Monday, August 31, 2009

New movies to be released tomorrow on DVD

Earth (2009) ***½ This first feature from Disney's new nature division has an encyclopedic reach and spectacular footage shot by more than two dozen crack cinematographers.

Good Dick (2008) **½ Alternately compelling and dramatically limp, the film scores points for exploring unfamiliar territory but lacks the emotional depth to make some very strange behavior believable.

Sin Nombre (2009) **** There are some brief minutes when the tension drops and the story starts to sag, but filmmaker Cary Joji Fukunaga almost always fills the frame with something worth seeing, and the story has a built-in suspense.

State of Play (2009) *** The overall lack of subtlety is a riot — there's even a cautionary production of Peter and the Wolf happening in the background during one journalist-politician showdown at a Beltway gala. Still, it's a pleasure watching this cast make the most of the material.

Sugar (2009) **** The film's style is so "objective" it's a bit subdued, yet this is a sports drama of total originality, as well as the most authentic inside view of the immigrant experience the movies have given us in quite a while.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Jewish culinary history

This research conducted by the blog's Rocky Mountain correspondent:

According to the Jewish calendar, the year is 5769.

According to the Chinese calendar, the year is 4706.

This means that Jews went without Chinese food for 1,063 years, a period known as the Dark Ages.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The best movie guide ever

Courtesy of the blog's South Florida correspondent, you can click here for the most indispensable movie guide ever created. You can, of course, thank me later.

A perfect description of Ted Kennedy

Of all the words written in the last 24-plus hours following the death of Sen Edward Kennedy, these, written by John M. Broder of the New York Times, are my favorite:

"He was a Rabelaisian figure in the Senate and in life, instantly recognizable by his shock of white hair, his florid, oversize face, his booming Boston brogue, his powerful but pained stride. He was a celebrity, sometimes a self-parody, a hearty friend, an implacable foe, a man of large faith and large flaws, a melancholy character who persevered, drank deeply and sang loudly. He was a Kennedy."

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

"The greatest United States Senator of our time"

I feel a distinct sense of loss at the passing of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy. It's as though an era I felt passionate about has come to end. I was just under the legal voting edge when John F. Kennedy ran for President, although my father worked on his campaign as did I as a student at the University of Texas at Austin. I was a hard-working, loyal supporter and worker on the presidential campaign of Robert Kennedy and when he was assassinated in 1968, much of my zeal for and belief in the American political process died with him.

President Obama had this to say about today's passing of the last of the Kennedy senators:

"For five decades, virtually every major piece of legislation to advance the civil rights, health and economic well being of the American people bore his name and resulted from his efforts.

"I valued his wise counsel in the Senate, where, regardless of the swirl of events, he always had time for a new colleague. I cherished his confidence and momentous support in my race for the Presidency. And even as he waged a valiant struggle with a mortal illness, I've profited as President from his encouragement and wisdom.

"An important chapter in our history has come to an end. Our country has lost a great leader, who picked up the torch of his fallen brothers and became the greatest United States Senator of our time."

"And the Kennedy family has lost their patriarch, a tower of strength and support through good times and bad.

"Our hearts and prayers go out to them today--to his wonderful wife, Vicki, his children Ted Jr., Patrick and Kara, his grandchildren and his extended family."

A solution to the city's budget woes: Have the PILOT fly at a higher altitude

City Council members Angela Hunt and Sheffie Kadane at their joint budget townhall meeting Tuesday night

I was attending the joint Angela Hunt-Sheffie Kadane budget townhall meeting last night and heard assistant city manager A.C. Gonzalez and both council members insist that the city's fiscal 2009-10 budget, as proposed by City Manager Mary Suhm, doesn't raise taxes. That's a lie. It does raise taxes. It only raises them indirectly through something called PILOT.

I've explained this before, but let me go through it one more time. Dallas Water Utilities, a City of Dallas department, is designated an Enterprise Fund which means it doesn't require city tax moneys to operate. All of its income comes via the water rates it charges its various customers. The city, through this nifty gimmick called PILOT (an acronym for Payment In Lieu of Taxes), duns Dallas Water Utilities a designated amount of money which then goes into the city's General Fund, that pool of money that comes from sales taxes, property taxes and other fees that's used to operate city government. DWU then raises its rates to recover this payment. Neat, eh?

So last night I'm sitting in the drama room at St. Thomas Aquinas School on Abrams Road listening to District 9 councilman Kadane say his No. 1 priority is finding funds to keep the city's rec centers open longer and District 14 council woman Hunt's concern that this will be the second consecutive year there's no money in the budget to slurry seal our streets, or that less money should be spent on the 2006 bond program or that she's worried about cuts to youth programs.

And I realized there was a simple answer to all this: Since the Dallas City Council insists on perpetuating the myth that PILOT is not a tax increase, why not just charge DWU more and have those funds make up the difference needed? Of course, that will mean higher water rates, but, hey, that's not like a tax increase. Or at least that's what the city maintains.

I did find it interesting, however, and it confirmed my suspicions that citizens are willing to pay for good government, that one citizen speaker at last night's meeting criticized the council for not raising the taxes needed to pay for the 2006 bond program, money voters authorized the city to appropriate. When Ms. Hunt asked for a show of hands of those agreeing with the speaker, an overwhelming majority of those present raised their hands. Of course, when it comes to our City Council, the will of the people doesn't mean a thing anyway so nothing will come of this. But I did find it interesting and I suspect Ms. Hunt found it intriguing as well.

A new Mark on the Office of Cultural Affiars?

Angela Hunt revealed -- oh so quietly -- at her townhall meeting last night that "a way has been found to preserve the Office of Cultural Affairs" as a separate entity. Now this is a big deal to all the arts groups around the city and for Ms. Hunt to be so covert about this revelation had me scratching my head. What's going on here? Why not trumpet this news from the rooftops?

Obviously, General Fund moneys are not involved in this. Private donations were secured. Those who donated these funds would be regarded as heroes within the arts community. So why aren't these heroes coming forward to be recognized?

Here's my guess: The money was donated by Mark Cuban, who doesn't want anyone to know he regularly comes to the aid of the city when it is financially strapped. Let me give you an example, although Cuban himself will deny any involvement in this, as will the City of Dallas. There are two Calatrava bridges designated to span the Trinity River. The first and best known, because it has been in the news so much lately, is the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge, named after its benefactor. The city, however, had major problems securing the private money needed to pay for the second bridge until Cuban wrote a check to cover it.

Cuban, however, doesn't want anyone to know about his largess, because he fears knowledge of it will make him a "mark" (pun intended) for every money-hungry organization/individual, both legit and, shall we say, dubious. Cuban doesn't want to be on this list of "people you can always turn to when you need money donated." He considers himself a businessman who loves his adopted city but not a charitable foundation. And, frankly, I can see his point here.

Cuban has obvious ties to the arts community through his 2929 Entertainment, which, among other things, owns the Landmark movie theaters, and his Magnolia Pictures, the company that distributed two of my favorite films so far this year, Julia and Big Man Japan. So I can see his interest in coming to the aid of the Office of Cultural Affairs.

Now I'm not saying that Cuban positively donated the money to keep the city's Office of Cultural Affairs open. I'm just suggesting that a lot of signs are pointing in his direction.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

That dirty little state we call home

According to this, Texas leads the nation in Greenhouse Gas Emissions (almost double the amount of smoggy California: 625.2 million metric tons of carbon dioxide to California's 395.5). Then there's this:

"If Texas was a country, it would rank seventh in the world in carbon dioxide emissions."

NCTCOG sticks its toe in the water when it should dive in the pool

The Transportation Department of the North Central Texas Council of Governments will present a briefing today to the Dallas City Council's Transportation and Environment Committee on the notion of keeping 18-wheelers out of the left-hand lanes of freeways with three or more lanes. The briefing will say, according to COG's pilot study, this is a great idea for safety, air quality and mobility; that it is embraced by the public; and that an overwhelming number of truck drivers obey these rules without being forced to by the gendarmes.

So far, so good. But then slide 11 says don't implement these restrictions on freeways where it's really needed. The way I read this slide, titled "Corridors Proposed for Near Term Truck Lane Restriction Implementation," COG is only recommending these restrictions on I-45 from the southern Ellis County line to the road's terminus in downtown Dallas; I-20 from Spur 408 in extreme Southwest Dallas to where it joins I-30 west of Fort Worth; and I-20 from I-45 to around the Dallas-Kaufman County border.

Hey, what about I-35E where the majority of trucks travel? How about North Central Expressway? How about I-30, especially heading east?

If you're going to do this -- and you should -- do it right and where it will do the most good. If this half-hearted attempt is all COG proposes, it will give Gov. Hair another reason to try to revive his Trans-Texas Corridor boondoggle.

Does Dallas really kill 28,000 dogs and cats a year

The way I read this briefing being presented to the Dallas City Council's Quality of Life today, 28,370 dogs and cats will be put to death in the city's animal shelter this year.

Now the briefing doesn't say that. It doesn't even mention killing animals. But how else is one to interpret the figures on slide 4? Taking the numbers, which are for three-quarters of a year, presented on that slide and extrapolating them for a full year, it says 37,209 dogs and cats will be impounded by the end of the current fiscal year (Sept. 30). Of those, 2,783 will be adopted, 3,229 will be transferred to rescue groups and 2,827 will be reclaimed by their owners. That leaves 28,370 dogs and cats unaccounted for. What happens to them?

I think we all know the answer to that question.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Austin cares more about public safety than Dallas

Austin mayor Lee Leffingwell, Mayor Pro Tem Mike Martinez and Councilmember Chris Riley are co-sponsoring a resolution that would prohibit text messaging and using the Internet while operating a motor vehicle. According to the official release:

"Studies make this very clear," said Mayor Pro Tem Mike Martinez. "And, common sense reinforces what we already know; using a phone while driving is very dangerous and is factor in many traffic incidents."

The City Council agenda item directs the City Manager to prepare ordinance to prohibit the writing, sending or reading of text messages, instant messages and emails or viewing the internet on a mobile phone or other portable electronic device.

"Multi-tasking while driving is not a good practice," said Mayor Lee Leffingwell. "With kids headed back to school we should all take this time to be very aware on the road and put an end to text messaging while driving."

It's long past time the Dallas City Council followed suit.

New movies to be released tomorrow on DVD

Adventureland (2009) **** Mixes the intimate, indie vibe of Daytrippers with the absurdist screwball streak of Superbad, to winning effect.

Duplicity (2009) ***½ There are so many leaps back and forth in time, so many twists and countertwists and double fake-outs, that I kept losing track of who is supposed to know what when.

Fighting (2009) *** As its defiantly bland title suggests, Fighting is a bare-bones effort that tries just hard enough to keep us watching. By making good use of its New York setting, filmmaker Dito Montiel does bring a certain indie grit to the generic story.

Full Grown Men (2008) **½ A strong cast, beautiful production values and generally pleasant execution can't disguise the fact both laughs and surprises are on the thin side here, despite the abundant care and affection lavished on the central characters by first-time writer-director David Munro.

Goodbye Solo (2009) ****½ Filmmaker Ramin Bahrani possesses a disciplined sense of composition and form, a vision of the world that extends beyond the boundaries of his own navel, and the understanding that it is possible to make films about class and race in this country without pandering to the audience.

The Informers (2009) * A nihilistic, narcissistic, knuckleheaded move about nihilistic, narcissistic knuckleheads, The Informers might have been an interesting exercise in satire, if it only had a sense of humor. Which it doesn't. You'll need one, though, after forking over hard-earned money to rent it.

Life Is Hot in Cracktown (2009) ** Life goes far past the boiling point for most of the characters in this hilariously overwrought ghetto soap opera from cult writer-director Buddy Giovinazzo.

Rudo y Cursi (2009) ***½ The film scores from every angle — comic, personal and cross-cultural.

Sunshine Cleaning (2009) *** Could have been a little more darkly comic in places but the performances are superb.

Trouble the Water (2008) **** One of the most eloquent records we have of a tragedy that brought out some of the most impressively alive men and women in New Orleans.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

More on "Shutter Island"

By time I learned yesterday about the decision by Paramount to push back the opening of Martin Scorsese's Shutter Island until February, previous commitments prevented me from doing anything but accepting the studio's own explanations for the move. I have tried to poke around this a little more today (somewhat more difficult to do on a Saturday when many offices are closed), but the story I'm hearing is that the studio execs liked the film but on a Cape Fear level, not on a The Departed, GoodFellas, Raging Bull or even The Aviator level.

On this, I'm leaning toward trusting their judgment. They made the same decision this time last year with The Soloist which, it turned out, was not only not awards-worthy, but died quickly upon its release earlier this year.

My personal expectations for Shutter Island diminished the more I was exposed to the film. Its first trailers appear to have focused solely on the setup: An accused murderess (played by Michelle Williams) sentenced to a remote mental institution that is the only building on a remote island escapes and can't be found, although, we're told, it's impossible to escape from the island. A pair of policemen, one played by Leonardo DiCaprio (playing in, if my count is correct, his fourth Scorsese film), is dispatched from the mainland to the island to solve the mystery. These original previews didn't even feature Ben Kingsley who apparently plays the warden of the institution.

The last series of trailers, however, have focused more on what happens to DiCaprio when he arrives on the island and I was overcome by how much those scenes reminded me of Alan Parker's 1987 film Angel Heart, which I liked more than a lot of folks. In that film, Mickey Rourke plays a detective hired by Robert DeNiro to find a missing man, but the films turns into an allegory: The DeNiro character is actually the devil and the film is about the Rourke character's descent into hell.

If my perceptions are correct, then Paramount is doing the right thing.

New York Times' prediction for TCU's 2009 football season

Though I have the Horned Frogs as the best non-B.C.S. conference team in the country in 2009, it’s going to be hard for T.C.U. to bust its way into a B.C.S. bowl. The schedule has me worried: road dates at Virginia and Clemson in non-conference play (though Virginia should be a clear win) and, as always, B.Y.U. and Utah in the Mountain West. These four alone should result in one loss, which will be enough to cost the Frogs – much to the delight of the B.C.S. – a shot at a major bowl trip. Which is a shame, because as we all know, what may end up happening is both the Big East and A.C.C. (if, say, F.S.U. beats Virginia Tech in the conference title game) sending a nine-win team to the B.C.S. while T.C.U. plays in front of a half-packed Qualcomm Stadium for the Poinsettia Bowl. In a perfect world, the Horned Frogs could even lose a game and still reach the B.C.S.; however, the current landscape is far from perfect, and Tostitos, FedEx and Allstate have made it abundantly clear that they want big-name teams, not T.C.U. (or any other non-B.C.S. conference team, for that matter). Would I love to see the Horned Frogs get there? Yes, few things would make me happier. However, as good as this team may be, I predict at least one stumble.

How do you measure "alarmed"?

I ran across the following news summary on DallasNews.Com: "Passengers on American Airlines Flight 414 became alarmed when they saw parts falling off the right wing and heard unusual noises after takeoff from San Diego on Friday evening."

"Became alarmed"? What does that mean, exactly? If I'm looking out the window of an airplane in which I'm flying and I see parts of the wing falling off I'm screaming as loud as I can "My, g-d, we're all gonna die!" You want "alarmed," I'll show you "alarmed."

Friday, August 21, 2009

Paramount removes "Shutter Island" from Oscar contention

I must admit to a mild case of shock at the news that Paramount Pictures has decided to bump the opening of Martin Scorcese's Shutter Island from October to next February, thus removing it from Oscar consideration this year and probably Oscar consideration period. The reasons Paramount is giving for the delay are (1) it doesn't have the funds right now to promote the movie in the manner in which an Oscar-caliber movie needs to be promoted and (2) star Leonardo DiCaprio's current schedule would not allow him to promote the film.

It all sounds like a bit of hogwash to me and a rude way to treat Scorsese's first dramatic release since his Oscar-winning The Departed. The positive side to this dreary news is that Shutter Island will open the same week in February 2010 that The Silence of the Lambs opened in 1991 and now that there are 10 Best Picture slots instead of five, it still gives Scorsese's picture a shot for next year.

The winner of all this to me is a movie that I think is going to be a genuine sleeper success story this year, A Serious Man, which is scheduled to open Oct. 2, the same day Shutter Island was originally set to premier. Now Man not only has that date all to itself, but it may have secured its place among the best picture nominees.

New York Times' prediction for Oklahoma State's 2009 football season

It’s truly unfortunate that a team as offensively skilled as Oklahoma State clearly remains the third-best team in its own division. To be fair, ranking third in the Big 12 South is nothing to be ashamed of, as both Texas and Oklahoma are national title favorites; in addition, despite coming in behind that pair in the South the Cowboys are the third-best team in the superb Big 12, which makes them an easy pick for top 15 status in the F.B.S. But I can’t shake the feeling that even with this tremendous offense, Oklahoma State will struggle increasing upon its win total from a season ago. Not that there’s truly anything wrong with that: the Cowboys are only one year removed from ending a frustrating string of seven-win finishes, and a 6-2 finish in Big 12 action would represent the program’s best conference record since the league’s formation. So here’s my prediction: 9-3, 6-2 in the Big 12, with losses to Georgia, Texas and Oklahoma. For those keeping track at home, that means the Cowboys would lose to three teams ranked in the Countdown’s top 14 teams. Minus Texas Tech, I’m convinced Oklahoma State will blow the doors off the rest of its schedule.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Cultural affairs funding in Dallas and the city's Office of Cultural Affairs are two separate issues

Dallas City Manager Mary Suhm and District 3 council member Dave Neumann at the townhall meeting Neumann jointly sponsored with District 1 council member Delia Jasso Thursday night.

If an inter-galactic alien who had been briefed on Dallas before leaving its planet landed somewhere in the city and mistakenly wandered into a budget town hall meeting, the poor thing would scratch that part of its body that housed its thinking and reasoning mechanisms and go "Geez, I thought this was football country. What's all this talk about cultural affairs?"

And that would be a legitimate question because the further north in the city one of these townhall meetings is held the more likely it will be occupied by 30 or so folks who have been programmed to be so upset about the city manager's proposed budget concerning cultural affairs that they can't get their souffles to rise. And they can make it sound like hundreds and thousands of people will poor from their homes and descend upon city hall unless something is done about it. These folks are upset because (1) the spigot has been turned off the faucet from which pours tax monies flowing to various arts organizations and (2) the Office of Cultural Affairs (I wonder how many people in Dallas know that this office is located in the Majestic Theater?) is being merged with the Library Department.

I would estimate about 80 persons came to the Hitt Auditorium in Methodist Hospital Thursday night for a budget townhall meeting jointly sponsored by District 3 council member Dave Neumann (not so much an ally of the cultural affairs folks) and freshman District 2 council member Delia Jasso (who seemed to lend a more sympathetic ear to their arguments). Now 30 people in a room of 80 can seem like a significant number. But here's the real numbers: Those 30 people probably represent 100 percent of the people in a district passionate about this issue.

Follow along with me here while I play with some numbers. Let's say there's roughly 1.2 million people in the city of Dallas. That, of course, is not an exact figure, but it's close enough for the point I want to make. The city is divided into 14 council districts, each of which is supposed to contain an equal number of people. That means each council person represents roughly 86,000 persons. So now you have 30 people who really care about the future of cultural affairs and 85,970 who don't, or, in the case of the joint meeting last night, 30 defenders of the arts and 171,970 folks who think cultural affairs are what Jennifer Aniston engages in.

So how is all this going to play out? I have attended about a half-dozen of these town hall meetings during this current budget cycle and I have had talks with elected officials, those on the city staff and "interested third parties." What I have been able to piece together is that on the first issue -- funding the Office of Cultural Affairs doled out to arts groups around the city -- much of that is probably going to be saved IF (and I put that "if" in capital letters because it is, indeed a major "if') private investors can be found to kick in around 50 percent of the needed money. In political jargon, this is called "matching funds" -- Sam's Dairy agrees to donate $10,000 on condition that the City matches that amount. It's done all the time -- the Police Department receives a lot of grant money in the form of matching funds. One of the speakers at Thursday night's townhall meeting made the case for a small arts program she was running in Oak Cliff not that far from where the Jasso-Neumann gathering was taking place and she painted a vivid picture of a cultural alternative of the argument being made on behalf of the city's recreation centers.

What I think is going to happen is that, as the city council gets closer to voting on the final budget, City Manager Mary Suhm is going to perform another one of her Annual Miracles and inform the council that most, if not all, of the cultural affairs programs funded in the current budget will be funded again next fiscal year through matching funds.

That leaves the completely separate, largely cosmetic issue of what's going to happen to the Office of Cultural Affairs. It won't remain a stand-alone department. It will be merged with the Library Department and the position of director of the Office of Cultural Affairs will become an assistant director. The consensus of those I have talked to is that the only issue left to be resolved is whether the words "cultural affairs" will be part of the new department; i.e.
will it be called the Department of Library Services and Cultural Affairs. That is viewed as a good compromise by everyone except those in the Library Department who view Cultural Affairs somewhat like an adopted stepsister with leprosy.

So here's my prediction for cultural affairs in the upcoming budget: Funding for most, if not all, of the cultural affairs programs will be salvaged, and the Office of Cultural Affairs will become part of the Library Department. This not going to satisfy the Noisy 30, but those 85,970 other folks in each of the 14 council districts can join our inter-galactic alien visitor in knowing that cultural affairs means seeing George Strait in the same stadium as the Dallas Cowboys, Bruce Springsteen in concert, Dancing With the Stars or Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

A suggestion for all sports writers/reporters/editors

A complete ban on all stories about Brett Favre from the Super Bowl that concludes one season to the opening of the following season. He's been playing sports writers/reporters far better than Horowitz ever played the piano. Quit falling for his junk.

Two more reasons I'm looking forward to the movie "Nine"

Reason No. 1: Penelope
Reason No 2: Cruz

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

"Save our rec centers"

First Assistant City Manager Ryan Evans and District 10 City Councilman Jerry Allen at Mr. Allen's budget townhall meeting Tuesday night

A funny thing happened on the way to Dallas City Councilman Jerry Allen's District 10 budget townhall meeting Tuesday night. It got hijacked by the concerned citizens of Hamilton Park, a relatively small, predominantly black neighborhood nestled into a corner bounded roughly by LBJ (north), the DART red line (east), Forest Lane (south), and North Central Expressway (west). Although it is part of District 10, not that many people would associate it with Lake Highlands, which most consider the boundaries of Mr. Allen's district.

I would guess close to 50 percent of those attending Mr. Allen's townhall meeting, held at the Lake Highlands Freshman Center, were residents of Hamilton Park and their concern was identical to the concerns voiced in the three other townhall meetings, all in South Dallas, I have attended. Do something to preserve what hours can be preserved for the rec centers.

It's a fascinating development. The Lake Highlands Recreation Center is located less than 1,000 yards from where Mr. Allen's meeting was held, but not one speaker complained about hourly cutbacks there. But where the hours at Lake Highlands might have been trimmed, those at Hamilton Park's Willie B. Johnson Center were scalped. Under the city manager's currently proposed hours, Lake Highlands would be open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Willie B. Johnson, on the other hand, would only be open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. That's 45 hours of operations for Lake Highlands compared to 30 for Johnson. Not equitable at all.

One message is coming through, at least to me, in the first week and a half of these budget town hall meetings and that is money must be found, somewhere, somehow to keep these recreation centers open longer, especially those centers serving the minority communities. That should be the first and foremost priority of the Dallas City Council as it prepares the final budget.

And leave it to former council member Alan Walne to provide one way to find some of this necessary money. Although if I read this council correctly, these members are interested more in "what's in this for me" and not "what's in the best interest of my constituents," so Mr. Walne's absolutely brilliant idea will probably receive absolutely no traction. The last bullet on Page 21 of the slide presentation offered at every budget townhall meeting says: "International travel for business recruitment reduced." Mr. Walne suggests the word "reduced" should be replaced with the word "eliminated."

It can be argued that because the Mayor led a contingent of city council representatives on a trade mission to China that a couple of additional laundries and maybe a few restaurants opened here that wouldn't have otherwise and, yes, in the long term, these missions, it could be argued, might possibly lead to economic investments in our city we might not have achieved otherwise. But, let's get our priorities straight here. These are tough times we are dealing with and if we can keep the Willie B. Johnson, the Kleberg and other recreation centers open 15 more hours a week by eliminating trips to China and Belize than I say eliminate them. It's about giving our young people places to go and things to do that will keep them off the streets. It's about providing services to our senior citizens that give them a sense of worth and, by all that's holy, providing for our youth and our senior citizens is far more important than putting another feather in the cap of the Dallas Chamber of Commerce.

I must also praise Mr. Walne for his brilliant insights into PILOT as a veiled tax increase and the city council's failure to trigger the mechanisms to pay for the 2006 bond program like the voters instructed it to do. He also lamented the fact that more members of the council refused to follow Mr. Allen's suggestions for cutbacks to their own budgets.

But it was the Willie B. Johnson Rec Center that dominated the conversation Tuesday night. Mr. Allen's appointee to the library board took the cutbacks to the library hours gracefully but did mention that she wished more money could be found to purchase materials for the library during the upcoming fiscal year and I would argue that, after the rec centers, that really should be Priority No. 2. At the same time, I'm hoping such groups as Friends of the Libraries will use this budget as an excuse and a reason to redouble their efforts in securing funds from the private sector to purchase these materials.

Which brings me around to Cultural Affairs. Some woman had the effrontery at Mr. Allen's meeting to argue that funds should be made available to keep the Office of Cultural Affairs separate from the library. That should be at the bottom of the priority list. Here's what the city manager should do about the Office of Cultural Affairs: Continue her efforts to merge it with the Library system, but simply rename the merged department The Office of Library Services and Cultural Affairs. There you have it. What those misinformed souls I like to call the Art Farts don't understand is what's being eliminated is not the functions of the Office of Cultural Affairs, but much of the support needed to have two separate offices. In times like this, we should not be wasting money on this kind of duplication of efforts. And all those Art Farts out there should not begging for government handouts, but should be going out to those rich art patrons friends of theirs seeking donations. Look, it wasn't the city who built the new opera house and the new performance center. They were built with private donations and those kind of donations -- not tax dollars needed to keep our rec centers open and get more materials for the library and, dare I say it, pave additional streets -- should be what fuels the development of the arts in this city.

But the biggest idiot (Well maybe not the "biggest." It could be argued that the guy who didn't want to be "insulted" by having his sanitation rate reduced wore the Biggest Idiot of the Night crown.) of all waited until the end of the meeting, but she was one of those jerks that doesn't really want to ask a question. She wanted the opportunity to grandstand her own particular political agenda. Her stupid question was "When is the city going to begin working on the Trinity River Corridor Project" but then had the gall to say she "didn't have time" to wait around the for the answer which is, of course, not only has it already started but many major projects such as the Trinity River Audubon Center and Overlook Park are already completed and available to the public. But, like I suggested earlier, she didn't want her question answered, she just wanted a platform and she wouldn't have listened to the answer anyway because it would not have fit her agenda.

Finally, is there an electrician anywhere in the vicinity of the Lake Highlands Freshmen Center? The lights in the auditorium flickered throughout the meeting and it was distracting and annoying. That could be fixed and what's more, funds for fixing it will come from the budget of the Richardson School District. Can't beat that.

It's called a "trial balloon" and this one exploded early in flight

In all this talk about will there or won't there be a public option in any health care reform legislation, did anyone notice that President Obama was never the one who said the idea of a public option was being abandoned? No, that job fell to his Secretary of Health (actually the full title this days is Health and Human Services Secretary) Kathleen Sebelius.

This kind of "White House leak" used to be a common practice when democracy was really practiced in this country. It's what makes democracy work. In my days as a freelance writer and a reporter for United Press International, I would attend what were called "background" conferences at the White House, some of them even conducted by the President himself. A "background" conference meant we could use the information we were told by the White House officials, although we could never attribute it to anyone by name. So "a White House official" usually meant someone at a cabinet-level rank, a "top White House official" meant someone on the President's staff and a "chief White House spokesman" usually meant the President himself.

This was done so that the President could gauge the reaction to whatever policy or program he was thinking of initiating. If it received a positive reaction, then the following stories would begin "The White House confirmed today that ... " If it was met with a hostile reaction, the White House would simply deny making the statements. It was democracy in action in its purest form.

I'm saying all this because it was left to Ms. Sibelius to test the waters on substituting an ill-defined, nebulous "cooperatives plan" for a "public option" alternative in the proposed health care reform legislation. But as soon as the President saw that this idea would cost him hundreds of Democratic votes in the House of Representatives without one signal of support from the Republican lawmakers he was trying to court, the President quickly backed off.

And, let's face it, the Republicans aren't interested in providing health care to begin with. They are only interested in protecting the insurance companies that contribute so heavily to their re-election campaigns. The only thing Republicans will support is the status quo.

However, unless Americans are given the option of choosing between private and public health care plans, there will not be any kind of meaningful reform and the United States will continue to be a second-rate country when it comes to caring for its own citizens. One political observer went so far as to write today that "later this year President Obama will sign a health insurance reform bill into law that will indeed include a strong public option."

So there's that.

Let the mud slinging begin

It didn't take long for this campaign to get nasty. Hutch officially announces only yesterday and already Gov. Hair has this Website up and running.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Caraway urges residents to reclaim their neighborhoods

Dallas City Manager Mary Suhm and Mayor Pro Temp Dwaine Caraway
at the latter's Budget Town Hall Meeting Monday night at South Oak Cliff High School
City Manager Mary Suhm has a heart-to-heart conversation with a laid-off city employee
following Dwaine Caraway's Budget Townhall meeting Monday night
Dallas Mayor Pro Temp Dwaine Caraway didn't say this in so many words, but this was what was between the lines in what he said to his District 4 constituents: "Quit yapping so much about the city's failure to clean up the mess dumped in your neighborhoods and do a better job of taking care of it yourselves."

Caraway's message during his Budget Town Hall meeting Monday night at South Oak Cliff High School came after City Manager Mary Suhm sped through presentation of her proposed budget, figuring, I guess "If I talk really fast, the folks won't realize how bad this is." And when they did realize how bad it was, either Caraway, in effect, told them "You don't realize how good you've got it" or, in the case of one disgruntled city employee who was among those who received a pink slip last week and claimed the city was "putting a higher priority on things than on people," Ms. Suhm simply sat down with him face-to-face after the meeting for a heart-to-heart talk.

Now don't get me wrong. Caraway didn't condescend or make excuses. He made some valid points and observations. For instance, on the subject of economic development he said "I'm not going to try to get a Starbucks located in my district. A Starbucks would probably only hire one person from the district and besides, we can make our own coffee." About the illegal dumping a lot of folks complained about -- especially Code Compliance's seeming inability to stop it -- Caraway said: "People aren't driving here from North Dallas to dump their trash here. This is being dumped by people right here in our own district. You see it being dumped every day. I'm telling you to get the license plate numbers of the people that are doing that or at least the color and perhaps the make and model of the vehicle they are driving. Then report that."

He also said he was going to make an effort to crack down on "slum landlords" by forcing anyone who rents property -- even if it's just one house -- to declare himself a business and register with the city. "Then, if we have a code problem with a rental property we will know who to go to," Caraway said. And Ms. Suhm told all the homeowners in the audience to make sure they made out and filed away a valid will to help rectify property ownership questions.

I have been to three town hall meetings so far this budget season and all have been in the southern sector of the city. I will go to my first one in a northern area tomorrow night. Last week I attended two hosted by District 8's Tennell Atkins. The one common concern I have witnessed in all three is definitely not going to one-day-a-week garbage collection (there has not been the slightest peep about that, possibly because it means a reduction in the sanitation fee), but the cutbacks in recreation center hours. The residents of South Dallas are passionate about their rec centers, seeing them more as overall community centers. I will be interested to see if this concern is mirrored in the town hall meetings I attend in the areas north of downtown. I have a sneaking suspicion it won't be. And, if these suspicions are correct, than I have an idea, borrowed as it is from the so-called Robin Hood school funding theory. Take some more hours from the rec centers in the northern areas and give them to the folks in the south.

Southwest Center must be de-malled

I had not really thought about it until District 6 Dallas City Council member Steve Salazar brought it up at today's Economic Development Committee meeting, but indoor shopping malls really are yesterday's news. NorthPark is an exception to the rule, but it benefits from its unusual mix of tenants -- most of whom would not be found at any other indoor mall -- but also its location, anchoring the northeast corner of the Park Cities. Place that same mall anywhere else in the city and it's dead meat.

Look at the major indoor shopping malls around the area -- Valley View, Town East, Collin Creek, to name three I'm familiar with -- and you find areas that are quickly becoming ghost towns. That's why the point Salazar made following the briefing I called "What the hell are we gonna do with this Spruce Goose we got out here at the intersection of U.S. 67 and I-20 known as Southwest Center Mall?" is such a valid one. Salazar said any attempt to try to revive it as an indoor mall is doomed to failure.

Why is this so? The answer is simply convenience. Today's shoppers don't want to park a great distance from the store in which they want to shop. That's why, for instance, you will never find a store like a Petsmart in an indoor shopping mall. Folks purchasing a 50-pound bag of dog food don't want the burden of schlepping something like that through an indoor mall and then out through a parking lot to their car. You won't find a Blockbuster in an indoor mall. You can't return a rental at 3 a.m. if the store is located inside a locked indoor mall.

And, if you're looking for stores that might do well out a Southwest Center, I would argue that one might consider a Petsmart (people all over have pets), a Blockbuster or something like Toys R Us, which also doesn't put stores in indoor malls.

So the first thing that must be done if Southwest Center is to be revived is city planners must liberate themselves from the idea of preserving the indoor mall concept. It's yesterday's news.

What they should be looking at is more of the town-center-oriented development like the one pictured here featuring stores where people can drive right up and park at the front door of the store where they want to shop at. You can still keep the so-called anchor tenants, but now they are more free standing.

In addition to a Petsmart or a Blockbuster or a Toys R Us, (or even instead of those stores), the other thing that must be done (and, if today's briefing is any indication, it will be done), an effort must be made to find stores to accommodate the needs of the community. Don't believe the "If you build it, they will come" mentality. Yes, they will come, but only if it provides a need.

But the most important thing here is to abandon the entire idea of preserving Southwest Center in its present configuration as an indoor mall. Any attempt to do that will doom the center to permanent financial ruin and deny the neighborhood a much-needed opportunity.

New movies to be released tomorrow on DVD

Golden Boys (2009) *½ It seems particularly perverse to take actors who helped develop the ‘60's acting style of hang-loose, semi-improvisational immediacy and stick them in a creaky period piece glazed with arch gentility and ersatz quaintness.

Hannah Montana: The Movie (2009) **½ Cornpone caricatures abound (witness Hoedown Throwdown, in which Miley Cyrus sunnily urges us to "pop it, lock it, polka dot it"), but so do worthy messages about responsibility – to family, community, even Mother Earth.

Julia (2009) *** Tilda Swinton doesn’t merely act the title role in French director Erick Zonca’s Julia—she devours it, spits it back up, dances giddily upon it, twirls it in the air.

The Last House on the Left (2009) ** If the original could be accused of having a real point (even a subtext), the uninspired remake has none whatsoever.

Surveillance (2009) *½ At the end, all is horrifically explained, the body count inflates, yet hardly anything makes sense. In filmmaker Jennifer Chamber Lynch’s father’s films, little is explained, yet because he’s so gifted at mining our deepest fears and scariest desires, logic is excused.

Tyson (2009) **** What’s so affecting about boxer Mike Tyson in the film is that he doesn’t seem monstrous at all. To the contrary, Iron Mike, having meted out epic suffering in the ring and other venues, seems to be a man who has suffered genuinely, even terribly, in the course of a life that he never believed would last 40 years.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Sen. McCain on Justice Sotomayor

David Fitzsimmons, Arizona Daily Star

Let's privatize the Fire Department

This could be a great incentive for the economy. Not only would it go a long way to solving Dallas city government's budget woes, it would create a giant new private industry in fire care insurance. See, if your house caught fire, the private fire department would first determine if you had insurance before sending units to battle the blaze. Then once the fire was extinguished with hopefully little loss of life and/or property, the fire department would send you a bill for its services, determined by how long it took to fight the fire, how many and what kind of equipment was needed, whether follow up procedures like arson investigators were required, etc. Then you would file a claim with your fire insurance company in hopes it would pay at least part of the bill left after the $100,000 deductible was applied. Of course your claim could be denied completely based on pre-existing conditions (i.e., a wood-frame house) or acts of G-d (lightning strikes). And the millions of Americans who could not afford the insurance or whose employers refused to provide it would be left without any protection for their homes. But that would be a small price to pay for our freedom from the socialized fire fighting system we have today. (Does Dallas Fire-Rescue have Death Panels? I'm betting it does.)

Kate Winslet as a TV Mildred Pierce?

I'm hearing from reliable sources that Oscar-winner Kate Winslet's next major project will be Mildred Pierce, to be written and directed by Todd Haynes (Far From Heaven). Since the project is intended as a television miniseries, I'm thinking it will be less a remake of the 1945 film for which Joan Crawford won her only Oscar and more a fresh adaptation of James M. Cain's novel. (Other Cain novels adapted to film in the 1940s included the classics The Postman Always Rings Twice and Double Indemnity). From what I hear, the only holdup to the Winslet-Haynes project is finding someone to pick up the tab. The leading contender right now appears to be HBO.

There's also talk that, because of the successes of Doubt and Julie and Julia, that actresses Meryl Streep and Amy Adams should find more films to co-star in together. One such talked about project is a remake of All About Eve, which would be a great career move for Ms. Adams (What else does Ms. Streep have to prove?). I'm hearing if the Ms. Adams is not available, Anne Hathaway would be a possibility.

New York Times' prediction for Nebraska's 2009 football season

Nebraska is my pick as Big 12 North champion, based on an expected improvement from the defense and the recently splendid play of the offense. But, to fully beat this phrase into the ground, work remains to be done. This begins on defense, where the Huskers struggled against the Big 12’s best a season ago. Given the changes on offense, Nebraska may need its defense to carry the team early, so an improvement must be made. Speaking of the offense, Nebraska must locate capable skill players on the outside to complement its new quarterback. The offensive line looks solid, and I believe the effective ground game will take a lot of pressure off of junior quarterback Zac Lee as he gains experience on the F.B.S. level. The schedule shapes up for a good level of success, though the Huskers must take on its three prime North division rivals on the road. Another date with Oklahoma may be a tough game to pull out. Nevertheless, I feel secure in putting Nebraska in the Top 25, and am not very far from predicting a 10-win finish for the Big Red; in that case, Nebraska would lose to only Virginia Tech and Oklahoma. I can’t got that far in 2009, seeing that I believe N.U. will lose one of its three road games against its division, but that’s all: 9-3, 6-2 in the Big 12, and back atop the North.

Hair-Hutch battle goes national

The Republican gubernatorial battle between Gov. Hair and Sen. Hutch received national attention today with a prominent story in The New York Times. Although it didn't come right out and say Hutch is in trouble, it hinted at the fact. Here is one particularly telling paragraph:

"In years when there is no presidential election, fewer voters generally turn out for the primaries. Since Republicans typically dominate statewide races in Texas, the winner of their primary usually cruises through the general election. That means a relatively small number of highly motivated conservative voters play a pivotal role in choosing the governor, strategists say."

Combine that with a paragraph that appeared earlier in the story and you get the picture:

"Mr. Perry ... enjoys strong support from evangelical leaders and the voters who usually turn out heavily in the primaries: members of antitax groups, religious conservatives, creationists, foes of abortion and a variety of other Texans opposed to big government."

The story also hinted that Hair doublecrossed Hutch:

"Elected to the Senate 16 years ago, Ms. Hutchison, now 66, has wanted for a long time to be governor. She pulled out of the governor’s race in 2006 only after several major Republican donors persuaded her that Mr. Perry would not run for a third term. Mr. Perry, 59, denies he ever made such a promise, though some Republican donors now supporting Ms. Hutchison insist he did. In any event, the bad blood has made it impossible for party leaders to head off a primary fight this time around, several prominent Republicans said."

This is going to get much bloodier before it's over.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Springsteen, stories, smart rules and stupid rules

If you attend a Bruce Springsteen concert today, you will be treated to between two and a half to three and a half hours of the finest rock music to ever emanate from a concert stage. But those, like me, who remember pre-Born in the U.S.A. concerts, recall that Springsteen usually sprinkled these wonderful stories among the great songs. You can get a small taste of that on his first live album, the retrospective that covers the first 10 years of his live appearances. He introduces The River on that album with a universal tale about his relationship with his father. And although not many can relate to the story through its details (How many of us had our father shear our long hair while we were in the hospital recovering from a motocycle accident?), we can all relate to it as a study in parental relations, the causes of conflicts and the resolutions, especially the heartbreaking emotional climax to Springsteen's story: "He said 'That's good'." Every time I hear it I vividly recall my relations with my father who died 48 years ago. (I always wish, however, Springsteen had used that particular story to introduce Independence Day, but that's a minor quibble).

Springsteen's stories were carefully choreographed although they seemed immediately spontaneous. Listening to them you felt you were among a small handful of extremely lucky individuals to be in the audience on that particular night when Springsteen told a particular tale. I remember one show -- it was either in 1975 or 1978 -- and in the middle of his Growin' Up, Springsteen went into this extended recollection of his teenage years -- his lost teenage years -- as he struggled to make some sense of his life and to give his future a purpose. At one point in the story he talked about being lost in a dense New Jersey wood, trying to push aside the brush in a vain attempt to make it to a roadway that would eventually lead him out. Suddenly, he came upon a clearing in the forest "and ... there ... in that clearing ..." At that moment, an overhead spot illuminated a guitar in its stand that had been placed, without any of us noticing it, in the center of the stage. The audience went absolutely apoplectic and the intensity heightened as Bruce slowly walked over to the guitar as though it had been deposited by G-d or some intergalactic alien, picked it up, inspected it and finally began playing the chords leading into the last verses of Growin' Up. Choreographed? Sure. But, damn, it seemed so right at the moment.

I really miss hearing those stories in Springsteen concerts today. Quite logically, I guess, perhaps Springsteen feels that stories of teen angst would sound ridiculous coming from the mouth of someone who's going to turn 60 years old next month. But I'm betting Bruce has some feelings about how his emotional teen years has translated into the way he has raised his own sons, the oldest of which is a sophomore at Boston College and the youngest of which is 15. Those stories are universal as well.

I remember growing up we had some definite rules my little brother and I had to obey. I quickly placed these rules into two groups: smart rules and stupid rules. It didn't matter, however, which group a rule was categorized in, we had to obey them all. One rule we had to obey, for example, was "Don't run with a pair of scissors in your hand." Now that was a smart rule. You could trip, fall and seriously injure yourself by running with a pair of scissors in your hand. (I was so intent on self-preservation as a kiddo, I never thought about the fact that I could run blindly around a corner and smack into someone else with an outstretched pair of scissors in my hand.) Another rule in our household was "You don't sing at the supper table." This was a prime example of a stupid rule. Who could be hurt (except those purists who knew none of us could carry a tune in a bucket) by any of singing at the dinner table? I can tell you today that some of my best times are those my granddaughter, my son and I spend around the dinner table singing songs. And, following in a long and heralded family tradition, my granddaughter, who's 3 and a half, remembers all the words to every song and can't carry a tune worth a lick. But we have fun.

Of course, her favorite song right now is Oogum Boogum, but I have plenty of time to work on her music education. After all, I was 6 before I realized there was popular music beyond The Woody Woodpecker Song.

Paul McCartney: If it wasn't for Les Paul, there never would have been The Beatles

For those still doubting whether Les Paul, who died earlier this week, had more influence on popular music than anyone else in the 20th century, you ought to take a look at this marvelous overview of Paul's life and career. What's more you can hear the man himself, especially his guitar playing which was still marvelously fluid right up until the end.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Why I refuse to shop at Whole Foods

John Mackey, the right-wingnut co-founder and CEO of Whole Foods wrote a piece that appeared (where else) in the Wall Street Journal in which he outlined eight ideas for reforming health care that would only provide tax-break shelters for him and all his rich friends and continue to deny health care to all those who cannot afford it now. My personal favorite was this: "Repeal government mandates regarding what insurance companies must cover." What a great idea, John! Allow insurance companies to deny coverage in even more cases. Another one of his ideas: Forbid malpractice suits against doctors who butcher their patients. Now I'm worried about the effect of the merchandise they peddle at Whole Foods. It may cause brain rot and, what's worse, under Mackey's ideas, it probably wouldn't be covered by health insurance, unless you're really wealthy and can afford Mackey's $2,500/per year deductible.

A 50-50 split on health care reform

According to a recent CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll, a majority of Americans over the age of 50 oppose health care reform while a majority of those under 50 support it.

I guess that stands to reason. Older folks are more vulnerable, more set in their ways, opposed to any changes, and are more likely to be facing end-of-life questions. For some reason, they are convinced that health care reform will limit their access to health care, even though, in reality, it will expand it.

Should you visit District 9

Oh my gosh, another horror-sci-fi thriller. Yawn. That was my immediate reaction to the film District 9, which opens this weekend. That's before I read raves about it here and here. Now I'm thinking it might be worth a visit.

Maggiano's trolling for customers

Just received a bulk e-mail from one of my favorite individuals on this planet, Elaine Maben, part of the banquet sales team at Maggiano's in NorthPark. Let me give you an example of what a great customer service person she is. Several years ago, My Hero's daughter and her intended were looking for a place to hold their rehearsal dinner. I suggested Maggiano's and they went by the restaurant to give it the once-over. When I inquired how the inspection went, I was told they really liked Maggiano's but the fact that there was no baked ziti on the banquet menu options was a deal-breaker. I called Elaine, told her of the developments and she said, in effect, "If they want baked ziti, I will guarantee they will have baked ziti."

That rehearsal dinner was such a success, I'm betting it's one of the reasons My Hero returned to Maggiano's to host a banquet commemorating her youngest son's college graduation.

My only regret about all this is that Ms. Maben didn't have this promotion she wrote about in today's e-mail going on for the two above mentioned affairs. What they are doing is this: If you hold a banquet between now and Nov. 1 in which the total meal and beverage bill comes to more than $1,000, Maggiano's will knock $100 off the bill.

For those thinking of more intimate family dining instead of a Henry VIII-type meal, Maggiano's will send you a $10 coupon just for sending them your e-mail address, birthday date and/or anniversary date (the e-mail didn't say it had to be any specific anniversary). So, if you want to celebrate the first anniversary of your triple heart by-pass (not recommended, by the way) or any other occasion at Maggiano's, send Elaine an e-mail at

And don't forget the baked ziti.

New York Times' prediction for Houston's 2009 football season

I believe Houston is a real team to watch in 2009. I have high hopes for the Cougars, who have a strong enough offense to carry it to the Conference USA crown. Only my issues with the defense prevent me from putting the Cougars in the Top 25, though I would not be surprised if the team wins enough games to end the season in the 22 to 25 range. Simply put, I don’t believe any team in conference play can stop Houston, though a team like Tulsa, for instance, will have the offense needed to keep the game close. But here’s the concern: I don’t believe Houston has the horses to stop many teams, either. That will keep the Cougars from being more than a dark horse contender to break into the B.C.S., though I still am confident this deficiency will not prevent U.H. from winning as many as 10 games and the Conference USA title. To win 10, Houston would need to beat Texas Tech: this would allow the Cougars one loss in Conference USA play, which despite this team’s talent is a near certainty. My final prediction is a 9-3 finish, with a win in the conference championship game catapulting a still-young squad to even greater heights in 2010.

You remember what happened the last time No. 2 Texas played for the National Football Championship in the Rose Bowl

Sports Illustrated is predicting No. 1 Florida will play No. 2 Texas next Jan. 7 in the BCS title game in the Rose Bowl.

The magazine also predicted Oklahoma would end the year at No. 3 in the nation, with its only loss coming at the hands of the Longhorns on Oct. 17. It picked Oklahoma State to finish seventh. No other Big 12 teams made the mag's Top 20, but in its 1-120 rankings Kansas was 23rd, Texas Tech 26th, Missouri 31st, Nebraska 34th, Colorado 55th, Baylor 61st, Kansas State 69th, Texas A&M 79th and Iowa State 90th. Other Texas schools included TCU 17th, UTEP 46th, Houston 57th, SMU 89th, Rice 107th and North Texas 119th.

Its bowl predictions for Big 12 and Texas teams are:
Independence Bowl: Colorado vs. Western Michigan
Holiday Bowl: Cal vs. Nebraska
Sun Bowl: Oregon vs. Texas Tech
Insight Bowl: Michigan vs. Missouri
Armed Forces Bowl: TCU vs. Houston
Cotton Bowl: Oklahoma State vs. LSU
Liberty Bowl: UTEP vs. Auburn
Alamo Bowl: Kansas vs. Michigan State
Fiesta Bowl: Oklahoma vs. Boise State
BCS: Florida vs. Texas

Want to know the salary of a city employee?

Pick a city, any city in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Then enter the name of an employee of that city in the proper place on this Web page and you can discover how much money that employee makes.

According to its creator, the Web site "provides a database of names, positions and salaries for more than 45,000 individuals who have been or are currently employed by cities." It came from open records requests made for cities with a population of at least 10,000.

I did type in some names of people I know who work for the city of Dallas and got nothing in return, but then I searched in an entire department and found what I was looking for. It turned out the person I was searching for was listed by an initial and not a first name.

A tip of the hat to Rick Wamre at the Advocate for alerting me about the site.

Making note of the passing of a musician that went largely unnoted

Willy DeVille died Aug. 6 of pancreatic cancer. Not that many people made note of it. I certainly didn't know about it until my South Florida correspondent clued me in.

For those who don't know Willy DeVille or ever heard of his band, Mink DeVille, the house band at the New York club where punk music was born, CBGB, you might remember the theme song to that much-loved movie The Princess Bride called Storybook Love. DeVille wrote it and was nominated in 1987 for an Academy Award for that song. He performed it himself on that year's Oscar telecast. The song came from DeVille's first solo album, Miracle, which was produced by Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits. At the same time, Knopfler was working with director Rob Reiner on The Princess Bride and realized immediately the subject of Storybook Love was the same as the subject of the movie. Knopfler sent the song to Reiner, who loved it.

A year after Storybook Love, DeVille moved to New Orleans and helped invigorate that city's rhythm and blues revival.

Critic Robert Palmer had this to say about DeVille: "Mr. DeVille is a magnetic performer, but his macho stage presence camouflages an acute musical intelligence; his songs and arrangements are rich in ethnic rhythms and blues echoes, the most disparate stylistic references, yet they flow seamlessly and hang together solidly. He embodies (New York's) tangle of cultural contradictions while making music that's both idiomatic, in the broadest sense, and utterly original."

Doc Pomus, who with one-time collaborator Mort Shuman, wrote such early rock 'n' roll classics as A Teenager in Love, Save the Last Dance for Me, This Magic Moment, and Viva Las Vegas, and later composed with DeVille, said "DeVille knows the truth of a city street and the courage in a ghetto love song. And the harsh reality in his voice and phrasing is yesterday, today, and tomorrow—timeless in the same way that loneliness, no money, and troubles find each other and never quit for a minute."

DeVille was three weeks shy of 59 years old when he died.

I finally found someone who actually went to Woodstock

I have maintained for the last 40 years that anyone who claimed the original Woodstock music festival was some kind of rock utopia simply wasn't there. They just saw the movie. But thanks to my South Florida correspondent who pointed me in the direction of this Newsweek article written by one of the magazine's national affairs reporters, Mark Hosenball, I have finally read the words of another refugee, albeit one who bailed before the mess was even a third over. Hosenball writes quite honestly:

"Woodstock was, if not a nightmare, then a massive, teeming, squalid mess. If you like colossal traffic jams, torrential rain, reeking portable johns, barely edible food, and sprawling, disorganized crowds, then you would have found Woodstock a treat."

Because he left early, however, Hosenball didn't know that even the "barely edible food" ran out, food packages had to be airlifted in (the concert was officially declared a disaster site) and that perhaps he managed to get onboard the last ground vehicle that had the means of escaping the site. For the rest of us, my younger brother and I included, we had to wait until the logjam of parked cars blocking all roads to the site became dislodged before we could begin to make our way home -- something like three days after the festival was over.

Did the entire mess teach us an important lesson? I dunno. But I'll tell you this: a couple of months later my brother and I were at the Rolling Stones concert at Altamont. That should tell you something.

Five key reasons why newspapers are failing

A Bill Wyman, who, I am assuming, has never played bass guitar for the Rolling Stones, is writing a series on why newspapers are failing. Part 1 can be found here.

One of the interesting points he makes is that "Consumers don’t pay for news. They have never paid for news." Instead, Wyman says, the advertisers were paying for the news and the basic business model for a newspaper was that is was not in the business of selling news, but in the business of selling advertising. However, when the newspapers subscribers grew older and died off, and were not replaced by younger ones, the newspapers should have changed their business model, but didn't. Why? "Because of a quirk in the way the newspaper industry was viewed by investors prevented that. Wall Street’s implacable demand for increased returns—ever-improving returns on a traditional net of 20 percent or more—which the papers and their parent companies focused on to the detriment of evolution."

"The papers could have used the money they were making to, in essence, buy the future of communications," Wyman writes. "Instead, they used it for something else: pleasing Wall Street, and consolidation. In other words, the papers were taking their profits and investing in a future not of technological change and institutional challenges, but one defined only by the search for more profits."

An interesting theory. I wonder what Belo head Robert Decherd thinks of it.

There's more going on here than just anti-health care reform emotions

Has anyone else noticed that the mobsters who storm town hall meetings in the guise of opposing much-needed health care reform are all white?

And The New York Times editorialized today that many of these mobsters are targeting small business owners, telling them that health care reform could drive them out of business. "These proprietors would be wise to ignore the rhetoric and take a closer look. A vast majority of small businesses and their workers are likely to benefit greatly. They should be supporting, not opposing, reform."

"Small businesses would reap substantial benefits if their employees were insured," the Times said. "Their work forces would likely become healthier, and they would have an easier time attracting or holding talented employees. Even more striking, with health care reform, small firms could buy insurance at substantially lower rates."

It did acknowledge that some firms might be forced to pay a penalty if they did not provide health insurance to their employees but it also estimated the number of penalized firms would be about .0065 of all the employers in the country.

Vaya Con Dios, Les

The death of Les Paul today is not going to receive 1/100 of the media attention given to the death of Michael Jackson. But as far as influencing music, I would be hard-pressed to name another figure that had as much as Les Paul. It's inconceivable to imagine what music would sound like today if there had never been a Les Paul.

Perhaps we can surmise that someone at sometime would have invented the electric guitar and multi-tracking, but that's just an assumption. Les Paul did it and it changed the direction of popular music. If I had to name one person responsible for the advent of rock music, that person would be Les Paul.

All I need is my twittering merit badge to make Eagle Scout

It seems the Boy Scouts are moving away from rubbing two sticks together and the double underhanded yeoman's shank (or whatever the hell that infernal knot that always gave me fits was called) and moving in the direction of the Internet and the iPhone. From Wendy Kurten, marketing director for Boy Scouts of America Circle 10 Council: "As our time changes, we are going to have to change along with it. So we're trying to educate our boys on the front end to be better prepared for the future."

Meanwhile, in Japan, Boy Scouts are learning how to design and market the next electronic gizmo so Boy Scouts here can have it included in their handbooks 50 years from now. So, you know, they can be better prepared for the future.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Olbermann Redux: "There is no death panel, Ms. Palin"

Finally as promised a Special Comment on this terrible moment in American history, and those unfortunate and irresponsible Americans who have brought us to it.

"The America I know and love," the quitter governor of Alaska Sarah Palin began, "is not one in which my parents or my baby with Down Syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama's 'death panel' so his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment of their 'level of productivity in society,' whether they are worthy of health care. Such a system is downright evil."

Of course it is, Ms. Palin, and that is why it does not exist, has not existed, and would never, under this president, nor any other president, ever exist, in this country.

There is no 'death panel.' There is no judgment based on societal productivity. There is no worthiness test. But there is downright evil, and Ms. Palin, you just served its cause. You shouted "fire" in a crowded theater — a hot one — and then today tried to roll it back with "no, no, sorry, not fire, I meant flashlights."

Too little, too late, too obvious. Madam, you are a clear and present danger to the safety and security of this nation. Whether the 'death panel' is something you dreamed, or something you dreamed-up, whether it is the product of a low intellect and a fevered imagination, or the product of a high intelligence and a sober ability to exploit people, you should be ashamed of yourself for having introduced it into the public discourse, and it should debar you, for all time, from any position of responsibility or trust in the governance of this nation or any of its states or municipalities.

But it will not. Because a percentage of America does not want explanations nor serious conversation. It wants panic and the guilty thrill of chaos and an excuse to bash skulls and hang people in effigy. Or not in effigy. Ms. Palin, what, in spirit, is the difference between this monstrous image of a congressman hanged in effigy and the indefensible smile of pride on the idiot's face.

And this image with not one murderer in the mob even feeling the need to hide his face for fear of justice that would never come? They are both, to use your phrase, "Death Panels." Ms. Palin, you might as well have declared that the government is being run by a coven of witches with fake Kenyan birth certificates.

And you might as well have told the vast unthinking throng that mistakes your ability to wink for leadership, that they should start shooting at Democrats. There would be no need to tell them to bring guns. Others have done that. Somebody left his at an Arizona Town Hall.

And incidentally, Madam, you have forfeited your right to be taken seriously the next time you claim offense at somebody mentioning your children. You have just exploited your youngest child, dangled him in front of a mindless mob as surely as if you were Michael Jackson. You have used this innocent infant as an excuse to pander to the worst and least of us in this nation. You have used him to create the false image of 'death panels.'

The only 'death panels,' Ms. Palin, are the figurative ones you have inspired with such irresponsible, dangerous, facile, vile, hate speech. The death of common sense. The death of logic.The death, perhaps, of Democracy, at the hands of mob rule. If someone is hurt at one of these Town Halls, pro-Reform, anti-Reform, or, most likely, as these things tend to play out in the real life you know so little about, Ms. Palin — if the hurt befalls an innocent bystander —you will have contributed to the harm.

You might very well become, Ms. Palin, the very thing you have sought to create in the lurid imaginations of those spoiling for a fight, waiting for an excuse, looking for a rationalization of their own hatred, their own racism, their own unwillingness to accept Democracy. You, Ms. Palin, may yet become the de facto chairman of a Death Panel. Your higher calling, Ms. Palin. God forgive you, Ms. Palin.

Keith Olbermann's "Special Comment" on heath care reform

Finally tonight, as promised, a Special Comment on Health Care Reform in this country, and in particular, the “public insurance option.” In March of 1911, after a wave of minor factory fires in New York City, the City’s Fire Commissioner issued emergency rules about fire prevention, protection, escape, sprinklers. The City’s Manufacturers Association in turn called an emergency meeting to attack the Fire Commissioner and his ‘interference with commerce.

The new rules were delayed. Just days later, a fire broke out at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory. The door to the fire escape was bolted shut to keep the employees from leaving prematurely. One hundred and fifty of those employees died, many by jumping from the seventh floor windows to avoid the flames. Firefighters setting up their ladders literally had to dodge the falling, often burning, women. This was the spirit of the American corporation then. It is the spirit of the American corporation now. It is what the corporation will do, when it is left alone, for a week. You know the drill. We all know the drill.

You get something done, at a doctor’s, at a dentist’s, at an emergency room and the bills are in your hands before the pain medication wears off. And if you’re one of the lucky ones, and you have insurance, you submit the endless paperwork and no matter whether it’s insurance through your company, or your union, or your non-profit, or on your own dime, you then get your turn … at the roulette wheel.

How much of it is the insurance company going to pay this time? How much of it is the insurance company - about which you have next to no choice, and against which you have virtually no appeal - how much is this giant corporation going to give you back? What small percentage of what they told you they were going to pay you, will they actually pay you?

You know the answer. And, you know the answer if you don’t have insurance. But do you know why that’s the answer?

Because the insurance industry owns the Republican Party. Not exclusively. Pharma owns part of it, too. Hospitals and HMO’s, another part. Nursing homes - they have a share. You name a Republican, any Republican, and he is literally brought to you by… campaign donations from the Health Sector. Sen. John Thune of South Dakota? You gave the Republican rebuttal to the President’s weekly address day before yesterday. You said the Democrats’ plan was for…
“…government run health care that would disrupt our current system, and force millions of Americans who currently enjoy their employer-based coverage into a new health care plan run by government bureaucrats.”

That’s a bald-faced lie, Senator. And you’re a bald-faced liar, whose bald face is covered by…your own health care plan run by government bureaucrats. Nobody would be forced into anything; and the Public Insurance Option is no more a disruption than letting the government sell you water, and not just Poland Spring and Sparkletts. But, as corrupt hypocrites go, Senator, at least you’re well paid. What was that one statement worth to you in contributions from the Health Sector, Sen. Thune?

Five thousand dollars? Ten? We know what you are, Sir, we’re arguing about the price. What about your other quote? “We can accomplish health care reform while keeping patients and their doctors in charge, not bureaucrats and politicians.” Wow, Senator - this illustrates how desperate you and the other Republicans are, right? Because Sen. Thune, if you really think “bureaucrats and politicians” need to get out of the way of “patients and their doctors,” then you support a woman patient’s right to get an abortion, and you supported Michael Schiavo’s right to take his wife off life support, and you oppose “bureaucrats and politicians” getting in the way, and we’ll just mark you down on the pro-choice list. That’s a rare misstep for you Sen. Thune. No twelve-thousand dollar payoff for that statement! I am not being hyperbolic, am I, Senator? On the money?

Sen. Thune has thus far received from the Health Sector, campaign contributions - and all these numbers tonight are from “The Center For Responsive Politics” - campaign contributions amounting to one million, $206,176. So much for Sen. Thune. How about Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite? Good evening Ma’am. You are the Florida representative who claimed on the Floor that Democrats had…”…released a health care bill which essentially said to America’s seniors: drop dead.”

Now those are strong, terrorizing, words - that’s exactly what your Insurance and Medical Overlords wanted to hear. But are you truly worth every dollar of the $369,000,255 of them you have received over the years from the Health Sector? I’d reed the rest of the operative part of your speech myself, but your rendition actually cannot be matched:

Listen up, America, seniors have special needs. This bill ignored the, ignores the needs of Florida’s health care system. We should be fixing what is broke. Not disseminate ... disseminating ... decimating, the care of our senior population. - July 21, 2009

You can always tell, can’t you, Congresswoman, when the hostage is reading her own ransom note, and when she is reading one written for her? So much for Rep. Brown-Waite. There are so many other Republicans, bought and sold - like the unfortunate Congresswoman there -by the Health Sector. Minority Leader McConnell of the Senate?

You’re worth $3.1 million to the Health Sector? A million and a half just for last year’s election? And I’m supposed to think you aren’t a sellout, a liar, a paid spokesman, a shill, a carnival barker? So much for Sen. McConnell. Rep. Joe Barton of Oklahoma - $2,660,000, Congressman? That’s ten times what Sen. Robert Byrd has accepted from the Health Sector. Congressman! What a guy! So much for Rep. Barton. Sen. McCain - $1.6? To serve the Hospitals, and the Drug Companies, and the Nursing Homes? And not to serve the retirement communities of Arizona? Or the cancer survivors? Or the veterans? So much for Sen. McCain. I could go on all night and never exaggerate in the slightest.

PBS pointed out that the health and insurance industries are spending more than a million, $400,000 a day, just to destroy the “public option” - the truly non-profit, wieldy, round-up and not round-down, government, from helping you pay your medical bills with about a billionth of the recklessness with which it is still paying Halliburton and its spin-offs to kill your kids.

And much of this money is going to, and through, Republicans. But that’s the real point tonight.
Not all of it is going through Republicans. Because the evil truth is, the Insurance industry, along with Hospitals, HMO’s, Pharma, nursing homes - it owns Democrats, too.

Not the whole party.

Candidate Barack Obama got more than $18 million from the Health Sector just last year. And you can bet somebody in the Health Trust, somebody responsible for buying influence, got fired over what Obama’s done. No, the Democrats are not wholly owned. Hundreds of Democrats have taken campaign money from the Health Sector without handing over their souls as receipts. But conveniently, the ones who are owned, have made themselves easy to spot in a crowd.

They’ve called themselves “Blue Dogs,” and they are out there, hand-in-hand with the Republicans who they are happy to condemn day and night on everything else, throatily singing “Kumbaya” with the men and women who were bought and sold to defend this con game of an American health care system against the slightest encroachment.

Rep. Mike Ross of Arkansas. Leader of the Blue Dogs in the House. You’re the guy demanding a guarantee that Reform won’t add to the deficit. I’m guessing you forgot to demand that about, say, Iraq. You’re a Democrat, you say, Congressman? You saw what Sandy Barham said?
Sandy Barham is 62 years old, she’s got a bad heart, and she’s hoping her valves will hold together for three more years until Medicaid kicks in, because she can’t afford insurance.
Not just for herself, mind you. For her employees. She needs the public option. So do those six people who work at that restaurant of hers, Rep. Ross. And why should you give a crap?
Because Sandy Barham’s restaurant is the Broadway Railroad CafĂ©, and it is at 123 West First Street North in Prescott, Arkansas.

Prescott, Arkansas, Rep. Ross. Your home town. You are Sandy Barham’s congressman. Hers, Sir. Not Blue Cross’s and Blue Shield’s, even if they do insure 75% of the state and they own you. The top donor so far to Congressman Ross’s bid for re-election next year? The Blue Dog PAC - $10,000. Second? Something called Invacare - $7,300. Oh, they make wheelchairs and rollers. And slings, they’re big in slings. Tied for third? The American Dental Association, another $5,000.

Your top donors by industry, Rep. Ross? Health professionals: $29,250. Then, Pharma and Health products: $12,250. And so far in your career, Rep. Ross, your total haul from the Health Sector is $921,000. That’s 90th in the combined list of donations for the House and the Senate, Sir. 90th out of 537. You should be proud, Congressman!

Except for the fact, that before you started living off the public dime, you owned a pharmacy. And your grandmother was a nurse. And turns out you’re not Sandy Barham’s congressman, you’re Blue Cross’s. So much or Rep. Ross.

Rep. Bart Gordon of Tennessee. Congressman? Undecided on the public option? At $1,173,000 in donations from the Health Sector, I’m surprised. You should have already said no - and loudly. The only thing you should be “undecided” about, is whether or not you’re really a Democrat. So much for Rep. Gordon. Sen. Max Baucus of Montana. Good evening, Senator.
So you’re supposed to be negotiating all this out with the Republicans and hesitant Democrats? To gain bi-partisanship with a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Health Sector? Bi-partisanship that will get you, what? A total of no votes? And your price has been, let’s see $414,000 in donations from Hospitals. About $667,000 from the insurance companies and just over a million from Big Pharma. There was a $1,300,000 from other health professional and $237,000 from Nursing Homes.

When you think of getting $237,000 in campaign contributions from nursing homes, Sen. Baucus, do you ever think about whether they subtract that amount of money evenly from all the patients suffering and dying in the lousy ones, or just from a few of the lousy ones? So much for Sen. Baucus. Sadly, this list could go on almost all night, too.

I could ask Blue Dog Congressman, Democrat John Tanner of Tennessee, if, since he’s gotten $215,000 from hospitals over the years, if I and the appropriate number of my friends were willing to make it $216,000, if we could buy his vote - or would there have to be an auction?
We could bring up Senator Hagan, and Congressman Pomeroy, who, at 628-thousand, appears to represent the Insurance Industry and not North Dakota. I could bring up Sen. Carper, and Sen.Blanche Lincoln.

Senator Lincoln? By the way, considering how you’re obstructing health care reform, how do you feel… every time you actually see Sen. Kennedy? I could bring up all the other Democrats doing their masters’ bidding in the House or the Senate, all the others who will get an extra thousand from somebody if they just postpone the vote another year, another month, another week, because right now without the competition of a government-funded insurance company, in one hour the health care industries can make so much money that they’d kill you for that extra hour of profit, I could call them all out by name.

But I think you get the point. We don’t need to call the Democrats holding this up Blue Dogs. That one word “Dogs” is perfectly sufficient. But let me speak to them collectively, anyway.I warn you all. You were not elected to create a Democratic majority. You were elected to restore this country. You were not elected to serve the corporations and the trusts who the government has enabled for the last eight years.

You were elected to serve the people. And if you fail to pass or support this legislation, the full wrath of the progressive and the moderate movements in this country will come down on your heads. Explain yourselves not to me, but to them. They elected you, and in the blink of an eye, they will replace you.

If you will behave as if you are Republicans - as if you are the prostitutes of our system -you will be judged as such. And you will lose not merely our respect. You will lose your jobs!

Every poll, every analysis, every vote, every region of this country supports health care reform, and the essential great leveling agent of a government-funded alternative to the unchecked duopoly of profiteering private insurance corporations. Cross us all at your peril.

Because, Rep. Ross, you are not the Representative from Blue Cross.

And Mr. Baucus, you are not the Senator from Schering-Plough Global Health Care even if they have already given you $76,000 towards your re-election. And Ms. Lincoln, you are not the Senator from DaVita Dialysis.

Because, ladies and gentlemen, President Lincoln did not promise that this nation shall have a new death of freedom, and that government of the corporation, by the corporation, for the corporation, shall not perish from this earth.

Good night and good luck.