MORE NEWS THAT’S NOT NEWS

December 31, 2012 by  
Filed under Blogs, Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

Your Papers Are Not in Order: So afraid are they of moles, snitches and infiltrators, the prison gang Aryan Brotherhood of Texas demands resumes, including government-issued criminal credentials and background FBI reports from applicants. Murderers, kidnappers and drug lords are welcomed, but the Brotherhood draws the line at rapists and child molesters.

Houston Chronicle headline: “State wants $1 million for Alamo.” And how much did Trump offer? What’s 52 feet tall, wears size 70 boots and a 75-gallon hat – and is black? The State Fair of Texas’ Big Tex, which caught fire in the middle of the fair. We now have highway Texas 130, a tollroad that lets you drive from Georgetown to Seguin at 85 mph, the fastest legal speed in the nation. That is, if you really want to get to Seguin that quickly.

You may recall that last week we took a look at Texas in 2012, checking off those people and events who made the year so, uh, so different. Such as Bruce J. Fleming of Sugar Land, who has voted in the local elections since 2006. However, he also voted in the Bucks County, Penn., elections during that time. Oh, and Fleming was the Republican candidate for county commissioner. When all this became public, the GOP asked for its $10,000 campaign contribution back. Fleming refused.

After a mere 80 days on the job, 39-year-old Brian DeAngelis is no longer the athletic director at the Texas A&M University-Kingsville. A policeman reportedly saw DeAngelis fleeing a San Antonio Walmart, pursued by the angry mother of a 14-year-old girl. The mother claimed DeAngelis had a cellphone camera attached to his shoe and that he had maneuvered his foot under her daughter’s dress. The cops found an upskirt video of a teenager’s underwear. DeAngelis was charged with improper photography.

We’re Number 51. Yee-haw! — Texas ranked dead last in the federal government’s annual report card on the delivery of health services. Texas scored 31.61 — less than half of top-ranked Minnesota’s 67.31 — out of a possible 100 points. Rated “weak” or “very weak” in nine of 12 health delivery categories, Texas dropped from 47th place in 2010 to 51st, behind all other states and Washington, D.C.

Polls Apart: When 1,200 Americans were asked in 2012 for their opinion of Texas, 31 percent responded unfavorably. The good news is that 40 percent responded favorably. That still put us 37th most-liked state. California is the most hated state on the list. Some more findings from the survey: If you are black, you probably don’t like Texas, but it’s better than Mississippi or Alabama. If you are a Republican, you probably love Texas and hate California. (The reverse is true if you are a Democrat.)

 

 

BAE Systems Tactical Vehicle Systems in Sealy paid $55,000 and provided six months of outplacement services to Ronald Kratz II, who weighed as much as 680 pounds before he was fired. The EEOC, which sued on behalf of Kratz, said he was qualified to perform the essential functions of his $21-an-hour job

A five-year-old girl came home from Austin’s Pease Elementary school to tell her father that “Mrs. Fuller” — the girl’s after-school teacher — said Santa wasn’t real.

Good Nabors make, well, a lot: After much screaming from stockholders, Houston-based Nabors Industries’ retiring CEO Eugene Isenberg rejected a $100 million golden parachute. He still received $176 million in compensation between 2006 and 2010 during which the company’s stock fell 38 percent.

The Sportin’ Life: After the 2011 season when Houston Texans got into their first play-offs ever, they raised ticket prices by 8.5 percent. The Astros were in a perfect game – losing 10 to 0 to the San Francisco Giants whose pitcher, Matt Cain, threw only the 22nd perfect game in MBL history. That game fit right in the Lastros season; they again finished with the worst record in Major League Baseball.

Tour de Lance: Bicyclist Lance Armstrong was found guilty of doping by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency and was stripped of his seven Tour de France titles, along with their yellow T-shirts. His Austin cancer foundation split with him and he didn’t win the Lotto. Speaking of cycling, Texans don’t — only 22 percent of Houston household solid waste is recycled, ranking the Bayou City 13th in North America. Austin – 37 percent, San Antonio – 25 percent. Dallas – 17 percent. Big D stands for Disposable. Seattle is first with 60 percent.

Take a Truncheon to Luncheon: Fired HPD officer Andrew Blomberg was acquitted on charges of beating a 15-year-old burglary suspect, Chad Holley, even though video tape showed Blomberg treating Holley like a piñata on Cinco de Mayo. Brian Claunch was fatally shot by Houston Police Officer Matthew Marin. Claunch was a double amputee in a wheelchair, wielding a shiny writing pen.

From the LBJ School of Voter Tabulations: Houston Chronicle: “It shows even Republican support for paying more taxes for some key education items. For example, of the 74 percent who said they would pay more taxes to raise teacher pay, 60 percent identified themselves as Republicans; 91 percent were Democrats.

Paul Roberts, 53, was charged with engaging in an improper relationship with a student, a second-degree felony, and relieved of duty, after exchanging messages with students that used profanity of a sexual nature, officials said. Roberts was the reigning “Teacher of the Year” at Stafford Middle School.

Wild Blue Yonder: Southwest Airlines wanted to fly internationally from Hobby, saying the move would add 2-million jobs and a billion dollars annually to the local economy. (OK, maybe just 1-million jobs and half a billion dollars.) United, which had just moved 1,200 jobs from Houston to Chicago, said SW’s plan would devastate the city’s economy. Both estimates were wild fantasies, but SW won. United We Fall: After losing its fight with Southwest Airways, United dropped its daily flights from Houston to Paris.

 

Ashby spent 2012 at ashby2@comcast.net

 

 

 

 

Houston in 2012

December 31, 2012 by  
Filed under Blogs, Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

By Lynn Ashby

HOUSTON, WE’VE GOT A PROBLEM

The year of our Lord 2012 was not so heavenly. Still, we’re still here, aren’t we, unlike Robertson Stadium, which was torn down to make room for a new UH stadium. Ditto the old Prudential Life Building, later a part of M.D. Anderson, which was imploded to make room for something. So let’s take a look back at the year of our discontent.

If it sounds too good to be true: Financier R. Allen Stanford, who pocketed millions from Houstonians and others, received 110 years for fraud.

Black helicopters alert! Former City Councilman and right-wing radio talk show host Michael Berry (allegedly) came out of a gay nightclub and backed into the bouncer’s car, then drove off. HPD took the bouncer’s info – license plate, description of Berry, the club manager’s ID of Berry as Berry – and did…absolutely nothing. Media spotlighted the incident and somebody finally did something. What Berry did was fly off the handle, on the air, accusing somebody somewhere of being out to get him.

Party Hardy or Hearty: It has now come out that Port of Oakland Maritime Director James Kwon submitted an expense account after a 2008 party at the Treasures gentlemen’s club. For $4,500. It was approved by his superior.

Eight lives to go: A woman, identified as Audrey Miller, was charged with aggravated assault, officials said, after she allegedly shot her husband in their northwest Harris County home while the couple argued about the family cat.

In sports, 2012 was another year of horror, except for the Texans who had a good season if you can overlook their two disastrous prime time TV games in which they totally embarrassed an entire city. Oh, earlier, after the 2011 season when the Texans got into their first play-offs ever, they raised ticket prices by 8.5 percent.

What can we say about the Astros who finished the season with their worst record ever? Not in their 50-year-history did they go 55-107, a .340 average. That was also the worst in Major League Baseball. However, our boys of slumber were in a perfect game – losing 10 to 0 to the San Francisco Giants whose pitcher, Matt Cain, threw only the 22nd perfect game in MBL history.

Houston fans know a disaster when they see it – or don’t see it. On Sept. 25, the Astros drew 12,584 fans, the smallest in the 12-year history of the ballpark. Even their long-time announcer, Milo Hamilton, quit. And sidekick Jim Deshaies left to join the Chicago Cubs broadcasting crew. Maybe they didn’t like talking to a dwindling audience. On Sunday, Sept. 9, the Astros generated the lowest TV rating, as far as can be found, in the history of the team’s presence on TV. Playing opposite the Texans game with Miami, the Astros generated a 0.05 Nielsen rating. It was viewed by an average audience of 1,092 households among Houston’s 2.1 million households. Towards the end of the season the Chronicle didn’t even run the games’ story on the front page of the sports section.

Astros manager Brad Mills was fired after running up a record over almost two seasons of forgettable losses, but what can you do with a team whose departing owner, Drayton McLane, grabbed his several hundred millions from the team’s sale, got in his private jet and flew back to Temple.

You don’t have to be a rocket scientist: Roger “the Rocket” Clemens pitched for the Sugar Land Skeeters. They won.

For comfort we turn to the Houston Rockets. Ooops. Despite a new coach and sports media gushing, the Rockets finished out of the playoffs – again, with a record of 34 wins and 32 losses. The team’s TV ratings also took a beating in the 2011-2012 season: an embarrassing 1.6. Their TV viewers have been in a steady decline since the 2007-2008 season’s rating of 3.2. Because of a food fight (dough), the Rockets can’t be seen on much of Houston’s TV screen. The good news in local pro sports is/are the Dynamo. Brian Ching came back to the team, which made it to finals.

Off the menu: The restaurant, Feast, closed. Apparently there was no audience for pickled lamb’s tongue, salad of Gulf ray or whole crispy pig’s head.

And the Casons go rolling along: On Dec. 13, 2012, neither Becca Cason Thrash’s name nor photo appeared in the Houston Chronicle.

Upper birth: Lauren Perkins gave birth to six babies — three and three, in terms of gender — who range from 1 pound, 10 ounces to 2 pounds, 15 ounces.

Token Opposition: U.S. Rep John Culberson once again fought to prevent Metro from receiving any federal funds for expansion. His constant blocking of our own federal dollars for Houston’s mass transit makes us wonder if Culberson is still working for Tom DeLay.

Behind the hedges: Rice University ranks 57th among the top 100 universities in the world, according to an annual survey conducted by Saudi Arabia-based Center for World University Rankings. The United States leads the way with the most top universities in the survey, with, uh, 57 campuses that made the list. OK, that puts Rice, uh, where?

Fighting City Hall: Out-going City Councilman Mike Sullivan said several times he would resign his seat on Jan. 1 to run for county assessor-collector. He waited one day, till Jan. 2, to resign, thus giving him an extra $5,000 annual pension. Councilwoman Helena Brown, who regularly votes alone against numerous expenditures and saves money by employing a mostly part-time staff, spent more than $11,000 on a trip to Asia, according to expense reports. She tried to get reimbursed, but failed. Then she sent out 13,000 refrigerator magnets to constituents with Brown’s photo, office phone number, email address, etc., and charged the city $2,989.96 for them. When the Texas Ethics Commission ruled the magnets were nothing but campaign swag, Brown reimbursed the city.

Out of control: City Controller Ron Green has run up more than $35,000 in expenses, on the taxpayers’ tab, for five-star restaurants, first-class air travel and assorted good-time perks while on out-of-town business trips — trips which his predecessors found unnecessary.

Judge not lest ye get caught: Jim Sharp, a state court of appeals justice in Houston, was publicly reprimanded for using his position to try to prevent a friend’s teen daughter, arrested on a shoplifting charge, from spending a night in jail, and for “abusive” behavior, including calling Brazoria County officials “backwoods hillbillies.”

The Spies of Texas: Feds arrested Houston businessman Alexander Fishenko and his accomplices for allegedly clandestinely shipping sensitive microelectronics to Russia’s military and intelligence services

Finally, our Hey Big Spender Dept.: “They spend money like drunk sailors out there.” – State Sen. John Whitmire on the Port of Houston, which built a $108 million terminal for cruise ships at Bayport. But no cruise ships. So the Port gave two cruise lines $6.7 million to come here.

 

Ashby looks forward to 2013 at ashby2@comcast.net

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2013 MARATHON OIL CORPORATION

December 28, 2012 by  
Filed under Events, Uncategorized

2013 MARATHON OIL CORPORATION
PAUL “BEAR” BRYANT AWARDS SET FOR JANUARY 17
Annual Coaching Awards Welcomes BYU Former Coach LaVell Edwards
and More Football Greats

WHAT: Each year, the American Heart Association offers a unique opportunity for sports enthusiasts to mix and mingle with legendary college football coaches from across the nation while supporting the important cause of fighting heart disease and stroke.  On Jan. 17, 2013, the 27th Annual Marathon Oil Corporation Paul “Bear” Bryant Awards benefiting the American Heart Association will take place at the HYATT Regency Hotel in Downtown Houston.

The grand ballroom will be filled with sports legends including the likes of LaVell Edwards, former Brigham Young Coach and 6th all-time winningest coach in college football history, who will be crowned as the 2013 Lifetime Achievement Winner. After 29 years as head coach of the BYU football team, Edwards ranks third among active coaches with a record of 257 wins, 101 losses and 3 ties. Edwards has been recognized nationwide with accolades not just for his accomplishments on the field but for the integrity and class he adds to the profession.

Joining Edwards will be some of the nation’s top football coaches patiently waiting to find out who will take home the coveted Coach of the Year Award, formally given to football greats such as Mike Gundy, Gene Chizik, Nick Saban and Mack Brown. The winner will be announced live at the annual awards dinner.

WHEN: 7 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 17, 2013

WHERE: HYATT Regency Hotel Downtown
1200 Louisiana Street
Houston, Texas 77002

TICKETS: For more information, or to purchase tickets or a table for the event, contact Kristin Rodriguez at 713-610-5026 or visit www.bryantawards.com.  Prices are: $250 per individual ticket, $1,000 VIP tickets with tables starting at $5,000.

MORE

WHY: Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant , former coach of Alabama University and winningest coach in college football history, died of heart disease in1983. Three years after his death, a partnership was formed with the Bryant family and the American Heart Association to raise life-saving funds in his memory by renaming an existing coach of the year award to the Paul “Bear” Bryant Coach of the Year Award. 

Through this dedication to his memory, the American Heart Association tries to instill into the community that same, unifying heartbeat that Bryant so often did within his team. The organization has a mission, to build “healthier lives, free of cardiovascular diseases and stroke.”

DETAILS: Visit www.bryantawards.com.
Hashtag: #bryantawards   Twitter: @ahahouston  Facebook: AHAHouston

German Christmas Markets

December 25, 2012 by  
Filed under Travel Blog

By Andrea Stroh Thompson

Once upon a time we decided to take a trip to a land of knights, castles, and the fairytales of the Brothers Grimm.  Luckily, as we found, a luxury German River Cruise is not just a fantasy, but a reality aboard A-ROSA Silva.  From the welcome aboard at the gangway with a red rose, and the champagne chilling in your room, to the farewell party of Bavarian delicacies and Tyrolean folk music, this is a cruising experience like no other.

 

Our trip began with a stop in Regensburg, the first capital of Bavaria.  We docked just a few hundred yards away from St. Peter’s Cathedral which is famous for its medieval stained glass windows and “smiling angel.”  The cathedral is also the home to the Domspatzen Boys’ Choir, the oldest in the world at over 1,000 years.  The old town square was home to the Christmas market where we stopped at the Almrausch-Hut and enjoyed a piping hot mug of gluwhein, the traditional hot mulled wine served at Christmas Markets across Europe.  You are given your drink in a decorative ceramic mug which you are free to keep, or you can enjoy your drink and return the mug to receive your 1 euro deposit back.  The Almrausch-Hut added rum and amaretto to their version of gluwhein so we only had one lest we have a hard time finding our way back to the ship!   Another staple of each German town is their version of the sausage.  In Regensburg, theirs is very short and very fat and tasty!  They are grilled on a flattop and then slathered with mustard and stuffed into a crispy roll to enjoy while you stroll through the market and contemplate your purchase of a Christmas ornament or paper lantern.

Another favorite stop was Nuremburg, or Nurnberg to the Germans.  Bavaria’s second largest city after Munich, Nuremberg was almost completely destroyed during World War II but meticulously reconstructed to its’ original state.  It is also home to the second oldest and arguably most famous Christmas market in Europe (Dresden is the oldest).   The Nuremberg Christkindlesmarkt is kicked off each year by a teenage angel with long curly golden locks, and a beautiful flowing golden gown who comes out on the balcony of the cathedral and imparts a blessing on the children of the town and the holiday season.  After singing a few carols, the market is officially open for the Christmas season.  Children young and old turn out to catch a glimpse of the angel and enjoy her blessing before heading off in search of gluwhein and a few Nuremberg sausages, the tiniest little sausages in Germany named for their resemblance to “little fingers” and one of my favorites.  Nuremberg is also home to lebkuchen, a German gingerbread found all over, but started right here in Nuremberg.

Unlike any other company currently in the market, A-ROSA includes everything you need for an exceptional trip with its’ all-in-one pricing: roundtrip airfare from most major US cities, all transfers, all gratuities, open bar throughout the ship, all port charges, taxes, fees, and a selection of port excursions.  A word of caution, be sure to assess what your needs and expectations are before booking a river cruise:  if you need a casino, 10 bars, 5 discos and thousands of other cruisers to entertain you, then an ocean cruise is for you.  However, if you prefer a more intimate setting and get your thrills from tours of castles and bike trips through the wine valley, then a river cruise is for you.  At A-ROSA, they take the worry out of trip planning and allow you to concentrate on the happily ever after, and that’s no fairy tale.

THE YEAR OF THE RAT

December 24, 2012 by  
Filed under Blogs, Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

Stanley Marsh 3 had a bad year. Lance Armstrong did, too. For the Houston Astros it was the worst year ever. Did you donate to the Rick Perry for President Fund? You did, even if you didn’t plan to. Yes, it’s time to look back at 2012, a year we view with thanks — mainly that it’s over – before Texas Monthly steals all our ideas for its Bum Steer Awards.

Let us start with Boosting Our Circulation Dept.: Sarah Tressler, 30, filed a federal gender discrimination complaint against the Houston Chronicle alleging she was fired by the newspaper for not indicating on her employment application that she had worked as a stripper. Her lawyer said after Tressler was hired by the newspaper, she only rarely worked as an exotic dancer.

Don’t Know Much About Geography: The Texas Aggies were really excited to join the SEC. Just think of all those great road trips to Florida, Alabama and…North Carolina? Apparently the Aggies thought North Carolina has a team in the SEC, because they included it on a T-shirt sporting the SEC logo and a map of states purportedly in the conference. Also, the Aggies forgot Missouri, which is in the SEC. And if you’re thinking they forgot Texas, don’t worry — it’s on the back.. Thanks, Aggies.

Rearranging the Deck Chairs Dept.: To commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Titanic’s sinking, in which 1,514 men, women and children died a frigid death, Cullen’s restaurant south of Houston offered a 10-course final meal similar to what was served that last night. Price: $12,000 for 12.

Daddy Dearest: Houston millionaire heir John Goodman, facing both civil and criminal charges over a fatal car accident, adopted his 42-year-old girl friend in an attempt to save some of his fortune. The idea was to let his girl friend/daughter control a third of his trust fund set up for his two other children. Goodman was convicted.

R.I.P: Darrell Royal had his final dance with who brung him. Miss Edna Milton Chadwell, last madam of the famed La Grange Chicken Ranch, died at 84.

Happy Gays Are Here Again: The Oak Lawn area in Dallas has one of the strongest populations of same-sex male couples in America, according to a study from Trulia, an online real estate firm.

You Want Mustard on that Dog? Michael Terron Daniel, 22, of Waco, faced a felony charge after he allegedly bit, killed and ate a housemate’s pet dog while Daniel was high on drugs.

Hey, Teasips, two words: Johnny Football.

 

 

 

Les is More: Houston Rockets’ owner Les Alexander paid a record $45 million for a Manhattan penthouse. The five-bedroom duplex has four terraces and a swimming pool. Also in sports, of the top 100 blue chip graduating Texas high school football players last spring, only 56 stayed in Texas, but that’s probably a record. Ronnie Henderson, age 12, of Mesquite was banned from playing by the Pee Wee Football Association because he weighs 297 pounds and stands 6-foot-1-inch.

Stanley Marsh 3, the eccentric millionaire best known for his “Cadillac Ranch” art display along an interstate in the Texas Panhandle, was charged with 11 felony counts of molesting children. He denies the charges.

Irony & Steal:  Former Harris County Housing Authority CEO Guy Rankin IV was fired over the agency’s financial problems including missing cash. Rankin sued for breach of contract, seeking $137,000 in severance its board agreed to pay him. The board said it couldn’t pay because, uh, it didn’t have the cash.

All Politics Is Loco: In the first months of the 2012 presidential campaign, Texans gave more money to the Super PAC of Stephen Colbert than to Mitt Romney’s. In Houston, individual donors gave Obama on average $607 and Romney on average $1,260. Hedwig Village, an island in Houston, gave the most money in Texas to the two major presidential candidates – a total of $1.55 million, $976,400 to Romney, seven times more than to Obama. In the Texas party primaries, not a single Democrat voted in 13 Texas counties and nary a GOPer voted in five – not even the party chairmen.

The Mansion was unlivable, anyway: Gov. Rick Perry’s official records show he spent exactly 27 hours and 30 minutes working as governor of Texas during his 160-day campaign for the GOP presidential nomination. Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst — or the Senate president pro tem, when Dewhurst is out of the state at the same time as Perry — is allowed nearly $411 for every full day he subs for Perry. That added up to more than $32,000. No, the gov does not get his pay docked by that same amount, so we’re getting one for the price of two.

Sorry, school teachers, it’s for a good cause: The tab for DPS security during travels by Perry or his wife, Anita, outside Texas totaled more than $2.3 million since his re-election, figures from the DPS show. More than $1.8 million of that came after he announced for president. Perry’s direct travel costs are generally paid by his campaign, but the security detail (read: sherpas) is state-funded.

You can’t buy that kind of publicity: A poll conducted by Blum & Weprin Associates right after Perry left the presidential race found a combined 48 percent of registered voters said Perry’s presidential run had made Texas’ image either a little worse or a lot worse. The poll found 56 percent of registered voters didn’t think Perry should run for re-election.

Finally, we have this:  “Lean, finely textured beef is a safe, nutritious product that is backed by sound science.” — Statement issued by a coalition of Midwest governors, including Rick Perry, defending pink slime. On that same day, Safeway, the nation’s second largest grocery store chain, pulled its pink slime off the shelves. We still haven’t gotten to Armstrong and the Astros, so we’ll continue next week.

 

Ashby spent the year at ashby2@comcast.net

 

 

 

Istanbul not Constantinople

December 17, 2012 by  
Filed under Blogs, Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

 

 

 

 

“Poor Mexico: so far from God, and so close to the United States,” Mexican President Porfirio Diaz reportedly said. The old dictator was correct. Not only do we buy Mexico’s drugs and, in turn, send cash and guns south across the border, this country also took over that country’s name. Now that may change. I shall explain: The recently departed Mexican President Felipe Calderon tried once more to change his country’s official name from Estados Unidos Mexicanos or the United Mexican States to simply Mexico.

In his final news conference, Calderon noted that the name was originally taken because, back in 1824 after Mexico became free from Spain, the United States of America was an example of democracy and liberty for the newly independent nations in the Americas. Now, he said, his nation no longer needs to copy the gringos’ title. (He didn’t really say gringo, but the title fits.) “It’s time for Mexicans to return to the beauty and simplicity of the name of our country, Mexico. A name that we chant, that we sing, that makes us happy, that we identify with, that fills us with pride.” Incidentally, the title Mexico was a word first used by the Aztecs in their original nahuatl language. They founded a city called Tenochtitlan but it was changed to Mexico City because Tenochtitlan wouldn’t fit on license plates (the DF was added later).

Calderon first proposed the name change as a congressman in 2003, but the bill did not make it to a vote. Even today his idea doesn’t have much chance of success, since his replacement, President Enrique Pena Nieto, has other priorities such as fighting drug wars which claimed at least 47,500 victims during Calderon’s term in office. Then there is that nation’s rising poverty rate and chances of Mexico making it to the World Cup. “Forgive me for the expression, but Mexico’s name is Mexico,” Calderon added, and he has a point. Most people, including Mexicans, don’t use the official title. You have to hunt for state documents, currency and obscure legal parchments even to find the Spanish-language version of the United Mexican States.

North of the Rio, we usually refer to our own country as America, although it isn’t clear why we should monopolize the name of two continents. A Canadian Eskimo or a Patagonian shepherd has just as much right to call himself an American as does the Tea Party. Indeed, a Mexican can call himself an American, but pride would prevent it. Still, America and Americans are handy names, just like when we refer to the Netherlands as Holland when Holland is only a part of that country. We say England when we mean Britain but actually that land of tea and press scandals is officially the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland which is not the same as the United Kingdom or UK. The old Soviet Union was not Russia, but that’s what we called it even though Russia was one of 15 nations under one despot.

Not all name changes are for the better. What ever happened to Bombay and Burma? Goodbye Peking, hello Beijing. Remember the song, “Istanbul not Constantinople”? That Turkish city’s name changed in 1930, after several centuries, for no particular reason. The famous Battle of Stalingrad took place in today’s Volgograd, its original name. Leningrad is once again Saint Petersburg, but what can we expect from a country that celebrates its “great October revolution” in November?

Americans – that’s us — no longer have New Amsterdam (NYC) or Pig’s Eye (St. Paul, Minn.) or Fort Raccoon (Des Moines, which is French for Fort Raccoon). Hot Springs, New Mexico, is gone. Today it is Truth or Consequences. In 1950, Ralph Edwards, the host of a radio quiz show, “Truth or Consequences,” announced he would air the program from the first town that renamed itself after the show. Hot Springs won the honor. Can we look forward to Yes, Virginia (there is a Santa Claus) or Dancing with the Lone Stars, Texas?

For years the United States was called just that, but were considered plural. “The United States are….” The idea was that they were a bunch of states which were sort of united, thus States was/were plural. Appomattox fixed that, although the Constitutional amendment abolishing slavery in 1865 refers to “the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” Their, not its.

Have you ever been to the states of Massachusetts, Virginia, Kentucky or Pennsylvania? Don’t bother. They aren’t states at all, but commonwealths, which sounds communistic: “common wealth” – let’s share everything. No wonder Obama did so well there. In Rhode Island there is a movement to shorten that state’s name from The State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations to just Rhode Island because Plantations sounds so “Gone With The Wind.” Not proper for a state whose early residents made their fortune in the slave trade. (Brown of Brown University, etc.)

Texas was originally Tejas or Coahuila y Tejas or Tejas y Coahuila, depending on who got top billing. Before there was a Houston there was a Harrisburg. Dallas stands on land that was called Peters Colony. Fort Worth was called West of Dallas. Waterloo was changed to Austin because “Keep Waterloo Weird” just didn’t stick. San Antonio was originally San Antonio de Bejar which somehow became Bexar, as in Bexar County, pronounced “riverwalk.” Don’t complain, the Indians called the place Yanaguana. The Yanaguana Spurs?

El Paso was El Paso del Norte, Pass to the North, only the town was originally on the south side of the Rio. Amarillo was Oneida. A border town was called Fort Texas until Major Jacob Brown got himself killed defending it during the United Mexican States-American War, so the fort’s name was changed to Brownsville. I like Fort Texas better. As for changing the name of poor Mexico, so close to these United States, we can only wish good luck to former President Felipe Calderon and all the other folks in Tenochtitlan.

 

Ashby is renamed at ashby2@comcast.net

 

 

 

 

HOUSE OF CADS

December 10, 2012 by  
Filed under Blogs, Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

THE FRONT YARD – Across the street from me a new house is rising where, a short time ago, an old house stood. There was nothing particularly wrong with the old house except that it was an old house. In today’s vernacular, that ancient (20 years) dwelling was a tear-down. (In Texas, any structure that gets a second coat of paint warrants a historical plaque.) Out with the old, in with the new — the new being the real estate equivalent of trophy wives. Indeed, my neighborhood, Running Rats Acres, has been mostly rebuilt over the past few years with tear-downs and build-ups, but my own street, Dismal Drive, had been spared. Until now.

The first clue came when tear-down terrorists stripped the house of anything and everything of value, including the grass, garbage cans and those little spools that hold the roll of toilet paper. I hope the workers were legit rather than copper robbers. I mean, they had matching ski masks and only worked late at night. Next, we heard the deathly rumble of a flatbed, which came down our sleepy cul-de-sac carrying a machine that looked very much like Steven Spielberg’s version of a prehistoric meat-eater. It was almost as big as the house it attacked.

With a mighty blow, the bucket in front of the metal monster became a huge hammer, systematically smashing the roof into the upstairs which fell into the downstairs which fell into the basement. I didn’t know my former neighbors had a bomb shelter with space for survival gear. Wonder why they didn’t tell me? In case of a nuclear bomb or another presidential campaign, whichever came first, there would be room for my family, too.

In any event, the destroyer slammed, smashed, leveled. Have you noticed how long it takes to build a house and how quickly it can be destroyed? In no more than one day my neighbor’s rather large house, with four or maybe five bedrooms, became a pile of rubble. Next came the dumpsters the length and depth of Palo Duro Canyon. At dawn, big gobblers scooped up the debris, dumped it into the dumpsters, which were hauled away.

At this point, if you have ever witnessed such an event in your own neighborhood, you are wondering why I haven’t mentioned the dreadful, non-stop noise. That’s because I didn’t think you could hear me. From before the birds wake until dark, various machines make various loud noises. I wake to the banging of jackhammers, pile drivers, scoopers and saws, and go to sleep with concrete trucks loudly pouring gray goo. The worst decibels come from putting on a roof, with those nail-drivers making my street sound like the gunfight at the OK Coral. It’s bad enough for us, but how do the workers survive that daily routine? Mostly on junk food sold from the visiting taco trucks.

Generally, residential developments are created at the same time, with houses and streets and bunkers all going up within the same span, so there are no residents to bother. My neighborhood’s developer, Cookie Cutter Construction, could run up a block of houses in an afternoon. But this is tear-down time, when the tearing and building take place amidst a calm neighborhood, where the only excitement is the occasional rabid dog.

Anyway, after the destruction comes the construction, which means a convoy of trucks and pickups wander down my street to disgorge the new house in bales and bundles. During the day the block is jammed with vans and flatbeds, making the area one big mud slide. What a mess, and nothing says “class” like a Port-O-John in the front yard.

They are now putting up that McMansion. First on the front is brick the color of pig drool, then beige stucco, stones of brown and black and purple and wooden beams — a rainbow of mismatched materials. The front of this house looks like Walt Disney threw up on it. This must be the fad in home building these days: cover the exterior with as many different materials as possible, making sure nothing goes together. Are gargoyles coming back? How many pink flamingoes do you need? This sucker blends in with the rest of the houses on this block like George W. Bush at a Mensa convention. My new neighbors have the taste of a rodeo clown.

After the workers have left for the day, I sneak over to the construction site to inspect it for structural flaws, mainly, are they putting in a swimming pool and basement bunker? Prior to the next Hurricane LeRoy, it would be the neighborly thing to invite us over. The door is not open, but after bounced brick or two, I enter and look around. Here is a half-finished gun rack for pistols, rifles and a howitzer. A wet bar, which is nice, but in the bathroom? This must be the owner’s man cave, complete with descending rows for seats with cup-holders, all facing a 120-inch TV. The walls are ready for hunting trophies with the spots, already marked: deer, wildcat, wild boar, wild Democrat. Upstairs, his-and-her walk-in medicine cabinets.

Wandering around, I see that the wine cellar has shelves for the boxes of Thunderbird. The kitchen has granite counter tops; it must be used granite – the slabs have names and life spans chiseled in them. The six-slot garage has the Mitt Romney Elevator System for boats, NASCAR racers and at least one armored car. Why don’t they just put the cars up on cinder blocks like everybody else on Dismal Drive?

Around the yard, it looks as though the new neighbors are installing barbed wire fences topped by concertina. This crate is marked “land mines.” TV surveillance cameras, flood lights, is that a guard tower? OK, but at least the neighborhood kids can swim in the moat. It’s a shame they don’t have big picture windows along the front so they could look across the street at my satellite dish.

 

Ashby rebuilds at ashby2@comcast.net

Fifth Annual “Toys for Tots” Holiday Toy Drive

December 4, 2012 by  
Filed under Blogs, Events

Please join us for the Fifth Annual “Toys for Tots”  Holiday Toy Drive presented by Mo’s…A Place for Steaks, Bank of Houston and Momentum Jaguar Land Rover Southwest Houston.
The event will be held at Mo’s located at 1801 Post Oak Blvd. in Houston, TX on Thursday, December 13th, 2012 at 5:00pm .
Guests will enjoy complimentary appetizers, along with live entertainment. Admission is free with a suggested donation of a new, and unwrapped toy. Please help event Chairs, Johnny Vassallo and Lori Lemon-Geshay reach their goal of 2,000 toys while supporting such a worthy cause.

BROADWAY, HERE WE COME

December 3, 2012 by  
Filed under Blogs, Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

So Bick Benedict says: “You all think that the glory happened here in the East, don’t you, with Valley Forge and Bunker Hill? Do you know about San Jacinto? Have you heard about the Alamo?” Well, the East is hearing about the Alamo along with oil, cattle, that white trash Jett Rink and Bick Benedict, one of those rich Texans who hates Tejanos. Mind your memories, Cats. There is no tomorrow, tomorrow, Annie. Be afraid, Virginia Wolfe, because “Giant” has arrived in New Yawk City. YEE-haw!

Yes, “Giant,” that clear-eyed documentary of the average Texas family is singing and dancing its way across the stage of the off-Broadway Public’s Newman Theater in the Big Apple. Do we really need this? Didn’t “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas” seal our reputation as sophisticated intellectuals? No. Remember, an intellectual in Texas is someone who can hear the William Tell Overture and not think of the Lone Ranger.

The stage version is the work of some of the hottest talents on Broadway. I never heard of any of them but am assured they are all Tony toters. But getting near the Great White Way was a rocky trip, and I’ll make it short. The play began as an incredibly long four-hour, three-act production. It was first staged three years ago at the Signature Theater in Arlington, Va., then again last winter at the Dallas Theater Center. The current version still runs three hours and 17 minutes. I hope they kept in the catchy dialogue:

Leslie Benedict: “Money isn’t everything, Jett.”
Jett Rink: “Not when you’ve got it.”

You no doubt want to dig to the back of your closet to find your boots and 10-gallon and head for NYC, but before you spend $85 per seat (the cheap seats), let us discuss how that mighty 447-page novel by Edna Ferber, a Pulitzer Prize winner but not for that, went from paper to the silver screen to the stage. When the novel first came out in 1952 it was met with scorn and ridicule by most Texans. I remember my mother telling the joke that Ferber, while flying over Texas, asked the pilot to go lower so Ferber could pick up some atmosphere about Texas for her book.

When this stage production opened in November, (it was delayed by Storm Sandy) the critics generally liked it. The Wall Street Journal: ‘‘’Giant’ is the most important new musical to come along since ‘The Light in the Piazza.’ It’s a show of immense and fully realized promise — and it deserves to move uptown.’’ From Entertainment Weekly: “Michael John LaChiusa’s ambition is as big as Texas, which seems appropriate for his sprawling and terrific new musical…the composer has crafted one of the finest new American musicals in recent memory.’’ However, the very influential New York Times sighs, “But the countervailing weight of condensing a multitude of themes and  plot points keeps pulling this show down to earth, and even threatened to bury it.” What can we expect from an effect corps of impudent snobs? (Thank you, Spiro Agnew.)

Some facts you may not know about “Giant” and its various versions: The movie was made for $5.4 million and brought in $35 million. The American Film Institute listed it as one of the 100 best American movies ever made, number 82 between Charlie Chaplin’s “Modern Times” and Oliver Stone’s “Platoon.” Grace Kelly was considered for the role of Leslie Benedict. Rumor was that once her engagement to Prince Rainier of Monaco was announced, however, M-G-M decided not to loan her out for the movie.

Clark Gable was considered for the role of Bick Benedict, but was rejected as too old by producer Jack L. Warner. Another version is that Rock Hudson was given a choice between Elizabeth Taylor and Grace Kelly to play Leslie. Hudson chose Taylor. At the time, few people outside of Hollywood knew that Hudson, that great big macho heart throb, was gay. He died of AIDS.

Actually, most of the participants have expired. Chill Wills, the only real Texan in the movie, died of cancer in 1978. Sal Mineo, who played Angel Obregón, was murdered. Elizabeth Taylor, who was hospitalized more than 70 times[and had at least 20 major operations, died at age 79, having outlived most of the cast. This was the last of James Dean‘s three films as a leading actor. He was killed in a car accident before the film was released. The actor Nick Adams was called in to do some voice-over dubbing for Dean’s role. That was an easy job because Dean mumbled throughout the entire film.

The music was composed by Dimitri Tiomkin, and the theme should be played as a march by the Longhorn Band at every UT football game. It would sure intimidate the opposition. “Giant” won the Academy Award for Best Director, George Stevens, and was nominated in nine other categories. Edna Ferber met Glenn McCarthy (aka Jett Rink) when she booked a room at his Shamrock Hotel (known as the Shamrock Hilton after 1955) in Houston which the fictional Emperador Hotel was based in the book and the film. The movie, partially filmed in Marfa, was released 56 years ago and remains to this day the most important thing that ever happened in Marfa.

The next time you visit New York and someone asks, as a Texan, if you ride a horse and live on a ranch, tolerate them. Explain that your horse is named Ford Mustang and your ranch is the Double Bar Star Sliding J Rocking W. No, you don’t have many cattle because they can’t survive the branding. Your wife is named Billie Jean or your husband is Carl Roy. The kids are Travis, Austin, Houston and Billie Jean Junior. You are armed and dangerous, believe global warming is a communist plot, will vote for Rick Perry till you die and hate minorities. Do them that favor, because it’s what they want to believe. YEE-haw!

 

Ashby is gigantic at ashby2@comcast.net