Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Home (bitter)sweet home, in Plano

Living in one of Dallas’ ultimate examples of white, upper-middle class suburban communities, I get to stockpile my rantings and ravings for just the right occasion and, folks, this is it! The good folks that run the city of Plano, Texas, (population 250,000 for those initiated out-of-staters who might read this) just seem to do things that make ME shake my head in amazement. They can act so fucking WHITE-bread some times, it is disgusting.
So we have three topics to gnaw upon, like a rabid dog, or you can select the appropriate metaphor. I am using the word “bitter” in my headline because, apparently, in some places, people go stark raving insane over usage of a word that seems awfully appropriate.

Silence is NOT golden
FIRST, less than a week ago (April 10), this area (and entire North Texas region) was belted by a strong line of thunderstorms that produced several damaging tornadoes – reportedly eight in all. One of those hit the city of Allen, Texas, which borders Plano to the northeast, here in lovely Collin County. In Allen, a reportedly 50 homes were damaged and it scared the shit out of people – as such things would and should.
The same storm caused less than severe damage in Plano, but winds and rain and hail still wreaked havoc with roofs, trees (many of which fell) and business signs (many of which were snapped at the base like balsa wood).
The storm struck around 4 a.m. when most people were in their beds – with the lights, radios and TVs clicked to the “off” mode. They had NO clue until thunder, lightning and the force of the storm bounced them out of bed and into closets or bathrooms to hide.
Early warning air sirens sounded in Allen and in Addison (to the south of Plano along the Dallas North Tollway) and in Richardson, directly south of the George Bush Tollway (they name things that gouge money from motorists after Republicans around here).
But NOT in Plano. Those sirens sat silent, despite the fact that the SAME storm that dropped the tornado on Allen HAD to go through Plano.
According to Assistant City Manager Bruce Glasscock, a former police chief, “officials believed conditions didn’t warrant it,” as reported in the Dallas Morning News.
“The main purpose of the siren system, he added, is to warn people who are outside to take cover. Because the storm took place so early in the morning, officials decided the sirens would have provided little warning.”
Come again?!? Hey, Chief Glasscock, a little warning is far better than NO god-damn warning! Besides, a tornado WARNING had been issued by the National Weather Service for that part of Collin County and that fact, alone, should have been reason enough to have activated the siren system.
Because something is better than nothing. What arrogance!
One year before, our block in Plano got hit by another strong storm, not with a tornado, but with strong straight line wind, clocked at over 100 mph. Trees on our side of the street were split like a giant ax had been sued. Across the street? Nada, zip, zilch, no damage at all. And there was also NO sirens sounded about such potential danger.
But you can hear that lovely siren sounds on the first Wednesday of each month when at noon, they are tested, waking every sleeping dog in neighborhoods across Plano in order to howl at the wail. They work then, but not when danger approaches. Makes sense, right?
Fire departments recommend that every home possess a weather radio, which is fine and dandy and help improve the sales picture for places like Radio Shack. But sirens are also needed; believe me, having gone through such a storm in 1994, where tornadoes struck the southern Dallas County cities of DeSoto and Lancaster, where three people died and more than 600 homes were destroyed (not just damaged but completely demolished beyond repair).
The siren system did not function properly (because of age) and the FIRST thing that was replaced (after the cities’ communication systems which were destroyed by the twisters that fateful April night) was the early warning siren systems.
BECAUSE … while they weren’t all encompassing, they were still needed as part of a warning system when danger approached.
I say (no, I KNOW) when in doubt, sound them sirens OUT! Better safe than sorry. And every city officials knows better than that, including former police chiefs. Shame on them!

Homeless and the heartless
SECOND, the Plano city council unanimously passed an ordinance last night that prohibited people from parking from the hours of 11 p.m.-5 a.m. in its library parking lots.
The issue arose after it was discovered that no ordinance existed to rid Haggard Library of its unwanted guest, a homeless man who lived in his van and, frankly, didn’t disturb a sole except the nervous Nellies who sees ghosts at every turn and who think all black people pose possible threats.
The ordinance was passed under the cloak known as a “consent agenda,” where one vote passed a whole host of issues, without discussion by definition. You just “consent” to everything there.
But word got out in advance, since, dammit, those pesky agenda must be made public. What rotten luck for the council having to follow the law. Otherwise, just like almost every other council or school board, it would rather do its business away from the public, where life would be safer.
Just when you need to better your image as an uncaring community who firmly believes that homeless people ONLY exist on the streets of Dallas, this story comes along, making the officials in Plano look like uncaring schmucks. Simply get rid of the man and all the problems will be solved, right? Out of sight is out of mind and they certainly don’t mind if he is out of their sight.
Sadly, it solves nothing; it only shuffles the problem to someone, and somewhere, else.
So I had a series of questions I would have asked if anyone was willing to listen (they weren’t):
1) Why pass an ordinance NOW when it wasn’t a problem before until some guy who didn’t live by "normal" rules showed up? If it was a problem before, why wasn’t anything done before? It is obviously retaliatory and that is the WORST reason to pass any ordinance.
And why wasn’t there any public discussion? Why do it in such a stealth-like manner? That’s what clever city operators do through its consent agenda when they want to hide things, and don’t want to hear from the electorate it allegedly was chosen to “represent.” What a lark!
2) Why couldn’t someone in the city have contacted the Samaritan Inn, the county’s ONLY homeless shelter in McKinney, BEFORE making it a “federal” crime to park overnight in a library parking lot?
Well, it seems that some genius called … (wait for it) … the United Way, stupidly thinking it was a relief agency instead of a financial distribution agency for charities. Someone also called the Assistance Center of Collin County, but NO ONE called the homeless shelter up the road. Why in the hell NOT?
It’s not like the Samaritan Inn is a secret society of sorts. It just held a well-publicized ribbon cutting for a new transitional housing project, Gateway Apartments, are had three of the four TV stations broadcasting stories in a two-weeks’ time plus numerous articles about Gateway in the Dallas Morning News.
I should know; I helped coordinate all that publicity. Yet no one in the city of Plano or its library system had a fucking clue.
Unless what is joked about is actually true – Plano people simply don’t think that the homeless exist AT ALL in the city (they do and the folks who run the Samaritan Inn can readily testify to that indisputable fact!). And with the economy growing worse, and many people, hiding in the shadows, on the brink of losing homes to foreclosure, etc., it will be a GROWING problem before things get better.
Just not in Plano, I guess. But now it has a law!
3) What does this say about the city government’s amount of compassion? (Very little, in my mind). They seem more worried about spending taxpayer money for arts centers not yet built or giving money for fountains never created. Hell, the issue of protecting homeowners from flying golf balls when those people built homes NEXT TO FUCKING GOLF COURSES commands more attention than helping people.
And a moment to digress about that little topic: The course, in question, is Chase Oaks Golf Club, located near the Legacy Cinemark Theater complex. In a Morning News story, it said Chase Oaks is “operated” by the city of Allen, but Allen actually owns the course, since 2005 (which is odd in itself to have a course surrounded by one city to be owned by another). Since Plano has NO financial stake in Chase Oaks, it has little to gain by seeking a proper resolution.
Oddly, the reporter did not quote or question anyone from the Allen Parks and Recreation Department. After all, it’s THEIR course and they could ask Plano for a solution – you know, as a good neighbor would and should.
When Tiger Woods’ personal swing coach, Hank Haney, ran his own golf place-driving range, literally ON Central Expressway in the center of Dallas, it had huge nets to guard against flying golf balls onto the freeway.
Did Dallas consider those to be fences? Did anyone ask? I would have thought the question would have crossed someone’s mind, but it escaped that reporter, who did less than due diligence in his reporting.
Yet flying golf balls, the height of nets and designating them as FENCES was the talk of the town. Must be SO little to discuss these days.
4) Why shuffle this problem of a homeless man to someone else? Will any ordinance apply to business parking lots or church lots? And speaking of which, where WERE/ARE the countless churches in Plano stepping forward to help this person, or anyone else like him? Why not offer THEIR lots for an overnight stay if he isn’t harming anyone?
Shame on everyone for caring SO little. Besides, if someone WANTS to live in a van, who should stop him or her? I just saw a DVD movie, “a superb rendition of “Into the Wild,” about a young man who chucked all his luxuries and possessions in order to spend his life as he saw fit – living off the land and going to Alaska.
It ends tragically, but he lived as he wished and claimed he had no regrets at the end.
I highly recommend the movie and wonder why it was ignored as a Best Picture nominee.

The right NOT to vote
FINALLY, Plano’s municipal and school board elections approach on May 10 and I will voluntarily sit this vote out. I have better things to do than try to decide among the same cookie-cutter Republican wannabes who want to rule this suburban fiefdom.
None of them reflect my values of what I want for Plano. I’ve outlined two of many disagreements I have with the current city operation and it won’t change. When you rename buildings after the current city administrator, it “show to goes ya” just how entrenched the status quo is in Plano.
The school district is just as worse. The salaries paid to its administrators (more than a quarter of a million bucks for the superintendent while single teachers don’t make enough to live within the district because of the high housing prices in a region known for inexpensive housing compared to the rest of the nation) is absurd. And the butt kissing to these poo-bahs is just as stupid.
So regardless of the candidates involved, I find that little will change.
One of the biggest problems is that SO much of the PISD population goes unrepresented because the system will never allow for a Hispanic, Asian or African-American to get elected. That represents a full 40 percent of the student population. When will these people have a voice and a face to serve their needs?
I got an e-mail from a candidate who is half-Hispanic despite an Anglo surname and while his efforts are commendable, a snowball in Laredo in July has a better chance of succeeding, given the Plano demographics.
Sadly, he likes to quote Lord Acton and other high-minded writers, but it won’t impress Plano voters. Quoting Lord Wedgwood DOES (it’s SUCH a material-based community).
It isn’t just the wealthy white folks that defines Plano’ it’s people of Indian, Korean, Vietnamese, as well as Pakistani, Arabic and other Middle Eastern heritages – ALL without representation (now and in the past). The Plano ISD board only wants the status quo – notably in its makeup.
This candidate’s website stresses his platform for increased elementary level emphasis on reading and math – both highly laudable. While reading and math are essential to education and need to be taught early and often, OTHER areas need attention. Writing skills are horrid among ALL Texas students; the inability to spell is a tragedy. The reliance on the computer and not on the brain is our eventual downfall.
And this all-consuming involvement with one standardized test is ridiculous. In Texas, and all across the U.S., we need to stop teaching to any particular test. Teach what children need to learn and become productive adults and THEN test based on that! It was how I was educated, as well as everyone of my generation, and all WE accomplished was overseeing the greatest growth in our nation’s history – economically and scientifically. Worked then; would work now.
When someone openly advocates THAT position, then I will vote. Until then, I’ve got better things to do … like sleep.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Greatest sports movies ever made

With the release and success of George Clooney’s “Leatherheads,” about the early days of pro football, I revived my list of the best sports movies, arranged by individual sports. It’s not a top 10 list, although it would be simple to glean such a collection.
Some sports lend themselves easily to drama or comedy (boxing, baseball, horse racing) and others have yet to witness a cinematic effort worthy of their sport (gymnastics, tennis, figure skating).
So here is my best (and favorites) per areas of endeavour:
Auto racing – Strangely, not many superior movies here, except for John Frankenheimer’s “Grand Prix (1966) with James Garner. The best drag racing movie was the Oscar-nominated Shirley Muldowney biopic “Heart Like a Wheel”(1983), the best Indy car flick was Paul Newman’s “Winning” (1969), and the best stock car movie (not “Ricky Bobby,” folks) is either Richard Pryor’s “Greased Lightning” (1977) and the first black champion, Wendell Scott, or “Last American Hero” (1973) with Jeff Bridges.
Baseball – This lineup is loaded, from “Pride of the Yankees” (1942) to “Field of Dreams” (1989) to “Bull Durham” (1988) to “The Natural” (1984) to “The Bad News Bears” (1976, original with Walter Matthau). Because “Field of Dreams” reached me on a personal level (about father-son relationships), it gets my vote.
Basketball – Once you go past “Hoosiers” (1986), you need not go anywhere else, or see anything else. This film is in the argument for best sports movie ever made.
Billiards/pool – “The Hustler” (1961) – the original character of Fast Eddie Felson, as portrayed by Paul Newman, is, perhaps, his greatest role.
Bobsledding – “Cool Runnings” (1993) – The story, based on the true events of the Jamaican bobsled team, in the 1988 Calgary Olympics that caught the world’s imagination.
Bowling – “Kingpin” (1996) – Any movie with Bill Murray swearing a ridiculous toupee and bowling with a ball containing fish is classic.
Boxing – Among the best MOVIES ever made involve boxing, including Martin Scorsese’s “Raging Bull” (1980), Sylvester Stallone’s “Rocky” (1976) and Clint Eastwood’s “Million Dollar Baby” (2004). Not just as sports movies, but as movies, period.
Chess – “In Search of Bobby Fischer” (1993) – A small film that caught the soul of the most mental of games.
Curling – “Men with Brooms” (2002) – Yes, Virginia, they’ve made a movie about curling; a small Canadian movie … but aren’t all Canadian movies small?
Cycling – “Breaking Away” (1979) – Nominated for Best Picture, this is on most critics’ top 10 sports movies of all-time’ Dennis Quaid at his earliest. Also up there is “American Flyers” with a young Kevin Costner.
Dog Shows – “Best in Show” (2000) – So bitingly funny, it hurts.
Football – Since “Brian’s Song” (1971) was actually a made-for-TV movie, it shouldn’t (technically) count, and “Horse Feathers” (1932) was as much about football as the Marx Brothers would allow (not much), “The Longest Yard” (1974 original) is probably the best.
Gymnastics – The problem with this sport is that the two “best” movies – “American Anthem” (1986) and “Stick It” (2006) look nothing like actual gymnastic competitions.
Golf – “Caddyshack” (1980) – The funniest sports movie ever made and one of the funniest films EVER! Perhaps the most quotable films ever produced … if you’re a guy.
Hockey – “Slap Shot” (1977) – The greatest movie about professional hockey, with Newman (again), and listed on everyone’s all-time top 10 sports movies list. The best amateur hockey movie is “Miracle” (2004) about the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team that beat the Soviet Union.
Horse racing – “Seabiscuit” (2003) and “National Velvet” (1944) excellently represent a sport that has deep roots in filmdom. My favorite is the little-known “Let It Ride” (1978), with Richard Dreyfuss as the epitome of the horse gambler.
Martial arts – “The Karate Kid” (198?) – Oscar nominated as best picture from the director who directed “Rocky.” And please, don’t say “Enter the Dragon” was better.
Poker – “The Cincinnati Kid” (1965) – Steve McQueen in a five-card showdown with Edward G. Robinson. Enough said!
Roller Derby – “Kansas City Bomber” (1972) – Raquel Welch on wheels!
Rugby – “This Sporting Life” (1963) – Richard Harris introduced to audiences.
Sailing – A lack of good movies in this area, given the length of America’s Cup competition so the winner is “Wind” (1992) with Matthew Modine.
Soccer – “Bend It Like Beckham” (2000) – One of the surprise sleeper hits of the 21st century and a film that did more to introduce Beckham to U.S. audiences than the L.A. Galaxy.
Skating – Too much like gymnastics movies, when “The Cutting Edge” (1992) is thought to be the best of its genre and it has nothing to do with real skating competition.
Skiing – “Downhill Racer” (1960) – Robert Redford as an egotistical Olympic hopeful.
Swimming – “Pride” (2007) – A true story about a coach starting an inner-city program in Philadelphia.
Tennis – Poor representation for this sport. Little to choose from for, by walkover, “Wimbledon” (2004) wins.
Track and field – “Chariots of Fire” (1981) – Winner of Best Picture; with one of the most unforgettable musical themes ever heard.
Wrestling – “Vision Quest” (1985) – Starring Modine and Linda Fiorentino, about a high school wrestler’s quest to defeat a particular opponent, the movie features a classic soundtrack (Madonna, Journey). For pro wrestling, would you believe The Fonz (Henry Winkler) in “The One and Only” (1978)?
I’m sure you can find others, but this is my list. I couldn’t find a place for Rol­ler­ball” (1975) because it’s not really a sport ... yet (FOX hasn’t figured out how to get it on TV). Let’s hear from you.