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December, 2004:

Be careful what you wish for

As noted yesterday, Republicans in Texas are once again threatening to remove the power to investigate election code violations from the Travis County District Attorney’s office to the Attorney General, presumably on the theory that they won’t have to worry so much about the fine points of corporate campaign cash with a fellow traveller in charge of enforcement. Partisan interests aside, I think there’s actually a decent case to be made for this. For one thing, the AG shouldn’t have any of the jurisdictional problems that Ronnie Earle faces:

The election code allows Earle to prosecute Colyandro because he lives in Austin. It also gives Earle jurisdiction over out-of-state defendants. But because Craddick and DeLay live in Texas, but outside of Travis County, their local district attorneys would have jurisdiction over election code violations.

Earle could argue for jurisdiction in Craddick’s case if he has a dual residence. It’s unclear if the speaker’s apartment provided in the Capitol would qualify.

Be that as it may, it seems to me that any Republicans who believe this change would eliminate what Henry Bonilla called the crackpot district attorney problem are being naive. Have we ever had a non-ambitious Attorney General in Texas? John Cornyn is now a Senator. Dan Morales ran for Governor. Jim Mattox ran for Senate. Greg Abbott is rumored to have his eye on David Dewhurst’s job. What’s a good way for an AG with aspirations to make a name for himself or herself? How about collecting the scalps of a few corrupt politicians? I think that’d play pretty well in whatever our equivalent of Peoria is. Why would any self-respecting Crusader for Justice pass up that opportunity?

Even if (God forbid) the Republican Party remains the only game in town at the state level for the next generation or so, I don’t think this will be the panacea they’re hoping for. Sure, the current AG would never have touched the TRMPAC case, but that’s because he’s up to his eyeballs in conflicted interests. Will that be true for the next scandal, or the next AG? And again, remember the nature of people who run for Attorney General. When the chips are down, their own ambition will trump the greater good of their party and its image. I think that will be even more true in the one-party-state scenario, since taking down a colleague may be the only way to create a job opening.

No, if the Republicans want to make sure that no one ever gets in trouble for throwing around corporate campaign contributions again, their best bet is to decriminalize it, as they’re also talking about doing. I think (I could be wrong here) that would necessitate a constitutional amendment, which would have to be approved by the voters in a referendum. I can just imagine how that puppy would get marketed – “Buying access: It’s not just a good idea, it ought to be the law!” Do you think they’d also remove the adjoining restriction on donations from unions, or will they simply tell us that corporate cash is Good and labor cash is Bad? I’d better stock up on batteries for my Unintentional Comedy Meter just in case.

Colyandro moves for dismissal

Related to the previos item, John Colyandro, one of the three individuals indicted so far in the TRMPAC investigation, has filed a motion to dismiss the charges against him.

John Colyandro contends he couldn’t have improperly received the contributions because he wasn’t a candidate, officeholder or political committee.

Texas law states that only officeholders, candidates and political committees are capable of illegally accepting contributions.

The motion was made Tuesday by an attorney for the former executive director of Texans for a Republican Majority. That’s a political action committee with ties to Republican U-S House Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Sugar Land.

Colyandro was indicted in September, along with two other DeLay associates who helped raise money to secure a Republican majority in the Texas House in 2002.

Gregg Cox of the Travis County district attorney’s office told the newspaper he hasn’t reviewed Colyandro’s pleading but had been expecting such motions.

Clever argument on the surface. One would hope the DA’s office is not dumb enough to indict someone who by definition can’t have broken the law in question. We’ll see what the judge thinks.

Sears cuts a deal

Via The Daily DeLay, Sears has joined Diversified Collections Services in making a deal with the Travis County District Attorney’s office in the TRMPAC case.

Prosecutors have agreed to drop an illegal campaign contribution charge against Sears, Roebuck and Co. in exchange for the company’s cooperation with a state investigation of contributions to a Republican political action committee.

A Travis County judge signed off on the agreement today.


The agreement calls for Sears to cooperate with Texas “in its prosecution and investigation of any other person for any offense related to the corporate contribution” that Sears made.

The agreement also said that Sears has certified that it has enacted additional internal policies and adopted a plan to strengthen its policy against making illegal political contributions in any state. The agreement also said Sears will modify its company Web site to provide for public access and disclosure of corporate contributions made by Sears.

In addition, [Sears senior vice president Robert J.] O’Leary said Sears will contribute $100,000 to the University of Texas for a campaign finance law awareness program.

That’s two down and six to go. Who’ll be next to turn state’s evidence?

Daddy’s got them Deep Ellum blues

You know how some people have fretted that traffic cameras would lead to less privacy? This is the sort of thing we worry about.

Dallas police have joined with private businesses in the city’s Deep Ellum entertainment district to watch the area by camera.

Dallas police will be able to monitor crowds from 16 cameras on the roofs of three businesses in Deep Ellum. The businesses and police will share the footage via the Internet.

“The intent is not just to provide real-time video images but to provide a history of what happened,” Chief David Kunkle said. “This is part of making the city of Dallas safer.”

While police say crime in the area is down about 12 percent since last year, several high-profile fights and robberies have made some visitors nervous. Business owners have asked for additional police presence.

“It’s one of many steps aimed to make Deep Ellum safer in 2005,” said Mark McNabb, executive director of the Deep Ellum Association.

Virtual Surveillance of Plano donated about $20,000 worth of equipment and services for the pilot project. The cameras will remain in place indefinitely.

When you go down to Deep Ellum, just to have a little fun
Have that ten dollars ready when the policeman comes

— from the Deep Ellum Blues.

UPDATE: More from Byron and Grits.

Public Citizen calls for Justice inquiry on Westar

This pretty much speaks for itself.

Public Citizen is writing to provide the Department of Justice with significant new information regarding possible violations of 18 U.S.C. §201 (“Bribery of public officials and witnesses”) by current and former Westar Energy, Inc. executives and its D.C.-based lobbyists and current and former members of the U.S. House of Representatives. This new information has recently been uncovered in an investigation by the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct (“ethics committee”).

On June 17, 2003, Public Citizen submitted a complaint concerning possible criminal violations of anti-bribery statutes by lobbyist Richard H. Bornemann; Westar Energy (previously known as Western Resources) executives David C. Wittig, Douglas T. Lake, Douglas R. Sterbenz, Douglas R. Lawrence, Anita Jo Hunt, Caroline A. Williams, Richard A. Dixon, Kelly B. Harrison, Larry D. Irick, Peggy Lloyd, Bruce Akin, Paul R. Geist; and U.S. Representatives Tom DeLay (R-Texas), W.J. “Billy” Tauzin (R-La.) and Joe Barton (R-Texas).

There’s a lot more. Not that I expect it to go anywhere, unfortunately.

Meanwhile, via The Stakeholder and Greg, I see that Republicans in both DC and Austin are working hard to make sure that this sort of thing Never Happens Again.

In the aftermath of back-to-back ethics slaps at House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, House Republicans are preparing to make it more difficult to begin ethics investigations and could remove the GOP chairman who presided over the admonishments delivered to DeLay last fall.

A House leadership aide said a package of rules changes to be presented to the House when the 109th Congress convenes Tuesday could include a plan that would require a majority vote of the ethics panel to pursue a formal investigation. At present, a deadlock on the panel, which is evenly split between the two parties, keeps the case pending. The possible change, the aide said, would mean that a tie vote would effectively dismiss the case.


In Texas, state Republican legislative leaders and party officials are considering some maneuvers of their own in light of the investigation. One proposal would take authority for prosecuting the campaign finance case away from the Democratic district attorney in Austin and give it to the state attorney general, a Republican. Another possible move would legalize corporate campaign contributions like those that figure into the state case.

It’d be pretty amusing if the Republicans in the Lege gave that investigatory power to the Attorney General, and then the Democrats won the AG race in 2006, wouldn’t it? Wonder who they’d give the authority to next. My suggestion is the Montgomery County Commissioners’ Court. That ought to be reliably Republican for the foreseeable future.

No more milk cartons

Schoolkids are saying sayonara to milk cartons.

Encouraged by a milk industry study that shows children drink more dairy when it comes in round plastic bottles, a growing number of schools are ditching those clumsy paper half-pint cartons many of us grew up with.

Already more than 1,250 schools have switched to single-serving bottles. While that is still a tiny fraction of the nation’s schools, it is a significant jump from 2000, when there were none, according to the National Dairy Council.

“Those damn square containers are awfully hard for kids,” says New Hampshire Agriculture Commissioner Steve Taylor, who has watched the trend spread to some 320 schools in New England. “Teachers say you can spend the whole lunch period just walking around and opening those containers.”

Although plastic long has been the favored packaging for soda and other drinks, schools sought bottled milk only after a 2002 Dairy Council study found milk consumption increased 18 percent in schools that tested bottles. The study also found that children who drank bottled milk finished more of it.

The change to plastic brings schools closer to overall milk packaging trends. In 2001, more than 82 percent of the nation’s milk was packaged in plastic, up from 15 percent in 1971, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Three things:

1. It would be nice to know that the schools are also taking steps to ensure that those plastic bottles get recycled. No mention of that in the article, though.

2. One thing you could do with the old cartons that you can’t with the bottles: After drinking the contents, close the spout, fold down the tented top, place the carton on the floor, and stomp on it as hard as you can. If you do it just right, it makes a very loud and satisfying BANG! as the carton pops like a balloon. Not that I’d advocate such behavior for the school cafeteria, of course. I’m just saying.

3. Will they still include the pictures of missing kids on the bottles?

Reviving football at UTA

I never knew that the University of Texas at Arlington had ever had football, but they did, up until 1985. Now they’re talking about reviving it, and this Star Telegram article details the story. A couple of bits to comment on:

The initiative began with a UTA Student Congress referendum that proposed a $2 per semester hour increase in the Student Athletic Fee. This spring, UTA’s student body passed the measure by a 2-to-1 margin in the largest student-voter turnout ever for a one-day vote at UTA.

The fee increase is expected to bring in an extra $1.25 million per school year. Josh Warren, UTA’s former student body president who kickstarted the athletic fee increase to help fund sports expansion, called that a conservative estimate.

The student leaders were well-spoken and well-informed. Rather than brush off the Student Congress, UTA President Jim Spaniolo, who is also pursuing a mid-sized Special Events Center that could be used for concerts and basketball, became serious. In August, UTA hired Chuck Neinas of Neinas Sports Services, a sports consultant firm based in Boulder, Colo., and paid him $23,000 to conduct a sports-expansion feasibility study.


Though it might sound strange, Warren, who did most of the research and wrote much of the initiative to increase the Student Athletic Fee, isn’t a raving football fanatic. When Warren looked at the U.S. News & World Report‘s annual list of the country’s best colleges and universities, he noticed that schools such as Harvard, Yale, Princeton, MIT, Cal-Berkeley and Stanford didn’t sacrifice academics for football.

Warren and his student-leader peers set out to increase student pride, fill a vacant fall social calendar and give graduates a reason to make donations to their alma mater and return to campus from time to time. The student leaders wanted a more traditional college experience. Their goal is to create “Mavericks 4 Life.”

The return of football, in their estimation, achieves all of that.

“It seemed like we were missing something, a certain atmosphere,” said Warren, who is ribbed by friends that say UTA stands for UT-Almost. “When I talked to alumni, I got the same feeling. They weren’t coming back to campus.”

UTA Athletic Alumni Association president Brian Happel was a kicker for the Mavericks in the early 1980s, and he and his group were approached before the athletic fee increase was put up for vote.

“You have students that aren’t experiencing what their high school classmates are experiencing in college,” Happel said. “They’ve come here and see what they’re missing. They feel shorted compared to their high school classmates. I think a football program would help draw students to campus, and I think it will help retain students and help graduates give back to the university.”

Having gone to a Division III school at a time when their athletics mostly sucked, I’d agree with the assertion that there’s something missing. I had no idea what college football was like for many people until 1988, the fall after I graduated, and got to attend games at Notre Dame and Texas A&M as a member of the MOB. I managed to have a pretty darned good time in college anyway, but that’s a powerful lure. I can certainly see how a school like UT-A could feel like they’re at a competitive disadvantage for students without a football program.

I also find the student-led referendum to be interesting. There’s a parallel to our city referenda on stadium building, but it feels to me like the students were more open about what they were asking their colleagues to spend on. Sure, there’s still the idea that they’ll make money back on this, in the form of increased alumni giving, but I get the overall impression that they really were looking for an experience and not an investment. I hope they get what they think they’re paying for.

More on the money angle:

If and when UTA brings back football, the university can’t expect to make money from the program — definitely not at first, and probably not ever. Of the six [Division I-AA Southland Conference] schools that have football programs, only McNeese State made a profit in the 2002-03 academic year. And McNeese State, which led the SLC in average attendance at 16,414 per game, barely did that.

Of the 10 Division I-A football programs in Texas, only five — SMU, TCU, Texas, Texas A&M and Texas Tech — showed a profit in 2002-03. The football programs at Baylor, Houston, North Texas, Rice and UT-El Paso were in the red.

Does anyone believe that SMU has made a profit on football in any year since the demise of the Southwest Conference? If Baylor can’t make money as the remora of the Big XII, ain’t no way SMU is making money in the WAC. It’s barely credible that TCU could make money, even with their regular bowl appearances of late.

Weekly Standard on Abramoff

Tom sent me an email with a link to Andrew Ferguson’s article on Jack Abramoff in the Weekly Standard. I’d seen the link before, but the getting around to reading and blogging about it part got lost in the holiday shuffle. I can’t beat Mark Schmitt’s take on the piece, but there are a couple of things to add.

First, as noted by The Stakeholder, there are some local angles to the Abramoff/Mike Scanlon/Ralph Reed story that could stand a bit of investigation. Despite the strong ties these three scoundrels have to Tom DeLay – Scanlon is DeLay’s former press secretary – the Houston Chronicle hasn’t touched this at all. Do an archive search on ‘Jack Abramoff’ + ‘TomDeLay’, and you’ll get four hits, all of which were articles picked up from the Washington Post. There may be nothing there, of course, but I rather doubt it.

Second, I got a good laugh out of this bit from the Ferguson piece:

After College Republicans, Abramoff brought the same theatricality to his other activist jobs. “His greatest strength was his audacity,” says the writer and political consultant Jeff Bell, who worked with Abramoff and Norquist at a Reaganite group called Citizens for America in the mid-1980s. “He and Grover [Norquist] were just wildmen. They always were willing to throw the long ball. Jack’s specialty was the spectacular–huge, larger-than-life, almost Hollywood-like events.” As the group’s chairman, Abramoff staged his greatest spectacular in 1985, a “summit meeting” of freedom-fighters from around the world, held in a remote corner of the African bush. Among the summiteers was Adolfo Calero, a leader of the Nicaraguan contras, and playing host was a favorite of the 1980s conservative movement, the Angolan rebel Jonas Savimbi, who fought bravely against the Cuban occupiers of his country but turned out, alas, to be a Maoist cannibal.

They must have had Alberto Gonzales do the background check on Savimbi. Coulda happened to anyone, you know.

Anyway, the Ferguson piece is a good read, so check it out. I’ve noted before that Lou Dubose and Jan Reid, the authors of The Hammer, think that the Abramoff/Scanlon Indian gaming scandal will be the thing that finally brings Tom DeLay down. I think it’s way too early to think that, or even to think that he will be brought down by anyone other than maybe the voters some day, but keep it in mind.

UPDATE: The Stakeholder adds on.


My comments have been infested by a particularly obnoxious troll over the past couple of days, someone who seems to think that because I allow feedback, he’s free to leave offensive and racist remarks and that I am somehow obligated to let him. Normally, I’d ban such a person, something I’ve only had to do three previous times in the three years I’ve run this site, but since he posts from multiple IP addresses, that wasn’t a workable option. Given no other choice, I’ve decided to take the drastic and unfortunate step of closing comments for the time being. I’m not happy about this, but with a sick kid at home, I’ve got neither the time nor the inclination to clean up after this joker. Until further notice, please send feedback to the email address listed above. My sincere apologies to you all.

UPDATE: After soliciting some feedback from friends, I’ve decided to reenable comments going forward, but with moderation in place. That means I’ll have to approve comments before they’re visible on the site, something that is done normally for older posts by the MT Blacklist plugin. You should see a message of some kind saying that your comment will appear after it has been approved. Still not as good a solution as having the obnoxious troll go away and bother someone else, but better than throwing out the baby with the bath water. Again, my apologies for the inconvenience.

Melissa Noriega

Meet Melissa Noriega, wife of State Rep. Rick Noriega (D, Houston), who will be filling in for her husband while he is on active military duty in Afghanistan.

Melissa Noriega, 50, is a special projects manager for the Houston Independent School District. She said she has refused to travel at work because she did not want to leave her son alone, but she said she feels a responsibility to fill in for her husband in the Legislature while he is on active duty.

“This is really an honor, both that my husband would trust me with the responsibility and we’ve also gotten a lot of feedback from the district. This isn’t something we just did,” she said. “We’ve been discussing it with precinct judges and community leaders.”

A state constitutional amendment passed last year allowing legislators who are called up to active military duty to designate their replacement until they return or their term of office expires. Noriega won re-election last year while on active duty in Afghanistan.

When asked why her husband chose her as his temporary replacement, Melissa Noriega said, “For one thing, I’ll give it back.”

The procedures for how she will replace him are not completely in place. But most likely he will be sworn in from Afghanistan when the Legislature convenes Jan. 11. Then he will notify the House chief clerk and parliamentarian of his choice of surrogate.

The full House has the power to reject Noriega’s choice, but in this case is expected to seat Melissa Noriega to serve in her husband’s place.

This uncertainty in the procedures has led Byron to worry that we could be in for some more shenanigans from the Lege, but I rather doubt it. What state rep is going to want to explain why a man fighting for his country overseas shouldn’t have his wishes honored in this matter? I’ll be shocked if she’s not approved unanimously.

Former Cintra lobbyist now working for Perry

Remember the Trans Texas Corridor? Turns out that until three months ago, the guy who is now Governor Perry’s legislative director worked for the firm that won the first construction bid.

As a government affairs consultant for Cintra, Dan Shelley was to be paid if the road deal went through, a spokesman for the governor said. But Mr. Shelley agreed to give up all rights to that money – an amount the governor’s office could not detail – when he joined Mr. Perry’s staff as legislative director.

The spokesman, Robert Black, said Mr. Shelley was never paid any money by Cintra. After joining the governor’s office, he said, Mr. Shelley had no contact about the project with Cintra or the Texas Transportation Commission, the Perry-appointed board that picked the company.

“The governor’s office had no influence at all over who won the contract for the Trans-Texas Corridor,” Mr. Black said.

Mr. Perry has made the Trans-Texas Corridor, a network of tollways and rail lines across the state projected to cost $175 billion, the centerpiece of his transportation policy. An opponent of the plan said Mr. Shelley’s previous employment for Cintra added to questions about the project.

“From the very beginning, this was going to be a railroaded project,” said Corridor Watch founder David Stall. His group opposes the governor’s proposal and wants to ensure that the development process is open to public input. “The governor had an agenda. It’s all predetermined.”

I’ve been browsing the Corridor Watch web site. Not the best design I’ve ever seen, but a lot of useful info.

Mr. Shelley, a lobbyist at the time, began consulting for the company in December 2003, roughly three months after Cintra was named to a list of three possible Trans-Texas Corridor contractors, the governor’s office said. When Mr. Shelley joined the governor’s staff nine months later, his lobbying firm – which includes his daughter and son-in-law – did not take over the Cintra contract or the promised pay, Mr. Black said.

State records show Mr. Shelley – a lawyer and former state legislator who serves as Mr. Perry’s liaison to lawmakers – and his firm were not registered with the state as lobbyists for Cintra, as required for individuals who have contact with state officials that’s intended to influence government decisions.

“Dan Shelley gave advice to Cintra” about doing business in Texas, Mr. Black said. “He didn’t lobby, nor did he try to influence anyone else’s decisions, other than Cintra’s.”

Texas Transportation Commission Chairman Ric Williamson said Mr. Shelley approached Texas Department of Transportation officials about a year ago, seeking a meeting about his work for Cintra and possibly other Spanish companies. The visit was brief, and it was the only known business contact between Mr. Shelley and the transportation department, Mr. Williamson said.

“The visit he made to TxDOT was not in the nature of a specific project,” Mr. Williamson said. “It was along the lines of, ‘These guys may want to do business in Texas. Can you spend some time with them?’ ”

Several months later, the state hosted a tour in Dallas and other Texas cities, explaining potential projects to about 20 representatives of Spanish companies. They included several from Cintra’s then-parent company, Ferrovial Agroman.

“There should be an appearance question from your point of view. But from my point of view, there is none,” Mr. Williamson said. “I can guarantee you Dan Shelley didn’t lobby me for anything to do with Cintra.”

And I’m sure if I were to walk up to Ric Williamson and say “Hey, I know some guys who might like to do a little business in Texas, could you spend a few minutes with them”, he’d be just as happy to do it for me as he was for Dan Shelley. Because there’s no value in knowing the right people, you see. If anyone wants to parse the relevant state laws on the subject of lobbying and compensation and report back on it, please be my guest.

Getting back to Corridor Watch for a second, it seems that among the opponents of the Trans Texas Corridor are the Republican Party of Texas. Campaign issue, anyone?

Thanks to KF for the heads up.

No jail time for a little pot

State Rep. Harold Dutton (D, Houston) has what I think is a smart proposal: Make possession of an ounce or less of marijuana a Class C misdemeanor, punishable by a fine but not prison.

Texas law currently calls for six months in jail for possession of less than two ounces of marijuana, a class B misdemeanor. Dutton’s measure would maintain that designation for possession of between one and two ounces of pot, but would cut that to a class C misdemeanor, the equivalent of a traffic ticket, for possession of one ounce or less.

“We’ve been tough on crime for the last decade or so, and now it’s time to be a little bit smart on crime,” Dutton told 1200 WOAI news.

Dutton’s law would not reduce punishments for possession of largest amounts of marijuana.

“People who have a joint of marijuana should not be facing a class B misdemeanor, which ties up our justice system,” Dutton said.

Currently, Texas police can handcuff, book, and jail suspects for as much as a couple of seeds of marijuana on the floorboard of their car or in an ash tray in their home. This bill would enable officers simply to write the suspects a ticket and send them on their way. It would also eliminate the drivers license suspension which currently accompanies a drug possession conviction in Texas.

“the data that we have indicates that sixty to seventy percent of people arrested under current Texas drug laws have one joint or less,” Dutton said. “Putting these people in jail doesn’t make Texans any safer, and doesn’t make any sense.

“We’re not going to tie up our courts with this any longer. We’ll turn it over to municipal courts and you can pay the fine and go on.”

Dutton said his measure does not call for tougher penalties for people with repeated tickets for possession of one ounce of less of marijuana.

He says he wants to ‘take the sting out of the law.’

“We need to be smart on Texans pocketbooks, and leave the criminal justice system to more heinous crimes. To give people 180 days in jail for having two seeds of marijuana on their floorboards seems to be a waste of the state’s time and money, and a waste of the lives of the people who have to suffer that punishment,” he said.

Dutton said his bill is not ‘decriminalization’ of marijuana, simply a more common sense approach to dealing with the problem.

I couldn’t agree more. Grits notes that a similar bill by Dutton in 2003 had bipartisan support, so maybe this bill will, too.

UPDATE: Grits has a clarification on the nature of Dutton’s bill from 2003.

RIP, Jerry Orbach

Jerry Orbach, best known for playing Lennie Briscoe on Law and Order, has died from cancer.

Orbach died Tuesday night in Manhattan after several weeks of treatment, Audrey Davis of the public relations agency Lippin Group said.

When his illness was diagnosed, he had begun production on NBC’s upcoming spinoff Law & Order: Trial By Jury, after 12 seasons playing Detective Lennie Briscoe in the original series. His return to the new show had been expected early next year.

On Broadway, the Bronx-born Orbach starred in hit musicals including Carnival, Promises, Promises (for which he won a Tony Award), Chicago and 42nd Street.

Earlier, he was in the original cast of the off-off-Broadway hit The Fantasticks, playing the narrator. The show went on to run for more than 40 years.

Among his film appearances were roles in Dirty Dancing, Prince of the City and Crimes and Misdemeanors.

Orbach is expected to appear in early episodes of Law & Order: Trial by Jury, for which he continued as Briscoe in a secondary role, when the series premieres later this season, Davis said.

“I’m immensely saddened by the passing of not only a friend and colleague, but a legendary figure of 20th Century show business,” said Dick Wolf, creator and executive producer of the “Law & Order” series, in a statement. “He was one of the most honored performers of his generation. His loss is irreplaceable.”

My dad knew a lot of New York detectives in his time as a judge. He told me once that there was one particular homicide cop he knew who was just like the Lennie Briscoe character. For sure, New York cops loved the character and the actor behind him.

It’s gotten to the point that Orbach literally stops traffic, because drivers hit the brakes to give him a shout-out. But his biggest fans are the men in blue.

“The police? Oh, my God. It’s a straight-up love affair with the man,” says Jesse L. Martin, who plays Briscoe’s partner, Detective Ed Green. “It’s as if he really is a detective.”

“The police treat me very nicely,” Orbach, 68, confirms. “If it’s raining and I can’t get a cab, sometimes a squad car will come by and they’ll say, `Where you going?’ I say, `I don’t want to get you guys in trouble.’ They say, `Get in the back. We’ll pretend you’re under arrest.’ ”


Last year, the New York Landmarks Conservancy decreed Orbach a Living Landmark, an honor generally bestowed only on quintessential New Yorkers. “It means they can’t tear me down,” Orbach says.

Rest in peace, Jerry Orbach.

The DeLay Rule wasn’t lenient enough

The Stakeholder points to this WaPo article which shows just how seriously the House Republican leadership takes its ethics.

House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert is leaning toward removing the House ethics committee chairman, who admonished House Majority Leader Tom DeLay this fall and has said he will treat DeLay like any other member, several Republican aides said yesterday.

Although Hastert (Ill.) has not made a decision, the expectation among leadership aides is that the chairman, Rep. Joel Hefley (R-Colo.), long at odds with party leaders because of his independence, will be replaced when Congress convenes next week.

The aides said a likely replacement is Rep. Lamar S. Smith, one of DeLay’s fellow Texans, who held the job from 1999 to 2001. Smith wrote a check this year to DeLay’s defense fund. An aide said Smith was favored for his knowledge of committee procedure.

This is like appointing Bonnie to be Clyde’s jailer. Why not just disband the Ethics Committee altogether and be done with it?

As Boffoblog noted, Lamar Smith‘s favorite thing to say to Tom DeLay is “Thank you sir, may I please have another?” Which is to say, he’s well qualified for the job.

UPDATE: Greg has a fine suggestion:

[H]ere’s a great idea for a reform measure that House Dems could offer … why not lead the fight for a rule that dictates of House members to refund all contributions from fellow members when under review with the Ethics committee? And why not fight for a similar one that dictates a refund to all donating members of the House should a vote for censure or worse reach the House floor?

Sounds good to me.

UPDATE: Silly me. The House Ethics Commission still has a purpose – to investigate Democrats for alleged violations committed in 1997. Payback time, baby! Thanks to N in Seattle for the reminder.

One way to win over the netroots

I’m not following the ins and outs of the race for DNC Chair very closely, but I’m impressed that Donnie Fowler took the time to stump for himself at MyDD. Whatever else his qualifications may be, he’s demonstrated he knows how to reach out to a pretty vocal and opinionated constituency. I say that’s a point in his favor, one he shares with Simon Rosenberg. That’s the sort of thing I want in the next chair, whomever he or she may be.

Looping around the Rice Village

Via Anne, I see that Metro is thinking about a shuttle that would serve the Rice Village/Medical Center area. Just for the record, I thought of it first.

To provide a slightly different perspective than what is expressed there, it seems to me that a short-route shuttle would (along with the light rail) serve the area better than a bus route would have. For one thing, a short route means more frequent service, possibly with smaller, cheaper vehicles, depending on the ridership projections. And as I said before, this is something where the merchants of the Village could be enlisted to help, since their current alternative is charging customers to park.

As for the contention that publicly-financed rail systems benefit a few a lot but cost everybody a little, it seems to me that one could say the same thing about any publicly-financed projects, including roads. How many of my gas-tax dollars are funding constructions or expansions in far-flung suburbs, none of which I’m likely to use? I guarantee I’ve already taken the light rail more often than I’ll ever drive on any part of the Grand Parkway. Even the great boondoggle known as the Katy Freeway expansion will have little direct benefit to me, since I almost never drive it west of Highway 6 and might not even venture on it west of Loop 610 more than once or twice in a normal month. Yet even though I think there’s a better way to do that project, I’d never argue that since it will benefit some people a lot more than others it shouldn’t be done at all. I say it all evens out in the end, or at least it should. There may be other reasons to advocate against these things, but that’s not a line of argument I’m willing to accept.

In order to save the Astrodome…

I’m a little behind the times in commenting on this story about the sad current state of affairs with the Astrodome. Tom thinks that demolition is the Dome’s ultimate fate and that it’s past time for us to recognize that. But there’s little political will for that:

[T]he thought of doing away with [the Astrodome] is anathema to politicians.

While the county never intended to rush into demolishing the Dome, the looming warm-glow images of Earl Campbell, Nolan Ryan and everyone’s first rodeo all have pushed them into treating that idea like some sort of cloud-cuckoo-land fantasy hardly worth mentioning.

“If in the end there is no viable use for this building, we don’t need to keep it just for its own sake,” [County Judge Robert] Eckels says in an interview. Envisioning the backlash even such an innocuous statement might trigger, he quickly adds, “And the headline shouldn’t be ‘Eckels Thinks We Ought to Tear Down the Dome,’ because I don’t think that’s going to happen.”

Got it. The county is definitely, absolutely, utterly committed to keeping the Dome. If it can. Which it can. Hopefully.

Oddly enough, I’m coming to the conclusion that the best way to ensure the survival of the Dome is to threaten its imminent demise. The question, as posed by Willie Loston, executive director for the Harris County Sports & Convention Corporation, is “who’s going to pay to keep the Astrodome?” There’s been a lot of crazy schemes floated for turning the property into something that would make money, but perhaps the best option is to leave it more or less as is and just find someone to pick up the $600K annual maintenance costs.

How do you do that, then? Well, I think a little public pressure on the right individuals, aided by the inevitable outcry at the prospect of the Dome’s doom, would go a long way. Who are the right individuals? The three people who are primarily responsible for the Dome’s predicament, who not coincidentally are the three biggest benefactors from the events that led to that same predicament. I speak of Bud Adams, Drayton McLane, and Bob McNair.

Six hundred grand a year is small potatoes to these guys, especially when measured against the money they’ve made off the taxpayers of Harris County and elsewhere. Adams in particular is said to be more and more concerned about his legacy as he ages. Why not have Mayor White, Judge Eckels, and a few other heavy hitters ask them to set up an Astrodome Historical Preservation Foundation, supported by their initial generosity and future fundraising events, and see what they say? It’s not like we’re any worse off if they laugh politely and throw everyone out of their offices.

I see this as the lowest cost plan, and as long as the air conditioning bills are being paid, you can still give tours of the Dome to whoever might care to see it up close. It preserves a piece of Houston’s history, and it leaves the old Dome parking lots in place for Reliant Stadium’s use. What have we got to lose by trying this?

How to help

Forty four thousand dead. I have no words.

Here’s how you can help.

Little things really do mean a lot

From one of the many snarky year-end wrapup stories in the Chron comes this tidbit:

LITTLE THINGS MEAN A LOT: Astros pitcher Roger Clemens was ejected from his son’s youth league game after an umpire accused Clemens of spitting a sunflower seed at him.

Strictly speaking, that is a true statement. However, one might get the impression from it that Roger Clemens did in fact spit a sunflower seed at the youth league umpire. If so, one would be mistaken.

David King, president of tournament organizer Triple Crown Sports, said “Mr. Clemens was a non-aggressor and a victim of mistaken identity and confusion” by an upset umpire.

Clemens was asked to leave son Kacy’s game Saturday in Craig, Colo., when a 22-year-old ump said the Houston Astros pitcher spit a sunflower seed at him. Moments earlier, Kacy was called out on a stolen base attempt — the fielder later admitted he missed the tag — and the Rocket watched the rest of the contest from a parking lot.

“Mr. Clemens never raised his voice, never physically confronted our official, nor was he ever on the field of play,” King said in a written statement, underlining those words.

“Mr. Clemens was unjustly asked to leave the field of play,” King said. “For all of this, we apologize to Mr. Clemens.”

Perhaps the word “erroneously” should have been inserted into that item, as in “Roger Clemens was ejected from his son’s youth league game after an umpire erroneously accused Clemens of spitting a sunflower seed at him”. I’m just saying.

Anne has some thoughts on this piece as well.

RIP, Eddie Layton

Eddie Layton, the longtime organist for the Yankees, has passed away.

Layton died Sunday, the New York Yankees said. The team did not know his age.

Layton joined the team in 1967 when the club began using organ music at Yankee Stadium and played until his retirement after the 2003 season.

Tucked away in a booth on the press box level, Layton entertained fans for decades, often by hitting just a few notes. He’d reward outstanding plays with a brief rendition of “Yankee Doodle Dandy” and would sound a short trill after high-and-inside pitches.

“Eddie Layton was a treasured member of the Yankee family and, as a gifted musician, he made Yankee Stadium a happier place,” owner George Steinbrenner said. “Eddie was a dear friend who will be missed by all who come to Yankee Stadium.”

Layton also performed as the organist for the New York Knicks and Rangers for 18 years. He wrote scores for soap operas, played at Radio City Music Hall and was a member of the New York Sports Hall of Fame.

Eddie Layton was as much a part of the Yankee experience as Robert Merrill and Bob Shepherd on the PA. He will be missed. Thanks to Laurence for the tip.

“Driving While Cellphoning”

Restrictions on using cellphones while driving are on the agenda for the 79th Lege.

In the upcoming 79th Texas Legislature, lawmakers will consider bills by [Sen. Rodney] Ellis and fellow Democrat Rep. Jose Menendez of San Antonio, that allow only hands-free cell phones while driving, except for calls to emergency responders.

Under Menendez’s House Bill 237, violators could pay fines ranging from $25 to $100 outside a school crossing zone and $125 to $200 inside a school zone.


Taking a different approach, Sen. Kel Selinger, R-Amarillo, is seeking to ban the use of all telephones while driving for those under 18 with restricted licenses for novice drivers.

I confess, I have used my cellphone while driving. I generally didn’t have a compelling reason for not pulling over or waiting until I reached my destination. I don’t do it that often, but I do it more often than I should.

There seems to be a fairly compelling public safety case for restricting cellphone usage, even handsfree usage, while driving. I can go along with that, though I have to wonder how effectively such restrictions will be enforced – a passing cop should be able to see a phone pressed to your ear, but will he or she be able to tell if you’ve got an earbud and speakerphone going or if you’re just talking/singing along with the radio? I hope someone has thought that part of it through.

The CRNC and Jack Abramoff

Boffoblog points me to this WaPo article updating the College Republicans fundraising scandal. I must say, I’m still waiting for someone to do a little forensic accounting and figure out where all the money went. As I noted here, it just doesn’t add up. I believe it’s not just the seniors who are getting ripped off here.

Boffoblog also points me to Pudentilla, who notes that Response Dynamics, the firm used by the CRNC for its controversial fundraising pitch, is no stranger to precisely that sort of controversy. There’s also a pointer to CRNCTruthCaucus, which appears to be the writings of an extremely disgruntled College Republican. He in turn points me to an update on Jack Abramoff, the College Republican alumnus and Tom DeLay crony who is currently getting grilled over his sleazy ripoffs of Indian tribes. Apparently, Abramoff’s old buddies with the CRNC gave him ten grand two years ago. Wonder what that was about.

Anyway. Here’s a precious little clip from that WaPo story on Abramoff:

Until the power lobbyist’s downfall this year, Abramoff spent about $1 million annually in funds largely provided by his tribal clients to lease four skyboxes — two at FedEx Field and one each at MCI Center and Camden Yards. Season after season, he kept them brimming with lawmakers, staffers and their guests, part of a multimillion-dollar congressional care and feeding project that even the brashest K Street lobbyists could only watch with awe or envy.

Lobbyists entertain lawmakers and their staffs routinely — so much so that congressional rules limit the extent of it to avoid the appearance of impropriety. But Abramoff and the lobbyists who worked for him took spending for this form of hospitality to unprecedented heights. They used tribal money, records and interviews show, to pay for events that appeared to be designed more to help House Republicans’ campaigns and Abramoff’s overall lobbying effort than the Indians’ legislative causes. Some members of Congress involved actively opposed Indian gambling.

“Jack Abramoff had one of the biggest schmoozing operations in town,” said Rob Jennings, president of American Event Consulting Inc., an organization that raises funds for Republicans.


Abramoff’s most powerful ally on the Hill, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.), another gaming opponent, held a fundraiser in the MCI Center box for the performance of the Three Tenors on May 7, 2000, according to the list of events maintained in Abramoff’s office. The list also shows he held an event in a box at FedEx Field on Sept. 18, 2000.

DeLay spokesman Stuart Roy said that DeLay’s fundraising aides remember sending out invitations for the Three Tenors event to reward donors and that the event probably occurred. There was no obligation to report the use of the box under federal law, he said, because the site was used for an event that benefited DeLay’s state political action committee.

The office found no record of the use of Abramoff’s box for a fundraiser at a Redskins-Dallas Cowboys game on Sept. 18, 2000, as listed in Abramoff’s records. “We don’t have anything indicating it was offered or utilized,” Roy said. “We just don’t know.”

Amazing how slipshod record-keeping can be when it needs to be, isn’t it? I just don’t know how that can happen. I just don’t know.

A pain in the thumb

Just what we all need – more ways to get repetitive stress injuries.

But as the popularity of text messaging — on BlackBerries, cellular phones and other handheld devices — explodes across the United States, some fear for the health of America’s thumbs. All that thumbing at tiny handheld keyboards, experts on ergonomics and hand therapists say, can have painful consequences for a digit that was hardly designed for such tasks.

The thumb, which through human history has been the essential counterpart to fingers for grasping items, has taken on new prominence, working solo as a communications enabler for millions, perhaps billions, of text messagers around the world.

“The thumb is not a particularly dexterous digit,” said Alan Hedge, a professor of ergonomics at Cornell University. “It’s really designed to use in opposition to the fingers. It is not designed for use in getting information into a system. People who use their thumbs a great deal for these kinds of tasks surely risk developing painful conditions.”

Texting is in its infancy in the United States, where the thumb’s principal communication task is still signaling approval or disapproval by pointing up or down. But in Japan, where the craze started, millions of members of the oyayubi-zoku, or thumb tribe, are among the world’s leading “textperts.”

Nowhere has thumb use been taken to greater lengths, according to “On the Mobile,” a study conducted for cell-phone giant Motorola. The report found that Japanese texters have begun using their thumbs for other tasks normally assigned to fingers, like pointing and ringing doorbells.

Well, at least they don’t say that Japanese by the millions have also been showing up in doctors’ offices holding their thumbs and moaning softly, so maybe all is not lost just yet. As a Blackberry administrator and addicted user, I certainly hope so.

RIP, Reggie White

This is a shock.

Reggie White, a fearsome defensive end for the Philadelphia Eagles and Green Bay Packers who was one of the great players in NFL history, died Sunday, his wife said. He was 43. The cause of death was not immediately known.

They said it was a heart attack on the NFL pregame show on CBS this morning, but whatever it was, he was far too young. My condolences to his family.

The Nuge comes to Texas

Via Rick Perry Versus The World, George Bush has a noisy new neighbor in Crawford.

The so-called Motor City Madman is officially turning Texan.

Michigan rocker and hunting activist Ted Nugent said he plans to get a Texas driver’s license soon.

Nugent said he’ll officially become a Texas resident in 2005, after moving his family to the Crawford area about a year and a-half ago.

The rock guitarist is at his Michigan house in Concord, near Jackson, during the holidays to prepare for his Whiplash Bash tour.

Nugent also said he plans a New Year’s hunting excursion with Texas Gov. Rick Perry.

Nugent, who said he supports President Bush “100 percent,” said his new home is “right around the corner” from Bush’s ranch.

Nugent also said he’s working with the Texas fish and game department, where he writes for a state publication on bow-hunting.

Nugent plans to keep his Michigan property.

Well, so much for his pledge to run against Jennifer Granholm in 2006. On the other hand, maybe he plans to tell Rick Perry on that hunting trip that he’ll be entering the GOP primary against him. With Kinky Friedman already running as an independent, it’s not like he’d be ratcheting up the weirdness factor all that much.

UPDATE: Ah, good. The Nuge is still a Michiganiac” at heart and hasn’t forgotten his pledge to run for the Governorship there in 2006. They can have him. Thanks to PerryVsWorld for the catch.

The Yule Log

If you have to ask why The Yule Log is an institution in New York City every Christmas, you’ll never understand.

The Christmas morning yule log special on WPIX – a four-hour tape of a log blazing brightly in a fireplace – is not for the fainthearted. The unextinguishable electronic hearth is a beloved New York tradition, but it would be a stretch to call it soothing. Even with Nat King Cole and Bing Crosby crooning carols on the audio track, the pulsing flames mesmerize, but less like a snifter of brandy than like a double dose of methamphetamine.

In fact, staring at the yule log for an extended period may induce the kind of seizures that in December 1997 struck hundreds of Japanese children who watched a Pokémon cartoon with too many flashing lights and Pikachu. This year the yule log will also be shown in high-definition television on WPIX’s digital channel, WPIX-DT (channel 12). The HDTV version provides “a very sharp image of flames,” said Ted Faraone, a WPIX spokesman. Parental discretion advised.

The Yule Log on HDTV. Truly we live in wondrous times.

Memory can be misleading, of course. Apparently, the fire has always burned fast and furiously. Mr. Faraone said the yule log had not been speeded up or tampered with when it was digitally remastered in 2001, the year WPIX brought it back after a 12-year hiatus. He insisted that the tape was the same one that was made in 1970, a loop that runs just under seven minutes.


The original, first shown in 1966, was a black-and-white 17-second loop that was filmed at Gracie Mansion when John Lindsay was mayor. That clip, though, was too short and needed to be redone. But after a film crew accidentally set fire to an Oriental rug by removing the safety grate for an unobstructed view of the flames, the station was not invited back for a reshoot. Eventually, a television studio with a working fireplace was found in California, and the station created the image that has allowed a generation of apartment-bound New Yorkers to re-enact “Christmas in Connecticut.” (Or “Fahrenheit 451.”)

For some, the yule log is an easy, pleasantly cheesy backdrop to tree trimming and gift-wrapping. But it is also a Dadaist joke: television as the hearth, not just metaphorically but literally.

Whatever the reasons, there is no question that the yule log is cherished by viewers. When WPIX decided to stop showing it in 1989, the station was flooded with complaints and a grass-roots lobbying campaign sprang up to bring it back. Ersatz and, at some level, deeply pathetic, the television yule log became one of those mourned New York landmarks that make up the city’s shared nostalgia, like the Automat and Ebbets Field. (And someday, no doubt, the Naked Cowboy in Times Square.)

My dad used to enjoy having The Yule Log on the tube, which drove us kids crazy (and no doubt added to his enjoyment of it). What can I say? In its way, it’s the pinnacle of television. Thanks to my buddy Matt for the tip.

Death of blogging predicted: Film at 11

This DMN article on blogs post-election has been making the rounds lately. You’d think they might have talked to a couple more representatives of the home state, since Texas is chock full of political blogs, but they didn’t. At least they didn’t talk to Andrew Sullivan and Mickey Kaus, so we can be grateful for that.

For the record: I ain’t going anywhere, and I anticipate exactly as much advertising revenue here in 2005 as there was in 2004. Glad to have this opportunity to clear that up.

Merry Christmas!

Have a holly, jolly Christmas;
It’s the best time of the year
I don’t know if there’ll be snow
but have a cup of cheer
Have a holly, jolly Christmas;
And when you walk down the street
Say Hello to friends you know
and everyone you meet

Oh, ho, the mistletoe
hung where you can see;
Somebody waits for you;
Kiss her once for me
Have a holly jolly Christmas
and in case you didn’t hear
Oh by golly
have a holly, jolly Christmas this year

(Note to Sue: I drafted this before I read your post. Great minds think alike, I guess.)

Prop 2 backers sue

They were coy about it at first, but disappointed backers of City Proposition 2 have filed suit to force its implementation.

Two separate lawsuits filed late Wednesday ask judges to order city officials to enact Proposition 2 as soon as possible, and to declare that it should become part of the city’s charter.

“It’s really a sad day when Mayor Bill White refuses to comply with state law,” said Bruce Hotze, one of the main backers of Proposition 2.

White, who offered a competing Proposition 1 that voters approved by a higher margin, charged that the legal action amounts to an effort by backers of Proposition 2 to win in court an election they lost at the polls. He and all City Council members are named defendants in the lawsuits.

The plaintiffs are Hotze, one of two Houston brothers influential in local conservative politics, former Councilman Carroll Robinson, and Jeff Daily, who narrowly lost a bid for council in 2003.

“It’s disappointing to see that Mr. Hotze and two former political candidates are bringing a lawsuit, which in the opinion of our lawyers, has no merit,” White said in a written statement. “It’s a waste of taxpayer dollars, since we have to pay to defend against it.”

One lawsuit, filed with the 1st Court of Appeals, asks that the city be ordered immediately to implement Proposition 2. The other suit, in the court of state District Judge Tad Halbach, asks for a legal determination that Proposition 2 should be enacted.

The plaintiffs said they included the appeals court suit because that court can issue an immediate order without waiting for the determination by the trial court.

Whatever. I don’t think they’ll win, and I don’t much care if they have a hard time getting over it. Note Mayor White’s comment about the cost of defending the lawsuit, a point he’s raised before. Expect to hear that from every Mayoral ally in this fight. Unlike the traffic camera lights, this is one where I think the Mayor will prevail.

More on anti-traffic camera bill

Here’s the Chron story on the anti-traffic camera bill filed by State Rep. Gary Elkins (R, Houston). It appears to have bipartisan support.

State Rep. Gary Elkins of Houston, a Republican who led opposition to camera enforcement of red lights in the 2003 Legislature, already has filed a bill to kill the ordinance council passed this week. At least two Democratic lawmakers, Sylvester Turner and Garnet Coleman, also oppose it.

“We are very supportive of the city on a lot of things it wants to do, but the city has got to know the Legislature has been adamantly opposed to red-light cameras during at least the last five sessions,” Elkins said.

Elkins said he has met with many area legislators, and there is “overwhelming support” to put a roadblock in the way of Houston’s ordinance. The city hoped to start using cameras to issue tickets in at least 10 dangerous intersections by April, and to expand the program to as many as 50 intersections.

Elkins said he is worried that vendors of camera systems, who are frequently paid a portion of ticket revenues, will manipulate the timing of traffic lights to issue more tickets and maximize profits.

Such accusations were leveled against vendors in California lawsuits that led to the dismissal of hundreds of tickets.

“The potential for greed will lead to a potential for manipulation,” Elkins said.

The city has not yet decided if it will pay a vendor chosen through competitive bidding a flat fee or a percentage of ticket revenues.

The Democratic legislators voiced privacy concerns.

“There’s been a proliferation of cameras to monitor people, particularly by cameras controlled by the government,” Coleman said. “What (state) legislators make decisions on and what the city makes decisions on are totally different. We as state legislators look out for things like privacy rights.”

Mayor Bill White said it will be one of his top priorities in the legislative session to convince lawmakers not to fight Houston’s ordinance, citing national studies that show red-light cameras have increased safety in many of the more than 100 cities that use them.

“If the people in Austin don’t want us to use technology, then we’d be happy if the state gave us more money to hire more officers,” White said.

I think Mayor White is going to lose this one, but if he does somehow get more money out of Austin for traffic control, then he’s even shrewer than I thought. I don’t think he’ll come away with a consolation prize, not in these penurious times, but at least he’s staked out the possibility. This will be worth watching.

J’onn J’onzz

It takes a special kind of geek to appreciate the fact that a reporter for E! Online even knew who J’onn J’onzz, the Martian Manhunter, is, much less cared to write a story about why he’s the only original member of the Justice League of America to not have a movie made or in the works about him. For what it’s worth, I only know because of a stash of my uncle’s old comics from the 50s and 60s that my grandmother had saved and which I loved reading as a kid. (I still have some of them. They’re not in very good shape, but I have them.) Via Mark Evanier.

Put some clothes on!

I’m always grateful to hear of a really dumb law being passed someplace other than Texas.

Alarmed by glimpses of sweaty citizens in the buff, the city council in the southeastern city of Villahermosa has adopted a law banning indoor nudity, officials confirmed on Wednesday.

The regulation, which takes effect on Jan. 1, calls for as much as 36 hours in jail or a fine of $121 for offenders in the Tabasco state capital, 410 miles east of Mexico City.

“We are talking about zero tolerance … for a lack of morality,” said city councilwoman Blanca Estela Pulido of the Revolutionary Institutional Party, which governs the state and city.

Opposition party councilman Rodrigo Sanchez said in an interview that the measure, part of a larger series of prohibitions, “tramples on the rights of the citizens by taking laughable measures such as contemplating penalties for citizens who walk around nude inside their houses.”

“I have no idea how you detect the naked. You’d have to have a big operation to try to bring it under control,” he added.

Pulido said she was confident that citizens who catch a glimpse of offenders would report them to police — though the law also threatens jail for peeping Toms.

The city on the southern Gulf of Mexico is noted for its swelteringly hot, humid climate.

“The majority of houses have a lot of ventilation and we give ourselves the luxury of going naked,” Pulido said. “Because we walk past the windows, you see a lot of things.”

Well, as John Mellencamp once sang, “I’ve seen lots of things/But I have not seen a lot of other things”. I think that about sums it up. Via Michael.

On the usefulness of Santa Claus

Jim Henley has a couple of interesting posts on the nature of Santa Claus and how a parent deals with it. Something for me to think about in the coming years (I’d better get started on my story about why we said Santa exists when he doesn’t). Check it out.

Merry Christmas, Tom

Check out the ad that the Public Campaign Action Fund is running in the Houston Press this week. It’d be cool to see more of that in the future. Nice job, folks.