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September, 2002:

M*A*S*H, 30 years later

Would M*A*S*H have been able to survive its early ratings problems if it came along today? Would it even have gotten onto network TV? Larry Gelbart doesn’t think so.

The Torch is out

New Jersey Senator Bob Torricelli has dropped his bid for reelection, thus giving a boost to the national Democrats’ efforts to hold the Senate. For the gory details and various scenarios, check out the Daily Kos.

Weatherman needed

You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.
— Bob Dylan, “Subterranean Homesick Blues” (*)

Anyone who knows which way the wind is blowing in this election, please raise your hand and keep it raised so we can write your names down.

We start with this story, which shows that the voters appear to be firmly ambivalent about who they may vote for. They fear Iraq, but they don’t want the US to go it alone. They think Republicans are better on the terrorism issue, but a sizeable majority thinks that the Democrats should be in control of Congress. No help there.

Will Vehrs goes by Professor Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball. There’s still cloudiness in the Ball, but as things stand today only governorships would likely undergo a big partisan change (the range is +1 GOP to +7 Democrat).

Avedon points to this article which wonders just how is it that Bush is so popular. Seems there’s a fair number of people in the heartland who don’t think much of him. This is anecdotal evidence, of course, but it’s not the only place I’ve heard such anecdotes.

Even at the local level here, no one knows what will happen. That may be good news if you’re a Democrat in a GOP-dominated county as I am, but the news is never all good. Both the GOP and the Democrats are worried about straight-ticket voting, according to John Williams. The GOP has greatly benefitted from straight-ticket voting here lately, but new they fear that crossover votes for John Sharp may cause people to vote the old-fashioned way. This in turn may cost them votes in down-ballot elections, which in turn may help unseat a GOP judge or two.

(They’re also worried about the Tony Sanchez effect, which makes me feel better.)

The Dems are worried that the eSlate voting machines may confuse people who want to vote straight Dem:

Here’s why: The eSlate system presents two options for straight-ticket voting.

One option allows the voter to cast a straight ticket, then review the ballot on the eSlate screen a page at a time.

When a voter completes the entire ballot, the eSlate presents a summary for review.

The potential for confusion arises, [Harris County Democratic Party Chairwoman Sue] Schechter says, because there are about 25 races on the county ballot in which no Democrat is running. Democratic straight-ticket voters will see the phrase “no selection” rather than “no candidate” on the summary for those races.

When that happens, Schechter worries some Democrats will think they should have made a selection. As they work their way through the problem, voting in Democratic precincts could get stacked up, causing some to abandon the polls without voting.

Virtually every race has a Republican candidate, so the potential problem would affect Democratic voters disproportionately, Schechter says.

So she may encourage Democrats to use the other method of straight-party voting allowed by the machine. They would cast a single straight-party vote, then go directly to the machine’s “cast ballot” button to complete the process.

But voters who do that won’t make a choice on nonpartisan ballot items, notably the Houston Independent School District’s $808.6 million bond issue.

I’ve already expressed my concerns about the eSlate machines. I just hope that they work like they claim they will and that we don’t have people coming down with Palm Beach Voter Syndrome. Worry, worry, worry…

(*) With a tip of the cap to Fritz Schranck, who probably would’ve gotten the lyrical reference without any extra help.

Einhorn trial to begin

The long-awaited retrial of accused murderer and fugitive (*) Ira Einhorn is set to begin this week. Already I’m grinding my teeth:

Einhorn’s lawyers have said they hope to call celebrities such as Ellen Burstyn and Peter Gabriel as character witness.

And Einhorn, who has always maintained his innocence, may take the stand as well.

It’s gonna be a circus, isn’t it? I have no idea what useful testimony Ellen Burstyn and Peter Gabriel can give other than the “no really, he’s a real sweetheart, his heart’s in the right place, I just can’t bring myself to believe that this guy I once hung out with could have decapitated his girlfriend and stuffed her body into a trunk in his apartment” kind. And oh, the possibilities if Einhorn gets to expound on his belief that the CIA did it in order to discredit him. Where’s Judge Ito when you really need him?

(*) I refuse to call him a “former hippie guru”.

More fun in Montgomery County

I see that the Mainstream Montgomery County folks have discovered yours truly, as well as my fellow Axis of Left-Leaning Bloggers member Rob Humenik. They’ve got a decent collection of news stories linked, including this one, which contains a few priceless quotes:

“Our nation can only exist under a Christian nation,” Monte Lane told the court quoting a founding father whose name he said he could not remember. He said, “(This book) is the type of a book a pedophile or child molester would have in their home. Replace it by books with good moral values.” He went on to say, “This whole thing is being influenced by liberal, socialist fags.”

[…]

“What happened to the word marriage? Homosexuality is not something we want to normalize. Everyone knows that opposites attract, that doesn’t mean a man with a man or woman with a woman, the parts just don’t fit.” [Jim Jenkins, president of the Republican Leadership Council] said, “As a taxpayer, I’m angry my money is spent to buy these books and spent on healthcare to take care of these people’s illnesses that result from a deviant lifestyle.”

Sometimes I just can’t find it in my heart to come up with a snarky comment. Sometimes it’s just a little too depressing.

There’s a discussion thread at the Woodlands Online site regarding this topic, if anyone is interested. The sentiment on the first couple of pages is pretty firmly against the RLC and its ilk.

Mainstream Montgomery County

Having decided that they don’t want to be mistaken for the publicity-hungry wackos of the Republican Leadership Council, a group of Montgomery County citizens have formed a group called Mainstream Montgomery County to oppose censorship and general nutbaggery.

Anne Bayerkohler, who helped found the group, said the book-banning issue has roused people of every political stripe to opposition. The response has consumed most of her time, she said, and 70 people have sent e-mails requesting membership.

“I can’t keep up with the momentum this particular issue has caused within the community,” said Bayerkohler, 26, who lives in The Woodlands with her husband and 7-year-old son.

They have their work cut out for them.

“Everybody in the county knows they are not mainstream,” said RLC president Jim Jenkins. “They are a bunch of Democrats upset about the movement of the Republican Party in the county. They’re not just Democrats. They’re very, very liberal Democrats.”

One imagines the Chron reporter had to wipe some spittle off his face after recording that quote.

“What we had in the library were 27 books promoting homosexuality or experimentation, one neutral and none that had opposing views — no success stories about getting out of homosexual addiction,” [County Judge Alan B.] Sadler said. “In my opinion, there’s a problem.”

Mine, too, Judge.

Best of luck to you, Anne Bayerkohler and Mainstream Montgomery County. I fear you’ll need it.

Referral roundup

Yesterday’s weird Google search result: “Sex with Hermes scarves”. Nice to know we draw a higher class of pervert here at Off the Kuff.

Today’s had-to-happen-sooner-or-later Google search result: “Madelyne Toogood nude”. Okay, so not all of the perverts we get here are high end.

Bush upside-down book photo a fake

Scott alerts me to this debunking of the Bush-holding-a-book-upside-down photo. I’m convinced, and I’m not surprised. It’s too easy to fake photos, and in retrospect, there was never a URL to a news story attached to that picture.

Just one thought to my right-leaning friends out there: If six months or a year from now you come across some sap who links to or forwards this picture (whether out of genuine ignorance or willful dishonesty), understand that whatever you think of him or her is what we liberals think of people who propagate long-discredited lies about Bill Clinton and Al Gore. Especially paid pundits.

Instant messaging

The MIT Technology Review has a look back at instant messaging in its regular Trailing Edge feature this month. The technology dates back to the 1980s, when MIT implemented a system that was designed to send notifications about things like server outages to workstation users. Naturally, students discovered that using the system to chat was a lot more fun.

There were other forms of IM in the mainframe world before that. I spent two summers as an intern at USAA in the life actuarial department. My second year there, 1988, my buddy David worked over in Products and Casualty. We both spent some time on the company mainframe, which had the capability of sending a message to another logged on user that would display on the screen the next time the screen changed. (Later on, in the early 90s when I started working at the large multinational firm where I am today, their VM system had the same sort of capability.) We regularly amused ourselves with this feature.

Of course, as is often the case, any piece of technology can be misused. My boss, who was fairly indulgent about my chat habit, told me a story one day about another employee. Seemed this guy had the hots for a babe who worked a few cube rows away. One day he got it in his head to use the mainframe message system to confess his feelings and ask her out on a date. (I can already hear the women in my audience cringing.) Unfortunately, when he sent the message he accidentally used the feature that sends messages to all logged on users. Oops! They chose not to fire him, which in the grand scheme of things may not have been such a blessing. Alas, my boss didn’t know if he at least got a Yes answer from his inamorata.

And in news on that other local story…

The Chron notes that all those lawsuits that are fixin’ to be filed over the K-Mart Kiddie Roundup could add up to a lot of money, even in individual awards are likely to be limited. Oh, and it seems that arresting people for no good reason makes them suspicious of the police. Next week they’ll tell us that invading Iraq might mean that people will die, and that bad economic times could result in layoffs. You read it here first!

Meanwhile, over at the Press, there’s a nice overview of the history behind the perjury charge against Chief C.O. “B.A.M.F” Bradford. I can’t wait for the trial, if for no other reason than to see how the Chron and the Happy Talk Local News broadcasts deal with the fact that it’s all about a naughty word they can’t say.

Fastow arrest imminent

Former Enron evildoer Andrew Fastow is expected to turn himself in next week for arrest on fraud charges. As with David Kopper, the government appears to be aiming for a quick plea bargain:

The charges will probably come in the form of a criminal complaint, rather than an indictment by the Houston federal grand jury investigating Enron, said a source.

[Robert Mintz, a New-Jersey based attorney and former federal prosecutor] said this follows a pattern that the government, including the Enron Task Force, has used in approaching recent corporate cases. “They seem to like to fire an initial volley, signaling how strong their case is prior to indictment,” he said. Mintz said the government must intend to intimidate Fastow into a plea bargain.

No word from this article when Jeff Skilling or Kenny Boy Lay will be taking their turn at bat.

The continuing story of the end of oil

Kevin points me to this WaPo opinion piece which heralds the coming end of the Oil Era. Kevin quotes the following paragraphs to note the differences in direction of the EU and the US:

The sun is setting on the great fossil-fuel culture that began with the harnessing of coal and steam power more than 200 years ago. Leading petro-geologists disagree about when global production of oil will peak — that is, reach the point where half the known oil reserves and projected oil yet to be discovered are used up. After that point, the price of oil on world markets steadily rises as oil production moves down.

The Cassandras say that peak production is likely to occur as early as the end of this decade, but probably no later than 2020. The optimists say global peak production won’t occur until around 2040. What’s most striking, however, is how little time separates the two camps — only 20 to 30 years. What they both agree on is that once global oil production does peak, two-thirds of the remaining oil reserves will be in the Middle East, the most politically unstable region of the world. What this means is that countries still dependent on oil will struggle to maintain access to the remaining Mideast oil fields, with all of the risks and consequences that accompany that reality.

I’ve written about the eventual decline of oil before, and this article is more evidence to back me up. Note that the article I cited before did not directly address when oil supply would peak, it simply discussed the projected total lifespan. It’s likely that the downside of the peak will be long and at least initially fairly gradual, as a higher premium will be put on efficiency and conservation.

I should note that some people who have actual credentials think that there may be a lot more oil than we think. Diane E. has some information on Dr. Thomas Gold, who is one such person. Diane considers the political implication of Dr. Gold’s words: “What if he’s right, and we helped to create a bunch of monsters by hoarding a resource that is in reality quite plentiful?” Good question.

Vengeance and the mentally ill

US District Judge William Wayne Justice criticized the criminal justice system for “a spirit of vengeance” in dealing with the mentally ill. He was in town at the UT-Houston Medical School giving a lecture.

For proof look no further than the Andrea Yates case, U.S. District Judge William Wayne Justice said during an address to psychiatrists and others at the University of Texas-Houston Medical School.

“Andrea Yates did a monstrous thing, but is not a monstrous human being,” Justice said. “She is, ultimately, a pathetic and tragic figure.”

What is most disturbing about the Yates case, Justice said, is that it conformed to the law as it exists today.

“We punish those we cannot justly blame,” Justice said. “Such a result is not, I believe, worthy of a civil society.”

[…]

The change reversed an element of law that could be traced back to English common law of 1278, Justice said.

Texas and most other states changed laws regarding the insanity defense after John Hinckley was found not guilty by reason of insanity to charges related to his 1981 attempted assassination of President Reagan.

Texas reacted by striking from its law a clause that said a defendant could be found not guilty by reason of insanity if he “was not capable of conforming his conduct to the requirements of the law.” The change made it easier for prosecutors to win convictions, Justice said, because they had to prove only that the defendant knew what he was doing and knew his conduct was wrong.

The way the criminal justice system treats the mentally ill reflects poorly on society, Justice said.

“If we reject the moral necessity to distinguish between those who willingly do evil, and those who do dreadful acts on account of unbalanced minds, we will do injury to these people. But the ultimate injury is the one we will inflict on ourselves, and on the rule of law.”

Way back when, I asked if Andrea Yates had done what she did as a result of a brain tumor, would people still judge her as harshly? The sad thing is that this question drew comments from people for whom the answer is a firm Yes. All I can say is that I hope none of them ever have to deal with a mentally ill family member.

If you need further convincing that “mental illness” is really “brain illness” and not Corporal Klinger/One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest foolishness, I suggest you read Ted Barlow’s post on the fraud of Freud.

(On a side note, I just want to take this opportunity to say that whatever you may think of him, “Judge Justice” is possibly the best name ever. Of course, if he were ever to be appointed to the Supreme Court, he’d be – wait for it – “Mr. Justice Justice”.)

Dude, where’s my biscuits?

A KFC employee has been arrested after giving a customer a bag of marijuana as a side dish to his order. I am, as they say, Not Making This Up:

The customer who visited a KFC in this San Francisco suburb Friday got two bags of marijuana, instead of the extra biscuits he had ordered. He gave the pot back to the worker, got his biscuits and called police.

Police arrested Carlos Ayala, 26, at the restaurant. The sheriff’s office and the restaurant’s management company did not immediately return calls Tuesday seeking further detail.

[…]

Ayala often worked the drive-up window, and authorities say he may have been selling marijuana to customers who used the right secret word as a code.

So here’s a question: If you had been the customer in question, would you have called the police?

While you’re pondering that, go visit William Burton, who’s been having a good debate on the decriminalization issue here, here, and here.

Isidore hits New Orleans

Tropical Storm Isidore, which still packed a pretty big punch despite never working its way back up to Hurricane status – made landfall in Louisiana, dumping more than 10 inches of rain and knocking out power for thousands of people.

Never let it be said, though, that the folks in Louisiana don’t know how to handle stressful times like this:

Two days of steady downpours had already left 10- 12-inch accumulations on some New Orleans streets, and the French Quarter, usually aglitter all night, was empty with many bar fronts boarded up before midnight. One of the open bars was Molly’s at the Market, where about a dozen people holed up against the rain.

“It’s all hardcore locals — the people you knew would be here,” said bartender Jolie Meaux. “The owner specifically said we don’t close — ever — unless they make us. Better to be stuck in a bar than at home watching TV.”

I’ll drink to that.

Madelyne Toogood

There are two items of interest regarding the Madelyne Gorman Toogood, the woman who was videotaped beating her young daughter, in today’s Chron. First, columnist Ken Hoffman interviews Toogood and her attorney, Steve “Rocket” Rosen. Whatever good they may have hoped would come out of this will probably be sunk by the opening exchange:

“Hi,” she said. “I know you think I’m a monster. I think more people hate me than Osama bin Laden.”

In the video she appears to be, as she said, a monster. On the phone, she sounded like a confused high school girl, much younger than her 25 years.

Incredibly, she made a joke when I asked what she thought the first time she saw the video of herself beating her child.

“I thought, you know, I’m not the babe I thought I was,” she said. “I thought I was better looking. So not only am I hated by everybody — I’m not as attractive as I thought I was.”

I was stunned by her answer. Maybe she doesn’t understand what’s happening to her, or what she did, or how much trouble she’s in. Maybe she uses humor when she’s scared.

That’s pretty understanding of Hoffman, but the damage is done. I don’t think a whole lot of people are going to change their minds in her favor after reading that, despite her repeated statements of remorse and acceptance of responsibility afterwards.

Over in the Metro section is a profile of Rosen, who has been involved in some other high-profile cases, including the K-Mart Kiddie Roundup. Like his client, he needs to watch what he says:

Toogood is a member of Texas-based Irish Travellers, insular, itinerant laborers who often earn their livelihoods through home improvement and business repair work. They are descendants of 19th-century immigrants who fled the Irish potato famine.

“I’ve represented members of the (Travellers) for 15 years around the country,” Rosen said. “Mainly it’s been petty crimes, thefts, fights among each other. Someone referred one to me, and they liked the job I did. They’re like the Mafia in that if they find a lawyer they like, they keep using him. I wouldn’t want to compare them to the Mafia, though.”

Too late for that. Perhaps you need to take a class in Analogies Management.

For what it’s worth, I agree with TalkLeft’s opinion, which is to wait for all the facts are in before calling for Madelyne Toogood’s head on a platter. If this is typical of her parenting, then by all means take her kids away from her. If this was a one-time event, then it’s in everyone’s long term best interests for her to get the kids back after an appropriate sentence that includes anger management classes. In the meantime, take a deep breath and pay attention to the followup stories, which are sure to get nowhere near the airplay of that infamous video.

Crooked “E” nets $44K

The crooked “E” that was for sale at the Enron auction sold for $44,000 to a buyer who was told to get it at any cost:

Jimmy Luu, sent by his boss to buy the sign, said he was given explicit marching orders regarding the behemoth corporate logo that once stood outside a downtown satellite office.

“He said, `Do anything to get it,’ ” Luu told a crush of reporters who surrounded him shortly after his bid was gaveled out in a packed Astrodome hotel ballroom.

“It’s just a once in a lifetime thing that he wanted to own.”

[…]

Scott Bui, attorney for Microcache, explained why the store wanted the mammoth sign so badly.

“The reason we bought this was to preserve this business icon,” he said. “It also signifies a lot of sweat, greed and fraud in business.”

Luu said his computer store, which has three locations in Houston, will display the sign at one of the sites.

Luu’s bid electrified spectators. Early bidder John Quinlan had boosted the price to $25,000 before bailing out, saying he “always wanted to own Enron.”

The last online bid was $30,000, and Luu appeared to have wrapped up the letter at $31,000, but homebuilder Mir Azizr stepped in, finally stopping at $43,000.

“I came here intending to buy it for $20,000. I didn’t expect it to go for $44,000,” said Azizr, who planned to incorporate the logo in a new downtown project he’s calling “E-Lofts.”

Mike emailed me during the day to say that he tuned into the webcast of the auction but it was so busy they had to reboot the server, and after that he was basically unable to get back in. They were on a lot number in the 600s of nearly 3000 this afternoon, so check back Thursday, there’s sure to be more.

The wild card, again

Rob Neyer has an interesting suggestion to the wild card dilemma. I’ll quote him since this is a quick-hit piece that won’t get archived:

My gut feeling is that there are plenty of postseason berths already. Any more, and we’ll be veering dangerously close to NHL and NBA territory.

However, Tom Hirdt has suggested adding two spots … and you know, I think it’s at least worth considering.

The idea is that you’d have two wild cards per league, and they’d face off in one-game playoffs the day after the season ended, with only the two winners advancing to the Division Series.

The benefit, of course, is that the division races would necessarily be meaningful, because nobody wants to be stuck playing one game with everything on the line. What’s more, even the winner of that game would be at a significant disadvantage, without the benefit of a game off before the Division Series. And that’s as it should be; the wild card should not begin the postseason on anything like equal footing with the division winners.

I’ll admit, I haven’t thought through all the ramifications of this idea. But let’s think about it.

Interesting indeed. That would give people the AL West race they wanted, and would put both Seattle and Boston in play as well. Over in the NL, the Astros would have had a decent chance to overtake the Dodgers for the last playoff spot. And whatever else you might say, a one-game winner-take-all playoff is certainly exciting.

Wal-Mart and Montgomery County followup

Letter writers have harsh words for the class-conscious Wal-Mart protesters and the Montgomery County Decency Squad. I just love being at the forefront of public opinion.

Cry havoc, and unleash the lawyers of war!

The number of lawsuits filed stemming from the K-Mart Kiddie Roundup case is up to three, with many more likely to follow.

In their suit, Brandi Ratliff, 18, and William Ryan Grenwelge, 20, claim false imprisonment and blame the city of Houston, the police chief and other officers in charge of the scene. Their suit, filed in state district court, does not specify a monetary amount.

[…]

Ratliff and Grenwelge said they were en route to a friend’s house Aug. 17 when they stopped at the Kmart in the 8400 block of Westheimer to buy drinks and use the telephone. As they were leaving the store’s parking lot, police yelled at them and at least one pointed a gun in their faces, Ratliff said.

Police also told them they were not being arrested at that time, she said, but hours later she was put in a cell with several other women, including those accused of murder and prostitution.

The incident left her “traumatized for life,” she said.

“I used to look at cops as protecting us and not arresting innocent people,” Ratliff said.

Mmm. I don’t have any qualms with the lawsuits, but even I think that “traumatized for life” is a tad bit over the top. I wouldn’t want to spend the night in lockup, either, but if that’s the worst thing that ever happens to you, you’ve led a pretty good life.

Meanwhile, Kevin has a modest proposal for dealing with the dirty drag-racing kids that the cops were supposedly going after in the first place.

Enron auction a smash success

I wandered over to the Radisson Astrodome during my lunchtime to check out the Enron assets auction, but as you can see, I never made it in the door. (Sorry, Scott.) There were two lines stretching out the door, with probably 100 people total waiting to get in. (Don’t these people have day jobs?) Once I realized it was hopeless, I headed back to work.

Of course, you can go to dovebid.com and check out the auction via webcast if you really want to. I’ll have to look for another opportunity to buy an air hockey table.

You can’t always get what you want

Debate over the proposed resolution to kick some Iraqi butt continues apace, but it looks like the President will have to settle for something less than complete power to do whatever he wants whenever he wants it:

“At the end of the day, he’s going to get his vote. But the size of the victory is going to depend on how it’s drafted,” said Rep. Ken Bentsen, D-Houston. “The draft the White House sent over is generally felt to be overly broad by most Republicans and Democrats that I have talked to.”

[…]

“I can’t vote for the resolution that was submitted by the White House. I think it’s way too broad and I hope that our committees change it to where people would recognize there is another elected body to consider,” said Rep. Gene Green, D-Houston, referring to Congress.

[…]

Rep. Nick Lampson of Beaumont said he has yet to decide how he’ll vote on the resolution, although like many Democrats he objects to the unchecked military authority the Bush administration is seeking.

“I think my constituents generally want me to support the president, but I think they also want a clear statement of mission objectives, and there remain a number of questions about whether the timing is right,” he said.

Hmm. Perhaps someone has been paying attention to recent polling data after all.

Many Republicans do support the President, though not all. The previously mentioned Rep. Dick “More Intellectual Than Thou” Armey remains “the toughest sell in this town”, while Rep. Ron Paul opposes any intervention anywhere, as Tony Adragna pointed out. It will be interesting to see if they support him enough to follow him off this cliff.

Poor, misunderstood Dick Armey

At a campaign event for Katherine Harris, Dick Armey took a moment to educate the world about the two types of Jews in America:

“I always see two Jewish communities in America: one of deep intellect and one of shallow, superficial intellect,” Armey said, according to the Bradenton (Fla.) Herald.

But don’t worry. He didn’t mean to insult Jews:

During his usual briefing with reporters, Armey said he meant no ethnic slur. Rather, he was answering a question posed to him regarding political divisions among Jews.

He said the only point he wanted to make was that liberals of all backgrounds are less intellectual than conservatives.

“They don’t think deeply. They don’t comprehend,” he said.

See? He only meant to insult liberals. I’m so glad he cleared that up. Now we can all go back to aspiring to be as smart as he is someday.

Isidore update

Looks like TS/Hurricane Isidore will be heading to Louisiana and not to the Houston area. Here’s hoping everyone stays safe and dry throughout.

Buffy: The blogs are bursting

I should have updated my post below earlier to link back to the Buffy Blog Burst index. Better late than never, I guess. Anyway, there’s lots of good stuff there, so go check it out. I’m particularly fond of Amptoons’ drawings of Willow, IronGall’s trust in Joss, Dave Tepper’s analysis of horror versus terror, and Nora Cox’s discussion of actions and consequences. Best of all, Captain Euro visits Sunnydale. What are you waiting for?

Wal-Mart brouhaha

I totally don’t know what to make of this story about a group of folks in a northwest Houston subdivision who are trying to halt the construction of a 24-hour Wal-Mart in their vicinity. On the one hand, looking at the enclosed map of the area, it’s unclear why Wal-Mart thinks they need another store there. And you don’t really have to try hard to get me to dislike the idea of Yet Another Megastore paving over a swath of green space.

But I have to say, the people they quoted in this story seem to be vying for the Least Sympathetic Aggreived Homeowners I’ve ever encountered. Here are a few samples to give you the gist:

Northwest Harris County residents say the proposed Wal-Mart will ruin their tranquil suburban neighborhood of cul-de-sacs and uniform brick houses.

“We moved out here because it was quiet and it is away from all the hustle and bustle, which is just on the other side of the tollway,” Susan Kight said.

It’s also where the land is cheap and easy, which is why Wal-Mart already has so many locations there. I’ve written about this before – the down side of buying land out there in the undeveloped territories is that you may some day wake up next to something nasty, whether it’s a concrete batch plant or a 24-hour superstore.

“I’m really afraid for our children’s safety,” said Chris Peters of Willowlake as her son Ryan, 16 months, and daughter Hailey, 3, scribbled messages such as, “Wal-Mart Do Not Hurt My Trees.”

She was among those who are now boycotting Wal-Mart.

“I have not shopped there in the last two weeks,” Peters said. “If it goes in over here, we plan to never shop there again.”

Which is your right, and I applaud you for taking a stand. It’s just that your stand would be a bit more principled if you’d cared about someone else’s trees. Is it OK if Wal-Mart kills someone else’s trees?

Kight said the store also will bring in undesirable shoppers, including criminals, from another Wal-Mart at U.S. 290 and Hollister Road, which residents think will close when the supercenter opens.

“The people that shop there are lower class, lower income,” Kight said. “All the perverts are going to see our children.”

Nancy Witmer of Willowlake, who attended Monday’s meeting, is also worried about who will patronize the new Wal-Mart.

“I don’t know what kind of people shop there 24 hours,” she said. “That’s not the kind of people I want over here.”

Jeebus. “Lower class”? “Perverts”? “Not the kind of people I want”? They’re not building a strip club, they’re building a freaking Wal-Mart. You know, where some of your friends and neighbors have been shopping until their own personal trees got threatened. That sound you hear is the last vestige of my sympathy taking a hike.

Local architect and city planner Peter Brown, who has researched Wal-Mart, said residents have some hope of making a case against the store by focusing on preserving wetlands and problems with drainage, safety and traffic they say the store will create.

“In terms of creating an attractive, livable community, there’s nothing worse than a Wal-Mart,” Brown said.

The irony of a master planned subdivision built on top of those same wetlands complaining about drainage problems caused by Someone Else’s Development is just too rich.

Go back to that original quote by Susan Kight, who says her share of God’s Little Acre is away from the “hustle and bustle” of the tollway. The tollway exists because of developments like her Willowlake subdivision and all the others that get plopped down on empty land. Sooner or later, people complain because it Takes Too Damn Long To Get Anywhere from where they are out in East Nowhere, so they raise a hue and cry until the powers that be see fit to underwrite a nice, wide road. Now the mobility problem is solved, which makes the area more attractive to other developers, who in turn look to build Wal-Marts and the like. And here we are, with the original residents complaining about Too Much Development, which incidentally has led to Too Much Traffic and eventually to the need to expand that not-so-nice-and-wide-anymore road.

Houston is a growing city. That’s a good thing. We’ve got a lot of undeveloped and underdeveloped areas, and that’s also a good thing. It’s just that we do such a half-assed job of making sure that current development will not cause avoidable future problems. In the same section as the Wal-Mart story is this one about how residents of another northwest Houston neighborhood have waited 17 years to get proper drainage put in and will likely have to wait another six years at least. Why wasn’t drainage put in when the land was developed? Because the developers aren’t responsible for that. No rule exists to make them do it or to consider it. That’s the sort of thing that helps make housing cheap around here, but as with everything else you get what you pay for.

Montgomery County still sucks

Those wacky Republican Leadership Council members up in Montgomery County have claimed another victory when an Oshman’s store placed a fig leaf on a statue of David and moved it atop the store.

Although the recent decision by managers of the Portofino shopping center to place a fig leaf on the statue did not result from the RLC’s action, the group expressed support for the move. The statue stands atop an Oshman’s sporting goods store, where it was moved from eye level.

Dianna Whitt of Shenandoah, whose complaint led to the addition of the fig leaf, said she shares the RLC’s views but prefers to call her protest a personal effort by a concerned citizen.

Whitt said she is not satisfied with the fig leaf and will press to have the statue moved someplace where children cannot see it without parental permission.

Every day I ask myself how it is that The Onion manages to stay ahead of the satire curve.

Not everyone has taken complete leave of their senses up there:

“They are not mainstream on the political spectrum,” [county GOP Chairman Walter D. Wilkerson Jr.] said. “They are out on the radical right, and no political organization or movement has ever succeeded in winning an election when they position themselves to the right or left of the spectrum.”

He said the council overstates its claims of success, noting that it has never backed a winning candidate for office above precinct chairman.

[…]

“I’m more offended by what they are trying to do to that sculpture than (by) the sculpture itself,” said Eric “Bulldog” Yollick, a lawyer who resigned as RLC president last year and made peace with Wilkerson.

Noting that the statue is on top of a building, Yollick said, “I couldn’t see that high up unless I had binoculars.”

Here’s a picture of the statue as it now sits on top of the Oshman’s, along with a closer look at the fig-leaf-covered naughty bits. Those of you with especially delicate constitutions might want to prepare a tisane to deal with the aftereffects.

It’s just another day at the office for the hard-working RLC.

The Republican Leadership Council is continuing a boycott of the Buca di Beppo restaurant in the same shopping center because it has photos of nude statues and paintings.

[RLC Chairman Jim] Jenkins said he is not satisfied that the restaurant had removed a photo of a statue of nude wrestlers and a photo in the men’s restroom of a boy facing a wall, apparently urinating.

He said he will be satisfied “if they put a sign up in front that says, `Caution, this restaurant is R-rated.’ ”

I can see so clearly now why some people think right-wingers are more fun than left-wingers: They have the best straight men.

UPDATE: Larry, naturally, finds a Third Way to look at this.

Isidore heads back out into the Gulf

Tropical Storm Isidore is heading towards the Texas Gulf Coast after battering the Yucatan Peninsula. It’s not clear when and where it will hit yet, but pretty much everyone’s nervous about it.

Buffy: Fuggeddaboutit!

This post is part of a Buffy Blog Burst. Go check out the index of posts, they’re all worth reading.

I’ve been racking my brain over what to write for the Buffy Blog Burst. In a show that’s already had alternate universes, the death and resurrection of the lead character, a musical, and the hint that the whole thing might just be a delusion, what new angle can you take?

Inspiration finally came while watching another show that I hate to miss, The Sopranos. Actually, all it took was the theme song. Look at these lyrics:

You woke up this morning
Got yourself a gun,
Mama always said you’d be
The Chosen One.

She said: You’re one in a million
You’ve got to burn to shine,
But you were born under a bad sign,
With a blue moon in your eyes.

You woke up this morning
All the love has gone,
Your Papa never told you
About right and wrong.

But you’re looking good, baby,
I believe you’re feeling fine,(shame about it),
Born under a bad sign
With a blue moon in your eyes.

You woke up this morning
The world turned upside down,
Thing’s ain’t been the same
Since the Blues walked into town.

But you’re one in a million
You’ve got that shotgun shine.
Born under a bad sign,
With a blue moon in your eyes.

The Chosen One? One in a million? Father issues? Woke up one morning to find that the world wasn’t what you thought it was? Hints of violence? Catchy hook and irresistable bass line? Are we sure these are two different shows?

Consider the similarities between the two shows:

  • Blood and gore
  • Visions of hell (remember when Christopher got shot?)
  • Funny accents (Spike, Dru, and Giles on Buffy, pretty much the whole cast on Sopranos)
  • Annoying teenage girl (Dawn and Meadow)
  • Bad hair (Anya and Willow on Buffy, Adriana and Silvio on Sopranos)

I could go on, but you get the point.

There’s a more serious way in which the two shows are similar, and I’m not talking about the hysterical reaction that certain killjoy groups have for them. I’m talking about their inevitable end, which is surely either this season or next. There’s basically only two possible endings: Death or some form of retirement for the lead character. Since death hasn’t stopped Buffy before, it’s unlikely to be the final act in the future. I don’t know what retirement means for her – it surely means either “prison” or “witness protection program” for Tony Soprano – unless the Council of Watchers can find a way to call forth a new Slayer or get Faith sprung from the joint. They’ll figure something out, I guess.

That’s too deep to contemplate right now. I want to see what the new Sunnydale High School looks like. I want to see how Spike handles having a soul. I want to see if Xander can make it up to Anya for dumping her at the altar, and if Anya can ever forgive him. Is it Tuesday yet?

Why I voted for Al Gore in 2000

This is the sort of speech I want to hear from my President. It’s why I voted for Gore in 2000 and why he’s the frontrunner for my vote in 2004.

Link via O-Dub.

Fellow traveller

I just got a nice note from Tom Spencer, who wondered if I was the Charles Kuffner that he went to college with. I am, and I’m glad to hear that an old classmate is a fellow traveller. Tom’s a history professor at Northwest Missouri State University, and as I recall, a pretty good trombone player. I commend you to check him out.

There but for the grace of God…

The main reason why I haven’t been too harsh on Florida for its most recent election snafus is because it could happen here just as easily. I’ve used the eSlate voting machines – I’m one of those annoying people who does early voting – and while I have no qualms with how they’ve been rolled out and explained to users, I do have a problem with the fact that they don’t create a hardcopy of the votes they record. When (not if) we have a contested election like Reno/McBride, we better hope that no votes have disappeared from the system.

My first move will be to have Bud Selig arrested

If Larry Simon wins that FX American Candidate show, he’s going to have an all blogger cabinet. I’m in line for Secretary of Commerce. Surely I can do a better job than that girly-boy Don Evans.

(Note: The fact that I knew Don Evans was Commerce Secretary without having to resort to Google should be sufficient qualifications, don’t you think?)

Meantime, take a look at Larry’s platform. He’s sure to piss you off eventually.

Get yer Enron surplus items here

There will be a big auction of surplus Enron items this Wednesday at the Radisson Astrodome, which is quite near where I work. All sorts of interesting this will be available:

The nearly 5-foot tilted E being auctioned by Enron this week would be a real conversation piece at Matt Mitchell’s Internet cafĂ© — if he could afford it.

“I think that will be one of the hottest items out there,” the former Enron employee said. “I’d be willing to put a couple of hundred on it myself, but I know it will be much higher than that.”

No, it’s not the big crooked E that’s outside the office building on Smith Street. That one’s not for sale.

Among the oddities up for sale are a number of fake, wooden flintlock pistols Enron gave away at trade shows and 18-inch replicas of three-masted tall ships.

“They’re nonworking,” Palmer said of the flintlock look-alikes. “They are at least 10 years old.”

The stands that come with the pistols are stamped “Enron Gas Services Corp.,” a name that hasn’t been used since the early ’90s.

[…]

There are Foosball and air hockey tables, as well as an entire basketball system still in the box it came in.

Arrayed in formation are hundreds of Herman Miller Aeron chairs, which retail for as much as $800 each.

Mmm…Foosball…Air hockey…I think I may sneak over there on Wednesday morning. Surely we can find room for an air hockey table.