Buzz Reviews the News of 2008: Yes. It Was All Bad.
Buzz's mother had three essential life lessons she attempted to impart to her son: 1) Shut up; 2) Show some respect; and 3) God help you if I ever catch you hanging around that pool hall. Despite her best efforts, delivered with the loving strokes of a left hook that would have done Joe Frazier proud, lessons one and two didn't take. But that's OK.We like this job.
Buzz never did learn to play pool, though. To this day, we just can't grasp all the angles.
That pool hall Mother Buzz warned us about was a seedy storefront on the main street of the small town where we grew up, a dim joint that served Busch beer in cans and offered dingy tables with faded felt, resting on stained indoor-outdoor carpet beneath humming fluorescent lights—tables that mother warned us lured the town's badder boys to trouble with a capital T.
2008 in review
We used to think about that joint later in life when, as a young reporter on the weekend cop shift in San Antonio, we'd be called out to cover shootings at seedy bars. "Misdemeanor murders," weary, cynical cops would call these crimes, as if to say: "If you're dumb enough to wander into a bar where cough syrup is considered a mixer, the barmaid has missing teeth, every third person is carrying a gun, and you wind up getting shot, what do you expect us to do?"
As comedian Chris Rock once pointed out: The difference between getting assassinated and getting shot has a lot to do with the company you keep.
So, what's our point, you ask? Well, another year has passed, and once again it's time to look back at the year's news in Dallas. How does one sum up a year that saw record home foreclosures, budget crises at the school district and everywhere else, massive layoffs, and general stress and near-panic? A year that saw City Hall rolling ahead with plans for a half-billion-dollar hotel that no private hotelier in his right mind wants to build? A year that saw our 401(k)s dwindle to 0.401(k)s? Mixed metaphorically speaking, we've been running with the wrong crowd; we weren't sharp enough to figure all the angles; and this year, the chickens came home to roost.
So that was 2008: The Year We Lived Dangerously and All Got Shot. Yes, this was indeed a tough, tough year. And the worst part is the uneasy feeling we have that none of us would be in this mess now if everyone had just shut up, shown some respect and listened to our mothers.
January - March
Booty haul: Texas' strip club owners ring in 2008 facing a new $5 per head—um, we mean $5 per patron—state tax. Club owners decry the fee as an unconstitutional tax on free expression. State lawmakers, who approved the booty tax, had considered but rejected a sliding scale for the fee, which would have cost patrons $15 for clubs featuring girls without knife scars, $20 for those with "really ginormous ta-tas" and $1.50 for clubs featuring girls who insist upon telling patrons they are "only working there while getting a marketing degree."
First casualty of war: Garland mother Priscilla Ceballos apologizes after it's revealed that she had lied about the death of her husband, purportedly killed while serving as a soldier in Iraq, so that her 6-year-old daughter could write an essay that won the girl tickets to a sold-out Hannah Montana concert. The girl's father was not, in fact, a war casualty. Ceballos complains of scorn and abuse heaped on her after the fakery was discovered in late December and urges Americans not to blame her daughter, who gamely offers to "blow Pop straight to hell" in exchange for tickets and a backstage pass.
Narcs for narcs: Dallas City Council passes a compromise measure that would allow police recruits who admit to past use of serious illegal drugs to be hired as long as the drug use occurred before the recruit turned 21 and the recruit did not inject the drugs or use the drugs more than one time. Council members rejected a DPD proposal that would have allowed up to four instances of serious drug use. "If people who use drugs that much want to enter government service, they can run for office, just like everyone else," council member Ron Natinsky tells cops.
New math: David Rastellini, the administrator in charge of finances at Dallas Independent School District, resigns as the district awaits the results of a much-delayed audit that will uncover numerous instances of sloppy bookkeeping. Rastellini tells reporters that his departure is for personal reasons and insists that he is proud of his "seven years of service to DISD." The district hired Rastellini in 2005.
Kitty litter: A Fort Worth man arriving at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport collects the wrong bag upon arrival, only to discover that a cat had somehow stowed away in the bag for an American Airlines flight from Florida. The cat is eventually returned to its owners. American later announces that it will charge a $35 fee for all cats carried in checked bags on domestic flights, and the Transportation Security Administration creates a rule that requires all cats carried on planes to be divided into sections weighing not more than 3 ounces each and stored in clear, one-quart plastic bags.
Clothes make the man: Proving once again that no issue is too absurd for cable TV, Dallas City Council member Dwaine Caraway appears on the Dr. Phil show to promote his anti-sagging campaign against men who wear their pants low, thereby exposing their underwear. National attention to the effort inspires others to create their own sartorial movements, including calls for bans on fat women wearing sleeveless snap coats, old people in track suits, men who wear dress socks with shorts and the dreaded scourge of plumber's butt.
Beaned: C. Robert Heath, a lawyer defending the city of Farmers Branch in a voting rights lawsuit over Latino representation in city government, apologizes for a remark in which he compared counting Hispanic voters to guessing the number of "beans in a jar." The comment enrages Latinos who see it as a reference to the racist term "beaner"—particularly in a city that has already stirred controversy with its voter-approved ordinances aimed at cracking down on illegal immigration. Heath tells reporters that he is unfamiliar with the slur. "All I meant was that they'd be hard to count. Who knows how many are hiding in the woodpile?" Heath says. "Oh, what? What'd I say now?"
Humming along: The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals strikes down Texas' ban on the sale of sex toys, ruling that the prohibition is a violation of Texans' right to privacy. Stock in Procter & Gamble, maker of Duracell batteries, jumps 20 percent in value on the New York Stock Exchange.
With friends like that: Former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk, recently designated U.S. trade representative by President-elect Barack Obama, tells CBS News in February that though he considers Obama's primary opponent, Hillary Clinton, and her husband, Bill Clinton, friends, Kirk believes the country is experiencing a little Bush/Clinton fatigue. The former president later shrugs off Kirk's comments, saying, "I know what Ron means. I myself have suffered a little fatigue from too much bush."
Not just peanuts: Dallas-based Southwest Airlines is slapped with a record $10.2 million fine by the Federal Aviation Administration after it's revealed the airline flew dozens of jets without mandatory safety inspections. Southwest spokesmen insist that the airline's safety record is clean, but FAA officials say they became suspicious that some inspections were lacking when they discovered a nursing mother cat and eight tabby kittens nesting in the air intake of an engine on a Southwest Boeing 737.
Air-e-ola: The Transportation Security Administration announces in March that it will change its procedures after a Dallas woman complains she was forced to remove her nipple rings before being allowed to board a flight in Lubbock. Under the rule changes, fellow passengers on flights in which a woman is required to remove nipple rings will be charged $5 per person, with a two-drink minimum.
April - June
César who?: Dallas officials inadvertently stir up controversy with the creation of an online survey to determine a new name for Industrial Boulevard as part of the Trinity River project. Voters in the poll overwhelmingly choose the name César Chávez Boulevard in honor of the late civil rights leader. Members of the Latino community are angered when the city rejects the online vote, saying the results were skewed. "Looks like someone slipped a few too many beans in the jar," says a city spokesman, who is forced to flee for his life and seek asylum in Farmers Branch.
Can't win if you don't play: A long-delayed outside audit by the accounting firm Deloitte and Touche uncovers a widespread pattern of poor fiscal management at Dallas Independent School District. Auditors find numerous problems with the district's accounting procedures, including poor oversight by supervisors, ineffective policies and "a big, honking pile of used Texas Lottery scratch-off tickets" intended to cover the district's 2008 payroll.
Mild things: Southern Methodist University President Gerald Turner rejects a proposal to open up a pub on campus, one of a number of proposals made to teach SMU students responsible drinking following the deaths of three students from alcohol poisoning the previous year. The rejection comes despite support from some SMU faculty members, who say a campus pub could strengthen the university community by allowing professors and students to mingle. "Looks like for now we'll just have to keep buying those Girls Gone Wild videos," one English-lit professor says.
Dream on: Former Dallas City Council member James Fantroy, convicted in February of stealing more than $20,000 from Paul Quinn College, rejects U.S. District Judge Ed Kinkeade's offer that would have allowed the ailing Fantroy, who dies later in the year, to serve a month-long sentence in home confinement if he admitted to the theft. Rejecting the judge's offer, Fantroy compares himself to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., whose lesser-known and not-quite-as-inspiring "I Have a Scheme" speech has been forgotten by history and everyone else except Fantroy.
Crowing cocks: Federal prosecutors in a bribery case against former Dallas City Council member Don Hill score a pair of victories in their wide-ranging corruption investigation, as Andrea Spencer, a one-time minority contracting firm owner, and Allen McGill, the former president of a state employees association, plead guilty in April and agree to offer evidence against Hill, accused of shaking down a private housing developer. Hill shrugs off the pleas, comparing himself to Jesus, only "with two goddamn Judases to contend with."
Checking in: The Dallas City Council votes 11-2 to pay $42 million to purchase more than eight acres of land to build a controversial $500 million-plus convention center hotel. Critics complain the land's value on county tax roles had jumped from $7.5 million to more than $36 million just days before the council agreed to the purchase. "Wow, from $7.5 million to $42 million in just a few days. Man, lucky we nailed that one when we did. Property prices around here are going nowhere but up, up, up," says the city's new chief real estate negotiator, former DISD finance administrator David Rastellini.
Little China boy: Mayor Tom Leppert returns home from China, where in May he led a local contingent intent on boosting trade ties between the city and the Asian economic giant. Leppert terms the trip productive and says it inspired hopes of increased employment in Dallas' vital tourism, personal services and massage industries along Harry Hines Boulevard. "Lemme tell you, we made a lot of contacts while we were over there," a smiling, relaxed and oily mayor tells reporters.
One born every minute: Voters narrowly approve a $1.35 billion bond issue for new school construction and renovation in Dallas Independent School District. Supporters hail the decision as a vote of confidence for leadership in a district tainted by reports of poor accounting and business ties between the school system and school board members. The bonds will finance construction of 15 schools, "give or take," says Superintendent Michael Hinojosa, adding "everything's comin' up roses for us from here out. Yes, indeedy, it's all smoooooth sailin' from here on out."
Dead men walking: The AirHogs, a new minor league baseball franchise in Grand Prairie, give away a funeral as part of a team promotion. Texas Rangers President Nolan Ryan dismisses the giveaway as a cheap stunt. "That's why they're the minors and we're the Bigs. We give fans a funeral 162 times a year," Ryan says.
Sooo-eee!: The Texas AgriLife Extension Service announces that it plans to field-test an oral contraceptive for use on wild hogs as part of a $1 million effort by the Texas Agriculture Department to control the animals, blamed for costly damage to cropland throughout the state. The proposal draws fire from Governor Rick Perry's office and conservative ministers, who say that as part of the state's emphasis on abstinence-only sex education, the pigs should instead be counseled to avoid sex. Extension service researchers announce that they will begin using helicopters to blanket rural areas with leaflets that tell feral hogs to "just oink no" and "true rutting waits."
Gutter ball: Cementing Arlington's reputation as the sports hub of the metroplex, the International Bowling Museum and Hall of Fame announces plans to move from St. Louis to the Tarrant County suburb. The move, a city spokesman estimates, could bring an additional $832 in tourism revenue to the region annually.
Cull the litter: Texas tied New Mexico for the nation's highest teen birthrate in 2005, according to a report released in June by the Anna E. Casey Foundation. In a controversial effort to lower the rate—62 births per 1,000 girls ages 15 to 19—the Texas AgriLife Extension Service announces it will begin spiking cans of Red Bull and Monster energy drinks with oral contraceptives and distributing them freely at Texas shopping malls and Sonic drive-in restaurants. "We had a bunch of the stuff just lying around," an agency spokesman says.
Pay-per-view: The Transportation Security Administration announces that it has installed two "millimeter wave whole body imaging" machines at DFW Airport over the objections of privacy advocates who say the new technology is capable of producing images that are too revealing. Use of the devices will strip air travelers of the "last vestiges of their dignity," a spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union complains. "Well, duh," a TSA spokesman tells reporters, "that's in our charter."
July - September
Not ready for close-up: Outraged Dallas County commissioners move to reverse a decision by Sheriff Lupe Valdez to allow the Discovery Channel to film a documentary at the county jail. Valdez is accused of arranging the work as an election-year stunt, a charge Valdez denies. A court order eventually halts production of Dallas County: A Jewel of a Jail.
Texas two-step: The state unveils a new anti-divorce program that waives marriage license fees for couples who take pre-wedding classes instructing them how to sustain healthy marriages. The "Twogether in Texas" program will provide $15 million in federal grants to social service agencies providing the classes, which will cover such topics as "Foreplay and Cuddling: How to Endure It," "Beer Guts: Just More of Him to Love" and "Can't a Man Just Watch the Friggin' Game in Peace."
Star-crossed: County Commissioner John Wiley Price accuses fellow Commissioner Ken Mayfield of racism when the latter criticizes the work of the county's central ticket collection office, calling the office a "black hole." Price and Judge Thomas Jones, who are black, say Mayfield's analogy, a reference to an astrophysical phenomenon, is racially insensitive. Mayfield says he intended no reference to race and suggests that Price "stop being so damned uppity."
Jah love: Police discover an indoor marijuana farm at the vacant Wilmer-Hutchins High School. DISD officials, flooded with calls inquiring about future enrollment and transfers to the school, which is slated for renovation as part of the DISD bond program, vow to take steps to better secure the property. In the meantime, a district spokesman urges residents to "just chill, dudes. It's like 'Whoa, people, why is everyone all up in our faces?' It's like a total buzzkill."
Powder puff girls: Fifteen people attending a Mary Kay cosmetics meeting sustain minor injuries when a worker at the Dallas Convention Center abruptly changes the direction of an escalator they're riding. Rescue officials say the injuries were mainly scrapes and bruises, though a convention center spokesman says four paramedics called to the scene were treated for respiratory distress after inhaling "a fog of flying face powder" unleashed by the accident.
Grey Poupon is extra: In a bid to cover a $6 million budget shortfall for her department, Sheriff Lupe Valdez announces that the county's jails will stop providing free condiments and pickles to inmates. Prisoners who desire packets of ketchup, mustard and other items will be required to pay for them, the sheriff says. Eliminating free pickles will save the county more than $83,000 annually, The Dallas Morning News reports. The department also contemplates serving only Texas-made wines with meals, but rejects the notion after three days of rioting at the jail.
Brawn food: The Southlake Carroll Dragons high school football team announces that it will begin serving sushi to health-conscious fans attending home games in the new school year. To mollify traditionalists who complain that the team is going soft with froufrou dishes, the team later modifies its menu, offering servings of raw yellowfin tuna smothered in chili, cheese and Frito corn chips plus a 72-ounce Big Red and Moon Pie for $17.50.
Mmm. Bacon: The Texas State Fair unveils its latest deep-fried treat—chicken-fried bacon. To mollify health-conscious fair-goers who complain that the fair is trying to murder its attendees, the fair later amends its menu, offering a free defibrillation and stomach pumping to anyone who purchases more than $30 in Midway tickets.
Free at last: Jenny, at 55 the oldest gorilla in captivity, dies at the Dallas Zoo after slipping on a banana peel (rim shot). Kidding. It was a stomach tumor that got her. Mindful of mournful zoo patrons who will miss the aged ape, the zoo announces that it will hold a "tasteful, restrained memorial service" for Jenny during the seventh-inning stretch at the AirHogs last home game where Jenny will be interred in the centerfield warning track.
Give and take: DISD superintendent Michael Hinojosa announces that the district is facing a budget shortfall "somewhere in the neighborhood of $60 million, give or take $20 million, more or less," necessitating the layoffs of "600 or so " district employees, including "somewhere in the ballpark" of 400 teachers. The budget "gaffe" is blamed on a flawed computer system and poor accounting procedures that led the district to hire hundreds of additional teachers without consideration of whether any money was available to pay them. Hinojosa survives calls for his resignation. School board president Jack Lowe defends Hinojosa, citing academic gains made by the district. "The number of students passing the TAKS test under Michael's leadership has increased 110 percent," Lowe tells reporters. "We're not sure how that's mathematically possible, but it's pretty darn good nonetheless."
To scale: The Trinity River Corridor Project Committee reveals a 3-D model of the long-awaited Trinity Park, tollway and signature bridges, part of a massive, multimillion-dollar public works project to redevelop the Trinity River corridor near downtown. The model, made of "really clean" used Popsicle sticks and spray-painted elbow macaroni, took more than a year and a half and $500,000 to build.
October - December
Damn the torpedoes: Opponents of the city's plans to build a convention center hotel submit petitions bearing enough signatures to require a citywide vote on the project in May. City council supporters of the hotel vow to press ahead with financing and contracts for the facility regardless. "Nothing the voters of this city have ever said has made a damn bit of difference to City Hall," Mayor Tom Leppert says. "I don't see why that should change now."
Pay to play: The city of Duncanville secures misdemeanor convictions for Jim Trulock, an owner of the Cherry Pit, a notorious swingers club located in a residential neighborhood that provided alcohol and sex parties to members who paid $50 to join. A jury convicts Trulock on 10 counts of operating an illegal business. Trulock, who appeals the conviction, faces fines of up to $7,500, roughly half of which will be covered by a federal grant as part of the Twogether in Texas pro-marriage program.
Luck be a lady: DISD announces that it will rehire 57 teachers from among more 600 employees who were laid off to deal with its massive budget deficit. District spokesman Jon Dahlander says the rehirings are because a larger-than-expected number of teachers accepted the district's severance offer in October, plus "a really hot string of luck" with the Texas Lottery's "Jingle Jumbo Bucks" scratch-off game.
Acting like Democrats: Bickering on the Dallas County Commissioners Court breaks into the open once again, as Commissioner John Wiley Price brings an engraved placard bearing the name "Judge Foster Gump," an insult aimed at fellow Democrat County Judge Jim Foster, who is widely considered among court observers to be "a bit of a mutton head." Foster shrugs off Price's criticism. "John is just like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get," Foster tells reporters, a remark Price condemns as a veiled racist slur.
Calling M.C. Escher: Amid a chorus of boos and catcalls from audience members at a DISD board meeting, trustees adopt an ethics policy that restricts the amount of money trustees can earn through private business contracts with the district. Critics say the new rules don't go far enough. Despite concerns from fellow board members about a potential conflict of interest, board president Jack Lowe, chairman of a company that has done $9 million in district work since 2002, votes in favor of the policy rather than abstaining. "I see no conflict of interest in voting for this conflict-of-interest policy because any conflict of interest I might have has been reported as a potential conflict of interest as required by rules," Lowe tells fellow board member Carla Ranger, whose head bursts into flames.
Dallas updated: Fans travel from across the globe to attend the 30th annual reunion of stars of the primetime soap opera Dallas, only to find that the event, held at Southfork Ranch in Collin County in November, was a disorganized mess. Fans complain that the event's promoter charged exorbitant prices for access to the stars but failed to deliver on promises. News of the debacle produces a wave of schadenfreude among city residents who are pleased to know that foreigners now understand exactly what it's like to live here today.
How can we miss you?: Insisting that DISD needs the sort of firm, steady leadership that has made the district what it is today, trustees vote to extend their terms from three years to four. The Texas Attorney General's Office agrees to review the decision as critics point out that the law allowing trustees to lengthen their time in office required that the change be made before December 31, 2007. District lawyers defend the vote. "These people can't even do basic addition and subtraction. You expect them to follow a calendar?" says one DISD staff attorney.
Cherry pulpit: The Reverend Ed Young of the Grapevine-based Fellowship Church urges his congregation to have sex every day for one week in late November to strengthen their marriages. Some view Young's "sex challenge," delivered in a Sunday sermon whose topic was revealed in advance, as a publicity stunt to boost church attendance. The move backfires, however, when disappointed worshippers learn that Young meant married couples should have daily sex with each other.
Wah-wah: City Hall officials halt radio, television and Internet broadcasts of remarks made by speakers during the public-comment sessions routinely held at the end of city council meetings. No one in city management will admit to ordering the censorship at first, though it's later revealed that the broadcast ban was ordered by Mayor Tom "Vladimir" Leppert after complaints from council ally Dwaine Caraway, whose widdle feelwings was made all hurty from some of the mean ol' nasty things said to hims durwing the sessions. Leppert later vows to reconsider the ban after taking Caraway out for an ice cream sundae and a new comic book to cheer him up.
Welcome to Ground Zero II: President Bush and wife Laura announce they have purchased a home in North Dallas, where the couple will relocate after he leaves office in January. Local Realtors say the couple's planned move to 10141 Daria Place has created a flurry of interest in real estate. Unfortunately for Dallas, that interest is in Oklahoma City, as Preston Hollow residents load up their Lexuses and haul ass to get far away from the area before, as one neighborhood resident puts it, "men with beards start making things go ka-boom."
And finally: The Dallas City Council adopts a strict new anti-smoking ordinance that, come April, will ban smoking in most bars. With passage of the law, smoking is now prohibited in virtually all public indoor spaces in the city, excluding City Hall and DISD headquarters, where officials say they plan to keep blowing smoke forever and ever and ever and...
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