Wednesday, April 29, 2009

How does Specter's switch effect KBH's strategy

Republican Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison has maintained for some time now she had no intentions of resigning her Senate seat to return to Texas to campaign for her party's gubernatorial nomination, even though it is widely believed she plans to run for governor in 2010. By not resigning, she was allowing Gov. Hair to solidify his standing with the fringe right wing that probably will decide the nominee. The reason she said she didn't want to resign was because she didn't want to create a situation in which a special election would be needed that could result in a Democrat winning, thus giving Democrats a filibuster-busting 60-40 advantage in Senate membership.

But it has appeared for some time now that Al Franken is going to be declared the winner in the Minnesota Senate race, making him the 59th Democrat in the upper chamber. Then yesterday, Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania announced he was switching party affiliations, making him the 60th Democrat.

So is there now any pressing need for KBH to stay on in Washington? I believe if she wins the Republican nomination she cruises to election as governor. But I also believe she has absolutely no chance of winning that nomination unless she returns to Texas immediately to begin re-positioning the GOP in this state.

Almost reuniting Meryl and Amy

I was not a big a fan of the movie "Doubt" as some, but what I did enjoy was the acting, especially those two-person scenes involving Meryl Streep and one of the actors in the film: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Viola Davis or Amy Adams. I especially enjoyed her scenes with Ms. Adams, who is the most refreshing talent to come into the movie world in the last 10 years.

Now Ms. Adams and Ms. Streep are co-starring in another film together, but judging from this trailer and what I know about the film, I can't see them having any scenes together. Ms. Streep plays Julia Child (and, typically, she seems to have the Child voice down cold) and Ms. Adams plays a young woman who, probably 50 years after Ms. Child wrote her cookbook, decides to do her own book based on cooking all of Ms. Child's recipes. Think of it as a lighter "The Hours" with no nervous breakdowns or suicides, but lots of food.

Enough really is enough

It's time to return civility to political discourse.

It's time to end the mudslinging, especially that coming from those dirty, rotten, cross-dressing slimeballs who oppose my agenda and are avoiding the real issues in this campaign. It's time to turn our backs on the politics of attack, especially when it comes from my chief opponent who is known to cheat on both his wife and his taxes on income he made from starring in porno films. It's time to do away with innuendos, like those coming from the rich and powerful closeted bigots financing my opponents, who spend more time with hookers than they do with their own families. It's time to end scare tactics and if you don't so so immediately, I promise you the world will come to a sudden, violent end by this time tomorrow.

Yes, dear friends, enough is enough!

Soft? Soft? Not Carlisle's Mavericks

I'm not sure I've ever been prouder of a Dallas Mavericks team than I am right now. They convinced me and should have convinced the rest of the world that they were a far superior team than the San Antonio Spurs. And these Spurs, led by a Tim Duncan who has never -- ever -- lost in the first round of the NBA playoffs -- kept coming back during last night's series-deciding game. But Dallas's strength, determination and abilities in the first and third quarters last night -- when they outscored the Spurs by a total of 61-39 -- was just too much to overcome. You can take that "soft" label many have applied to the Mavericks and toss it into the dumpster.

What made it even more special was that it was a total team achievement and that's a credit to Rick Carlisle and his coaching staff. I have absolutely no doubt that Carlisle is the major difference between this Maverick team and the one that bowed out the last two years in the playoff and no where is that more evident than the way the Mavericks are playing right now.

This time the last two years, the Mavericks were a tired team. They looked haggard the last month of the last two seasons and that carried over to their playoff performances, first against Golden State then last year against New Orleans. This season the Mavericks were playing their best basketball at the end of the regular season and that, too, has carried over into the playoffs. Channel 21 showed an interesting graphic during last night's game telecast: Only the Los Angeles Lakers have a better winning percentage than the Mavericks since March 31.

Now it appears the Mavs get to rest a couple of days before taking on the Denver Nuggets (I can't see how New Orleans can take that series). Much has already been said and more will be written and said in the upcoming days about how the Nuggets swept the Mavs this season. But two of those losses were by two points and a third was only by three. All four games were played before the Mavs went on their 7-2 tear to end the season. I honestly think, if Carlisle can keep this team playing at this level, they can take the Nuggets in a best-of-seven matchup. Just look at the way the Mavs, when the Spurs twice cut double-digit Maverick leads to four points in last night's game, how Dallas put their collective foot to the Spur's collective throat and cut off all breathing.

The one thing I and most of Mavericks fandom feared the most was finishing the season as the eighth seed. Why? Because we didn't want to face the Los Angeles Lakers. But I'm betting no one will be complaining, especially yours truly, if we get a shot at the Lakers now.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Hey, Longhorn, you looking at me?

For all you film buffs out there, the Robert De Niro Collection, which includes more than 1,500 boxes containing his heavily annotated scripts, film, costumes, props, etc., that document the actor's professional career from the 1960s through 2005 is closer, geographically, than you might think.

It is located at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin and it was opened to researchers and the public this week.

Here's an excerpt from one story written about the collection:

Filling more than 300 archival boxes, the paper portion of the collection includes De Niro's heavily annotated scripts and correspondence, makeup and wardrobe photographs, wardrobe continuity books, costume designs and posters and extensive production, publicity and research material.

"This is an important and incredibly rich collection," said Steve Wilson, associate curator of film at the Ransom Center. "It covers so many aspects of filmmaking, from scripts and screenwriting to costumes and film and video. Scholars and students can follow the development of such films as 'The Deer Hunter' from the printed page to the screen. I simply don't know of another film archive quite like it."

With about 8,500 items filling more than 1,000 boxes, the costumes and props within the collection constitute the center's largest single costume holding and include such iconic items as the leopard-print boxing robe worn by De Niro in "Raging Bull" and the voluminous, body-length coats of the creature in "Frankenstein."

The collection, appraised at more than $5 million, took more than two years to process, organize and catalog.

Another reason to make a pilgrimage to the state capital.

Hutchison's gas tax plan wrong on several levels

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, in a move designed more to boost her gubernatorial candidacy than anything else, plans to introduce legislation today that would allow Texas to keep all the money collected in taxes at the fuel pump. In other words, Texas would secede from the national highway program.

Her reasoning is that Texas is shortchanged because only 92 cents of every dollar we pay in federal fuel taxes ever finds its way back to Texas. Alaska, on the other hand, receives $4.21 for every dollar their citizens pay, so I'm doubting Hutchison's bill is going to get that much support from the big state up north.

Here are my problems with her idea. It's all highway driven and no transportation program or idea should be undertaken today without including some rail, especially high speed rail, components. And just when the federal government, thanks to the current administration, is beginning to address the nation's need for rail infrastructure, Hutchison's bill would exclude Texas from participation.

Second, according to the story about the bill in the Dallas Morning News, "Her Highway Fairness and Reform Act would let states keep all of the federal fuel taxes collected within their borders, on condition they use the funds to maintain interstate highways and for other road projects." Rail projects -- those that are needed the most here -- would be barred from receiving these much needed funds.

But, like I said, earlier, this legislation is not about solving Texas' transportation woes -- it's about positioning Sen. Hutchison against criticism from her probable GOP gubernatorial foe, Gov. Hair, who has accused the state's senior senator of not looking out for the best interests of Texas (as though Gov. Hair had looked out for the interests of anyone but the rich fringe right wing of the Republican Party).

If Hutchison was really interested in transportation in her home state she would demand an audit of the all the funds that Texas currently receives from both the federal and state gas taxes and then make sure more of those funds were dedicated to regional and statewide rail projects. We need to find ways to get polluting cars off the roads, not to build more roads to put more cars on.

The strategy of wearing out Tony Parker


Someone very close to me who really knows his basketball was questioning the San Antinio Spurs' strategy of not getting the ball in Tony Parker's hands at the end of the games in this Spurs-Mavericks series. ESPN.com's John Hollinger has an answer:

The most shocking thing about Saturday's loss was seeing Tony Parker run out of gas so visibly down the stretch. He had a breakaway with just less than four minutes left in the fourth quarter when Jason Kidd and Jason Terry both caught up to him. He missed both free throws, and his only shot the rest of the way was a tired-looking 3 off the dribble into the front rim.

Parker played 41 minutes and scored 43 points but had only 12 after the break and none in the final 7 minutes, 33 seconds. His teammates mustered only eight points during that stretch, allowing the Mavs to win despite getting diddly from both Dirk Nowitzki and Terry.

This reinforces the dominant theme of the Spurs' season: not enough help. Parker rarely played 41 minutes during a playoff game in past seasons, let alone 41 minutes of handling the ball for 15 to 20 seconds on nearly every possession. San Antonio got 68 points from Parker and Tim Duncan, but only 22 on 6-of-28 shooting from the others. Once Dallas clamped down on those two after halftime, the Spurs scored only 35 points in the second half.

Apparently what the Mavs are doing is forcing Parker to work hard for his open looks early in the games, plus forcing him to play some heavy defense, thus wearing him down in the stretch. Neat.

Let's see how that plan works tonight.

Not so fast

At first blush, one would think that the Texas Rangers should have Mitchell High High School (near Tampa, Fla.) senior Patrick Schuster high on their draft list. After all, Schuster will be on the mound today as Mitchell plays in the opening round of Florida's high school baseball playoffs and he will be going for his fifth consecutive no-hitter.

According to reports, Schuster has 90-mile-an-hour fastball, "a nasty slider and curve, each of which he trusts enough to throw on 3-2 counts." He has struck out 60 during his current string of four consecutive no-hitters.

Here's the deal, however: Two other high school pitchers threw six consecutive no-hitters -- Chris Taranto in Mississippi in 1961 and Tom Engle in Ohio in 1989 -- and neither of them became major league stalwarts.

Dylan-Nelson-Mellencamp tour coming to a ballpark near you

This tour that I said last month was a possibility is now definite and will be coming to that new baseball park in Grand Prairie that's right next to the race track on a very special day, August 7.
The complete tour schedule:
GCS Ballpark, Sauget, Ill., July 2
Coveleski Stadium, South Bend, Ind., July 4
Slugger Field, Louisville, Ky., July 8
Fifth Third Field, Dayton, Ohio, July 10
Classic Park, Eastlake, Ohio, July 11
CONSOL Energy Park, Washington, Penn., July 13
Coca-Cola Park, Allentown, Penn, July 14
New Britain Stadium, New Britain, Conn., July 15
Centennial Field, Essex Junction, Vt., July 17
Alliance Bank Stadium, Syracuse, N.Y., July 19
McCoy Stadium, Pawtucket, R.I., July 21
First Energy Park, Lakewood. N.J., July 23
Ripkin Stadium, Aberdeen, Md., July 24
Harbor Park, Norfolk, Va., July 25
Durham Bulls Athletic Park, Durham, N.C., July 28
Smokies Park, Sevierville, Tenn., July 29
The Dell Diamond, Round Rock, Texas, Aug. 4
Whataburger Field, Corpus Christi, Texas, Aug. 5
QuikTrip Park, Grand Prairie, Texas, Aug. 7
Camelback Ranch, Glendale, Ariz., Aug. 11
Cashman Field, Las Vegas, Nev., Aug. 12
Chukchansi Park, Fresno, Calif. Aug. 14
Banner Island Park, Stockton, Calif., Aug. 15

Monday, April 27, 2009

"Wolverine" falls victim to swine flu

Poor Wolverine just can't win. First, an alleged unfinished cut of the superhero film starring Hugh Jackman was leaked on the Internet. So backers scaled back its predictions for its opening weekend to around $70 million (down about $20 million for original expectations.)

Now comes word that Mexico has postponed its planned premiere of the film and may even close many of the theaters scheduled to show it because of the swine flu epidemic.

Here in the United States, the feat of contracting the contagious disease may result in a jittery public opting to stay away from communal gathering spots such as movie theaters until the threat subsides. And, if the outbreak gets worse, word is that domestic theater chains may close their outlets this weekend as well.

The classic beauties

Each year, People magazine, which loves to create lists, has one for the most gorgeous. Vanessa Hudgens, the 20-year-old star of High School Musical, tops the current list for reasons that are beyond me. And I've never even heard of the two that finished second and third.

Oh, well, the world is quickly passing me by. Thankfully someone dug into the vaults of Life magazine to dig up these photos of truly classic beauties. I gotta tell ya, the young whipper snappers on the People list just can't compare to these regal ladies.

New movies to be released tomorrow on DVD

Bride Wars (2009) * A girlie romantic comedy with tired slapstick pranks but not an ounce of self-respect or intelligence. The movie pretty much blows.

Hotel for Dogs (2009) ** A decent family film, sure to please animal-loving kids and their parents alike. Well-acted, the movie also looks good and is stocked with lots of goofy gadgetry. Agreeable Saturday afternoon piffle — friendly, formulaic, completely harmless.

JCVD (2008) **½ A canny piece of autobiography that looks at the man behind the legend and the legend behind the man.

Nothing But the Truth (2008) **½ In the spirit of its title, the film pivots on a plot twist that's both good and fair. And kudos to the ever-earnest Kate Beckinsale for surviving a prison brawl as splatterific as anything Mickey Rourke had to endure in "The Wrestler." Competently constructed and nicely acted by Beckinsale and Vera Farmiga. A fairly gripping cautionary tale.

The Uninvited (2009) *½ As is generally the case with Hollywood movies that use Asian horror films as their inspiration, the directors Thomas and Charles Guard seem to have glanced at the original, borrowed a few images and then made the movie according to some preconceived template of what makes audiences jump — instead of burrowing into the stuff that haunts our dreams. Weak even by the standard of uninspired recent Asian-horror remakes, this is more likely to induce snickers and yawns than shudders and yelps.

What Doesn’t Kill You (2008) *** It is worth seeking out for a brutally honest, achingly realistic, and emotionally compelling look at the other side of petty crime — the slow, painful path to legitimacy.

While She Was Out (2008) *½ Embracing outraged victimhood the way Angelina Jolie embraces a close-up, Kim Basinger, doing double duty here as a star and executive producer, appears oblivious to the script's idiocies.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Funny People Trailer

I have yet to buy into the Judd-Apatow-is-genius theory and Adam Sandler is like nails-on-the-blackboard to me. But folks who have seen this film have raved about it -- not so much as to say it will be an Oscar nominee for Best Picture, but so much as to say Sandler could be an actor nominee and Apatow's script could be nominated for original screenplay. And I must admit I reacted very positively to this trailer.

A poll looks at upcoming statewide races

Research 2000's polling for the Daily KOS is not good news for the two Republicans, Railroad Commissioner Michael Williams and State Senator Florence Shapiro of Plano, who have formally announced they are running for the U.S. Senate seat everyone believes will be vacated by Kay Bailey Hutchison when she decides to run for governor. Both Williams and Shapiro trail the two announced Democratic candidates, Former Comptroller John Sharp and Houston Mayor Bill White.

However, if you throw the names of a pair of Republicans who are not announced into the mix, Attorney General Greg Abbott and Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst, they come out on top in matches against Sharp and White.

On the governor's side, both Hutchison and incumbent Gov. Hair seem comfortably ahead of the one announced Democratic candidate, Tom Schieffer. Hutchison has a 57-35 percent lead, while Hair's advantage is 52-37.

Without a doubt, the biggest surprise I have had in three years on this show

I'm posting this in case you are one of the half dozen people in the world who hasn't heard Susan Boyle. I had heard all the stories about her, but had never actually heard her, until I viewed this today.
I have never watched an episode of "American Idol," which is the American version of this British TV show and I don't intend to start now. But, I will admit, this is something special.

Things look bad for McClatchy, but no one is uttering the "C" word

Yesterday's financial report issued by The McClatchy Company, owners of the Fort Worth Star Telegram, the Miami Herald and 28 other daily newspapers, was "far worse than analysts had anticipated," but nowhere in the reports is anyone mentioning closing any of the publications.

What is does question is whether McClatchy "will be able to generate enough cash to keep its lenders happy through the rest of the year."

Here's what appears to me the most dire paragraph in this report:

Falling out of compliance could force McClatchy to enter prickly negotiations with its lenders, as it had to do last fall to win greater flexibility at the cost of higher interest rates and requirements for more collateral. (Fitch Ratings analyst Mike) Simonton said those lenders might be reluctant to give the publisher much more leeway because of the widespread decay eating away at the newspaper industry.

I'm not sure what all that means, but it doesn't sound like it means the Startlegram won't see the beginning of 2010 -- at least not to me.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Were the Mavs making a statement tonight?


You don't make statements against the San Antonio Spurs. They've been through too much. However, tonight's game proves you don't make statements against the Mavericks either. Energized by a wildly enthusiastic home crowd, the Mavs demonstrated that by coming back from an embarrassing loss in San Antonio to put their collective foot on the Spurs collective throat tonight.

I departed American Airlines Center with more than 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter when the Mavs were up by 34 and I could tell that Dirk, Josh and Jason would not be seeing any more playing time. I probably could have left it when the Spurs starters did early in the third quarter.

I really liked the way the Mavs played defense in the first half. I especially liked the way Rick Carlisle used J.J. Barea to funnel Tony Parker toward help defense. As a result Parker had just 12 points.

The Mavs can't afford any letdown after this win, however. One thing that helped them tremendously was the fact that the Spurs had a miserable off-night shooting three-pointers, and you can't expect that to happen again in Game 4. You also can't expect to hold Tim Duncan to just four points in successive games. By the same token, however, if the Mavs had been completely consistent, they easily could have and probably should have scored at least 12 more points than they did in the first half. One thing is for certain, however: The starters for both teams should be well-rested for Saturday's game.

But, all in all, I enjoy it when I can head for the DART train with more than 10 minutes to play in a playoff game, confident the Mavs had the game in the bag.

"Hard Candy" meets "Twilight"


David Slade, who directed the inverted child predator saga Hard Candy, the film that introduced me to the talents of actress Ellen Page, has been signed to direct the third installment of the Twilight saga, Eclipse. Slade also made the film 30 Days of Night about vampires who take advantage of the long nights in Alaska. In this installment of Twilight, the Kristen Stewart character (left in this picture) is about to graduate from high school in Seattle and must chose (as most teenagers these days must) between the love of vampire Edward (Rob Pattinson, right in the picture) from the first film or werewolf Jacob (Taylor Lautner).
(I know exactly what she's going through. I remember my senior year in high school, I was faced with the choice between .... but, that's really a story for another time.)

Eclipse is set to open June 30, 2010. The second film in the series, the Chris Weitz-directed New Moon, opens Nov. 20.

Cannes 2009


Here's the lineup for the films selected to compete for the Palme d'Or during the 62nd Cannes Film Festival:

Pedro Almodovar's Los Abrazos Rotos
Andrea Arnold's Fish Tank
Jacques Audiard's Un Prophete
Marco Bellocchio's Vincere
Jane Campion's Bright Star
Isabel Coixet's Map of the Sounds of Tokyo
Xavier Giannoli's A L'Origine
Michael Haneke's Das Weisse Band
Ang Lee's Taking Woodstock
Ken Loach's Looking for Eric
Ye Lou's Chun Feng Chen Zui Se Ye Wan
Brillante Mendoza's Kinatay
Gaspar Noe's Enter the Void
Chan-Wook Park's Bak-Jwi
Alain Resnais' Les Herbes Folles
Elia Suleiman's The Time That Remains
Quentin Tarantino's Inglorious Basterds
Johnnie To's Vengeance
Ming-liang Tsai's Visage -
Lars Von Trier's Antichrist

The jury consists of French actress Isabelle Huppert (chair), Italian actress/filmmaker Asia Argento, Turkish actor/writer/director Nuri Bilge Ceylan, South Korean writer/director Chang-dong Lee, American writer/director James Gray, British writer Hanif Kureishi, Taiwanese actress Shu Qi, and American actress Robin Wright Penn (whose husband chaired last year's jury).

Other films that will be on view, out of the competition, include Heath Ledger's final film, Terry Gilliam's The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus. Walt Disney's 3-D animated feature Up was selected to open the festival.

The festival runs May 13-24.

Happy 72nd birthday, Jack

Even though I am one day late with the greetings

Don't try to stump the E-Street Band, baby

Dallas' proposed daytime juvenile curfew

I heard much of the debate yesterday during the Dallas City Council's agenda meeting on the subject of whether individuals 16 and younger should, for all practical purposes, be banned from cruising city streets between 9 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. on school days.

Our city leaders, showing their typical timidity on any subject that's halfway controversial, put off a vote until May 13 when Da Mayor decreed a decision will be made, one way or another. (Yesterday was the second public hearing without action on the matter.)

I thought most of those on the council were looking at this proposed ordinance in entirely the wrong way. They were seeing it as a potential hardship on kids and their parents who would have to pay the fines if their offspring were nabbed during curfew hours. They saw it as a "punish-the-kiddos" ordinance.

I have not talked to Police Chief David Kunkle about this, but I'm betting he's not viewing the proposal this wa, but as a crime-deterrent ordinance -- another tool he needs to keep reducing crime numbers in the city, including the most prominent crimes being committed, automobile and house burglaries. If these kids know that there could be repercussions for cruising the streets looking for cars or houses to break in, they won't be doing that. It doesn't matter whether the kids are in school, although I'm betting Kunkle would advocate that's where they should be.

Now, here's my problem: I'm convinced deterrents don't work. I've always been an outspoken opponent of capital punishment because I believe killing is wrong, regardless of who is committing the act. The argument I've always heard in favor of capital punishment is that it serves as a deterrent -- the possibility of death by lethal injection will prevent two men from barging through the door of a Fort Worth residence and killing a guy; it will stop a father from strangling his 2-year-old son; a 37-year-old man won't be gunned down in the parking lot of an Oak Cliff Mexican restaurant; will mean Kathleen Garza will be found alive and well; the fatal stabbing of Carl Dupree Willis; all of this would have been avoided; and Christine Robertson would still be alive.

Sure. Fine. Whatever. The U.S. is one of the few civilized countries in the world that still employs capital punishment and we have the highest murder rate of any of 'em. Yeah, that's some deterrent.

I've also recently completed a course geared to helping parents deal with children's behavior called "Love & Logic." It is based on the premise that deterrents, especially when dealing with the young, don't work. Why? Because our youngsters are fighting for control in a world in which they have very little control. The one thing they can control is their own behavior and they are going to go down swinging to maintain that control. What our city leaders should be doing, according to this theory, is giving juveniles incentives to modify their behavior, not threats of punishment if they don't.

But I'm willing to give Chief Kunkle the benefit of the doubt on this one. If I was sitting on that Dallas City Council come May 13, I would ask the chief to conservatively estimate by what percentage he expects auto, home break-ins and other crimes he feels are being committed by juvenile truants to be reduced during the next year. Then I would move to implement the daytime curfew for school days during the next year, to be made permanent only if these crime reduction numbers are reached or exceeded.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

I'm Gavin Newsom and I'm running for governor (of California)

I never heard of this guy before, but he looks like he might be someone to keep an eye on.

Budget, Borders, Old Navy, United Airlines to disappear?

24/7 Wall Street is predicting 12 brands will disappear by the end of next year. The brands include Budget car rentals, Borders, Saturn (I've been hearing about this for a couple of years now) and Chrysler automobiles, Esquire and Architectural Digest magazines, Old Navy, Eddie Bauer, Palm, and United Airlines (which, unlike the others, will not go out of business, but its brand will disappear through a merger, much like TWA's did when it merged with AMR).

"As the recession deepens and stretches out quarter after quarter, more companies will close or will shut divisions," the publication said in its story. "More brands will disappear because their parents firms fold or can no longer afford to support them. Other brands will be obliterated by mergers."

The story then lists the 12 brands and gives the reasons why it thinks that brand will not be around to see the year 2011.

Who will the Lions take with the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft

I've said all along it would be Highland Park's Matthew Stafford, but now the answer appears to be whichever player Detroit can convince to sign a contract before the draft begins Saturday.

Just in case you didn't think the Texas secession talk would become a campaign topic

Fast-paced "Trek"

I was never a fan of Star Trek. Not the original television show and its subsequent incarnations, nor any of the films. I found them too plodding, too slow. In an attempt to be cerebral, they wound up being dull.

However, the reviews from London on the latest Star Trek film, which re-imagines all the original characters during their formative years, make it sound like something completely different. Here's an excerpt from the Times of London review:

Star Trek, released in Britain on May 8 and given its premiere last night, is perfectly pitched to satisfy Trekker nerds and a more general action-flick audience. Abrams, who directed Mission Impossible III, brings his blockbuster flair to bear on a story that starts with a massacre and rarely draws breath for the next two hours as it unravels a deadly battle between the Federation and a rogue Romulan from the future who is bent on destroying Earth.

Then there's this from the London Daily Mail:

The result is not only by far the best of the 11 Star Trek movies, it must rank as the outstanding prequel of all time.

For those too young to remember the original TV series and its spin-off movies, or (like me) unconvinced that they were in all respects works of untrammelled genius, the movie ticks all the boxes as regards big set pieces.

We see space battles, planets sucked into black holes, chases, space aliens. Stupendous special effects and a magnificent score by Michael Giacchino make it a treat for the eyes and ears.
The picture moves at a terrific pace, and is a satisfying tale of good versus evil, with Eric Bana a highly hissable villain.


The movie is scheduled to open here May 8.

Trying to put a positive spin on a bad Mavs night


Here's the way I'm approaching it. By winning the first game of this series, the Mavs took home court advantage. That's all they needed to do. So if the home team wins all the rest of the games in this series, the Mavs advance to the second round after the sixth game against the Spurs.

So they didn't really need to work too hard last night. And if it's one thing that Mavs didn't do last night, it was work hard. Look at the numbers for Dallas' three primary offensive weapons: Jason Terry had 16 points, Dirk Nowitzki had 14 points and Josh Howard had 7. Combined, the big three didn't outscore Tony Parker who had 38.

Now here's the negative side. I don't think the Mavericks approached Game 2 with that mindset. I think they began the game thinking they had as good a chance of winning it as they did Game 1 and thery intended to leave San Antonio up two games to zip. If that is the case, then the Mavs are in deep doo-doo.

Gregg Popovich out coached Rick Carlisle this time around. In Game 1, Carlisle started J.J. Barea at the point in the second half and he ran Parker ragged. The Spurs go-to guy didn't have enough gas in the tank to be as much of an offensive demon as he is usually is against us (although he still managed to score 24). Last night, Popovich figured Carlisle would try the same move again so he started Bruce Bowen in the second half and attached him to Barea. Now Bowen is no longer the defender that he used to be, but when Barea got around Bowen to make his moves to the basket last night, Tim Duncan and and Matt Bonner were there waiting for him. San Antonio had a brilliant defensive game plan last night while the Mavericks, as they are wont to do on occasion, just decided not to play that much defense when they saw their shots weren't going in at the other end. As a result, Spurs 105-Mavericks 84.

Now it's up to Carlisle to figure out a way to penetrate that Spurs defense with his Big 3 (the bench, which bailed the Mavericks out in Game 1, can't be expected to do that every night or even most nights) while slicing at least 33 percent off Parker's point production.

The next two games at American Airlines Center are crucial. If the Spurs win either of them, I don't like the Mavs' chances.

Will Mr. Go stop the Trinity River toll road

A half century or so ago, Congress passed something called the River and Harbor Act of 1956 that authorized the construction of the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet Canal or, "Mr. Go," as it is referred to by the folks living in New Orleans. The purpose of the canal was to provide a more direct route from the inner harbor of New Orleans to the Gulf of Mexico than the winding, twisting Mississippi River. Construction was completed in 1965.

But things didn't go as planned. Erosion widened the canal from its original 650 feet to its present average width of 1,500 feet. Not only that, the canal is not even being used. On average, one ocean-going vessel a day uses the short cut, which costs $13 million a year to maintain. But that's not all.

Three months before Hurricane Katrina struck, Hassan Mashriqui, a storm surge expert at Louisiana State University called Mr. Go a "critical and fundamental flaw" in the hurricane defenses prepared by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. After Katrina struck, an engineering investigation and computer modeling revealed Mr. Go intensified the initial surge of water by 20 percent, raised the height of the wall of water by three feet and increased the velocity of the surge from three per second to eight feet per second. "Without MRGO, the flooding would have been a lot less," Mashriqui says. "The levees might have been overtopped, but they wouldn't have been washed away." Levees along Mr. Go were breached in 20 places along its length during Katrina, directly flooding most of Saint Bernard Parish and East New Orleans. The storm surge along Mr. Go is also said to be the cause of the three breaches in the Industrial Canal.

Here's where the plot thickens. It's almost impossible to sue the federal government over collapsing levees. Something called the Flood Control Act of 1928 prohibits suits against the United States for damages resulting from floods or flood waters. However, last month U.S. District Court Judge Stanley R. Duval Jr., who ruled in January 2008 that the Corps of Engineers was immune in a federal lawsuit directly related to the levees and flood wall failures during Katrina, has now said he will hear a suit by property owners on the canal's contributions to the flooding. He based his decision on Graci v. United States, a 1971 ruling that said there is no immunity for flooding caused by a federal project unrelated to flood control. And Judge Duval ruled, Mr. Go was built for navigation, not for flood control.

Which brings me back to our local Trinity River toll road which is being built for transportation, not for flood control. We've already heard from the Corps that our levees are unacceptable. Using the Mr. Go precedent, couldn't the Corps consider the toll road a potential legal liability just waiting to happen? I know if I was an attorney advising the Corps, I would be hesitant in telling it to give an OK to the toll road inside the Trinity River levees.

Mr. Go, meanwhile, is coming to a stop. Late last year, the Corps began dumping rocks into the channel to permanently dam it. It is expected to be completely closed by this summer.

Shame on you, Florida

Florida would be a nice place to live if it wasn't for all these people -- especially retirees and minorities -- who insist on voting every time an election rolls around. Well, state leaders have had just about all of it they can stand so they are going to do their best to make sure these folks don't foul up their elections any more. Why, if it weren't for these troublemakers, the world might never have been introduced to the term "hanging chad."

So here's what Florida Republicans are going to do. First they are going to pass a law that will make it illegal for anyone to get within 100 feet of a line of voters. That means those volunteers who make themselves available on election day to help explain the voting process to potential voters will suddenly become criminals. That's right -- criminals.

Also, all voter registration forms must be turned into election officials within 48 hours, thus putting an end to all those voter registration drives that work to sign up minorities.

Elderly voters will no longer be allowed to use the photo IDs issued by retirement centers or neighborhood associations. What, you say you are 95 years old and no longer need a driver's license? Tough luck, old timer. No license, no vote.

Fortunately, we still do have courts in this land to protect many of those that will be disenfranchised by these laws. I'm betting the provision that prohibits anyone from giving legal advice to a potential voter standing in line will never survive a court challenge. But, dammit, Florida legislators -- you shouldn't force the courts to tell you that what you are trying to do is blatantly unconstitutional.

Monday, April 20, 2009

The complete failure of Gov. Hair

Governor Rick Perry will do anything in his power to distract the general public from the fact that his reign as Governor is a complete failure. Governor Perry is no longer serving as Governor -- he is running a permanent campaign for re-election and, eventually, for a place on the 2012 ticket. In the mean time, Texans continue to suffer under a man who is making George W. Bush look like George Washington.

So begins this assessment of Gov. Hair which goes on to list four specific areas in which he has exerted either abysmal or no leadership at all. The assessment was written by Philip Martin, who was born in Austin, received his master's from the University of Texas writing his thesis on Bob Dylan's great album Highway 61 Revisited and even has his own Dylan Web site. He also predicts (at least the way I read it) that Gov. Hair will defeat Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson in the Republican gubernatorial primary by appealing the party's far right wing, which is a fairly good sized wing here in Texas.

What's wrong with this picture?


Coming soon to a theater near you, Russell Crowe as Robin Maximus in director Ridley Scott's Gladiator 2: The Medieval Years.

Of course, the movie is actually called Robin Hood and its producer, Brian Glazer, told USA Today that this was the perfect time for yet another look at that famous rogue.

"Oddly, it's a metaphor for today," Grazer says. "He's trying to create equality in a world where there are a lot of injustices. He's a crusader for the people, trying to reclaim some of the ill-gotten gains of the wealthy. That's a universal theme."

Sure. Fine. Whatever.

Now about this picture. How many hair stylists do you suppose hid out in Sherwood Forest with Robin and his "merry" men?

I'm encouraged but ...


I'm absolutely ecstatic that the Mavericks took the first game in their best-of-seven series (when did the first round stop being best-of-five?) with the Spurs, but I must learn to temper my enthusiasm.

The Spurs won NBA championships in 2003, 2005 and 2007. In every single one of those playoffs, they lost their first game.

Then, in 2006, the year the Mavs went all the way to the title game, the Mavs lost their first game against the Spurs and then went on to win the series in seven games.

So, historically speaking, winning the first game in this scenario doesn't mean much. This scenario, however, is the exception to the rule. NBA teams who win the first game of a seven-game series win that series 78.8 percent of the time.

If the Mavs can find a way to win tonight, I might declare this series over (I might even get out the broom). If they lose tonight, but return to San Antonio up 3-1, I'll be wildly optimistic about their chances.
The real X-factor here is going to be Josh Howard. The Spurs have commited to shutting down Jason Terry (by double-teaming him off the pick-and-roll in Game 1, he only had eight field goal attempts and was seven points below his season average) and Dirk (sending an extra weakside defender on him limited him to 19 points). That means Howard is going to get secondary defensive attention (it seemed like Michael Finley was assigned to him in Game 1 and Finley to just too slow to make this work). I'm betting Spurs coach Greg Popovich will assign someone else to guard Howard tonight, which could be a good thing because that means the Spurs will be without Finley's offense. Howard just needs to play with the same drive and determination he showed in Saturday night's game.
I am also encouraged by the adjustments Rick Carlisle is making during the game, adjustments former coach Avery Johnson never attempted, for whatever reason.

New movies to be released tomorrow on DVD

Frost/Nixon (2008) ***½ This film works even better on screen than it did on stage. Director Ron Howard and Peter Morgan, adapting his own play, have both opened up the tale and, with the power of close-ups, made this duel of wits even more intimate and suspenseful. Howard has made a picture for grown-ups, a well-constructed entertainment that neither talks down to its audience nor congratulates it just for showing up. Its main attraction is neither its topicality nor its historical value, but Frank Langella’s re-creation of his Tony-winning performance as Nixon.Neither the title nor the subject matter prepares you for the pure fun of "Frost/Nixon."

Notorious (2009) **½ This is half pop fable, half naturalistic docudrama. Not a bad movie, but nowhere near as strong as its soundtrack.

The Wrestler (2008) ***½ Director, Darren Aronofsky, and the writer, Robert D. Siegel, have turned the story of this washed-up faux gladiator into a film of authentic beauty and commanding consequence. Both Mickey Rourke and Marisa Tomei bring a tender, lived-in honesty to their sad roles. Rourke looks like a truck ran over him, but at 52 he’s still ripped enough to get away with the role; in the end the movie is about his indomitability more than the character’s.

Homicides in Dallas by the numbers

The Dallas Police Department will report on homicides to City Council's Public Safety Committee today and some of the numbers jump right out at me:

  • 67 per cent of all homicides in Dallas occur in a residence, an apartment or an apartment parking lot.
  • 61 percent of all homicides are carried out with a handgun (yet we insist on making these damn things easy to obtain)
  • 78 percent of all victims are between the ages of 18 and 49
  • 89 percent of all victims are males
  • The most fatal time of the week is Tuesday between 6 p.m. and midnight.
  • 53 percent of all murders came under the jurisdiction of either the Southeast or the South Central Patrol Division.

Overall, however, the crime numbers continue to be improving. The Committee will see that violent crime is down 19.6 percent in Dallas over the last year and non-violent crimes (burglaries, auto thefts) are down 18.6 percent.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

My selections for The Best 50 Movies of the Decade (so far)

1. Pan's Labyrinth (2006)
2. Adaptation (2002)
3. A Prairie Home Companion (2006)
4. Ratatouille (2007)
5. Sideways (2004)
6. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)
7. No Country for Old Men (2007)
8. The Queen (2006)
9. Almost Famous (2000)
10. Gosford Park (2001)
11. Apocalypse Now Redux (2001)
12. House of Flying Daggers (2004)
13. Letters from Iwo Jima (2006)
14. The Lives of Others (2007)
15. Lost in Translation (2003)
16. Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (2006)
17. Finding Nemo (2003)
18. Away from Her (2007)
19. Capote (2005)
20. Ghost World (2001)
21. Y Tu Mama Tambien (2002)
22. No Direction Home: Bob Dylan (2005)
23. Brokeback Mountain (2005)
24. The Departed (2006)
25. In the Bedroom (2001)
26. Million Dollar Baby (2004)
27. Slumdog Millionaire (2008)
28. Traffic (2000)
29. Atonement (2007)
30. You Can Count on Me (2000)
31. Milk (2008)
32. Before the Devil Knows You're Dead (2007)
33. Children of Men (2006)
34. Far From Heaven (2002)
35. Happy Go Lucky (2008)
36. Mystic River (2003)
37. Shrek (2001)
38. The Quiet American (2002)
39. Kill Bill, Vol. 2 (2004)
40. Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007)
41. The Three Burials of Melquaides Estrada (2006)
42. Vera Drake (2004)
43. Spider-Man 2 (2004)
44. Rachel Getting Married (2008)
45. Frozen River (2008)
46. The Constant Gardener (2005)
47. The Dark Knight (2008)
48. Michael Clayton (2007)
49. Eastern Promises (2007)
50. Pride & Prejudice (2005)

Posted for no other reason than to prove that sometimes us folks in our 60s just flat do it better

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Spurs in 7


I would really love to see the Mavs win this series -- I'll be passionately rooting for them in every game -- but their road woes combined with the presence of Tony Parker for the Spurs leads me to believe San Antonio will take this series in seven hard-fought, close (I hope) games.

A lot of folks are saying the Mavs are entering the series with momentum on their side, that they are playing their best basketball of the season right now. I think that's an illusion, based on a blowout in Phoenix in a game that the Suns just phoned in. I think you also have to consider the second to the last game of the season, against Minnesota, that the Mavs needed a last-second shot from Jason Terry to pull out, plus their awful looking road (there's that word again) loss at New Orleans last Sunday. Besides, the Mavs won six of their last nine games last season and look how that helped them against the Hornets.

Then there's the Michael Finley karma factor. It was Finley's three-pointer as time expired that forced this matchup against his old team. Yes, we dumped Finley because Mavs owner Mark Cuban didn't want to pay the luxury tax on his contract. And who did we get to fill his roster spot? Jerry Stackhouse. So Finley propels his team to a division championship and what again has Stackhouse done for us lately?

The Mavs are also just too inconsistent for me. You never know which team -- the good one or the really awful one -- will show up on any given night. You can't be inconsistent in the playoffs.

Finally, there's the Tim Duncan factor. Yes, he's getting on in years, but he's still a quietly determined competitor who can drag the Spurs to a series win on sheer willpower. I still don't think a lot of people realize what a truly great basketball player Duncan has been over the years and continues to be.

Even Dave had something to say

Gov. Hair's infamy spreads

New York Times op-ed columnist Gail Collins is letting the rest of the world know how two-faced our governor is. She thought it interesting that it's places like Texas, where patriotism is supposed to be so strong, that want to secede. I mean, how American is that?

She also called Perry's statement that Texas could secede anytime it wanted to as "a beloved piece of state folklore despite its unfortunate drawback of being totally untrue." And she took several swipes at those who attended last week's "tea parties."

Here's how she ended her piece:

(Texas Gov.) Perry, who is the sort of person who calls other guys “dude,” used to be a cotton farmer, a group that seems to have a special talent for combining rugged individualism with intransigent demands for government assistance. Even as we speak, the Obama administration budget-cutters are trying to end a longstanding federal practice of paying the costs of storing the entire national cotton crop every year. No other farmers get this kind of special treatment, and I am sure Perry’s failure to mention it when he calls for an end to corporate bailouts is a terrible oversight that will be corrected immediately.

The big mystery here is why the tax-protest crowds were behaving as if the world was coming to an end when all Obama’s infant presidency has done is lower taxes for a vast majority of the public. And why people like Perry seem to feel compelled to egg them on.

The answer is that what’s left of the Republican Party is intent on cutting off the knees of the administration before it actually manages to fulfill any campaign promises on reducing the huge economic gap between the top 5 percent of the country and the rest of the populace. In pursuit of that mission, fortune favors the hysterical and rewards politicians who behave like gerbils that just bit into an electric wire.

We don’t want to blame all Texans for the high jinks in Austin. It’s a state full of lovely people, three-fourths of whom, according to a recent Rasmussen Reports poll, have no desire whatsoever to secede from the United States.

But Perry really understands how that other quarter feels.

Friday, April 17, 2009

A Travelers Guide to Wackadoodleonia

What would happen in Gov. Hair, Tom DeLay and those other demagogues got their way and Texas actually seceded from the United States?

Welcome to Wackadoodleonia!!!!

My 2-cents for movie producers

Dear producers of quality thriller films:

The next time you set out to make a movie like "Duplicity" or "State of Play," do it without Julia Roberts, Russell Crowe and all the other "movie stars" with which you populate these films. Not that Roberts or Crowe detract from the films; far from it, they and the other stars of these films are fine actors. But they cost you a lot of money; more money than I think these films are capable of recouping at the box office.

There's not that big of a market for smart thrillers like "Tell No One," which did not feature one recognizable Hollywood name (OK, there's Kristin Scott-Thomas, but, still ...), but they need to be made because there are plenty of folks out there like me who crave films like these and ones like "In Bruges" and "Transsiberian." Let these movies rise or fall on their own merits, not on the bankability of the leading actors.

I'm betting if you do this, you will, when international box office and DVD sales are factored in, make a nice profit from these ventures. But if you keep using big stars with big salaries, the movies won't make money, studios will be far more reluctant to green light them and the discretionary movie-going public will be the big losers.

At least think about it.

High speed rail coming here?

President Obama outlined his plan yesterday on how to spend $8 billion in stimulus money for a much needed high-speed rail in this country. And the way I see it, we're in the picture although the plan, as it appears to be conceived right now, will not include high-speed rail from Dallas to Houston. There's a route that begins in Tulsa and goes to Oklahoma City, Dallas, Austin and ends in San Antonio. Then another that appears to begin in Dallas and goes to Little Rock with a stop in Texarkana. But, hey, at least it's a start.

This bulletin just handed to me: The City of Dallas already owns a hotel

I found this news fascinating. According to this no-holds-barred Web site, all those nay-sayers who say the City of Dallas shouldn't be in the hotel business (and, thus, are advocating a wrongheaded vote on the Dallas Convention Center Hotel issue), are overlooking the fact that the City of Dallas already owns a hotel -- the Hyatt at the D/FW Airport. Hmm.

The Web site also contains this information about the tax revenue bonds that would be used to finance the hotel's construction:

"ITS TAX-EXEMPT REVENUE BONDS ARE THE BEST OPTION FOR FINANCING SUCH A PROJECT BECAUSE TOURISTS WILL PAY FOR THE HOTEL. This is NOT a hotel paid for by taxpayers but a hotel paid for by conventioneers! The City has used revenue bonds regularly and has, in fact, issued over $2 billion in the last several years. These revenue bonds -- which are completely different than general obligation bonds used for city bond programs – will be repaid by people who use the facility (such as Love Field airport), not all the taxpayers. Tax revenue bonds have been used successfully by many other cities to build hotels … it’s a well proven model."

So there's that, too.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

It's not the spending that's bothering these idiots, it's who is doing the spending

The racists, the bigots and the rest of the sheep being led around by Fox News who showed up at all those tea parties yesterday -- you know, the ones whose ideologies got us in this economic mess were in, the ones who shouted all those slurs at the McCain/Plain rallies -- were not protesting government spending and taxation as they claimed, they are pissed about who's in charge these days. That's all.

Consider this. When President Clinton left office, the U.S. government was operating under a balanced budget. Now, eight years later, we are not only facing the largest budget deficit in our nation's history, but one that would take a contribution of $184,000 from every man, woman and child in this country to overcome. What happened during those eight years? George W. Bush.

But you never saw any Fox protests against the Bush's reckless spending that got us into this mess. No, because then the spending was being done by one of their own.

Every once in a while I'm glad that I'm an old codger who is not going to be around to see this country destroyed by hate, a day that is coming even sooner than I expected because of things like the misguided secessionist remarks offered by Gov. Hair during the Texas gatherings.

There is room in this country for honest, serious debate. That's the bedrock of our form of government. But the extremists who went to these tea parties don't want debate. They want to destroy. They don't disagree, they despise. They don't want to fix our country, they want to hurt something or somebody. (And they want to make sure they have plenty of guns to hurt someone with.)

It makes me cry whenever I look into the innocent eyes of my 3-year-old granddaughter. I want a better future than that for her. Hell, I just want a future for her.

The Dallas Cowboys in 2009


Since I've been wrong with just about all my sports predictions of late (Memphis to win the NCAA basketball championship, the guarantee that the Mavs wouldn't play the Spurs in the first round of the NBA playoffs), I might as well take a look at the Dallas Cowboys 2009 schedule that was released earlier in the week. Right now I'm picking the Cowboys to go 10-6 (including a shocking loss to open the season at Tampa Bay), but they could easily go 8-8 (there are two games I'm picking the Cowboys to win that are really too close to call. Here's my game-by-game breakdown:

Sept. 13 at Tampa Bay (a loss, 0-1)
Sept. 20 New York Giants open Jonestown (a loss, 0-2)
Sept. 28 Carolina (a win, 1-2)
Oct. 4 at Denver (a win, 2-2)
Oct. 11 at Kansas City (a win, 3-2)
Oct. 25 Atlanta (a win, 4-2)
Nov. 1 Seattle (a win, 5-2)
Nov. 8 at Philadelphia (the five-game winning streak ends, 5-3)
Nov. 15 at Green Bay (a loss, 5-4)
Nov. 22 Washington (a win, 6-4)
Nov. 26 Oakland (a win, 7-4)
Dec. 6 at New York Giants (a loss, 7-5)
Dec. 13 San Diego( this is one of the two close ones, but I'm calling it a win, 8-5)
Dec. 19 at New Orleans (a loss, 8-6)
Dec. 29 at Washington (the second close one I'm calling in the Cowboys favor, 9-6)
Jan. 3 Philadelphia (a loss, 10-6)

Monday, April 13, 2009

8th place, 7th place, what's the big deal?


Some folks are making a big deal out of the fact that the Mavericks probably will finish the season in 7th place in the NBA West versus 8th, thus avoiding a first round series with the dreaded and nearly invincible Los Angeles Lakers. To me, it's a difference between death by a firing squad or death by hanging. So now the Mavs lose a first round series to the second place team, not the first place team. Big deal.

I was talking with someone yesterday who claimed, however, "If that second place team is San Antonio, we might have a chance because the Spurs don't have Manu Ginobli." Naw! If it's one thing that Mavs have proved this year, it's that they can't win on the road against a team that has a better record and all the teams they'll face in the playoffs, where they won't have the home-court advantage, fit into that category. Besides, I think Denver, Portland and possibly Houston will finish the season 54-28 (to do that, the Rockets will have to whip Dallas here in the season's last game Wednesday, but that's possible) and it will be one of those teams the Mavericks will face. For San Antonio to finish 54-28, it must win on the road at Golden State and at home against the Hornets. That is highly probable, but the Warriors game on the road (Golden State has a winning record at home) without Ginobli could be problematic.

If all four finish 54-28, which could happen, the fist tie breaker is winning percentage among the four teams. According to my highly questionable calculations, the Rockets win that battle and wind up in second place. Those calculations also show that San Antonio has the worst winning percentage among those four teams, so I would forget any thoughts about playing the Spurs in the first round.

Of course, the Nuggets could make the entire argument moot by winning its final two games, but that would mean having to win at Portland and I don't think that's going to happen. I do think Portland wins its final two so a tie between Portland and Denver, at least, seems like a certainty.

Overall, however, I think it's great that all these questions are unanswered with just two games left in the season.

New movies to be released tomorrow on DVD

Dark Matter (2008) ** Never fully succeeds in burrowing under its protagonist’s skin, despite conspicuous effort.

The Reader (2008) **½ The film is neither about the Holocaust nor about those Germans who grappled with its legacy: it’s about making the audience feel good about a historical catastrophe that grows fainter with each new tasteful interpolation.

The Spirit (2008) * Plunges into a watery grave early on and spends roughly the next 100 minutes gasping for air.

Splinter (2008) **½ There’s potential for a lot more excitement in this film, but director Toby Wilkins seems content just to bring it across the finish line.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Memo to Dallas City Hall: Give Us a Menu


Dallas Morning News city hall reporter Rudolph Bush has a story in today's editions concerning the budget crisis at City Hall. Unfortunately (because most people don't read news stories all the way through to the end) his most important words are the last ones in his story: "...most officials agree that closing a gap greater than $100 million is likely to require either a tax increase or painful cuts that both residents and city employees will feel."

Oh, what to do!!! To the surprise of absolutely no one, I have a solution. I would like City Manager Mary Suhm to get her staff to put together a menu of city services options she believes the city needs, wants and/or could use. I'm not talking about the essentials like basic police, fire, sanitation services, etc. I'm talking about those that might be in line for "painful cuts" or those Ms. Suhm feels the city should have. Then, just like the menu you find at any restaurant, you put the cost of that service alongside it, in terms of tax-per-$100,000-valuation, or however it's determined.

Then you have the various city council members call town hall meetings, where these menus are distributed to those attending and an assistant city manager explains the options of everything listed on the menu as well as the implications of including it or excluding it in the next budget. Each item contains a box alongside it and those attending are asked to check what services they want and leave the box blank for those they don't want, knowing that those they check could increase their property taxes as indicated. Then you collect all that information and begin planning your budget knowing that constituents told you they were willing to pay for some services, but not others.

I think the council members might be surprised to learn what their constituents might be willing to cough up a couple extra dollars for. But the important thing here is to give the people a voice, let us tell you what we want and what we want to pay for, instead of you telling us.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

The Boss in Denver

Bruce Springsteen's setlist Friday night at the Pepsi Center in Denver:

Badlands
The Ties That Bind (first time this has been performed on the current tour)
Outlaw Pete
Out In The Street
Working on A Dream
Seeds
Johnny 99
Youngstown
Tougher Than the Rest (first time this has been performed on the current tour)
Darlington County
The E-Street Shuffle (first time this has been performed on the current tour)
Waiting On A Sunny Day
The Promised Land
The Wrestler
Racing in the Street (first time this has been performed on the current tour and one of my favorite Springsteen concert songs--the ending of it gives me the chills)
Kingdom of Days
Lonesome Day
The Rising
Born To Run

Encores
Hard Times
Thunder Road
Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out
Land Of Hope And Dreams
American Land
Glory Days (featuring a couple of versus of "Louie, Louie")

From those who have seen all six of the shows on the current tour, I am told this 2-hour, 46-minute one was far and away the best of the lot.

Next up: Wednesday and Thursday in Los Angeles.

How would drivers in Dallas react to an accident response fee

According to a story today in today's New York Times, municipal and state governments are resorting to instituting and/or raising fees, not taxes, as a way to offset budget deficits. I know City Manager Mary Suhm has looked at various creative fees along these same lines.

But one, according to the story, that's getting a lot of traction is a traffic accident response fee that's charged to the driver who's judged to have caused the accident. The theory behind the fee, which is a sound one to my way of thinking, is that the burden for the cost of fire department and police department response to accidents should not be shared by all the taxpayers, but only by the person responsible for the accident. That sounds great, I guess, until you get that $300 bill from the city for responding to your traffic accident.

Some cities have gone as far as hiring a company like Cost Recovery Corporation out of Dayton, Ohio, which, for 10 percent of every bill, sets up the collection systems. Some, however, want 100 percent of the fees, so they opt to handle collections themselves. In places like Winter Haven, Fla., that hasn't worked so well. It has collected only about $6,400 of the $32,000 it billed at-fault drivers.

“We chose not to contract out the collection part of this, and frankly, because of staff cuts, we don’t have enough people to handle all the paperwork,” says Joy Townsend, the city’s communications officer. “We’re now evaluating how cost-effective this program is.”

It sounded like a good idea at the time.

Bruce's Houston setlist


Thursday night's show at the Toyota Center:

Badlands
Outlaw Pete
No Surrender
Out In The Street
Working on A Dream
Seeds
Johnny 99
Ghost of Tom Joad
Working On The Highway
Cadillac Ranch
It's Hard To Be A Saint In The City
Waiting On A Sunny Day
The Promised Land
The Wrestler
Kingdom of Days
Radio Nowhere
Lonesome Day
The Rising
Born To Run

Encores
Hard Times
Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out
Rosalita
Land Of Hope And Dreams
American Land
Dancing In The Dark

Friday, April 10, 2009

The ignorance of State Rep. Betty Brown and those who think like her

My ex-wife gave her first-born son (from a marriage before ours) a rather unwieldy name, but one that she was very proud off because it was highly unusual and it contained an umlaut and other phonetic aides. He hated it and as soon as he was old enough to do so he changed it to something more comfortable. I remember my ex-wife being initially disturbed about this (I never heard how her first husband, who carried the family name that was being wiped out, felt) and in a telephone conversation I had with her about it I tried to explain that a name is the most personal possession its bearer owns. I think she thought a lot about this in the ensuing days after our conversation and she not only came around to agree with me, but she announced she was changing her first name to reflect her interest in Spanish cultures.

I mention all this only because it goes to say how incensed I was at the remarks made by state Rep. Betty Brown during Wednesday's testimony in the House Committee Elections on the Voter ID bill. Her remarks, her incredible insensitivity, sum up all the reasons I oppose this discriminatory legislation. I waited a couple of days to reflect on this because I wanted my anger to subside so that I might see if any good could come from it. And perhaps some good has: Her remarks have attracted nationwide attention, has unmasked the Voter ID bill and those who support it for what it is and who they are and may be the very thing that derails this legislation.

For those who don't know what I am talking about, let me try to re-create the scene. Rep. Brown asked a man of Asian ancestry, who was testifying against the bill, to disown his family name so it would be easier for ignorant people like Rep. Brown to deal with. Specifically, she told Mr. Ramey Ko:

Rather than everyone here having to learn Chinese - I understand it's a rather difficult language - do you think that it would behoove you and your citizens to adopt a name that we could deal with more readily here?

Those are her exact words. Like I said earlier "a name is the most personal possession its bearer owns." It's that person's life story, his or her heritage. To ask someone to just give it up because it was make it easier on some ego-centric elected official or anyone else, for that matter, is unconscionable. And above all, it should not be used as an excuse to deny someone the right to vote.

But this is the type of thinking that's going into the Voter ID bill.

Lee Leffingwell: A Plan To Help Small Local Businesses

Austin mayoral candidate Lee Leffingwell has three interesting plans to help local businesses and to stimulate the local economy:
1. Provide free assistance services to local businesses.
2. Create a standing commission on existing local businesses.
3. (The most important one, from my point of view) Try to award more city contracts to local businesses.
He says attracting new high-tech, green businesses to Austin is important, but that the focus should be on protecting businesses already there.
Novel thoughts. Anyone in Dallas listening?

Fees that could be used to fund Corona's transportation bill

A day or so ago, I editorialized about Sen John Corona's bill that would allow Dallas County Commissioners to impose taxes that would be used to fund transportation projects in the area. I said that the bill would allow the commissioners to raise the sales tax. That was incorrect. I have finally secured a copy of the proposal and it appears these are the fees the country can play with:
  • A tax on the sale of gasoline not to exceed 10 cents a gallon but which would be adjusted annually according to inflation.
  • A "mobility improvement fee, in an amount not to exceed $60" that would be "imposed on each person registering a motor vehicle in the county other than a person who initially registers a vehicle after acquiring the vehicle." (Huh?)
  • A $1-an-hour tax charged for using public parking places.
  • An annual motor emissions fee based upon the amount of pollutants your car ads to the Dallas air. The maximum tax here would be $15 a year. I'm guessing that would be added to the cost of your annual auto inspection.
  • Doubling the fee for renewing your driver's license with the added charge going into the transportation fund.
  • A maximum $250 "new resident roadway impact fee ... imposed on each person registering a motor vehicle previously registered in another state or country and collected at the time of registration."
Incidentally, the commissioners don't have to pick just one of the above options. They could impose as many of them as they think would be needed to get the job done each time they approved a new transportation project.

I still don't like this plan, even if sales taxes are not involved. My opposition, as stated earlier, is based upon my belief that:
  • Rail transportation, especially high speed rail transportation, which is desperately needed, is a regional, even a statewide issue, and shouldn't be approached on a county-by-county basis.
  • To impose these fees would require two votes: The first a statewide vote just to approve the concept and then local county-by-county votes every time the commissioners decided they wanted to fund another project. Frankly, in these economic times, I don't think highway loving Texans are going to vote to raise their own taxes for projects designed to pry them out of their pickups.
  • I still think someone should more carefully analyze where the money we currently pay in federal and state gasoline taxes is going and to report why those funds can't be used to fund these projects.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Paul a Maverick?


When you're watching this Easter weekend's home-and-home series between the Dallas Mavericks and the New Orleans Hornets, watch the play of point guard Chris Paul and then ask yourself: "How would I like to see him playing for the Dallas Mavericks next season."

Personally, I think this possibility is remote (although it has me drooling), but others are saying it could happen. The word is that the Mavs will trade Josh Howard, Erick Dampier and Jerry Stackhouse to New Orleans for Paul, Tyson Chandler and Pedja Stojakovic. That sounds like a steal to me, so why would New Orleans even contemplate what seems like such a one-sided trade? The reason, I'm told, is the state of the economy which is forcing New Orleans to consider a "desperate, cost-cutting deal."

The Mavs, on the other hand, would inherit some unwieldy contracts, especially Stojakovic's, who is way over-paid for the contributions he is making. Still, although his best days are history, he is more than just an adequate replacement for Howard at starting small forward. Chandler would also be an adequate replacement for Dampier and it would keep the Paul-Chandler duo together (I still have nightmares about the way those two alley-ooped the Mavs to death in last year's playoffs.) I also think Chandler's rebounding ability would free up Dirk a little more than what Dampier has been able to do.

The question, of course, is what becomes of Jason Kidd if this deal goes down. I don't know the answer to that other than to let him become a free agent. I can't see re-signing Kidd, only to have him come off the bench, although that would be a wonderful luxury. I don't think he would go for it, however.

But I will say this, if Mark Cuban can get Chris Paul to Dallas, I'll be ready to forgive him for the Devin Harris trade.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Carona's local option transportation bill does not seem like a good option


I learned from reading the Transportation blog written by Michael Lindenberger of the Dallas Morning News that the Texas Senate has passed Dallas Sen. John Carona's transportation bill, one that would allow counties to raise taxes and fees to fund transportation projects.

"But despite the win," Lindenberger writes, "prospects for the bill look cloudy."

Whew! For a minute there, I thought we were in trouble.

Look, I realize this city, this region ... hell, the entire state ... needs new transportation alternatives and by that I don't any more of Gov. Perry's toll roads that are designed only to line the pockets of his influential Spanish cohorts. In fact, we don't need more roads at all -- we should, in fact, be trying to find ways to force gas-guzzling, impediment-spewing vehicles off the roads that we do have.

Second, the last thing we need to do is to give our unaccountable county commissioners the power to raise our taxes because we all know how those tyrants will react -- "Let's add another half-percent to the sales tax." Let's just for a second put aside the fact that the sales tax is the most unfair tax ever levied on a public; instead look at the numbers. Sales tax revenue is plummeting. I've heard the City of Dallas' latest sales tax figures are even below its recently lowered expectations. So an increase in the regressive sales tax might fund a rail line from Highland Park to University Park, but that's about it.

I also don't think it's a good time to slap additional fees on auto registrations either, which is another likely avenue the commissioners might travel. I would take a look at an additional gasoline tax, but that brings me back to what really needs to happen.

We already pay a state and a federal tax on each gallon of gasoline we purchase at the pump. Does anyone really know where that money is going? Is the state tax going into a special transportation fund or just into the general tax pool? My fear is that the second option is the correct one. Wherever that money's going, it needs to be kept out of the hands of the Texas Department of Transportation because TxDOT is not a transportation agency, it is a highway department; it will only use the money to fund more road building and will use all of its considerable influence to make sure none of it is used for rail infrastructure.

Does anybody know (Eddie Bernice Johnson--Are you listening) what percentage of the federal gasoline taxes paid by Texans finds its way back to funding transportation needs in this state? How much of it comes back to Texas for any purpose? If it is less than 100 per cent, is anyone being held accountable for why?

I would like for Sen. Carona to investigate whether more careful management of the taxes we already pay might be a superior option to giving our county commissioners the power to raise additional taxes.

Not only that, transportation issues like the ones we're facing need to be addressed on a regional and even a statewide level, not a county one. What happens when Dallas County Commissioners vote to levy an additional tax for transportation needs and the commissioners of Collin and Tarrant counties reject the idea? This state desperately needs a high-speed triangular rail line linking Dallas/Fort Worth, Houston and San Antonio, but that's never going to happen if every county through which such a line would be built needed to go to constituents asking them to approve a tax increase.

I think I know Corona's motives behind this legislation and I agree with them: We in this area simply can't afford to wait for the rest of the state to get off its duff when it comes to funding rail construction. We need to find a way to jumpstart the process. He's right. But I don't think giving each county the option to raise taxes is the correct way to go about it. Not in these times, at least.

Bruce Springsteen Going Down last night in Tulsa

THE SETLIST
Badlands
Outlaw Pete
Night
Out In The Street
Working on A Dream
Seeds
Johnny 99
Youngstown
I'm On Fire
Working On The Highway
I'm Goin' Down
Waiting On A Sunny Day
The Promised Land
The Wrestler
Kingdom Of Days
Lonesome Day
The Rising
Born To Run

ENCORES
Hard Times
Rosalita
Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out
Land Of Hope And Dreams
American Land
Dancing In The Dark

Six things you might not have known about Passover

My Hero and I just returned from a delightful Passover Seder and I ran into this article on "6 Things You Didn't Know About Passover." I wish I had seen it before the Seder, but thinking back on the evening I'm not sure there was an appropriate place in the conversation where I could have dropped in "By the way, did you know the largest Passover Seder takes place in Nepal." And, if I had tried, the entire room probably would have gone silent and everyone would be shooting each other (but not me) furtive glances.

However, I am glad to learn Coca-Cola makes kosher Coke for the holidays and now I've got to find out whether the Tom Thumb at Preston Forest or the one at North Central & Meadow carries it.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

I wonder about these things because ... well ... somebody has to


I was watching Turner Classic Movies (which is back to being my favorite TV channel, now that the NCAA playoffs are finished for another year) this evening and I saw a trailer for "King of Kings," which I wouldn't label a "classic" by any stretch of the imagination.

However, while watching it and seeing Jeffrey Hunter stroll around in his robes, the thought occurred to me: Has a Jewish actor ever been cast as Jesus in a major Hollywood film? I mean, after all ....

A list of 20 Republicans who need to be voted out of office

The Texas House of Representatives passed legislation today that would make it easier for the men and women who have served our country in Iraq and Afghanistan to attend Texas public universities.

Here is an analysis of the legislation:

Currently, veterans who are not Texans but who want to attend a public college or university in Texas are required to pay out-of-state tuition and fees until they have lived in Texas for one year. Non-Texas veterans who may be interested in settling in Texas may be hesitant to attend college here because of the out-of-state tuition costs. Senate Bill 297 would deliver real support to veterans while helping strengthen Texas' economy by attracting and keeping talent in the state. Expanding in-state tuition benefits to military veterans and their spouses and children is a fitting way to recognize those who have served, led, and protected our country. SB 297 would allow veterans and their spouses and children to pay in-state tuition and fees without regard to the length of time they have resided in Texas.

The following 20 Republicans (a 13 percent minority), for some inexplicable reason, voted against this bill:

Fred Brown
Warren Chisum
Joe Crabb
Tom Craddick
Brandon Creighton
Gary Elkins
Dan Flynn
Kelly Hancock
Will Hartnett
Charlie Howard
Ken Legle
Debbie Riddle
Ralph Sheffield
Mark Shelton
John Smithee
David Swinford
Vicki Truitt
Randy Weber
Beverly Woolley
John Zerwas

Anti-environment Texas Legislature at it again


Just when you thought things couldn't get any worse down in Austin comes word that tomorrow the House Committee on Environmental Regulation will hear testimony on HB 4012, which, among other things, would eliminate the contested-case hearing process, just about the only opportunity ordinary citizens who care about air quality have to challenge a power plant permit.

Two years ago Gov. Hair, who has never once been on the side of environmental quality, tried to protect coal plants from regulation but was overruled by the courts. Now the legislature is trying to achieve what the governor couldn't.

Rep. Lon Burnam of Fort Worth is one of the few true environmentalists in the Texas House of Representatives and he is a member of this committee. Give his Austin office a call (512-463-0740) and voice your opposition to HB 4012.

Disney's 1940 porno film


This weekend I picked up a copy of the recently released remastered Pinocchio, the 1940 animated version from the Walt Disney factory, as a present for my granddaughter. After reading this lengthy essay from GQ's Tom Carson, I'm not sure I did the right thing.

Sure, Pinocchio contains some disturbing images that could frighten some impressionable kiddies, especially the scenes where the kids turn into donkeys. But Carson makes the film sound absolutely pornographic:

"Children can also intuit sexuality long before they've got a clue what it is, and Pinocchio is the dirtiest Disney feature ever. The unavoidable Exhibit A is the Freudian no-brainer of the hero's lengthening proboscis, though I'd forgotten that in the scene when it happens he's a) locked in a cage and b) lying to the Blue Fairy, the only adult female in sight. As if the fact that "blue" was the contemporary slang for "dirty" wasn't enough, she's also drawn in an eroticized Maxfield Parrish style that has no equivalents elsewhere in Disney. When not only leaves but chirping little birdies sprout from his "nose's" tip at the scene's—wait, the word'll come to me—climax, the image is as pornographic as anything in a Tijuana bible. Even Betty Boop would blush."

I have always been accused of being somewhat naive, but I gotta tell ya I never had any "blue" thoughts when I saw Pinocchio as a child. What I always remembered was that it featured the best songs of any Disney movie ever -- "When You Wish Upon a Star," "I've Got No Strings," "Hi-Diddle-Dee-Dee (An Actor's Life for Me)," and "Give a Little Whistle." Great stuff.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Bruce's Austin setlist


Bruce Springsteen has always performed dynamite shows in Austin, ever since I first saw him at the Armadillo World Headquarters. Dallas has never been much of a Springsteen town, but Austin definitely is. He was selling out the Erwin Center in Austin while he was still playing the 1,500-seat Dallas Memorial Auditorium Theater.

Bruce played a two-hour, 55-minute show in Austin last night, the third show of his current tour. Here's the complete setlist:

Badlands
Outlaw Pete
My Lucky Day
Prove It All Night
Out in the Street
Working on a Dream
Seeds
Johnny 99
Youngstown
Working on the Highway
Sherry Darlin'
She's the One
Because the Night
Waitin' on a Sunny Day
The Promised Land
The Wrestler
Kingdom of Days
Radio Nowhere
Lonesome Day
The Rising
Born to Run

ENCORES:
Hard Times
Jungleland
Tenth Ave. Freezeout
I'm a Rocker
Land of Hope and Dreams
American Land
Glory Days