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February 17th, 2003:

Ah, fame

Via Mark Evanier, I see that some crazy college kids in Baytown (about 30 miles east of Houston) wanted to set a world record on February 1 by gathering the most people ever wearing Groucho Marx noses and glasses in one place.

The record was originated in the town of Pittsfield, N.H. in summer 2001 when 522 people gathered on a tennis court to don the familiar glasses-and-nose disguise.

“It was a part of our annual Old Home Day celebrations,” related Elsie Morse, editor of the Sun-Cook Sun, the weekly newspaper for the area. “It is sort of a big reunion for the town. We try to do something different each year.

“We all gathered at the court and were given our nose-glasses and we stood there for an hour,” she added. “And it rained.”

When told the town’s grip on the record was in jeopardy, Morse was genuinely disappointed.

“No, no,” she said, “you can’t.”

However, upon discovering that Baytown a city of about 70,000 was about to overwhelm the stunt she managed to salvage a degree of pride.

“Well,” Morse said, “we are a town of 5,000 people, so I’d say we did pretty well.”

The author goes on to note that an awful lot of students at Lee College, which is where this record was to be broken, had no idea who Groucho Marx was. I’m with Evanier – that’s just a damn shame. I’ll also add that the Baytown Sun is in dire need of a copy editor.

For what it’s worth, I nearly took a job teaching math at Lee College when I was leaving grad school. I wound up with a software company instead. Were I there today, I’d probably bring my DVD of Duck Soup to help combat their cinematic ignorance. (For the rest of you, I’ll recommend Roger Ebert’s review of Duck Soup.)

I love it when you’re snarky

I have to admit, when the Chron‘s Cragg Hines gets snarky he can be quite entertaining. Take this piece on Tom DeLay’s strongarm tactics to force the Lege into taking up congressional redistricting:

The last time I wrote about Tom DeLay having a “hissy fit,” one of his taxpayer-financed henchwomen called in a rage. Well, she or a successor can poise bejeweled fingers atop the nearest touch-tone keypad, because the U.S. House majority leader is on the verge of another hissy fit.

DeLay’s head, in fact, may explode if he can’t cajole-threaten the Republican majorities in the Texas Legislature into reopening the can of worms known as U.S. House redistricting. His erstwhile partisan colleagues in Austin, much to their credit, are stalling, but the nation’s best-known bug man will not easily take “no” for an answer.

Heh. Hines then slaps around Rep. Pete Sessions, who’s carrying some water for DeLay on this topic:

Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Dallas, took up the cudgels after the Dallas Morning News (in an editorial position it shares with the Chronicle) criticized the idea of revisiting the redistricting issue.

Sessions said there was not only a “need” to redraw U.S. House lines but “a constitutional duty” for the Legislature to do so. Hogwash. There’s no “need” or “constitutional duty” until after the 2010 federal census. Anything before that is political tinkering.

Sessions crunches some numbers and argues for redistricting because Republicans candidates for the U.S. House in Texas got 2.3 million votes as against 1.9 million for Democratic candidates. Surely Sessions, an ideologically white-as-snow Republican, is not arguing for political quotas.

It’s rich that Sessions is brazen enough to stick his head above the parapet at all in this debate. The court-approved district plan established a new seat in northwest Dallas County that is overwhelmingly Republican. In about two nanoseconds, Sessions fled his old, more political iffy seat headquartered in Southeast Dallas to run from the safer territory. In British parliamentary parlance, this is known (with good reason) as a “chicken run.”


I’ll add that the Dallas Morning News is a dependably conservative paper, so if they aren’t too enthusiastic about DeLay’s little scheme, no other major paper is likely to be either. I’ll keep an eye on this, but I don’t expect anything further to happen.

There ain’t no such thing as a free tuition

Oooh, this one’s gonna sting: The state of Texas may have to renege on promises to pay college tuition for eligible students:

An estimated 5,000 students would be denied free college tuition promised to them by the state because of the projected $10 billion budget shortfall, lawmakers were told today.

Texas Higher Education Commissioner Don Brown told members of the House Appropriations Committee that budget cuts would mean the Texas Grant scholarship program would not be able to provide aid to all of the estimated 80,000 students who will be eligible in 2004-05.


High school graduates who passed a college preparatory curriculum are eligible for the Toward Excellence, Access & Success grants if they attend a Texas institution.

The Legislature created the program in 1999 to cover full tuition and fees at public schools and defray costs at private universities.

Brown said it would take $440 million, up from the current $300 million, to meet the projected demand for the grants in the next two years.

He emphasized that he would rather not slash any of the programs but was required by the governor and lawmakers to identify potential cuts.

Yet another consequence of our state’s fetish about spending. We have a growing population, we know that a college degree is an excellent boost to one’s future earning potential, yet we spend less on state grants per student than the national average, we have less state support for student aid than the national average, and we have an increase in borrowing by students. And now we’re proposing to make it all worse, even though certain high-level politicians were happy to tout this very program this year and in years past. Oops, sorry kids, this sort of thing is only important when there’s an election coming up.

I know, I know, this is all preliminary, and we must explore all avenues, and yadda yadda yadda. I just want to know one thing: Does anyone in Austin think that cutting education funding might possibly incur long-term costs that will have a negative impact on future budgets, or is this biennial session all they care about?

Just call me Coach

I’m still not exactly sure how this happened, but some time over the weekend, I got talked into coaching a Little League baseball team. One of Tiffany’s coworkers (John) is a head honcho in a league in his neighborhood (which is not far from ours), and they wound up with too many players in the 9- to 10-year-old group and not enough parents who were willing to don the whistle and clipboard. John had already made inquiries about my availability to umpire, and in a moment of need decided to go for the gusto and see if I’d be willing to coach instead. Somewhere along the line I said Yes.

The last time that I coached anything was as a teenager when my dad and I served as assistant coaches for my brother’s Little League team. Though the team went something like 3-7, I like to think that I contributed in a small way to one of those victories. I was in charge of running infield/outfield practice before each game, and one day I decided that I’d give everyone a chance to try something new. So, I put all the regular infielders in the outfield, and vice versa, and ran the drill that way.

Well, the drill was quite a bit sloppier than usual that day, since most of the kids had never played their assigned position before. After we won the game, over an opponent that was objectively more talented than we were, my mom told me that some of the other parents had observed our pregame exercise and concluded that their boys would whip us easily. They were openly talking about it, in fact. Whether this before-the-fall pride was transmitted to their kids or not I couldn’t say, but I’ll take the credit for it anyway.

Though I have no idea what I’m getting into, I find I’m rather looking forward to it. I’ve been told by John that I’ll have several dads to serve as assistant coaches, and Tiffany has volunteered to help out as well. I’ll let you know how we do as the season progresses.