Tuesday, February 27, 2007

On trial

I failed to mention that my other adventure on Monday was sitting on the jury panel for this trial. It was the third time I've been called for jury duty in the last four or five months, causing me to miss four German classes. No big deal and not much excitement, just a long slog through a series of fairly predictable questions.

Surprises? Maybe two. One was that even people who have sat on juries before have trouble distinguishing between civil and criminal cases. The other came after the prosecutor mentioned that the defendant was married to a member of the Nava family. When jurors were asked whether anything would keep them from judging the case fairly, the woman sitting next to me mentioned the notoriety of that name. The defendant, who was just a few feet away with his back to us, turned around and gave her a luck that struck me as one of pure menace. The prosecutor even complained to the judge about the defendant's "interaction" with the jurors.

I wasn't picked, and I still think I could have been an impartial juror, but I couldn't help but feel a bit safer for a moment knowing that this guy was in the custody of the state.

And while we are on the crime beat, I thought Greg Tuttle's series on the Beach case was splendid, but I was bugged by a quote from Assistant Attorney General Michael Wellenstein, who wrote that the parole board must "keep in mind that while it is indeed a travesty for an innocent man to spend his life in prison, it is a greater injustice for a guilty man to be set free when his victim and her family can never be set free from her brutal death."

Doesn't he have that exactly backward? And shouldn't he know better?

Monday, February 26, 2007

Woe is me

Last week, the Outpost printer messed up and left four pages out of the paper. The printer had to redo the whole run, and we didn't start putting them on racks until Thursday night.

This morning, my e-mail crashed and destroyed everything in the in-box. If you sent something to me recently, please resend. Otherwise, it's gone.

Then I had jury duty, 4 1/2 hours of waiting to not get picked. So tonight I'm trying to do the work I should have started last Friday when I was out delivering Thursday's papers. The merry-go-round keeps turning.

Sunday, February 25, 2007


I just got eight out of eight right on this quiz. Does that mean I get to be president?

GOP dinner

I went to the Republican's Party's Lincoln Reagan Day Dinner last night, largely to see Stephen Moore, who writes for the Wall Street Journal and advocates for free enterprise. His message was predictable enough, and you can read Jim Gransbery's account here, or mine on Thursday or, since this is such a great country, you can read both. I asked Moore afterward about the Iraq War, which he hadn't mentioned among his reasons why Republicans lost out in the 2006 election. He acknowledged that the war probably had been the biggest issue in the election and mentioned, a bit surprisingly, that he had opposed the war. Or maybe not surprisingly, since he has been affiliated with the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank that opposed the war, just as it opposes most government enterprises.

There were no discouraging words about the war from Tamara Hall, who was the mistress of ceremonies for the event. She praised Bush and the war, and said she looked on the president as a "Christian brother who's carrying a load that no single person should have to carry." In what struck me as an odd bit of timing, she also screened a tribute to soldiers, complete with battlefield suffering, just as the Republicans were digging into their salads. It nearly put me off my feed. Maybe she was just being consistent with what appears to be the modern American ideal that war is just fine, so long as we don't have to pay for it.

She said a few other off-putting things. One was a story about a college professor who supposedly offered to prove to students that God doesn't exist by daring God to knock him off his lectern. God chose not to get involved, apparently, but a war veteran, so the story goes, obliged by tackling the professor, explaining himself by saying that God was awfully busy, what with the war and all, and had asked the veteran to act on His behalf.

She swore twice that the story was true, which I doubt. But even if it were, it would seem to say less about atheism among academics than about how quickly people can become violent when they fool themselves into thinking they are carrying out God's will.

But that was not the oddest story she told. That story was about some debate or another that she was in where a student asked what she would do to help students get through college. She said, approximately, that she replied, "It's not my job to get you through school." She said she told the student that it was up to him to get through college, taking on outside jobs and even dropping out for a time if necessary to save enough money to pay his own way.

The response had a self-reliant ring to it, and it drew a nice round of applause. But I couldn't help but think that talk like that also had something to do with Republican setbacks in 2006. After all, almost no students truly pay their own way through college. They go to state schools, they get scholarships and grants, they borrow money through government-backed loan programs, they (or their parents) benefit from favorable tax treatment. The government has its foot in the game every step of the way.

So unless one is seriously making the case (as Rick Jore might) that there should be no government support of any kind for higher education, then it misses the point to pretend that one is taking a principled stand against helping students get through school. All one is really doing is quibbling over the price.

It's easy to mistake a dollar sign for a principle. And if that is what Republicans are doing, then 2008 could be another long year.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Hannity vs. Gore

In a moment of temporary insanity, I watched a segment of "Sean Hannity's America" last weekend in which he attacked Al Gore and other "limousine liberals" for using private jets while bloviating about global warming.

Even by Hannity's standards, this was thin gruel. The only examples he had of Gore actually using a private plane dated from the 2000 election campaign, when Gore was the vice president of the United States. I wondered why I never noticed him back then on any commercial airliners, sharing a couple of rows of seats with the Secret Service.

And, of course, Hannity's concern wasn't that Gore might have been endangering the planet. It was that he might have been diluting the purity of American political discourse with the base alloy of hypocrisy.

President Bush is, of course, exempt from the charge. In 2000, he was in blithe denial about global warming, although by 2001, he was ready to admit that there might be something to it after all. That's OK. Bush didn't get global warming during the campaign, so he could fly however he wanted. Gore, who did get it, had to play by different rules.

Hannity doesn't object to all travel in private jets, just travel by people who suspect that private jets add to global climate degradation. Ignorance is bliss. And a much more convenient way to travel.

Bad blogger

As if I were not a lazy enough blogger, my comments section now has become overrun by spam. Every day, I delete a dozen or so pure spam comments, so now I am officially getting more comments from people who don't read the blog than from people who do.

I see papyrus in my future.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

You say Iraq, I say Iran; let's call the whole thing off

The reprobate editor of The Outpost, having singularly failed to stop one Mideast war, waves his tiny sword in a futile gesture aimed at fending off another.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Molly Ivins, R.I.P.

Like many of us, I had a soft spot for Molly Ivins. She grew up in Crockett, Texas, a displaced liberal in the conservative piney woods where I cut my own journalistic teeth. I have met her and interviewed her a couple of times over the years. She even interviewed me once, when she was looking for tips on Texas women to write about.

Her first book was dedicated to another East Texan, who was a friend of mine. He occasionally sent her my columns, and in response to one of them she sent me what is still one of my prized possessions: a postcard of Ralph the Diving Pig with the note, “This is fan mail.”

None of that is to say that I knew her well, but I appreciated her courage and wit, and I will miss her. Now that she has died, maybe it’s time I went public with my favorite Molly Ivins story.

She started it in Texas, where she addressed a full house – perhaps 300 people -- in College Station (turn on George Bush Drive, past the Clayton Williams Alumni Center). She was talking about Kent Caperton, a popular Bryan senator who had announced that he would not run for re-election to the Texas Legislature. Caperton was a Democrat who managed to remain electable in his conservative district by his rational approach to difficult issues and his impressive negotiating skills. His most likely successor was a prominent Bryan official who was a rock-ribbed Republican.

After swearing the entire audience to secrecy, Molly Ivins told this story: She said that Carl Parker, another Texas Democratic senator who shared Caperton’s passion for politics but lacked his tact, was trying desperately to persuade Caperton to run again. Caperton was adamant; Parker began pleading. Finally, Parker said, “Look, if you’ll run again, I swear that I will go into every bar in north Bryan and tell everybody there that I, personally, have sucked [the prominent Bryan official’s] dick, and it’s small.”

Despite promises of secrecy, the story quickly made its way all over town and into nearby Bryan. Eventually, it reached the ex-wife of the city official’s brother, who was himself a prominent attorney in Brazos County. Her reaction: “Hmm. Must run in the family.”

When I saw Ivins a couple of months later in Austin, where we both had gone to shake hands with the queen of England, I told her that part of the story. Her response was a full-throated cackle – no other word could describe it – that I expect to carry with me to my own grave. May she rest in peace, if not perfect quiet.