Friday, July 31, 2009

This texting ban idea is catching on

Four Democratic senators -- Charles Schumer of New York, Robert Menendez of New Jersey, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Kay Hagan of North Carolina -- have introduced legislation that would require all 50 states to join those 14 that have passed laws banning texting while operating a motor vehicle. States that failed to enact such legislation would lose 25 percent of their federal highway funds.

As I predicted Wednesday, opposition to this semi-sensible legislation (it should ban all mobile phone usage while driving) is coming from groups like the Governors Highway Safety Association, which represents state highway safety agencies, which wants to argue the irrelevant: The Association said it does not doubt the dangers of texting while driving but does not support a ban because it would be difficult to enforce.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Can't see Da Mayor winning a U.S. Senate race


Jim Schutze's column in the current Dallas Observer speculates about Da Mayor running for KBH's U.S. Senate seat when she resigns in a couple of months to make a run for the governor's mansion. Frankly, I'm convinced Da Mayor doesn't have a chance of winning election to the U.S. Senate and, if I read Mr. Schutze correctly (he offers a number of things Da Mayor has done that would alienate him with the right-wingnuts of the Texas GOP), neither does he.

One thing Mr. Schutze forgot to mention is that KBH's resignation does not trigger an election to chose her successor. In fact, the most likely scenario is that KBH resigns October-November and the election to fill out the remainder of her term doesn't take place until May. What happens in between is that Gov. Hair gets to appoint someone to fill the seat until an election can take place.

As I said yesterday, the word is that Gov. Hair will most likely appoint Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and even Mr. Schutze admits Da Mayor doesn't have a ghost of a chance running in an election against Dewhurst. Why? (1) As Mr. Schutze mentions in his column and as I pointed out yesterday, Dewhurst has all the money he needs to wage a successful campaign. (2) What Mr. Schutze neglected to mention is that, because of his appointment, he would be the incumbent in the race and it's damn difficult to beat an incumbent, even one who has only been in office seven months.

I also have the sneaking suspicion that state Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, has her eyes on KBH's Senate seat and, if that is true, she probably already has taken away much if not all of Da Mayor's fund-raising options. So where would Da Mayor's political support come from? As we know, Dallas County is now solidly Democratic, so not much help in Da Mayor's home area. Collin County and many of its neighboring counties are still solidly Republican, but those will go for Shapiro if she runs. Counties to the south are Dewhurst territory.

Would Da Mayor then run as a Democrat? That's doubtful. First, unless he changes his mind and runs for governor (which I hope he will), Houston Mayor Bill White will have the support of Texas Democrats in a Senate race. The question is whether White will try to run in the special election or wait for the next regular election when there will be party primaries.

I'm not saying Da Mayor won't resign and run for the U.S. Senate, but I am saying he is committing political suicide if he does. But he won't be the only one jumping off the cliff.


Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Three reasons why, regardless of other budget cuts, the city must keep the splaygrounds open





Who will be appointed to succeed KBH?


The Burnt Orange Report thinks Gov. Hair will name Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst to fill KBH's unexpired Senate term when she resigns to run for governor. Why? Apparently because Dewhurst has beaucoup of bucks already stashed away to run a formidable election campaign in a special election that will take place in May -- more money than any other Republican being considered for the appointment -- and the guv wants to throw his support behind a winner.

Obama explains what he wants and doesn't want in his health care plan



In a speech earlier today at a town hall meeting in Raleigh, N.C., President Obama made it absolutely clear what he wants and doesn't want in his health care reform package:


“Nobody is talking about some government takeover of health care. I’ve been as clear as I can be, under the reform I’ve proposed, if you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor. If you like your health care plan, you can keep your health care plan. These folks (those opposing his reform ideas) need to stop scaring everybody.


“No one in America should go broke because of illness. We will require insurance companies to cover routine checkups and preventive care, like mammograms, colonoscopies, or eye and foot exams for diabetics, so we can avoid chronic illnesses that cost not only lives, but money. No longer will insurance companies be allowed to drop or water down coverage for someone who has become seriously ill. That’s not right and it’s not fair.”


Here are some of the safeguards he promised would be included in legislation he wants:

  • No discrimination for pre-existing conditions
  • No exorbitant out-of-pocket expenses
  • No cost-sharing for preventive care
  • No dropping of coverage for serious illness
  • No gender discrimination
  • No annual or lifetime caps
  • Extended coverage for young adults
  • Guaranteed insurance renewal.
I know, I know, the devil is in the details, but as broad outlines go, no one who considers himself a humanitarian can argue with these statements.

Sergio Kindle can be the poster boy for the texting ban

Ran across the following on the College Sports Blog of the Dallas Morning News concerning University of Texas linebacker Sergio Kindle becoming more responsible since his recent auto accident:

"The former Woodrow Wilson standout suffered a concussion in the accident and said he was thankful it wasn't worse. His lawyer said the accident was caused because Kindle was text messaging while driving."

So there's that.

D magazine publisher on Gov. Hair's latest boasts

Wick, this could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Health care reform and the Constitution

A number of folks have written me and asked "Where in the Constitution does it say the government should provide health care for its citizens." I don't think you have to look any further than the preamble, the reason the constitution exists:

"We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution ..."

There you have it.

Tanning beds definitely cause cancer. according to study

A warning, just in case you were thinking of buying one of these franchises: "A new analysis of about 20 studies concludes the risk of skin cancer jumps by 75 percent when people start using tanning beds before age 30."

Those against texting ban will undoubtedly have wrong argument

For the last couple of weeks, I have been advocating a ban on using mobile phones while operating a motor vehicle or, at the very least, a ban on texting while driving. There are, of course, going to be those arguing against this and their main argument is going to be "it can't be enforced. We can't afford to have our police wasting their time trying to catch people using mobile phones in their cars."

Those who make that argument are missing the entire point. Creating such a ban is not about catching the "bad guys." Geez, people who use their phones while driving are not even "bad guys" to begin with; they are good people who, without thinking about it, are momentarily threatening their own lives and the well-being of others sharing the roads with them. This is strictly a public safety issue.

Look: DART and the Texas Department of Public Safety have done an absolutely miserable job of explaining why HOV lanes exist. Yet, for the most part, most drivers obey the HOV lane rules even when there are no concrete barriers separating these lanes from mainstream traffic. I read a story in the Dallas Morning News recently on HOV lanes and, as I recall, the story said 16 percent of all the cars in the HOV lanes during one given period were using them illegally. That may seem like a lot, but it isn't when you put it into context. Those who drive on northern loop of LBJ or on North Central north of LBJ know that these HOV lanes are almost empty for the most part. So if you take that 16 percent and make it the percentage of all the vehicles on a freeway at any given time, I'm willing to bet the number comes out to less than one-tenth of 1 percent. That's minuscule. That means 99.9 percent of all motorists obey the HOV lane rules even though most know these rules "can't be enforced."

Explaining the reasons behind a mobile phone ban while operating a vehicle is going to be much easier than educating the public on HOV lanes. It's like seat belts, another impossible law to enforce but the overwhelming majority of people in autos use seat belts. Why? Not because they are afraid of getting a ticket if they don't, but because they are convinced it's the right thing to do.

The HOV and seat belt examples prove to me that, for the most part, drivers are willing to follow the rules (exception: the speed limit on the Dallas North Tollway) if those rules are made clear.

Banning the use of mobile phones -- or at least texting -- while driving is simply about public safety, about saving lives, about reducing the number of traffic accidents and has nothing to do with writing tickets for those who disobey the rules.

Plus, no one is telling anyone they can't use their mobile phone in their automobiles. All I'm advocating is that, when you do have to use it, pull over to the side of the road and find a safe place to park for a while. Then use the phone.

KBH's fruitless pursuit


So Kay Bailey Hutchison is saying she'll resign her U.S. Senate seat sometime in October or November to run for governor of Texas. I don't understand why. She has absolutely no chance of winning a gubernatorial election. She's planning on committing political suicide by voting against the nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court and to make sure Texans continue to be denied adequate health care. Those two moves would doom her in a general election even if she were to get that far, which she won't because Gov. Hair has already outflanked her on the right. Hair will have no problem defeating KBH in the primary because he has already secured the support of the right-wingnuts that decide the GOP nominee in any Texas primary.

Now KBH is not dumb. I think she knows the above is true as well, but she has decided this will be a more graceful way of retiring from politics instead of doing something incredibly stupid like former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's resignation ploy or just an announcement not to seek re-election like the recent one from Kentucky Senator Jim Bunning. This way she won't have to answer the "why" question.

There's a new sheriff in town (and she thinks computers are useful)


Subhead: Do a great job as a city council member and you, too, may work your way up to a council person's assistant

Dallas Morning News Dallas City Hall reporter Rudolph Bush has a story in today's paper about the NIMBY City Council's reluctance to trim their own budgets even though all other General Fund-supported city departments, save police, are having their budgets slashed so that the the city can balance an overall budget that is (at last count) still $38 million short. I found this paragraph in his story somewhat astonishing:

"Running each council member's office costs taxpayers an average of $182,000 a year, a figure that includes the member's $37,500 salary, $125,000 for an assistant and a secretary, $16,400 for office expenses such as mailings and $4,000 for travel."

Wait a minute! Back to the salary part of that. The council member gets $37,500; an assistant and a secretary get $125,000? Translated, that means if a city council person's secretary earns a salary of, say, $50,000 a year, which seems to be a damn good salary for a secretary today, then the assistant earns twice as much as the city council person.

Am I alone here in thinking something is out of whack with that?

But back to the point I was driving at in the main headline of this post. Later in his story, Mr. Bush wrote that city council members Angela Hunt and Ann Margolin "have discussed other cuts that could have a long-term impact. Among them is elimination of the thick packets of printed material council members receive before meetings. Printing that material costs taxpayers about $148,000 a year.

'Most of us don't need most of what's in it. It seems to me we ought to be able to function primarily online,' Margolin said."

Truth be told, the city has had the capability and the desire to put this material strictly on-line for six or seven years now. The reason this was never done was simply because of Ms. Margolin's predecessor, Mitchell Rasansky, who absolutely refused to have anything to do with computers. He didn't even have one in his council office. He demanded that massive paper versions of the council material.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Between Barach and the lunatic fringe

--David Fitzsimmons, Arizona Daily Star


U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie, D-Hawaii, introduced a resolution this week "“recognizing and celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the entry of Hawaii into the Union as the 50th State." The problem is that one of the wherefores and whereas's began: "“Whereas the 44th President of the United States, Barack Obama, was born in Hawaii”.


You see, there are a bunch of right-wingnuts out there who maintain the President, despite the presence of legitimate birth certificate and other evidence, really wasn't born in Hawaii, but in Africa and, therefore, is not even eligible to be president. Trust me, I'm not making this up. One of the leaders of this lunatic fringe is Rep. Michelle Bachmann, R-Minn.


Now resolutions like those proposed by Rep. Abercrombie normally pass unanimously without even the tiniest bit of discussion or debate. But passing this one would have put Bachmann and the like on record as agreeing that the President was, indeed, born in Hawaii. So what did she do? She stopped voting on the measure, arguing there wasn't a quorum present at the time. I don't expect Rep. Abercrombie is going to let the matter drop.


To be continued.

Health care debate: Don't tell me what you're against; tell me what you're for

To all those opposed to President Obama's health care reform initiatives,

Here are two indisputable facts:
Yet, a major segment of our political leadership is against public involvement in the health care delivery system. OK, I'm willing to listen. Tell me how you would fix the problem. It's obvious from the statistics noted above that the current system isn't working, so just maintaining or even extending the status quo is not the answer. But if you have another solution, I'm willing to listen to it, consider it, discuss it. But, please, come up with an alternative solution instead of just being against the solutions proffered by the President. That's not leadership, that's obstructionism.

What Wick forgot to mention

D magazine publisher Wick Allison who's thinking more like me every day (Is he getting more liberal or am I getting more conservative?) blogged today about the federal stimulus funds that will pay three years' salaries and benefits for hiring new police officers in Dallas, surrounding cities, other cities in Texas as well as bunch of other metropolitan areas around the country.

He did mention that Gov. Hair, who is opposed to all things federal, might decide "to grandstand against the federal government" like he did with the much-needed stimulus money to bolster the state's unemployment compensation funds. What he forgot to mention is that Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, who will probably be Hair's main opponent in next year's GOP gubernatorial primary, voted against the stimulus package this money is coming from.

So, of course, it is my duty to remind you that she is as much a villain when it comes to protecting Texas citizens as the incumbent governor.

Two movies of note premiering in Toronto

The Toronto Film Festival has become known as the event that kicks off "Oscar season." In other words, the best picture Oscar winner probably premieres at the festival or opens its theatrical run soon after the festival ends.

Festival organizers yesterday announced a slate of films to be shown there this year, including new ones from the Coen brothers, Michael Moore and Drew Barrymore's directorial debut (a film about roller derbies starring Ellen Page). But, here are two films I cut from the news release that I had not heard about previously, but sound particularly intriguing:

Harry Brown
Directed by Daniel Barber
United Kingdom
Harry Brown is a provocative and thought-provoking modern urban western featuring a tour-de-force lead performance from two-time Academy Award-winner Michael Caine. Harry Brown has lived to see his community descend into crime and violence, and ruled over by a gang of teenage thugs. After his best friend is brutally murdered and the gang leader responsible walks free, Harry reaches a breaking point and revenge becomes his only aim.

Perrier’s Bounty
Directed by Ian Fitzgibbon
Ireland/United Kingdom
When Michael’s (Cillian Murphy) debt to Dublin kingpin Darren Perrier (Brendan Gleeson) is called in and one of Perrier’s goons accidentally ends up dead, Michael escapes to the mountains with his father Jim (Jim Broadbent) and best friend, Brenda. Flat broke, on the run and with only 24 hours to pay up, Michael is forced to confront his true feelings for Brenda and make amends with his father. However, with Perrier and his gang in hot pursuit, time is running out for Michael and only fate, a bit of luck and possibly a gang of savage dogs will save him, in this cracking gangster comedy.

Basterds in Austin


The Alamo Draft House, which many folks, including yours truly, were hoping would add a location in Casa Linda Center, is hosting a dusk-to-dawn movie marathon at its downtown Austin spot Saturday, Aug. 15, beginning at 9 p.m. The big news about this, however, is that the main (only?) draw during the marathon is a screening of Quentin Tarantino's much-anticipated new film, Inglorious Basterds, after which Mr. Tarantino his ownself will be around to participate in a "Q&A."

Advance warning: The event is going to be fairly restricted. Tickets, priced at $100 each, will go on sale noon Thursday but may only be purchased by 2009 Fantastic Fest badgeholders and members of the Austin Film Society. If any tickets are left after that, they will go on sale to the public at noon Friday.

The rest of the movies to be shown during the marathon include two selected by Tarantino that he claims influenced him. After that, it's all pretty hush-hush. But here's something I don't quite understand. The announcement from the Alamo Draft House says the ticket price includes "dinner, the screening and simulcast of the Q&A." Simulcast? Is Tarantino going to be there or not?

Never make my move too soon


For all those who just shelled out a ton of dough to purchase a plasma or high-definition television thinking "Whooo-weee, I'm set for life with the newest technology," better be prepared for the word that in a year or two all those contraptions are going to be obsolete.

At least that's what DreamWorks CEO Jerry Katzenberg told the Hollywood Reporter. Katzenberg says the next big thing is 3-D televisions, that monitors are already shipping and they should be in stores early next year.

In the beginning, Katzenberg said, consumers will require special glasses but that autostereo displays will negate that need "in a handful of years."

Who should play Landry?


The Dallas Observer's Unfair Park blog posed an interesting question today: If you were making a movie involving the NFL, what actor would want to play Tom Landry? I know, the obvious answer is Philip Seymour Hoffman because he play anybody. But the actor that immediately came to my mind was James Rebhorn.

Who? Yeah, he's one of those actors everyone has seen, but few can remember his name. He was the doctor that tried to make Dennis Quaid's character straight in Far From Heaven and the judge in Baby Mama. Take a look at his picture here and tell me this actor should not play Tom Landry.

All that fuss about competition swimsuits

As I walked out in the streets of Laredo,
as I walked out in Laredo one day.
I spied a young cowboy dressed in white linen.
Dressed in white linen and cold as the clay.

I can see by your outfit that you are a cowboy.
You can see by my outfit I`m a cowboy, too.
You can see by our outfits that we are both cowboys.
Get yourself an outfit and be a cowboy, too!

--Nick Reynolds/Bob Shane/John Stewart

Take one small step for man: Ban texting


Eight days ago I implored the Dallas City Council -- on behalf of its stated No. 1 priority: public safety -- to expand its ban on motorists using mobile phones in school zones to a citywide ban. This is the same Dallas City Council acting, it said, to protect the health and welfare of its citizens, that banned smoking in all public places. For the most part, I can choose whether I want to shun a bar or a restaurant because it permits smoking by patrons, but I'm afraid I have no choice but to use the roads in our fair city; in fact I use them daily, more often than not.

But perhaps a citywide mobile phone ban on motorists while operating a moving vehicle may be too radical position for our timid council members to take. But here's a first step: ban texting while driving. It doesn't take a genius to realize that a driver simply cannot text and watch on the road on which he is driving at the same time.

Now there's a study on drivers texting inside their vehicles that's about to be released by researchers at Virginia Tech University which shows that the risk sharply exceeds previous estimates based on laboratory research — and far surpasses the dangers of other driving distractions.

"The new study, which entailed outfitting the cabs of long-haul trucks with video cameras over 18 months, found that when the drivers texted, their collision risk was 23 times greater than when not texting," according to the New York Times' story on the study.

Here's the frightening part of this study: When texting, drivers typically look at their devices for up to five seconds -- "enough time at typical highway speeds to cover more than the length of a football field."

Please, council members, take this first step of banning texting while driving. My son drives his 3-year-old daughter to pre-school camp at the Jewish Community Center every day before he heads to his medical school studies. While reading about this Virginia Tech study, I could not help but think about them being blindsided by some errant texting driver.

If public safety is indeed the No. 1 priority of you folks on the City Council (although I do realize that, at this moment, passing a balanced budget that won't anger your constituents too much is really your No. 1 priority) and if you are really serious about protecting our well-being, as you said you were when you passed the smoking ban, than the time has come to at least ban texting while operating a motor vehicle on the streets of Dallas.

Monday, July 27, 2009

McLaughlin: Gov. Hair "is beyond bad;" he "is downright evil"

Blogger Ted McLaughlin wrote today about Gov. Hair's desire to make sure Texas continues to lead the nation in refusing to provide adequate health care to its citizens. To his credit, McLaughlin didn't mince words.

According to figures from the U.S. Census Bureau and other agencies, anywhere from 25 to 40 percent of Texans do not have any health insurance whatsoever. What's so shocking about that number is that 82 percent of them are employed. What's even more shocking is that Gov. Hair will make sure these people remain uninsured, even if Congress passes health reform legislation.

"Texas has a governor named Rick Perry (elected by only 39% of the vote in a sparse election turnout)," McLaughlin writes. "This Republican governor long ago sold out to his corporate masters and the lunatic right-wing fringe of his party. These elements don't want any health care reform. They have their insurance -- to hell with everyone else!"

During a conversation with conservative WBAP talk show Mark Davis, Gov. Hair said he would invoke the states rights protection of the 1oth amendment. "It really is a state issue, and if there was ever an argument for the 10th Amendment and for letting the states find a solution to their problems, this may be at the top of the class," Gov. Hair told Davis and his radio audience.

Perhaps it is a state issue, but, if it is, Gov. Hair isn't lifting a finger to do anything about it.

"The only thing he has done regarding health insurance is try to deny health insurance to many poor children through the CHIPS program," McLaughlin writes. "It was bad enough that the governor refused about 160 million in stimulus money to help the unemployed of Texas, but to deny health insurance and care to sick and dying people for a cause of 'states rights' is beyond bad -- it is downright evil. If this fool follows through on his awful promise, he will be denying preventive care to more than a quarter of Texas' population. They will only get care when they are seriously ill (and in many cases too late to be cured) and are willing to wait for 12 to 20 hours in a hospital emergency room. He is willing to let many die that could have been saved if they had health insurance. Perry simply doesn't care about the people of Texas."

Spot on, Mr. McLaughlin.

That's one side of the story

This story on Mitchell Ransansky by Sam Merten of the Dallas Observer cries out for a point-by-point response from Da Mayor. It's a well-written, interesting read, but completely one-sided. Sam also might get another picture of Rasansky by speaking to other, even former, council members (Lois Finkleman and Voletta Lill immediately come to mind), especially if he would agree to quote them anonymously, if they so desired. I am a big fan of Sam's, beginning from the days when he wrote for Dallasblog -- he was one of the local writers who inspired me to start this journal -- but I have long suspected he has some journalistic man crush on Rasansky. I have never read anything by Merten on Rasansky that didn't border on idolatry even when the councilman would, for instance, launch a rant on something the city wanted to do at an airport, only to learn the airport in question was Dallas Executive and not Love Field. Writing the Observer, especially its blog, Merten has the right to express his opinion, but he owes it to his readers to at least make some pretense of getting responses to some of Ransansky's accusations, even if Merten doesn't agree with those responses.

Did anyone else notice that elephant in the room


This picture was taken by my son from his seat at last night's Chelsea-Club America soccer contest at Jonestown and my first thought upon seeing it is "Wow! If that damn thing fell, it could really hurt someone."

When you absolutely positively got to have it and are willing to pay and arm and a leg to get it

Are you looking for the perfect gift for that Beatles fanatic friend of yours? I thought so, but I'm going to give you some suggestions anyway. How about a handwritten letter from John Lennon to Bhaskar Menon (he was the chairman of Capitol Records back in the early 1970s when Lennon wrote the letter) calling the "rife" speculation that the Beatles would get back together "such an unfounded untrue rumour." The letter can be had for a mere pittance (i.e., between $22,000 and $25,000) through an on-line auction going on for the next 10 days or so. Incidentally, the bidding starts at $20,000.

So that's a little out of your price range, eh? Another item being auctioned off is a National Westminster Bank check made out to John Lennon signed by both Lennon and Paul McCartney in black and blue ink, respectively, dated June 14, 1976. The minimum bid on this one is a mere $9,000 and the item is expected to go for between $11,000 and $13,000.

But there's more than just Beatles items in the auction. You can start the bidding at $15,000 for Bob Dylan's handwritten working lyrics for A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall or $20,000 for a poem handwritten by Jimi Hendrix. Pictured on the right up there is the earliest known contract signed by Jimi Hendrix (the contract calls him "Jimmy" throughout) and the bidding on this one starts at $200,000.

Not everything on this list is as expensive as those mentioned. In fact, the jacket pictured here was custom made for Mick Jagger and the bidding on that item begins at only $800. There's Elvis stuff on here, Keith Moon's drumsticks, a Janis Joplin police mug shot, Grateful Dead concert posters, a sleeveless denim jacket worn by Bruce Springsteen during his Born in the U.S.A. tour, a bustier worn by Madonna during her Like a Virgin tour as well as a pair of micro cassettes containing erotic messages Madonna left on boyfriend Jim Albright's answering machine between 1992-1993 (minimum bid 25-large).

Now for those who don't want to spend this kind of cash, there are deals for you at the auction as well. How about the sheet music to Joy to the World signed by all the guys in Three Dog Night. Someone has already started the bidding on this one at $50, but I'm betting you can steal it for $70. Hurry -- only nine days, six minutes and 21 seconds left to get your bid in.

New movies to be released tomorrow on DVD

An American Affair (2009) *½ Hard to say what’s dumber, the premise or the characters in William Olsson’s trashily preposterous film.

Bart Got a Room (2009) *** The mysterious Bart and the mythology of the senior prom as the defining moment in the life of a teenager are the unseen specters hovering over this slight comedy.

Big Man Japan (2009) *** The effects are reasonably well-created, though hardly transparent. The last 15 minutes of the film spin out into unimaginable realms. Fans of this kind of stuff will leave smitten; those accompanying them to the theater will have a pretty good time too.

Dragonball: Evolution (2009) ** The film is crammed with treats for old-school "Dragonball" fans, from the inclusion of all these characters (who don't actually do much) to the moment when spiky-haired Goku dons his orange gi. For everyone else, this amounts to another seen-it-before, probably-willing-to-see-it-again distraction.

Fast & Furious (2009) ** A loud, dumb movie, but its male, car-obsessed audience will probably enjoy it anyway.

Miss March (2009) ½* Here's the deal: The worst sex cartoon in Playboy's long history can't compete with the sheer vacuousness of this inane comedy.

Severed Ways: The Norse Discovery of America (2009) **½ Though there’s no doubt that writer/director Tony Stone is as serious as a heart attack when it comes to creating an air of authenticity — hence the sloppily butchered chickens and authorial defecation — he never settles on a coherent tone for the movie.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

That lying Shona Holmes TV commercial


Of course, all commercials lie to us. That's why they're called "commercials." But this one is more insidious than your average TV spot. It depicts a woman named Shona Holmes from Canada who claims that she was denied treatment for her brain tumor in her home country and would have died had she not elected to come across the border where medical care is so much superior to that found in her country. The commercial is designed to get public support mounted against President Obama's health care reform ideas.

The truth of the matter is Shona Holmes never had a brain tumor. She had a cyst. "Shona Holmes chose to jump the queue and go stateside for treatment she didn’t really need..." The irony of all this is that Ms. Holmes was born with this cyst and, thus, it would be classified by private insurance companies as a "pre-existing condition." In other words, her surgery would not have been covered by insurance in the United States, but it would have in Canada.

This jerk paid for the surgery she had in Arizona out of her own pocket and is now back in Canada where she has filed a lawsuit in attempt to get her money back. Lotsa luck on that!

Scattershooting while wondering what the hell happened to...

Forgive me, Sir Blackie, but am I the only one wondering why sportswriters Rich Gosselin and Eddie Sefko have been missing of late from the pages of the Dallas Morning News?

Health Care Reform: What's in it for you and me



If you're like me, if you haven't been passionately involved in the health care reform debate because, frankly, you don't understand the details. Even President Obama's plea to the nation last week on national television did little to explain exactly what effect health care reform will have on the average American citizen.


The New York Times did a superb job today of making "some educated guesses about the likely winners and losers" if such reform passes Congressional muster as well as answering some of the basic questions a lot of folks, including yours truly, have been asking. Here, in full, is that report:


The health care reform bills moving through Congress look as though they would do a good job of providing coverage for millions of uninsured Americans. But what would they do for the far greater number of people who already have insurance? As President Obama noted in his news conference last week, many of them are wondering: “What’s in this for me? How does my family stand to benefit from health insurance reform?”

Many crucial decisions on coverage and financing have yet to be made, but the general direction of the legislation is clear enough to make some educated guesses about the likely winners and losers.

WHAT ARE THE ELEMENTS OF REFORM? The House bill and a similar bill in the Senate would require virtually all Americans to carry health insurance with specified minimum benefits or pay a penalty. They would require all but the smallest businesses to provide and subsidize insurance that meets minimum standards for their workers or pay a fee for failing to do so.

The reforms would help the poorest of the uninsured by expanding Medicaid. Some middle-class Americans — earning up to three or four times the poverty level, or $66,000 to $88,000 for a family of four — would get subsidies to help them buy coverage through new health insurance exchanges, national or state, which would offer a menu of policies from different companies.


IS THERE HELP FOR THE INSURED? Many insured people need help almost as much as the uninsured. Premiums and out-of-pocket spending for health care have been rising far faster than wages. Millions of people are “underinsured” — their policies don’t come close to covering their medical bills. Many postpone medical care or don’t fill prescriptions because they can’t afford to pay their share of the costs. And many declare personal bankruptcy because they are unable to pay big medical debts.

The reform effort should help ease the burdens of many of them, some more quickly than others. The legislation seems almost certain to include a new marketplace, the so-called health insurance exchange. Since there will be tens of millions of new subscribers, virtually all major insurers are expected to offer policies through an exchange. To participate, these companies would have to agree to provide a specified level of benefits, and they would set premiums at rates more comparable to group rates for big employers than to the exorbitant rates typically charged for individual coverage.

Under the House bill, the exchanges would start operating in 2013. They would be open initially to people who lack any insurance; to the 13 million people who have bought individual policies from insurance companies, which often charge them high rates for relatively skimpy coverage; and to employees of small businesses, who often pay high rates for their group policies, especially if a few of their co-workers have run up high medical bills. By the third year, larger businesses might be allowed to shift their workers to an exchange. All told, the Congressional Budget Office estimates that 36 million people would be covered by policies purchased on an exchange by 2019.

IS THERE MORE SECURITY FOR ALL? As part of health reform, all insurance companies would be more tightly regulated. For Americans who are never quite certain that their policies will come through for them when needed, that is very good news.

The House bill, for example, would require that all new policies sold on or off the exchanges must offer yet-to-be-determined “essential benefits.” It would prohibit those policies from excluding or charging higher rates to people with pre-existing conditions and would bar the companies from rescinding policies after people come down with a serious illness. It would also prohibit insurers from setting annual or lifetime limits on what a policy would pay. All this would kick in immediately for all new policies. These rules would start in 2013 for policies purchased on the exchange, and, after a grace period, would apply to employer-provided plans as well.

WHO PAYS? Current estimates suggest that it would cost in the neighborhood of $1 trillion over 10 years to extend coverage to tens of millions of uninsured Americans. Under current plans, half or more of that would be covered by reducing payments to providers within the giant Medicare program, but the rest would require new taxes or revenue sources.

If President Obama and House Democratic leaders have their way, the entire tax burden would be dropped on families earning more than $250,000 or $350,000 or $1 million a year, depending on who’s talking. There is strong opposition in the Senate, and it seems likely that at least some burden would fall on the less wealthy.

Many Americans reflexively reject the idea of any new taxes — especially to pay for others’ health insurance. They should remember that if this reform effort fails, there is little hope of reining in the relentless rise of health care costs. That means their own premiums and out-of-pocket medical expenses will continue to soar faster than their wages. And they will end up paying higher taxes anyway, to cover a swelling federal deficit driven by escalating Medicare and Medicaid costs.

WHO WON’T BE HAPPY? Healthy young people who might prefer not to buy insurance at all will probably be forced to by a federal mandate. That is all to the good. When such people get into a bad accident or contract a serious illness, they often can’t pay the cost of their care, and the rest of us bear their burden. Moreover, conscripting healthy people into the insured pool would help reduce the premiums for sicker people.

Less clear is what financial burden middle-income Americans would bear when forced to buy coverage. There are concerns that the subsidies ultimately approved by Congress might not be generous enough.

WHAT IF I HAVE GOOD GROUP COVERAGE? The main gain for these people is greater security. If they got laid off or chose to leave their jobs, they would no longer be faced with the exorbitant costs of individually bought insurance but could buy new policies through the insurance exchanges at affordable rates.

President Obama has also pledged that if you like your current insurance you can keep it.
Right now employers are free to change or even drop your coverage at any time. Under likely reforms, they would remain free to do so, provided they paid a penalty to help offset the cost for their workers who would then buy coverage through an exchange. Under the House reform bill, all employers would eventually be allowed to enroll their workers in insurance exchanges that would offer an array of policies to choose from, including a public plan whose premiums would almost certainly be lower than those of competing private plans.

Some employers might well conclude that it is a better deal — for them or for you — to subsidize your coverage on the exchange rather than in your current plan. If so, you might end up with better or cheaper coverage. You would probably also have a wider choice of plans, since most employers offer only one or two options.

WILL I PAY LESS? Two factors could help drive down the premiums for those who are insured. In the short-term, if reform manages to cover most of the uninsured, that should greatly reduce the amount of charity care delivered by hospitals and eliminate the need for the hospitals to shift such costs to patients who have private insurance. One oft-cited study estimates that cost-shifting to cover care for the uninsured adds about $1,000 to a family’s annual insurance premiums; other experts think it may be a few hundred dollars. In theory, eliminating most charity care should help hold down or even reduce the premiums charged for private insurance. When, if ever, that might happen is unclear.

In the long run, if reform efforts slow the growth of health care costs, then the increase in insurance costs should ease as well. And if the new health insurance exchanges — and possibly a new public plan — inject more competition into markets that are often dominated by one or two big private insurance companies, that, too, could help bring down premiums. But these are big question marks, and the effects seem distant.

WILL MY CARE SUFFER? Critics have raised the specter that health care will be “rationed” to save money. The truth is that health care is already rationed. No insurance, public or private, covers everything at any cost. That will not change any time soon.

It is true that the long-term goal of health reform is to get rid of the fee-for-service system in which patients often get very expensive care but not necessarily the best care. Virtually all experts blame the system for runaway health care costs because it pays doctors and hospitals for each service they perform, thus providing a financial incentive to order excessive tests or treatments, some of which harm the patients.

An earlier wave of managed care plans concentrated on reining in costs and aroused a backlash among angry beneficiaries who were denied the care they wanted. The most expensive treatment is not always the best treatment. The reform bills call for research and pilot programs to find ways to both control costs and improve patients’ care.

The bills would alter payment incentives in Medicare to reduce needless readmissions to hospitals. They would promote comparative effectiveness research to determine which treatments are best but would not force doctors to use them. And they call for pilot programs in Medicare to test the best ways for doctors to manage and coordinate a patient’s total care.

Any changes in the organization of care would take time to percolate from Medicare throughout the health care system. They are unlikely to affect most people in the immediate future.

WHAT DOES IT MEAN FOR OLDER AMERICANS? People over 65 are already covered by Medicare and would seem to have little to gain. But many of the chronically ill elderly who use lots of drugs could save significant money. The drug industry has already agreed to provide 50 percent discounts on brand-name drugs to Medicare beneficiaries who have reached the so-called “doughnut hole” where they must pay the full cost of their medicines. The House reform bill would gradually phase out the doughnut hole entirely, thus making it less likely that beneficiaries will stop taking their drugs once they have to pay the whole cost.

Not everyone in Medicare will be happy. The prospective losers are likely to include many people enrolled in the private plans that participate in Medicare, known as Medicare Advantage plans. They are heavily subsidized, and to pay for reform, Congress is likely to reduce or do away with those subsidies. If so, many of these plans are apt to charge their clients more for their current policies or offer them fewer benefits. The subsidies are hard to justify when the care could be delivered more cheaply in traditional Medicare, and the subsidies force up the premiums for the beneficiaries in traditional Medicare to cover their cost.

Reformers are planning to finance universal coverage in large part by saving money in the traditional Medicare program, raising the question of whether all beneficiaries will face a reduction in benefits. President Obama insisted that benefits won’t be reduced, they’ll simply be delivered in more efficient ways, like better coordination of care, elimination of duplicate tests and reliance on treatments known to work best.

The AARP, the main lobby for older Americans, has praised the emerging bills and thrown its weight behind the cause. All of this suggests to us that the great majority of Americans — those with insurance and those without — would benefit from health care reform.

The above account is a copyrighted story that appeared in today's New York Times.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Denny's may not be haute cuisine, but give me a break here


The Center for Science in the Public Interest, "a nonprofit group active in nutrition and food-safety issues." is suing Denny's restaurants, claiming the chain has too much salt in its food. "The lawsuit asks the court to order Denny’s to list the sodium content of its food on the menu and warn about the hazards of consuming salt in high doses."

Here's my advice to the Center for Science in the Public Interest: If you think Denny's has too much salt in its food, don't eat there. Start a Web site that advocates others shouldn't eat there either. List all the dangers of a sodium-loaded diet. But don't go filing lawsuits that restrict my ability to get a Meat Lover's Scramble if and when I might be craving a Meat Lover's Scramble. If you educate me about the dangers of too much sodium in my diet and I still choose to go to Denny's, that's my choice and, as an American, I enjoy freedom of choice.

Duel of the titans: Cameron challenges Tarantino

"I'm speechless," said Nahum Villalobos, a 19-year-old Navy recruit from Vista, Calif., who watched 25 minutes of exclusive footage of Avatar along with 6,500 people at the Comic-Con convention in San Diego on Thursday. "It's more extraordinary than any other movie that is out there, or has been."

This quote came courtesy of an AP story about James Cameron's much anticipated 3-D epic, the first feature he has directed since Titanic which spins the tale of "an ex-soldier's interactions with 10-foot-tall aliens on the luminous planet of Pandora."

Now comes word that Cameron's next marketing ploy will be a free 15-minute 3-D preview of his film at selected theaters around the country on Aug. 21, which also happens to be the day Quentin Tarantino's Inglorious Basterds is supposed to open. Originally, the Weinstein Company thought it had that day all to itself, but Cameron's ploy could really impact what needs to be a strong opening for Tarantino's film.

I love it when these guys feed upon each other.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Angela Hunt and the city's committee system


There's been a lot of unnecessary conversation about the fact that Da Mayor announced his second round of committee assignments and, once again, council member Angela Hunt was passed over for a committee chair or vice chair position. And I'm thinking "So, what's the big deal?" It's not like she's been kicked off the council. Her voice will still be heard where it matters, at the council horseshoe and at full council briefings. She will continue to be an active voice -- undoubtedly one of the most active voices -- on the council. Not only that, Ms. Hunt will still be on committees and will be an outspoken member of those committees, shaping agenda items that go before the full council. I haven't seen what committees she's been assigned to for the next two years, but I don't think they'll change that much from the ones she was already assigned to: Finance, Audit & Accountability; Housing; Quality of Life; and Transportation & Environment.

I wasn't even going to write the chair snub about it until I saw that Ms. Hunt said essentially the same thing today on her blog. She writes:

"99% of my district couldn’t care less who the council committee chairs are. They care about how the city’s going to handle this budget crisis, what we’re doing to lower crime, how we’ll fix code and repair our streets. They worry about cuts to our libraries and parks and senior services. The very last thing they are concerned about is council committee assignments, and their priorities are my priorities. To that end, I’m going to keep focusing on the issues that matter."

I would also argue that 99 percent of all voters could car less about the council's committee chairs or even the committees themselves. Notice how many citizens attend committee meetings versus full council agenda or briefing sessions. I would also argue that most citizens are more concerned about zoning issues (What? You want to put a Wal-Mart in my neighborhood? Over my dead body.) than they are about "cuts to our libraries and parks and senior services." And zoning issues are not heard by any city council committee before they go to the full council.

So, in this matter, I agree completely with Angela Hunt. No committee chairs = no big deal.

Here's the ugly truth about "The Ugly Truth"


The romantic comedy The Ugly Truth opens tomorrow and its backers, pointing to the success of The Proposal another ro-com from a couple of weeks ago are giddily optimistic. I'm convinced they're in for a major disappointment.

The Proposal's opening weekend was $33.6 million. I'll be surprised if The Ugly Truth makes 60 percent of that -- I'm thinking more like 55 percent might be closer to the ugly truth.

So what has The Proposal got that The Ugly Truth doesn't? First, from what I've heard, The Proposal is simply a far better picture. I have yet to see The Ugly Truth, but I have spoken to four individuals who have and they all said it is bad. Second, Ryan Reynolds of The Proposal is a hot property right now, much, much hotter than Gerard Butler, the male lead of Truth. Everyone refers to The Proposal as a "Sandra Bullock movie," but I know Reynolds pulled his share at the box office. Third, I doubt if anyone is going to challenge my assertion that Katherine Heigl of Truth is a babe (and if you do doubt it, check out the picture of her here) so who's going to buy into a movie plot that claims this babe has a problem attracting men? Fourth and finally, although she is a babe, I'm not convinced Ms. Heigl has "star power" on a level with Sandra Bullock. Not yet, anyway. I've only seen her in the much overrated Knocked Up (I went way out of my way to avoid 27 Dresses) , although people who watch her television show tell me she's very good in it.

So the ugly truth about this movie is that it's not going to come close to The Proposal's box office numbers; in fact, I expect it to finish third this weekend behind the wizards of Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince and the guinea pigs (yes, the guinea pigs) of G Force.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Why Jimmy Carter is no longer a Southern Baptist


Because the religion discriminates against women, that's why. In a strongly worded essay, the former President said the end for him came when leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention, "quoting a few carefully selected Bible verses and claiming that Eve was created second to Adam and was responsible for original sin, ordained that women must be 'subservient' to their husbands and prohibited from serving as deacons, pastors or chaplains in the military service."

He continued: "At its most repugnant, the belief that women must be subjugated to the wishes of men excuses slavery, violence, forced prostitution, genital mutilation and national laws that omit rape as a crime. But it also costs many millions of girls and women control over their own bodies and lives, and continues to deny them fair access to education, health, employment and influence within their own communities."

ESPN to challenge Morning News sports

ESPN plans to inaugurate a Web site devoted entirely to Dallas area sports sometime "in the fall," presumably timed to cash in on local football fever. ESPN ran a test of the local Web site concept in Chicago and, according to the New York Times, "In less than three months, ESPN Chicago has become the city’s top sports site, attracting about 590,000 unique visitors in June ... Second place went to The (Chicago) Tribune’s online sports section with 455,000 unique visitors."

The Times also said "Once ESPN establishes itself in local markets, it plans to move deeper into local sports — down to the high school level and perhaps beyond — by using social networking and other technology to inform its journalism."

I'd be willing to bet ESPN wouldn't be trying this if a certain legendary sports writer was still working today.

New movies to be released tomorrow on DVD

(Reviews are now on a 5-star maximum system)
Coraline (2009) ***½ Essentially a horror movie for kids, but it is also gentle and funny and whimsical, and even in its darkest moments, Selick never forgets who his target audience is. Still, some young children might have a nightmare or two after seeing it.

Echelon Conspiracy (2009) *½ All this film can offer is some wobbly action and views of Red Square.

The Great Buck Howard (2009) ****½ This film is in love with kitsch, the backwaters of showbiz, and true magic. It's a wee charmer that left me enchanted.

Sherman’s Way (2009) ***½ Director Craig Saavedra generates surprising warmth from the familiar tropes of the odd-couple road movie. Shooting mostly in the verdant sweep of California's wine country — and with a superb supporting cast — he allows James LeGros room to engage.

Super Capers (2009) Unseen by me.

Watchmen (2009) ***** The casting clicks; the visuals have leaped right out of Dave Gibbons' original panels; the action is brutal, stylish and well-staged, and — with most of the major characters, themes and symbolism are retained in an abbreviated form — the 2½-hour film makes an enjoyably esoteric Cliff's Notes version of the book.

The First Moon Landing


Today is the 40th anniversary of the day Neil Armstrong landed on the moon. I know because (1) it is the major story in all the newspapers and (2) Turner Classic Movies is featuring "moon" movies all day (Have Rocket, Will Travel with the Three Stooges just ended and Walt Disney's Moon Pilot starring whatever happened to Tom Tryon comes up next).

But whenever I think of the first moon landing the thoughts that come to mind have very little to do with "That's one small step for man..." I think of the Rolling Stones, Chuck Berry, Moody Coliseum, old U.S. 75, piranhas, splashdown parties, short heroes and quarantines. I'll explain.

The night before Apollo 11 blasted off from Cape Canaveral, the Rolling Stones performed a concert at Moody Coliseum. Chuck Berry was the opening act and I first began to feel somewhat past my prime when I heard the person sitting right behind me say to his companion ("Do you know who this Chuck Berry person is?"). As soon as the concert was over, I hopped in my car -- a 1969 Pontiac GTO (I knew how to travel back then) -- and headed south for the apartment UPI rented for me at the Portofino Arms across the highway from NASA in what is now known as Clear Lake City.

Back then, Interstate 45 wasn't completed all the way between Dallas and Houston. From Fairfield to just north of Huntsville, it was still a two-lane, windy, hilly highway, U.S. 75. All along the roadway were signs designating how many persons had been killed in traffic accidents along that stretch. As soon as I hit this two-lane stretch I noticed a pair of headlights in my rear view mirror. Whenever I came upon an 18-wheeler and found an opportunity to pass it, that car behind me did the same. After I while I began thinking "How do I shake this clown? What's he doing staying right on my tail?" By the time I got to Huntsville, I needed to get some gas. When I pulled into the station, my "stalker" pulled in right behind me. As I got out to pump my gas, my follower pulled alongside. A rather attractive woman extricated herself from the auto and thanked me profusely for "guiding" her through that two-way stretch. The way she was talking she would have never made it on her own and that I probably saved her life. I kid thee not. We talked. It turned out she was on her way to Houston to take on a new job. We agreed to meet again for dinner in Houston later in the week.

During all the Apollo missions, UPI brought in lead writers from all over the country to man its space station bureau. I was brought in from Dallas to run the overnight with the great Ron Cohen from New York. Another writer brought in from New York was Lou Carr. When I first came to UPI, all I knew about Lou Carr was from the notes I received from him over the wire that were signed simply LC/NX ("NX" was UPI's designation for its New York City bureau). From these notes I pictured Lou Carr as a three-piece suiter and was pleasantly surprised when, on the first Apollo mission we all covered, I met a Lou Carr who was dressed in jeans, a psychedelic shirt that would make Jimi Hendrix jealous and a scarf. Yes, the man wore a scarf that I imagine trailed out nicely behind him when he drove his MGA with the top down through the Catskills. There was a clubhouse at the Portofino Arms (UPI rented out the entire complex during the Apollo missions) and the clubhouse contained a bar. The bar contained an aquarium full of piranhas, of all things, and we all got a kick when the bartender dropped some meat in the tank and the fish tore it to shreds. As we left the bar, Lou, the crazy SOB, would stick his hand in that tank and pet the piranhas. And they would let him!

The splashdown parties were late-sixties/early seventies bacchanalia. They commenced as soon as the astronauts were recovered safely and they were held poolside at a designated home in the astronaut community around NASA headquarters. Cohen, Carr, another great UPI writer named H.D. "Doc" Quigg and I would have a standing bet with the winner being the person who came closest to guessing how many minutes would elapse between the start of the party and when the first clothed female would jump into the pool. All the other astronauts and their wives would attend the splashdown parties. Now, I always looked up to the Apollo astronauts. They were true heroes in my book. But I never got over the shock at each splashdown party of seeing how short all these guys were, most of them at least a half-foot shorter than me. The Apollo capsules were comparatively small to begin with and fitting a trio of humans in there made it pretty snug. Thus, the maximum height of an Apollo astronaut was 5-10 and most were shorter than that.

On the pre-moon landing Apollo missions, the splashdown parties signaled the end of our stay in Houston. But Apollo 11 changed all that. Fearing the possibility the astronauts who walked on the lunar surface might have come in contact with some sort of extra-terrestrial life form that could have caused heavens-know-what if the astronauts brought it to earth (I mean, you did see the movie Alien, didn't you?), the astronauts were quarantined for two weeks upon their return to Houston. I don't know I got the short stick on this one. Perhaps it was because I was only 250 miles or so from home while the rest of the writers UPI shipped in for the Apollo missions were from New York, Washington, D.C., Miami and Los Angeles. Regardless, I got the assignment of covering the quarantine. You talk about a boring assignment. For two weeks I was stuck in Houston covering a trio of inaccessible astronauts. The bright side was that I was able to duck down to Manuel's in Galveston a couple of times a week for some great seafood.

So those are my recollections of the Apollo moon missions in general and Apollo 11 in particular. My memories are going to be different from most others, but there you have it.


Sunday, July 19, 2009

Winners of Oscars for first half of the year



Last Tuesday, in a frenzy of publishing lists, I listed Awards Daily's nominations for the Oscars, if the Academy gave out awards for movies that opened the first half of the year. Following me so far? At the time I said there was no mention of when winners would be announced. It turns out they were announced today and The Hurt Locker isn't hurting. Here are the winners:



BEST PICTURE
The Hurt Locker

BEST DIRECTOR
Kathyrn Bigelow for The Hurt Locker

BEST ACTOR
Jeremy Renner in The Hurt Locker

BEST ACTRESS
Michelle Pfeiffer in Cheri

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Anthony Mackie in The Hurt Locker

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Gwyneth Paltrow in Two Lovers

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Up

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
Coraline

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
The Hurt Locker

BEST FILM EDITING
The Hurt Locker

BEST ART DIRECTION
Coraline

BEST COSTUME DESIGN
Cheri

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE
Up

BEST SOUND MIXING
Star Trek

BEST SOUND EDITING
Star Trek

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
Star Trek

BEST MAKE UP
Drag Me to Hell

Dallas City Council needs to expand mobile phone ban


The Dallas City Council claims public safety is its No. 1 priority. That's why, for example, even when facing a $190 million budget deficit, the council will want to continue hiring 200 new police officers next year while reserving the program cutbacks for parks, libraries, streets and the like.

A while ago, the council enacted a ban on the use of mobile devices by drivers of motor vehicles in school zones, presumably under the argument that it's more dangerous for a driver to text someone while driving 20 miles an hour in a school zone than while doing 70 on LBJ. But if the council really was that concerned about public safety it would demonstrate the leadership and the courage to enact this ban city-wide. I bring this up now because of what I read in today's New York Times:

"Extensive research shows the dangers of distracted driving. Studies say that drivers using phones are four times as likely to cause a crash as other drivers, and the likelihood that they will crash is equal to that of someone with a .08 percent blood alcohol level, the point at which drivers are generally considered intoxicated. Research also shows that hands-free devices do not eliminate the risks, and may worsen them by suggesting that the behavior is safe. "

There's plenty of evidence to support these claims.

According to a Harvard study conducted six years ago, according to the Times, "cellphone distractions caused 2,600 traffic deaths every year, and 330,000 accidents that result in moderate or severe injuries."

The Dallas City Council took a necessary first step by banning the use of mobile devices by drivers in school zones. But that's like tipping the big toe in the pool to test the water temperature. Well, the temperature must be fine because no one I know is talking about removing this ban; so now is the time to take the plunge and really take actions to protect the safety of the public.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Another loss to mourn

I never once thought of the State Fair of Texas without thinking of Jean Carpenter and I never thought about Jean Carpenter without thinking State Fair of Texas and, yes, Santa Fe, New Mexico, her other home. Jean was the consummate PR professional, with emphasis on the word "professional." She died Friday at the age of 80 following a lengthy illness. She will be missed by her friends and all those with whom she dealt with. Good night, Jean.

He was the best


Every single wanna-be news anchor in the world wanted to be just like Walter Cronkite. And, if they didn't, they should have. For almost 20 years, he was a nightly presence wherever my home was during those nights. Sure there was David Brinkley and Chet Huntley, but no one -- no one -- delievered the news like Cronkite. And that's the way it was.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Will KBH play statesman or politician?


The following is an excerpt from a story about Sen. Kay Baily Hutchison that appeared in the May 20, 1993, edition of the Dallas Morning News:

"Ms. Hutchison said she will not apply any 'litmus test' to a (Supreme Court) nominee, and she indicated in an April debate that she would vote to confirm an abortion-rights supporter if the person is qualified overall. 'I would only vote against a Supreme Court nominee if there was a question of character, if the person was unfit for office or unqualified for office,' Ms. Hutchison said."

Using that standard, there seems to be no question that Sen. Hutchison will vote to approve Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the court. Yeah, but wait a minute. According to the latest polls, KBH, who is seeking to wrest the Texas GOP gubernatorial nomination from Gov. Hair, is 10 points behind the incumbent and needs to do more to pander to the extreme right wing of the party that will ultimately decide the nominee. Hence the prediction here is she will vote against a nominee of unquestionable character who comes to the position with more federal judicial experience than any other Supreme Court nominee in a 100 years.

I also think it won't do her any good and probably a lot of harm. She will lose the nomination anyway (especially if she continues to run as poor a campaign as she has to date) and will irreparably damage her image among Hispanics who currently comprise 30 percent of Texas' voting population. Anyone who puts themselves in a no-win situation is, by definition, bound to lose.

The new Straw Dogs


Sam Peckinpah's Straw Dogs was one of the 10 best films of 1971. It starred Dustin Hoffman as this nebbish American who relocates to rural England with his new bride (played by Susan George, in what is largely a decorative role). When his home is invaded and his wife assaulted, the taciturn Hoffman character resorts to violence to protect his property. Hey, if you haven't seen it, trust me -- the film is a lot better then this description of it.

Peckinpah was a writer/director who specialized in films, particularly westerns, with streaks of violence. His masterpiece was The Wild Bunch (1969), but he also directed such landmark films as The Ballad of Cable Hogue, Major Dundee and the superb Ride the High Country. Recently I have been watching the first season (1955) of the television series Gunsmoke and two of the episodes I have seen so far have been written by Peckinpah.

Straw Dogs is being remade, directed by someone, Rod Lurie (Nothing But the Truth, The Contender) who seems the antithesis of Peckinpah. Is that a good thing? We'll have to see. Lurie is setting his film in America, not England. In the remake, James Marsden is a Hollywood screenwriter, whose actress/wife (Kate Bosworth) suggests they return to her Mississippi hometown so he can finish his latest script surrounded by peace and quiet. Alexander Skarsgard plays Bosworth's high school football hero boyfriend who decides to relive former glories when the Bosworth character returns. I really liked what Lurie did with Kate Beckinsale in Nothing But the Truth and Joan Allen in The Contender. He has a tougher assignment this time, just because of the nature of the Bosworth character. I'm anxious to see how he transforms this.

An $80 million cosmetic surgery Dallas doesn't need

Dallas is seeking $80 million in federal transportation funds for the first phase of a streetcar system. Why? I dunno. The only reason I can think of is that City Council member Angela Hunt, a chief advocate of this ridiculous idea, went to Portland, Ore., saw the streetcars there and thought "Oh, that's so cool and so environmental -- we need to do that in Dallas."

Sure. Fine. Whatever.

Someone, anyone, please tell me what streetcars can do that the current and planned DART rail lines and bus service can't. Jarrett Walker, a public transit consultant from the aforementioned Portland, says essentially the same thing and he admits "I love riding streetcars." But he also states quite succinctly: "Streetcars that replace bus lines are not a mobility improvement. If you replace a bus with a streetcar on the same route, nobody will be able to get anywhere any faster than they could before."

So why spend $80 million on this boondoggle? I'm thinking it's nothing more than an image thing, window dressing, something to make Dallas appear more urbane, more sophisticated. Hey, I have an idea. Why not seek $80 million to find ways to create more foot traffic around the CBD -- plazas, fountains, esplanades, sidewalk cafes? That will accomplish the same thing and not waste money duplicating what we already have.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

So much for all that "liberty and justice for all" nonsense

In response to President Obama's attempts to create a department to protect consumers by regulating mortgage rates, credit cards, payday loans and othe financial products, Alabama Senator Richard C. Shelby, the ranking Republican on the Senate Banking Committee, said:

“I find it a bit disturbing and somewhat offensive that the concept of the intellectually deficient consumer has found a voice in our legislative process.”

Ramon Miguez retiring from the City of Dallas


I can't get over the notion that Ramon Miguez took one for the team.

To me, the most telling sentence in Dallas City Manager Mary Suhm's announcement that one of her assistant city managers was "retiring" was the one that began the final sentence of her memo: "Due to the current budget restraints we will be holding this position open for now." Then she attached an new organization chart to show how Mr. Miguez's responsibilities will be divvied up among the remaining ACMs.

The other reason I feel this way is because of something another ACM, who shall remain nameless, told me in passing at the budget town hall meeting Ms. Suhm conducted June 22 at the Jewish Community Center. An exercise was conducted at this meeting in which participants, each armed with red and green stickers, were asked to attach red stickers to areas designated on charts around the room where we felt the city could make budget cuts and green stickers where it shouldn't. This one ACM came up to me and said "Pete, please place a bunch of green stickers in the section marked 'City Manager's Office'." By the time I got to that chart, the City Manager's Office was jammed with red stickers. I dutifully put what green stickers I had left in there, but they were the only green stickers in that section.

Thinking back on that now, I have the feeling that this ACM already knew severe cutbacks were going to be made on Ms. Suhm's staff, but, at that time, none of the ACMs knew which one of them was going to go. Before the JCC meeting, the city had conducted two others of this type in other sections of the city and I'm betting those meetings produced a lot of red stickers in the city manager's office. The handwriting, as they say, was on the charts. I wouldn't be a bit surprised if Ms. Suhm didn't gather her "Gang of Five" (ACMs Ryan Evans, A.C. Gonzalez, Jill Jordan, Mr. Miguez and Forrest Turner) and asked each one to consider making her job a lot easier. Mr. Miguez volunteered, I'm betting.

In some ways, I'm surprised it wasn't Jill Jordan who bit the bullet. I was told by one of her contemporaries that she was on the verge of retiring a couple of years ago but was either talked out of it or overcame whatever it was that prompted her retirement thoughts. However, I also understand that Mr. Miguez has a sone or daughter, with whom he is very close, who is currently attending college somewhere that is further than a day's Greyhound ride from Dallas. I also believe he has "vacation" property he has developed or currently is developing somewhere in Latin America and may have just decided "I have my 20 years, my comfortable city pension (which is going to be equal to his current salary anyway), I really don't need these headaches anymore and I have some pleasing alternatives."

Whatever, I wish Mr. Miguez only the best. I had the opportunity to work with him and found him to be one of the many unsung heroes at City Hall. I always loved the way in which he could tell a city councilperson that he or she was full of it simply by starting off by saying "With all due respect ...." When you heard those words directed at a city councilperson, you just knew that (1) that councilperson was about to get it right between the eyes and (2) the councilperson would accept it gracefully, never really realizing what had just hit him or her.

Ms. Suhm asked me to return to City Hall during the Hurricane Katrina refugee crisis to handle communications for FEMA until it could send one of its communications hotshots down from Washington. For three days I witnessed Mr. Miguez assume leadership of a chaotic situation and restore it to order. If he had done the same job in England, he would have been knighted. He still deserves some kind of medal for that amazing performance.

My only criticism of Mr. Miguez was his memo writing. Not that they weren't well-written -- they were expertly worded; the problems with his memos stemmed from the fact that he was an engineer. Engineers are basically problem solvers and engineers aren't happy unless they have a problem to solve. The process of solving that problem is far more important to them than the solution of that problem, because, by definition, once the problem is solved, you no longer have a problem to keep you happy. (Following me on this?) Any time a major problem cropped up in the city, either the city manager or one of the ACMs would craft a memo to inform the members of the city council about it because there would be hell to pay if, say, a news reporter called a city council person about a situation the council person was not aware of, but would have been had someone on the city manager's staff issued some sort of communique about it.

I remember one particular two-page memo Mr. Miguez sent to council members, when I was working at the city, outlining some problem, although precisely what I can't remember now. At the time, however, it appeared very pressing and by the time I finished reading the first page (all these memos were routed through my office) I had the distinct feeling that the end of the world was at hand. I started reading the second page and Mr. Miguez's additional description of the problem made it seem even more dire. Then, in the final paragraph, at the bottom of page 2 of this single-spaced typed memo, he said essentially "Not to worry, though, our crack staff came up with an ingenious solution .." and reading it I shook my head in wonderment. "That was a brilliant way to fix this problem," I thought at the time. At the same time, I wondered how many city council persons read the memo all the way to the end before thinking about dashing out of city hall renouncing all their worldly possessions. In journalism jargon, Mr. Miguez buried the lead. I wish he would have begun this memo and others he wrote by saying "Your expert city staff has averted world annihilation by diverting the meteor from its course ..." But, like I said earlier, that's the engineer coming out in him.

However, that's a minor quibble.

It will be interesting to see how long this position goes unoccupied. The longer it is, the more my suspicions of what's really going on here are going to be confirmed. But, if and when the city starts seeing better financial times, Ms. Suhm has a couple of top-notch candidates on her staff right now who could succeed Mr. Miguez (it's going to be next to impossible to find someone to "replace" his talents and abilities). The first one that comes to mind is Dallas Water Utilities Director Jody Puckett. She has filled in admirably for Mr. Miguez on occasions, she was formerly director of Sanitation Services (and Water and Sanitation are two of the departments this ACM probably will oversee) and has a lot of experience in the city's budget office. Plus she is already held in high esteem by members of the City Council for her no-nonsense approach. In areas where she might not be well versed (although I can't think of any right now), Ms. Puckett will know exactly the right questions to ask to get the information she needs. I often sat in on department head meetings at the city in which the city manager or someone else would outline some new policy and when it came time for questions, Ms. Puckett was always the first one to ask one while the rest of us were scratching our heads trying to think of a question that needed to be asked. But when we heard Ms. Puckett's question, we all thought "Of course, that's the question! Why didn't I think of that?" Another candidate would be Sanitation Services Director Mary Nix who was recruited to the City of Dallas from the City of Irving to, among other things, solve the problem of a burning landfill in southeast Dallas that was the subject of a federal court order that had the very real potential of bankrupting the city. Ms. Nix developed an alternative plan that was embraced by Judge Barefoot Sanders and the community and, because of her efforts, that burning landfill was transformed from an environmental nightmare into the Trinity River Audubon Center. Since taking over as Sanitation director, she has, among other things, formulated and implemented the city's recycling programs. She is also the former president of the Texas Solid Waste Association of North America, whose testimony on matters concerning recycling and the environment are held in high esteem by the Texas Legislature.

But, Ramon, you need not worry about the person tabbed to take your place, if that time ever comes. Just carve out a wonderful rest of a life for you and the Miguez family. Bon voyage, Ramon, and may fortune smile on you wherever you may travel.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The most anticipated films for the rest of the year (the third in today's film list trilogy)

I promise I'll end today's film lists after this one: Rope of Silicon's 20 Most Anticipated Films Still to Come in 2009 (the link is worth checking out for the pictures and links to trailers):

20. The Invention of Lying (Ricky Gervais)
19. Ninja Assassin (James McTeigue)
18. Green Zone (Matt Damon, Paul Greengrass together again in Iraq)
17. Bright Star (Jane Campion)
16. A Serious Man (Coens)
15. Ponyo (Miyazaki is back)
14. Shutter Island (Scorsese/DiCaprio redux)
13. The Wolfman (Benicio Del Toro)
12. The Lovely Bones (Peter Jackson returns)
11. The Princess and the Frog (Disney’s “black princess”)
10. Broken Embraces (Pedro Almodovar and Penelope Cruz)
9. 9 (the animated one)
8. Sherlock Holmes (Robert Downey, Jr. )
7. Funny People (Apatow and Sandler)
6. Antichrist (I'm not sure I'm anticipating this one this much)
5. The Road (Viggo Mortensen, Cormac McCarthy)
4. The Informant (Matt Damon and Soderbergh)
3. Inglorious Basterds (Tarantino, Pitt,)
2. Avatar (James Cameron promises to transform movies)
1. Nine (Rob Marshall, Daniel Day Lewis, lots of pretty women singing and dancing)

"Oscar nominations" for first half of the year (Speaking of polls)

Awards Daily attempts to "celebrate the greatness in film for the films that were released in USA between 1st of January and 30th of June. We know that most of them will be forgotten that’s why we want to list the best of the year so far." The poll was open to "every AD forum member who had more than 200 posts." Here are the top nominees (there was no mention of when winners will be named):

BEST PICTURE
The Hurt Locker
Star Trek
Summer Hours
Two Lovers
Up
BEST DIRECTOR
Olivier Assayas for Summer Hours
Kathyrn Bigelow for The Hurt Locker
Pete Docter for Up
James Gray for Two Lovers
Sam Raimi for Drag Me to Hell
BEST ACTOR
Charles Berling in Summer Hours
Baard Owe in O’Horten
Joaquin Phoenix in Two Lovers
Jeremy Renner in The Hurt Locker
Souleymane Sy Savane in Goodbye Solo
BEST ACTRESS
Hiam Abbas in Lemon Tree
Maria Heiskanen in Everlasting Moments
Michelle Pfeiffer in Cheri
Maya Rudolph in Away We Go
Tilda Swinton in Julia
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Jackie Earl Haley in Watchmen
Anthony Mackie in The Hurt Locker
Zachary Quinto in Star Trek
Scott Speedman in Adoration
Red West in Goodbye Solo
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Gwyneth Paltrow in Two Lovers
Lorna Raver in Drag Me to Hell
Edith Scob in Summer Hours
Kristin Scott Thoman in Easy Virtue
Vinessa Shaw in Two Lovers
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Away We Go
The Hurt Locker
Summer Hours
Two Lovers
Up
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
Coraline
Cheri
Easy Virtue
Star Trek
State of Play
BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
Cheri
Everlasting Moments
The Hurt Locker
Summer Hours
Tetro
BEST FILM EDITING
Drag Me to Hell
The Hurt Locker
Star Trek
Two Lovers
Up
BEST ART DIRECTION
Caroline
Cheri
Il Divo
Star Trek
Watchmen
BEST COSTUME DESIGN
Cheri
Duplicity
Easy Virtue
Star Trek
Watchmen
BEST ORIGINAL SCORE
Adoration
Cheri
Drag Me to Hell
Star Trek
Up
BEST SOUND MIXING
Drag Me to Hell
The Hurt Locker
O’Horten
Star Trek
Up
BEST SOUND EDITING
Drag Me to Hell
The Hurt Locker
Star Trek
BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
Drag Me to Hell
Star Trek
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen
BEST MAKE UP
Cheri
Drag Me to Hell
Il Divo
Star Trek