Archive | October, 2009

This invention will not only save lives…

…but it will also vastly improve morale during times of crisis.

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Too big to fail

In a recent trip to the massive Letters From Texas Worldwide Headquarters warehouse, international shipping center, and outlet store the other day to review the archives, and also to mull over heartlessly laying off everybody and outsourcing all of it to India, I was somewhat surprised at the frequency with which I have poked fun at Texas Monthly magazine.

I have done so at least to some extent here, here, here, here, and oh-my-God-so-most-especially here. To their credit, the private reactions from those lampooned have been very good humored.

But it’s time to give the publication the credit it deserves. In fact, it’s about five weeks overdue.

Five weeks ago, I walked into a little diner in the Big Bend region for lunch, and after eating a cheeseburger, commented to the waitress how great the burger was. With significant bitterness and no hesitation, she replied, “well I think so too, but apparently those asses at Texas Monthly don’t have any taste, because the Gage Hotel [just down the road] made the list of best burgers in Texas, for their damn buffalo burger, but they didn’t even try ours and we didn’t make the list.”

Well fair enough, I thought, I’ll test the theory. On the same trip I went over to the Gage and ordered their buffalo burger (which, notably, was on sale all month, in honor of the TM award). TM was right – it was better.

But, so what if Texas Monthly hadn’t been right? Because the diner waitress’ remark had been so grumpy, it stuck in my mind, which is probably why I noticed over the following weeks that one can step into countless restaurants in any region of Texas and frequently see, nicely framed and proudly displayed near the front door, Texas Monthly issues from years past in which the restaurant was mentioned. Those establishments know that a mention in TM indicates at least credibility, and at most, superior quality.

It’s the same on the TM political front. Setting aside how challenging it must be for Patti Hart and Paul Burka to cover what is fundamentally breaking news in a monthly publication, whether you love it or hate it, it’s obvious that their coverage has serious impact. Every political utterance from TM’s direction is instantly followed by standing ovations from the beneficiaries, and a great gnashing of teeth from the victims.

There’s a prevailing theory in science that mere observation changes that which is being observed. An anthropology team cannot expect to parachute into the tribal village in the Amazon jungle with video cameras rolling, and expect the natives to go about their business as if nothing different is happening. The mere observation becomes a game-changer.

Love ‘em or hate ‘em, that’s what Texas Monthly is to Texas. What is said about politics in Texas Monthly becomes the point from which the political debate continues. If the magazine says your burgers are better, more people are going to buy your burgers, whether they’re actually better or not. We can wish that the coverage was different, but we can’t accurately argue that it doesn’t make a difference.

It really has shockingly little to do with whether we think they’re right or wrong – it has to do with their institutional and cultural credibility. And on the political front, a culture in which both the left and the right continually lament the growing lack of political journalism, longstanding impact is a pretty good deal. We can argue all we want that the coverage should be better, and we often do, but the mere fact that we bother to argue about it proves the point that the publication has an impact that matters.

So, Texas Monthly, keep firing curveballs over home plate. Because as long as you’re doing what you do, we – politicos and waitresses alike – will at least have something to swing at.

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Ironic Statesman.com moment of the day so far

Gosh, I sure hope those drought conditions ease, what with all these heavy rains and flash floods today.
[click the photo to enlarge]

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Quit your whining, El Paso

No need to thank God for Mississippi on this measure, El Paso, because you’re number 1.

Houston: don’t gloat – you’re number 8.

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Looking for an American hero?

Meet Mr. Spooner, an 86-year-old combat veteran who testified earlier this year in a public hearing in Maine, on a marriage equality bill. I don’t think they make “lifetime Republicans” in Texas like this one.

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Legislative Process 101: How a bill becomes a flaw

I get calls all the time from folks who think they want to work for various legislators in the state Capitol, who want me to tell them what they might expect. They usually don’t know much about it, but they know they want to make a difference. For that I applaud them.

But to save time in the future, here’s what one can expect, working in the capitol while the legislature is in session: impossible working conditions, complicated by impossible bosses making impossible demands on impossible timelines. You will sometimes be in the office before sunrise, and you’ll still be there long after sunset. By the time the session is over, your significant other will have left you, and in the event they haven’t already starved to death, your pets won’t recognize you and out of desperation will likely gnaw off your foot in your sleep. Your already-acknowledged drinking problem will have evolved into full-fledged alcoholism. And those are the benefits. You’ll love it.

As for what to expect during the interim, when the legislature’s not in session, here’s a typical Capitol staff hard at work on a special project while the boss is back home in the district.

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A little funditry to start off the week

There is little doubt that you, the crap-reading public, have been patiently waiting with bated breath for my amazingly insightful opinion on how the statewide Democratic ticket is likely to shape up. You and your breath need not wait any longer – let’s get to it:

The U.S. Senate race, if there is one, will feature either Bill White or John Sharp. Let’s pick Sharp, for discussion purposes.

The governor’s race may evolve such that Tom Schieffer steps aside, dominated by hair care tycoon Farouk Shami’s millions. So let’s assume it’ll be Shami, by a hair.

Meanwhile, with that massive fire burning in his belly for public service, Schieffer won’t just take his marbles and go home, so let’s assume he’ll move into the Lt. Governor’s race.

As for Attorney General, Senator Eliot Shapleigh didn’t just announce on Friday that he wasn’t running for re-election to the Texas Senate so he could stay home and knit, and he’s a hell of a lawyer. A.G. could be his ultimate play.

I look for an unexpected dark horse to jump in and run statewide, since one usually does, and can think of no one better than former State Representative Sue Schechter (D-Houston) to jump back into the ring. Sue’s been making moves toward running for countywide office anyway, so if you’re going to dream, why not dream big? Harris County is a huge base from which to run statewide. Comptroller? Land Commissioner? It could happen.

There you have it: a Sharp-Shami-Schieffer-Shapleigh-Schechter ticket.

Sho, ashuming I’m right, surely Democratsh in the lone shtar shtate will shine. And if the shtatewide candidatesh do well, Democratsh in the shtate Housh of Represhentativesh will shtymie the Republicansh’ effortsh, which shuck.

Our motto: “you can tell us from shinola.”

There’s really only one political consultant who could handle this job. Call George Shipley.

Note to Florence Shapiro: I told you that you should have switched parties. Too late now - train’s left the station.

This has been your Letters From Texas funditry moment.

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It was almost like a thong, but it was much too thad to write

I’ve been carefully following the updates on Leslie Cochran’s injury and subsequent hospitalization. I’m very happy that the original grim predictions have moved to being cautiously optimistic. But still, word is that Leslie may never get back to the point where he’s out on the streets of Austin, where his sister says he wants to be, entertaining us, and being such a key part of the local social fabric.

I share a couple of important attitudes with my fellow curmudgeonly Austinites:

1. Austin was exactly the right size the day after I got here; and

2. Change is bad.

In keeping with the spirit of both, I’m sad that Leslie Cochran isn’t up to his old tricks these days.

For readers not as familiar with Austin, Leslie is a local icon. He’s reportedly homeless most of the time. He’s a cross-dresser who prefers to identify as a male. He ran for public office several times, and got a lot of votes. They sell refrigerator magnets of Leslie in stores here, complete with mix-and-match outfits, which I proudly own (the magnet, not the outfits – puleeze). He used to frequently protest against the local police, who harassed him incessantly before they finally realized he’d won the P.R. war. He serves as city-wide comic relief, but also as frequent reminder of our societal shortcomings, all in one package. A deliberately-outrageous and somewhat slinky package, complete with both stiletto heels and scruffy beard. His public shtick may well provide him some respite from dark personal calamities for all we know. But for the most part, the people of Austin laugh with him, not at him.

Around Austin, one sees Leslie often and everywhere. His main headquarters is near the corner of 6th Street and Congress, and his modus operandi is to wear the smallest amount of clothing possible, in the most outrageous way. Every spring, the Leslie thong collection re-appears, modeled by him live and in living color on Congress Avenue. In fact, on at least two occasions I can remember, I was driving South on Congress, approaching Leslie as he faced away from me a couple of blocks down the street, and after a startled glance I would think to myself, “wow, who is that woman with the fine ass wearing nothing but a thon….oh DAMN IT LESLIE YOU DID IT TO ME AGAIN!”

One of the first pieces ever written on this blog was about Leslie, after I spotted him at the Pecan Street festival wearing a high school cheerleader outfit (on him, not me - STOP THAT). I snapped a picture and wrote a story around it. What I didn’t write is that I had to wait several minutes until I could take the picture, because of the crush of the crowd already taking pictures and getting his autograph. It’s like that all the time for Leslie. Everybody wants to say hello, get a picture, or buy him a drink (he prefers high end single malt scotch), so they can tell all their friends they met Leslie Cochran. Sandra Bullock and Lance Armstrong are out and about in Austin all the time and most people don’t bother them, but Leslie always gets mobbed. In fact, at some point I bet he’s been mobbed by Sandra Bullock or Lance Armstrong (who may well have been mobbing above his station. But I digress).

Austin always seems like it’s getting less Austiny. And now with Leslie in the hospital, followed by a lengthy rehab, it’s going to be even less Austiny around here for a while. His absence is our loss.

I hope he thinks he’s had a pretty good ride so far, all things considered. It’s not just anybody who gets to be famous merely for being the person they are. Leslie has always been easy for the Austin community to embrace.That he lives so outrageously and with such good humor certainly makes him impossible to ignore, like other homeless people usually are. We might want to stop and think about that a bit.

So Leslie please get well soon, and get back to the antics we’ve grown to fondly depend on. Meanwhile, if you’re bored in rehab and reading this, I will leave you this thought, which is one you might personally value highly:

 Leslie, I don’t care what anybody says – at least from a distance…that’s one great ass.

[Contribute to the ARCH/Frontsteps]

[photo credit: Shawn McHorse]
[H/T to Whiskeydent, whose rantings inspired the headline]

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FUBAR-Cam Update, and Random Friday Mind-Crossings

1. Is it just me, or did the thought cross your mind yesterday that somewhere on earth, a minority kid is pretending to be trapped in a runaway balloon, while actually hiding in a cardboard box in the attic, and the media is completely ignoring it?

2. Also crossing my mind yesterday while watching the flying jiffy pop for 3 hours: as a result, we’re now 3 hours behind on CNN failing to tell us how our various wars are going, how health care reform is proceeding, or how the economy’s faring. More in line with CNN’s realities, we’re also 3 hours behind CNN giving us the latest useless, yet breathless, update on Michael Jackson, who is reportedly still dead.

3. Yesterday after work I went to the dogcanyon.org party at the Broken Spoke. I haven’t been to the Spoke since Speakers Night under the Gib Lewis administration, immediately after the earth’s crust cooled. It hasn’t changed a bit – it still looks like it’s about to cave in, and still smells like 72 years worth of walks of shame. In other words, it’s perfect.

The first thing I noticed was that driving to South Austin during rush hour takes about as long as it would to drive to the actual Dog Canyon in Big Bend.  The second thing I noticed is that once I got all the way down there, I discovered that, as it turns out, all the people who would show up to a dogcanyon.org party are the same people who show up at all the other parties.

One highlight was DC.org founder Glenn Smith persuading a not-very-hesitant Elliott Naishtar Naishtat to reenact his mountain lion impersonation from years ago. Actually, that’s a lie – it wasn’t a highlight. That impersonation couldn’t hold a crowd when Naishtat first did it a decade ago in Marathon, Texas, but here’s a real highlight: Glenn Smith on guitar and his very talented daughter Katie Smith on fiddle, joining the Sunset Valley Boys for a couple of songs.

[photo by Barbara Schlief, whose i-phone totally trumps my blackberry. Go see Barbara's real photos here and hire her for your next gig, or the terrorists win]

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William Wayne Justice, 1920-2009

Judge William Wayne Justice passed away yesterday, which probably marks the end of an era in Federal jurisprudence in Texas.

To most Americans, the judicial branch has always been the murkiest and most unfamiliar of the 3 branches of government, mainly because the lack of elections lessens the drama, and therefore lessens the amount of news and information.

But if you live in Texas, your world is very different because of Judge Justice’s work. Because of his rulings, Texas’ public education system is more educational. Texas’ criminal justice system is more just. Texas’ public health care delivery systems deliver more health care to more Texans in need. Besides transportation, those are the 3 big-ticket items state governments are supposed to do for its citizens, affecting the lives of more human beings than any other functions of government. So as bad as you may think it is, it would be far worse without the tireless work of William Wayne Justice.

He treated the law as a weapon on behalf of those short of any other ammunition, and he delivered most of his landmark decisions from a courthouse in conservative East Texas, where his neighbors reacted to Justice’s actions with scorn and death threats, all of which he happily ignored.

If you ever read about him in the newspaper, it was probably in the context of conservatives using him as their poster child as they scream “activist judges!,” when those same conservative Republicans don’t mind judicial activism when it furthers their own conservative causes.

I only met Judge Justice twice. The first time was in East Texas, where he and my then-boss John Hannah (who was Texas’ Secretary of State at the time, but who would soon join Justice on the Federal bench), met for coffee in Tyler, and I got to tag along. Others in the coffee shop were polite, and some even stopped by the table to say hello, but the glares and murmurings at the other tables at the coffee shop weren’t lost on me. Justice was doing his best to dismantle an unjust and longstanding way of life on several fronts. Hannah, earlier as a Federal prosecutor, had put scores of corrupt, and highly popular, East Texas county officials in prison. It crossed my mind at the time that we probably needed a food taster for the table.

The interesting thing about the times, and those men, was that as much as conservative East Texans deplored what Justice and Hannah were doing in dragging Texas out of the 19th century, it was also clear that the East Texans had deep personal respect for both men. I bet if either of the two had become candidates for electoral office, they would have had the overwhelming support of most East Texas voters anyway. In fact, Hannah once ran for state Attorney General, and did indeed get East Texans’ support.

William Wayne Justice positively changed the course of history every chance he got, over the course of decades, and never worried how people might react. While true that structurally, only Federal judges fully have that luxury (by design, thank goodness), one always got the impression after talking with the Judge that he would have done it anyway, and if they didn’t like it, the hell with ‘em.

Maybe his fate was locked in when he was born into a family named “Justice.” But for whatever reason, his legacy is a proud one.

May this mighty warrior rest in peace.

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They’ve got it all in D-FW this weekend

The good news:
Great football – UT versus OU. The Texas State Fair. The Fort Worth Stockyards. A gay “kiss-in” at the Fort Worth Stockyards.

The bad news:
The gay kiss-in in Fort Worth is the same day as the football game in Dallas, so some of you football fans are going to have to choose.

My advice:
You Oklahoma fans might as well scoot on over to Fort Worth, since you’re likely to get all puckered up either place this Saturday.

Key quote: “Manners are manners,” he said. “If they don’t act right among cowboys, maybe they need to get a good whipping.”

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…and speaking of friendly contests

It’s “that week” again. Put your best guess in the comments section on what’s happened to this kid since this picture appeared on national TV.

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Let’s have us a friendly little contest…

…to see how long you can stomach watching this video clip of our very own Texas Congressman Louie Gohmert (R-idiculous), who started out speaking in opposition to a sexual orientation provision in a hate crimes bill, but quickly ricocheted off into crazytown with discussions on bestiality, pedophilia, necrophilia, the tried-and-true “I’m not a racist because I once voted for a black man too,” and wraps it up with “the little guy with the mustache” in Germany from the 1940′s.

Yep, all this from a sexual orientation provision in a hate crimes bill. (key quote: “some say ‘that sounds like fun’…”)

I think I gave up at a minute forty-five. Beat that score.

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Dear Lt. Governor Dewhurst:

I think this could totally work for a special session of the Texas Senate, don’t you think? Maybe for Perry’s next state-of-the-state address? I bet they wouldn’t call him “goodhair” after that, huh? Don’t say no right off, just give it a thought. Thanks in advance.

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I now pronounce you husband, wife, and Commander-In-Chief

Ah, weddings. There’s nothing like ‘em. The feel of change, promise, and better things yet to come is in the air. The best weddings reflect that feeling well, and this slide show created for one couple’s wedding is certainly no exception.

(H/T:  KXAN)

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