to the article written by someone who identified himself only as victimsdad. Here is what he had to say:

While I hesitate to question my academic colleagues who are recognized authorities on the issues upon which they speak, I would challenge you to re-evaluate your position on the guns on campus issue. Based on your various academic fields which are not directly related to public safety, violence, or criminology, I would have to say that your opinions, while as valid as anyone's, are not definitive or particularly expert on the issue and you might do well to yield to other, more experienced voices.

Still, I think it is important to address your position, seeing as it has been seized upon by the supporters of guns on campus who see you as some sort of authorities. No matter that for every academic who supports your position, I and others can produce fifty or more who will unequivocally oppose your position, they are not getting the media attention you are getting right now because we represent the default argument. You, for reasons that I'm sure you believe in wholeheartedly, are bucking the tide and are getting noticed as a result.

I will even make a prediction that, in the coming months, you will be approached, wined and dined, jetted around the country, and get lots of free range time by various gun factions. They will trumpet your position in order to bolster their own. Enjoy yourself, but watch your back. You will be making a deal with the devil, several, actually, and it could turn out badly. I, myself, have been physically and emotionally assaulted, threatened, and vilified by them on many occasions. I hope you know what you are getting into. These people do have guns, and many of them are simply not particularly stable or well-socialized as was recently proven in Pennsylvania.

So to my point. Not everyone wants to live in a world of paranoia and fear. As a college professor for the past 25 years and a victim of gun violence myself (my seventeen year old son was shot and killed during a fast food restaurant robbery), I would not work on a campus that allowed concealed carry. Virtually every student I know would avoid going to a school with such a policy. I would not attend an athletic event or patronize a university that had such a policy. I simply do not want to live in that world. The presence of guns does not make everyone feel safer, especially the millions of us who are already victims of gun violence. Do your own poll. Even in Texas I'm sure the numbers would be significant.

It is unfathomable to many people in this country that gun owners are so attached to their guns in the first place. There are gun owners, and then there are gun owners. In my interactions with this group over the past ten years, I have found the most extreme, rabid, ideologues of the lot range from borderline mentally unstable to full-blown sociopaths. I kid you not. To not be able to care and have compassion for humanity -- innocent men, women and children who have been gunned down -- is not normal. Their superficial and insincere sympathies are insulting to us as victims. Once they say "I'm sorry for what happened to you, but..." their credibility is gone and they move to a place that is without merit in an issue that matters so much to us. To care about inanimate objects that give a false sense of security in the face of a perceived constant threat is simply not how the human brain is supposed to work.

Yet, this small minority is making quite a mess of things. Those of us who have lost family members to gun violence are doing all we can to make a difference while the supporters of guns and (dare I say by logical extension) gun violence use hyperbole, extremism, lies, paranoia, and belligerence to, wittingly or unwittingly, protect the gun industry's profits, nothing more.

This problem should be solved rather easily. Other countries have done so. Every US state and most major US cities have annual gun death rates greater than the entire nation of Canada. That is nothing to be proud of. With all the guns in this country we should be the safest nation, not the most dangerous. Texas alone should be safer than any other state, yet it is not. The gun supporters' logic clearly fails on this simple point. We have catered to the gun industry for decades. Look at the legacy we now have. It's time to move in the other direction so that others do not become like the Virginia Tech families and like me. It is a horrible fate.

You will note several things about those who are the most extreme supporters of what they call "gun rights," if such a thing could exist. They religiously protect the makers and sellers of these weapons while violating their own mantra, "enforce the laws we already have." Then why aren't they helping weed out the bad gun dealers? Why aren't they working to prevent straw purchases? Why aren't they supporting efforts to interdict inter- and intrastate gun runners? They're all breaking the law, but at every turn the gun owning community works tirelessly to prevent us from enforcing these laws. It is not being consistent nor rational and they are not being good citizens. These are the people you are aligning yourself with in your position.

Next, let's get some background out of the way. The multi-billion dollar a year gun industry created this problem by paying legislators to vote to ensure that they could sell guns to anyone at anytime for any purpose. This is clearly documented in many sources, including those who were instrumental in these practices who have seen the error of their ways and have exposed the unethical behavior of the gun industry. The industry hid behind its own twisted, historically inaccurate, and rather illiterate interpretation of the Second Amendment that only coincidentally supported its agenda. Yet they will take advantage of it to no end as it affords them the "right" to make money. Needless to say, by comparison, the First Amendment affords no such right to the press or media.

Effectively preventing killers from getting guns is the only rational response to this spate of tragedies. Of course, virtually none of the most recent high profile and deadly multiple shootings have been carried out by gang bangers or common criminals but by what have been called for years, "law-abiding gun owners." Turns out this demographic can't be trusted after all, despite teleological claims to the contrary. So, now the call is for us to all own guns so that we can protect ourselves from "lawful gun owners," too. Not only is this offensive but ludicrous.

You cite without reference several times, "peer-reviewed" sources that prove somehow a negative, i.e. that carrying concealed weapons somehow depresses criminal activity. In point of fact, no such "peer-reviewed" studies exist. If you are referring to Mr. Kleck's and Mr. Lott's rather shoddy and discredited research, the only peer review they received was being welcomed with open arms by the gun community who has since elevated their specious claims to the level of mythic status. If their research had been subjected to a real peer-review in a more rigorous arena, say, breast cancer research, they would be laughed out of the building. Furthermore, why do you ignore other scholarly studies by those like Jon Vernick, Garen Wintemute, David Hemenway, Jens Ludwig, and the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy that just as clearly demonstrate just the opposite using more rigorous statistical methodologies? You may not agree with them, but it does not lend credibility to your position to ignore them.

Finally, I would have to question how you view human nature when it comes to supporting such a response to school violence. Not one professor, student, administrator, or campus security officer that I have talked to since Columbine or Virginia Tech is in favor of allowing concealed carry holders to carry guns on campus. I can understand the gun culture's lack of understanding about the contemporary college/university environment and human nature, but not yours.

In order to try to reach a conclusion about this issue, let's look just at the logistics for a second. Leave behind the ideology. You should already know that colleges and universities already take campus safety and security very, very seriously. Already, (sadly) many schools have sworn and armed police forces. Virginia Tech does. Theirs is actually larger than many small towns. In fact, the biggest problem at Tech was not the lack of an armed militia of students and faculty, it was the unfortunate conclusion reached by the first officers on the scene. They thought the crime was over. Furthermore, there is some question as to the administrative response that inhibited the investigation and further tactical response to the initial shootings.

This was a criminal incident that re-defined tactical response, much like the 9/11 tragedy. It hadn't really been done before and no one thought that the shooter would continue the rampage. It was not a pattern that anyone recognized. We know better now and many policies have changed as a result, just as they changed after Columbine. Hard lessons to learn, but we learned it the only way we know how, through experience. Now, there is much less likelihood that another Virginia Tech can occur simply because of readiness and preparedness, much as there is far less chance of anyone successfully storming an airliner cockpit post-9/11.

As a result of the Tech shootings, many changes have been made to address this type of crime in the future. Many of them we as faculty are probably not even aware of. Schools that do not have armed police officers, like mine, are often in urban communities where a squad car is rarely more than a minute or two away. I feel safe there and yes, seconds count, but even if you have one hundred students on a campus of 5000 carrying concealed, and that would be a very high percentage indeed even in Texas, you know that the students and faculty are compartmentalized in their own classrooms or dorms for most of the day. The chance that they will be in a position to respond any faster than campus security on patrol is minuscule. The chance that the shooter will walk into their classroom is even more remote. Could they be in the right place at the right time? Maybe, but not very likely. Even if they are, will they get off a shot before they are killed? President Reagan was shot, along with Jim Brady and others, while surrounded by a bevy of Secret Service agents, probably the most highly trained personal protection force on the planet, by an insane man who was still able to get off every round in his small revolver that he had never before fired. He was not in a "gun-free zone," to be sure.

And so, the only relevant question is this: With all the safe moments that occur every day on our campuses, what will be the result of legalizing the carrying and possession of firearms in this environment? To that, those of us who know college students well can only answer with two words -- Beer and Hormones. Should we increase campus security and develop effective policies to mitigate crime? Absolutely. Should we attempt to do this by (and I'll even use the gun side rhetoric here) allowing concealed carry holders to carry their lawfully allowed firearms in the classroom, in the stadium, and about the campus, AND to allow them to possess and store these firearms in their dorm rooms and residence halls? Absolutely not.

The larger and more complex questions that need to be asked here are these: Once the novelty wears off, how secure will those firearms be? How often will people really carry their guns to class and around campus? What kinds of personal, institutional and financial responses will it result in from those who do not want firearms on campus or resist the initiative? What problems will these gun owners, or those with access to their guns, try to solve in a fit of passion or poor judgment? What campus based regulations will have to be reviewed and instated to deal with this infringement of their self-determination and traditional independence?

These are complications that far outweigh the claimed "benefits" to the campus community. Campus regulations alone could be so tough that no one except off duty police officers taking night classes would even be able to jump through all the hoops necessary to be one of the concealed carry chosen few. Glib responses and "solutions" don't go nearly far enough when weighing the costs and benefits nor the administrative response. We can see pretty clearly that this is, once again, yet another way of infiltrating guns into our daily lives in order to sell more guns and make more profit. I am terribly sorry that you have been sucked into this fanatical morass and lent your voices to it.

Furthermore, I believe that experienced gun owners who support this argument or model simply do not understand the mentality of the college student as gun owner. By federal law, one can't even buy a handgun from a licensed dealer until the age of 21. They can, in Texas, possess a handgun at a younger age, but it must be obtained from an unlicensed dealer or as a gift. In other states, the law is more stringent. Now, that can be lot of trouble to go through to get your concealed weapon and I think it's appropriate to conclude that only a very, very small number of college bound gun enthusiasts would even fall into this category, though I will admit there will be some.

Setting the underage minority aside for the moment, let's say that a typical student has just turned 21 and wants to become part of the student protection squad. That means that they are most likely a senior, perhaps a junior. As you are no doubt well aware, seniors are the smallest undergraduate student population on campus and often don't even take classes with first and second year students. You could be a graduate student or an older student, but this model still leaves the vast majority, that is to say virtually all of the student body unprotected at any given time, doesn't it? So, the bad guy doesn't attack upper level courses and sticks to large 101 lecture classes populated by first and second years. People still die.

Teachers, being academics and extremely intelligent people, I find have an abhorrence of violence and an aversion to weapons of any type. Granted, some don't, but not very many. No doubt, you fall into that category, but as I said, there are not many of you. Not only that, but they can be extremely casual about things that are not critical to their field of study. Add to that the fact that the teacher is likely, typically, to be the first one shot in the classroom and arming them makes no sense at all. One cannot defend against ambush. Even the staunchest gun owner has agreed with me on that.

Now back to our 21 year old gun owner. He/she buys a gun and gets a concealed carry permit after taking a training or "safety" course (many of which are a joke when it comes to the various state concealed carry requirements) and they now think they can defend themselves and their classmates. In truth, they are nothing more than a danger to themselves and others. Without police level training, one is useless and dangerous in this sort of crisis. In college there is little time for going to the range and keeping up your skills. You know as well as I do that students have lives. They have much better things to do than drill holes in little paper targets during their spare time, because they don't have any spare time.

Therefore, these people will have virtually no experience or training, nor do they have time to practice. But they will believe, wrongly, that even they can be heroes. In a crisis, they'll be dead. Note that many of these shooters are now wearing bulletproof vests. Even the police have trouble taking them out. The young vigilante squad will be dead, dead, dead.

Guns on campus is a foolish idea promoted by people who know virtually nothing about campus life and culture and who are fanatically bound to their paranoid philosophy of life. We need for them to stop trying to pull us into their mad darkness and instead work with us in the light to effectively keep guns out of the hands of criminals in the first place.

Actually, as I think this through, a far more effective security measure would be to simply install locks on classroom doors that can be actuated from inside. I can't remember the last time I saw a turn button lock on the inside of a classroom door. Keyed locks on the outside are the rule, but the ability of teachers or students to secure a door from the inside is rarely afforded. This simple measure would have likely saved the vast majority of lives at Virginia Tech given the evidence presented.

The bottom line is simple. It is not too much to ask, nor is it controversial to insist that criminals should not be able to buy guns easily and shoot up a college classroom. Not controversial at all. Let's start there. If Texas has the temerity to be the first state to pass a guns on campus legislation, all I can say is that those of us who have gone before will be here for the victims. That's more than I can say for the gun industry and its noisesome supporters.
NOTE: I am trying to learn more about "victimsdad," and if I learn anything, I will pass it along.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Where will Blake Griffin play and how does that effect the Mavericks

My son and I were watching the draft lottery the other night and when the telecast paused before the final three selections my son turned to me and said, "If Oklahoma City gets the top pick, you know the fix is in. If the Clippers get it, you can call the lottery legit."

Well, the Clippers won it and the right to select Oklahoma's Blake Griffin. But from what I hear, the Thunder are still going to make a big push to get Griffin to play in his hometown. They are preparing a deal that would give Los Angeles the Thunder's No. 3 pick along with either Jeff Green or Russell Westbrook in return for the No. 1.

Such a deal would not be a good one for the Mavericks. If the Clippers take Griffin with the first pick, they will have a bevy of front line big men, some of whom they will need to unload. One of them will be Marcus Camby and I have always loved the idea of Camby in a Mavericks uniform. The problem is the Clippers will also want to dump Baron Davis and his bad contract at the same time and the Mavs don't need that burden, so a third team might have to be involved in any deal the Mavs try to do with the Clippers. The addition of Camby immediately upgrades the Mavs defense, the area where Dallas needs the most improvement.

Another defense addition that I hear might be available is Trevor Ariza from that other L.A. team. If you saw the first game of the Nuggets-Lakers series Tuesday night, you saw Denver outplay the Lakers for 47 minutes. Then you saw Ariza steal a Denver inbounds pass that allowed the Lakers to steal Game 1. That's the kind of play I would like to see in Dallas. Plus Ariza provides additional perimeter offense, which could help free up Jason Terry, something that really could have aided Dallas in its series with Denver

If the Mavs could add Camby and Ariza without giving up too much (and I think this is possible), I think that would make this a good off-season. As far as the draft, I don't see Dallas adding anyone with the 22nd pick that will make an immediate contribution. I understand they are looking for a point guard for the future and the one mock draft I have seen has Dallas picking North Carolina's Ty Lawson at 22. But even he will need some seasoning before he is NBA ready.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Texas Senate votes to make college campuses less safe

Senate Bill 1164, which was opposed by university administrators, university faculties, university staff members, university students and public safety officers from across the state, but supported by the only group that matters to Texas lawmakers, the National Rifle Association, sailed through the Senate today. It would allow guns in public buildings on university campuses in Texas -- and I mean all buildings, despite attempts by some clear-thinking senators to exclude some obvious ones, such as:
  • The University of Houston maintains a charter elementary school for children of faculty members and others who live near the area. Guns will be allowed in this elementary school.
  • But Texans want their kiddos exposed to guns younger than elementary school. That's why the Senate refused to exempt pre-schools located on college campuses.
  • Ever been the to Cactus Cafe on the UT-Austin campus? Great place. At least it used to be. This bill supersedes existing laws prohibiting guns in bars. Alcohol + guns = trouble. Always has. Always will.
  • We don't allow guns in stand-alone hospitals in Texas, but with this Senate bill you'll be able to tote your concealed handgun inside the Health Services center on the UT campus.
  • On-campus mental health centers will allow people to carry concealed handguns inside. That really ought to help those with suicidal tendencies being treated there.
  • The chemistry labs at the University of Texas at Dallas prohibit food, drinks, cigarettes, short sleeves, shorts and sandals because of the dangers of the chemicals being used. However, they won't be able to prohibit guns. Does that make sense?
The Senate made sure that this bill had nothing to do with on-campus safety. After all, statistics show that 93 percent of violent crimes committed against students occur off-campus anyway. But one senator introduced an amendment that would have allowed the Texas Coordinating Board to change the law if it was realized that safety on campuses was getting worse. Seems reasonable: If we learn that guns make campuses less safe, then let's rescind the law allowing them. That amendment was defeated, proving once and for all this legislation is not about safety on campus but in caving into the wishes of the NRA.

I challenge anyone to approach any college professor and ask him or her if he or she will feel safer under this law. How will that professor feel when a student approaches asking for a grade change or permission to turn in an assignment late, knowing that student just might be carrying a concealed handgun?

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Women In Film

A video response to yesterday's shape-shifting exercise.

Gov. Hair on the road to nowhere

The National Journal Magazine (yes, Magazine is part of its name) conducted a poll among 100 "Republican insiders" (their names can be found at the bottom of this story), and one of the questions asked was "Who among your party's current crop of governors has the brightest political future?" Guess how many named our own Gov. Hair? Too high, guess again. Still too high, guess again.

That's right. Zero. Nada. Not one of those "insiders" thinks our guv has any kind of future outside the state of Texas (five of them think Gov. Palin still has a bright political future). In case you're interested, the top four finishers were:
  • (in spite of his State of the Union response) Bobby Jindal of Louisiana ("He has brains, ideas, talent, and youth. Plus, he's an ethnic minority. He's just what the doctor ordered to bring us out of the wilderness.");
  • Harley Barbour of Mississippi ("The incompetence of [Republican National Committee Chairman Michael] Steele makes Haley the real party leader in 2010.");
  • Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota ("If the GOP is ever going to broaden its appeal, it's going to have to look outside the South. Pawlenty is the real deal -- mainstream conservative principles, minus the fright wig."); and
  • Charlie Crist of Florida, who is apparently abandoning the governor's mansion for a run at the U.S. Senate ("The antithesis of the Ann Coulter-Limbaugh model Republican. This is the fault line the GOP must confront, and Crist will be one of the primary voices in this debate.")
When "Democratic insiders" were asked the same thing about their party's governors, the top four finishers were:
  • Tim Kaine of Virginia ("Kaine has helped turn a red state blue and is well positioned to move eventually to a prominent Cabinet position in the Obama administration.");
  • Brian Schweitzer of Montana ("He is pro-green, pro-God, and pro-gun. He appeals to the future without abandoning traditional values.")
  • Jennifer Granholm of Michigan ("A smart, strong, charismatic governor in a hard-hit state, she has the capability of serving her country in a number of different roles."); and
  • Martin O'Malley of Maryland ("Young, smart, with it.")

Monday, May 18, 2009

Keith Olbermann WTF!?! Texas Secession?

Gov. Hair's ridiculous comments are simply the gift that keeps on giving.

Men In Film

A 3+-minute historical glimpse at our top actors in a fascinating shape-shifting way. Worth a look.

Here's one I'm looking forward to

Rob ("Chicago") Marshall directs this musical based on Federico Fellini's "8½," with a cast that includes Daniel Day Lewis and his harum -- Marion Cotillard, Penelope Cruz, Nicole Kidman, Kate Hudson, Sophia Loren and Judi Dench. It's supposed to open around Thanksgiving and I can't help thinking we'll be hearing a lot about this one next Oscar season.

New movies to be released tomorrow on DVD

Fanboys (2009) ** This film doesn’t delve into the mania of fandom, it exploits it.

My Bloody Valentine 3D (2009) ** Wooden performances by forgettable, generic actors — just like in the original — don’t aid in making things any less leaden. Perhaps this is the best one can hope for from something like My Bloody Valentine 3-D, that it be just good enough to not be annoying. Or in this specific case, physically painful.

Outlander (2009) *½ By taking nonsense seriously Outlander never achieves camp. It’s a comic book that’s mistaken itself for scripture. Not helped by a wooden performance from Jim Caviezel as a humanoid alien who accidentally imports a real alien to eighth-century Earth.

Paul Blart: Mall Cop (2009) *½ A tossed-off comedy from Adam Sandler’s production company that makes one long for the comparative genius of I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry. Perfectly inoffensive and almost entirely unfunny, this film is more of a numbing experience than a painful one. Great comics from Jerry Lewis to Peter Sellers have turned pathetic into comedic. But Kevin James never seems to able to get beyond pathetic.

Valkyrie (2008) **½ A film more concerned with "how" than "why" or "who," it would have benefited from more scrutiny and complexity. Still, once the bomb goes off, the thrills come in spades.

Yonkers Joe (2009) ** For all its attention to detail, this film isn’t half as tough as it pretends to be. The real story of these bottom-feeders and the sad young man they exploit is a lot uglier than the movie even begins to let on. Christine Lahti, however, burns through a thinly written role with a surprising level of warmth and humanity.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Good night, Wayman

Being a die-hard Texas Longhorn, there's not much about OU that I'm willing to recognize. However, I do join all Sooners and all sports/jazz fans in general in mourning the death of one of the university's greatest athletes and later jazz musician, Wayman Tisdale, who died this morning in Tulsa of cancer, proving once again that Billy Joel was right when he sang "Only the good die young."

Sonia + baseball = Supreme Court

A couple of weeks ago, I floated the name Sonia Stomayor as one to remember when discussions are held about who will replace Justice David Souter on the U.S. Supreme Court. What I did not know then, but know now, is that, as the Philadelphia Inquirer wrote at the time, Judge Stomayor "joined forever the ranks of Joe DiMaggio, Willie Mays, Jackie Robinson and Ted Williams" by issuing a ruling on March 31, 1995, that ended an ongoing baseball strike.

She ruled in favor of the players and against the owners in that suit saying the strike had “placed the entire concept of collective bargaining on trial.”

The 232-day strike which lasted from Aug. 12, 1994, to April 2, 1995, cancelled 948 games including the entire 1994 playoffs and World Series, the first time the Series had not been played since 1904. It marked the first time any major sport had lost its postseason because of a labor dispute.

When the strike began, the Texas Rangers were in first place in the woeful American League West in spite of a record that was 10 games under .500. Two last place teams in other divisions had better records than the Rangers.

Here's a shocker

Quoting verbatim the first paragraph of a story that appeared in today's Dallas Morning News:

"A young woman who stripped naked two years ago, dived in front of a car in downtown Plano, then stabbed a woman who got out to help her was found not guilty of aggravated assault Thursday by reason of insanity."


Thursday, May 14, 2009

Oh, what a delicious thought

I'm hearing rumors that Martin Scorsese plans to film a no-holds-barred, warts-and-all, Raging Bull-like biography of Frank Sinatra starring Leonardo DiCaprio. What with Sinatra's ties to organized crime in New Jersey and New York and Scorsese's masterful films on this subject (Mean Streets, Goodfellas, The Departed), this could be something special. I'm hoping there's more substance than rumor to these reports.

Two women robbed of their proper memories

My father died right after my senior year in high school. But I still have wonderful memories of him, of how he took me to Yankee Stadium just about every night when I was growing up and, later, when I decided to play Little League baseball, how he participated, first as an umpire and then as a manager. I remember him teaching me how to throw a curve ball, a weapon that made me a fairly descent weapon in Little League. I remember our travels, especially our cross-country moves and this green luggage trailer he built all by himself and hooked up to our 1952 Dodge. And I remember how he taught me the tricks to winning at five-card stud.

I thought about all that when I read this story today in the New York Times about two women, Kay Rene Qualls and DeeAnn Shafer, who were the only two children born on May 3, 1953, at Pioneer Memorial Hospital in Heppner, Ore., and then were sent home with each other's parents.

The only time these two persons were ever in close proximity was in the maternity ward of Pioneer Memorial. Then they went their separate ways, each believing, I guess, they were being raised by their biological parents.

The tragedy here, at least to me, is that the parents of both women are now dead. Neither one will ever know their real parents, will be denied even the faintest memory of their real mother and father. I wish my father had lived longer -- I believe I have done some things in my life that he would have been proud of. I would have loved it if he had known his grandson. But at least I have my memories and those are precious enough.

Where do the Mavs go from here

The Mavericks made a game of it last night, more than I thought they would after they were blown out in the first two games at Denver. I didn't turn last night's game off until there was a little more than two minutes to go.

Still the Mavericks lost in five, although there is some consolation that they made it to the second round and they succumbed to a far better team than they lost to in the first round the last two years, Golden State and New Orleans. However, I'm still not convinced Dallas makes it to the second round this year if Manu Ginobli had been healthy for the Spurs.

So now begins the off season, the time when Mark Cuban and company can begin assembling the parts for 2009-2010. What they should not do, however, is trade spare parts. which is essentially what this team has been doing for way too long.

Let's face reality: the Dallas Mavericks are nothing more than "Dirk Nowitzki and the 11 Dwarfs." Yesterday's voting for the All-NBA team was a wakeup call. Dirk made the first team but not one other Maverick received even a single point -- not Hall-of-Fame bound Jason Kidd, not sixth-man-of-the-year Jason Terry, not the mercurial Josh Howard --none, zero, no Mavericks. That puts all the other Mavericks behind the likes of Paul Millsap and Mehmet Okur of Utah, Hedo Turkoglu of Orlando, Caron Butler of Washington and Andre Iguodala of Philadelphia, among others, who received at least one vote.

Now Tim McMahon is writing today in the Mavericks Blog at the Dallas Morning News that Mark Cuban is willing to spend the big bucks to get another quality player in Dallas. "Mark Cuban wants to strike now instead of letting another year of Dirk's prime go by without the supporting cast he needs to make the Mavs legit contenders," McMahon writes. Music to my ears -- that's exactly what needs to happen.

I heard rumors a month or so ago that New Orleans was willing to let Chris Paul go in a fire sale. If that is true and the Mavs can grab him, that makes Dallas the third best team in the Western Conference going into next year, behind the Lakers and only slightly behind Denver. According to McMahon's story, Dallas native Chris Bosh might be available. Another instant upgrade, although I'm not so sure it's as much of a boost as you might get from Paul.

But I also don't want the Mavs to settle for being the third best team in the Western Conference but let's be patient here and wait for that 2010 free agent class. Let's face it, LeBron James, although he becomes a free agent that year, isn't going anywhere. But that still leaves the aforementioned Bosh, if Toronto doesn't sign him to an extension which it is really trying to do (and will probably trade him if it can't) and the name that really intrigues me, Dwyane Wade. Imagine adding Wade to a team that already has Nowitzki and Paul. You might has well suspend the 2010-2011 season and just declare the Mavs the NBA champs.

That's my dream scenario; unfortunately, the overwhelming number of my dreams never come true. So if the aforementioned doesn't take place, here's the painful move the Mavericks must make: Trade Dirk.

That's right, let the Big German go, but go to a team likely to win an NBA title with him. This franchise owes Dirk that. Dirk and Dirk alone has been keeping this team on the cusp of respectability for as long as he's been here and unless Cuban is willing to add one or two all-stars to this roster, they need to repay what Dirk has given to them by letting him earn his ring. Can you imagine the pairing of Dirk and Kobe on the Lakers? That would be fun to see. Besides the Lakers have some nice young talent they might be willing to part with. See if they would be willing to package Trevor Ariza, Andrew Bynum, Jordan Farmar and a first-round draft pick for Dirk.

But I would hate to see Dirk finish his career like, say, John Stockton, and be considered one of the greatest who ever played the game without ever winning an NBA championship. Dirk deserves more than that.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Mavs force a game five

Years ago, on one of my many automotive excursions in the western United States, I ventured down to Tombstone, Ariz. You see, much of my vacation life has been shaped by movies I've seen. My first visit to Hawaii was less than 24 hours long, but I made sure I found the time to visit the beach where Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr filmed their love scene in From Here to Eternity. I love to visit Monument Valley where my favorite John Ford westerns were filmed and recently I spent an afternoon at Devil's Tower solely because of Close Encounters of the Third Kind. In Nashville, I spent a day at the Acropolis, or whatever it's called, solely because of the closing scene of Robert Altman's film.

Anyway, ever since 1957 when I saw this cheesy western that I dearly loved, Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, I have been enthralled by the entire mythic behind Tombstone. So I went way out of my way to visit this place (it is not on the road to anywhere) and was shocked when I walked over to the actual O.K. Corral. The historic society there has erected tiny monuments depicting where everyone stood during the gunfight. These two rival gangs -- the Earps and the Clantons -- stood no more than six feet apart firing at each other at point blank range. That, I guess, is what they mean when they refer to the "gunfighter's mentality."

I thought a lot about the actual gunfight at the O.K. corral tonight during the closing minutes of Game 4 of the Dallas-Denver series, a game in which the Mavs toughed it out all game long and came away with a 119-117 victory. Dirk Nowitzki poured in 19 of his 44 points in the fourth quarter and Carmelo Anthony hit another three-pointer in the closing seconds, only this time the Mavericks were up four points, not two. (In fact, if Dallas had played the last 30 seconds of Saturday night's game as they did the final 30 of this one, this series would be tied right now.) But it was indeed like the Earps and Clantons at the American Airlines Center tonight.

The one major downside for the Mavs was their horrible defensive display in the first quarter, when the Nuggets jumped out to a 34-23 lead. Other than that, Dallas played an excellent Denver team evenly or better the rest of the way and, for the first time in the series, really outplayed the Nuggets in the fourth quarter.

In fact, the second half, in which the Mavs outscored Denver 66-54, belonged to Dallas tonight. Midway through the third quarter, as I watched the Mavs scratch and claw their way back into contention, I felt myself thinking "Regardless of the outcome of this game, I'm really proud of the way this team is playing right now."

I still think the Nuggets are the better team and will probably wrap up the series Wednesday night in Denver. They are just too tough at home and the Mavs have appeared to me to wither late in the games there, probably because of the altitude. But, damn, I liked that effort they gave tonight and, barring some unforeseen catastrophic meltdown Wednesday, this season will end with me feeling much better about this team than I ever thought I would.

McCracken's withdrawal

Bravo Brewster McCracken! In Saturday's election for mayor of Austin, McCracken forced Lee Leffingwell into a runoff that Leffingwell appeared ready to win. Leffingwell finished with 47.24 percent of the vote to McCracken's 26.8 percent.

Today McCracken announced he was withdrawing from the race "in the best interests of Austin." He said a runoff "would have required an unprecedented fundraising effort that, in this economy, would have put an additional burden on my supporters. The cost of the election itself would have been expensive to taxpayers." (It is estimated that McCracken's withdrawal saves the city $700,000 in election-related expenses.)

I could have cared less whether Leffingwell or McCracken won the election (although I was elated that former Austin mayor and Texas State Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn finished behind the top two with 21.43 percent). But I do applaud McCracken for doing the right thing for all the right reasons.

We don't like your kind round here

I received an e-mail today from the Lake Highlands Area Improvement Association soliciting my help in petitioning legislators to do something about "the increasing presence of payday lenders," which, according to the LHAIA "seem to be popping up on almost every corner of Lake Highlands."

Back where I come from, these payday lenders were known as "loan sharks" and they operated behind other businesses such as candy stores, repair shops, etc. They are featured prominently in almost every gangster movie. Remember Rocky Balboa was an enforcer for a loan shark in the original "Rocky." That's the sort of element the LHAIA is talking about here.

In its e-mail plea, the LHAIA said:

"We believe these payday lenders attract an unsavory element and prey on those least able to help themselves, and with current economic distress, we are worried that they will continue to increase in our community, making it less appealing to restaurants and other quality retailers we would like to attract."

I have a couple thoughts about that. For one thing, Lake Highlands has been trying to attract "restaurants and other quality retailers" for as long as I can remember without much success. From what I've heard, the spending power is just not there -- similar to the problems in making businesses like this work in the Casa Linda area. I'm thinking maybe these payday lenders could put additional money into circulation that might attract retailers and create more sales tax revenues. But I'm not an economist.

It also makes me uneasy when people say "Sure, we want new business in here, but only the types of business we approve of." Folks, we live in a free country and those freedoms need to be extended to everyone, whether you agree with their line of work or not. What these businesses do may be unsavory, but it's not illegal. I could probably make a good deal of money and improve the shopping center at Audelia and Walnut Hill by locating a nice, clean, safe sports-oriented bar there, but because the idea of an establishment serving alcohol would be so abhorrent to the LHAIA-type folks, it could never happen. The area is never going to become what these folks want it to become with that type of restrictive thinking.

The final thing I question is the Association's method for solving the problem. In one point in its e-mail, the LHAIA says the payday lenders "continue to fend off efforts to rein them in, thanks in no small part to very active lobbyists in Austin, as well as their ability to funnel some of those record profits into sizable campaign donations to the very legislators deciding whether they should be regulated." Then, right after that, the association says: "We urge you to contact our state legislators representing the Lake Highlands area ... and let them know that the residents of Lake Highlands want to put a stop to the rapid spread of these predatory lenders in our community before they overwhelm us, and that we want them to support legislative efforts for sensible regulation."

Sure. Fine. Whatever.

New movies to be released tomorrow on DVD

Passengers (2008) *½ A clunky, dead-on-arrival scary drama that proves that even people with good taste need a good script or direction.

Taken (2009) ** Liam Neeson’s tormented weariness lends an air of dignity to the film’s pulpy, grubby nastiness, but as striking as he is in action-hero mode, the truth is that this film doesn’t need dignity.

Underworld: Rise of the Lycans (2009) ** The first film was significantly better and, therefore, is the place to start for anyone with a modicum of interest. This one is an also-ran that is likely to be appreciated only by completists. Mincing around like a bored old glam rocker and hissing threats from behind electric neon eyes, Bill Nighy seems to be the only person on set who found a glint of amusement in his part. He fares better than poor Michael Sheen, a scraggly Wolverine who made a more credible vampire-slayer opposite Frank Langella’s Nixon.

Next time, Antoine, hug him, kiss him, take him out to dinner

By now, everyone knows that the NBA has officially apologized for blowing the call in the final seconds of Saturday night's Dallas-Denver game. The league now agrees that Antoine Wright fouled Carmelo Anthony and that the Nuggets should have been awarded the ball out of bounds with only about a second left. Instead, Anthony hoisted a three-pointer at the buzzer that gave the Nuggets a 1-point victory and an insurmountable 3-0 advantage in this second-round NBA playoff series.

Personally, I don't have as much of a problem with the refs on this call as I do Antoine Wright. It is well known in NBA circles that refs don't blow whistles for minor infractions in the closing seconds of games. You see it all the time, every game. The refs wisely want the players to decide the outcome. Therefore, Wright should have done more than casually swiped Anthony. He should have bear-hugged him. Leave no doubt in anyone's mind. "We have a foul to give and I'm giving it right here, right now!"

There are a lot of reasons the Mavs lost this heartbreaker, most of them of their own doing (Dirk, in spite of a monumental effort, missing his last five field goal attempts; the Mavs not building a comfortable lead in the first quarter when Denver missed 15 of its first 17 field goal attempts; missing four free throws in the fourth quarter; allowing Denver to score too quickly when the Mavs were ahead by four with 33 seconds to play). Blaming the refs for this no-call is a cop-out and a poor way to shift responsibility.

President Obama as standup comedian

I happened upon this Saturday night while I was channel surfing in a Lubbock motel room and had to share it.. My favorite line comes during part two when he says one of the first things he will do in his second 100 days is write a book about his first 100 days. There is a tab that appears at the top of the screen near the end of this video that will take you to Part 2.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Is Dallas doing the right thing with this performance center

The City has been touting its Performance Arts Center currently under construction in the downtown Arts District as the greatest thing since New York's Lincoln Center. Oops. Sunday's New York Times argues the Lincoln Center may not have been the greatest idea to come down the arts pike. One paragraph of the story states:

"Yet if a sprawling performing-arts complex like Lincoln Center were proposed today, it would never be built. Some of the impediments would be practical: the daunting costs, the lack of political consensus, the shift in attitudes toward large-scale urban development projects that displace entire neighborhoods. But the larger question is whether such a complex should be built in the first place. The idealistic assumption that sparked the creation of Lincoln Center — that orchestras, opera companies, ballet troupes and theaters would have much to gain by becoming partners in a centralized complex — would be vigorously challenged today.

"Nothing can be more energizing to the cultural life of a city than dynamic performing arts institutions. But the danger in grouping them together is that the creative identities of individual institutions — a bold modern dance company, a great symphony orchestra — can blur behind the walls of an officious encampment. The promise of arts organizations working in sync can become a daily grind of competing boards and directors stifled by bureaucracy."

Dallas' project does receive a mention in the story:

"For a time after Lincoln Center was built other cities raced to imitate it, even if many projects were ill-conceived, like the sprawling, ugly Barbican in London. The ideal of the cultural complex still holds sway in Dallas, where this fall the $338 million Dallas Center for the Performing Arts, dominated by a new house for the Dallas Opera, will begin its inaugural season. But that is an exception to a long trend away from collaborative centers."

It's an interesting concept. The conceptual ideas behind the physical plants here in Dallas seemed wise and sound. To make it work, however, is going to require the cooperation of bodies that haven't had to cooperate or compromise in the past.

This time setting the agenda wasn't enough

I have always maintained that in any election, the side that sets the agenda wins the race. The other side, of course, can argue that what you are saying isn't true, but if that's their major argument, they are arguing your points.

I believed that up until I returned to the city from Lubbock today to learn that the pro-hotel side had won a narrow victory. Don't get me wrong, I'm not unhappy at the outcome; in fact, I'm convinced it's in the best interest of this city that both city charter propositions on the ballot failed. I'm just surprised because I thought the anti-hotel group had done a marvelous job of setting the agenda.

The one clear, succinct message out there was the hotel was going to cost taxpayers money that should be spent on better streets and more cops. The other side was forced to argue the less compelling, although far more accurate, side that said "No it won't," but then opted to go into long discussions about revenue bonds that the public just didn't comprehend or even care about.

So why did voters approve the hotel? The anti-hotel group made a fatal strategic blunder when it decided to inject Da Mayor's credibility into the campaign. For one thing, it muddied the central issue and for a second thing, most voters out there still trust and believe in Da Mayor. Had the anti-hotel people stuck simply to their tax message, I'm convinced they would have won. Look at the numbers: Only one candidate for the city council who was against the hotel won Saturday night and that candidate, incumbent Angela Hunt, was unopposed. Both Sheffie Kadane and Jerry Allen were running against anti-hotel candidates and both won easily. In fact, the city council races could, overall, be seen as an overwhelming endorsement of Da Mayor since all of his outspoken supporters we re-elected by far greater margins than the pro-hotel vote received.

Finally, a couple of comments about the City Council races. Overall, the outcomes were as pleasing as they could be. I breathed a huge sigh of relief when I saw Ann Margolin and not Brint Ryan was going to succeed Mitchell Rasansky in District 13. I was also delighted to see voters in District 5 rebuff Dwaine Carraway's attempt to have a stooge unseat Vonciel Jones Hill. I don't always agree with the stands Judge Hill takes, but I respect her. I can also say the same about Tennell Atkins in District 8 and I'm thrilled voters rewarded what he has accomplished in just two years for that area.

That brings me to District 7 where Carolyn Davis is going to be in a runoff with DISD trustee Ron Price (I'm convinced Delia Jasso will have absolutely no problem winning her District 1 runoff). The primary was Davis against the field and she lost. Now the field is represented by just one candidate, who should gather most of the support that went to the other candidates in the race. I always thought Ms. Davis was the only vulnerable incumbent on the council and right now it appears she is going to be a one-and-done-termer. My only concern is that I wish she was going to be replaced by someone I trust more than Ron Price, who has always come across to me as all talk, no action.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

My upcoming AWOL

I won't be posting on the blog for the next three days, but because I had made some mentions about my health -- or lack of it -- to keep the rumors from flying, that has nothing to do with my upcoming absence. (I will admit, however, health reasons kept from writing as frequently as I usually do earlier this week).

No, I'm off to Lubbock to witness and congratulate an outstanding young man on his graduation from Texas Tech University. And, yes, I voted early and, yes, I'll get to spend some time Sunday with my favorite mom.

A Dirk Nowitzky conversation that probably never took place

An unusually bright and chipper Dirk Nowitzky glides into the Mavericks front office one day a couple of months ago, right before practice, plops into an oversized chair and announces to the staff:

"I wanted you folks to be the first to hear the news. I'm in love and I'm planning on getting married."

Mavericks: Gee, Dirk, that's great. Have we met her?

Dirk: No. She likes to keep a pretty low profile.

Mavericks: Well, tell us all about her.

Dirk: Her name is Cristal.

Mavericks: Yes, and ....?

Dirk: Taylor. Her name is Cristal Taylor.

Mavericks: Uh-huh.

Dirk: And, I might as well tell you, we decided to get married because she is pregnant.

Mavericks: Where is she from, Dirk?

Dirk: Some place called Beaumont, or maybe Missouri. I'm not sure.

Mavericks: And her family? Tell us about them. They must be real excited their daughter is marrying a famous NBA star.

Dirk: I haven't met her family yet. I really haven't met anyone that knows her. But, hey, she met my father, when he came over from Germany last month.

Mavericks: Will you hold on a minute, Dirk. (Into the intercom) Send one of our attorneys up here, pronto. (After attorney arrives). Shark, will you please let Dirk know about "community property."

Shark: Sure. Dirk, putting it as simply as I can, community property is anything you acquire after you become married. Should you be divorced, a good rule of thumb is that property would be split evenly. Now, that means if you are planning on getting married -- and, by the way -- are you, Dirk? (Dirk nods). Whoa, then. Well, the house on Strait Lane should be safe because you purchased that before you were married. But she would be entitled to one half of everything you acquire -- and that includes half of everything the team pays you in salary, bonuses, endorsements, etc. -- should the marriage not work out.

Mavericks: Now, Dirk, I'm sure this woman has the purest of hearts, but, golly, from what you've told us, I'm not convinced you know enough about her background. Now, I gotta tell ya, I'd be having this same conversation with you if you were the janitor who cleaned this office every night. But the fact that you are THE Dirk Nowitzky makes it even more imperative you check things out a little more before you make this leap.

Dirk: But I love her. I've never felt this way about any other woman in my entire life. She is my life.

Mavericks: We know, Dirk. We know. And I'm betting she is as pure as a mountain stream. But let's just be on the safe side, shall we? Shark, you know the name of a private dick that could very quietly, with the utmost discretion, check this out for our man Dirk, here.

Shark: Sure, I'll get right on it.

Dirk: I still don't think it's necessary.

Mavericks: And I'm sure you right, Dirk. But I really want to protect your best interests.

"It's pretty obvious that I'm going through a tough time in my personal life right now. Like I always have, I want to kind of keep my private life private."

The above quotation was all Dirk had to say earlier today in response to authorities appearing at his home Wednesday morning and arresting Cristal Taylor on warrants accusing her of theft and probation violation, the latter charge stemming from a probated sentence she received in Missouri on two counts of forgery and one of felony theft.

I may be in the minority here (I usually am), but my heart goes out to Dirk right now. His entire world has come crashing down around him. The woman he loved, he trusted, put his faith in, has apparently deceived him. The rest of the basketball world wants to know if this will be a distraction for him for the rest of the NBA playoffs. Get off it. There are a few more important things in life than basketball. Not many perhaps, but a few and among them are love, family and happiness. Dirk may feel he has lost all three. A couple of more losses to the Nuggets pale in comparison.

Five beers? $16.25; ugly blue shirt? $45; the ability to drink all five beers at once without spilling a drop on the shirt? Priceless

The photo comes courtesy of much appreciated friend and political guru for me and many others in the area: Mike Lindley

For all you bingo players bummed out by the latest smoking ordinances, here's an option that might preserve newspapers as well

Bingo! The idea comes from Mort Zuckerman, the owner of the New York Daily News, a paper even more conservative than the Dallas Morning News. Want to know how conservative it is? On its story announcing the death of Ho Chi Minh (for those old enough to remember Ho Chi Minh), the paper's headline was "Ho becomes good Red."

But that's beside the point now. Zuckerman thinks bingo can help put U.S. newspapers back on a sound financial footing. Here's what Zuckerman told New York magazine:

"The newspapers in England are supported almost exclusively by the profitability of running bingo games on their websites. It attracts an enormous audience. But here, you’re not allowed to do it. The gambling interests and Vegas and other places like that have managed to block any other gambling on the Internet. But London, that’s what they do. The Sun makes millions of dollars off of their bingo games."

OK, Jim Moroney, it's your deal.

Promoting Project

This is a promotional video for the trio Project, which features local bassist extraordinaire Peter Seymour. The music featured with the video, according to someone very close to the band, "is the first movement of suite from the first album, arranged for/performed with a symphony."

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Good night, Dom

Don Deluise
Aug. 1, 1933 - May 4, 2009

Give it to me straight, doc

For the past 36 hours or so, I have been suffering from muscle aches, a fever, the chills, coughing, an inability to sleep for more than two hours at a time and an insatiable craving for sweet and sour pork. You don't suppose ...

Monday, May 4, 2009

Tomorrow's Trinity Toll Road hearing

I almost wish I could be at tomorrow evening's public hearing that will seek input into the location of the Trinity River toll road or whether the road should even be built in the first place.

I have been an opponent of this boondoggle from the very beginning for several reasons:

1. Just like you wouldn't build a high-speed thruway through New York's Central Park, San Francisco's Golden Gate Park, Los Angeles' Griffith Park, London's Hyde Park, you shouldn't build one through what should become Dallas' signature park. Can you imagine the uproar in East Dallas if someone proposed building high speed toll bridge over White Rock Lake? Can you picture the backlash in South Dallas if someone said we needed to construct a freeway through Kiest Park?

2. We should be concentrating on finding ways of getting people to Dallas, so they can spend their sales tax dollars here, not through Dallas, which this road does.

3. I am against any new transportation option that does not include a major rail component.

4. It will add more cars to our roadway infrastructure, more impurities to our air.

But this hearing is not going to be dealing with transportation ideology, I'm guessing, so none of the above would prove to be valid arguments there. However, I am hoping someone brings this to the attention of the feds.

Then there are those for whom the word "obnoxious" just doesn't go far enough

Memos to Hollywood

Last Friday, the New York Times published a series of "Memos to Hollywood," drafted by its two major film critics, A.O. Scott, and Manohla Dargis. Here is the link if you want to read all them, but what follows are some of my favorites:

To: The M.P.A.A. Ratings Board
From: A.O.S.
What the heck? “Some language”? “Thematic content”? “Dangerous situations”? Yes, it’s hard to keep up with substance abuse, sexual mores, violent behavior and Anglo-Saxon idioms, but come on. What started out 40 years ago as a common-sense, informative alternative to censorship has turned into a maze of mystifications and technicalities, wherein perfectly wholesome dramas are stigmatized while violent, sadistic trash merits an implicit seal of approval. Stop trying to read our minds or guess our values: just give us clear, rational and consistent information

To: Filmakers, especially under 40
From: M.D.
The tripod is your friend. Few filmmakers can pull off florid handheld camerawork because most aren’t saying all that much through their visuals, handheld or not. (Also: Shaking the camera does not create realism.) Though it’s a cliché of contemporary cinema, fiction and nonfiction both, handheld camerawork that calls aggressive attention to itself tends to make empty images seem even emptier. If you want us to notice your cinematography, make sure you have something to say, like the French filmmaker Olivier Assayas ("Demonlover"), whose restlessly moving images convey a searching intelligence. He isn’t just waving the camera around; he’s saying something about the world and the people in it.

To: Members of the Writers Guild of America
Cc: M. Night Shyamalan
From: A.O.S.
You may think that slipping a doozy of a third-act surprise into your screenplay — a shocking twist that no one could possibly see coming — might make you look smart and the audience feel dumb, but please consider that the reverse might actually be the case.

To: Hollywood
From: A.O.S. & M.D.
Yes, green is good. But there is no ecological benefit in recycling intellectual properties or in treating pop-culture treasures like so much scrap material. Let us read our comic books and watch our DVDs of old movies and television shows and try to capture our imaginations with something new. So, enough with the serial killers (unless you’re David Fincher); period dramas; movies in which children die or are endangered; (bad) literary adaptations; superhero epics; tween-pop exploitation vehicles; scenes with bubble-breasted women working the pole in strip clubs; shady ladies with hearts of gold; Google Earth-like zoom-ins of the world; sensitive Nazis; sexy Nazis; Nazis period; dysfunctional families; dysfunctional families with guns; suburban ennui; suburban ennui with guns; wisecracking teenagers; loser dudes scoring with hot women who would never give them the time of day even if they were drunk out of their minds or too young to know any better (hello, Judd Apatow!); feature films that should have been sketch comedy routines; shopping montages; makeover montages; bromances (unless the guys get it on with each other); flopping penises; spray-on tans; Kate Hudson; PG-13 horror remakes; or anything that uses any of the “classic” songs that we are sick of hearing. What’s left? We don’t know. Isn’t that your job?