Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Dog for Sale

Free to good home. Excellent guard dog. Owner cannot afford to feed him anymore, as there are no more drug pushers, thieves, murderers, or molesters left in the neighborhood for him to eat. Most of them knew him as "'Holy Shit.."
(This comes courtesy of the great Mike Lindley)

Is Madoff's sentence justified?

The Jobsanger blog presents an excellent argument that the 150-year sentence given to 71-year-old Bernie Madoff for bilking millions of dollars out of unsuspecting fools was excessive:

"Being sentenced to 150 years is the same as being sentenced to life without parole -- for theft, a non-violent crime. Many murderers, rapists, kidnappers and child molesters aren't sentenced that harshly.

"The moral of this story is that stealing from the rich is obviously the most serious crime a person can commit in our capitalist country. If he had stolen from poor or working class folks, even hundreds of them, he would have been sentenced to 10 or 12 years and been eligible for parole after serving half of it (and probably gotten that parole).

"Personally, I believe the person who steals from poor or working folks commits the greater crime. That criminal is probably stealing money that is needed for food, rent, car payment or a child's medical care or education.

"Madoff refused to take less than a million dollars, and these fools begged him to take their money. They were greedy. They believed his stories of huge returns, and took their money out of safe investments so they could make a killing. This wasn't their food or rent money. It was investment capital, and none of them will go hungry without it.

I've always believed the old adage that says if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. These people knew that adage, but they still let their greed get the best of them. And now they're mad. They're mad because he made them look like the fools they really are.

"I'm not saying Madoff shouldn't be punished. He's a criminal and should pay the price for that. But is 150 years fair? Should his non-violent crime be punished more harshly than the sentences received by violent criminals?

"Lady Justice is supposed to be blind, but this case shows us that is not true. In America, it is far more serious to commit a crime against the rich, than to commit a crime against working folks."

Monday, June 29, 2009

New movies to be released tomorrow on DVD

12 Rounds (2009) *½ Noisy, cut into a head-snapping blur with little room for wrestler John Cena to even try showing emotion, this film is an occasionally exciting but always empty experience.

Dark Streets (2008) *½ The film has its shallow pleasures, but once it becomes obvious that that’s all it has going for it, the affected performances and forced tough-guy speak stop feeling playful and start to become oppressive.

The Education of Charlie Banks (2009) ** There’s enough sweetness, and enough just-under-the-surface intelligence, in this film to suggest that Fred Durst may have a future as a filmmaker.

Jonas Brothers: The 3D Concert Experience (2009) ** It’s no mystery that the target audience for this G-rated bubblegum fantasy is tweens, parents of tweens and the occasional pervert. They’ll be so pleased. Anything for the rest of humanity? Not so much.

Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li (2009) ½* Even with the low expectations this film engenders, it still somehow manages to be a letdown.

Two Lovers (2009) *** A small, delicate concoction of moods and moments, far quieter than all the recent Joaquin Phoenix-related hoopla. But his heartbreaking performance may incline audiences to think of him in a new light, or at least return to thinking of him in the old one.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Mavericks brass need to get their rookies stories straight

Will the rookies the Mavericks drafted Thursday get much playing time? Obviously guard Nick Calathes isn't because he's already signed a contract to play a year in Greece. But what about the other two: guard Roddy (When will they begin to call him "B-Rod"?) Beaubois and forward Ahmad Nivins. To hear coach Rick Carlisle, it sounds like it's going to be pretty soon.

"They're the kind of guys we want to have in our franchise – young, energetic guys that bring skill, athleticism and enthusiasm," Carlisle was quoted as saying to Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News. "We're a team that's looking to win a championship on one hand, but also infuse young talent and guys that are about the things that we feel are important."

Not so fast their, Rick. In a separate article, Sefko quoted Mavs president Donnie Nelson as saying: "Obviously, we're looking to do well again next year and get deep in the playoffs. And generally, a team with too many rookies on it has its issues."

Friday, June 26, 2009

Hollywood POWs

I was watching my favorite television channel, Turner Classic Movies, when the following thought occurred to me: Has any other Oscar-winning actor other than William Holden played both a German (Stalag 17) and a Japanese (The Bridge On the River Kwai) prisoner of war?

Remembering Michael Jackson (sort of)

I'm guessing that everyone who wrote professionally about about pop music in the 1970s and 1980s has, like me, been swamped with calls from reporters the past 24 hours asking about their memories and impressions of Michael Jackson.

To be frank, I didn't have that many. I remember interviewing him once when I was the music writer for The Dallas Morning News but that interview is more of a blur than a vivid memory. What I remember most were the words spoken to me just before that interview began. I took great pride in the preparations I conducted for all my interviews. I always did extensive research on the subjects I was about to talk with. As a result, I developed a reputation as a music reporter artists wanted to be interviewed by. In this case I was conducting a telephone interview with Ronnie Isley, one of the founding members of the Isley Brothers (Shout, Twist and Shout, It's Your Thing, etc.) who was in a studio recording an album. I was about halfway through the interview with Ronnie when he said "Hold on a sec, I've got someone here who wants to talk to you." There was a pause before I heard that unmistakable voice on the line, "Hi, Pete, this is Michael Jackson." At the time, Michael was known to be interview-shy, but I stammered out some questions as best as I could. I learned he was in the same recording studio, working on the album that would become his signature recording, Thriller, and he wanted to let me know he was working with Eddie Van Halen. After I hung up, I made some other calls and confirmed that Van Halen and Michael Jackson were collaborating on a song called Beat It, and wrote the story for the paper. I was subsequently contacted by many other publications craving an interview with Michael Jackson who begged me to expand my story and sell it to them.

But, to be truthful, that's not my fondest memory of Michael Jackson. That happened a year or so later, after the Thriller album had been released. A dear friend and I were driving to Los Angeles where we planned to tour the some of the less reputable honky tonks of Pasadena and Venice (a favorite band of ours, The Shake Russell-Dana Cooper Band, had booked a couple of dates out there, as well). It was the first day of the drive west and we stopped in this truck stop in Sweetwater, Texas, for lunch. We walked into the joint, sat down and listened as the juke box blared out the standard West Texas country music fare. I went over to the juke, scanned the entries, dropped a coin in and made a selection. I casually strolled back to the table and told my companion "It might be interesting to see the expressions on the faces when the song I played comes up." A couple of minutes later it did. And as Michael Jackson's Beat It blared across the restaurant, all activity in the place stopped. ("You can't bring these damn sheep here, this is cattle country!") My companion tried mightily to keep from laughing and, in the process, almost choked on her chicken fried steak. I just smiled wickedly.

So what, overall, are my impressions of Michael Jackson? I know that he had his first hit, I Want You Back, with the Jackson 5 40 years ago. He was 1o years old at the time. His fame was instantaneous. It robbed him of his childhood and, when he realized that fact many years later, he spent the rest of his life trying to steal that childhood back.

Judge Kent: A new definition of Chutzpah (revisited)

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about Judge Kent who was insisting he should be paid while serving a prison sentence for, of all things, obstruction of justice. I hoped for one of two possible outcomes of this matter and now it appears outcome (a), the sensible one, came to pass, but it came only after the House voted to impeach him.

Mavericks dodge the draft

Last night's NBA draft was a waste of time, yet again, for the Dallas Mavericks. They drafted two players, Rodrigue Beaubois and Nick Calathes, both whose real NBA value is completely unknown, and who, if they ever can contribute, will do so as Dirk Nowitzki is about to retire. And neither of them is, by any stretch of the imagination, a Dirk replacement.

However, I've been hearing all these reports about teams who are trying to unload salary. It's obvious that's what Phoenix is doing be trading Shaquille O'Neal and, any moment now, Amare Stoudemire. The Mavericks have good bargaining chips, so I'm told by the NBA's financial gurus, in the contracts of Jerry Stackouse and Erik Dampier (although I have yet to be convinced Dampier's contract is as appealing as the local media would like you to believe). So why not sweeten the pot by throwing in one, if not both, of the players the Mavericks drafted last night to get some better talent from a team looking to totally rebuild?

Of course, you still have another problem. With Amare, Richard Jefferson, Shaq, Vince Carter already off the table, who's left out there? The only player I like out there who could really upgrade the Mavericks is Trevor Ariza and I don't think the Lakers are ready to give him up.

But with San Antonio, Denver, Houston, Oklahoma City and Golden State haven already improved their teams going into next season, the Mavericks must do something to remain competitive.
UPDATE: Just finished talking with a friend in New York who follows the Nets closely. He told me the Vince Carter trade was designed to give the Nets salary room they need to actively pursue LaBron James next summer. But the important thing he said was the addition of Carter to the Magic made Hedo Turkoglu expendable. Now there's someone who could make the Mavericks better if we could sign him as a free agent.

You take the high road and I'll take the low road, but ain't no one taking a new road

According to Sam Merten at the Dallas Observer, there was a lot of opposition to all things concerning the Trinity River Corridor Project at last night's fourth and final City of Dallas Budget Frustration Exercise. Which again proves how little the local citizenry knows about how their local government works. For one thing, the overwhelming majority of TRCP funds come from bond monies already approved and it would be illegal to divert those funds anywhere else. OK, so maybe you can cut some staff from the office, but I guarantee you those staff members would wind up working someplace else at City Hall, so there's no savings there. And if you're talking about the infamous Toll Road that's designed to permanently scar the park? Well, if I read this correctly, there's mounting evidence that the dang thing is never going to be built anyway. The NTTA simply doesn't have deep enough pockets.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Good night, Michael

Good night, Farrah

While most of the world will remember Farrah Fawcett for "Charlie's Angels," my memories of her are as a fellow student at the University of Texas. I didn't know Farrah well; to be honest, I didn't know her at all. But like approximately 10,000 other red-blooded males at the school I admired her from afar. Mainly I remember walking south on the west side of the Drag after leaving the old J Building and seeing her crossing Guadalupe at the mall. She usually wore white jeans. No one else wore white jeans back then; she was the first. Her hair was in a beehive back then -- not the shaggy mane that became such an important part of her "star" image -- and she was so beautiful she would stop you in your tracks. Farrah died today, but she will always live in my memories as that leggy UT coed in the white jeans.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Mavericks trade with Portland

The Dallas Mavericks traded their 22nd pick in tomorrow's NBA draft to the Portland Trailblazers today in return for Portland's 22nd and 56th picks, plus its worst second round pick in 2010. To read the comments on the Dallas Morming News's Mavericks blog, Mavs GM Donnie Nelson should, at best, be run out of town on a rail.

Geez. What's the big deal? The way I look at it -- even if the Mavs don't put these picks in a package for another trade -- this is purely an economical move. From my viewpoint, the Mavs have already decided on the player they plan to draft in the first round. After a quick survey of who the other teams plan to draft, the Mavs realized the guy they want was still going to be on the board when the 24th pick came around. If you figure that the players sign contracts on sliding scales based on their draft position, the Mavs can pay the guy they wanted all along a little less by drafting him 24 instead of 22. Makes sense to me.

Reflections on today's news

Pictured here: the promotional posture for Martin Scorsese's Shutter Island. Whaddya think?

The Dallas City Council booted the proposed booting ordinance until it can be considered, and possibly fixed, by the Transportation Committee in August. Council member Angela Hunt explains the whole issue clearly and succinctly.

Randall Turner: My nominee for the delusional wacko of the month.

  • I still think Democrats can come up with a stronger gubernatorial candidate than Tom Schieffer. State Senator Kirk Watson of Austin is one of them. In her withdrawal statement, Sen. Leiticia Van Putte said: "I think Senator Kirk Watson should raise his sights and run for Governor. I've watched as Senator Watson has emerged as a leader in the state Senate on the issues of most importance to Texans. While staying true to Democratic values, he is a bipartisan pragmatic leader solidly focused on addressing the priorities of all Texans. I intend to lobby Senator Watson to run for governor, and I'll wholeheartedly support him if he does. But if he declines, Democrats should recruit and support someone who, like Watson, is energetic, pragmatic, focused, and smart; and who can fully energize Democratic supporters while also attracting a broad range of independent voters in every region of the state. "

  • LSU arguably has the nation's best college baseball team, but I'm proud of my Longhorns for hanging in there. The deciding game is tonight, 6 p.m., on ESPN.

  • If the movies that have come out so far this year are any indication, the Academy may have trouble coming up with five contenders, let alone 10. OK, Up is now a sure best-picture nominee and the other nine will come out in the fall anyway. I think this probably assures a spot for Avatar, Nine and The Lovely Bones as well. I will argue that if the Academy had allowed 10 nominees for last year's films, the other five would have been, or at least should have been, The Wrestler, The Dark Knight, Revolutionary Road, Wall-E and Man on Wire. For what it's worth, I don't like the idea of doubling the number of nominees -- it devalues the entire idea of being nominated for the award.

  • Dear Phil: Since you're making this list, would you add that I would like a job and a Honda Accord?

  • Damn: This makes the Spurs a much better team than the Mavericks again. Not only that, one basketball expert I just talked to about this believes the Spurs are getting Jefferson essentially for free. "Since this is a salary dump on the part of the Bucks, I'm figuring they will cut Bruce Bowen and he will wind up back with the Spurs." That would really hurt, because it would give the Spurs a dynamic offensive threat in Jefferson and allow them to keep someone who can shut down Dirk. Now Dallas needs to make a move. I would like to see the Mavs pursue Vince Carter, but then I was saying that when they traded for Jason Kidd.

  • In yesterday's reflections, I referred to South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford as the only person who could possibly surpass Gov. Hair as the biggest nutcase in a governor's mansion. That was before the news broke that he's an adulterous nut case.

  • Soon we will have both well-researched history on one side and, on the other side, this.

  • Quoting Tim Rogers in the Frontburner blog about the continuing effort to name a street after Cesar Chavez: "I don’t understand why we’re still messing around with this ... César Chávez didn’t have anything to do with Dallas." Tim, the same could probably be said about Martin Luther King and certainly Malcolm X, but we have streets named after them. It's time we also similarly honor those held in respect by our Hispanic community.

  • Noted film blogger Jeffrey Wells really liked Public Enemies calling Michael Mann's film "the most captivating, beautifully composed and freshly conceived gangster movie since Bonnie and Clyde. It's an art film first, a Mann head-and-heart trip second, a classic machine-gun action pulverizer third, and a conventional popcorn movie fourth."

  • Roger Ebert, however, didn't much care for Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen calling it "dumber than a box of staples." Ebert writes: "If you want to save yourself the ticket price, go into the kitchen, cue up a male choir singing the music of hell, and get a kid to start banging pots and pans together. Then close your eyes and use your imagination." No one dumps on a movie better or as unmercifully as the great Roger Ebert.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Good night, Ed

Reflections on today's news

  • Jon and Kate Gosselin rank at the very top of the list of people I'm tired of reading about, right above the Carrie Prejean. They clutter the news space that should be devoted to more important items. When will their 15 minutes be over? I have never seen their television show. I don't care to ever see their TV show. I'm not the least bit curious about their TV show or their twins or their sextuplets. Just get them out of here.
  • I know the world's focus is on the protests in Iran, but what's really scaring me, especially since the news in Iran is keeping it off the radar screens, is what North Korea is up to.
  • I'm expecting the relationship between the city of Dallas and DART to cool a little bit today when the DART staff makes its recommendations to its board of directors on a second downtown light rail line. The city favors the proposal designated as "B4B," because it would serve the proposed convention center hotel. However, I'm hoping and actually predicting the staff will recommend "B4" because it is the most cost-effective of the four proposed and is far enough south that it is out of the way of the other downtown lines.
  • One of China's finest directors, Zhang Yimou, apparently plans to film a remake of an American classic and one of my all-time favorite movies. Although he has directed such marvelous films as Ju Dou, Raise the Red Lantern, The Story of Qui Ju and House of Flying Daggers, the director may be remembered the most as the person who designed the opening and closing ceremonies of last year's Olympics in Beijing. According to the report, Zang plans to call his remake of the Coen Brothers classic San Qiang Pai An Jing Qi, which roughly translates as The Stunning Case of the Three Gun Shots.
  • Why would Dallas City Council member Angela Hunt, a persistent critic of the city's plan to build a convention center hotel, vote in favor of a proposal to sell the bonds needed to build the dang thing? She explains it all here, but I for those who want the Reader's Digest version, she says it's because (1) the people voted for the hotel and (2) new procedures are in place to protect taxpayers.
  • According to this report, Texas "needs to address the severe lack of physicians, registered nurses, and other providers in order to enhance access to medical care throughout its population." So what does Gov. Hair do to address this problem? Just what you would expect from this buffoon: He vetoes HB 3485, thus preventing hospitals in rural counties with less than 50,000 residents from hiring doctors. Today 114 of the 254 counties in the state are medically underserved, including 27 in West Texas that do not have even a single physician.
  • Of course, we might not have the worst nut case in our governor's mansion. In fact, the race is probably not even close.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Wasting time at a community budget forum

This evening I attended the third of the four Community Budget Forums the city is holding to gauge community reaction to the budget deficit the city is facing and possibly, although not likely, to see if anyone could come up with some ideas on how to overcome that last $38.6 million that, right now, is standing between City Manager Mary Suhm and a balanced budget.

Ms Suhm her ownself conducted the meeting and did her usual superb job. The woman has far more patience with the nincompoops attending these meetings than she has for a lot of folks who work directly for her, but, then, I guess she correctly assumes she should expect more intelligence from those working directly for her.

Anyway, I found the entire exercise to be a a frustrating waste of time. If anything, this meeting gave Ms Suhm excellent direction on how to build the budget deficit back to the nearly $200 million she started with.

Here's the way the meeting works. First, Ms Suhm gives an overview of the "dire straits" and then has her folks distribute 10 green and 10 red adhesive dots to each person present with instructions to place the dots on poster boards around the room that list various services. They are to place the green dots on those they don't want reduced and red dots on those that they feel could be reduced or eliminated.

What a joke. The problem is the folks have absolutely no concepts of the ramifications of their choices. For example, as I strolled about the Jewish Community Center's Auditorium, I noticed one item that was full of red dots was multi-family inspection services. Those in attendance were all in favor of doing away with this. But when I asked people if they wanted to see their neighborhoods overrun with rundown slum apartment complexes, I was answered with "Of course not."

Following this exercise, the attendees seated at each table (and I'm guessing there were at least a dozen tables, probably more) were asked to come up with suggestions for preparing the upcoming budget. What everyone came up with was ways to spend money the city doesn't have, especially on libraries, the arts and health services, arguably the lowest priorities the city is facing right now (and I'll explain why later). I have a feeling the library's and the arts supporters rallied their folks to show up en masse to this meeting tonight, overwhelming those who really wanted to make some legitimate concrete suggestions.

My table didn't come up with too many suggestions because we had one person there who was convinced the solution to all the city's budgetary woes was eliminate the municipal court system. And she wasn't going to listen to anyone who even hinted at the fact that the courts were a revenue-generator, not an expense. When everyone else at the table decided the best way to show their protest was just to sit there in silence as though she didn't exist, she finally got up and left the meeting in somewhat of a rage. But by that time, we had precious seconds left to come up with concrete suggestions, of which I had a few that I will enumerate shortly.

The one thing the meeting did indicate to me, however, is just how out of touch city council members are with their constituents. I was told that at the southern Dallas meeting held June 3 at Cedar Crest Golf Course, that group nearly unanimously endorsed the concept of once-a-week-garbage pickup. Yet that concept has been vigorously opposed by the council members representing the southern sector.

And the two things I have heard time and time again from our council about this year's budget is that (1) the hiring of another 200 police officers is a given and (2) there absolutely will be no tax increase. Only one of the tables at last night's meeting labeled the hiring of the 200 police officers as a high priority, many more recommended the hiring be spread over several years (again demonstrating what a joke this exercise is -- the hiring of the 200 police officers for 2010-2011 will not really impact the budget until the following fiscal year) and some recommended suspended hiring any additional police officers until the city reaches the other end of the current recession. Not only that, many of them actually recommended an increase in the property tax rate and said so out loud. Our table had quite outspoken opposition to a tax rate increase by several members seated there; however, in a "secret" ballot held at the end of the discussions, the members at our table voted 4-3 in favor of a property rate hike.
(One table was even foolish enough to recommend a sales tax increase, as though the city could just impose one.)
The positive side to all this was that I counted four city council members at the meeting -- Jerry Allen of District 10, Linda Koop of District 11, Ron Natinsky of District 12 and just-inaugurated-earlier-that-day Ann Margolin of District 13. Maybe now they will think the 200 police hires and absolutely no property tax increases are not sacred cows. In addition I also spotted two of my favorite former city council members -- Veletta Lill and Lois Finkelman -- as well as former Mayor Adlene Harrison
Now, for my ideas on how to reduce the deficit. Most of them are severe, far more severe than the city has proposed and I know if someone who knows as much about the ins and outs of a city budget as Ms. Suhm were sitting next to me as I write these words, she would probably become quite exasperated over how impossible these ideas are. But that's never stopped me before, so here goes:

1. Reduce the workweek for city employees from 40 to 32 hours -- 8 hours a day, four days a week -- with an accompanying 20 percent reduction in pay for all salaried employees. The city is already recommending reducing rec center hours and library hours, so let's go ahead and reduce its own hours as well. I do not suggest that this would automatically trim 20 percent from the city's payroll, because, hopefully, it would also reduce the need to trim the city's workforce by the almost 1,000 employees now being talked about. I would imagine many of those about to be laid off would welcome the opportunity to work for 80 percent of their current salary than zero percent. But with 13,000-odd employees, it would make for some considerable savings.

2. Although those attending the Monday night's budget forum lobbied mightily for preserving health programs, especially dental and HIV screening programs, what they failed to realize is that, while important, those programs should not be the function of city government. They belong under the jurisdiction of county government. It's the county that maintains a Health Department, not the city. Hand over all -- I repeat, ALL -- health-related activities to the county.

3. Privatize, privatize, privatize. Privatize the library, privatize park maintenance, privatize the zoo, privatize Fair Park, privatize rec centers (individually if not collectively), privatize Bahama Beach. (I would argue for the privatization of Love Field, but the Aviation Department is self-supporting and, thus, not dependent on tax dollars, so there would be no savings there. Plus, I doubt there would be any takers for Dallas Executive Airport or Hemsley Field.) I want city government to do four things for me: provide me with (1)police/(2)fire protection; (3) make sure I have a clean, safe water supply; and (4) pick up my garbage. Everything else is up for discussion. I didn't include adequate street repair because I believe public transportation is far more important and city government here is not required to provide us with public transportation. And anyone who thinks it's more important for the city to provide an outlet for a starving artist than it is to protect the safety of its citizens is bonkers. Privatize it all. I was once the Public Information Officer for the city of Dallas and I knew then and I know now that all the functions of that office could be handled far more economically and far more efficiently with one good media consultant kept on retainer and then hire external PR agencies for the other functions on a project-by-project basis.

Yes, the above are drastic, and, politically speaking, probably impossible to institute. That's the problem with democracy -- politics often gets in the way of government efficiency, as Monday night's budget forum perfectly demonstrated. But I guarantee this--the above recommendations, if implemented, would solve the budget crisis,

Happy 60th, Meryl

Reflections on today's news

  • I'm not sure that to make of this: 68-year-old actor Michael Gambon (probably best known for playing Dumbledore in the Harry Potter films) fathers a child with his 43-year-old mistress, who is a year younger than the son Gambon fathered with his wife (and still his wife).
  • I know it's the day after Father's Day, but dammit, I just couldn't come up with an answer to this questions that really satisfied me until now: Who was the best film father? And, no, it wasn't this guy. And it's definitely not him. It's not even him. In fact, here's the only person who could possibly be considered for the honor.
  • About 400 pedestrians and 50 cyclists are killed in Texas in highway accidents each year. A bill to protect them was vetoed by Gov. Hair. Figures.

New movies to be released tomorrow on DVD

Confessions of a Shopaholic (2009) *½ A thin, largely unfunny comedy that marries lazy filmmaking with bad timing.

Inkheart (2009) ** You know a movie's not working when you see minotaurs, flying monkeys, The Wizard of Oz's Toto and Helen Mirren riding a unicorn — all on the screen at the same time — and you're still waiting for the thing to be over so you can go home and get on with your life.

Phoebe in Wonderland (2009) **½ It's not only Phoebe whose daydreams go out of control. Daniel Barnz, the writer-director, also goes a bit flooey. There's a lot more perspiration than inspiration.

The Pink Panther 2 (2009) *½ There are three or four big laughs scattered throughout The Pink Panther 2, along with a smattering of decent chuckles. But all those moments combined account for maybe five minutes of screen time, which leaves you with another hour and a half of movie to sit through.

Waltz With Bashir (2008) **** A memoir, a history lesson, a combat picture, a piece of investigative journalism and an altogether amazing film.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Happy Father's Day

I have many things to be happy about on this day -- among them a handsome, wonderful son who is in his third trimester of medical school; a sparkling, effervescent, beautiful granddaughter who has filled my life with so much joy; and a gorgeous, intelligent, sexy woman (along with her "kids) who is now and will always be My Hero.

But, most of all, on this Fathers Day, 2009, I am happy that I did not receive a federal jury summons for tomorrow.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Reflections on today's news

  • Talk about going out with a whimper and not a bang. Today's specially called Dallas City Council meeting was the last one for term-limited council members Dr. Elba Garcia and Mitchell Rasansky. There was some legal and other non-controversial items on the consent agenda. The only item for individual consideration was one authorizing the issuance of the bonds for the construction of the convention center hotel. Citing conflict of interest, both Dr. Garcia and Mr. Ransansky had to recluse themselves from the vote.
  • Go figure. Six Flags, Chrysler, GM file for bankruptcy. However, the Texas Ballet Theater says it will be free from its $2.4 million debt by the end of the month. (I'll try to refrain from saying something like "those people must really be on their toes." Whoops! I failed in refraining.)
  • Hmm, I wonder who we're talking about here? The court papers list his name only as D.N. and that he's a resident of Dallas County. He is seeking custody of an unborn child if it is proved that he is the father of that child. We also believe he is a rather tall gentleman, of German extraction who is known for putting the biscuit in the basket from long distances.
  • I am not a George Strait fan, but I understand his popularity. However, would someone please explain to me the appeal of the Jonas Brothers and why 45,000 folks are shelling out significant sums of money to go see them perform Saturday at Jonestown?
  • I noted yesterday that we would hear more about this and this latest news that the drowning death of Van Ha "Vanny" Stocco was a suicide does not come as a shock. This is just a sad, sad story. No good guys. No bad guys. Only victims.
  • There is a bad guy here, however, and to my mind he got off light. This child had a skull fracture and, according to prosecutors, he brain had "practically turned to mush."
  • How far can a leaf fall? I remember when the burning sports question of the day was who should be the first pick in the NFL draft -- Ryan Leaf of Washington State or this Peyton Manning kid out of Tennessee?
  • Forget about this. Now perhaps we'll get a better picture of the wolverine and its origins.
  • Memo to the Dallas Morning News: It seems someone on your national or state news desk (if you still have either after all the cutbacks) should have picked up this story about a Texas-based Continental Airlines pilot who died midway through a transoceanic flight from Belgium to Newark.
  • Dallas Morning News' Dallas Mavericks beat writer Eddie Sefko says the big enchilada is definitely not coming to Dallas. Whew! For a minute there, I thought we were in trouble.
  • Speaking of trades, what about Sean Penn for Tom Cruise? One person argues that might not be a bad idea and I must admit I agree.
  • The statistics found here about rape in South Africa are appalling, but the numbers from the United States are equally as deplorable.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

This weekend's box office forecasts

1. The Proposal, $24 million
2. The Hangover, $23 million
3. Up, $22 million
4. Year One, $16 million
5. The Taking of Pelham 123, $14 million

Reflections on today's news

  • There is (1) either much more information to come concerning this drowning or (2) we need to bring back The Twilight Zone just to have an episode about this story.
  • If you really love a little girl "like she was my own daughter," you simply do not -- ever -- shake her until her head flops back and forth, her eyes roll back into her head and she has a seizure. You just don't even come close to ever doing anything like that. Then there are those who never should be fathers at all. Oh, G-d, why is it that the children always seem to be the victims?
  • In stripping Florida State of 14 football victories and wins in nine other sports, the NCAA's infractions committee said: "The most severe penalties (emphasis mine) are appropriate when the academic mission of the university has been compromised." This, to me, proves the death penalty will never be imposed again.
  • Most Americans like The Prez even if they don't much care for what he's doing or planning to do.
  • Is there a chance that this conference on the Trinity Tollroad could be connected to this decision by Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood?
  • Memo to Jane Fonda: If you don't have any plans for the old one, I'll take it. Reminds me of a great title I always had for a record album: Songs I Learned at Mother's Knee and Other Joints.
  • What's the No. 1 worldwide box office leader this year? The answer might surprise you.
  • If preliminary reports are true, we may have hit a new low in movie comedies. But it's going to take some doing to overtake such turkeys at Miss March and Bride Wars.
  • Don't hold your breath for the next installment of the Batman franchise. It appears the next episode won't be coming our way until 2012 at the earliest and most likely it will be 2013. And don't be suprised if Christopher Nolan opts out as director and is replaced by Zack Snyder.
  • Apparently there is going to be a fifth Indiana Jones movie -- all that's needed is a script. I have an idea for a starting point: Indiana Jones and the Assisted Living Center.
  • I just saw the flier for next week's Terrell Owens' Farewell Party. It says very clearly it's for the "Classy & Sexy Only," which means My Hero can go, but I'm out.

Don Hill tries to change the subject

I've always admired and respected the politician in Don Hill. I followed him closely when he was on the Dallas City Council and found him to be the most compassionate member of that council. He voted more often with his heart than with his head and I liked that. I was fortunate enough to be in a position for a while that allowed me to write speeches for him and I felt during this time that one of the best things that could happen to our city would be for Don Hill to some day be elected mayor.

That's why I felt like the boy Phillipe in The Fallen Idol when the Justice Department raided City Hall and later filed a series of criminal corruption charges against Hill. My dismay mounted as those who were charged along with Hill plea bargained their cases and agreed to testify against the former mayor pro temp. All during this time, Hill remained conspicuously silent.

Now, less than a week before his trial is set to begin, Hill has broken that silence, claiming in an interview with Gromer Jeffers Jr. of the Dallas Morning News that the charges against him were politically motivated from a justice department that, under former President George Bush, specifically targeted Democratic office holders.

"The FBI and the Justice Department has a duty and role and responsibility to investigate things that are illegal and I respect that," Hill told Jeffers. "The way they went about investigating, targeting and now prosecuting me was not fair from the standpoint of I'm a Democrat, the was an effort made throughout the country to target local Democrats and that, in my judgment, is unfair and unjust."

Hill's charges that the Bush Justice Department specifically targeted Democrats are true. In fact, a Congressional committee has been investigating this very thing, but was stymied because Bush protected the two key persons the committee needed to interview, Harriet Miers and Carl Rove, by claiming presidential immunity. What the committee was looking into, however, was the firing of Democratic-affiliated U.S. attorneys. Did the targeting reach down to municipal levels? Does it really matter?

But it is also true that Hill's claims have absolutely nothing to do with his innocence or guilt on the specific charges filed against him. Like all clever politicians, he is trying to shift the subject of the debate. But this tactic worked for O.J. Simpson in his criminal murder trial, so who's to say it might not work again.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Wick Allison opposes death penalty

I am just now recovering from the shock of reading this post on D magazine's Frontburner blog in which noted conservative and the magazine's publisher Wick Allison says he opposes the death penalty.

Mr. Allison writes: "Are we keeping the death penalty just so a few state politicians can claim to be 'tough' on crime? Are we endangering lives merely for the sake of posturing?"

Way to go, Wick!

A couple of brief thoughts about Iran's elections

1. Does anyone have a single shred of evidence that the recent Iranian presidential election was stolen by president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad?

2. And, even if it was, who cares? The sole function of the figurehead president of Iran is to carry out the orders of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

How do you get the female lead in "Scarface"? Simple: You scar the star's face

Rasansky uses budget briefing to get off one more shot at Da Mayor

The Dallas City Council has gone into executive session and then will take a break before it resumes discussing the horrific condition of the city's budget. The morning session was rather routine except for another outburst from outgoing council member Mitchell Rasansky who took the opportunity to criticize Da Mayor for limiting debate to five minutes per council member. "This is way too important," Rasansky said. "We should have to stay here all night if necessary." It reminded me of the last time serious cuts were needed in the budget and Rasansky, about five days before the council had to approve the budget, suggested the budget recommended by then City Manager Teodoro Benavides be scrapped entirely and that the city staff (but not Rasansky) "should roll up its sleeves" and work through the weekend to come up with a budget along the lines Rasansky (and no one else) proposed. That prompted one of the great moments in Mr. Benavides' tenure -- his inspired "You haven't got the guts" speech he directed at Rasansky.

If Mr. Rasansky was really serious about all this, he should be working day and night with other council members to get done what he thinks should be done. The public city council meetings are for grandstanding (and no one does this better than Rasansky) not hands-on shaping of city policy. That has to be done in council offices the other six days of the week. So five minutes each for debate at today's briefing is plenty of time for each council member to make their politically inspired speeches about the budget for public consumption. After that, it's time to get to work. No one that I knew understood that fact better than this guy.

The shameful return of Carolyn Davis

Dallas City Council member Carolyn Davis wasted little time in demonstrating she is going to continue to be an embarrassment for the city of Dallas for another two years. After being the only incumbent forced into a runoff in the just completed municipal elections, Ms. Davis used her first public moment since she won the runoff to make a complete fool of herself. For a reason known only to Ms. Davis, she used a ceremony recognizing a group of visitors from Senegal to attempt to defend her indefensible trip to Belize, which she tried to pawn off as a trade mission since the trip was paid for by taxpayers. She did not (and probably could not) list any tangible benefits to the city from her trip.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Lakers dominance

Interesting fact: When Los Angeles defeated the Orlando Magic Sunday, the Lakers claimed their fourth championship since 2000. That's the most of any team in the NBA, the NFL, the NHL or Major League Baseball.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Texas students missing out on educational standards

My family moved a lot when I was kid. My father was a chemical engineer who worked as a construction superintendent for a company that built chemical plants. As soon as he finished constructing one plant, we would move to another location to build another one. I went to kindergarten and first grade in New York City, but then the migrations began--to Michigan City, Ind.; Lakeland, Fla.; Richmond, Calif.; New Orleans; Houston; Burlington, Ontario, Canada; and Fresno, Calif., where I completed the junior year in high school I began in Canada. At this point, my father left this employer to join Brown & Root and so we moved back to Houston. I only attended the final semester of the high school I graduated from.

I mention all this because these moves showed me first-hand the disparity of the national primary and secondary educational system. I discovered the best schools were in Canada and California. The worst in New Orleans. Texas was not high on the list. In Canada, for instance, where French was the second language, the requirements for high school graduation included seven years of French (five years of grammar, two of literature), plus two years of another foreign language (either German, Spanish or Latin). When I began high school in Houston the first time we lived there, Spanish was the only foreign-language option available in high school. And even then the Spanish teacher was primarily an algebra teacher who was recruited to teach Spanish because no one else was available. She was learning it the day before she tried to teach it to us.

Finally something is being done to correct this imbalance. Actually, something is being done in 46 states as well as in the District of Columbia, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. These 46 states—representing 80 percent of the nation’s K-12 student population—have formally agreed to join forces to create common academic standards in math and English language arts through an effort led by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers. The four states not participating are Alaska, Missouri, South Carolina and, of course, Texas. Missouri might join as soon as it finds a new state education chief.

The announcement of this process said "A primary goal is to eliminate the patchwork of academic standards across the country that result in students in the same grades learning different things in different states. The effort also is intended to devise a more rigorous common set of academic targets, and then internationally benchmark them."

I find it intolerable that Texas is not part of this coalition because it will put high school students from here at a competitive disadvantage with the other 92 percent of America's high school graduates. Our future depends on the ability of our children and we cannot shortchange their educational opportunities. If nothing else, coalitions like this force educational policy makers from all over the country to come together to share ideas. That has to be a good thing. It's a shame that Texas -- and Texas primary and secondary school students -- will have to lose out.

Suspicions confirmed

The cost of no leadership in state government

Houston Chronicle Austin reporter R.G. Ratcliffe says it will cost taxpayers $30,408 a day for a special legislative session that would not have been necessary with adequate leadership at the state level.

The 140-day regular session of the legislature, which Ratcliffe says cost taxpayers $9.1 million, ended June 1 without passing bills to keep alive such agencies as the Texas Department of Transportation, Department of Insurance, Office of Public Insurance Counsel, the Texas Racing Commission or the State Affordable Housing Corporation. Why did the legislature do this? Because the Texas Senate was peeved that the House refused to consider its voter suppression legislation, it adjourned without even considering the House-passed bills that were on the table to keep those departments functioning. That's how petty our state government has become. If we had any kind of leadership in the governor's office, this would not have happened.

But then this lack of leadership is nothing new. Gov Hair became our chief executive on Dec. 21, 2000, when Gov. George Bush officially resigned to prepare to assume the Presidency. Since then, we have had seven -- count 'em, seven -- special legislative sessions: three in 2005 to deal with educational financing, three in 2003 because of redistricting issues and one in 2004, also to deal with redistricting. Now, we are about to have an eighth (and Hair's right-wing cronies are pressing him to add voter suppression to the agenda, which will cost taxpayers far more money than a probable three-day mini-session just to deal with the expiring departments.) That's an average of two special sessions for every one regular session.

A very special singing of our National Anthem

This is not the performance from last night's deciding game of the NBA championships, but one from Round 2 in the playoffs when the Magic hosted the Celtics.. It is, however, close to the version from last night. I am admittedly a sentimental old codger so it probably comes as no suprise that her rendition last night brought tears to my eyes, doubly so because 7-year-old Gina Marie Incandela has been diagnosed with autism. You owe it to yourself to listen to this.

New movies to be released tomorrow on DVD

Cherry Blossoms (2009) **½ It’s a strained but heartfelt work of muted sentimentality, obvious in its symbolism but grounded in a sense of life’s preciousness and brevity. Depending on your mood and indulgence, you may weep or you may be left out in the cold.

Friday the 13th (2009) *½ For one price, you get three shoddy Friday the 13th movies packed into one, which might constitute entertainment value if any one of them constituted entertainment.

Morning Light (2008) ** The film is more appealing for its scenery, which is as breathtakingly blue as you’d expect, than for its drama.

The Perfect Sleep (2009) * The movie layers its fatalistic drama with absurdist horseplay and a few moments of Lynch-ian mysticism, but it’s an awkward mix at best; even when it is trying to be funny, it’s far too self-conscious to really be much fun.

Tyler Perry’s Madea Goes to Jail (2009) ** There is something both satisfying and frustrating about this movie. Writer/director/star Tyler Perry dutifully gives his audience what it wants, but you can’t help feeling that he might also have more to offer: more coherent narratives, smoother direction, better films.

What Goes Up (2009) * A pointless and pretentious drama.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Something to think about

I'll end the weekend by letting you see what our future should look like.

Disney's next Pirates

The Disney studio is hoping John Carter of Mars will be its next franchise, succeeding its Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy. The movie is adapted from a 1917 science-fiction fantasy, Princess of Mars, written by Edgar Rice Burroughs about a civil war veteran who somehow finds himself on Mars (don't you hate it when that happens) and in the middle of another war. It will be directed by Andrew Stanton (Finding Nemo, WALL-E), directing his first live action feature. The stars are not exactly box-office magnets: Taylor Kitsch is cast in the title role and Lynn Collins will play Dejah Thoris, the heir to Mars' Helium Kingdom throne. Much of the film will be shot in Utah, which gave Disney $5.5 million in tax credits. Production begins in November.

One final observation about Saturday's Dallas City Council runoff election

The chances of defeating an incumbent Dallas City Council member seeking re-election are just about zero. If Carolyn Davis can't be beaten, no one can. The chances of defeating a term-limited council person's designated successor are slim -- witness the two newly elected city council members: Ann Margolin, Mitchell Ransansky's choice to replace him, and Delia Jasso, Dr. Elba Garcia's choice to succeed her -- but not as small as defeating an incumbent. If Carolyn Davis accomplishes one thing as a member of the city council -- and if her record is any indication, it may be only one thing - -it's that potential city council candidates should not waste their time, their money or their energy running against an incumbent.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Jasso slips by Epker

It was close but Delia Jasso, the person Dr. Elba Garcia anointed to succeed her on the Dallas City Council, appears to have defeated Justin Epker by 160 votes out of 2,702 votes cast in today's runoff election. Mr. Epker received 24 more votes than Ms. Jasso by those who voted early in person, but Ms. Jasso received 97 more votes by mail than Mr. Epker. It's this category where Mr. Epker is liable to cry voter fraud, but the 97-vote difference would not be enough to overcome Ms. Jasso's 150-vote lead, so he probably shouldn't yell too loudly.

In the other runoff, incumbent Carolyn Davis swamped school board trustee Ron Price. Ms. Davis, in what to me is a surprising outcome, received nearly 70 percent of the 1,932 votes cast. This, to me, is as much a repudiation of Price as it is an endorsement of Ms. Davis.

Davis surprises me by swamping Price

It's only a little after 8 p.m. and I only see the results from early voting, but I'm calling the the District 7 race for incumbent Carolyn Davis. It appears the Ragsdale machine has turned out the votes for Ms. Davis who will continue to be an embarrassment the city must bear for another two years. Early voting was more than 2-to-1 for Davis over Ron Price. I know I'm repeating myself, but I must agree with Dallas Morning News columnist Steve Blow when he wrote last month that no matter which candidate won this race, "District 7 loses." I must admit, however, that I'm surprised by the margin of Davis' victory.

I guess I should look on the bright side. You could say the only comedy show at City Hall is when Ms. Davis, as his her custom, shows up 20 minutes late to city council committee meetings and then asks questions that wouldn't have needed to ask had she (1) been on time and (2) had the intelligence to understand the subject in the first place.

The District 1 race right now is too close to call with Delia Jasso, the favorite and the hand-picked choice of the Garcia family, having only a 73-vote lead over Justin Epker, who's sure to shout voter fraud. Epker, I'm convinced, was relying more on election day voters than early voters anyway.

Major changes in store at City Hall

Dallas City Manager Mary Suhm will present her latest budget "snapshot" to the Dallas City Council Wednesday and it recommends major changes in the way the city is run and who runs it. Among the changes:
  • Reducing the number of departments/offices from 32 to 23
  • Demoting nine directors
  • Combining Development Services and Building Inspection into a Sustainable Development and Construction Department
  • Reconfiguring the the Housing and the Environmental and Health Services departments into a Housing/Community Services Department
  • Combining the Library Department with the Office of Cultural Affairs
  • Reducing the 3-1-1 incall times from 24/7 to 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Mondays through Fridays.
  • Consolidating financial services, strategic customer service, emergency management, intergovernmental services, fair housing, efficiency team, public information and environmental quality into a single Financial and Management Services department
  • Central Library and branch libraries closed Sundays and Mondays
  • 6 percent water rate increase and a 9 cents a month sanitation rate increase
This will be the final budget briefing that will be heard by the present council. At least two and possibly three new council members (depending on the results of today's runoff elections) will be inaugurated a week from Tuesday.

Friday, June 12, 2009

I'll take Cutler or Ryan and give you change

Peter Schrager of FoxSports.com has just posted his ranking of the top 99 players in the NFL for this upcoming season. I'm not going to analyze this selection-by-selection but I must offer an opinion on his ranking of Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo. Not the fact that he lists Romo No. 28 on the list but that he has him as the ninth-best quarterback, ahead of Jay Cutler and Matt Ryan. Frankly, I would rather have Cutler or Ryan playing for me instead of Romo. Cutler has a better arm and his much smarter than Romo -- he's just never played on a decent team. Ryan was superb his rookie season and I'm betting he's going to get even better now that he has a decent tight end to throw to.

Show business notes

  • Game 4 of the Lakers-Magic series was the highest rated television program last night.
  • Only two R-rated comedies have had a higher opening week box office than The Hangover's $45 million and both of them -- Sex and the City and American Pie 2 -- were already franchises with built-in audiences.
  • Speaking of franchises, Harrison Ford should be glad he's part of one. According to this story, Ford earned $65 million between June 2008 and this month as part of his revenue sharing agreement in connection with Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. That's far more than most of us real people will ever see in our entire lifetimes.
  • One of the most controversial films of the year may be Creation starring Paul Bettany as Charles Darwin and Jennifer Connelly as his wife, Emma. It opens in the UK Sept. 25. The U.S. opening has not been scheduled yet.
  • Woody Allen says he originally wrote Whatever Works for Zero Mostel and when Mostel died, Allen put the script away in a drawer, only to resurrect it when the writer's strike was looming. It was his casting director who suggested Larry David for the lead.

Another storm brewing?

This was the somewhat eerie view from the balcony of my home looking south today around 8:45 p.m.

Then ...

... and now

Happy 85th, George

Judge Kent: A new definition of Chutzpah

It used to be when someone was asked to explain the Yiddish word "chutzpah" they would use the example of the person who killed his parents and, at his trial, threw himself on the mercy of the court because he was an orphan.

Now we have a new definition--Texas Judge Samuel Kent, who pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice and is insisting that he continue to draw his salary of $174,000 a year plus benefits while in prison. Kent is a federal district court judge and federal judges serve for life. So Kent is claiming "Hey, I am still a judge even though I am in prison." He did have the decency to resign from the bench earlier this month but he had the indecency to make it effective June 2010.

There's hope. The House Judiciary Committee voted 29-0 earlier this week to approve articles of impeachment against Kent. If the full House votes to impeach, then the case goes to the Senate for a trial. Here's hoping (a) Kent has the good sense to resign immediately or (b) that justice is swift in Congress to stop the joke of a lawbreaker getting paid to uphold the law.

Letterman vs. Palin -- Decision: Palin

I'm a big David Letterman fan. Always have been. Never could stand Jay Leno, but I always appreciated Letterman's inherent anarchy. Sarah Palin? Not so much. In fact, I thought she was an embarrassment who hurt John McCain far more than she helped him during last year's presidential campaign and election.

However, in this current issue involving Letterman and Palin, I'm coming down hard on Palin's side.

In case you are not familiar with this whole affair, here it is in a nutshell: Sarah Palin and her daughter visited New York City and, while there, took in a Yankee game. Letterman joked about it and said while they were at the game, Ms. Palin's daughter was "knocked up" by the Yankees' Alex Rodriguez.

Heaven knows, I'm no prude, but I find that joke offensive and not one bit funny. I'm thinking it was crafted by one of the show's writers, but Letterman should have exercised good judgment and cut the joke before the program's taping.

But it gets worse. Letterman claims he thought Ms. Palin was traveling with her 18-year-old daughter Bristol who was in the news during the presidential campaign because she was pregnant and unwed. (OK, but this fact doesn't give Letterman the right to make offensive comments about her.) It turns out, however, Ms. Palin was actually in the company of her 14-year-old daughter Willow, so now Ms. Palin is going around saying Letterman is condoning statutory rape (an argument I don't agree with).

Letterman went to great lengths on his show Wednesday to say he would "never, ever make jokes about raping or having sex of any description with a 14-year-old girl." I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt on this one, but, I think the age issue here is irrelevant. He should have known the joke was not funny (which we all know is not a crime), in extremely poor taste and bordered on being slanderous.

Most, if not all, of my friends and associates will also confirm the fact that I am an A-Number-1 cynic and I can't help but think all this has more to do with Conan O'Brien than it does with Sarah Palin. I think Letterman saw that O'Brien, who has just succeeded Leno as the host of NBC's late night talk show, was vulnerable ratings-wise and decided to strike immediately with something that would draw attention to his program. Apparently it has worked. For the first time in more than four years, Letterman has drawn higher ratings the last couple nights than his NBC rival and is poised to win the week's ratings battle. And, of course, unless you're convicted on corruption charges, it's difficult for an Alaskan politician to remain in the headlines and I'm positive Ms. Palin is jockeying to be the GOP presidential nominee in 2012. So it's to her benefit to keep this "moral outrage" of hers on the front burners as long as possible.

Now I have one more question and I'm through with this subject: Why has Alex Rodriguez been so quiet during all this?
UPDATE: If you're planning on watching Letterman tonight to see if he stokes this fire, you'll be disappointed. Letterman always tapes his Friday shows on Mondays.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

In remembrance

John Wayne was more than just an actor. He was more than just a movie star. He was an icon -- larger than life. And he passed away 30 years ago today.

OK, now I understand all the fuss in Lake Highlands

I'm guessing the folks in Lake Highlands are worried that some hardened cop-buster like this 72-year-old great grandmother might get off the DART train on White Rock Trail. Heaven forbid!

Those ol' landfill blues

There are eight million stories in The Naked Landfill. This is just one of them.

Gov. Hair claims to be smarter than scientists

Global warming? It's all hogwash, according to Gov. Hair, and if the the feds try to put a limit on carbon emissions in Texas, "the largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the United States," then by gosh and by gum, it will destroy the state's economy. Of course, part of the reason he's saying this is because his likely primary opponent, Kay Baily Hutchison, is also appealing to the uninformed on this issue. She says the main method Washington lawmakers are considering to regulate these emissions "is onerous and misguided, and it will raise energy prices for consumers and adversely impact workers and small businesses during a time of economic hardship."

Of course, it does nothing of the kind. In fact, just the opposite is true. It establishes a market in carbon emissions that will actually create ways to profit off of being good environmental stewards. It also provides incentives to reduce energy usage, which can help keep energy costs lower as supplies decrease. But then that's not good news for the giant utility companies which are among Texas Republicans' biggest financial supporters.

This could make you shutter

I'm a big Martin Scorsese fan anyway. I'm convinced he's earned a spot with the finest film directors of all time -- Fellini, Bergman, Goddard, Hitchcock. So you must consider that when I say I am really looking forward to Shutter Island, opening in October. I've watched this trailer a couple of times now, and my anticipation grew with each viewing.

Why have an Alien prequel anyway

Rumours abound that a prequel to Alien is in the works. Why? Unless, of course, this is going to be a Ripley-less Alien. Is this film going to be about how the aliens destroyed the colony that Ripley and her pals discovered in that landmark 1979 film? At first blush, that excites me less than another chapter of Aliens vs. Predator.

Of course, everything is still up in the air. According to all these rumors, Ridley Scott, who directed the original, plans to produce this one, but not direct it. He wants his daughter's boyfriend, Carl Rinsch, best known for his futuristic TV commercials, to direct. But, from what I'm hearing, Fox, which owns the Alien franchise, is going to refuse to give its approval unless Scott directs.

More to come, I'm sure.

This weekend's box-office forecast

1. The Hangover, $31 million
2. The Taking of Pelham 123, $27 million
3. Up, $26.4 million
4. Land of the Lost, $9 million
5. Imagine That, $8.5 million

Another voice on health insurance

These sound like words I muttered just a couple of days ago: "I can think of no other American industry that more closely resembles a criminal shakedown of the public than the health insurers. "

Racism is alive and well in Lake Highlands

I remember when AMC wanted to locate its very first theater in Dallas. The site chosen (actually chosen for AMC by former Dallas Mayor Steve Bartlett and other city officials) was the strip mall located at Forest Lane and Inwood that's now occupied mostly by a Lowe's. Back then it was a long-ago-abandoned K-Mart.

Residents in the area were in a uproar and protested mightily. I remember being at the center one day and talking to the one of the sign-carrying protesters and asking him what he had against locating a movie theater there.

"It attracts the wrong kind of people," he said.

"What kind?" I wanted to know.

"You, know," he said as if I should be aware of the conspiracy. "Those kind."

"You mean movie-going kind of people?" I said, getting agitated by his overt racial overtones. "You mean people like me, because I love to go to the movies."

"Oh, no, no," he replied. "Not you. Those kind."

To make a long story somewhat shorter, those white racists won the battle -- the city illegally denied AMC a permit to locate its theater there -- although AMC won the war: It sued the city over the decision and was awarded many millions of tax dollars in a judgment. So Dallas taxpayers must pay for their racist attitudes, but it doesn't stop them.

Look at what's going on now in Lake Highlands. DART is planning a rail station on its Dallas-to-Garland Blue Line route. The station is to be located on the Northwest Corner of Walnut Hill and White Rock Trail. Anyone familiar with his area realizes the entrance to the station needs to be on White Rock Trail because locating it on Walnut would create a traffic nightmare on that thoroughfare. But, as you can see, the locals are mounting an AMC-like protest against the sensible option because it could mean those kind infiltrating their neighborhoods. Except this time around, the code word is not those, but criminals.

Rick Gosselin ranks the NFL teams

I respect Rick Gosselin, the NFL beat reporter for the Dallas Morning News, not only because he is a fellow former Unipresser, but because I know he's forgotten more about the league than I or most other casual observers will ever know. So I have absolutely no reason to question him when he ranks the Dallas Cowboys as the third best team in the NFL East, behind the New York Giants and the Philadelphia Eagles. But when he says the Pokes are not even the best professional football team in Texas, I gotta reply: "Hold on there, you Northeast lovin' (he has the Patriots ranked No. 1), Yankee-leaning, football expert, you. Them there is fighting words!"

Does anyone else see a judicial discrepancy here?

In sentencing an 18-year-old with "profound mental disabilities" to 100 years in prison for fondling his 6-year-old neighbor, the Lamar County (Paris) judge in the case allegedly said: “In the state of Texas, there isn’t a whole lot you can do with somebody like him.” I guess this Dallas County jury, which gave no jail time to an 18-year-old with no mental disabilities who held a gun to a 17-year-old girl's head and forced her to perform oral sex on him, hadn't heard "In the state of Texas, there isn’t a whole lot you can do with somebody like him.”

San Francisco ups the recycling ante

Within days after a newly elected member of the Dallas City Council wanted to know what the effects would be on raising rates to the McCommas Bluff Landfill, the city of San Francisco is adopting measures to divert all waste from its landfills.

San Francisco is going to be giving its residents three mandatory garbage bins, one for trash, another for recylables (like many [I'm an exception, much to my chagrin] residents in Dallas receive) and a third for compost. Not only that, if residents don't separate correctly, they could be fined, although fines are being suspended until 2011 until residents learn how to separate.

San Francisco's Board of Supervisors (its city council) passed this new ordinance Tuesday night on a 9-2 vote. The goal is to be sending zero waste to landfills by the year 2020. The city already diverts an amazing 72 percent of its residential waste away from landfills and into recycling and composting programs.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Who is this Leticia Van de Putte anyway?

She is a state senator from San Antonio and is someone you might be hearing a lot more about in the coming months. Right now, a lot of Democrats are none too happy over the two persons who have announced they are running for the party's gubernatorial nomination in 2010. First, there's Tom Scheiffer, who many (including me) identify too closely with George W. Bush (they were partners together in the Texas Rangers baseball club and Schieffer was a Bush appointee as an ambassador). Second, there's Kinky Friedman who, for some reason, is taking all the fun of out his last campaign to try his hand as a serious (read that "dull, predictable") candidate. So the name many Democrats are floating around right now is that of Leticia Van de Putte.

And what is her reaction to all this? Well, she certainly isn't trying to curtail the talk. In fact, according to this story that appeared earlier this year, she should be announcing her intentions just about anytime now.

100 Best Movie Lines in 200 Seconds

I guess this speaks for itself, but if this is what we call examples of great writing, I think we're in trouble.

Happy 28th, Natalie

Cleburne's quakes

The New York Times thinks the earthquakes recorded last week in Cleburne are little more than a cute "novelty," while the Dallas Morning News reports that the quakes may keep coming as long as the drilling in the Barnett Shale continues. I wonder what this guy has to say about all this.

Our system of health insurance is a disaster

One of the major arguments for health insurance reform is that we need to cover adequately all those millions who, for one reason or another, are excluded from health insurance today. Oh, if that were really true. Let's be accurate here: the current system of health insurance -- the system that requires it be provided by private insurance companies -- is an unmitigated disaster even for those who are offered it and can afford to pay its premiums. In fact, if we could find a way to cover all the excluded with private health insurance, it would actually make the problem worse, not better.

If you want proof of this, check out a study that will be published in the August issue of the American Journal of Medicine reporting that 62 percent of all bankruptcies filed in the United States last year are the result of unaffordable medical bills and, what's more, 75 percent of those people filing had health insurance. Not only that, the problem is getting worse. Only 46 percent of the bankruptcies filed in 2001 were because of medical bills.

Here's the issue: As long as greedy, profit-driven private insurance companies control payments, there is more of an incentive on their parts not to pay for medical procedures than to pay for them. Agents who find ways to deny the most claims are rewarded with bonuses. Our own insurance companies kill more Americans each year than Iraqi insurgents simply by refusing to pay for life-saving medical treatments.

The major argument the insurance companies always mount to counter demands for a government-operated single-payer health insurance system is this: "Would you rather have a doctor deciding your medical treatment or a government bureaucrat?" What a load of crap. For one thing, doctors have always and will always decide on the best medical treatment. Almost every industrialized nation in the world currently has a government-run single-payer health insurance system and in every single one of those, doctors make all the medical decisions. The problem with our current system is that you have some yokel (a bureaucrat) sitting in an insurance company deciding whether that company will pay for the treatment the doctor has recommended. Under a government-run program, that treatment will be far less expensive because one major cost layer has been removed -- the profits of the insurance company.

Not only that, most insurance companies don't even let you chose the doctor you would prefer. I would like to be able to afford to be treated by the doctor I choose and not to have payments for those treatments denied because it could eliminate the bonus to some greedy insurance executive.

A couple of days ago, I addressed the cost of such a system in tax dollars. But this cost is minimal compared to the alternative of pressing personal debts and bankruptcy.

Monday, June 8, 2009

New movies to be released tomorrow on DVD

Crossing Over (2009) *½ The latticework of social meaning that makes up this film is ultimately a flimsy structure that pays lip service to liberal values while only occasionally inventing anything of dramatic significance. If writer-director Wayne Kramer’s outrage felt honest, his film would be easier to respect. But time and again, he undermines his own righteousness by pumping up the violence and stripping down his talent.

Fired Up (2009) * It’s like being trapped for an hour-and-a-half in a pound full of yappy puppies.

Gran Torino (2008) *** This is not a masterpiece, but it is a fun character drama that features a knowing but winning final performance by Clint Eastwood and just enough commentary to make it worth discussing. Until it starts rumbling headlong toward its tone-deaf, self-serious ending it is often enjoyable, satisfying and funny.

The International (2009) ** An action thriller with some decent action and a few thrills, but all embedded in a yarn so hopelessly tangled that even the loose threads have knots. I couldn’t help feeling that it was stuck in second gear, like it couldn’t decide whether to be fun or meaningful and so settled for being neither. It’s almost worth seeing, though, for the incredible action set piece at the center.

Spinning Into Butter (2009) ½* Approaches its ideas of reverse racism and the hypocrisies of tolerance with a heavy hand and odious moralizing. Less a movie than an essay.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

The case for prison reform


  • The United States has only 5 percent of the world's population, but house 25 percent of the world's prisoners.
  • The United States incarcerates 756 out of every 100,000 people -- five times the world average.
  • One in every 31 adults in the United States is in prison, in jail or on supervised release.
  • The United States spends $70 billion per year on corrections -- a rise of 40 percent in the last 20 years.
  • About 16 percent of adult inmates are mentally ill (and the rate is higher in juvenile institutions).
  • About 60 percent of those serving a drug sentence have no history of violence.
  • About 80 percent of drug arrests are for possession -- not sales.
  • African-Americans make up 14 percent of drug-users, but 56 percent of drug inmates.

I discovered these statistics in an informative Newsweek article written by Dahlia Lithwick who goes on to say "If Americans actually have the conversation about our disastrous prison policies, we'll understand the trends all move in very dangerous directions: we lock up more people, for less violent crime, at ever greater expense, breeding more dangerous criminals who often come out unemployable, violent and isolated."

She also says Sen. James Webb, D-Va., is launching "an ambitious effort to reform U.S. prisons. In addition to proposing a massive 18-month review of the prison system, Webb wants to work toward reducing the overall incarceration rate while refocusing efforts toward locking up truly dangerous criminals and gang leaders, decreasing prison violence, establishing meaningful reentry programs for ex-offenders, reforming the nation's drug policies and improving treatment of the mentally ill."

It's a start, although I fear in "law and order" Texas, most folks just want to "lock e'm up and forget 'em, unless we execute 'em first."