19 August 2002
Above us, only roof

From the Department of Why The Hell Not: The Air Force, having discovered that as much as half of its on-base housing for families is in disrepair, an issue which affects retention rates, is going to experiment at some bases with turning the facilities over to the private sector for maintenance and service. Altus Air Force Base in Oklahoma will be one of the early test sites. Under the scheme, private contractors will bid on first upgrading and then maintaining base housing. One hundred thirty-two of Altus' 966 units will be demolished; the 834 remaining will be refurbished, and 87 new units will be built. Base housing staff will meet with contractors this fall to begin the process.

Is this a Good Thing? Altus' Denise Hastye, in charge of the project, says:

"This is about quality of life. A person who has to go off to fight a war can't be worried about whether or not his family is being taken care of back home."

At least they seem to have their priorities in order.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:30 AM)
Brandification

Oklahoma and its residents, reports Mike Congrove at Fly Over Country, suffer from a social stigma: we are "a little slow, too rural, and unsophisticated." Much of this, though regrettably not all of it, is undeserved, but there's not a whole lot we can do about it.

Or is there? If business has an image problem, they call in the brand managers. It's time, says Mike, for Oklahoma to be "rebranded":

"First, change the name of the state. Oklahoma has too negative a connotation. Oklahoma City is a mouthful with a similar connotation. Change the name, redesign the flag, and hold a state-wide contest for a search for a new name. During the name changing ceremony, the governor could create a neat little historical caveat. He or she could officially secede from the Union for one minute then rejoin the Union under the new name. Trivia buffs everywhere would rejoice."

Well, "Baja Kansas" is probably out. Changing the name of the state is a drastic step, but Mike's right: the image of Oklahoma hovers somewhere between rustic and risible. And worse, its elected officials seem to like it that way. Maybe it will take something as dramatic as a name change — or the threat of annexation by Arkansas.

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:30 PM)
20 August 2002
You're running against whom?

I'm sure something like this has happened elsewhere at some point, but there's a definite Only In Oklahoma air about it just the same.

Glen Hampton is running (as an Independent) for one of the three Commissioner positions in McIntosh County, against incumbent Democrat J. D. Williams. Hampton's qualifications include experience on county road crews: he runs a grader under the supervision of, um, Commissioner J. D. Williams. Or anyway, he used to run a grader; Hampton reports that he was fired shortly after filing for the post with the county election board. Now Hampton has filed a $100,000 wrongful-termination tort claim against the county, which contends that he wasn't really fired but is on a leave of absence. Williams isn't saying a word, but this isn't the first time he's sacked someone and got slapped with litigation for so doing, either.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:40 AM)
Brandification 2

Lynn at Poet and Peasant takes on Mike Congrove's "Rebrand Oklahoma" proposal:

"I'm not a native Okie; I've only lived here for seven years but I've grown rather attached to the name. I like the way it rolls off the tongue. The only thing better would be one of those Native American derived names that are not pronounced quite like they are spelled. That would give us endless opportunities to laugh at the rest of the country. (I just love it when one of the local TV stations gets a new meteorologist from out of state.)"

They learn quickly enough: the TV stations go out of their way to mention every podunkular town possible during their alleged newscasts, and the aggrieved residents are quick to complain if their little paradise is mispronounced.

But nomenclature, Lynn thinks, is the least of our problems:

"The really bad part though is that politicians play to this inbred bunch. I don't think I've ever seen a local political ad in which the candidate didn't brag about how many generations of his family have lived in Oklahoma. (5 seems to be the magic number) Furthermore, every idiotic, right-wing extremist idea you can possibly think of is probably supported by the majority of Oklahomans if it didn't actually originate here."

Not everything "right-wing" can be fairly categorized as either "idiotic" or "extremist" — some such notions are occasionally endorsed in this corner, in fact — but a perfunctory glance through almost any issue of The Oklahoma Observer (geez, Frosty, get a Web site, wouldja?) will reveal some of what Lynn's talking about. If you've ever had any reservations about Bertrand Russell's quip that "there is not one word in the Gospels in praise of intelligence," a few weeks in Soonerland may prove to be scary.

Fortunately, our bloggers are brilliant.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:15 PM)
27 August 2002
Poll-dancing

Well, I'm just back from the voting "booth" — in actuality, it's a cardboard box with sides just high enough to keep Joe Schmoe from looking over your shoulder — and it occurs to me that if the idea of redrawing the precinct lines was to equalize the size of the precincts, they botched the job bigtime. Two adjacent precincts share this polling place, though they have separate staffs and separate machines, and the one in which I live had drawn four times as many voters with two hours (of twelve) left to go. Somebody needs to rethink these boundaries.

The one good thing about Oklahoma elections is that they're almost immune to Florida-style screwups. All the properly-marked ballots (improperly-marked ballots are immediately expelled by the machine and the voter is given another chance) are sealed, loaded into trucks and driven to the county seats; final results will be in well before midnight.

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:26 PM)
28 August 2002
The morning after

Even in Oklahoma, incumbents don't always get a free ride. State Senator Dave Herbert, first elected in 1986, was tossed out on his ear this time around by political novice Joe Smith, who had the advantage of name recognition — everyone knows a Joe Smith, even if it wasn't this Joe Smith — and a push from organized labor, which was presumably in the mood to punish Herbert for expediting a referendum on right-to-work. Smith is a Democrat; he will face Republican Cliff Aldridge in November.

Contrary to what some East Coast pundits might have thought, J. C. Watts didn't give up his seat in Congress because he feared being defeated this fall; even after redistricting, Watts wasn't in any danger. His anointed successor, political consultant Tom Cole, easily won the GOP nod for the Fourth District seat, and the top two Democrats will likely destroy each other in the runoff, which would put Cole in the so-far unfamiliar position of being able to hire his own political consultant.

And in the District 1 Commissioner race in Oklahoma County, previously harped on herein, it will be Jim Roth vs. Beverly Hodges in the general election.

The big story, though, is the gubernatorial race. Frank Keating won't be back due to term limits. Former First District Rep. Steve Largent breezed to an easy GOP primary win; the Democrats (again!) have a runoff. Vince Orza, who will likely win this runoff, ran for governor in 1990 when he was a relatively-moderate Republican. Whether he'll do any better as a relatively-conservative Democrat remains to be seen.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:25 AM)
2 September 2002
Another coat of paint

NewsOK.com, the joint venture between KWTV television and The Daily Oklahoman, got a facelift over the weekend. What it didn't get, of course, was an injection of content, so NewsOK.com remains what it was: exactly the sort of Web site you'd expect from two organizations who didn't put any work into their sites when they were separate.

On the plus side, at least they're not making you register, unless you're browsing the archives for items older than three days. The Tulsa World charges forty-five bucks a year for access to just about anything, which might be defensible if they carried anything much that wasn't already on the AP wire.

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:23 PM)
3 September 2002
The legend that was Lemons

He won 599 games, missing the 600th by one point in his last game before retirement. "Damn referees," he said. "I'll miss them less than anybody."

Abe Lemons had a quip for everything. He coached basketball for thirty-four years: eighteen at Oklahoma City University, three at Pan-American University, six at the University of Texas, and then seven more years at OCU.

"Maybe it would be best for me to finish at 599," said Abe. "People seem to like you better when you finish just short."

Naw. Everybody liked Abe, win or lose, and 63.6 percent of the time it was win.

And now he's gone. His name is over the door of the basketball arena at OCU; his influence will be felt by everyone in Oklahoma hoops for many years to come.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:43 AM)
4 September 2002
Remembrance at the bridge

Back on the 26th of May, the Interstate 40 bridge over the Arkansas River near Webbers Falls, Oklahoma was struck by two barges; a span collapsed into the river, and fourteen people were killed.

Funding has now been obtained to build a memorial at the site. The bridge has since been reopened and traffic is flowing normally, or as normally as it can flow on I-40. I rather expect that most drivers coming through won't pay a whole lot of attention to the memorial; this is fine with me, so long as they pay a whole lot of attention to their driving. Too many of them don't.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:30 AM)
17 September 2002
Round two

Runoff elections are today, and the two biggest races are on the Democratic side of the aisle, for seats currently held by Republicans.

Governor Frank Keating is out due to term limits, and while Rep. Steve Largent easily won the Republican primary, none of the four Democrats were runaway favorites, forcing a runoff. I tend to prefer Vince Orza over Brad Henry, Orza's previous dalliance with the GOP notwithstanding, and I'd prefer a bowl of blue Jell-O over Steve Largent.

David Walters, who used to be governor, and who got into some serious trouble with campaign finances during his term, will face Tom Boettcher for the right to lose to Senator Jim Inhofe in November.

There are other things going on, but these are the ones that are going to get the breathless, insipid local news coverage tonight.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:25 AM)
18 September 2002
The voters have spoken

And, in the case of the Oklahoma gubernatorial race, Democrats have declared that they'd rather have a candidate who has been loyal to the party apparatus than one who might actually win the general election.

Now to November, where Brad Henry will lose, and lose big, to a GOP empty suit.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:40 AM)
21 September 2002
Digital threats

The OkiePundit (you knew there had to be one, didn't you?) analyzes that business about the Muskogee student who was suspended for pointing a finger, weapon-like, at classmates.

I was going to say something to the effect of "They'll get my finger when they pry it off my cold, dead hand," but it's probably easier just to give it to them.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:21 PM)
26 September 2002
The Stevester makes the rounds

The OkiePundit reports on a sighting of the man widely expected to be the next governor:

"I actually spotted Steve Largent today, tooling around in his black SUV. He's working the powers hard. He needs to work the people harder. No one seems to know him."

Actually, in this state, working the powers is usually enough, and Largent, being (1) a certified Christian conservative and (2) very, very slow on the uptake, has probably already endeared himself to them. (There is no shortage of bright Christian conservatives, but they never seem to run for office around these parts.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:06 AM)
28 September 2002
Boosting the tech sector

Wynken, Blynken and Nod, the three candidates for governor of Oklahoma, do seem to agree on two things: that we ought to have a technology sector, and that it ought to be encouraged.

Oh, and one other thing: that the means by which this encouragement would be implemented should be as vague and inchoate as possible, at least until the election.

Actually, with dot-com dominoes still dropping, there may be nothing left of Oklahoma's tech sector by November but me. And frankly, none of these guys does anything for me.

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:06 AM)
29 September 2002
And the land we belong to is grist

What does the "Oklahoma Street" have to say about Life, The Universe, And Everything? The New York Times takes a stab at it, but Greg Hlatky has already figured out where the Times buys its knives.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:16 AM)
1 October 2002
Rhymin' man

Lynn Sislo, grumbling about that New Jersey hack Amiri Baraka:

"Frankly, I have no idea whether my state, Oklahoma, has a poet laureate or not. I suppose we have, but even though I'm more interested in that sort of thing than most people in my neck o' the woods, I have never heard of the Poet Laureate of Oklahoma."

Well, we do have one. In fact, we have a new one every two years, appointed by the governor. Through 2002, it's Carl Sennhenn, whose day job is Associate Dean of Humanities at Rose State College in Midwest City.

You're welcome.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:30 PM)
9 October 2002
The number crunch

Two hundred thirteen million dollars.

That's how much the state of Oklahoma is going to come up short in the FY 2003 budget. Absent some sort of divine intervention, or, say, Eddie Gaylord putting the whole deficit on his MasterCard, spending must be cut — the state Constitution prohibits going into the hole — and each department is expected to pull its own weight.

The Department of Corrections has a budget-cutting plan which involves furloughing (a state term meaning "involuntary unpaid vacation") its staffers for a total of twenty-three days between now and the 30th of June. Upset, a couple of hundred Corrections employees put in an appearance at the steps of the Capitol, hoping to draw attention to themselves and their plight. Corrections is, by some estimates, about 20 percent understaffed already, so the furloughs will exacerbate matters, but there simply isn't any extra money at the moment, the Legislature is not in session and will not likely be called into special session between now and Election Day, and revenue projections continue to decline.

What does the state plan to do? There's little or no support for raising taxes, and enacting new ones is even less likely. Maybe Oklahoma can start buying tickets in the Kansas lottery.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:26 AM)
12 October 2002
Unanimity in the House

Well, not exactly, but the Oklahoma delegation, five Republicans and one Democrat, went for House Joint Resolution 114 — the resolution that authorized the President to use force against Iraq — six to zip.

I'm curious: did any other state delegation with three or more Representatives vote this way?

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:59 PM)
14 October 2002
One step beyond drug court

The county's so-called Drug Court, which provides an alternate jurisdiction for nonviolent drug offenses — individuals who plead guilty to same are put on treatment programs and report to the Drug Court rather than to the normal (and overcrowded) criminal-justice system — is apparently successful enough to justify a spinoff. The new Mental Health Court will open on the first of November and will provide supervision for offenders who are diagnosed with a recognizable mental illness. Given the sheer number of people who might qualify — county officials estimate that 20 percent of current jail inmates are "severely" mental ill — this court could further reduce the backlog at Criminal Court.

The state authorized this court during the past legislative session, but provided no funding for it, so the county is scrambling for money to operate the court and has asked for $500,000 next fiscal year. Sounds like a bargain to me, if it works.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:20 AM)
15 October 2002
Muffins fresh from the meadow

I have tended to regard outgoing 1st District Representative Steve Largent, currently running for governor, as the emptiest of empty suits. Apparently, though, he is discerning enough to recognize crapola when he hears it.

Two cheers, maybe 2.2.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:31 PM)
21 October 2002
Racked with pain

The OkiePundit scans the magazine rack at the supermarket, and he is not impressed:

Well, while I'm here I might as well see if they have the latest issue of Scientific American. Ummm. Well, they have Guns & Ammo and American Metal over there. There's Rod and Steel, Soldier of Fortune, Heavy Metal, and Maxim there. No, it wouldn't be there. Up here are the women's magazines, Redbook, Home & Garden, Sixteen, etc, etc. Every one of them had a big headline about how to have super sex and satisfy their man. Who are these women who are obsessed with sex? Where are they? I know where they aren't — anywhere within sight. There must be over 100 publications before my eyes and not a one of them is the least bit cerebral in nature. Every magazine is designed to appeal to testosterone, homemaking, or the most mindless of pastimes. Forget Scientific American, they don't even carry Popular Science. Do college graduates not shop for groceries? Is there a secret food supply for the thinking part of society that I don't know about?

Scientific American sells fewer than 150,000 copies on newsstands worldwide. The number of copies finding their way into Oklahoma food stores is inevitably very small.

And I bet there are probably more college graduates reading Guns & Ammo than he thinks.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:03 PM)
23 October 2002
Slouching towards ignominy

The Columbia Journalism Review hands out Darts and Laurels as deemed appropriate, a feature copied by, among others, The Oklahoma Observer (which uses the same terminology) and TV Guide (where it's Cheers and Jeers). For that matter, even my site could be said to be ripping off CJR; over in the navigation section, there is a list of "Inspirations" and another of "Irritations".

And speaking of Darts, The Daily Oklahoman was the only media organization to pick up two (of seven delivered) in the current CJR. I tend to doubt that this brings them much in the way of bragging rights, but you never know with the Oklahoman; they've always seemed to enjoy the edge of pariahdom.

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:17 PM)
26 October 2002
Soon everything will BOK

Bank of Oklahoma's corporate sister, Bank of Texas (well, of course), is going after lone-starred dollars in a big way, picking up a Houston bank and looking for other acquisitions. With the oil patch wasting away in Mergerville, hardly anything seems to have headquarters in Oklahoma anymore, so maybe the rise of a BOK Financial empire will bring some investment money this way.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:54 AM)
27 October 2002
Berserk? We got that

I've been to Sallisaw, Oklahoma a couple of times, and while it would be unfair to call it "sleepy", it's not the most rambunctious place on the map.

Yesterday, some self-absorbed high-school doofus took it upon himself to wake up the place in the worst way, and when his petulant tirade ended — the police shot out the tires of his pickup truck — two people were dead, at least eight were hurt, and the twerp was in jail. He's 18, so they'll throw the book at him.

This being Oklahoma, no one is likely to start shrieking about some imagined need for stricter gun laws, but there's always going to be the question: "How is it that this state produces so many goddamn idiots?" None of the standard responses — weird religious groups, generally low educational levels, scant per capita income, proximity to Texas and/or Arkansas — is likely to provide any answers.

(Before you comment: I was strange before I got here.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:58 AM)
28 October 2002
The budget crunch

The Tulsa World poll shows that while Oklahomans want something done about the sad state of the state budget, they're not in agreement on exactly what that something should be.

Fully 77 percent of the respondents were happy to increase so-called "sin" taxes, though there was no real enthusiasm for any other tax or fee increases. And while 77 percent (again!) called for trimming waste at state agencies, no individual agency is considered the worst offender.

The state has no choice but to balance its budget — it's a Constitutional requirement — and what's most likely to happen is that state agencies will go through the motions of tightening their belts, and low-level state employees will be sacrificed to preserve the positions of their bosses. In other words, nothing new.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:40 AM)
30 October 2002
Though this be madness

Yet there is meth in't: while state agencies in places like Florida and New Jersey agonize over the fate of absentee ballots, Oklahoma takes a free-market approach. Down in Keota, a wide spot in the road in Haskell County, an absentee ballot is worth $20 or the equivalent quantity of methamphetamine.

Then again, what's an equivalent quantity? The powers that be figure three pounds of the stuff to be worth $800,000, so I'm figuring that either it's a far, far better drug than anything I take, or they're quoting Pentagon prices.

Meanwhile, the snarky (and dashedly cute) Arkansawyer at Liquid Courage has some suitable thoughts on the subject.

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:46 PM)
31 October 2002
Sallisaw shooting update

Daniel Fears got his first day in court yesterday, during which he was read eighteen charges, including two charges of first-degree murder. Preliminary hearings will be 24 February; until then, Fears will remain in the Sallisaw jail. The defense will likely file a request for a mental-competency hearing in the interim. And the little town on I-40 will wonder just what it was that they had seen last weekend: a young man gone temporarily bonkers, or a brief but lethal flash of pure evil.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:59 AM)
1 November 2002
Dark, foreboding questions

Last night I was sitting at my desk, waiting for the arrival of various ghosts and goblins, and, in tune with the date, I was contemplating the kinds of pain and sorrow that I could reasonably expect in the next few years, other than the obvious one of going to work. Two things hit me at once: I have a dental appointment next Tuesday, and right after that appointment, I get to stuff myself into the voting booth.

Okay, not the stuff of medieval torture chambers, but certainly enough to register on the Discomfort Meter. And since I'd already picked out my candidates, I figured I might as well do some research on the bevy of State Questions on this year's ballot. The results, such as they are, can be seen in The Vent. As for the ghosts and goblins, they apparently got the night off.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:33 AM)
Everybody's heard about the bird

Lynn Sislo is not impressed with Oklahoma cockfighting or its boosters:

I can't tell you how appalled I am that there are actually some people so lacking in shame that they come right out in public — on television — and defend cockfighting as just another form of entertainment, like we were trying to ban baseball or something.

Well, of course not. Nobody bets on baseball. Except Pete Rose.

Lynn continues:

Apparently these pro-cockfighting people don't realize, or more likely just don't care, that cockfighting is the ultimate symbol of backward, stupid, white trash, low-life, scum of the Earth, low down filth that even a snake wouldn't slither over for fear of contaminating itself. Is it any wonder that the rest of the country thinks Oklahoma is backward? But of course we don't care. We are Oklahoma and we're proud and we must keep the rest of [the] country from stealing our children and contaminating them with those evil 20th century ideas.

Taking the last point first, the country isn't stealing our children; they're high-tailing it out of here first chance they get.

But I wrestled with this question (which is, incidentally, State Question 687) for half a day, and while I suspect I find the cockfighting culture, such as it is, every bit as distasteful as Lynn does, I'm not ready to baldly go where so many have gone before and say, "I hate this. Let's ban it." If I could ban everything I didn't like, there wouldn't be a hell of a lot left.

Still, the ban is likely to pass — last poll I heard projected 62 percent in favor — and being excessively introspective by nature, I have to wonder: how much of my position is based on rock-bottom conviction, and how much is an effort to persuade myself that I'm much more open-minded than anyone else thinks?

Welcome to Dustbury, where every guess comes with a second-guess free.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:24 PM)
2 November 2002
Dead heat on the merry-go-round

A month ago, I'd have told you that Steve Largent, former First District congressman now running for governor, was a shoo-in. Now I'm not so sure. The gap between Largent, a Republican, and Democratic rival Brad Henry, is within the margin of error of your favorite poll. And Independent Gary Richardson is actually not trailing by much; instead of the expected two or three percent for someone outside the D/R axis, Richardson is pulling more than 20 percent in the polls.

The usual last-minute sources of campaign funds are coming through on schedule, and the advertising blitz is on. This one, I think, is going right down to the wire.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:19 AM)
3 November 2002
For your consideration

Not that anyone takes my advice on anything, but these are the results I'm looking for on Tuesday:

Governor: It's hard to work up much enthusiasm for any of these guys. Brad Henry is your average faceless Democrat, and the GOP's Steve Largent basically does what he's told. That leaves Independent Gary Richardson, who is a flake. But he's an independent flake, and weirder yet, he's not trailing by much. At the very least, he would make things interesting, and in Oklahoma, where the governor's powers are rather sharply circumscribed anyway, "interesting" counts for more than you'd think it would.

Lieutenant Governor: Republican Mary Fallin has done this job for four years without causing too much grief. But Laura Boyd, one of the smartest (if occasionally one of the more quixotic, for a Democrat anyway) state legislators we've had in recent years, is running against her, after going nowhere in the governor's race in 1998, and I'd like to see her back in the public eye.

US Senate: This boils down to a choice between former Democratic governor David Walters, ambitious but deeply flawed, and incumbent Republican Jim Inhofe, who has no depth of any kind. It's Walters, barely, but he isn't going to win this one anyway.

US House, District 1: John Sullivan, the Republican incumbent, has been mostly an embarrassment. I don't expect much better from Democrat Doug Dodd, but rotating the idiots is closer to my idea of democracy in action.

US House, District 2: The GOP's sacrificial lamb in the most Democratic district in the state is one Kent Pharaoh. Incumbent Brad Carson will wash him into the sea.

US House, District 3: Frank Lucas, who used to represent District 6 back when we had a District 6, is easily the best of the current Republicans in the state delegation; the Democrats didn't even bother to put up an opponent this year. There's an Independent running on general principles, but Lucas is the master of this domain.

US House, District 4: The old stomping grounds of J. C. Watts. Longtime GOP attack dog Tom Cole is certainly more interesting, and possibly less annoying, than colorless Democratic state rep Darryl Roberts.

US House, District 5: Anything sentient, and some things that aren't, would be an improvement over Republican incumbent Ernest Istook. Neither Democrat Lou Barlow nor Independent Donna Davis has impressed greatly, but then, they don't have to; I'd prefer Davis.

Attorney General: It's Democrat Drew Edmondson over Republican Denise Bode; Bode was unimpressive during her stay at the Corporation Commission, and Edmondson annoys the state's fat cats, always a good sign.

Superintendent of Public Education: I've supported Sandy Garrett, the Democratic incumbent, in the past, but I think she's stayed too long and become too entrenched. I have some qualms about Lloyd Roettger, the GOP challenger; still, it's time for a change at this office, so here's to Dr. Roettger.

Labor Commissioner: Had Tim Pope won the Republican primary for this position, I'd have voted for him, if only because he was actually willing to question whether the post was worth keeping. Incumbent Brenda Reneau Wynn, who did win the primary, has always rubbed me the wrong way, and she has the unique distinction of being the only statewide officeholder ever to have a Tulsa World endorsement revoked. On the other hand, Lloyd Fields, last seen as a Democratic state representative, has thus far given me no reason to think he will do much to improve the system.

Insurance Commissioner: (Yeah, I know, why is this an elective office?) Incumbent Carroll Fisher, a Democrat, is fairly innocuous; opponent Doug Barry, a Republican, argues mainly that he's not Carroll Fisher. Advantage, such as it is: Fisher.

Auditor and Inspector: I'm inclined to give this one to Democrat Jeff McMahan, protégé of retiring auditor Clifton Scott, whose track record was pretty decent, though I see no real faults in Republican Gary Jones.

And that's the way I see 'em. That and $2.99 (plus tax) will get you one of the cheaper combo meals, if you don't upsize anything.

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:35 PM)
This year's State Questions

Briefly:

693, 696, 697, 701, 702, 703: YES.

687, 698, 704: NO.

My reasoning, or lack thereof, can be seen here.

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:39 PM)
5 November 2002
The time has come

One hour to go before the polls close, and the state's estimate of one million voters strikes me as just a hair on the low side. At my precinct, there was a steady stream at 5 pm, but with a dozen "booths" available, things moved quickly enough; I was in and out in less than three and a half minutes. Then again, I knew (in fact, most of you knew) exactly which boxes I was going to mark.

Projections of winners, you ask? Too early yet.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:00 PM)
And when the smoke had cleared...

Goodbye, Steve, and don't let a towel hit you in the keister on the way out.

Brad Henry, who wasn't even the front-runner in the Democratic gubernatorial primary, appears to have won all the marbles tonight, sliding past Steve Largent in what was thought to be a safe Republican slot. In his report for Fly Over Country, Chris explains why:

  1. Most important reason, he ran a race that treated the Governorship as already his. Meaning, he didn't run a race. Brad Henry outhustled him.
  2. The Independent/Crazy Guy, take your pick, drew votes from Largent.
  3. The voting on the whether to ban cockfighting in OK. Southeastern/Eastern OK, where most of the cockfighting takes place is HEAVILY Democratic, and a lot of people got out to vote against the ban who probably voted for Henry.

Makes sense to me.

On the other hand, the GOP doesn't have a whole lot else to cry about; they will still hold all but one seat in the state's Congressional delegation, returning three incumbents and holding the District 4 seat vacated by J. C. Watts. (The Fox News site called District 4 for Democrat Darryl Roberts about an hour ago, which may have been a typo, since they hadn't called Districts 2 or 3, which were never in doubt; AP and other sources have called District 4 for Republican Tom Cole.)

But what you really want to know is: what about those cocks? Back and forth, up and down, all night, so far. But with 90 percent of the precincts reporting, the cockfighting ban was starting to catch on at the 54-percent level, and it looks like it will hold up.

The Oklahoma State Election Board will certify results on or before Friday afternoon, and they'll be readable here.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:36 PM)
7 November 2002
Last gasp for fighting fowl

Oklahoma State Rep. Frank Shurden (D-Henryetta), one of the more reliably loose cannons in the legislature, has announced that he's planning a bill for next session to reduce the penalties for cockfighting imposed by the newly-enacted ban. No one, says Shurden, should have to serve jail time for participating.

And Shurden may have an ally in Governor-elect Brad Henry, who in the past has characterized the penalties as too severe and yesterday said that the cure might be worse than the disease.

What is most likely to happen, with or without Shurden's bill, is that cockfighting will eventually become one of those laws which is enforced selectively: the state is likely to look the other way unless they're trying to stick it to someone for some other reason. In rural Oklahoma, things will go on pretty much the way they always have.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:16 AM)
14 November 2002
Cocks and other American oddities

Yeah, I know: The Guardian. But Matthew Engel actually manages to make some sense of the Oklahoma cockfighting dust-up:

[L]ike certain Oklahoman sheriffs who have grumpily muttered that they have better things to do than deal with damn fool stuff like this, I have severe doubts about this particular law's enforceability....As thousands of years of trying to ban prostitution have shown, it is mighty difficult to make anything illegal where cocks are concerned. And as the US draws in more and more migrants from countries such as Mexico, where cockfighting remains part of the culture, this will get harder, not easier.

And a point I myself made somewhere along the way:

A cockfight is a bloody business, involving tying knives to the birds' feet to make it even bloodier, but they are pampered until they get into the pit — and how come this cruelty is a political issue, and the treatment of our dinner is not?

Then again, it wouldn't be The Guardian without a shot at what's really bothering them:

This is not, however, the prelude to a ban on shooting, the more so as the infinitely richer and more powerful gun lobby has been greatly strengthened by the Republicans' successes last week....Personally, I feel a lot less alarmed by the atavistic rural barbarism of cockfighting, than by the shooters' insistence that, in order to preserve their sports, it is necessary to veto any laws that might make it easier to prevent murderous maniacs terrorising millions for weeks on end.

Somehow I have a feeling that if there had been a cockfighting referendum in, say, Gaza, there wouldn't be any snide references to "murderous maniacs".

(Muchas gracias: Andrea Harris.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:32 AM)
17 November 2002
A reminiscence of sorts

I never knew Jenkin Lloyd Jones, who worked his way up the ranks at The Tulsa Tribune to the publisher's office, but anyone who cared anything about Oklahoma journalism in those days knew his work, and mourned ten years ago when the Tribune closed its doors. A few thoughts along these lines, this week in The Vent, now in issue #317 with no (well, not much) sign of slowing down.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:39 PM)
18 November 2002
A bridge too fallible

When The Road Information Program announced in May that Oklahoma had the worst bridges in the country, almost none of us were surprised; while only one bridge in the state (I-44 at 51st in Tulsa) made the Bottom 100 list, fully a third of the state's bridges are considered "structurally deficient," and another 7 percent are "functionally obsolete."

Bringing all these bridges up to spec would cost about $5.4 billion, which of course we don't have. Senator Jim Inhofe is chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, which means that he may be able to scare up a few more dollars in federal highway funds. In an unexpected move, Robert Milacek, a Republican state senator from Enid, has proposed a state vote on an increase in fuel taxes to pay for improvements. The alternative? Perhaps federal "wheel stamps," to help pay for auto suspension parts broken while trying to traverse these battered old bridges.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:09 AM)
19 November 2002
Flying feathers

How predictable was this? District Judge Willard Driesel has granted a temporary injunction barring enforcement of Oklahoma's new cockfighting ban in the area of his jurisdiction: Choctaw, McCurtain and Pushmataha counties. A permanent injunction will be sought; the state has already announced it will appeal the judge's decision.

Judge Driesel, for his part, has a problem with the ban as written: "You're making extinct the very bird the state says it is trying to protect." If he'd stopped there...but no. Instead, he took the plunge into Preposterous Metaphor Land with this whopper: "We punish child molesters but don't prohibit the raising of children."

Anyone up for a statewide ban on schoolyard fights?

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:21 AM)
24 November 2002
A tweak of the beak

It's a safe bet that no one knows for sure just how things are going to work out with this new ban on cockfighting. Last week, a judge ordered a temporary injunction against its enforcement in three southeastern counties.

Perhaps we can learn something from Kentucky's experience. Cockfighting has been illegal in Kentucky for over a hundred years, but it still goes on, and law enforcement gives it a relatively low priority; last year, Mike Hall, Pike County Attorney, asked about those priorities, snapped, "As soon as we get rid of all the drug problems and drunk driving and domestic violence, I'm going to ask the police to mount an all-out effort against chicken fighting."

I suspect this may take a while.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:25 PM)
26 November 2002
Want some seafood, Mama

Well, there's the Port of Catoosa, outside Tulsa, which actually supports a fair amount of shipping (barging?) traffic, but other than that, we're pretty much landlocked here in Soonerland. We don't care. You walk into Albertson's and head for the Butcher Block meat counter in the back, and you'll find that two-thirds of the space is used to display shrimp and fish and lobster and crab, and only a smidgen of it is that fake "krab" stuff made of ground mopheads. There were even dolphins at the Oklahoma City Zoo, until some of them took ill and the zoo eventually decided to close the exhibit.

No dolphins at the new Oklahoma Aquarium, which will open in the spring near Jenks. They expect half a million visitors a year, and I can't imagine them missing the target; we do love our wet stuff.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:51 AM)
5 December 2002
God's own prune

The Big Tree in the courtyard is suddenly about one-third less Big; the ice storm frosted up the limbs, a hard freeze afterwards made sure the ice wasn't going to melt, and gravity took care of the rest.

I don't think it's doomed — while there's a nasty break in the trunk, it's not the worst this tree has ever suffered — but if you're in the habit, as I am, of thinking that trees are something that endure no matter what, the sight of massive branches not exactly writhing on the ground is a shock to the system.

Besides, I know better than "no matter what"; another tree in the same courtyard, twenty-five feet away or so, fell victim to bagworms a few years ago and did not recover. Only a fragment of stump and an odd grass pattern remain to attest to its existence.

Evidently reminders of mortality have more effect on me now than they did when I was young and semi-indestructible.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:29 AM)
7 December 2002
Do we read his lips?

Governor-elect Brad Henry said yesterday that he will oppose a proposal to raise Oklahoma's state sales tax from 4.5 to 5.5 percent as a way to fill the estimated $700 million shortfall in the state's budget.

This is perhaps a tad less courageous than it looks: almost every county in the state levies an additional sales tax, as do most municipalities. Add it all up and you're paying a stiff 8.375 percent in Oklahoma City, which isn't even the highest in the state. It's not likely that Henry would want to start his term by pushing some Oklahoma towns perilously close to ten percent, especially if there's some joker around to point out that the sales tax in New York City is a mere 8.25 percent.

But still: a Democrat who disdains raising taxes. How often do you get to hear that?

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:04 AM)
Without honor in our own home

George Lang churned out a five-page piece about blogs for the Oklahoma Gazette this week, with quotes from Joshua Micah Marshall, Andrew Sullivan and Joe Conason, screen shots from all of the above plus one from Glenn Reynolds, and the obligatory interview with a journalism professor — in this case, Mark Hanebutt of the University of Central Oklahoma, who opined:

If I were an editor again at a paper, I would be assigning somebody to pay attention to these. If you look at some of these Web logs, it's people who are talking about the aftereffects, the aftershocks, the fallout of an event and how it might affect them or how it might push over other dominoes.

Reasonable enough. But George, couldn't you have found it in your heart to talk to so much as one blogger actually in Oklahoma?

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:39 PM)
14 December 2002
Pox Americana

NewsOK.com, the Web site of The Daily Oklahoman and KWTV, is asking visitors "Do you want the smallpox vaccine?" As poll questions go, this one ought to get points for simplicity, if nothing else.

As of this writing, just over 40 percent of the respondents have said "Yes." (The only other response was "No," which of necessity is drawing just under 60 percent.) This isn't at all scientific, of course, but I wonder if comparable figures are available from other areas.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:49 PM)
15 December 2002
Don of a new Congress

What everyone wants to know, apparently, is whether Senator Don Nickles (R-OK) can wrest the Majority Leader position away from Trent "You don't know how sorry I am, but just wait" Lott.

It is no particular secret that Nickles has been pining for Lott's job. But with the rest of the Senate Republicans basically sitting on their hands, Nickles' call for a new vote looks almost like Actual Leadership, something the GOP has not been getting from Lott. Oklahoma Republicans are giddy over the prospect, and given the electoral drubbing they got this fall — expected to make substantial gains, they lost a couple of legislative seats and the Governor's mansion to boot — it's perfectly understandable.

What sort of person is Don Nickles? On the left-right scale, he's not so far from Lott: the American Conservative Union's lifetime ratings put Lott at 93, Nickles at 96; Lott got a zero in 2001 from Americans for Democratic Action, who gave Nickles a 10. Myself, I find him a tad indigestible, though nowhere nearly as distress-inducing as the other Oklahoma senator, Jim Inhofe, a man to whom clues are a personal affront. And I've been known to grumble about Nickles' off-again-on-again support for term limits (hint: when it comes to him, it's off). But the GOP could do a hell of a lot, or a Lott, worse.

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:40 PM)
18 December 2002
Lock box

Those huge sort-of-rectangular shipping containers are common sights at port cities, not so common elsewhere. Certainly you wouldn't expect one in Calera, Oklahoma. But there it is, next door to the police department, blocking the view of the mural painted on the building's side.

This big ol' box is Calera's response to being charged as much as $800 a month by Bryan County for use of the county jail. The shipping container can hold as many as twelve inmates on a short-term basis; cots are anchored to the interior walls.

Many residents consider the box to be an eyesore, and after the complaints started to pile up, the trustees of the town decided to schedule an election in March to determine whether it should be kept or removed.

Me? I don't know. It's definitely not very pretty. On the other hand, it's a jail, not a museum; a certain amount of starkness would seem to be inherent in the concept.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:30 AM)
19 December 2002
Slash, then slash some more

For fiscal year 2004, the state of Oklahoma will have approximately $600 million less to spend, a ten-percent hit to the state's budget.

That's the glum story from the Office of State Finance, which each year is required to produce revenue projections for the next year. The Board of Equalization may tweak the figures before the Legislature approves a budget in February. But there's simply no way to tweak away a deficit this large, and since the state Constitution prohibits deficit spending, there will be cuts. Big cuts. The state income tax will rise slightly because of an automatic indexing provision enacted a few years back, but the operative word is "slightly".

It's going to be a long year for state planners.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:19 AM)
23 December 2002
Home of the Whopper

The local Burger King franchise will pay $187,000 to settle a civil-rights lawsuit filed by a male employee with learning disabilities who claims he was strip-searched and sexually harassed by a female assistant manager.

I'd say that it seems he learned fast enough, but that would be cruel and uncalled-for.

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:24 PM)
26 December 2002
It's a gas

It's no particular secret that Oklahoma, like many other states, is in dire financial straits this year, no thanks to a stagnant economy and rising expenses.

There is one bright spot on the horizon, though: natural gas prices, while not quite through the roof, are definitely knocking on the ceiling. And Oklahoma, a major producer of the stuff, collects a production tax based upon those prices.

The state budget anticipates $252 million from the tax this coming year, a projection based upon an expected market price of $2.52/mcf (thousand cubic feet). However, the current market price, due to low production and nasty weather, is more than twice that: the closing price Tuesday was $5.15, and most analysts expect the price to hold above $4.00 for at least a year, maybe longer, depending on how much (if any) production increases. At four bucks per mcf, the take from the gas-production tax would be about $147 million higher, which would put a sizable dent in the state's projected $593 million shortfall.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:04 AM)
29 December 2002
Wanna bet?

After that West Virginia chap picked up some spare change in the Powerball game this month, a small circle of Sooners started wondering out loud just why it is that Oklahoma doesn't have a lottery of its own. The short answer is simple: the last time it was put to a vote of the people, it lost, and Brad Henry, then a state senator, tried but failed to get a new initiative on the ballot this year.

In 2003, though, Brad Henry is the governor, and will have more of a bully pulpit to push for the numbers game. But there's yet another sticky wicket: should the state enact a lottery, the door will be opened for lotteries to be operated by Native American tribes in the state.

Tribal lotteries could theoretically put a serious dent into a state-run game, since they won't have receipts earmarked for state purposes and won't pay state taxes, which means that they could offer bigger jackpots, which will attract money that might otherwise have gone to the state lotto. Other forms of tribal gaming exist in the state already and are largely flourishing, though there's nothing here to compare with, say, Foxwoods.

But would the state's forty or so tribes strike out on their own, or band together to produce one really big game? A lot of questions are out there, and the answers seem a long way off.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:37 AM)
8 January 2003
Reaching for the sky

On the 26th of May, 2002, a barge took out a 400-foot section of bridge on Interstate 40 in eastern Oklahoma near Webbers Falls, dropping ten vehicles 50 feet into the Arkansas River. Fourteen people were killed.

The monument planned for the Webbers Falls area — the bridge has since been reconstructed and reopened — will stand fourteen feet tall (of course) and will be topped off by the sculpture of a girl, her arms raised skyward, to commemorate the youngest victim, a three-year-old Arkansas girl. The monument will be constructed in part with metal from the wrecked bridge.

Assuming there is a World Tour 2003, and further assuming that the monument will be completed by mid-July when WT03 is most likely to occur, I'll schedule a side trip to see it up close.

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:25 PM)
16 January 2003
Scratch and discard

In case anyone had any doubts about it, Governor Henry was serious about that we-need-a-lottery business he was spouting before the election. He's got a sponsor for a lottery measure in the State House, and is shopping for a Senate sponsor. The Democratic establishment seems to be viewing the prospect favorably; the Republicans, dominated by conservative Christians, are likely not keen on the idea, but I believe they'll go along with Henry's call for a referendum, since this issue has been up for a vote before and it has always lost.

Last month, I raised the spectre of tribal gaming as a potential threat to a state lottery. Henry isn't worried; he says the tribes don't have the infrastructure — in particular, they don't have enough retail access — to implement a lottery large enough to present a threat.

If the Guv gets his way, the referendum will be in late summer. I want to see the particulars before I decide how I'll vote on it.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:46 AM)
22 January 2003
Diminished chords

Monday, a task force led by Tulsa Mayor Bill LaFortune will discuss the disbanding of the Tulsa Philharmonic, and what, if anything, can be done about it. The orchestra's board, seeing no way to get around a debt load of $1 million, has suspended the rest of the season and closed the office.

We know this situation here at the other end of the Turner Turnpike. The Oklahoma Symphony Orchestra folded in 1988. It took some doing, a lot of donations, and some concessions from the American Federation of Musicians, but we have an orchestra again. There's really no reason they can't do the same in Tulsa.

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:20 PM)
23 January 2003
Not a birthday, exactly

I made a point of keeping my mouth shut yesterday, the 30th anniversary of the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision, mainly because I felt I didn't have anything to add to the debate, although I must point out in passing that however impassioned one's defense of Roe, it will likely never be as eloquent as some of its denunciations.

In Oklahoma, Rep. Kevin Calvey took advantage of the, um, festivities to announce a bill which would require the State Department of Health to issue a standard abortion information packet, and would impose a 24-hour waiting period before the procedure can be undertaken. While Calvey didn't go into a lot of detail regarding the contents of the packet, it can be safely assumed that it's not all sweetness and light, and the state ACLU, right on cue, complained.

And round and round we go again, Roe, Roe, Roe, not at all gently and not even slightly merrily. [Obvious next line excised because, well, it's obvious.]

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:18 AM)
27 January 2003
License to kvetch

Last year, the Oklahoma legislature, noting substantial increases in the state's Spanish-speaking population, passed a measure written by Sen. Bernest Cain (D-Oklahoma City) to make the state driver's test available in Spanish — though it has yet to be implemented because of a lack of funding.

This year, there's a new bill, courtesy of Rep. Ron Kirby (D-Lawton), which would require that all "official state business" be conducted in English. Cain says that Kirby's bill will supersede his; Kirby says it will do no such thing. It seems likely that if Kirby's bill should pass, the state Supreme Court will wind up deciding the matter.

And language isn't the only issue with driver's licenses this year, either. In the 1970s, state law mandated that anything on your head except prescription glasses be removed before taking the photograph to be affixed to your license, a law which remains in effect. There are no religious exemptions, for Muslim women or Roman Catholic nuns or anyone else, but here's where it gets interesting: the vast majority of license renewals are issued, not by the Department of Public Safety, but by independent agencies contracted by the state, and the law provides no penalties should the agencies fail to comply. I expect the law will be rewritten eventually, but not this year.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:33 AM)
3 February 2003
The state of the state

The major interest when a new governor has to give a State of the State speech right away is how much of his campaign agenda he will be flogging, and Brad Henry was up to the task today.

After a moment of silence for the Columbia crew, Henry pointed to the state's budget shortfall, and declared: "Our will has outstripped our wallet." The condition of that wallet didn't stop him from proposing some new expenditures, but so what else is new? At least he didn't suggest raising taxes or the ubiquitous "user fees". And once again, he called for a state lottery, receipts to be earmarked for education.

It will be an interesting year in the legislature, to be sure. Henry has a Democratic majority to work with, but not much of one, and the Republicans aren't giving out any signals just yet.

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:00 PM)
5 February 2003
J. C. gets a day job

Former Representative J. C. Watts, drawing on his experiences in Congress and as a University of Oklahoma football star, will be writing a monthly column for The Sporting News, on the role of sports in contemporary society. The first installment will appear in next Monday's issue (10 February).

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:58 AM)
7 February 2003
Do you know where your pervs are?

Following up on a report that 33,000 sex offenders who are supposed to be in California's Megan's Law database aren't there at all, the national Parents for Megan's Law organization started checking the other 49 states and asking "And how are your databases?"

In Oklahoma, at least, they stink; according to PFML, half of the state's sex offenders aren't in the state database, a figure roughly twice the national average, promptly disputed by state officials. Brian Johnson at Corrections says there will be an audit of the database, but cautions against expecting too much from the list, or from Megan's Law itself:

"There's three reasons to have a sex offender registry. One is public protection, the second is it supports law enforcement investigations and it might prevent future acts of criminal behavior. I'm not aware of any research that says any of those things are accomplished."

And, in fact, the Supreme Court heard two cases last fall challenging Megan's Law. I've always been a little uneasy about this law myself — why is it, for instance, we don't register armed robbers or white-collar criminals or other people who present threats to the community? — but you know the drill: if it's for The Children™, it must be good.

(The Children™  is a trademark of Juan Gato.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:43 AM)
9 February 2003
Shurden's new game

Sometimes it's hard to get a grip on Frank Shurden. For years and years he's been pushing for a measure to allow chemical castration of sex offenders, and more recently he's been trying to come up with a workaround for cockfighting proponents, who were supposedly dealt the death blow in November's election; his most recent thinking on the subject is some sort of "county option".

The tendency, therefore, is to write off the Henryetta Democrat as some kind of crank. But, the Oklahoma legislature being full of such, it's not the disadvantage you might think. So it's Frank Shurden who gets to introduce the governor's lottery scheme into the Senate, and only God and Frosty Troy know how much wheeling and dealing will go into the final package.

The OkiePundit is not inclined to cut Shurden any slack:

Like a spoiled brat, [Shurden] has tried at every turn to change the rules of the game each time he loses. Given this M.O. by Shurden, the Legislature should consider Shurden's lottery bill only as a county-option. If the lottery loses when and if it comes up for a vote of the people this year we should assume that Shurden will disregard the will of the citizens and try in 2004 to pass legislation to institute a lottery in counties that voted in favor of the lottery.

Of course, a county-option lottery wouldn't work worth a darn — at best, it would increase the take from the state's fuel tax from people driving across the state to buy tickets where they could — but it could be just the thing for lottery opponents, who, after a few months of so-so business, will be able to point and say "See? We told you so!" In Oklahoma, this ability is prized more highly than gold. Or natural gas, anyway.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:09 AM)
14 February 2003
Still ahead of Senegal

The Oklahoma Department of Health issued its annual We Are In Sorry-Ass Shape report yesterday, complete with ominous warnings and the usual gratuitous Third World comparison — this time to Costa Rica, where the estimated life expectancy is a tick or two higher than Oklahoma's. I searched in vain for a video from Costa Rica's last killer ice storm.

Who gets the blame? Some of it goes to the state's residents themselves, who simply can't bring themselves to conform to the standards of the New Puritanism, and some of it goes to the state, which has inexplicably failed to quintuple the tobacco tax or to enact anything resembling mandatory health insurance.

"The current state of the state's health," says the report, is "unacceptable." Well, of course. Were it excellent, you'd all be out of a job.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:26 AM)
20 February 2003
Undoing the cockfighting ban

State Senator Frank Shurden (D-Doublewide) has actually made some progress in getting around the provisions of the state's cockfighting ban. The Senate Appropriations Committee has passed Shurden's bill to reduce the penalties for participants to misdemeanor level. The bill now goes to the full Senate, where its future is uncertain.

The OkiePundit (if permalinks aren't working, go to 20 February) is not happy with this development:

The sheer arrogance of the Senators that voted to ignore the vote of the people is amazing, even by Oklahoma Legislature "standards".

Personally, I think the bill is DOA once it reaches the full Senate, and Governor Henry wouldn't sign it if it passed, but you can't be sure with the Oklahoma legislature; sometimes they seem to be motivated by pure petulance.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:12 AM)
21 February 2003
Shoulda used the drive-thru

The robbery at BancFirst's Expressway branch in McAlester was fairly uneventful, as robberies go. The bank staff was clever enough to switch bags, and the thief walked away with nothing.

Slowly.

Police arrested Kenneth Ray Dean in the parking lot between the bank and a restaurant in a matter of moments. Dean is 71 and walks with a cane. Of course, bank employees had no way of knowing the cane wasn't loaded.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:43 AM)
23 February 2003
Sideways approach

Last time we heard from Rep. Leonard Sullivan (R-Oklahoma City), he was complaining about the North Canadian River: "I can't see any good reason for Canada to get all of that publicity," he said as he moved to rename the waterway the Oklahoma River.

I didn't think much of that scheme, but to give the guy credit, at least he's thinking outside the box. Sullivan came up with a notion this week to tie starting teacher pay (now $27,060 per year) to legislative salaries ($38,400 per year, plus travel expenses and whatnot). "I guarantee you," he said, "that Oklahoma teachers would be paid better if their salaries were tied to the compensation of state legislators." Of course, what Sullivan was proposing in these thrifty times wasn't a big raise for teachers, but a big cut for legislators.

Sullivan's resolution never made it out of committee (duh), but I have a feeling it may be back next session. By then, teachers will have put in at least nine months of work, and legislators possibly as much as five.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:06 AM)
24 February 2003
Who you gonna call? Bridgebusters!

Back around 1928, people say, a woman driving between Wilson and Schulter missed the approach to a brand-new bridge and plunged into Montezuma Creek — and if you stand on that bridge late tonight, you can still hear her baby crying.

Is it true? I don't know. They did supposedly fish a car out of the creek, and a woman's body was recovered, but they never did find the baby. And there's not a whole lot of time left to go standing on Crybaby Bridge, because it's way short of modern-day road standards and is scheduled for demolition this spring, in a classic case of "If you don't do this now, you'll lose your funding for the new bridge."

Actually, the county did look for someone to buy the bridge and move it, but there were no takers. The $660,000 tab for replacement includes straightening out that treacherous road, but no money for ghost relocation — perhaps ironic, given this state's reported fondness for ghost employees.

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:46 PM)
25 February 2003
Greenwood brings out the big guns

Johnnie Cochran and Dennis Sweet are heading up the legal team for the Tulsa Reparations Council, a group which is seeking damages from the city of Tulsa and the state of Oklahoma in compensation for the 1921 race riot in Tulsa's Greenwood neighborhood.

Among other things, the suit claims that Tulsa police and the Oklahoma National Guard used violence to put down what was perceived as a "negro uprising" in Greenwood, and that afterwards, Tulsa city government reworked its zoning laws to discourage people from rebuilding in the area. State law limits liability in matters of this sort; the suit seeks to have that provision stricken from the books.

The Tulsa Race Riot Commission, which examined this matter in detail a few years ago, issued a recommendation which supported many of the suit's allegations and urged the payment of restitution to survivors of the incident. (The number of survivors is estimated at a bit over 100.) No payments of this sort have been made, though the legislature passed measures in 2001 to improve the neighborhood and provide scholarship money for descendants of survivors.

Government officials in general have yet to comment on the suit.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:26 AM)
27 February 2003
Malpractice makes malperfect

Doctors on strike? Not here, not yet. Still, Donald Palmisano, MD, president-elect of the American Medical Association, brought his traveling show to Oklahoma City yesterday. About 600 physicians showed up at the Capitol to protest the current legal climate, "strewn with frivolous lawsuits and exorbitant jury judgments," which has caused malpractice premiums to skyrocket in recent years.

Dr Palmisano's state-level counterpart, Dr Jack Beller, called for immediate action:

We are beginning to see things happen in Oklahoma that have happened in other states and we must convince our Legislature that if nothing is done this session, dire results of an out-of-control medical liability system may happen here.

By no particular coincidence, a bill is before the Legislature to cap pain and suffering awards at $250,000 and limit contigency fees for trial lawyers.

And speaking of trial lawyers, the executive director of the Oklahoma Trial Lawyers Association was on hand to challenge the doctors:

As insurance companies try to make up for revenues lost through bad investments, they have increased their practice of denying claims and denying necessary medical procedures, and they've worked harder to defend bad doctors. These actions drive up the cost of litigation.

The most telling comment, though, came from an Edmond physician:

There's certainly a cost in the United States to our 'always-blaming-someone' society.

Not just in dollars, either. I do not understand the mindset that believes medicine to be somehow equivalent to automotive mechanics, that any problem can be fixed if you replace enough parts.

On the other hand, I suspect that a substantial number of malpractice suits are brought by the same people who ruin their cars because they won't spend $75 for diagnostics when the little warning light comes on.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:22 AM)
28 February 2003
Off track

Governor Henry still wants a state lottery, but it won't be this year he gets it, which suggests that maybe the operators of legal gambling in the state — non-commercial (yeah, right) bingo, Indian gaming, and horse racing — are breathing a little easier for now.

Remington Park in northeast Oklahoma City has had a couple of rough years, and I was wondering if perhaps, at least in this market, thoroughbred (and occasionally quarter-horse) racing had, um, run its course. Not necessarily, seethes Jo:

[H]orse racing isn't fading simply because its heyday is over. It's a myth and lie state government would love you to believe, but the fact is simple: horse racing has been slowly suffocated by the hands of state government, eager to make a quick buck on state gambling. There is no knowledge needed to buy a scratch-off, powerball is a guessing game. No need to pick up a program or the Form, no effort since you can buy state lottery tickets at 7-11. It is the ultimate in gambling convenience.

Hmmm. Of course, in Oklahoma they bet on fighting chickens (or did until last November), which falls somewhere between racing and the lotto in terms of brainpower required.

And I think at least some of Powerball's appeal stems from the fact that once in a blue moon, a truly enormous payout goes to someone who kicked in a mere handful of bucks. At the track, if you put a C-note on a hundred-to-one shot that comes home, you're handed a mere ten grand (before taxes). If I were going to shoot for the $2 million it would take for me to retire (1) instantly (2) in indecent comfort, I'd never make it at the races, and the fact that the odds are astronomical against making it from the state lottery (even if we had one, which, I remind you, we don't) doesn't seem to make any impression on me.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:18 PM)
1 March 2003
Proper inflation

Akron, Ohio may be the Rubber City, but the fact is, more tires are made in Oklahoma than in any other state. And Michelin North America, whose Uniroyal Goodrich unit has a huge plant in Ardmore, is about to spend $200 million to expand the facility, including $25 million kicked in by the state as incentive money.

Employment at Michelin will grow to about 1850, still smaller than Goodyear's Lawton operation, which started an expansion program of its own last year to will bring its workforce up to 2400. Bridgestone/Firestone operates a plant in Oklahoma City which employs about 1800.

Now get out there and drive. :)

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:25 PM)
Physician, **** thyself

Meet Jeffrey Schimandle, MD, non-practicing orthopedic surgeon in Oklahoma City. He became non-practicing rather involuntarily in 1999 following reports that he was swiping pain medication intended for patients for his personal use. This year Dr Schimandle applied for reinstatement, and got it; and within seconds of getting it, he whispered what The Daily Oklahoman called "a two-word, gender-specific obscenity" to the licensure board's attorney.

Said attorney is Elizabeth A. Scott, who also serves as an assistant attorney general; charges were brought, and Friday Dr Schimandle's license to practice was pulled yet again — not because he called Scott whatever it was he called her, but because he denied having said it. He can apply for reinstatement next year, if he can keep his mouth shut.

As for that "two-word, gender-specific obscenity", well, I'm not quite sure what the good doctor actually said, but I'd be surprised if it's truly gender-specific. Even in Oklahoma.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:13 PM)
4 March 2003
Watts new

Former Congressman J. C. Watts is not lacking for titles these days. In addition to his gig as a columnist for The Sporting News, he's now on the board of directors of Dillard's, the Arkansas-based department-store chain.

In his new capacity, perhaps Watts can figure out how come Dillard's keeps getting into racial hot water. In 1996, the chain was sued after an African-American customer claimed that she was denied a routine cologne sample; the case wound up before the US Supreme Court, which declined to review the verdict or the $1.2-million penalty against Dillard's. And this was only the most visible of a number of cases in which the store was charged with some blatant form of discrimination.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:39 AM)
5 March 2003
Stipe-ulations

It probably wasn't any big surprise that failed Congressional candidate Walt Roberts entered a guilty plea to various counts of conspiracy; many of us have been wondering just where this good ol' boy was finding all this campaign financing.

Now the finger has been pointed, and it's pointed toward Senator Gene Stipe, a McAlester Democrat, whose own fingers have been found in all sorts of Oklahoma pies over many years. Chris at Fly Over Country says there's a 90-percent chance they're gonna nail him this time; I think that's a tad high, but I won't shed any tears if Chris is right.

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:59 PM)
6 March 2003
Scratched off

According to at least one poll, Oklahomans favor the establishment of a state lottery by a three-to-one margin. I find this surprising, since the issue has been up for a state vote before and did not come close to passage.

A few minutes before the poll results were announced, the State House had an announcement of its own: House Bill 1278, which would put the establishment of a lottery on the ballot, had failed, 52-49. Most Democrats voted Yes, most Republicans voted No, but there were defectors from both sides.

I expect Governor Henry will be back with a similar proposal next year, but for this session, it's dead.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:02 AM)
7 March 2003
Lotto update

The estimable Goof Beyou, who has been keeping tabs on the state-lottery measure (and keeping track of my fumbles on the story), has yet to weigh in on the prospects for getting the bill passed during its reconsideration phase, though I'm sure we'll hear from Beyou shortly.

In the meantime, House Republican leader Todd Hiett seems miffed at the prospect of seeing this bill again: "At this point," he said, "we should move on and do the people's business." Apparently Hiett's concept of "the people's business" does not include the possibility of voting on a controversial measure. All by itself, this ought to be enough to get him onto Frosty Troy's 10 Worst Legislators list this summer.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:13 AM)
8 March 2003
A piece of the action

Opposition to the proposed Oklahoma lottery comes from many quarters, but much of it emanates from the state's churches, dominated by conservative Christian denominations who have no qualms about calling 'em the way they see 'em.

Leaders of five of those denominations have signed a letter to Governor Henry asking him to give up the idea of a lottery, and urging him to set up a "task force made up of business, government, church and education leaders to seek long-term solutions for education funding."

The Guv, himself a Southern Baptist, says he appreciates the input but still would like the lottery put to a state vote. Personally, I think the task force idea might fly even without direct government involvement, though there's always the question of whether the state will give a reasonable hearing to the ideas of non-politicians.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:19 AM)
9 March 2003
And the feathers continue to fly

Tuesday, Senator Frank Shurden (D-Henryetta) expects a vote on Senate Bill 835, which proposes yet another cockfighting election, though this one will be limited to settling the penalties. Under State Question 687, passed last fall, taking part in a cockfight is a felony; Shurden wants this reduced to a misdemeanor, and he apparently thinks that while most people in Oklahoma do support the ban, which passed with 56 percent of the vote, they don't necessarily want people hauled into the pen for a year or more for it.

The House has already passed a similar measure, which suggests that Shurden might actually have a chance of getting this through. The anti-cockfighting forces are, unsurprisingly, highly incensed at all this. Meanwhile, there are legal challenges to SQ 687 in more than two dozen counties. We haven't heard the last of this issue by any means.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:03 AM)
11 March 2003
Welcome to the Post-Stipe Era

Senator Gene Stipe (D-McAlester), who has served in the state legislature since the French and Indian War, has abruptly resigned his seat, as projected by Chris at Fly Over Country a week ago.

Stipe's departure may or may not have something to do with the fallout from the failed Walt Roberts for Congress campaign of 1998, the investigation from which has so far resulted in charges against three individuals, one of whom is Stipe's assistant at his law firm. Stipe himself has not been named as a defendant.

As noted by Chris:

I am wildly speculating here, but his resignation seems to me the prelude to a plea agreement. The Feds got their pound of flesh by making him quit and he will probably get probation and a fine.

In defense of Stipe, he had better hair than Jim Traficant. And really, that's about it.

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:33 PM)
12 March 2003
And a long shot comes in

I wouldn't have thought it possible — and, in fact, said so — but Governor Henry's lottery bill isn't quite dead yet. When the vote for reconsideration came around, three Republicans who had opposed the measure the first time through voted for it, so instead of failing 52-49, it now passes 52-49 and will go on to the Senate.

Wayne Pettigrew, who represents a section of Edmond, was frank about the reasoning behind his switch:

I wasn't for this bill a week ago because of some very good reasons. I am still not for a state lottery. But any issue that has this much concern or this much interest — I am not against sending it to a vote of the people.

The future of the bill in the Senate is unclear. Still, the fact that it got this far borders on miraculous.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:03 AM)
16 March 2003
You talkin' to me?

If you've dialed somebody's 800 number, you might be talking to someone in Oklahoma; the state now boasts some seventy call centers which employ 35,000 people. One of the biggest is the AOL facility in Oklahoma City's Shepherd Mall, which has nearly 1500 staffers.

Why here? Three reasons come to mind:

  • We're in the middle of the country, so it's possible to catch both coasts with minimum shift change.
  • We're awash in fiber connections.
  • We work cheap.

Well, okay, we're not as cheap as Bombay or Manila, but we're marginally easier to understand on the phone.

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:55 PM)
17 March 2003
We want your data

NewsOK.com, the joint venture of The Daily Oklahoman and KWTV, has decided that if The New York Times can do it, so can they. Starting later today, you'll have to do the registration bit to get access to any NewsOK content.

It could be worse. TulsaWorld.com not only demands your demographic information but a monthly check as well.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:33 AM)
Watching it go

I was squishing my way down to the mailbox when F. (not necessarily her real initial) poked her head out of her door and acknowledged my presence.

In response, I pointed to the big elm tree out front and said, "What do you think? Dead?"

"Think so," she replied.

The big elm tree is about thirty percent less big this spring: a winter ice storm broke away one of the three major limbs, and while everything else is gradually going green — well, except the cottonwood trees along 42nd, which are already sprouting Q-tips — this tree is still barren, its branches grey, almost black in the March rain.

One does not romanticize trees on the prairie; they are there, and eventually they are not there, and you're supposed to shrug and go on. It's different in the Midwest, as H. Allen Smith once explained:

Midwesterners worship trees. I have frequent guests from the middle states and invariably I find that they venerate trees and that the cutting down of a tree is, to them, close to a mortal sin. I'll be walking around the premises with one of them, and I'll point to a tree and say, "Think I'll get the ax and take that damn tree out." They are horrified. They react as if I'd said, "Think I'll get the ax, since it's a nice day, and do away with my wife and kids."

I looked at the big elm again, and maybe I did, maybe I didn't, see the faintest hint of green along the lower branches, the tender beginnings of a leaf or two or a dozen or a thousand. Then again, I was born in Illinois.

Curiously, so was H. Allen Smith.

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:17 PM)
18 March 2003
Oklahoma gears up

With war now more or less inevitable, the state legislature has been working up fresh measures to deal with the possibility of terrorist attacks. Each of these bills has passed one house and must be approved by the other to become law.

HB 1467, perhaps the most controversial, empowers the state to quarantine individuals and property exposed to infectious diseases distributed by biological weapons.

SB 509 authorizes the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation to investigate acts of terrorism, and instructs the Attorney General to seek judicial authority for electronic surveillance of terrorism suspects.

SB 696 would set up vaccination programs, contingent upon receiving federal funding.

Meanwhile, the state's Congressional delegation (four Republicans and one Democrat in the House, two Republicans in the Senate) has declared itself to be in full support of the war effort.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:22 AM)
19 March 2003
The lottery hangs on

The Oklahoma lottery remains stubbornly undead. The Senate Finance Committee, not quite along party lines, approved House Bill 1278, which will now be sent to the full Senate. Governor Henry is now officially optimistic about its passage: asked if the bill had enough votes to pass the Senate, he replied, "I think so."

The revised bill contains a provision which will discontinue the lottery should its presence open the legal door for expanded tribal gaming, which at least indicates that its proponents are aware of the Law of Unintended Consequences.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:05 AM)
20 March 2003
Don't get too comfortable

It's almost a mantra here in Oklahoma. Pleasant weather can change in a matter of minutes into something decidedly unpleasant. Large segments of the state's economy are still commodity-based — oil, agriculture, methamphetamine — leaving us highly vulnerable to marketplace volatility.

And, though nobody thinks about it very much, we have earthquakes. Nothing that will make a Californian shudder, but the state is riddled with fault lines, and seismic disturbances are even harder to predict than the weather.

Of course, if you don't like it, you can always wait a few minutes.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:57 AM)
Screened out

Delaware's got them, and they've made over $800 million for the state's General Fund.

Oregon's got them too, and they've earned nearly $1.7 billion.

"They" are video lottery terminals, and they won't be coming to Oklahoma; at least some members of the legislature are convinced that if the boxes are allowed in the proposed state lottery, there will be no recourse should tribal-gaming associations choose to use them as well, and the state might not be able to compete with the ubiquitous Indian games. Competition, you know, makes you look like you're serious about this sort of thing, and God forbid we should look like we're serious about gambling.

Oh, well. Kansas doesn't have them either.

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:08 PM)
25 March 2003
Billie Joe MacAllister, go home

Oklahoma Senate Bill 625, on its way to the House, would provide penalties — in some cases, felony penalties — for throwing something off a bridge.

Inspiration for the measure was a 2001 incident in which a Duncan resident was badly injured by a bottle of sulfuric acid dropped from an overpass into the windshield of her car.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:07 AM)
Depleted allowance

No thanks to the state's ongoing budget woes, the Oklahoma Rainy Day Fund is now approaching the outskirts of Tap City. After drawing $10 million for an emergency funding package for state agencies, there's only about $100,000 left.

The Fund is replenished by a surplus of tax collections over the official revenue estimate at the end of the fiscal year (30 June); if collections are down, there will be no money to stash in the Fund.

Maybe we can try to win some money in the Kansas Lottery.

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:02 PM)
26 March 2003
All MMST-y eyed

It's called, blandly enough, the Multi-Mission Sensor Test. What it actually does is simulate a biological or chemical weapon attack to see if existing radar facilities can track the stuff. The fakes vary in composition, but the ones being used here in Oklahoma consist of powdered clay, ethanol and polyethylene glycol. (Oddly enough, these are three things I have had occasion to ingest, and don't ask.)

There had been some concern over the distribution of the fakes, mostly due to the potential for allergic reactions to the original formulations, which contained egg whites and a denatured pesticide.

The Army will spread the fakes over the next couple of weeks to see how well they can be picked up on radar.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:47 AM)
27 March 2003
Spiking Stipe

Gene Stipe, having resigned his seat in the state Senate, has been formally charged with conspiracy and perjury in connection with the 1998 Congressional campaign of Stipe protégé Walt Roberts. No court hearing date has been set, and the charges were filed by information rather than through a grand-jury indictment, which suggests that a plea bargain has already been struck.

It's hard to imagine an Oklahoma legislature without Gene Stipe — he first was elected to the Senate in 1956 — but somehow I think we'll manage.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:37 AM)
31 March 2003
Forward to oblivion

The town of Hall Park, once on the edge of, now surrounded by, the city of Norman, is contemplating dissolving itself. Tomorrow town voters will face a measure to disincorporate, which requires a simple majority — provided that 40 percent of the town's registered voters cast ballots.

Norman has already moved to annex the 1.13 square miles of Hall Park, contingent upon the passage of the ballot measure, effective 1 October. Residents would be billed $4200 per household for upgrading to Norman city services.

I'm not sure what I think about this. When I think "Hall Park", I tend to think "speed trap", but then I've never been ticketed by the town. Maybe the 1100 or so residents will be better off in Norman; Town Manager Susan Boehrer favors the measure, saying "It's the best long-term solution, the best economical solution and the solution that's best for the environment."

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:17 PM)
2 April 2003
Stipe facing the music

And it's not a tune he particularly wanted to hear, either.

Gene Stipe, state senator since the Pleistocene era, has entered a guilty plea, admitting that he did in fact skirt election laws to funnel $245,189 to Walt Roberts' 1998 Congressional campaign. He could be fined twice that much — $490,378 — although it is not clear whether he will be required to serve any hard time. Formal sentencing will be in mid-June.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:07 AM)
3 April 2003
Do you want to play a game?

The House has passed Governor Henry's lottery bill, by the now-usual 52-49 margin. HB 1278 creates the lottery, defines where the income will be spent, and directs the Governor to call the election, which he's planning for the fall.

There's a second bill — Senate Joint Resolution 22 — which calls for another election to amend the state constitution to permit this lottery in the first place. (The state constitution is about the size of a Chevy Suburban, and nowhere near as easy to work on.) We're still a long way from voting, but the hurdles are diminishing.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:57 AM)
5 April 2003
Keeping it on the Cam

Cam Edwards, who presides over the morning-drive news at KTOK in Oklahoma City, has started blogging, and there's bite to go with his broadcast bark. Linking to a piece by a Democratic Underground type who claims to live in this neck of the woods, Cam observes:

When you say something like "Speak the truth about the evil being done in our name," you should at least be brave enough to use your real name.

Like, say, that courageous Columbia professor Nicholas De Genova, who most recently distinguished himself by skipping a class he teaches, claiming he had received death threats after his "million Mogadishus" comment. What can be going through his head? "The use of force by the American imperialists can never be justified. Now where's that goddamn security guard Columbia was supposed to send me?"

Of course, with Cam on the scene, now I can concentrate on obscure pop-culture references, complaints about the weather, and fluffy bunnies.

Well, maybe not the bunnies.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:15 AM)
6 April 2003
A monumental moment in history

One of the most curious incidents in Oklahoma history occurred literally on the first day of Oklahoma history. This was April 22, 1889, and settlement was being opened up in what was then known as Indian Territory, in a manner that was both highly unorthodox and uniquely American: basically, you park on it, you own it. Thousands of quarter-sections and city lots were claimed in the first few hours after the opening gun, and by the next morning, two cities with populations of 10,000 or so, their populations largely housed in quick-and-dirty shacks or hurriedly-pitched tents, stood where there had been nothing more than railroad stops before.

That was the original Oklahoma Land Run, which settled the central part of the eventual 46th state. An event like this seems utterly unimaginable in the not-exactly-freewheeling 21st century, which may explain much about why down in Norman, dozens of cast bronze figures are being assembled for the first-ever Land Run Monument, to be built along the Bricktown canal east of downtown Oklahoma City. Completion will take four years, but the first few figures will be emplaced later this month and will undoubtedly shake up travelers on the Crosstown Expressway.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:54 AM)
7 April 2003
62nd-hand smoke

The city of Moore, a suburban enclave between Oklahoma City and Norman, is considering a ban on tobacco use in municipal parks. It's not an issue of air quality, exactly: rather, it's that parents whose children participate in sports are apparently setting a bad example by lighting up a Winston between innings.

Tobacco is destined to become this century's Victorian erotica. Eventually, only rude old gentlemen will own tobacco products, and their heirs will be duly shocked when the estates are probated and the boxes in the attic are opened.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:15 AM)
11 April 2003
Not zoned for red lights

DavidMSC, who used to live in these parts, may well be surprised at this. Or he may not, depending on how jaded he was back then.

Anyway, there's a fairly innocuous strip mall along Air Depot Blvd. in Midwest City, housing insurance agents, a Furr's cafeteria in one corner, a Kinko's in another, a children's dance studio — and apparently a brothel.

The most interesting remark in the wake of the operation's bust was one by the owner of the dance studio, who said, "We suspected it was a prostitution ring from the day they first started moving in because they could never give us a straight answer as to what kind of business they were." I'm just wondering what they wrote down on the storefront lease.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:07 AM)
15 April 2003
A matter of cooperation

This takes some serious choreography:

  1. Mr Pearson, previously married to Ms Kimble, breaks into her apartment.
  2. Ms Kimble, defending the premises, stabs Mr Pearson.
  3. Mr Pearson, evidently insufficiently stabbed, stabs Ms Kimble.

And Laertes and the Queen fall, and Fortinbras is left to find someone to mop up.

Or something like that.

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:16 PM)
18 April 2003
The post-Gaylord era starts here

There have been many dynasties in American newspaper publishing, but few of them lasted as long, with as few members, as the Oklahoma Publishing Company's Gaylord family.

Edward King ("E. K.") Gaylord bought into the struggling Daily Oklahoman in 1903; by 1918, he was running the place. And E. K. continued to run the place for decades, which prompted local wags to point out that son Edward L. Gaylord would be at retirement age by the time E. K. stepped down.

As it turned out, E. K. never did step down. In May of 1974, the 101-year-old publisher sat down at his desk for the last time, and never got up. Edward L., then 55, quickly assumed command, and never let go.

Until now. Edward L. Gaylord has announced he will retire from the paper next month; former Oklahoman advertising director David Thompson will return to take over as publisher, and Ed Kelley, who has been overseeing the editorial page, will become editor. The family connection will continue: Christy Everest, Edward L.'s daughter, is already serving as president of OPUBCO.

I really don't expect any changes at the paper: it's privately held, deeply (sometimes wackily) conservative, and perplexed, like many American dailies, by stagnant circulation figures. Still, The Daily Oklahoman has outlasted all its competitors — the last, The Oklahoma Journal, folded in 1980 — and I can't imagine it going away no matter what sort of gee-whiz technological media appear in the next century or so.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:35 AM)
22 April 2003
Wren cycle

This time of year, I generally emerge from the front door about ten minutes before sunrise, and there's a chorus to greet me: hundreds, maybe thousands, of local birds, some small, others not so small, all chirping and cheeping and twittering and those other verbs we use to make their sounds seem insignificant compared to our own. Two octaves of this stuff, staccato here, fermata there, a quarter-rest somewhere in the mix if you're really paying attention, and while I have to assume that most of them are oblivious to my presence — a few designated guardians have presumably issued an Intruder Alert, which I, the visiting dullard, cannot distinguish from the flow of conversation — there's still the sense that they're putting on a show, that they've waited all night for this.

Much is made these days about how our urban landscapes are supposedly inhospitable, even hostile, to life, usually from people who seem to believe that everybody should live in a facsimile of the San Diego Zoo. Life, of course, pays no attention to these people. And tomorrow, same time, same trees, the avian chorus resumes.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:26 AM)
23 April 2003
Getting a handle on spam

The new Oklahoma anti-spam law, signed yesterday by Governor Henry, strikes me as relatively toothless. It does prohibit spoofing email or Web addresses, and it does require ads to state that they are ads in the subject lines — porn ads must contain the string ADV-ADULT — but until there are provisions to hunt down spammers and disembowel them on streaming video, there will be little or no effect on the state's email users.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:05 AM)
26 April 2003
Around the corner from Luddite Lane

According to the warning sign posted just beyond its intersection with West 33rd Street, Technology Drive in Edmond, Oklahoma is a dead end.

Some people in California are eating their hearts out right now — or would be, if said hearts weren't technically animal tissue.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:44 PM)
28 April 2003
Gaylord is gone

A mere ten days ago, I reported on the transfer of power at the Oklahoma Publishing Company, prompted by the upcoming retirement of longtime editor/publisher Edward L. Gaylord.

Gaylord's health had been deteriorating, but few outside the family knew how much. Now we know: he died last night, one month short of his 84th birthday. Cancer, that damnable stuff.

Services are Wednesday at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City, a facility that benefited greatly from Gaylord's largesse over the years.

I've spent much of my life sniping at Gaylord and his paper and his politics, but I'm not about to deny that his impact on this part of the world has been genuinely profound, his influence keenly felt, his generosity gratefully received.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:40 AM)
3 May 2003
Never mind the termites

If you're selling a house in Oklahoma, you have to fill out a fairly-detailed disclosure form [link requires Adobe Acrobat Reader] which is supposed to reveal everything from non-functional appliances to radon gas.

One of the environmental questions seems uniquely Oklahoman: "Are you aware of existence of hazardous or regulated materials and other conditions having an environmental impact, including, but not limited to, residue from drug manufacturing?"

Not specific enough? Under a new bill, passed without opposition by the Legislature and allowed to become law without the Governor's signature, the next version of the disclosure form will be required to state whether the property has been used as a meth lab.

Next year, I expect a measure which, when I trade in my car, will require me to attest to the highest speed at which at it has been driven (101 mph) and the number of people shot by the driver or by passengers therein (none).

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:59 AM)
5 May 2003
The Terry and Timmy show resumes

But without Timothy McVeigh, who was executed for his part in the Oklahoma City bombing.

Terry Nichols, whose part was judged to be less substantial, was convicted, not on murder charges, but on federal conspiracy and manslaughter charges, and is serving a prison term. The state has chosen to try him on murder charges, naming 160 victims who were not listed in the federal indictment, lest he manage to appeal his federal convictions successfully.

A preliminary hearing for Nichols was convened today to see if there is sufficient evidence to hold this trial; how long it will continue is anybody's guess.

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:59 PM)
8 May 2003
Big Elm Tree update

A couple of months ago, I reported on the Big Elm Tree out front, which seemed to be in dire condition:

A winter ice storm broke away one of the three major limbs, and while everything else is gradually going green — well, except the cottonwood trees along 42nd, which are already sprouting Q-tips — this tree is still barren, its branches grey, almost black in the March rain.

There has been very little rain since then — we're running at about 50 percent of normal so far this year — but the tree seems to be flourishing. About ten, maybe fifteen percent of its branches are still bare and will probably remain so, but for the most part, it's green and growing, however weirdly-shaped and asymmetrical it's become.

Living out here on the Lone Prairie evidently builds up one's stamina.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:15 AM)
A hard day's nitrogen

Today at Terry Nichols' preliminary hearing, his wife Marife testified that Nichols had sold fertilizer at gun shows under the name "Ground Zero Impact."

How long before, say, The New York Times demands background checks for fertilizer buyers?

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:18 PM)
13 May 2003
Once more into the courts

Terry Nichols, convicted in federal court of conspiracy and eight counts of manslaughter in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, will now face a minimum of 160 first-degree murder charges in a state court.

No date has been set; Nichols has been serving a life term in Club Fed.

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:19 PM)
17 May 2003
Oklahoma to get the finger

Starting the first of July, anyone applying for a driver's license in Oklahoma will be required to submit a finger scan (not as messy as a set of prints) to the Department of Public Safety. Governor Henry signed the enabling legislation yesterday, which specifies that a court order is required for anyone outside the DPS to get access to the scanned data.

The July start date means that I'll be one of the first to get this treatment (unless I get a sudden burst of anticrastination and get my license renewed before then); what I really want to know is if the independent tag agencies (an Oklahoma curiosity in which routine licensing tasks are privatized) will be provided with the scanning tools right off the bat, or if I'll have to stand in line at a DPS office.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:45 AM)
20 May 2003
Fears on trial

Daniel Fears, the Sallisaw teenager accused of a shooting spree last fall that killed two and injured eight others, has been ruled competent to stand trial. A preliminary hearing has been set for the 2nd of September; in the meantime, Fears remains in the Sequoyah County jail.

During the competency hearing, it was disclosed that Fears identifies with Dr Hannibal Lecter (please tell me he didn't do this to impress Clarice), and believes he is influenced by extraterrestrials (something I doubt Dr Lecter would endorse).

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:16 PM)
22 May 2003
Silencing Cal

Senator Cal Hobson, who presides over the upper house in the Oklahoma legislature, has come under fire for an item in his regular column in the Purcell Register, in which he comes off as embarrassingly star-struck. The star in question is Danny Glover, who has been coming up with some really preposterous statements of his own of late.

The state GOP has called on Hobson to apologize for sucking up to Glover, a notion flogged by Cam Edwards on his morning show today, further evidence that the smaller the teapot, the bigger the tempest.

Does Cal Hobson owe me an explanation? Yes. He owes me an explanation of why the state's been on this spending spree for the past few years, and how we got into this half-billion dollar hole, and why the legislature was even thinking about adjourning a week early this year. As for what he thinks about Danny Glover — geez, aren't we getting too old for this shit?

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:20 AM)
24 May 2003
Smutettes

Senate Bill 565 is going back to a conference committee, after its original language, which required anyone repairing a PC to report anything that looks like kiddie pr0n, was deemed to have too much potential for abuse. (Gee, ya think?)

Worst-case scenario: The legislature, seeking ways to invade people's PCs, consults with the recording industry.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:48 AM)
30 May 2003
Differently-abled

This definitely belongs in the Write Your Own Joke archives. All I can do is quote the opening paragraph:

An 18-year-old who reportedly was paralyzed from the neck down after being shot June 2 has been arrested on burglary complaints after police caught him breaking into parked cars while in a wheelchair.

Okay, gang, have at it.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:24 AM)
Cue the other shoe

When will Oklahoma City bombing co-conspirator Terry Nichols be tried on state murder charges? The prosecution wanted to start this coming November; defense counsel for Nichols proposed January 2005.

Now District Judge Steven M. Taylor has ruled that the trial will begin 1 March 2004, which should give the legal teams "sufficient time to prepare for trial after having worked on this case for over three years."

I have a feeling this case is going to outlive all of us.

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:51 PM)
31 May 2003
Quiet under the new dome

After a couple months' worth of budget bickering crammed into two or three hours, the Oklahoma legislature has gone home for the year.

One interesting quote, from Todd Hiett (R-Kellyville), the House minority leader: "We think at this point we have had a very successful session, partly for what we accomplished and partly for what we diverted." Sometimes, what you don't do is as important as what you do.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:15 AM)
2 June 2003
We shall not be moved

Yesterday afternoon was fairly nice, with temperatures hovering in the quite-reasonable middle-80s range, and I spent some of it looking over a semi-rural neighborhood that had been affected by the May storms. It's definitely odd to see a two-lane road lined with neatly-stacked dead trees. (This area is in the city limits, so I assume that a city crew will be down this week to pick up the detritus.)

One neat sign, at a small Baptist church: "Bruised but Not Broken". I'll bet no one was scared out of house and home by the twisters; people here tend to stay put.

An example at the other end of town: my father, who is 76 today and has lived in the same house for thirty-four years. You'd have to pound that house into small Lego-sized pieces for him to even think about moving.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:36 AM)
3 June 2003
Sue me, sue you blues

Two survivors of the 1921 Tulsa race riots are suing The Tulsa Tribune, the Tulsa World, and the Ku Klux Klan; the lawsuit, filed in Missouri (!), claims that the Tribune "published highly inflammatory articles designed to whip up the Ku Klux Klan and the general white population."

What's interesting here, of course, is that the Tribune no longer exists; it folded in 1992 when the joint operating agreement with the World was terminated. The World is also named in the suit, but the JOA didn't exist in 1921, which means it's highly unlikely the World profited from anything the Tribune was doing. As for the Klan, well, I suppose they can subpoena Congressman Byrd from West Virginia. Me, I'm waiting for Coyote v. Acme, which to me makes much more sense.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:03 PM)
10 June 2003
Nichols: penny-pincher?

"The time has finally come to put an end," said Terry Nichols' defense attorneys in their letter requesting that the state Supreme Court dismiss state charges against the Oklahoma City bombing conspirator, "to a prosecution that this financially strapped state cannot afford."

The Supremes declined: "This court has no power to order that a criminal prosecution be dismissed." The defense had argued that the court could assume jurisdiction, on the basis that spiraling defense costs would unfairly impact other state cases.

Justice Ralph Hodges, in his concurring opinion, smacked down this notion: "Counsel should return to the process of defending Nichols rather than focusing too narrowly on whether the defense team will be sufficiently compensated."

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:17 AM)
11 June 2003
Replacing Stipe

State Representative Richard Lerblance will take over Gene Stipe's former Senate seat; he won 55 percent of the vote in Stipe's heavily-Democratic district over Republican Jess Davis in yesterday's special election.

Of course, this means there will be another special election, to fill Lerblance's House seat.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:48 AM)
13 June 2003
Scraping the sky

Given Oklahoma's eternal winds and all, not too many really tall buildings are built in this state, and most of the taller ones are in Tulsa, where there used to be money.

Still, 500 feet is nothing to sneer at on the prairie, and the 32-year-old Bank One Tower, all 36 stories of it, is for sale. The building is 97 percent occupied and offers 512,000 square feet of space; the selling price is expected to exceed $25 million. If I've counted correctly, the B1T is the fifth-tallest building in the state; Tulsa's Williams Tower, at 667 feet, tops out over the others.

The Daily Oklahoman describes the Tower as "the first major downtown office property to be formerly listed since a slew of office buildings sold in 1998-2000." Actually, of course, the Tower is currently listed; it won't be formerly listed until it isn't listed any more. (I suspect they meant to say "formally".)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:13 AM)
19 June 2003
Second gear: lean right

Bruce at This Is Class Warfare has made the rounds of the Oklahoma bloggers, and he seems to be somewhat disturbed by what he's found:

As I expected they tended to lean right. So much so in fact that many can't hear out of that side of their heads. This confuses me to no end. While traveling around Tulsa today I got the general feeling that people here like independence more than anything. They don't want anybody to interfere with their lives. I'm sure that extends to other parts of oklahoma as well. My confusion arises out of the blank check support for government right now. It does't seem consistent to me. If you're going to be skeptical of government (a position I wholeheartedly support) then you should be so all the time, not just when a Democrat is in office. You should stand up anytime the government says anything and say "prove it!". That after all is what I consider our job as citizens to be, to hold the politicians accountable for their actions and their words. But whenever I stand up and criticize our president for his actions I get shouted down and accused of being a Democrat (which I am not).

I'm fairly skeptical of government, I think, and I don't believe I've become any less so in recent months. I do have a tendency to back off from complaining in times of war, which I attribute to proper indoctrination during my Army days. :)

Still, I don't believe anyone's definition of consistency demands that if you oppose the Administration on this, you must also oppose the Administration on that; with Bush, as with Clinton, as with Bush the Elder, there have been actions I've applauded and actions I've deplored. And in my experience, the President isn't getting a free pass from conservative bloggers; they will quite willingly bash Bush if he does something that sufficiently annoys them.

I've staked out my own position pretty close to the middle. (That Political Compass thing considers me slightly left of center and distinctly anti-authoritarian.) It's not the most comfortable spot on the spectrum, but it fits. And so far, no one seems compelled to accuse me of being a Democrat.

Which I am.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:51 AM)
25 June 2003
Prejudicial conduct

Terry Nichols has asked that his pretrial hearings be moved to the county courthouse from their present location, a courtroom built in the basement of the county jail.

Holding the hearings at the jail, says counsel for Nichols, "stigmatizes Mr. Nichols and reinforces the public perception that he is a dangerous guilty offender who cannot be treated like other defendants."

Yeah. You certainly don't want anyone to reach any conclusions about a person who has already been convicted on eight counts of manslaughter.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:45 PM)
26 June 2003
Tuition pinch

Most states, it seems, are running in the red these days, and Oklahoma, which by law must balance its budget each year, is having the sort of problems you'd expect.

There being essentially no support for tax hikes — and how surprising is that? — the state is doing what it can. Funds for higher education were cut this year by about 9 percent, with the expected result: state tuition will be rising sharply. Smaller state schools may see increases of 15 to 20 percent; the University of Oklahoma will charge returning students 27 percent more, and incoming freshmen will be hit with a 39-percent bounce.

It could be argued, I suppose, that state tuition was underpriced to begin with, and certainly I don't have a problem with users of a service paying the costs of that service. Still, this seems like an awfully large compensation for a relatively small subsidy cut.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:30 AM)
28 June 2003
Another glitch in right-to-work

For the next few hours, anyway, the right-to-work law passed by referendum in Oklahoma in 2001 is unconstitutional.

What happened was this: a construction union sued an electric contractor whose workers it was expected to represent, and filed a subsequent suit requesting that the law be overturned. The latter suit got to the docket, and when the judge noted that the contractor had not responded to the suit against it, he issued an order barring enforcement of the law. The order is widely seen as temporary, and as soon as both sides have their ducks in a row, the cases will be heard and decided.

This is the small game. In the bigger game, the state Supreme Court will hear a more serious constitutional challenge to the law; a labor attempt to overturn the law got as high as the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver, which dropped it back on the state. I'm not taking any bets on that one either. Philosophically, it's hard to object to right-to-work, but it's equally hard to reconcile it with laws which require that the union represent workers which aren't its members. And the proponents of State Question 695, the referendum that started it all, so preposterously oversold its benefits — one constant assertion was that a number of industrial concerns had been considering Oklahoma for plant locations but decided against it because of the lack of right-to-work, though none of the people making that assertion was ever able to name even one such firm — that it's tempting, at least to me, to hope that the law is overturned, just to see their reaction.

(Disclosure: While I am not currently in such a position, I have worked in union shops before, and have paid dues for the ostensible privilege.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:31 AM)
30 June 2003
Barn to be wild

According to a radio report this morning, Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson is persuaded that most of the state's sodomy law is well and truly thrown out as a result of the Supreme Court's ruling in Lawrence v. Texas.

I said "most". The statute is vague, presumably to be as inclusive as possible; in 1935, the state's Court of Criminal Appeals ruled in Roberts v. State that the "offense consists in a carnal knowledge, committed against the order of nature, with mankind or with a beast." Lawrence says nothing about beasts, so presumably that part of the law remains intact.

And I think I'd probably better stop here.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:21 AM)
2 July 2003
The parade continues

A couple of weeks ago, Sen. Joseph Lieberman was in town to drum up support for his 2004 Presidential bid; today the state is being visited by Rep. Richard Gephardt, who promises "bold alternatives" to the policies of the Bush administration.

Gephardt finished third in the Oklahoma primary on "Super Tuesday" in 2000, a showing he attributes to running out of money too early; he was here briefly in April to sound out party leaders. Former Florida Gov. Bob Graham is due in the state next week. All this early activity, I surmise, is a result of the state's having changed its primary date from March to the first week in February, one week after New Hampshire. The real race here, of course, is for convention delegates, as it's highly unlikely that any Democrat could pick up the state's seven remaining electoral votes, down from eight in 2000.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:13 PM)
7 July 2003
Turning their backs on Langston?

The Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education have been hit with a discrimination charge by alumni from Langston University, an historically-black institution near Guthrie, although the alleged discrimination did not take place at Langston's main campus, but at its Tulsa facility.

The complaint alleges that other state schools, most notably Oklahoma State University, have been allowed to expand their Tulsa branches at the expense of Langston's, and that this action was intended to undercut a previous state effort to bring some measure of racial integration to Langston enrollment: while the main campus is still predominantly black, Langston Tulsa draws a substantial number of white students. The subtext, as I'm seeing it, is that the Regents expanded other schools' offerings in Tulsa in an effort to take those students away from Langston, and indeed Langston's Tulsa enrollment has dropped by half in three years.

I'm going to have to start paying closer attention to this.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:36 AM)
8 July 2003
The parade continues

And now it's Bob Graham's turn. The Senator from Florida dropped by, sounded the usual Democratic themes — usual for 2003, anyway — and pointed out that he's actually won elections in Florida, important news in case you were suffering nostalgia for 2000.

I haven't really given a whole lot of thought to Senator Graham; so far, his best selling point seems to be that he's not Dennis Kucinich. Still, I am a Democrat and will have to pick somebody in the primary, so I have some research to do, which I will of course postpone until next month.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:21 AM)
13 July 2003
Insuring against insurers

It's called the Oklahoma Property and Casualty Insurance Guaranty Association, it's financed by an assessment on insurance companies doing business in the state, and one of its functions is to pay claims by injured workers when the firm who wrote their worker's-comp insurance fails.

What if the Association fails? And it could happen; general manager Howard Howell has reported that the Association's worker's-comp fund will run out of money some time next year, the result of more than a dozen insurance-company insolvencies since 2000 and still more on the way.

The assessment is limited to 2 percent of net premiums; rather than seek a bailout from the state's General Fund, which doesn't have a whole lot of money either, Howell is looking for an increase in the assessment, though this might make marginal insurers more so.

Part of the problem is that companies wanting a piece of Oklahoma business have a tendency to lowball introductory rates as an incentive, and then when they start losing money at those rates, they immediately jack them up, which usually encourages the policyholder to look elsewhere. This is the main reason we have had four health-insurance carriers at 42nd and Treadmill in six years. And it's not a phenomenon peculiar to Oklahoma, either; Howell says that ten, maybe twelve states, are in similarly dire straits.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:15 AM)
1 August 2003
A World of its own

I've seldom found any need to link to anything in the Tulsa World, and that's a good thing, since I can't, as Bruce explains:

I can access regurgitated AP stories on the Tulsa World website. But I can get them other places as well. Any content that might be unique to the Tulsa World website is down in the Cul de Sac where my stingy little self will dare not tread. More importantly I cannot LINK to any of the stories or opinions that are posted on the Tulsa World website because any reader from other places besides Tulsa will find the Member's Only sign flashed before their eyes. In essence this creates a black hole of news about Tulsa to the outside world. Do I really need to explain why this is bad?

In brief: tulsaworld.com is free to actual newspaper subscribers, $45 a year to the rest of the world. I will be indeed surprised if more than a handful of people have actually paid for site access.

I don't get too worked up over newspaper-site registration — I signed up for NewsOK.com (The Daily Oklahoman's joint venture with KWTV) because I don't have time to read the dead-tree edition, for the Star Tribune to read Lileks' Backfence column, for The New York Times because sometimes I need to follow up a news link, and for dallasnews.com because every once in a while I need something from the archives and they can generally fetch it on the first try — but $45 a year seems a bit stiff, especially since there are much more specialized databases on the Web which don't cost so much. Still, there aren't many alternatives in T-town: Tulsa Today suffers from hideous design, spastic writing and an erratic schedule, and the suburban papers offer even less.

Griffin Communications, which owns KWTV, also owns Tulsa's KOTV. Bruce doesn't like them either. A perfunctory look at their site suggests that there might be good reasons not to like them; for my part, I distrust any site that gives Fahrenheit temperatures to the first decimal place, like 98.4, as though the reading were obtained from a rectal thermometer. I defer to Tulsa residents on the question of where said thermometer might be inserted.

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:48 PM)
7 August 2003
Sorry we burned your esophagus

Workers cleaning pumps at the Canton, Oklahoma water department last night accidentally spilled 250 gallons of hydrochloric acid into the town's water supply.

There is no truth to the rumor that Pfizer is airlifting ten thousand rolls of Rolaids to the stricken community.

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:52 PM)
10 August 2003
Way the hell out there

There's a very nice piece by Tom Lindley in The Sunday Oklahoman today about life in the Panhandle, a place that to most of us is "no man's land, a thin slice of hardship and desolation sandwiched between prairie and blue sky somewhere north of Amarillo."

That very hardship, though, may be an advantage to residents of the narrow three-county strip: whatever problem you throw at them, it's probably not so different from one they've already seen and already solved. Right now, the area is enjoying an influx of Latino immigration, some of it legal, as meat processing, a Hispanic stronghold for generations, continues to flourish in an otherwise-struggling economy. These people want to work, and in the Panhandle, that's a good thing; as Mayor Jess Nelson of Guymon says, "People here are hardworking people or they don't stay."

As the phrase goes, Read The Whole Thing.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:19 AM)
14 August 2003
A corner turned?

Probably not — the economy still seems to be sputtering — but for the first time in two years, state revenues in Oklahoma have actually exceeded projections.

The projections have been very conservative, what with the state's budget in the tank, but the numbers are encouraging just the same; three more quarters like this and we can stash some money in the Rainy Day Fund and shave a quarter-point off the state income tax.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:40 AM)
21 August 2003
The official line on smoking

It's called the Oklahoma Tobacco Helpline, and it's intended to provide assistance to those who want to quit the evil weed. (I somehow doubt that they'd have anything useful to say to someone who wanted to start.) To no one's surprise, this service has a telephone number that spells something: in this case, it's (866) PITCH EM.

The cost of the Helpline, we are told, will be paid from the interest earned on the state's cut of the tobacco settlement. As a nonsmoker since Day One, I doubt I'll have any reason to talk to these folks, but it should be interesting to see how (if?) it works.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:58 AM)
22 August 2003
"Needs improvement"

The "No Child Left Behind" legislation mandates that each state prepare a list of low-performing schools each year. Oklahoma's list was issued yesterday and contains 51 schools (of about 1800), including eleven in the Tulsa district and eleven more in the Oklahoma City district. (The OKC list technically includes 14 schools, but three of them were closed after last school year.) There were 30 schools on last year's list; thirteen schools have been on the list for four years and theoretically could be closed if there is no improvement in year five.

The Oklahoma City district will send a report to parents of students in those eleven underperforming schools next week; parents wishing to have their students transferred to another school must file a request before 2 September.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:43 AM)
PETA strikes again

A letter to Governor Henry from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (remember them?) has asked that the annual "Outlaw" Rodeo at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary at McAlester be canceled, claiming it encourages criminals to torment and abuse animals.

The governor's spokesperson called the request "silly," and said that the rodeo would go on as scheduled next Friday and Saturday.

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:46 PM)
23 August 2003
Train in vain

Bruce sees a future where cities here on the Lone Prairie are tied together much like the BosWash corridor back East:

The first critical step would be to tie Tulsa and Oklahoma City together and then to tie each of those locations to other cities to the north and south, with the most obvious choices being Kansas City to the north and Dallas/Fort Worth to the south. Promoters planning an event could then extend the reach of their potential audience to those cities and as long as access to the venue would require little more than a few trips on a fast and air conditioned train then you can count on people being willing to attend that event from other cities. Its no fun driving five hours either north or south to attend an event only to have to drive that distance back after the event has ended. It would be much more pleasurable if you knew that the return trip home might mean taking a nap or reading a book, watching a movie or visiting with friends.

I think a Tulsa/Oklahoma City train could be doable; Amtrak already has service of a sort in Oklahoma City, there's plenty of traffic between the two towns, and the distance is only about 100 miles, about the same as Baltimore to Philadelphia. And at the moment, Oklahoma City has better event facilities, so it's conceivable that Tulsans might come down en masse. But not a lot of people take the train south of here to Dallas, and how many people are likely to come down from Kansas City?

We'll never be BosWash, simply because the distances out here are too great. And that will have to be one heck of a fast train to beat my 5:10 time to Kansas City. What's more, Southwest often offers a $39 (!) air fare to Kansas City, which the train would be hard-pressed to match. (There is, of course, the fact that KCI is practically halfway to Des Moines and therefore you'll have to rely on ground transportation in the opposite direction to see anything, which offsets the fare bargain to some extent.)

Still, it's a long-term plan, and there are other factors at work, as Bruce notes:

With the heightened fears of flying and the questionable long term viability of some airlines it might be time to look for better alternatives for at least the short distance traveler.

I can buy that, I think. But all else being equal, I'll probably still drive, if only because I actually enjoy it.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:07 PM)
26 August 2003
Don't even think that

In the wake of Columbine, the Oklahoma legislature passed this measure intended to prevent such things. It is written as broadly as possible; in fact, it is so broad that it doesn't even require that intent be proven — only that someone perceive a threat, real or imagined.

Remember that word: imagined.

And if you're thinking "It can't happen here," think again.

(Muchas gracias: Matt Deatherage.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:12 PM)
27 August 2003
Yet another lottery squabble

The way things work in Oklahoma is sometimes a source of wonderment.

In its spring session, the legislature passed both HB 1278, which authorizes the state lottery and directs the governor to call an election for its ratification by the voters, and SJR 22, which directs the governor to call an election to amend the state constitution to allow for, well, HB 1278.

The trick here is that SJR 22 didn't get a two-thirds vote, which means that the governor can't call a special election, which means that the constitutional amendment must be on a general-election ballot, scheduled for November 2004. Governor Henry insists that both measures must be on the same ballot; legislative Republicans are now claiming that Henry could call a special election for the lottery alone, and that he is practicing the politics of delay; inevitably, both sides have begun sniping at one another.

In this case, I'm inclined to side with the governor, who at least has been consistent on this issue; the GOP's complaints, I suspect, are motivated by the desire to kill the lottery before they catch flak from their right flank.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:00 AM)
28 August 2003
Oklahoma v. WorldCom

Attorney General Drew Edmondson made it official last night: the state has filed suit against the bankrupt telecommunications firm and six of its officers, charging that The Company Formerly And Now Once Again Known As MCI faked stock and bond information, ultimately costing the state some $64 million in pension funding.

Edmondson thinks other states may follow Oklahoma's lead. Conviction on any of the 15 counts filed against each defendant could result in ten years' imprisonment and a $10,000 fine. A representative for former WorldCom CEO Bernie Ebbers pointed out that the Feds found no evidence on which they could charge Ebbers.

I think ultimately the state will reach a settlement with the company and the bankruptcy court, but for now, it's way too early to be sure.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:37 AM)
30 August 2003
Is this it for Don Nickles?

In 1980, Don Nickles opined that term limits would be useful, and certainly no one should serve more than two terms — twelve years — in the US Senate. Voters may or may not have agreed with this particular premise, but enough of them embraced Nickles to propel him to a win in that year's Senate race, and a repeat win in 1986.

And then, apparently forgetting what he'd said, he ran again in 1992 and 1998. He won easily, so it must be assumed that the electorate either didn't remember or didn't hold it against him. Recently departed Congressman J. C. Watts reneged on a similar pledge and still was reelected, which suggests the latter.

Now comes the 2004 election, and rumors are floating that Nickles may step down. I'm not sure what I think about this: he's not my favorite Oklahoma politician by any stretch of the imagination, but Don Nickles is a veritable Renaissance Man next to his junior counterpart, the venal and insipid Jim Inhofe, and I'd hate to see him go if he's going to be replaced by the likes of Tom Cole or (gag) Ernest Istook.

Which brings up the next question: Will J. C. Watts come out of retirement? The Bush administration seems fond of the fellow.

Oh, the Democrats? Yeah, they'll nominate some sacrificial lamb to go through the motions. As OkieDoke's Mike points out:

In addition to a sluggish economy, the Dems will need a strong presidential candidate to give the needed push for any shot at the Senate seat.

I don't expect the economy to be in great shape next year — the sheer weight of federal borrowing to cover the nearly half-trillion-dollar deficit will see to that — but it won't be Hooverville either, and somehow it's hard to imagine any of the current crop of Democratic presidential candidates making the slightest bit of impact on the Oklahoma electorate.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:02 AM)
1 September 2003
Scrambling for the post-Nickles era

A couple of days ago, I speculated as to what might happen should Senator Don Nickles choose not to run for another term in 2004. (If Nickles does run, of course, he'll win easily.) At the time, I suggested that there might be relatively little Democratic interest in the seat, given the paucity of Democrats with statewide recognition these days. OkieDoke.com's Mike pointed out in comments that I perhaps had overlooked Attorney General Drew Edmondson, who certainly qualified as having statewide recognition; I retorted that he might want to keep a lower profile, what with some heavy litigation going on.

Now comes this piece in The Daily Oklahoman, in which Edmondson says that open Senate seats don't come along too often and he'd simply have to look at the possibilities. Advantage: Mike. :)

Brad Carson, just barely in place as Second District Congressman, is also giving the matter some thought. And surprisingly (to me anyway), Oklahoma City Mayor Kirk Humphreys (a non-partisan post, but Humphreys is a Republican in real life) is making some serious noise himself, even going so far as to rule out a run for the House before trying to move up to the Senate. That sort of slow, steady progress, he says, "is for very young, very patient people. I am neither." At least he didn't say "That's the way we do it in the O.K.C., bitch."

And most telling of all, Nickles has apparently thrown cold water on Ernest Istook, telling him that the state would be better off if Istook kept his Fifth District House seat rather than jump into a Senate race. Istook, of course, disagrees. For myself, I have always felt that the distance between Istook and the nearest clue was variable but never came close to approaching zero, and if Don Nickles, who keeps a closer watch on him than I do, is similarly persuaded — and I haven't heard that Nickles gave any such advice to the other three GOP Congressmen in the state — well, I might actually miss ol' Don when he goes. Whenever that may be.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:14 AM)
2 September 2003
We push, but we don't budget

In an effort to save a few bucks, the Oklahoma Tax Commission announced that they would no longer send renewal notices for vehicle license plates (or, as state parlance calls them, "tags").

Today the Commission backpedaled, saying that they weren't saving any real money by not sending the notices. State law provides for a thirty-day grace period after the expiration of the current tag; the Commission had hoped that people, knowing they would get no reminder in the mail, might actually renew on time or even early. It didn't happen.

(I myself used to procrastinate, though I never seem to find the time anymore.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:31 PM)
3 September 2003
Weekday at Bernie's

Embattled WorldCom boss Bernard J. Ebbers will appear in Oklahoma County District Court today to answer the charges filed against him by Attorney General Drew Edmondson last week. For some reason, Edmondson himself will not appear.

Reid Weingarten, counsel for Ebbers, has already indicated which way he plans to go with this matter:

It is not apparent from the charging document, which contains no specific allegations of wrongdoing by Bernard Ebbers, what the local Oklahoma authorities think they have uncovered that the federal authorities have overlooked.

Edmondson has come under fire from federal prosecutors and financial analysts for taking this action, a matter to which he is utterly indifferent:

As long as they don't try to interfere, I don't really care a whole lot what they think.

Given his track record, he probably doesn't have to.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:43 AM)
Bernie makes bail

Defrocked WorldCom CEO Bernard Ebbers won't be fitted for an orange jumpsuit just yet; he entered a Not Guilty plea to the state's fifteen charges, posted $50,000 bond, and got out of town.

Should Ebbers be convicted on any one count, he faces up to ten years in Big Mac and a $10,000 fine. He is due back in the Okay City for a preliminary hearing on 30 October.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:30 PM)
4 September 2003
Fuhrman finds a bloody test tube

I don't know if you'd call it a personal epiphany, but Mark Fuhrman, the detective who turned up the bloody glove in the O. J. Simpson case, has apparently turned his back on the death penalty; in Death and Justice: An Exposé of Oklahoma's Death Row Machine, Fuhrman, writing with Stephen Weeks, rakes various Oklahoma prosecutorial types, including retired Oklahoma County DA Bob Macy and disgraced forensic chemist Joyce Gilchrist, over the coals.

"Catastrophic errors," says Fuhrman, "occur in many death penalty cases because of the pressure to make a strong case and get a capital conviction." And I suppose if anyone knows about catastrophic errors, it would be Fuhrman. But to err is human; to design the evidence to fit the suspect is monstrous. And some of what went on in Oklahoma County during the Macy years is truly the work of monsters. This book goes on my Must-Read list.

(Update, 12:20 pm: The Bubba World archive of "Junk Justice" may well be of interest here.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:54 AM)
6 September 2003
Not going back to Denver

The Federal trials of Oklahoma City bombers Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols were held, not in Oklahoma City, but in Denver. Nichols, now facing state charges, has asked that the state trial be moved out of Oklahoma; Judge Steven Taylor has rejected that request, though he said that if the court cannot find enough impartial jurors, the case will be dismissed.

The trial location is expected to be announced Monday; the trial itself begins on the first of March.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:52 AM)
9 September 2003
Tulsa thinks big

For years and years, Tulsa has thought of itself as Oklahoma's Dallas, and that other city down 66 was Fort Worth, nothing more. Tulsa has had better convention facilities, a spiffier downtown, more hotel rooms — and today none of it matters, as a refurbished Oklahoma City shoots for the big time and Tulsa descends into tedious Lubbockhood.

Today, voters will pass judgment on a package of expensive civic improvements and industrial incentives intended to restore Tulsa's edge. The operative word here is "expensive": Vision 2025, as it's called, will cost nearly a billion dollars and will be financed by an extra penny of sales tax over a 13-year period.

There are some objections to the package — a downtown stadium? — but I think it will pass, if only because Oklahoma's number two city hates to be, well, number two. Still, it's not as visionary, if that's the word, as the MAPS projects in Oklahoma City, and there are legitimate reasons to question whether Tulsans will get any kind of return on their investment.

Right now, though, the one question is "What will the voters say?" That, at least, will be answered today.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:43 AM)
No drugs for you

The Justice Department has ordered Tulsa's Rx Depot, which operates 85 pharmacies in six states, to shut down by Thursday or face the Wrath of Ashcroft. The chain does a thriving business on the side importing prescription drugs from Canada, and following a warning from DOJ this past spring, actually expanded its activities. Further, the Food and Drug Administration says it bought an antidepressant from Rx Depot at Canadian prices which proved to be a counterfeit.

Rx Depot's Carl Moore continues to insist that he will not yield to government pressure, and that he will not sign the DOJ's consent decree.

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:43 PM)
10 September 2003
Tulsa thinks even bigger

In the end, it wasn't even close: all four of Tulsa's Vision 2025 proposals passed, drawing 60 percent approval from the 40 percent of registered voters who turned out for Tuesday's election.

"It is the beginning of Tulsa's future," exulted Mayor Bill LaFortune.

Well, maybe. I'm not convinced waving $350 million at Boeing will encourage them to build the 7E7 in Tulsa; on the other hand, $22 million to help shore up sagging American Airlines, which wants to close one of its three maintenance facilities, one of which is in Tulsa, might do some good.

And there's the question of whether some Tulsans felt they were being railroaded into supporting Vision 2025. Michael Bates, a leader of the opposition forces, reports:

I have spoken to and received e-mail from hundreds of Tulsa County residents who deliver the same basic message: "I'm against this tax, and I appreciate what the opposition is doing, but because of my job, I cannot come out publicly against it." People are afraid to display yard signs, to sign petitions. Employees, public and private, are afraid of losing their jobs. Politicians are afraid of angering donors and being targeted for defeat (with good reason). Businessmen are afraid of regulatory harassment from city or county agencies, afraid of losing business from the big companies backing this package, afraid of being turned down for loans. I heard that workers at one downtown company were told by an angry CEO that they'd lose their jobs if they opposed the package. American Airlines mechanics were taken off the line to assemble "YES" signs.

A lot of this goes on in most elections of this sort, I suspect.

Now comes the hard part: trying to get the maximum bang for Tulsa County's extra cent per buck.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:44 AM)
11 September 2003
In your dreams, pal

The first blast came at 5:14, and I sleepily did the math: yes, it's the 11th of September, and yes, I'm within five miles of Tinker Air Force Base, and yes, if they take out Tinker, there's a good chance I'm going with it.

A second eruption, the lights flickered, and finally it dawned on me that this was not any kind of military operation at all; it was nothing more than a very loud but otherwise unremarkable Oklahoma thunderstorm.

A bit of paranoia, I think, is probably hard-coded into the genome as a survival enhancement.

Incidentally, this site was hit with a Denial of Service attack last evening. (Well, not just this site — everything on the host was being hit — but there are relatively few blogs on this host, so you might not have noticed it elsewhere.) The attack was brought under control after about twenty-five minutes, but it's yet another reminder that we all have our little vulnerabilities.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:34 AM)
One square at a time

Carolyne Duncan teaches literature at Haskell Middle School in Broken Arrow. Sometimes she teaches something more.

Last year, her seventh-graders read Paul Fleischman's Seedfolks and constructed two quilts, which ultimately wound up at Comfort Quilts. What is Comfort Quilts?

September 11, 2001 was a day of tragedy for all Americans, especially for the children who lost a parent in such a disaster. Comfort Quilts was created in order to help relieve some of the pain and assist in the healing process by providing handmade Comfort Quilts to those children who lost a parent that day. It gives them something they can hold on to, find peace with, and be comforted knowing we all care and are here to provide strength to help them through their loss and sorrows.

Cody Taylor, a student who participated in the project last year:

I think about those people who had something taken away from them and we were able to give them back something. I think that's pretty cool.

There's no feeling on earth quite like it.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:04 AM)
16 September 2003
Are we all bozos on this bus?

"No public speech will be allowed on the bus, which may include but is not necessarily limited to religion, politics, economics or finances."

This used to be the policy in Broken Arrow, which operates one bus. The American Center for Law and Justice filed suit against the city on behalf of two local women. At the time, the city had contracted out its bus service to a private firm; the city began providing the service itself on the first of September, dropped the policy, and settled the ACLJ suit.

The new policy permits any discussion so long as it does not disturb the passengers or the driver.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:06 AM)
18 September 2003
Another brick

The seal of the city of Edmond, Oklahoma, designed by local resident Frances Bryan, was adopted in 1965. In 1992, Rev. Wayne Robinson asked that the cross at three o'clock be removed, claiming that it showed government endorsement of religion; the city declined. Lawsuits ensued, the city lost, and to this day, the seal is displayed with the cross area blanked out.

Now comes a similar story, across the state in McAlester. At the 26 August city council meeting, firefighter Steven Belcher registered a complaint about the city seal, which contains an image of a church topped by a cross, though the complaint didn't seem to be about the cross so much as it was about the city's alleged behavior:

"I feel that the seal would lead citizens to believe that their officials would act in a Christian way," Mr. Belcher said over the weekend. "I think that's misleading after seeing some of the things our officials do. City officials have lied. They've stolen."

There has been no further statement from Belcher, and no formal request to remove the symbol has been filed, but McAlester city officials are busy working up Plan B, just in case; the current estimate for removing the ostensibly-offending symbol is $156,000.

Generally, I tend to want to keep the church and the state at arm's length, both from each other and from me. On the other hand, the blithe assumption that the Wall of Separation requires every last symbol of faith be expunged from public view is becoming increasingly annoying, and the argument that the appearance of an icon represents an endorsement strikes me as specious. The Edmond seal contains a covered wagon, which commemorates the 1889 Land Run; are native Americans going to sue the city on the basis that the city endorses white settlements on native lands? Will environmentalists condemn the McAlester seal, which includes an image of a coal miner's hat, for promoting fossil-fuel use?

Enough already.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:52 AM)
20 September 2003
Clean for Dean

Usually when I see tidy young people clustered at an intersection, I assume they're conducting a charity car wash. This made no sense at the northwest corner of Pennsylvania and the Northwest Distressway today, since (1) there's already a car wash there, on the southwest corner, and (2) even slowing down through this intersection is a good way to get killed.

Fortunately, I can read fairly quickly, and the signs this bunch was carrying didn't offer to scrub the crud off my car; they were trying to drum up support for Democratic Presidential candidate Howard Dean. Inasmuch as the 2004 primary in this state is fairly early — 3 February, the week after New Hampshire — I suppose that it's not too early for this sort of thing, but I question their location: just east of this intersection are the two swankiest (by Oklahoma City standards, anyway) enclosed retail compounds in town, the sort of place where you'd think there'd be little support for a rustic Vermonter, especially a leftish rustic Vermonter. Then again, the Democratic party tends to rely more on high-dollar donors than does the GOP.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:50 PM)
24 September 2003
A couple of falls ago

I remembered posting this in '01, and it seems to fit the current climate.

In many ways, autumn is the most bearable of the eleven or twelve seasons that descend upon Soonerland in an average year, which is probably why it's the shortest: three or four weeks, if we're lucky, before we have to face the triple threat of Pre-Winter, Dead Of Winter, and Christ, When's It Gonna Warm Up Already. In the meantime, though, we get temperatures that are actually temperate, the occasional shower, and foliage that stubbornly holds on to as much green as it can, surrounded by the merest hint of orange. And it's one of the few times of the year when the tourism-industry ads aren't greeted by residents with hearty guffaws.

If you're planning to visit Oklahoma, you've still got a few days left.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:01 PM)
25 September 2003
Recycled prescriptions

Oklahoma is a small state, at least in terms of population, but it's big enough for things to happen under the radar, and I had no idea that this was going on until The Daily Oklahoman had editorial praise for it this morning.

Under a pilot program in the state's two largest counties, prescription drugs which go unused in area nursing homes, which ordinarily would be destroyed after one week, are sent to the county, which then distributes them to the needy.

The program covers 25 specific medications supplied in point-of-care packaging (individual dosages, not bulk). Nursing homes normally don't stock them in surplus quantities, but prescriptions can and do change, and patients eventually pass away, so it's not uncommon for there to be leftover drugs, and before this program was instituted, the drugs were simply thrown away. The Food and Drug Administration doesn't object to the recycling so long as adequate controls are maintained and the original point-of-care packaging is retained.

Waste not, want not: it's on page one of the Oklahoma catalog of virtues. I'm rather pleased that the legislature came up with something like this.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:12 AM)
27 September 2003
A state of one-newspaper towns

A couple of days ago I posted a bit about the squabbling between the two Seattle dailies and the Joint Operating Agreement that, for now anyway, binds them together. Incorporated therein was a reference to the JOA between the Tulsa World and the now-departed Tulsa Tribune, about which I wrote in Vent #317.

Tribune fan Michael Bates remembers the Tulsa JOA and its unraveling in the early 90s, and given the Tribune's penchant for innovation, he wonders if the paper might have survived without actual, well, paper:

Just a few years after the Tribune was closed, and about the time the JOA was set to expire, the World Wide Web came into being and London's Daily Telegraph began publishing an electronic version. I have often wondered whether the Tribune might have soldiered on as a web-based newspaper. They were always the first to try something new, and I think they would have beaten the Whirled onto the web and could have made a successful venture out of it.

And probably without charging $45 a year for everything but the classifieds and the static displays, as tulsaworld.com does now.

Oklahoma City was never affected by the Newspaper Preservation Act; by the Fifties, the surviving OKC papers — The Daily Oklahoman and the Oklahoma City Times — were both owned by the Oklahoma Publishing Company. In 1964, Midwest City founder W. P. Bill Atkinson, always at odds with OPUBCO's E. K. Gaylord, started a rival morning paper, The Oklahoma Journal, and positioned it as Fair and Balanced; the Journal's slogan was "The Paper That Tells Both Sides".

The Journal seldom outsold the Times and never came close to the Oklahoman, but it held on until 1980 — Atkinson had sold out a couple of years earlier — and its death was noted tersely by the Oklahoman on the last page of Section A, under the headline "Midwest City paper folds". And the Times, like many afternoon papers, was eventually absorbed into its morning counterpart.

While there is little local newspaper competition, the national players — USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times — are happy to play at this level, and The Dallas Morning News has a substantial presence here. Suburban papers like the Norman Transcript and the Edmond Sun are staying alive. But head-to-head competition in a single market, even outside Oklahoma, is all but dead; only a dozen or so JOAs remain, and even fewer cities have newspaper rivals who don't pool their resources.

I suppose I can take comfort in the fact that we're technically no worse off than most of the rest of the country, but still I lament the death of direct competition: it's what keeps a news organization on its toes.

A lesson CNN, for one, is only just now starting to learn.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:57 AM)
1 October 2003
Whatever you do, don't eat it fast

And now, the recipe for Honey Pecan Ice Cream, the very recipe that won the blue ribbon at the Oklahoma State Fair this past month:

HONEY ROASTED PECANS:
1½ cup chopped pecans
2 tablespoons butter, melted
2 tablespoons honey

ICE CREAM:
6 tablespoons butter
2 cups brown sugar, packed
3 tablespoons light corn syrup
¼ teaspoon salt
1 quart half and half
5 egg yolks, beaten
1 tablespoon vanilla
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon caramel extract
3 cups heavy cream

Whole milk, to fill ice cream canister ¾ full or to fill line

To prepare Honey Roasted Pecans, mix together pecans, butter and honey. Place on nonstick aluminum foil-lined pan and bake in 350-degree oven for 8-10 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool.

In saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Add the brown sugar and corn syrup. Bring the mixture to a boil and cook until the sugar dissolves, stirring frequently. Remove from heat.

Add the half and half and salt. Stir in egg yolks. Slowly bring to boil, stirring often.

Add vanilla, honey and caramel extract. Stir, strain, cover and chill.

Pour ice cream mixture and heavy cream into freezer canister and add enough whole milk to fill ¾ full or to fill line. Freeze according to manufacturer's instructions.

When ice cream is frozen, remove dasher, add Honey Roasted Pecans and mix into ice cream. Replace cover on canister, cover with ice and let ripen at least 1 hour before serving. Makes 1 gallon.

Winning recipe by Rosalie Seebeck, Bethany, Oklahoma.

And here's what she beat to get that blue ribbon.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:54 AM)
2 October 2003
1921 and all that

I reported here in June about a lawsuit filed against two Tulsa newspapers, one of which is defunct, which claimed that The Tulsa Tribune had published inflammatory material which incited the 1921 riot on Tulsa's largely-black north side.

The suit, filed by two survivors of the riot, has now been dropped; the plaintiffs gave no reason for requesting the dismissal.

Meanwhile, an unrelated suit filed in February against the state of Oklahoma and the city of Tulsa is pending in federal court, charging conspiracy to incite the riot.

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:38 PM)
3 October 2003
Seeking a grand jury

A petition has been approved to initiate a grand jury investigation of Commissioner of Labor Brenda Reneau Wynn and Oklahoma County District Attorney Wes Lane; supporters of the investigation must now obtain 5000 signatures of residents to have the jury officially empaneled.

The petition charges that Reneau Wynn circumvented the state's competitive-bidding process, advised others how to get around the state's campaign laws, and conducted campaign affairs on state time. Lane is accused of taking a campaign contribution from Reneau Wynn under dubious circumstances, and of fudging evidence in the infamous Donald Pete case.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:32 AM)
7 October 2003
Nickles calls it a day

There have been rumors floating around, but today Senator Don Nickles made it official: his fourth term will be his last.

"Knowing when to leave," said Burt Bacharach and/or Hal David, "may be the smartest thing anyone can learn." Nickles is a smart fellow; I don't know what, if any, handwriting he may have seen on the wall, but I'm betting he's figured this one out to the last detail.

And now with a Senate seat opening up in 2004 — we're in for some bumpy times, folks.

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:01 PM)
8 October 2003
Flow control

Today the Department of Justice is seeking an injunction against Tulsa-based Rx Depot, a company used by thousands of consumers to import prescription drugs from Canada and elsewhere. Rx Depot's Oklahoma locations were closed by an earlier action; DOJ wants the remaining 77 stores in 26 states to shut down.

Inasmuch as the FDA does not inspect Canadian drugs, the DOJ's request is likely to rely heavily on safety concerns. Rx Depot counsel Fred Stoops scoffs: "It's not like we're buying these drugs from Afghanistan."

Even if the DOJ prevails, there will still be sources for Canadian drugs. Can the process be stopped at all? Robert Prather takes the long view:

I'm somewhat surprised — and pleased — to see drug companies such as GlaxoSmithKline hold their drugs off the Canadian market rather than see their U.S. market get lacerated. This behavior may help put an end to the free-rider problem that's caused Americans to pay inflated prices for drugs.

It proves that the drug companies do have some pricing power and it also, regrettably, proves that reimportation is a threat to R&D. If it were not they would go ahead and sell in these countries just to get the marginal profit from the sale of additional pills. It bodes ill for the long-term prospects of other countries that have benefitted from high American drug prices because the companies have shown they are capable of holding the drugs off the market. This may force other countries to drop price controls or risk losing the newest medicines until patent protection expires.

The best possible outcome?

The silver lining in this cloud would be if other countries actually begin to pick up a fair share of the R&D cost of drugs. They've been free-riders too long.

A push toward freer markets in those other countries? Certainly a boon, but probably not a likely prospect.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:07 AM)
Brad's in

The Hill (no relation) is reporting that Rep. Brad Carson, of Oklahoma's 2nd Congressional District, will seek the Senate seat to be vacated by Don Nickles, who has announced he will not run for a fifth term. Carson, a Democrat, is serving his second term in the House.

One likely Republican opponent, though he hasn't declared his candidacy yet, is Rep. Ernest Istook of the 5th District. Others reputedly waiting in the wings are Oklahoma City Mayor Kirk Humphreys, a Republican serving in a nonpartisan office, and Attorney General Drew Edmondson, a Democrat.

For the GOP, this means a change from a seat that was safe to a seat that is...um, less safe. Were I a Democratic party operative, I wouldn't be ordering any champagne just yet.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:51 AM)
It can't happen here

No way anyone will recall Oklahoma's governor, Brad Henry:

Oklahoma law doesn't allow for the recall of elected state officials. He could be "ousted", a procedure the Attorney General handles for neglect of duty, public intoxication or a criminal conviction. On the city level — recalls are possible, for all elected officials — including the mayor and city council.

Mike from OkieDoke, from whom I pilfered this story, comments:

Ousted for public intoxication? I hope that doesn't apply to all our elected officials. Enforcing that could get to be quite expensive.

They'd have to hire someone just to follow Carroll Fisher around.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:53 PM)
9 October 2003
And we'll have funds, funds, funds

Vice President Dick Cheney is just now wrapping up his fundraiser at Civic Center Music Hall in Oklahoma City.

Now let's see: if Cheney sold out the place at $1000 a head — not at all unthinkable — that's $2.5 million before expenses.

Not a bad haul for a day's work, if I do say so myself.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:59 PM)
10 October 2003
Rx Depot gets some time

On Day Two of the hearing in federal court in Tulsa, Judge Claire Eagan did not issue the injunction against Rx Depot requested by the Department of Justice, leaving the pharmaceutical importer free to operate through the end of the month. Judge Eagan said that on the 31st, she will receive supporting evidence from both DOJ and Rx Depot president Carl Moore.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:45 AM)
13 October 2003
Thinning out the herd

Rep. Ernest Istook says he's not going to run for the Senate seat being vacated by Don Nickles next year.

Announcing he will seek reelection to his 5th District House seat, Istook cited the slight majorities held by the Republicans in Congress; he's not willing to risk the GOP House majority to take a shot at securing the Senate.

With J. C. Watts already having declined, this leaves the door open for Oklahoma City Mayor Kirk Humphreys, who has a press conference scheduled for this afternoon. (Should Humphreys win the seat, the City Council would appoint an acting mayor until a special election could be called; a city charter change is on the ballot tomorrow to allow a special election immediately.)

As for the Democrats, well, Brad Carson is definitely in, and Drew Edmondson is surely thinking about it.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:55 AM)
14 October 2003
La plume de ma tante

A parent with a child in a Tulsa school got this explanation of what's going on in the classroom:

The theme for the year is Discovery. The concept for the first 6 weeks is systems. Then the concepts are perspectives, celebrations, economics, exploration and adaptation.

The training I received this summer on the Tulsa Model for School Improvement stressed the importance of accessing the knowledge that students already have about the themes and concepts and then building on it. Building the background knowledge they will need for the new learning, introducing the themes and concepts is to be done in broad generalizations that they can apply to their lives now and in the future before it is "narrowed" for specific classroom use. After a summer of asking the experts what they would do/how they would do it, I decided to introduce the new learning in English to enable the students to more easily and quickly grasp the concepts that we will be using. New strategies and techniques are to be non-academic the first time the students use them to allow them to concentrate on learning the new strategies and techniques before they are used academically. To this end, I have been teaching the 7 Learning Community Guidelines and the Life Skills, class and team building activities to teach the new strategies and structures. Teachers are also expected to teach students about the 8 Multiple Intelligences and how they learn best, the 7 Learning Community Guidelines and the 18 Life Skills which are the basis of the Tulsa Model discipline plan. This is what we have spent the first several weeks concentrating on.

Um, yeah. Okay. Whatever you say.

Now what, exactly, does all this have to do with teaching French?

I can appreciate the idea of avoiding rote memorization, but in a foreign language for which total immersion is impracticable, there is really no choice but to learn all those irregular verbs and such.

Michael Bates, who brought this to light, comments:

Learning a language has nothing to do with grasping big ideas and key concepts. It's about learning spelling and pronunciation and verb forms and sentence structure — many little details that you just have to learn. J'ai, tu as, il a, nous avons, vous avez, ils ont. Yes, a good teacher will draw on the student's experience to help explain concepts or teach vocabulary words, but much of a foreign language is by definition foreign and just has to be learned by heart. Yes, a good teacher will draw on different techniques to help students with different learning strengths, but memorization, learning by ear, and learning by sight are essential to learning a language well enough to use it.

Meanwhile, the school board, having been thwarted at every turn by the presence of trees, has rewritten the curriculum to avoid any mention of the forest.

"Theme for the year," indeed.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:42 AM)
Step by step

Bruce has a four-point plan for Brad Carson, 2nd District Congressman seeking to replace the retiring Don Nickles in the Senate, and it goes like this:

1) Become a Republican
2) Make obvious references to God / Jesus / Bible as often as humanly possible
3) Join the NRA
4) Be pro-life

"You do these things," says Bruce, "and you can spit in the face of everybody you meet in Oklahoma and they'll still vote for you."

As an Oklahoma Democrat, I advise against item 1. :)

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:14 PM)
17 October 2003
Welcome Elijah

Elijah, if you're wondering, is the son of Dan and Angi Lovejoy, Oklahoma bloggers, and the story of how he got here is the stuff of legend, with perhaps the occasional miracle.

If you want to read that story, it's not exactly organized into neat little segments, but this is a good place to start.

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:22 PM)
22 October 2003
Drew takes a pass

Attorney General Drew Edmondson, defying early predictions, said today he would not run for Don Nickles' Senate seat in 2004.

With State Treasurer Robert Butkin also passing up the race, this leaves Congressman Brad Carson as the only Democrat in the running; the first avowed Republican candidate is soon-to-be-former Oklahoma City Mayor Kirk Humphreys.

I can't wait to see what Mike at Okiedoke has to say about this.

(Update, 9 pm: Chris thinks Butkin and Edmondson basically "wimped out.")

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:54 PM)
26 October 2003
Headline of the day

In Frosty Troy's Oklahoma Observer (not online), a cover story about retiring Senator Don Nickles: Requiem for a Lightweight.

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:02 AM)
27 October 2003
Birds on a wire

This morning's convocation of the crows took place as scheduled, but for some reason it was more noticeable than usual, and after a couple of thwaps to the forehead it occurred to me why: it's actually daylight as I'm pushing out the door. With the return of standard time comes a brief period (a month or so) when I don't have to commute in the dark. The birds, of course, don't pay attention to these fine points of human existence: they just wait for a propitious moment to divebomb the cars in the parking lot. Meanwhile, I'm feeling this strange notion that maybe I overdid the fall-back bit, that I'm actually late.

Right on cue, the stereo pops up "Get Me To The World On Time", the second Electric Prunes hit. (If you think of the Prunes as one-hit wonders, well, think again.) And ultimately I was on time, though my sense of timing wasn't keen enough to let me sail through any of the intervening traffic lights.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:44 AM)
31 October 2003
The man who would be Senator

I don't live in Oklahoma City (though I will be moving there shortly), so I never bothered to work up much of an opinion about Mayor Kirk Humphreys; he struck me as a reasonable, if not particularly inspired, successor to Ron Norick, a visionary who was a hard act to follow.

No doubt Humphreys has his fans. But some folks don't like him at all.

(Via Fly Over Country, now endorsed by Robb Hibbard.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:52 AM)
3 November 2003
You bet

Well, actually, you didn't, which is why Sallisaw's Blue Ribbon Downs, the state's first pari-mutuel racetrack, was scheduled to be auctioned off tomorrow, only to be rescued at the last minute by the Choctaw Nation, which also owns a casino in nearby Pocola.

Terms of the sale were not announced. Speculation continues that Remington Park in Oklahoma City, the state's largest racetrack, may be in deep trouble as well; the general feeling seems to be that the casinos are drawing many potential bettors away from the tracks. I stay away from the tracks, but this is mostly because I coughed up quite a bit of cash playing the ponies in my younger days and I have no reason to think I'm any better at it now than I was then.

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:48 PM)
4 November 2003
Think locally

I've mentioned before that I'm moving into one of Oklahoma City's Urban Conservation Districts, and that while some of the zoning restrictions therein might seem daunting, they were enacted at the request of a majority of the property owners therein, and, well, if I found them particularly onerous, perhaps I should have bought somewhere else.

Do districts of this sort, which in effect empower individual neighborhoods, threaten the status quo? Michael Bates certainly thinks so:

[M]y support for neighborhood empowerment (through the use of urban conservation districts) was why [the Tulsa World] wouldn't endorse me [for Tulsa City Council in 2002]. Averill [David Averill, of the World's editorial board] said that neighborhoods had opposed every good thing that had happened to Midtown, and they shouldn't be given any more clout to oppose progress. I cited several counter-examples to his assertion, but he was not interested in discussing the matter further.

The bottom line for the Whirled was this: If elected to the Council, I would be an obstacle to their vision for the redevelopment of Midtown, because I would work to protect the rights of homeowners and other property owners and make them a part of the decision-making process. I believe that we can accommodate growth and new development without endangering the character of our older neighborhoods, and with a minimum of red tape and regulation.

There are, of course, numerous examples where individual property owners have been given the back of the municipal hand, often to expedite the plans of politically-connected developers; the right of "eminent domain" is often abused. I don't know how well our little strip of the city will serve as any sort of bulwark, but it's a good thing that Oklahoma City is, at least for now, on our side — and it's not so good that Tulsa's movers and shakers think so little of their residents.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:13 AM)
7 November 2003
Rx Depot to be padlocked

The government has prevailed in its efforts to shut down Rx Depot; Judge Claire Egan granted the request by the Department of Justice to close the Tulsa firm that imports lower-priced Canadian drugs for American consumers.

From Egan's ruling:

This court is not unsympathetic to the predicament faced by individuals who cannot afford their prescription drugs at US prices. However, the defendants are able to offer lower prices only because they facilitate illegal activity determined by Congress to harm the public interest.

The pharmaceutical industry's business model — lose money in countries like Canada with artificial price controls, make it up in the US where the market is freer — makes a certain amount of sense. This ruling is going to be perceived, however, as yet another instance of Sticking It to the Little Guy, and as a result we're going to move one step closer to nationalized health care, which will likely stick it to everyone.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:23 AM)
10 November 2003
Boomlet Sooner

According to Assessor Mike Means, home values rose 17.6 percent in Oklahoma County last year, the sort of number one associates with health-care costs or the late, lamented Oil Boom.

Mercifully, state law provides that property taxes cannot rise more than 5 percent in a single year.

And this provides more justification for buying in now before things get really out of hand. I don't see things reaching the heady heights of, say, Austin, where fairly ordinary boxes just north of the University are now going for more than a quarter of a million, but I'll happily take whatever equity I can get.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:33 AM)
Get a rope

The increase in beef prices does more than just make your burgers more costly: it also brings an increase in cattle rustling.

With prices now topping $120 per hundredweight, it's becoming more cost-effective to steal a steer. And it doesn't necessarily require the thief to jump the fence, either; even cattle rustling has gone sort of high-tech.

Of course, we still have cottonwood trees and ropes to stretch, should the circumstances warrant.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:30 AM)
Brad goes to the ER

Rep. Brad Carson (D-OK) came down with a severe case of abdominal pain last night and has checked into St. Francis Hospital in Tulsa, where they're planning to remove his gall bladder tonight.

Of course, Congress never runs short of gall, so this should be considered relatively minor in the grand scheme of things.

I'm waiting for someone (maybe Bruce) to ask how much of a copay Carson had to fork over.

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:48 PM)
15 November 2003
Another one bites

So, Mr. Insurance Commissioner, this year you've been caught accepting high-lux gifts from someone within your regulatory purview, you've been busted for DWI, and you've used your influence to dig up dirt on an opponent. What are you going to do now?

You're running for the Senate, you say?

Sheesh.

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:29 AM)
Incredible savings

Lindsay's dad has been wanting a Translinear Greek New Testament, which is how she came to be contemplating the Oklahoma phenomenon that is Mardel:

For those of you who don't know, Mardel's is like a Jesus Depot SuperCenter. The Holy Hobby Lobby. Bulk-Baptist Warehouse. Aisle after fluorescently-glowing aisle of Bibles for every demographic, communion wafers in bulk, Left Behind series, Sunday School craft kits, Veggie Tales paraphernalia... Stopping by the tiny little Episcopalian bookstore in Trinity, or maybe that Catholic bookstore on 31st, sure, I can at least do that without breaking a sweat. But the very thought of going into Mardel's... my skin starts to crawl, I wonder if maybe I'll catch fire, or turn the pages of the Greek Translinear Bibles to ash with my touch, or vice versa. I'm an erstwhile-Episcopalian semi-Deist pseudo-Agnost, on the rare occasions I care to think about religion at all, but me and the Charismatics, we're like water and oil, baby, Holy water and crude oil churned from the very bowels of Hell itself. Perhaps I should go incognito? Like — jeans and a t-shirt, mess my hair up a little bit?

I've never felt too out of place at Mardel — they were the last place in town who stocked label tape for my ancient Dymo, which was reason enough to go there — but I look like basically the same shambling small-h hulk all the time, so it's not like I can do much of anything to disguise myself when approaching those sanitary surroundings. Besides, not having to cater to more secular souls makes their Christmas-card selection vastly more interesting than what you'll find at Wal-Mart, a place that gives me far more heebie-jeebies than Mardel ever did.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:07 AM)
18 November 2003
Rx Depot won't go away quietly

Tulsa's Rx Depot, shuttered by a district judge's ruling, has asked the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals for a stay of that ruling.

On 6 November, Judge Claire Egan ordered the company to close at the request of the Department of Justice for importing drugs from Canada and elsewhere. Counsel for Rx Depot argued that the firm is not in fact an importer of Canadian drugs, but merely facilitates the process for its customers.

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:07 PM)
4 December 2003
Ambition, distraction

Dan Lovejoy admits that he voted for Carroll Fisher, and summarizes the headlines made by our beloved Insurance Commissioner over the past year and a half.

Disclosure: Even I voted for the guy. But his apparent meltdown is incredible, even by Oklahoma standards. He doesn't really have a shot at that Senate seat; there is, contrary to the dicta of the entertainment industry, such a thing as negative name recognition.

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:00 PM)
9 December 2003
Striking back

Robert Braver in Norman has been fighting unsolicited crapola for a long time. On his Web site, in fact, he characterizes telemarketers and senders of junk fax as "a form of organized crime," and he's happy to take on this mob in the courts.

So it's no surprise to see Braver suing spammers (NewsOK.com registration required: email cgh at windowphobe.com, pw carlotta) under the Oklahoma law which went into effect last month. The statute outlaws fake routing information or bogus email addresses, and specifies a format for unsolicited email which must be followed explicitly. Said Braver:

Americans and American businesses are fed up with the greedy sociopaths and criminals who are destroying e-mail as a viable communications medium.

Personally, I'd rather see them crucified, but whatever works, right?

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:44 AM)
Well, this is fun

Record high temperature for the date yesterday, so naturally we're waiting for the snow to start.

And we may as well wait, because we've had no power at 42nd and Treadmill for an hour and a half.

(Update, 3:30 pm: Which stretched into two hours and fifty-five minutes before the juice was restored.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:05 PM)
11 December 2003
A matter of timing

Oklahoma's term-limits law, enacted as State Question 632 in 1990, allows a legislator a maximum of twelve years, whether in the state House, the state Senate, or both. The law specified that legislators serving as of January 1991 would be allowed to complete their current term before their 12-year clock would be started.

Which means that individuals who were serving in the subsequent legislature — 1993-94 — are now about to be squeezed out, and the first squeezee looks like Senator Angela Z. Monson, Oklahoma City Democrat, who began her career in the Senate in 1993 but who previously served one term in the House. (Disclosure: I used to live in Monson's district, and voted for her twice. Not in the same election.) The law says that Monson's clock starts with the beginning of her Senate service, which means that although she was elected to a full four-year term in 2002, she will have to leave the Senate in 2005.

One other Senator may face a similar situation: Jim Maddox, a Lawton Democrat, who was in the House when his clock started in 1993 but moved to the Senate for the 1995 session. The difference, so far, is that the Attorney General has been asked to rule on Monson, not on Maddox.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:04 AM)
17 December 2003
The plane truth

It's official: Boeing will build the new 7E7 jet in Everett, Washington, snubbing a bid from Tulsa.

Michael Bates is still wondering about the incentives Tulsa offered:

State officials are still refusing to tell us what incentives they offered Boeing in our name and with our tax dollars. Even the total value of the package has been kept secret.

Tulsa officials, says Bates, are in "full spin mode." Meanwhile, I keep thinking of the United Airlines maintenance facility for which we were competing, which finally ended up in Indianapolis, only to be shut down when United went into Chapter 11, and I don't feel quite so bad.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:18 AM)
18 December 2003
Tweaking the tax freeze

In 1996, the state Constitution was amended to block property-tax increases for persons 65 and over with incomes of $25,000 or less. (Technically, the law blocks increasing the assessed valuation of the property, on which the tax is based; it does not actually freeze the tax rate, which is generally set by voter election.)

There is now a proposal in the works, backed by members of the County Government Legislative Council, to amend this amendment by allowing the income threshold to float upward to the median income in each county, which even in the state's poorest county (Pushmataha) is today over $30,000. In my neck of the woods, the cutoff would be $51,100.

Roy Bishop, president of the Oklahoma Education Association, announced that the group would oppose any move that might conceivably take any money out of school coffers. In 2002, nearly $3 of every $5 collected by Oklahoma County went to public schools.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:24 AM)
23 December 2003
A muted "ka-ching"

The income-tax law in Oklahoma has an interesting quirk: if the State Equalization Board, after reviewing budgets and projections and such, certifies that the state's revenues will increase for the next calendar year, the tax rate must be cut to compensate.

The Board has so certified for 2004, so next year's tax rate will be reduced; the top rate, now 7 percent, will drop to 6.65 percent. Lower brackets are not affected, but considering how fast those brackets go by — a single person reaches the top rate with a taxable income of $10,000 — this really isn't the sop to the rich that you might think. (The Bureau of the Census guesstimates the per capita income for 2002, the latest figures I found, to be $25,575.) Still, it would seem fairer to reduce all the brackets.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:47 AM)
24 December 2003
Cell roaming

Kevin Wyckoff, newly arrived at the state correctional facility in Lexington, was found dead in his cell, a noose around his neck. The family was notified and a funeral was held for the deceased prisoner.

Who then called home from the facility.

Officials are still scrambling to assemble the story, but it appears that Wyckoff and prisoner Steven Howe swapped cells at Lexington's reception center, and it was apparently Howe who hanged himself. The two men reputedly looked enough alike that no one noticed the switch, though it seems implausible that Wyckoff's family wouldn't have caught the error at the services.

Corrections staff are now seeking a court order to exhume whoever it was got buried in Wyckoff's plot.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:24 AM)
26 December 2003
And no crazed heiresses, either

Oklahoma State University, like many schools, offers a degree in hotel and restaurant administration. Unlike many schools, O-State has its own hotel.

And after a year of renovations and upgrades, the hotel, originally built in the 1950s, is ready to resume its status as the "Waldorf of the West." (Be prepared to pay extra on weekends when the Pokes have a home football game.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:57 AM)
28 December 2003
Bracket creep

Oklahoma state tax brackets, except for the very top, have not been adjusted for twenty years. Senate Bill 859, introduced by Randy Brogdon, an Owasso Republican, would provide an inflation adjustment for those brackets equal to the increase in the Consumer Price Index.

Brogdon describes the bill as a "baby step", suggesting he has other ideas to patch up the tax code. If he hasn't already thought about it, I'd like to propose that he do something about the standard deduction, which has never kept up with the federal standard deduction, let alone the rate of inflation: it's 15 percent of adjusted gross income, with a minimum of $1000 and a maximum of $2000. (I hasten to point out that I will not personally benefit from this change, inasmuch as I will be itemizing deductions beginning in tax year 2004.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:48 AM)
5 January 2004
Lessons from life (one in a series)

Neighborhood Association meeting tonight, and a better turnout than last month, but "It's only a block or so, I'll walk" makes a lot more sense when the temperature is above freezing, something it hasn't been since midday Sunday and probably won't be again until Wednesday noon.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:00 PM)
6 January 2004
A process to condemn

Michael Bates, a couple of weeks ago, decried a plan by the University of Tulsa to, in his words, "replace another Route 66 landmark with empty space." The University's favored tool is the power of eminent domain, as wielded by the City of Tulsa on the school's behalf:

If TU had acquired all its land from willing sellers, you could make the case that we have no place telling this private institution what to do with its own land. But TU has gained so much property through the unconstitutional use of eminent domain for private benefit, the least we should expect is that TU use its land efficiently.

Meanwhile, there's an effort in Colorado to curb this sort of thing. A bill being introduced into the Colorado legislature this week by Rep. Shawn Mitchell (R-Broomfield) would bar the use of eminent domain for private projects:

If the city or the state comes to take my land, it darn well better be for the city and state's public use — a courthouse, a road, a school — not just because they'd rather see someone doing something else on my land.

The Colorado Municipal League [link requires Adobe Reader], for its part, "opposes state and federal actions interfering with municipal authority concerning land use regulations." Of course they do.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:53 AM)
9 January 2004
It's a two-man race

That's what Wesley Clark's campaign people are saying, citing a new poll in Oklahoma that shows the general trailing Democratic frontrunner Howard Dean by a mere three percentage points, within the predicted margin of error. (Joe Lieberman is a distant third; the others don't matter.)

The Oklahoma primary is 3 February. I've scheduled a dental appointment for that date in anticipation. Registration closes this afternoon.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:17 AM)
13 January 2004
There go the carbs

Marietta, Oklahoma is known for basically one thing: cookies.

This week, no cookies: Bake-Line Group, the national baking conglomerate founded by former Keebler officers, Marietta's largest employer, has closed all seven of its bakeries and announced plans to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy.

About 300 people out of Marietta's population of 2300 worked for Bake-Line.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:23 AM)
Degrees of insanity

Is it just me, or is Mike suffering brain freeze?

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:26 PM)
16 January 2004
Side, meet thorn

These days, it is an article of faith — one might even call it a faith-based article — that academics of a conservative bent are this close to being on the Endangered Species List, and that the leftists in charge would be gleeful at the possibility of their extinction.

As with most stereotypes, there's a kernel of truth somewhere within, and the example I know best comes from right here in Soonerland, where Professor David Deming of the University of Oklahoma, who has run afoul of the Forces of Political Correctness before, claimed on KWTV this week that his academic career has been stymied by higher-ups who object to his manifest conservatism. (There is, at least temporarily, a RealPlayer video clip at NewsOK.com.)

Dr Deming last galvanized the opposition against him in 2000, when a Yale Daily News piece by student Joni Kletter was reprinted locally. Kletter argued that "easy access to a handgun allows everyone in this country...to quickly and easily kill as many random people as they want." Deming sent a letter to the Oklahoma Daily, suggesting that similarly, women in general and Kletter in particular have the capacity, because of "easy access" to sexual equipment, to have sex with random people — and that he hoped Kletter was "as responsible with her equipment as most gun owners are with theirs."

Not the most subtle of analogies, but Deming made his point, and was duly punished for it. A couple of dozen complaints were filed with the University's Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action. The University, seeing it as a First Amendment issue, dismissed the complaints. The complainants appealed the dismissal, and the University scheduled a hearing; under pressure from local media and from the Center for Individual Rights, which was preparing to sue the University on Deming's behalf, the charges were dropped once again. It seems reasonable to believe, though, that there are still people seething over the fact that Deming is still teaching at OU.

Dr John Dean, then dean of the College of Geophysics, had written Deming over the Kletter affair, to this effect:

In the future, when you enter into public discussion on controversial social issues, I ask that you weigh fully the non-trivial costs and consequences to the individuals with whom you work and the institutions which provide you a professional home.

Dr Dean is still Deming's boss.

(Update, 18 January, 8 pm: Deming says he has lost a class and has been banished to a basement office.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:43 AM)
19 January 2004
The dream remembered

We do love a parade on the Lone Prairie. Last year, over 40,000 turned out to celebrate the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday; only Houston's MLK parade drew a bigger crowd. And while there's a certain irony in the fact that the parade route doesn't actually come within a mile of the street that bears King's name, holding the festivities downtown serves as a reminder that while Dr King was indisputably a black man, the values he preached were values for all of us, race and color nothwithstanding.

In the morning, before all the hoopla, there will be a silent march through northeast Oklahoma City to commemorate the marches led by Dr King in the Sixties. It will begin at the Ralph Ellison Library at 23rd and (yes!) MLK Avenue, and end at the Oklahoma Historical building at 22nd and Lincoln, where a bell will be rung to break the silence.

I've got to work — 42nd and Treadmill waits for no one — but at least one Oklahoma blogger will be in the parade: JMBranum of JMBZine will be marching with the local branch of the Green Party.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:26 AM)
The tribal council that matters

In 1999, the Cherokee Nation held a constitutional convention, the tribe's first since 1976. That was the easy part.

For the next three years, a translator worked to port the resulting document from English into the Cherokee language.

Now comes the task of getting the constitution approved by the President of the United States, or by the Bureau of Indian Affairs on his behalf, as required by the previous Cherokee constitution. The tribe has passed an amendment to delete the Federal vetting requirement, but the BIA is balking.

Eventually, I suspect, the BIA will come around. And one of the provisions of the constitution allows the Cherokee Nation to send a non-voting delegate to Congress, which should be interesting.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:10 AM)
20 January 2004
Slowing the revolving door

House Bill 1888, introduced into the Oklahoma legislature by Rep. John Trebilcock (R-Broken Arrow), would impose a two-year waiting period on outgoing lawmakers wishing to become Capitol lobbyists, and would forbid them to accept "anything of value" during those two years.

I doubt this will go anywhere, especially with a number of lawmakers facing term limits and having to get real jobs, but Trebilcock, a first-termer who previously taught high school history and government, points out: "A lot of [legislators] go to the Capitol wanting to change things and they think they have to play the game. Or they become cynical. Eventually they forget why they went there."

And the occasional reminder never hurts.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:22 AM)
21 January 2004
From the days when TG&Y issued licenses

I'm pretty sure the Dwight David Eisenhower National Defense Interstate Highway System and Cobalt Testing Range, or whatever the hell it's officially called, was never intended for commuters; the very word "Interstate" would seem to make that clear. Still, if a road is there, you tend to use it, and I don't have any particular qualms about using it for the bulk of my newly-tripled commute.

On the other hand, I've got to wonder about that character in the purple Dodge with no license plate (he had a cardboard placard in the rear window indicating the number of the plate he presumably had lost) this morning. It was bad enough that he was in the right lane of the Northwest Distressway signaling left; eventually he figured out that he was wearing out his blinker and followed the lane up the approach to the Belle Isle Bridge and I-44, a ramp cutting the tightest possible curve to match the curvature of the bridge itself. Once in place on the freeway, he promptly exited at Western Avenue, having driven barely half a mile on I-44. Why did he bother? Admittedly, surface streets in this area border on the incomprehensible, but we're talking a few blocks at most. This can't be what General Eisenhower had in mind.

As counterpoint, the stereo burst into that fake bluegrass ditty about rotting roadkill — you know the one — and as the song began to fade, the scent of eau de polecat made its presence known.

C'mon, stink!

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:38 AM)
23 January 2004
A little less Local

The parent company of Local Oklahoma Bank, a former S&L which ranks as the state's seventh-biggest bank, will be acquired by Texas-based International Bancshares Corp. for $385 million. This is IBC's first acquisition outside Texas; the bank, headquartered in Laredo, seeks to build a presence along the I-35 corridor. (Is Wichita next?)

The deal should close by summer; the signs will presumably be changed shortly thereafter.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:35 AM)
24 January 2004
The welcome mat is out

Expansion Management magazine offers this none-too-startling prediction:

Many cities will reap the benefits of business expansions if 2004 is the year that the U.S. economy resumes robust growth. But cities that enjoyed an outstanding 2003, when the economy was still lagging, have set themselves up for an even better '04.

For many months, those cities have focused on shedding the effects of a sluggish economy. Last year, their efforts paid off.

And what cities are those? The magazine's sixth annual list of the 50 hottest cities for corporate expansion or relocation, based on their survey of major site-evaluation consultants, has a distinctly Southern flavor to it: Atlanta is at the top, followed by Nashville and Jacksonville. And Oklahoma's two biggest cities are no slouches either; Oklahoma City took the #9 position, and Tulsa came in 15th.

A ranking, of course, is just a number, or is it? Magazine editor Bill King, quoted in The Oklahoman, explains where it fits into the scheme:

The perception corporate executives have of various communities is extremely important. It won't ever replace such bottom-line factors as tax rates, work force quality and availability, transportation infrastructure, or real estate lease or construction costs, but it will help communities make "cut lists" they might not otherwise make.

And Tulsa, in particular, would like to make a few more lists these days; it's nice to be highly regarded, but it's even nicer to have something to show for it.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:35 AM)
Howard you like that?

Mike over at OkieDoke has the latest poll numbers for the Oklahoma primary (week after New Hampshire, in case you'd forgotten), and Wesley Clark, last seen a close second to Howard Dean, is now out in front of the pack with a nine-point lead over...John Edwards?

Meanwhile, the Dean Machine is sputtering in fourth place, barely above Joe Lieberman. (Dear Howard: The time to peak is on election day, not ten months before.) I simply can't bring myself to get on the Clark bandwagon — basically, he strikes me as Hillary Clinton with nicer legs — which means that with a week and a half to go, I am still officially Undecided.

I did notice today, though, an actual Kucinich sticker, the first I've seen hereabouts. Yard signs will probably not start to blossom until Wednesday, after the New Hampshire results are known.

The poll was taken by SurveyUSA on the 21st and 22nd. Quoted margin of error is 4.3 percent. (The complete poll results, linked above, require Adobe Reader.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:00 PM)
28 January 2004
The king of spayed

That would be State Senator Sam Helton, a Lawton Democrat, who has proposed a bill (Senate Bill 1130, for those keeping score) dubbed the "Dog and Cat Ownership Responsibility Act," which intends to make sure you have your pets neutered by charging you if you don't.

Under SB 1130, if you expect to own an intact male of either species aged six months or older — or an intact female four months or older — you must have a license from the State Department of Health, which will cost you $100 per animal, per annum. Should you be so unfortunate as to have an actual whelping on site, you'll need a Noncommercial Breeder's License at the same price, with a maximum of three critters. If you deliberately breed these animals, as a hobby or to earn your daily bread, the state will charge you $1000 a year.

I have no doubt that this sort of thing would cut down on the number of strays and such which wind up in animal shelters. On the other hand, so would drowning all puppies and kittens at birth, which no one is recommending. Yet.

The American Kennel Club, for its part, is having a cow.

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:04 PM)
30 January 2004
Working the room on the Lone Prairie

For a state that will almost certainly cast its electoral votes for George W. Bush, Oklahoma is getting a pretty substantial amount of attention from the Democratic challengers.

Not that we care, particularly; these guys are not only from out of town, they're from off the wall. John Edwards claims a "great cultural connection" with the Sooner state, apparently because some of it is still rural. Wesley Clark, it appears, can quote Scripture. And Joe Lieberman implored us to pay no attention to those Iowa and New Hampshire things. Believe me, Joe, I tried my best.

(Via Wonkette)

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:07 PM)
31 January 2004
Right before "secondary"

This week's Oklahoma Gazette has brief writeups of the Democratic contenders in Tuesday's primary, and the last line of each is an official campaign phone number, which prompted a little bit of research from this desk, which in turn prompted a raised eyebrow or two, for the following reasons:

  • Three of the candidates don't have local phone numbers, because, so far as I can determine from their official Web sites, they don't have campaign offices in this state. Sharpton and LaRouche I can understand — budgetary limitations and all — but John Kerry? And at least Al and Lyndon will pick up the tab if you call them on their toll-free lines; Kaptain Ketchup gives a number in D.C. that will probably cost you.

  • Two of the candidates — Dean and Kucinich — have offices in the same building (NE 40th and Lincoln Blvd.) that houses the state Democratic Party. How did they wangle that deal?

  • Clark and Lieberman have downtown offices in the general vicinity of Automobile Alley. I have no idea where Edwards' command post is, though I give him props for having what appears to be voice-over-IP phone service, thereby saving a few bucks if he needs to call, say, John Kerry's D.C. office.

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:15 PM)
1 February 2004
Recidivist par excellence

A 17-year-old car thief was booked into the Hotel Whetsel this past week. Officials said it was the kid's 69th arrest.

There are those who complain that the state of Oklahoma executes juveniles; I'm starting to think we're not executing enough of them.

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:21 PM)
2 February 2004
Man in a hurry

Wesley Clark's campaign expenses in Oklahoma have gone up by $450.

Leaving McAlester for Oklahoma City this weekend after a campaign appearance, Clark's three-car entourage was busted by state troopers for doing 88 mph in a 75-mph zone [scroll to bottom]. Clark staffer Reid Cherlin, driving the lead car, says he had the cruise control set on 83 mph, presumably in the belief that ten percent over will not get you a ticket.

Each of the offenses carries a $150 fine.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:00 AM)
Primary preparation

The Oklahoma primary is tomorrow, and it's time I checked to make sure everything is in order before I trot off to the polls:

  • Register at new address: Check. Did this back in November, in fact.
  • Find new polling place: Check. It's at the Presbyterian Church, a quarter-mile away, and no, I don't think this is an undue breach of separation of church and state.
  • Select a candidate: Uh, I'll get back to you tomorrow.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:28 AM)
3 February 2004
If it's Tuesday, this must be primary

There may be as many as half a million voters today in the Oklahoma Presidential primary, and the vast majority of them will likely be Democrats; there are just about as many Republicans as Democrats in this state, and there is, technically, a GOP race, but I doubt there will be an enormous amount of turnout, since President Bush is headed for a coronation at the party convention this summer. Still, I'd like to see some votes for Bill Wyatt, if only to get Bush's attention.

Me? Well, as a registered Democrat in a closed primary, I don't have the option of supporting Wyatt. On the other hand, the candidates on my ballot strike me as something less than inspired. And while the differences among their domestic policies are largely trivial — will we spend too much, or way too much, on health care? — exactly one candidate seems to grasp the notion that there are more immediate threats to the Republic than a percentage point or two of taxation, which is why when I'm through with my dental appointment today, I will grit my semi-sparkling teeth and pull the lever for Joe Lieberman. Yes, he spends money like a 21st-century Republican; yes, he's a common scold, occasionally rising to the level of uncommon scold. But in 2004, the desired characteristic, in true Firesign Theatre tradition, is Not Insane, and rather than opt for the bumbler, the banshee or the Botoxed, I'm going with Joe.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:30 AM)
Proxy serenade

Such a Valentine's day deal: For fifty bucks, one of the half-dozen barbershop quartets of the OK Chorale will bang on the door of your Significant Other, present a card and a long-stemmed rose, and sing two songs.

That is, if said S.O. lives within about a 14-mile radius of downtown, which pretty much eliminates anyone I'd consider for this gift.

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:24 PM)
Watch party of one

First post, 8 pm: The polls closed about an hour ago; John Edwards has a very slight lead over Wesley Clark, hovering around the 30-percent mark, with John Kerry back in the lower 20s.

KOMA is reporting that in Oklahoma County, Howard Dean managed a reasonable second and Joe Lieberman actually made double digits, but out in the rural areas it's almost all Edwards and Clark.

Turnout seems pretty good; I was the 346th voter in my new precinct, two hours before closing. (In a strange twist of fate, the person right in front of me was the previous owner of my house; she's definitely gotten prettier since she moved out of here, and obviously she hasn't moved very far if she's still in the precinct.)

Update, 8:30 pm: Bill Wyatt has gotten almost 7 percent of the GOP vote with half the precincts counted.

Update, 9:05 pm: KTOK is reporting that with 75 percent of the numbers in, Edwards and Clark are still in a dead heat at 30 percent; Kerry has risen to 26 percent; Lieberman will apparently beat Dean for fourth.

Update, 9:25 pm: With 1942 of 2237 precincts in, the Clark-Edwards difference is 0.02 percent (71 votes); Wyatt is up to 9 percent for the GOP.

Update, 9:40 pm: KOMA has called it for Clark.

Update, 9:45 pm: Clark has opened up a 700-vote lead; Wyatt is over 10 percent.

Update, 9:55 pm: Clark's lead has grown to over 1000, which should be enough to nail it down. Edwards is a very close second, Kerry not quite so close a third; Al Sharpton outpolled Dennis Kucinich to pick up sixth place.

Deaniacs were lined up in the median on the Northwest Distressway this afternoon; I hope none of them threw themselves into ongoing traffic.

The numbers will be posted by the State Election Board here; the results will not be certified as official until next Tuesday.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:00 PM)
4 February 2004
Wednesday-morning quarterbacking

Sign seen in the window at Flip's Wine Bar & Trattoria:

VOTE NOW WHILE YOU STILL CAN

A few people took this warning seriously: turnout was pretty decent, even on the GOP side where there was less of a race, and state party officials beamed, noting that the largely-bipartisan decision to move the primary to early February had paid off in vastly greater interest by both voters and candidates.

The AP's exit poll attempts to explain the motivations of state voters.

No doubt about it: this is going to be one heck of a ride between now and November.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:45 AM)
5 February 2004
Equal time

Tuesday I plugged the OK Chorale's Singing Valentine offer.

It occurs to me that you might conceivably want to have female voices in four-part harmony, in which case be advised that the OKCity Chorus is offering a Singing Valentine package of their own.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:31 AM)
7 February 2004
Ahead of the curve

"Entering Oklahoma — set your watch back 90 years."

Actually, despite the old joke, sometimes we manage to be contemporary. Our semi-electronic voting system is speedy, far more reliable than anything they've come up with in benighted states like Florida, and dirt-cheap to operate.

Sometimes we're even ahead of our time. Who else in 1937, eleven years before the birth of Al Gore, would have thought of taxing the Internet?

No, really. From the instructions from Form 511, the Oklahoma income-tax form, page 10:

If you have purchased items for use in Oklahoma from retailers who do not collect Oklahoma sales tax, you owe Oklahoma use tax on those items. Use tax is paid by the buyer when the Oklahoma sales tax has not been collected by the seller. Individuals in Oklahoma are responsible for paying use tax on their out-of-state purchases.

Which, of course, includes all that stuff you ordered from nevermindwhereweare.com.

Conveniently, the use-tax rate is usually equal to the sales-tax rate: 4.5 percent state, plus county and city levies if any. (Here in the Big Town, it's a startling 8.375 percent.)

Businesses, who have had to keep books on this matter all along, have been paying this tax on a regular basis — last year, the tax brought in $92 million or so — but this is the first year that the Tax Commission has attempted to collect it from individuals through the income-tax return; they hope to increase the take fivefold.

And if you haven't saved all your receipts from online purchases ("if", he says), the state suggests an estimate of 0.056 percent of your adjusted gross income: if you made around $30,000 in 2003, your presumed use tax is $17. I don't expect anyone to go to jail over this, but a lot of people are going to be caught off guard.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:36 AM)
10 February 2004
No Cokes for you

A measure to ban soft drinks and sweets from grade-school vending machines failed to get past the Senate Education Committee; the final vote was an 8-8 tie, which doesn't necessarily mean the bill is dead, but it's certainly coughing up blood.

It wasn't quite a party-line vote, either. Six Democrats and two Republicans voted for the bill; six Republicans and two Democrats voted against it. Generally, the proponents agreed that too many kids eat too much junk; opponents argued that these matters should be settled at the local, rather than the state, level.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:32 AM)
The needle and the damage done

Tattoo parlors, for some inscrutable reason, remain illegal in this state.

JMBranum points out that the state's Green Party, in its official platform, has called for the lifting of the ban. Fine with me. This is the Greens' rationale:

By driving tattooing underground, our state's current laws create a potential public health crisis. Tattoo artists should be licensed, as they are in neighboring states.

Besides, having to drive to Gainesville burns up a whole lot of fossil fuel.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:14 PM)
13 February 2004
The drought has reached Nowata

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, apparently satisfied with having trashed the memory of Dr Robert Atkins, has gone back to its primary function: haranguing perfectly innocent towns into changing their names.

In years past, they've concentrated on New York towns: first Fishkill, then Hamburg. (How they managed to miss the Catskill Mountains is beyond me, especially since they went there to pester producers of foie gras.) Now they've turned their attention to Oklahoma, and the town of Slaughterville, south of Norman, which is of course named after grocer James Slaughter.

Other towns in Oklahoma which probably should fear for their identities:

Battiest: Insults persons with psychological disorders. (Actually, it's pronounced "bah-TEEST".)

Beaver: Offensive to women. (See Beaver College — oops, Arcadia University.)

Bowlegs: Mocks a physical disability bone condition.

Bushyhead: No comment.

Hooker: Likewise.

Kremlin: Obviously a leftover KGB plant.

Slapout: Promotes violence.

Warr Acres: Promotes lots of violence.

Yukon: Named after a sport-utility vehicle.

And God forbid anyone should spell Tulsa backwards.

(Muchas gracias: Cam Edwards.)

(Update, 18 February: Slaughterville says "Neigh"...er, "Nay".)

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:33 AM)
15 February 2004
We'll show those Canadians

Last year, Rep. Leonard Sullivan was trying to drum up support for renaming the North Canadian River (so called because it lies north of the Canadian River) the Oklahoma River.

Sullivan's idea went nowhere, but it's resurfaced this year in a reduced form: Senate Bill 1259, now out of committee, would rename the segment of the river that runs through central Oklahoma City — seven miles from Meridian to Eastern — to, yes, the Oklahoma River.

I couldn't tell you if anyone from Canada came through here with the idea of naming two rivers after his homeland, but French explorers and traders were active here in the late 17th and early 18th century, ending presumably around 1762 when France signed the Louisiana territory (which included Oklahoma) over to Spain so they wouldn't have to give it up to the British. (Spain traded it back to France in 1800, just in time for France to sell it off to the nascent United States.)

Proponents of the change are always citing the tourist trade as justification. Personally, were I just visiting town, I'd be more curious about a river called "Canadian" way down here than I would a river called "Oklahoma," but maybe that's just me.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:39 AM)
17 February 2004
Don't lay that trash on Oklahoma

Lynn, we know, is fond of this state, its people, its flora and fauna, sometimes even its weather.

She draws the line, however, at the Legislature, and offers by way of illustration three particularly dumb laws.

No doubt she could come up with more without a whole lot of effort.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:25 AM)
18 February 2004
A shot in the dark

Terry Nichols, on trial for 161 cases of murder in the 1995 bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, apparently has floated the idea of pleading no contest to the charges in exchange for an agreement from the prosecution not to seek the death penalty.

Don't count on this motion going anywhere; I'm inclined to think that had Nichols, like co-conspirator Timothy McVeigh, been sentenced to the Super Shot for the Federal charges on which they were convicted, there wouldn't be any support for trying Nichols on state charges in the first place. And The Oklahoman pointed out last week in an editorial that Nichols could have copped a plea long ago, suggesting that it might have been more favorably considered before all the trial mechanisms were set into motion.

But that was then. Unless something wholly unexpected takes place in the next couple of weeks, the trial will begin as scheduled on the first of March.

(Update, 8:45 am: Cam Edwards isn't surprised that the prosecution isn't biting: "The whole reason Nichols is on trial is so we can kill him.")

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:29 AM)
We'll see that and raise you one

Last week, PETA offered twenty grand worth of soy products or something to the folks in Slaughterville, Oklahoma, in the hopes of persuading the town to change its name to "Veggieville".

Bill Hightower, who raises Limousin cattle in Slaughterville, came up with a counteroffer:

We'll give them $20,000 worth of hamburger if they will move to India where they will be appreciated.

I need hardly add that the town is retaining its name, and beef is still what's for dinner.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:42 AM)
24 February 2004
Check your tinfoil supplies

Rudolph Giuliani was in town yesterday to accept an honorary doctorate from the University of Oklahoma. "Yes, we should be afraid," he said. "No, it should not stop us."

A guy in the crowd was evidently not stopped. He stood up and yelled something about how the al-Qaeda network had had nothing to do with the World Trade Center bombings, and Giuliani knew it.

And who was responsible?

"Wal-Mart did it, and you know it," said the guy.

The fellow was eventually propelled from the premises, and Giuliani shrugged. "I am used to protesters."

Still: Wal-Mart? Somewhere in this state there must be a meth lab putting out defective product.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:26 AM)
27 February 2004
Where the bucks are

Forbes has issued its annual list of the World's Richest People. As usual, admission to this club requires a net worth of $1 billion US, and two Oklahomans made it to the list this year. Interestingly, both of them tend to be somewhat reclusive, and both of them tend to give it away nearly as fast as they earn it.

Number 159 ($3 billion) is George Kaiser, head of Tulsa-based Bank of Oklahoma and Kaiser-Francis Oil Company, and founder of many charities which at his insistence do not bear his name.

Number 514 ($1.1 billion) is David Green, head of Oklahoma City's Hobby Lobby and Mardel stores, who supports local antipoverty efforts and Christian missions overseas.

For the record, my own net worth doesn't extend to ten digits; it's more like four. I note, though, that (1) at least it's positive, something it hasn't been before, and (2) I owe George Kaiser a rather startling sum. (Bank of Oklahoma holds my mortgage.)

(Disclosure: When this was first posted, the "startling sum" was actually spelled out.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:40 AM)
Crapshoots R Us

Michael Bates calls Senate Bill 553, the bill to allow an expansion of gaming, "a typical Okie stitch-up," and explains:

SB 553 will only allow certain favored groups and individuals to get in on the act, and since the legislative leaders are in control of who will get in on the act, you can bet they will be richly rewarded by these favored few once they leave office.

Which is nothing unusual where the wind comes sweeping down the plains. What should have we done?

If you're going to open the state up to casino gambling, just repeal the prohibitions against games of chance, and let anyone who wants to open a casino do so. Regulate the industry only to the extent necessary to ensure that the rules of the game are followed — no loaded dice or stacked decks.

Governor Henry, who has pushed for this measure, points out that any revenues generated will be earmarked for education, except for $250,000 allocated to the treatment of gambling addiction. This is the sort of thing that almost guarantees support from the Ed Biz, which welcomes anything that brings in more money. Bates is not impressed:

I hear that the OEA is lobbying for this bill. It's a shame that an organization that claims to be devoted to education is pushing an industry dependent on mathematical ignorance.

They are indeed pushing it. According to the OEA's Legislative Update, one of the Association's goals is:

Providing support for the gaming compact between the State of Oklahoma and the native tribes, which is likely to produce substantial new revenues for state government without a tax increase.

Read: "substantial new revenues for us."

I don't doubt for a moment that they could use the money, and it's conceivable that some of it could be used wisely, but something about all this rubs me the wrong way.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:12 AM)
28 February 2004
Standards of proof

"President Bush," writes Brian Brus in the Oklahoma Gazette, "recently has had a hard time proving his whereabouts in 1972 to the satisfaction of political opponents. Even after the White House released military records from his service in the Texas Air National Guard, some still questioned whether he completed his military duty and unfavorably compared his wartime service to that of his likely Democratic presidential opponent, decorated combat veteran John Kerry."

What does it take to prove one's whereabouts? Brus hit up a number of public figures in Oklahoma and demanded, "Where were you in '72?"

Governor Henry wasn't in the military at all; in fact, reports press secretary Phil Bacharach, he was in the fourth grade at Sequoyah Elementary School in Shawnee, and he has the report cards to prove it.

Former governor George Nigh was in the Navy in the middle Forties, but where was he in 1972? "I was lieutenant governor of Oklahoma," he said. Asked if he could document this claim, Nigh asserted: "I'm sure there's some sort of travel voucher I turned in."

Should anyone ask, I was in the Army for most of 1972, and I still have copies of orders and payroll forms if anyone needs to verify this.

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:30 PM)
1 March 2004
Edifice complex

"If you build it, they will come." In Tulsa, says Bruce, they mostly build churches:

I do wonder about all the time and energy put into churches and how that effects the quality of life in Tulsa. I can't help but wonder what life here would be like if we put just some of that time and effort into schools and education.

Sounds like an argument for letting the churches run the schools, doesn't it? (Well, maybe not.)

It seems terribly inefficient that we have all these churches for different denominations. They get used for a couple of hours each week then sit empty for a majority of the time. That's lost real estate, its terribly inefficient if you ask me. It would be much better to have different congregations work out a church sharing agreement so that one nice church could serve multiple groups.

Yeah, but with few exceptions, they all celebrate the Lord's Day on Sunday. I doubt seriously that you can persuade any congregation to hold Sunday services on, say, Tuesday evening. (Wednesday evening, well, that's a whole different issue.)

I've heard it said on more than one occasion that Tulsa has more churches per capita than any other American city. I don't find that so far fetched. This is a city where you can frequently find a church across the street from a church, next door to a church. You think I'm kidding, drive down 11th street between 129th and 145th.

He's not kidding. Between Youngs and Independence along NW 50th Street in OKC, a distance barely more than a mile, there are no fewer than five churches, including two from the same denomination. And 50th is a two-lane residential street through the eastern half of that area; imagine what some of the major arteries look like.

I have little doubt that the Almighty looks upon small, modest churches no less favorably than the ones that look like shopping malls; still, I can't bring myself to get worked up over people spending their own money to build fancy houses of worship — even if they do take the occasional parcel off the county tax rolls.

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:00 PM)
2 March 2004
Never two without three

When Corporation Commissioner Bob Anthony announced that he would run for Don Nickles' Senate seat, the good ol' boys of the Grand Old Party shrugged: Anthony built his reputation by taking on, and usually vanquishing, men in suits, and, well, this is not how you rise to the top of the Republican totem pole in Oklahoma. Kirk Humphreys, the former Oklahoma City mayor who had been anointed by the party faithful, had little to worry about from Bob Anthony.

But now former Congressman Tom Coburn has thrown his hat into the ring, and suddenly it's a race. Fiscal conservatives like Coburn because he's incredibly tight with a tax dollar; social conservatives like Coburn because he pays them more than lip service. And I have to give Coburn credit for doing something relatively unprecedented in Oklahoma history: he vowed he would serve only three terms in the House, max, and after six years he duly returned to private life.

Mike at Okiedoke sums up the guy this way:

Coburn has a strong moral base that Oklahomans like. Even when you don?t agree with him, you trust him.

Now is the time for Kirk Humphreys to sweat.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:24 AM)
3 March 2004
WorldCom cooperates

Perhaps the indictment of WorldCom chairman Bernard Ebbers has made the company more amenable to other legal actions: Attorney General Drew Edmondson has announced that the state is negotiating with WorldCom to settle the state's lawsuit against the company.

According to Edmondson, the company has been cooperative, and the amount he expects to recover will be "more than the cost of litigation."

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:23 AM)
5 March 2004
Tragedy of a ridiculous situation

I hadn't had any particular urge to see Bertolucci's The Dreamers; the reviews had been mixed, and the subject matter — basically, the Abercrombie & Fitch Quarterly is superimposed upon 1968 Paris while Daniel Cohn-Bendit warms up in the wings — didn't seem especially appealing.

Then the Oklahoma Gazette decided to do their sporadic Dueling Reviewers thing, praise from Preston Jones and panning from Doug Bentin; each made his case well enough that I found myself thinking, "Maybe I ought to see this thing after all, just on general principles." Bad idea. Nowhere, in the twin articles, on other Gazette pages, or on their Web site, is there any indication of where the damned film might be playing.

The Oklahoman, which accepts no ads for films rated NC-17 — over the years, there have been times when I thought they would turn down ads for R-rated films if they didn't need the bucks — would of course be no help. Fox Searchlight, the film's distributor, has a blog, which pointed me to various search tools; eventually I discovered that The Dreamers is not playing here at all, and if I have any desire to see it in an actual moviehouse, I must drive to Tulsa, Kansas City or Dallas.

Which begs the question: Why did the Gazette devote a whole page to arguing the merits of a film that the vast majority of its readers will never get to see until the release of the inevitable DVD? To try to shame one of the theater chains into booking the film for a week? Fat chance.

(Update, 7 March, 6 pm: The Gazette responds.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:38 PM)
7 March 2004
Desperately seeking celluloid

Friday, I wondered just what had gotten into the Oklahoma Gazette: they published not one but two reviews of Bertolucci's The Dreamers, a film which is not playing anywhere within a hundred miles.

Today, the Gazette's Preston Jones explains:

The situation surrounding The Dreamers was indeed interesting. The press screening was held Feb. 27 at AMC Quail Springs, and as of that date, it was slated to open in OKC March 5. As of Tuesday (3/2), Michelle Langston at George Grube Advertising let us know that the film was no longer opening here; it now had a release date of TBD. Since we found out on Tuesday, we'd already gone to press and it was too late to do anything about our full page of reviews. Michelle said that [the Oklahoman's] not taking advertising wasn't the problem, but that no theater in town would book the film...which clearly wasn't a problem in Tulsa, where's it's playing at the AMC theater there.

It's deeply frustrating, to be sure, that a worthwhile film can't find a screen to call home in our fair burg...perhaps there's hope that the Noble Theater will pick up the film for a weekend. We shall see....

I can only conclude that AMC Quail Springs needed the extra space for 50 First Dates, which was shown eleven times today.

The Noble Theater, for you out-of-towners, is the 250-seat theater at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art, in downtown's nascent Arts District. The Museum itself is actually an extensive redesign of the old 1600-seat Centre Theater, which opened in 1947 and shut down along with most of downtown circa 1980. The Noble's film program is extensive, and until the Harkins opens in Bricktown, presumably this summer, it's the only downtown venue for film. And happily for me, it's a shorter drive to downtown than it is to Quail freaking Springs.

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:59 PM)
9 March 2004
Shadows and light

The official sunrise this morning is 6:49 am, right in the middle of my morning commute, and since said commute is now largely in an easterly direction, I got to see more of it than eye doctors generally recommend.

The evergreens haven't changed in months, of course, but their bare-branched brethren appear by some trick of the light to have turned their limbs skyward, supplicants hoping that today they will be favored. Grey against pink, a few seconds later grey against orange, and then the background is awash in light and the colors dissolve into the brightest white there is and you must look away or never see anything ever again.

The speed with which this happens tends to inspire the right foot; rounding a curve, I took a peek at the instrument cluster, and discovered I was whipping along at 76 mph. This was not really too fast for conditions — traffic was light on this stretch — but not likely to warrant getting off with a warning should a patrolman take notice; the police tend to be unimpressed with stories about heading for the heart of the sunrise.

Similar scenes await me for much of the next month, after which time the government robs me of sixty minutes and my morning world is plunged into darkness once more.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:40 AM)
10 March 2004
We shall not be moved

Occasionally, someone — usually someone from Oklahoma — grumbles about the annual OU-Texas football clash in Dallas' Cotton Bowl, which is, after all, in Texas.

Well, it's not going anywhere, at least through 2008; Dallas Mayor Laura Miller announced today that the Cotton Bowl will be keeping OU-Texas for five more years under a new contract. The City of Dallas will pay each school $250,000 per year for expenses and waive the $94,000 stadium rental at Fair Park; in addition, four thousand new seats will be installed in the end zones.

I never did worry too much about this. I mean, Dallas is fairly close to the midpoint of a Norman-to-Austin drive, and where are you going to find truly neutral territory? It took years just to establish where the Texas-Oklahoma border actually is.

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:08 PM)
11 March 2004
The last real newspaperman

A nice tribute to the late Jenkin Lloyd Jones in Tulsa Today, brought to my attention by Okiedoke.

Says Mike:

It probably doesn't help that dueling big-city newspapers are fast becoming memories. I read the Oklahoma City Times much more than the Tulsa Tribune for logistical reasons, but it's safe to say we were better off with both of them. It may be more profitable for one publisher to provide the news than two, but it's certainly not more effective.

Indeed it doesn't help, although there hasn't been actual competition in Oklahoma City since 1980, when The Oklahoma Journal folded; the Times had been absorbed by the Oklahoman decades before. The Tribune soldiered on until 1992, when the rival World, yoked to the Tribune in one of those pesky Joint Operating Agreements, saw an opportunity to dispose of its rival once and for all.

In the fall of 2002, I did a fairly readable Vent on JOAs in general and the Tribune under Jenk Jones in particular.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:54 AM)
12 March 2004
Average Joe-Bob

Kristin sees distinct advantages to Oklahoma guys, especially small-town Oklahoma guys:

dating a guy from small town oklahoma has several perks: the charming accent, the huge extended family, the people skills that come from growing up in a place where everyone knows you, and the extensive knowledge of wildlife from having killed and/or eaten most of the area's animals.

Okay, allow a couple of points for tongue in cheek. But still:

small town oklahoma, i am falling in love with you. add a couple more sonics, a few more places which sell the good magazines, maybe a mall in the near vicinity, and some wireless internet capabilities, and i am SO done with the big cities for good.

We'll never run out of Sonics. And "good magazines" are in the eye of the beholder: most mainstream stuff is as near as Wally World, though you're going to have to hang closer to the big towns if you're jonesing for, say, Mother Jones.

On the other hand, conventional wisdom has it that people of this age (Kristin's an OU undergrad) want nothing so much as to get the hell out of Oklahoma altogether, so examples of young folks who actually like this place are always worth mentioning.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:34 AM)
WorldCom settles

If in the ideal settlement both sides come away with something they wanted, the deal between MCI (previously WorldCom, and before that, um, MCI) and the State of Oklahoma must be pretty spiffy.

According to Attorney General Drew Edmondson, MCI will atone for the misdeeds of its previous management by boosting its employment in Tulsa from the current 1875 to approximately 3400. In addition, the company will assist the state in the prosecution of members of said management.

Tulsans may look askance at this deal — two years ago, WorldCom had a Tulsa payroll of 3000 before a series of layoffs — but, says Edmondson, it's the best deal that could be struck:

If we took the case to trial and won, the company would likely go out of business and we would be stuck in the bankruptcy line. This economic development agreement is restitution in a different form.

The 15 charges filed against the company by the state have been duly dismissed. MCI has ten years to bring its staffing up to the levels specified in the agreement; average pay for the additional positions is reported to be $35,000 a year.

(Update, 13 March, 5:30 pm: Mike Swickey [13 March, 3:08 pm] thinks this is a really bad idea.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:54 PM)
13 March 2004
Open mouth, insert foot

And no one is more adept at that clumsy maneuver than Rep. Bill Graves (R-Delerium), whose latest eruption came during a House session that was debating whether the state should establish a Latino Affairs Commission.

Said Graves, "We do have a lot of Mexicans and Hispanics that want to come here and live, and frankly, I think we're getting too many."

Ed Romo of the League of United Latin American Citizens was the first to weigh in with a complaint; he wants an apology from Graves. It's not likely he'll get it, though Graves has backpedaled slightly, claiming what he said, or at least what he meant, was that we had a surplus of illegal aliens.

I'm not exactly counting the days until Graves' departure — term limits will dispose of him shortly — but let it be known that when I went looking for a house, one of the geographical criteria I used was "Not in Bill Graves' district." I didn't say so, of course; I just set the boundaries accordingly.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:56 AM)
15 March 2004
We're just saying

So-called "scare quotes" are a useful rhetorical tool, put to use when you'd just as soon distance yourself from what's being said. Reuters, an international "news agency," has a reputation for such things.

Michael Bates suspects the Tulsa World was using this technique to discredit, ever so subtly, a City Council candidate they opposed editorially:

For some unexplained reason, the Whirled insisted on referring to the Republican nominee as Jason "Eric" Gomez. The man's full name is, in fact, Jason Eric Gomez. This is how he is listed in voter registration records. But like a lot of people (including my dad), he is known by his middle name. There is nothing shifty or unusual about this practice, but the scare quotes suggest that an alias is being used, or perhaps he is some sort of eccentric or "colorful character", like Virginia "Blue Jeans" Jenner or Cowboy "Pink" Williams.

And why would this bit of trivia be an issue?

[W]hen a voter doesn't know much about the candidates or their stands on the issues, any minor thing may be enough to tip his decision one way or another. A voter can grasp at anything that would suggest one of the candidates is unreliable or just odd in some way. And in such a close race — less than one vote per precinct — it may have made the difference.

Especially since Mr Gomez' opponent was given no such "text decoration" in the World.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:27 AM)
16 March 2004
Your time is worth nothing

Oklahoma, like most states, does not provide statutory compensation for wrongful convictions. Rep. Opio Toure (D-Oklahoma City) has periodically introduced legislation to provide some sort of payment to those the state has unjustly imprisoned; the last time his bill made it through the Legislature, then-Governor Frank Keating vetoed it.

On the plus side, we haven't gotten to the point where we're charging them for room and board.

(Via Myria, who asks, "Under what logical and ethical standard can that be considered anything but outright evil?")

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:54 AM)
18 March 2004
Spigots of red and blue

I've been resisting Fundrace's Neighbor Search; while I'm a big fan of full disclosure, I admit to being somewhat uneasy about a handy little tool that can reveal political contributions from around the world, across the nation, and up my street.

But what the hell. I fed my ZIP code to the form, and here's what we had, as of the end of last year:

For Democrats:
Wesley Clark - 3 contributors, total $3,175
Howard Dean - 9 contributors, total $4,693
John Edwards - 5 contributors, total $4,750
Dennis Kucinich - 1 contributor, total $1,000
Joe Lieberman - 4 contributors, total $2,250

For Republicans:
George W. Bush - 12 contributors, total $11,050

Nothing really surprising here: I expected that there would be close to an even split between the parties, with perhaps a slight edge to the Democrats, who after all had that many more candidates at the time. (Democrats received 59 percent of the dollars from this area.) Then again, my state senator and representative are both Republicans, though neither district line corresponds to the ZIP code boundaries.

No doubt it will be instructive to see the post-election numbers.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:31 AM)
20 March 2004
Wheels within wheels

The issue of same-sex marriage, as simple as it may seem on the surface, gets more complicated the more you look at it.

A gay couple in Massachusetts adopted a child from Oklahoma, and the Oklahoma Department of Health was asked to issue a birth certificate for the child. Not sure of what to do, Health sent a query to the Attorney General's office.

Yesterday Attorney General Edmondson issued an opinion: while the state does not recognize unions of this sort and will not allow gay couples here to adopt, the state's adoption rules specify that the rules of other states will be recognized by Oklahoma courts, even if the adoptive parents are ineligible under Oklahoma law.

So Health duly issues the certificate, which in this state means that the original is sealed and a supplementary certificate showing the adoptive parents is produced, and everyone is happy — except for three legislators, who promised to spend Monday morning introducing measures to close what they view as a loophole.

There is, I suspect, no can big enough to hold all the worms released by the opening of the original can.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:50 AM)
21 March 2004
Nader comes to town

Ralph Nader brought his Presidential campaign to town today, speaking at Stage Center before an audience estimated at 150.

Getting on the Oklahoma ballot will be difficult for Nader: under state law, he will have to collect 37,027 signatures from registered voters to get his name listed among the candidates. "The two parties here," he said, "have been quite successful in mounting obstacles to competition from third party and independent candidates," and indeed Nader, then running as a Green, was unable to get on the ballot in 2000.

And the people who do get on the ballot here, said Nader, aren't exactly prizes either: our Congressional delegation comprises "the cruelest, most craven legislators in Washington — outside of Texas."

Hmmm. He may understand this place better than I thought.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:41 PM)
23 March 2004
Not so hard to predict

The story so far:

  • Massachusetts same-sex couple adopts child from Oklahoma, seeks state birth certificate.

  • Department of Health asks Attorney General what the law specifies.

  • AG responds that it's a legal adoption, even if the parents don't qualify under Oklahoma law; Health duly issues certificate.

  • Republican lawmakers vow to do something about it.

The other shoe has dropped; Rep. Thad Balkman (R-Norman) has let it be known that the GOP is looking for a bill to which they can attach an amendment that would ban out-of-state adoptions of Oklahoma children by gay couples. Writing their own bill is evidently out of the question. (I suggest Senate Bill 1413, which to me looks like a back-door attempt to reinstate the state's sodomy laws by defining a new class of the "detestable and abominable crime against nature".)

The Department of Health reports that half a dozen children from Oklahoma have been adopted by gay couples outside the state.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:00 AM)
24 March 2004
Spigots of red and blue (Part 2)

Fundrace's Neigbor Search, discussed earlier here, has now been updated with contributions through 29 February. New figures for my ZIP code follow as appropriate:

For Democrats:
Wesley Clark - 6 contributors, total $3,850
Howard Dean - 13 contributors, total $5,483
John Edwards - 5 contributors, total $4,750
Dennis Kucinich - 3 contributors, total $1,225
Joe Lieberman - 5 contributors, total $2,350

For Republicans:
George W. Bush - 14 contributors, total $12,025

This is, as noted before, an area very much divided: Republicans were elected to the legislative positions, but some big-name Democrats, including a former governor and the current AG, live here.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:34 AM)
Stories we could tell

To rather a large number of Americans, Oklahoma City is something of an enigma: it's one of the 30 largest cities in the country (29th, says the 2000 Census), but it simply doesn't register on the national radar unless there's something dreadfully terrible happening — say, a truck bomb at the Federal Building, or a tornado that measures nearly off the scale. To some extent, we tend not to notice our comparative invisibility; we've got work to do, dammit.

Mike Swickey (23 March) thinks it's time to take another look:

I want my weblog to look at my city — Oklahoma City — in a new and (again, I think) unique way. I want to find the people in this city that know its history, its pros, its cons. Find people who do thankless work that goes unnoticed. Look at jobs in our city that are only thought of in passing — and maybe with some derision. It takes all kinds to make a city like Oklahoma City tick 24-7. I want to mix a little history of OKC with history of our popular culture and a look at the people who have been here, are here now, and chances are, will be here years from now. Profiles of our city. Sometimes an individual, sometimes an interesting job that quietly gets done, maybe the profile will look at a building — an old movie palace or a long lost 15-story brick art-deco building that fell victim to evil personified: The Oklahoma City Urban Renewal Authority of the sixties and seventies.

Emphasis in the original, and I don't think he's kidding; OCURA in those days was primarily concerned with removing old buildings, and not a whole lot of thought went into whether the replacements would be an improvement.

There are, they say, eight million stories in the Naked City. We're a bit more modest here, but I'm sure we've got tales to tell. And if anyone can find them, it's Mike Swickey.

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:55 PM)
25 March 2004
The House seeks to hook Fisher

Republicans in the Oklahoma House have moved to impeach Carroll Fisher, calling the controversial Insurance Commissioner "an embarrassment to the people of Oklahoma."

House Resolution 1040, by Fred Morgan (R-Oklahoma City) and John Trebilcock (R-Broken Arrow), calls for the Speaker to convene a committee to investigate Fisher's activities and decide whether impeachment and removal from office is warranted.

At the time the resolution was introduced, Fisher was turning over his financial records to a grand jury, which had charged him with embezzlement.

Fisher pointed out that at least one House Republican — Mike O'Neil, from Enid — was under a cloud after a sexual-battery charge was filed last month, and suggested that the resolution was partially motivated by a desire to take the heat off O'Neil.

Should the committee approve articles of impeachment, they would go to the full House for a vote; if a majority of the House agrees, the Senate would try the impeachment, with a two-thirds vote required to remove Fisher from office.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:09 AM)
26 March 2004
Have mercy on the criminal

Today, former Senator Gene Stipe will appear before the Oklahoma Public Employees Retirement System with the hope of persuading the trustees thereof that they should not cut his pension from $7042 per month to $1572.

Stipe, who resigned from the Senate after pleading guilty to Federal charges connected to the dubious Congressional campaign of Walt Roberts in 1998, was informed by OPERS that due to his criminal record, he would be required to forfeit much of the retirement pay he accumulated over 53 years of service.

Votes by the OPERS board are not generally made public, but I'd love to see what embattled Insurance Commissioner Carroll Fisher, a member of the board who is having problems of his own, has to say on the subject.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:39 AM)
30 March 2004
Birds suddenly appear

After a series of legal challenges to the law, Attorney General Drew Edmondson asked the Oklahoma Supreme Court to rule on the Constitutionality of the state's 2002 ban on cockfighting, and today the Court upheld that ban by a 7-0 vote. (Two Justices abstained.)

Senator Frank Shurden (D-Henryetta) will continue his fight to get the penalties reduced; he says that this is another attack on American traditions, and "next it will be hunting, fishing and rodeos."

Not so loud, Frank. PETA has ears.

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:57 PM)
1 April 2004
The one where we break a story, maybe

Someone passed to me what is represented as "internal polling from CHS (Cole Hardgrave [sic] Snodgrass)" regarding the Republican candidates for the Senate seat currently held by the retiring Don Nickles. CHS is a real firm, once headed by Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK 4) — the other partners are Sharon Hargrave Caldwell and Deby Snodgrass — and while I can't think of any reason why anyone from CHS would leak things to me, I'm reprinting it here just to see what happens.

 40% - Tom Coburn
 25% - Kirk Humphreys
  9% - Bob Anthony
  2% - Linda Murphy

CHS is working on the Humphreys campaign, so they can't be particularly happy about these numbers.

(Linda Murphy, in case you've forgotten, was appointed Secretary of Education in the Keating administration — Democrats in the legislature refused to confirm her appointment — after having run unsuccessfully against Sandy Garrett for State Superintendent.)

Of course, not being a Republican, I can't vote in their primary. I will hazard the following speculations:

(1) I thought Kirk Humphreys was going to shrug off this Bass Pro thing — as Mayor of Oklahoma City, he pushed hard for the $18 million city subsidy to the chain to park a store in Bricktown — until Bass Pro let it be known that they were building a larger store in Broken Arrow, for which they got no subsidy whatsoever.

(2) Bob Anthony, the maverick of the Corporation Commission, may be too much of an iconoclast for Oklahoma Republicans.

(3) The same might be said of Tom Coburn, who has a tendency to resist suggestions that he "go along to get along."

The primary will be held 27 July; a lot can happen between now and then, and this being Oklahoma, something almost certainly will.

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:53 PM)
3 April 2004
Bread upon the waters

In 1966, H. Richard Lawson graduated from tiny Oklahoma Christian College with a computer-science degree, going on to Purdue for postgraduate work. Lawson Software set up shop in Minnesota in 1975 in the arcane field of enterprise software, and today has grown to 1700 employees worldwide.

And now Lawson and his wife Pat (OC '67) have bestowed upon a much-grown Oklahoma Christian University a gift of 4 million shares of Lawson common stock, presently worth over $30 million, one of the largest gifts in the school's history. OC won't be going on a buying spree, though; most of the money will be allocated to the school's permanent endowment.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:52 AM)
Universal translator

The OkiePundit has identified code words used by Oklahoma politicians of a certain stripe:

"Second amendment Rights" means I'll make sure you get to buy as many lethal weapons as you want and shoot stuff. "Sunday school teacher" means I'm a Christian and I'll push the infidels to the margins of society and let them know this here is a CHRISTIAN nation by God. "Life long resident" means I ain't never gone nowhere and I'll fight to keep our district jus like it tiss. "Traditional marriage" means I hate gays as much as you do and we ain't lettin those perverts do their fornicatin round Oklahoma, by God.

Well, shooting stuff is actually a pretty good use for those "lethal weapons," but the Sunday-school teachers I've met — admittedly a small sample — didn't strike me as particularly interested in marginalizing people. Maybe it's different in Senate District 18, a narrow vee in the spirit of Elbridge Gerry which extends from east Tulsa to a corner of Grand Lake, where the Pundit doesn't actually dwell but did find these terms in a mailing.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:38 PM)
5 April 2004
Contemporary methology

Lynn S. heard the big BOOM, and — well, let her tell you:

A short time later three police cars and a fire truck came flying up the road in front of our house. If we were betting folks we'd all be betting it was a meth lab. We don't see any suspicious fire or smoke anywhere though.

Might have been. Meth labs are second only to wind in terms of sheer ubiquity in these parts; a couple weeks ago they found one operating out of a hotel room on Route 66, about three-quarters of a mile from me. Nothing was blown up, but the mere presence of the damned thing was disconcerting. For all I know, there may be another one by now.

The state thinks they can curb the industry — and let's face it, by now it's big enough to be considered an industry — by restricting sales of products containing pseudoephedrine, a common base ingredient in meth. Wishful thinking, say I.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:55 AM)
6 April 2004
Here I am, stuck in the middle

Occasionally I complain about clowns to the left of me. Lynn would like you to know about jokers to the right:

[W]e have moonbats here in Oklahoma but, unlike most of the rest of the country they are of the Right-wing variety, not the Left. Now I'm not talking about ordinary Christians here — I'm talking about serious moonbattery. According to these people the Easter Bunny, Santa Claus, and absolutely anything to do with Halloween is not merely harmless, meaningless fun for the kids; it's Evil. Even if the kids have no idea that the Easter Bunny is really a pagan fertility symbol, having fun with the Easter Bunny, Easter egg hunts and so forth is still a mortal sin. Nothing. But. Evil! Period. (Come to think of it, just about anything fun is a mortal sin).

There was a flap some years back about a Tulsa Union student alleged to be a witch; for the life of me I can't understand why she didn't turn the lot of them into newts.

Lynn continues:

My theory is that the closer you get to Oral Roberts University the higher the concentration of Right-wing moonbats. ORU is located in Tulsa so there are more RWMb's in Tulsa and the surrounding area. In other words, ORU is to the Right what Berkeley is to the Left.

I remember attending a science-fiction con in Tulsa at a hotel opposite ORU, complete with Society of Creative Anachronism displays on the lawn; passersby, observing the jousting, alternated between appalled and actually frightened. "You'd think," I said, gesturing towards Oral's Prayer Tower, "they'd appreciate the medieval around here."

In Oklahoma City, where I now live, our moonbats work on policy, not on philosophy: the poster child is probably Rep. Bill Graves. Proximity to Graves is probably harmful to one's higher brain functions; fortunately, I don't live in his district, and he'll be term-limited into oblivion soon enough.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:28 AM)
7 April 2004
Prying open the primary

Oklahoma's primary elections are closed: Democrats vote only for Democrats, Republicans for Republicans. The Oklahoma Libertarian Party, whose membership may be described as "not large," proposed opening their 2000 primary to members of the major parties. The Election Board balked, noting that state law permits them to admit registered Independents, but not members of other recognized parties.

Eventually the Libertarians sued the Election Board; US District Judge Stephen Friot ruled against the party, saying that the law was intended to insure "that the results of a primary election... accurately reflect the voting of the party members." An appeal was filed, and yesterday the 10th US Circuit Court of Appeals reversed Judge Friot's decision in a 3-0 vote.

Nothing in this ruling mandates that the two major parties have to allow crossover voting, but it's a first step towards opening up the primaries, which I think will prove beneficial to third parties in years to come, especially with the general level of dissatisfaction with the Big Boys.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:41 AM)
13 April 2004
So safe, so sane and so secure

The US Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration — and who knew we had one of those? — reports that one in every ten Oklahomans suffers from some form of mental illness.

Sometimes I think the other nine enjoy it.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:46 AM)
15 April 2004
Stipe's stipend

An examiner for the Oklahoma Public Employees Retirement System has informed former senator Gene Stipe that the forfeiture of 78 percent of his legislative pension is justified by Stipe's guilty pleas in federal court, which constitute a violation of his oath of office.

The examiner's findings will be passed to the OPERS board for a final ruling.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:44 AM)
16 April 2004
Go ahead and breathe

For the first time in years, the entire state of Oklahoma meets the Environmental Protection Agency's 8-hour ground-level ozone standards.

In recent years, parts of the Oklahoma City and Tulsa metropolitan areas have been on the EPA's nonattainment list, although it wasn't because of increased ozone, but because of tighter standards, proposed in 1997 and adopted in 2001 after court challenges.

People who don't suffer from respiratory ailments will likely notice no significant difference, except for the absence of ozone alerts in the media.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:38 AM)
If they don't win, it's a shame

Which they didn't, but what the heck.

The Triple-A Oklahoma RedHawks dropped their home opener at the Brick in front of about 11,500 fans. Omaha's Royals won 8-3, and the fireworks display promised for the evening was cancelled due to higher-than-usual winds.

Now 6-3, the 'Hawks remain on top of the Pacific Coast League East division, though they can't expect to stay there if they strand ten runners every night.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:16 PM)
20 April 2004
Meanwhile at Big Mac

The prosecution in the trial of Terry Nichols has asserted that alleged Secret Service video of the explosion in the Murrah bombing does not actually exist.

Jon Hersley, then the FBI case agent for the bombing probe, testified "There is no such tape.... We would have followed that tremendously if that existed."

Nichols' defense claimed that the government withheld this video from co-conspirator Timothy McVeigh's defense, and had moved for a dismissal.

(Update, 2:30 pm: McGehee has an AP story that describes the tape.)

If you're stymied by NewsOK's registration, use this:
user: cgh at windowphobe.com (substitute the appropriate character)
pw: carlotta

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:34 AM)
21 April 2004
This takes balls

If the Oklahoma House has its way, some sex offenders would be subjected to castration. The House's amendment to Senate Bill 1413 specifies that the procedure will be used only after conviction of first- or second-degree rape or forcible sodomy, and then only if there are two prior convictions and supporting DNA evidence — unless the perp requests it, perhaps as part of a plea bargain.

A similar measure got through the Legislature in 2002, but was vetoed by Frank Keating, then governor, who called it "reckless." Brad Henry, who succeeded Keating, has so far given no indication of how he will respond.

The amended bill also contains a strange provision from Rep. Thad Balkman (R-Norman) which would bar the viewing of sexually-explicit images in a moving vehicle. (Who knew this was a problem?)

The Senate will get one more shot at the bill before it goes to Governor Henry.

(Update: Originally, I had written this with reference to chemical castration; in fact, this measure calls for actual snippage. Thanks to Myria.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:42 AM)
Goodness, gracious, great balls of ice

First day of the Festival of the Arts, and that shiny white stuff accumulating on the ground isn't snow; you can name any sports ball, baseball or smaller, and we've had hail that size in the last quarter-hour. Normally I'd be home by now, but I'm not even going to challenge the roads under these conditions.

(Dave: Eat your heart out.)

(Update, 5:45 pm: Back at home. No damage.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:17 PM)
22 April 2004
And now it's a referendum

The Oklahoma Senate last week attached an amendment to House Bill 2259, a rewriting of the state's forcible-sodomy laws, which calls for a referendum on gay marriage. Today the House passed the bill.

The amendment, by Senator James Williamson (R-Tulsa), proposes that voters approve a change to the state Constitution that defines marriage in terms of one man and one woman, that declines to recognize marriages from other states that do not meet this definition, and that classifies the issuance of a marriage license to anyone else as a misdemeanor.

Expect a lawsuit to try to keep the question off the ballot.

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:07 PM)
24 April 2004
Looking for the next boom

On the per capita income scale, Oklahoma generally ranks fairly low — in 2002, we placed forty-third among the states, same as in 1998. Some of this is offset by housing costs, which are actually bearable in these parts, but by no means are we rolling in it.

The Ackerman McQueen ad agency took out a full-page ad in tomorrow's Oklahoman to recommend a solution. And they're not the first to suggest that we seem to come up with around 1200 bushels for every thousand points of light, either:

Clearly, we lack the gene that makes Texans believe that if it's theirs, it's the best anywhere. Instead, we tend to underestimate ourselves. So we're less annoying, but also less successful.

But let's say the revitalization in our midst fortifies our psyche into doing a statewide about-face. And starts a movement based on admitting how good we are.

No doubt we're doing some serious rebuilding. And how hard is it to be less annoying than (some) Texans?

But, says the agency, we have to start relying on our own resources, rather than looking elsewhere:

Imagine the impact if all purchasing agents, CEOs, CIOs, CFOs and other decision makers in Oklahoma would unite behind one simple goal: to Buy Oklahoma First.

Overnight, it would become the driving force of our economy. We'd enrich our tax base, school systems, public infrastructure and generally elevate our quality of life. We'd gain the sought-after Creative Class jobs our city needs to attract and retain the best and brightest talent.

Dr Richard Florida, guru of the Creative Class movement, was here this spring, and if I'm reading him properly, we can't really buy ourselves a Creative Class: we have to attract one, and that requires not only sprucing up the locations but the local attitudes as well. This doesn't mean we have to do a political 180, necessarily, but it does mean we have to come to grips with diversity in its truest sense: not something imposed from on high, but something that grows from the ground up.

Still, we can't, indeed we shouldn't, try to be the next Austin; we don't have to adopt a manifesto that proclaims to the world how open and free and cool we are. For all of Dr Florida's vaunted research, his favored cities aren't exactly setting economic records. I suspect no city in America has a higher percentage of people who see themselves as creative than does San Francisco, but there isn't anything in the way Baghdad-by-the-Bay is run that I'd want to see replicated in Oklahoma City.

Mostly, we're doing the right things. We spent a whole lot of money on downtown, but it brought in much more from the private sector. Tulsa is getting ready to try a similar formula. As we get used to small tastes of success, the bigger ones won't seem so far away. As Ackerman McQueen says:

All we have to do is have faith in ourselves — and back it up with action.

We'll probably never be as wealthy as, say, Connecticut, the next state up on the population list. On the other hand, we'll probably never have Connecticut levels of taxation, either.

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:48 PM)
28 April 2004
He's our dear old weatherman

Matt Deatherage acknowledges the permanent appointment of Rich Fields to the announcer position on The Price Is Right, and quotes this bit from Fields' CV:

Fields, who was most recently the weatherman at KPSP, CBS-2 in Palm Springs, California, is the show's third announcer in its 32-year history on the CBS Television Network.

Weather, of course, is trivial in southern California, where it never rainsL.A. Story's weatherman Harris K. Telemacher (Steve Martin) actually prerecorded his forecasts for weeks at a time — but peppy TV-personality types won't last six minutes doing the weather in Oklahoma. Says Deatherage:

[P]eople here will not accept a "weatherman" who is not a meteorologist. Weather, and particularly severe weather, are way too important to leave to entertainers. The concept of a weatherman becoming a game show announcer (Fields), or host (Pat Sajak), or talk show host (David Letterman) just makes us wonder what the hell is wrong with you people that you'd let comedians interpret the weather good grief don't you have any common sense at all????

On the other hand, God forbid Gary England should try to crack a joke.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:37 AM)
29 April 2004
Oh, and a Diet Pepsi, please

The first Saturday of May in El Reno marks the return of the World's Largest Onion-Fried Burger.

For a century or so, there's always been someone in El Reno vending sandwiches of this sort, and for the last fifteen years, the city has been capitalizing on this small-scale fame by putting together each year an onion burger to end all onion burgers. The Burgerzilla is about 8½ feet in diameter and, including buns and (of course) onions, weighs around 750 lb; mere Quarter-Pounders don't stand a chance.

Lots of events accompany the unveiling (and consumption) of the Big Burger, and if the weather is even slightly cooperative, about 25,000 folks will get a piece of the, um, action.

(Update, 1 May, 4:30 pm: This is one of those days they call "breezy," which means that the wind will blow your car door shut about half a second before you've actually cleared the sill, but there was a smidgen of sunshine, and it was possible to get a whiff of the whopper Monster Burger from blocks away. Johnnie's, the downtown eatery and keeper of the flame, as it were, cleared its parking lot and set up tables and chairs; I didn't look for out-of-state plates, but I figure that any day this town swells to twice its normal size, however briefly, counts as a success for the Travel and Tourism folks.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:25 AM)
4 May 2004
Paragraphs of doom

Matt Deatherage has been following the strange tale of Brian Robertson, a high-school student from Moore who happened upon a text file containing what purported to be evacuation orders in the event of some unspecified disaster. Robertson read the file, found inspiration therein, and wrote a short story about an armed assault on his school.

In a normal environment, it would have ended there. But we live in the Age of Zero Tolerance, so when the school administration found the story, they called the cops, and Robertson was charged with a felony: under a 2001 let's-make-sure-we-don't-have-another-Columbine bill, it was illegal to "plan, attempt, conspire, or endeavor to perform an act of violence," and Robertson's story, viewed through the eyes of Zero Tolerance, looked like a plan. The charges looked even sillier once the case came before a judge, and were duly dropped, but inasmuch as it took over a year to bring the case to trial, Oklahoma law forbids expunging Robertson's record.

Until now. The Legislature has passed a measure which redefines the law to require malicious intent and provides the authority to clear the records of those charged under the previous version.

Notes Deatherage:

[S]imply writing the story as before is no longer a thoughtcrime; the state has to prove you intended to carry out the plan.

Which is, of course, as it should be.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:35 AM)
6 May 2004
Nichols' defense goes wide

It was never any secret that Terry Nichols' defense, which is scheduled to present its case starting today, would attempt to show that there were other conspirators in the Oklahoma City bombing of 1995, and they got their first courtroom victory very quickly: the presiding judge has ruled that fingerprints found in Timothy McVeigh's car and in his hotel room can be examined. The defense contends that the prints were left by members of a group of white separatists, and that they had a substantial role in planning the bombing.

There was no reported response from John Doe No. 2.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:29 AM)
Guns R Us

Governor Henry signed Senate Joint Resolution 54 today, which calls for the Department of Commerce to work together with Murray State College in Tishomingo — which, coincidentally, offers an Associates degree with gunsmithing specialization — to come up with incentives to attract manufacturers of firearms to the Sooner State.

Senator Jay Paul Gumm (D-Durant) explains the rationale:

This is a multi-billion dollar industry. But those high-dollar manufacturing jobs are in states where those companies aren't even wanted. There are 75 major firearm manufacturers with facilities in 12 states. I think if we get the word out about what we have to offer in terms of education programs and economic development incentives, we could bring some of those jobs here.

The OkiePundit is not particularly impressed:

Focusing on attracting a few gun manufacturers may or may not be a worthwhile economic development strategy but the important point to remember is that the Legislature should be focused on establishing strategic objectives in conjunction with Commerce but not micromanaging to the point of passing unfunded mandates requiring Commerce to redirect its meager resources to pet projects. Perhaps semiconductor chip plants or aerospace companies would be a better target for the recruitment effort — but with the dolts at the Legislature consumed with gunsmithing and gay marriage the economic development resources of the state can't be expected to take priority.

And Commerce, with its "meager resources," is somehow going to be able to land a semiconductor foundry or a defense plant? (Admittedly, gay marriage gets a lot of press around here, but it's utterly irrelevant to this discussion except to the extent that a cheap shot was needed.)

I doubt much of anything will happen with SJR 54, but I plan to be amused if some gun maker does announce plans to open a facility here and the Usual Suspects chime in with "Well, we need jobs, but not these jobs."

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:29 PM)
12 May 2004
And curse Sir Walter Raleigh

Three Republicans in the Oklahoma Senate have put together a counterproposal to Governor Henry's tobacco-tax plan.

The two measures, despite a 44-cent-per-pack difference, are much alike. Henry's package calls for increasing the current 23-cent tax to 78 cents, and using much of the difference to finance health-care initiatives. In addition, the Governor wants to toss out the state's capital-gains tax and eliminate the trigger mechanism that raises the top income-tax rate when revenues fall short.

The GOP pushes the tax all the way to $1.22, supports the health-care measures, and will phase in a reduction of the top income-tax rate.

I'm a nonsmoker the easy way, so the bill which passes — probably a compromise package at the $1 level — will put a few coins in my pocket, since the top income-tax bracket is set so low that even I pay it. But I'm still disturbed by the manifest belief of politicians on both sides that it's okay to stick it to smokers. (Can you say "oppressed minority"? Sure. I knew you could.) And what kind of world is this where Republicans push for a tax increase — and a bigger tax increase than the Democrats seek, yet? The Legislature is evidently smoking something that the state doesn't tax.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:28 PM)
14 May 2004
Don't call it "infrastructure"

Three teenaged boys at the Tecumseh Detention Center last year received breast-reduction surgery at a cost of approximately $14,000. The state Health Care Authority refused to pay for the operations, deeming them not medically necessary, and duly advised the Office of Juvenile System Oversight, which shuffled some personnel in response.

It occurs to me that if these lads were unhappy with their boobage at 15, they're going to be utterly despondent at 50.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:37 AM)
17 May 2004
Gonna party like it's 1899

Traditional and Biblical names seem to be the norm these days in Oklahoma; four hundred boys born last year were named Jacob, with Ethan, Michael, Joshua and Caleb rounding out the Top Five.

Meanwhile, 388 girls were named Emily; Madison (can we blame this on Daryl Hannah?) was second, followed by Emma, Hannah and Abigail.

Considering this is the state that produced builder Never Fail, cardiologist Safety First, MD, and one-time Attorney General Larry Derryberry, I'm surprised at the conventional sounds that some of these names seem to make.

Then again, my daughter, born here in the Okay City, came this close to being named Penelope Layne. I'm sure she's grateful for the change of heart.

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:30 PM)
Baby, scratch my back

When Bass Pro Shops announced they were locating a store in Broken Arrow, a southeast Tulsa suburb, there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth down here at the other end of the Turner, inasmuch as Oklahoma City put up $18 million or so to land a Bass Pro location for the east end of Bricktown and apparently the company didn't ask anything from Broken Arrow.

Or did they? Michael Bates has connected the dots and found what looks like a very suspicious trail: Tulsa may have helped Broken Arrow snag the Bass Pro store in exchange for BA support of the Vision 2025 package. Inasmuch as BA, like most Tulsa suburbs, stands to pay more in taxes than it stands to gain in actual V2025 projects, there'd be no real reason for BA to support the package — unless there was a little something to sweeten the deal.

That sound you hear is Kirk Humphreys breathing a sigh of relief.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:07 PM)
18 May 2004
Fest or famine

(Note: This is, or at least comes across as, an attempt to talk out of both sides of my mouth. Really.)

Bruce reports that the vast majority of respondents to a poll conducted by a Tulsa TV station would not be willing to increase their taxes to support the Tulsa Mayfest. What does it mean?

Too often we overlook the less than immediate effects of public investments. For instance, festivals like Mayfest are important tools to promote the "livability" of a city. While I doubt that many people would move to Tulsa just to attend Mayfest once a year they might see it as a factor in determining their choice of where to live. Having "places to go, things to see" might not be as important as job relocation or overall cost of living but it does contribute to the overall appeal of a city. Younger people especially see entertainment options as important considerations when choosing a city.

But that's only half the story he has to tell:

This past weekend I also attended the Renaissance Faire in Muskogee. I have a friend that is part of a show there so I went to see him do his act and to take even more pictures. From what I know, the Ren Faire does not operate with any public funds. You pay to get in and you pay "event prices" for food, drink, merchandise and other "special" events you want to participate in. You choose the level of financial investment you are willing to make and if gawking at women with pushed up boobs and hearing all manner of bad medieval accents is not your thing it doesn't cost you a penny to stay away. A publicly supported event would cost you money whether you choose to attend or not.

True enough. Getting a few bucks from the government might be nice, but there are always strings attached, and they may not be strings you like. Better to keep one's distance. Besides, most of these operations have learned how to turn a buck on their own. At the Festival of the Arts in Oklahoma City, the Arts Council gets a piece of anything sold on the premises; what's more, they solicit donations directly. I'm sure my one afternoon at the Festival, during which I spent $150 or so, generated a fair chunk of change for the Arts Council, likely far more than they'd get from me were I taxed to pay for it.

This is not to say that government has no role whatever in creating or maintaining "livability" — certainly the city of Oklahoma City didn't shy away from ponying up some funding to restore the Skirvin Hotel — but the city expects to turn a profit on this deal, and any dollars they make from the Skirvin are dollars they don't have to siphon from me. And while the Skirvin deal presents philosophical problems — I expect to hear from the Oklahoma Libertarian Party presently about how awful it is — I still think it will work.

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:09 PM)
26 May 2004
It's a sweep, sort of

The jury took about five hours to convict Terry Nichols on all 161 state counts of first-degree murder today, plus a charge of arson.

Around the first of July, the penalty phase should be completed; Nichols will draw either life in prison (which duplicates the federal sentence he's already serving) or execution by lethal injection. The testimony, already gruesome, will likely become more so as the jury weighs the options.

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:37 PM)
31 May 2004
Proper memorials

I can't swear to what it was like all day, but a spot-check of three burial parks suggested that a lot of people took time out today to pay tribute to those who served.

And while I didn't gather any statistics last year, it seems to me that there were a few more flags flying around town this year. (I have decided that mere window placards are inadequate to the task, and will acquire a new flag for next time around.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:44 PM)
8 June 2004
Whole lotta shakin' goin' on

Okay, maybe not that much. But Oklahoma is riven with fault lines, and they vibrate fairly frequently; yesterday, an hour and a half before sunset, a 3.0 temblor (temblette?) rumbled its way through Ardmore.

The most earth-shattering quake ever recorded in Oklahoma struck El Reno in 1952.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:10 AM)
11 June 2004
Getting mighty crowded

About one-quarter of the Oklahoma House will have to be replaced this year because of term limits, including Robert Worthen, who has represented District 87, where I live these days.

During the three-day filing period this week, no fewer than seven people filed to run for District 87; only District 19, in the northeast part of the state, drew more.

One of the four Republicans vying for the seat is Young Republicans official Trebor Worthen, who is Robert Worthen's son, and whose first name is "Robert" spelled backwards. Another is Tina Majors, who ran second in the GOP primary in 2002 for Senate District 40. Then there's Reece Kepler, who scores for Best Domain Name: RememberReece.com. I know nothing at all about Karen Khoury.

On the Democratic side, there's David B. Hooten, who may or may not be this David B. Hooten; Steve Harry, who won the Senate District 40 primary in 2002, losing to Cliff Branan in the election; and John Morgan, who owns a small business and who lives around the corner from me.

There's no Senate race here — Cliff Branan's term runs through 2006 — so I get to fixate on a House race this time. The primary will be 27 July (right after World Tour '04), with runoffs if needed on 24 August. So far, the only candidate I've met is John Morgan, who, as noted, lives around the corner from me.

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:14 AM)
12 June 2004
To bang the Drum all day

Two classic films will be screened during this year's deadCenter Film Festival: Sir Carol Reed's The Third Man and Volker Schlöndorff's The Tin Drum. But Festival buzz is all about the one premiere on the schedule: Banned in Oklahoma, a documentary by Gary D. Rhodes about what happened when some censorious doofus got it into his head that The Tin Drum was obscene and managed to stir up a thoroughly embarrassing cause célèbre that gave Oklahoma City a cultural black eye and a bill for half a million dollars in legal judgments for following the lead of said doofus.

An abridged version of Rhodes' documentary can be had in the Criterion Collection DVD edition of The Tin Drum, but this is the first appearance anywhere of the full 54-minute film.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:15 AM)
15 June 2004
Cracking at the seams

It's not too common to close a road because of heat, but a stretch of Interstate 40 in Canadian County, near the Kilpatrick Turnpike, was shut down yesterday afternoon because of heat-induced pavement migration.

In other words, holes. Big ones.

I spotted the makings of something similar this morning on I-44: it was as though the concrete had pulled back from the expansion joint, leaving a substantial gap. This stretch of road being fairly bumpy at its best, not everyone is likely to notice, at least at first, though the wankers who fit their workaday sedans with twenty-inch wheels and 35-series tires are in for an increase in their daily ration of jaw-rattling jolts.

(Update, 8:20 pm: There's apparently another one, this time on Lincoln Blvd. near 36th Street. Since my Wednesday route home goes right through this intersection, I think it's time for Plan B.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:23 AM)
16 June 2004
Search for: ME

If ever I had any doubts that politicians pay attention to the Net, even down here at the D-list blog level, those doubts have been erased.

Last Friday I posted a list of candidates for House District 87, in which I live. Three Democrats and four Republicans are seeking to replace Robert Worthen, the GOP incumbent who is being term-limited out of a job. And of those seven, at least three have already taken note of that list; there are comments from them or their campaign staffs posted to it. I expect a couple of the others will follow shortly.

Ah, Google. How much you've changed this world of ours.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:27 AM)
17 June 2004
Hither and yawn

Bruce's most recent intro paragraph contains the following valuable information:

I currently reside in Broken Arrow, a suburb east of Tulsa; a place so sleepy I could sleep naked on the front porch draped in jewelry and nobody would bother me.

I don't think even Fargo is that somnolent.

Given the possibilities, though, perhaps he should follow this with a disclaimer: Don't try this at home.

(And I don't have a whole lot of jewelry, now that I think about it.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:25 PM)
18 June 2004
Drawing on experience

South Carolina is lifting its ban on tattoo shops, which leaves one state where the practice remains illegal.

And why is that? Mike snickers:

Our Oklahoma legislators likely felt such a ban encourages an influx of tattoo-hating companies into the state.

But of course. And let's face it, we're never going to run out of either dermatologists or Southern Baptists — not that there's a whole lot of either in Iran, which ranks as just about the only other place on earth that bans tattooing.

(Disclosure: I have no such decorations. I believe I am the only family member who lacks them, in fact. I attribute this less to aesthetic concerns than to a general dislike for needles.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:35 AM)
24 June 2004
A certain lack of jurisprudence

Donald Thompson has served as a district judge in Sapulpa, Oklahoma for two decades, and apparently mandatory minimums didn't do a thing for him: Attorney General Drew Edmondson has filed an official complaint against Judge Thompson, charging him with, um, banging his gavel, so to speak.

Apparently he sacked his court reporter, the usual audience for his display, after she cooperated with an investigation into his behind-the-bench activities.

The complaint can be viewed in full here.

(Courtesy of Guy S. at Snugg Harbor, who noted: "In handing out a stiff sentence.....he hands out a stiff sentence!")

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:59 PM)
26 June 2004
The doctor is out

When last we heard from Jeffrey Schimandle, he was losing his license to practice medicine in Oklahoma. A decent interval having elapsed, Dr Schimandle applied to the Oklahoma State Board of Medical Licensure and Supervision for reinstatement, and was turned down; Elizabeth Scott, assistant Attorney General, representing the Board, says that Schimandle has "thumbed his nose at the state of Oklahoma."

Schimandle vows to appeal to the state Supreme Court. Meanwhile, I noticed this quote by psychologist Ray Hand, who testified in Schimandle's behalf at the hearing:

[He's] a bright guy with a lot of potential.

If I remember correctly — I went to a lot of shrinks in the 80s — Dr Hand once asserted that I was a bright guy with a lot of potential, and well, we all know how that worked out.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:39 AM)
27 June 2004
The Virginia reel

Oklahoma's political history is replete with "colorful" characters, where "colorful" is, often as not, a euphemism for "raving loony." One of the legends is perennial candidate Virginia Blue Jeans Jenner — that's exactly the way her name appears on the Democratic primary ballot for House District 12 — who has never actually been elected to anything, but last time out did manage to pull a third of the votes in the 2002 Democratic primary for Labor Commissioner, losing to Lloyd Fields, who in turn lost to Republican Brenda Reneau Wynn in the general election. Michael Bates has an ad run by Jenner in her 1988 race for mayor of Tulsa, in which she quips:

[V]ote for this dental hygienist who knows how to deal with folks who talk out of both sides of their mouth.

And this morning, Emperor Misha I finds a letter from Jenner in The Dallas Morning News:

Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry gets my vote for "Wimp of the Year."

He earned my dubious honor by being "Bush-Lite" and proposing to raise the federal minimum wage to $7 an hour by 2007. Horsefeathers. My husband sacks groceries for $7 an hour and has no health benefits, so we will get no help from Mr. Kerry. What we need is a living wage of $10 an hour.

Employers are cutting hours to save money and make most of their employees part-time, thus denying them benefits. Mr. Kerry says his $1.85 increase in the minimum wage would give a family enough dough to buy 10 months' food or pay eight months' rent. The senator hasn't been to the grocery story lately or tried to rent a one-room apartment hole-in-the-wall.

Misha's response — well, you'll have to read it for yourself.

(Incidentally, my dental hygienist is a hottie, and has no political ambitions. I think.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:54 AM)
29 June 2004
What part of "term limits" don't you understand?

Oklahoma legislators are limited to twelve years in office. Not all of them are enthusiastic about the limitation, either.

Senator Jim Maddox (D-Lawton), who was holding that office in 1992 when term limits began, would complete twelve years under the provisions of the law in 2004. Maddox, who was reelected in 2002 (half the Senate is chosen in "off-year" elections), argued that the voters intended to send him back to the Capitol for four years and that he should be allowed to complete those four years.

The state Supreme Court has now decided otherwise; Maddox is gone after 2004, and a special election will be held to fill the District 32 seat for the following two years.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:48 AM)
30 June 2004
One step sideways, two steps back

I knew something was dreadfully wrong at NewsOK.com when I called up the site map and none of the links worked.

And where the hell is Hibbard?

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:46 PM)
2 July 2004
Tulsatown rebellion

The Midwest Prisoner is not overly fond of the townspeople around him:

[T]he average Tulsan is slightly to the right of Heinrich Himmler and willing to burn them at the stake if they don?t agree with the white, fundamental Christian line.

I'd like to hear Bruce's take on this before I go any further.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:28 AM)
23 July 2004
Razing awareness

Michael Bates has been all over the story that World Publishing Company, owner of the Tulsa World, plans to tear down the Skelly Building and the nearby Froug's Department Store building. The Skelly will become a parking lot for the World; Froug's will be replaced by a heating/cooling tower.

Says the World, this represents their commitment to downtown. Bates is not persuaded:

The Tulsa Whirled [Bates' standard nickname for the paper] strongly supported the reopening of Main Street to vehicular traffic. They told us that we had to reopen the Mall to traffic in order to encourage residential and commercial development. It is a shame and an outrage that fronting Main Street — newly reopened at great taxpayer expense — will be a big air conditioning system where a department store once was. Our city leaders need to take action now to prevent the Whirled from devaluing the taxpayer's investment in Main Street and downtown.

And what greater waste than to demolish tens of thousands of square feet that could be reused and redeveloped to create maybe a dozen parking spaces, just so the Whirled's executives don't have to cross the street. Don't believe it when they say it's for the customers. They could easily make arrangements with the lot across the street or the new city-funded structure a block away. They could validate parking.

The Whirled's publisher says this demolition represents the Whirled's commitment to downtown. The Whirled appears to be committed to the idea of downtown as just another suburban office park. As with [Tulsa Community College] and its parking land grabs, downtown would have a better chance of becoming a real downtown again if the Whirled packed up and moved rather than tearing down more buildings.

Here in Oklahoma City, The Oklahoman did exactly that when they ran out of room at Fourth and Broadway; that 1909 building is in use today, and OPUBCO donated the property just to its east to the Downtown YMCA, whose previous facilities had been destroyed in the 1995 bombing.

Let us not accuse OPUBCO of excessive altruism: they have their fingers in many pies, downtown and otherwise, and their legendary distrust for the public sector has seldom restrained them from tapping the taxpayers when the situation permitted. Did the Gaylords believe that what's good for OPUBCO is good for Oklahoma? Surely. And occasionally they turned out to be right.

What Tulsa doesn't need is to repeat the mistakes made in Oklahoma City during the "urban renewal" days, when the answer to every question was "bulldozer." We learned — the hard way, to be sure, but we learned. An example:

Situation: Not enough parking spaces in the Bricktown entertainment district.

Oldthink solution: Remove a vacant building or two, add parking lots.

Actual solution: Merchants lacking their own parking lots cut a deal with Metro Transit to run a free shuttle bus from an existing parking lot on the edge of Bricktown to their front doors during peak hours (4:30 pm to 2:30 am Thursday through Saturday plus special events).

There's nothing happening at this end of the Turner that can't be duplicated at the other. Let's hope Tulsa — and the Tulsa World — can learn from our experience.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:16 AM)
29 July 2004
Sweetness and light

If you were expecting any such in the race for Don Nickles' Senate seat, you might want to think again.

Both Brad Carson and Tom Coburn have represented the Second District in the house. Carson's first volley questioned Coburn's concern for his constituents:

The question is: What did he do for the district? The answer is nothing.

We've gotten millions for roads, millions for jobs, millions for methamphetamine [enforcement] and we're close to having a solution for Tar Creek. He did nothing for roads, nothing for jobs, nothing for Tar Creek and nothing for methamphetamines. He did nothing for his district, nothing for the state.

(Source here.)

Tom Coburn has argued that Brad Carson is a lot farther to the left than his campaign material claims, and Coburn's Web site has now put up a chart with the title Who Really Represents Our Oklahoma Values?

This is going to get nasty, I have a feeling.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:50 AM)
1 August 2004
Flash in the pan

Well, maybe next year.

The Oklahoma City Lightning ran into some serious Detroit Demolition in last night's NWFA title game; the maidens from the Motor City put the hurt on the stormin' Sooners, 52-0. The Demolition have now won 31 in a row; I'm wondering if maybe they could actually handle one of the scuzzier NFL teams.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:50 AM)
3 August 2004
Pennies pinched, no waiting

The city of Kingfisher, thirty miles from northwest Oklahoma City, has been in a financial bind; its accumulated deficit had grown to nearly $1 million, a lot of debt for a city of four thousand people. "We would have found ourselves bankrupt in 18 months," says City Manager Doug Enevoldsen.

They're not out of the woods yet, but fiscal year 2004 ended with a surplus of $193,000 following Enevoldsen's austerity program.

Perhaps ironically, Enevoldsen himself owes his position to budget cuts: he was let go from the Department of Tourism last year as part of the state's austerity program.

I mention this because, well, I have this weird idea that governmental units should not spend more than they can reasonably expect to receive.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:03 AM)
9 August 2004
It's a long, long time

Terry Nichols drew 161 consecutive life terms without parole today for his role in the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.

The sentence was issued by US District Judge Steven Taylor after the jury failed to agree on a sentence. In addition to the life terms for the murder charges, Nichols received shorter terms on arson and conspiracy charges, was fined $30,000, and was ordered to pay $5 million in restitution and legal fees, plus $161,000 toward the victims'-compensation fund.

Once the proceedings in Oklahoma are wrapped up, Nichols will return to federal custody in Colorado, where he is already serving eight life terms.

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:01 PM)
17 August 2004
Geez, it's hot in here

Well, it's not, actually, but were I attending one of the local schools, I'd probably be saying something like that towards the middle of the day. In an effort to get everyone off the premises by Memorial Day, school districts had been starting classes as early as the second week of August.

Then in 2002, Tulsa Public Schools, the state's largest district, moved their start date to early September; they've since realized some $380,000 in savings simply from not having the air conditioning cranked up to August levels for two weeks.

Oklahoma City Public Schools followed suit last year, saving about $125,000, and will start classes this year on the 30th of August. (Suburban districts are on their own schedules; Norman starts on the 25th, Putnam City the 26th, Edmond the 23rd.)

Three schools in the Oklahoma City district are on a year-round schedule: Horace Mann, Sequoyah, and Westwood. They started classes 22 July; after each of the first three nine-week sessions, there's a three-week break, and after the fourth, a seven-week summer break. How this affects utility costs, I don't know; the district says the reduced downtime in the summer has brought about some academic improvement.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:31 AM)
19 August 2004
Hanging up the ol' gown

Judge Donald Thompson, last seen exercising the wrong judicial prerogative in his Sapulpa courtroom, will retire at the end of this month rather than face ouster charges.

Thompson's attorney had this to say:

He actually considered not retiring so he could see this through. But the allegations have been so disruptive, he wanted this to go away.

The allegations, filed by Attorney General Drew Edmondson this summer, included a variety of acts The Oklahoman describes as "genital-related."

Thompson's trial, scheduled for 13 September, will presumably be called off.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:53 AM)
20 August 2004
Say what?

Governor Brad Henry, stumping for a state lottery at the Oklahoma Municipal League, gave out with this howler:

If it's immoral, then you know, I suppose it is. I don't think the leaders of all of our neighboring states, except Arkansas, are immoral because they decided an educational lottery was the thing to do. I think it's smart.

I'm not philosophically opposed to a tax on stupidity, but it's a safe bet, so to speak, this is going to inflame the Thou Shalt Not Gamble crowd huddled around the slots at the Lucky Star.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:18 AM)
24 August 2004
No votes for you

State Question 711 [link requires Adobe Reader], scheduled for the November ballot, would define marriage to be between one man and one woman, would prohibit the granting of the benefits of marriage to persons who are not married, and would forbid the state to recognize any nonconforming marriages from other states.

The ACLU has announced that it will challenge the measure with the intention of keeping it off the ballot entirely. I'd already decided to vote against 711, on the basis that it effectively prohibits any form of civil union or domestic partnership; however, I'm not keen on keeping it away from the electorate, just on general principle.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:42 AM)
25 August 2004
Pine-box regulation

"All professions," said George Bernard Shaw, "are conspiracies against the laity." Kim Powers and Dennis Bridges would probably agree at this point.

Powers and Bridges, operators of Memorial Concepts Online, sell funeral caskets over the Internet. They discovered that they could not sell them in Oklahoma, Powers' home state, without being licensed by the Oklahoma State Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors, a process which would require them to undergo, among other things, a 60-credit program of undergraduate training. Noting that very little of said program actually has anything to do with selling caskets, they sued the state, charging that the state board imposed "unreasonable and arbitrary barriers to entry into the casket retail market."

They lost; they appealed; they lost the appeal.

Judge Tacha of the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals writes:

[W]hile baseball may be the national pastime of the citizenry, dishing out special economic benefits to certain in-state industries remains the favored pastime of state and local governments [note omitted]. While this case does not directly challenge the ability of states to provide business-specific economic incentives, adopting a rule against the legitimacy of intrastate economic protectionism and applying it in a principled manner would have wide-ranging consequences.

[B]esides the threat to all licensed professions such as doctors, teachers, accountants, plumbers, electricians, and lawyers, see, e.g., Oklahoma Statutes, title 59 (listing over fifty licensed professions), every piece of legislation in six states aiming to protect or favor one industry or business over another in the hopes of luring jobs to that state would be in danger. While the creation of such a libertarian paradise may be a worthy goal, Plaintiffs must turn to the Oklahoma electorate for its institution, not us.

And Fritz Schranck observes:

The plaintiffs' effort to restore some semblance of free market capitalism is certainly admirable. They obviously still have their work cut out for them in the Oklahoma legislature.

Indeed. In the past five years, three bills to break up the Board's monopoly have been introduced into the state House, and none of them went anywhere. The Oklahoma Constitution, a monster of a document which manages, sometimes micromanages, everything that happens in the state, isn't particularly amenable to amendment, not so much for any inherent characteristics but for the general unwillingness of lawmakers to reduce the amount of oversight they're allotted.

In the meantime, if you want to be buried here, you'll get a quality box from a professional who is licensed by the state. And you'll pay through the nose for it.

(Update, 2:45 pm: Todd Zwycki isn't impressed either: "[G]iven the complete lack of any link between box-selling and embalming, it is surprising that the funeral home directors don't just go ahead and have their monopoly extend to all forms of box-selling, including cardboard boxes and luggage." Please don't give them any ideas.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:50 AM)
26 August 2004
Fears on trial (part two)

The first part is here.

Daniel Fears goes to trial on the 13th of September, and his defense team, from a firm which unabashedly promotes itself as specializing in "press-intensive" cases, will most likely try to demonstrate that young Mr Fears is utterly lacking in mens rea. Local prosecutors will have less razzle-dazzle at their disposal, which in a Court TV world might put them at some sort of disadvantage; however, I have to wonder just how much a jury of small-town Oklahomans is likely to be impressed by a passel of city slickers from Tulsa. Even as the population of the state gradually shifts toward the cities, the rural/urban disconnect remains very real, and it could conceivably work against the defense.

Maybe. We shall see.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:16 PM)
27 August 2004
SQ 711 update

As mentioned here Tuesday, the Oklahoma branch of the American Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit to keep State Question 711 off the November ballot.

I haven't seen the text of the suit yet, and the Oklahoma ACLU has yet to post any details at its own Web site, but right now I'm thinking that their best hope is the ever-popular Mere Technicality: the measure calls for three related but discrete actions, and the state Constitution frowns on laws that do more than one thing at a time.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:11 PM)
5 September 2004
The ballot of Johnny and George

KGOU's Oklahoma Voices program devoted half an hour this week to the onerous task third parties and independents face trying to get on the November ballot in this state. Representatives of the Libertarian and Green parties were in attendance; Richard Winger of Ballot Access News was on the phone from San Francisco. Winger's figures as of today show the Libertarians on 43 state ballots and the Greens on 27, though as of this writing neither of them will be on the Oklahoma ballot.

I did learn a few things from this program. For one, while ballot access in this state has always been difficult, it became much more so after 1968, when George Wallace managed to pull 46 electoral votes and almost 13 percent of the popular vote nationwide. And a spokesman for the state Election Board points out that there's always the question of stalking horses: for instance, there was widespread suspicion in 2000 that Republicans were providing sub rosa support to Ralph Nader's campaign, on the basis that Nader could draw away votes from the Democratic candidate. The Libertarian official noted that it's the job of the electorate, not the Election Board, to determine whether a candidate is someone else's sock puppet.

Richard Winger has noted elsewhere that the Oklahoma law is going to have to be reexamined next year. Last month, the state Supreme Court ordered that a candidate for Congress be placed on the ballot as an Independent despite that candidate's Republican registration; the Tenth Circuit has previously ruled that states may not require specific (or even any) registration for Congressional candidates, so at the very least this clause will be struck. Says Winger:

Since the legislature must pass a ballot access bill on this subject, perhaps other helpful provisions could be added.

Helpful, and long overdue, if you ask me.

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:41 PM)
7 September 2004
Ward to your mother

Oklahoma City is divided into eight wards of roughly similar population (65,000 or so), each of which is represented on the City Council. Tulsa has a similar system with nine wards. Ken Neal, writing in the Tulsa World, says this system represents "ward politics of the worst kind," and wants to replace it with a convoluted mess where the nine wards will be consolidated into four, and the five other councilors will be elected at large.

"In effect," says Neal, the current system demands that councilors "are elected to try to put their district ahead of the overall welfare of the city." I don't live in Tulsa and don't have a grounding in Nealspeak, but I'll attempt a translation: "How can we do Great Things for this town if we keep having to piddle around with the petty needs of mere citizens?"

Ward politics by nature is fractious. For many years in Oklahoma City it was the three southside wards (3, 4 and 5) versus the rest of the city. But changing population patterns have changed the Council: parts of Ward 3 now extend as far north as NW 36th, and Wards 6 and 7 dip as far south as SW/SE 44th. Still, any city has limited resources, and this city in particular has to spread them over an incredible distance, so I'm inclined to think the residents of a ward would rather have someone sitting at the horseshoe who has some actual interest in that ward.

Michael Bates predicts the results of Neal's proposed charter change in Tulsa:

This should ensure that no one can be elected to the City Council without a pile of money and the endorsement of the Tulsa Whirled. It would also make it very difficult for the district councilors to represent their constituents effectively, which would be fine with the Whirled. Mr. Neal would no doubt hope that the Councilors elected under the new system would understand that their job is to represent the entrenched interests that financed their expensive campaigns, not the interests of ordinary Tulsans.

And I'm still concerned with Neal's tossed-off phrase: "the overall welfare of the city." If you can't get five councilors to buy such and such a proposal, maybe it's not so good for the overall welfare after all, huh?

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:33 AM)
9 September 2004
Fisher will go to the dock

The Oklahoma House has voted to impeach Insurance Commissioner Carroll Fisher, sending five articles of impeachment to the Senate.

A list of the articles of impeachment is here. The Senate will organize a court to try the impeachment within ten days; a two-thirds majority of the 48 Senators is required to remove Fisher from office. House Speaker Larry Adair (D-Stilwell) has named a six-person board of managers to prosecute Fisher, led by Frank Davis (R-Guthrie).

Fisher says he won't resign, and Irven Box, representing Fisher, says that it is unfair for the Senate to try the commissioner while he's facing criminal charges in district court.

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:47 PM)
14 September 2004
Good-faith guesstimates

Brad Carson has pulled even with Tom Coburn in the race for the Senate seat being vacated by Don Nickles. A poll of "500 likely Oklahoma voters" shows Carson at 39 percent and Coburn at 37 percent; calculated margin of error is 4.4 percent.

Michael Bates has been parsing the poll numbers, and this statistic he turned up is most interesting: Coburn leads in four of the five Congressional districts, but is trailing badly — 58 to 25 percent — in the Second, the district which he once represented and which Carson represents now.

I did a little poking around in the results [link requires Adobe Reader] myself, and found a few bits worth mentioning:

  • State Democrats are evenly split on the Presidential ballot: Bush leads 43-42 among Democrats, with 15 percent still on the fence. (82 percent of Republicans are already in the Bush camp.)

  • There's a gender gap, but probably not the one you think: Bush is doing better among women (63-25) than among men (56-33).

  • The lottery (SQ 705) might actually pass: 57 percent said they'd vote for it. Democrats favor it overwhelmingly, and Republicans tilt slightly towards it.

  • SQ 711, the anti-gay-marriage measure, is a two-to-one shoo-in.

Of course, anything can happen in the next few weeks.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:59 AM)
23 September 2004
It's not just Tom and Brad

Mike at Okiedoke has an interview with independent Senate candidate Sheila Bilyeu.

Pertinent quote:

As long as the Democrats and Republicans are catering to corporate greed, trying to trash each other and third party people and trying to make themselves look good, we will continue to have a government that is incompetent and uncaring.

Well, okay. I'm more of a benign-neglect sort of guy myself, but I'm also persuaded that there have to be other letters in our political alphabet besides D and R.

Bilyeu's official site is here.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:30 AM)
The kid stays in the picture

The Supreme Court of the state of Oklahoma today refused to consider a request by the American Civil Liberties Union to remove State Question 711, a referendum which would bar same-sex marriage, from the ballot.

The ACLU had claimed the measure was vague and discriminatory; the Supremes were not impressed.

They were also not impressed with a request by embattled Insurance Commissioner Carroll Fisher to delay his impeachment trial, which was also denied.

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:31 PM)
24 September 2004
Affecting the disaffected

Mike Clingman of the state Election Board says that more than 31,000 voter registrations have been received in the last two months, and projects that there may be as 80,000 more by the second of November.

His explanation? "The 2000 election taught people that every vote counts." What's more, the 2004 election features, in addition to the Presidential race, a statewide Senate race and a collection of hot-button state questions.

Of those 31,000, 55 percent registered as Republicans, though Democrats still have a numerical majority: as of the end of August, 2.03 million voters were registered in Oklahoma, 52 percent of them Democrats, 37 percent Republicans.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:34 AM)
Ol' liberal Brad

We've already examined just how liberal Brad Carson is, and the answer is "Not very"; certainly he's to the left of the average House Republican, but he's quite a bit to the right of the average House Democrat.

Meanwhile, Bruce has caught a Tom Coburn ad that apparently says otherwise:

I just saw an ad from Tom Coburn that accuses Brad Carson of being a Liberal... not just any liberal... more liberal than even Hillary!

If you've bothered to read any of the actual roll call votes that they list in the paper you KNOW... you know, that this claim is total and complete bullshit. Carson votes very often with the Republicans. He has to to make it in Oklahoma politics. But, we can always expect the GOP to roll out the tired ol' "liberal" tactic, even on a guy like Carson, who while liberal on certain issues is to the right of many who are actually IN the Republican party.

Of course, it would be difficult to be farther to the right than Tom Coburn: beyond his point on the political map there are notations of "Unknown" and "Here there be dragons."

And I haven't seen this particular spot, but if this is the best they can do, they deserve to lose this seat.

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:10 PM)
25 September 2004
Fisher takes a powder

It won't affect the criminal case against him, but Carroll Fisher, by resigning his position as Insurance Commissioner, will avoid having to go through the impeachment trial and becoming a larger footnote in Oklahoma history.

What is interesting here, at least to me, is that Fisher seems to be convinced that he'd get a fairer trial in the criminal court than he would in the Oklahoma legislature: "I will have a fair and level playing field, which I didn't feel I had in the impeachment process. It was too political."

Governor Henry, accepting Fisher's resignation:

I appreciate the fact that Carroll Fisher did the right thing and resigned prior to a potentially damaging and embarrassing impeachment trial.

We will proceed without regard to party affiliation to try to find the best person to fill this position. By that, I mean someone who obviously fits the statutory qualifications ... but also who has unquestioned honesty and integrity and the ability to come in and ensure that office functions in an appropriate and efficient manner.

Finding someone to fit the statutory qualifications, anyway, shouldn't be difficult.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:24 AM)
27 September 2004
No dice, son, you gotta pick these

If I seem to be bringing up third-party candidates rather a lot these days, it's simply because I continue to be frustrated by this state's tacit insistence that there is D, and there is R, and that nothing else matters.

Says J. M. Branum, an Oklahoma Green:

Given the current state of our election laws, independent and third-party minded Oklahoma voters are given few choices this fall. We can either hold our nose and vote for the "lesser of two evils" or we can refrain from voting.

Which is the idea behind None Of The Above: to refrain, but in an organized manner.

To vote NOTA go to your regular polling place and ask for a ballot. Vote on the state and local candidates and measures that you want to, but leave the Presidential campaign ballot line BLANK and then turn in your ballot.

On November 3rd, we can then go to the Oklahoma State Election Board and get the record of the number of "undervotes" (the number of ballots cast for which the voter did not vote for President).

If this number is substantial, it might suggest to the Legislature that our existing ballot-access laws are effectively disenfranchising a large number of voters.

And if you read this and think "I'd just be throwing my vote away," well, if you can't stand the thought of four years of Kerry or four more years of Bush, why would you vote for either?

"If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice."Rush, "Free Will"

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:38 AM)
28 September 2004
The dead heat becomes less so

Brad Carson, says this week's KWTV/Wilson Research Strategies poll, now leads Tom Coburn by five percentage points in Oklahoma's Senate race, the first time Carson has had a lead that exceeds the poll's 4.4 percent margin of error.

Four weeks ago, Coburn led Carson by nine percent.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:14 AM)
29 September 2004
Coming soon to T-town

Models for the new downtown Tulsa arena were unveiled today at a Rotary Club meeting, with a display to the general public to follow. Groundbreaking will be around the first of the year; the arena, which will cover four square blocks — Denver to Frisco, 1st to 3rd — is expected to open in 2007.

The design specifications for the Tulsa arena are here.

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:07 PM)
2 October 2004
An oasis in the Osage Hills

A botanical garden, says landscape designer Geoffrey Rausch, is like a museum — except that in the garden, the masterpieces are alive.

Conceptual plans for the Oklahoma Centennial Botanical Garden in Tulsa, to be designed by Rausch, were released this week, and a drive is already underway to raise $40 million for its construction. The garden site, 5323 West 31st Street North, covers 300 acres in the Osage Hills, and is adjacent to the Post Oak Lodge conference center. (Persimmon Ridge LLC, which owns this tract of land, has agreed to a 99-year lease at $1 to accommodate the garden.)

Proponents hope to draw 400,000 visitors a year once the garden opens in 2007, the 100th anniversary of Oklahoma statehood. I'll definitely be among them.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:30 AM)
3 October 2004
Yes, we have some bananas

Tomorrow at 7 pm, Tom Coburn and Brad Carson (geez, where's Sheila Bilyeu?) will face off in a debate at the University of Central Oklahoma in Edmond. Right now, it's too early to tell whether it will be essentially a repeat of this morning's Meet the Press.

One thing will be different, though: a demonstration. Around five-thirty, persons who are fed up with the severely-limited ballot access in this state, a law worthy, says onetime Oklahoma Libertarian Party chair Chris Powell, of a "banana republic," will meet on the east side of the Nigh University Center.

You can watch the debate live on KOCO-TV (channel 5) in Oklahoma City, or listen to it over KTOK radio (1000), which presumably will have a live Internet stream as well. How much attention they'll pay to the demonstrators remains to be seen.

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:46 PM)
5 October 2004
Crapheads in the sky

After discovering that it would cost over $700 to fly from Tulsa to Springfield, Illinois and back, the OkiePundit has had it up to here with the airlines:

In the last 20 years the airlines have done more to kill the economic development potential of cities like Tulsa and Oklahoma City than have even our legislators. By going to the hub system and reducing competition through consolidation they have made air travel more difficult for those of us in non-hub America. When corporate executives have to fly in to Oklahoma on incredibly uncomfortable propeller jets it becomes very difficult to persuade them to relocate their business here.

We're a little better off at this end of the turnpike — to the Illinois capital and back can be swung here for a smidgen under $300 — but my regard for the hub system, never all that substantial, completely evaporated when they told me once upon a time that I'd have to change planes in Houston to fly to Philadelphia. (And actually, that price can be beat from Tulsa if you buy far enough in advance, but you'd still have to change at Chicago O'Hare and then backtrack to Springfield, which strikes me as just slightly insane.)

Of course, regular readers know I'd just as soon drive, even all the way to Philly, but that's a different issue entirely.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:25 AM)
The Brad and Tom Show

Barbs, accusations, counteraccusations, and more barbs — what more could you want? Last night's Tom Coburn-Brad Carson debate was wild and woolly, more heat than light, but the candidates did manage to stake out some differences in position.

Best barb, in my opinion, by Carson: "We've sent people to Washington who did nothing for Oklahoma. But we've never sent anyone to Washington, D.C., who makes doing nothing for us their platform."

The candidates will debate again on the 25th of October in Pace Auditorium at Tulsa Community College.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:04 AM)
7 October 2004
Where's the beef?

Same old place as it ever was: on the line. For OU-Texas weekend, the governors of the states have a "friendly" wager on the outcome of the game, and traditionally it's been a side of beef.

This year, there were protests. Vegetarian groups in central Oklahoma and in Austin, Texas asked that the bet be revised, and indeed in 2003 Governor Henry had put up 150 lb of corn meal instead of the usual grill fodder. Not this time.

And really, an event billed as the "Red River Shootout" is no place for arugula, if you ask me.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:30 AM)
8 October 2004
Barry calls a play from the sideline

Former OU football coach/demigod Barry Switzer has endorsed Brad Carson for Senate, an announcement which is far more important than I think it deserves to be; I was seriously thinking about not mentioning it here, but Wilson Research Strategies, which has been handicapping the Senate race, says that 16 percent of voters who chose Brad Henry for governor in 2002 said that Switzer's endorsement had influenced their choice. So Barry carries a lot of weight, even today; Chris Wilson of WRS says that "it's probably the second-best endorsement you could get, after Bob Stoops."

Bob Stoops had no comment, but John Hart of the Tom Coburn campaign sniffed, "Barry Switzer has a track record of endorsing liberal trial lawyers."

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:28 AM)
Lorton hears a...what?

The Tulsa World points out in an editorial today [link requires Adobe Reader] that Brad Carson got the highest possible rating from Americans for Better Immigration, a group which seeks to reduce the number of immigrants; Tom Coburn, on the other hand, received a less-than-mediocre D-plus.

There's just one problem here: it's not true. Had anyone from the World bothered to read ABI's ratings in full — which Michael Bates actually did — it would have been excruciatingly obvious that both Carson and Coburn got exactly the same overall rating: a B-plus. And it's not like the details are hidden away; even without using Bates' links, I was able to find the scorecards in a matter of seconds.

What's really weird is that the editorial wasn't intended to cast a pleasing light on Carson, but to castigate the Republican National Committee for a Coburn ad about immigration; the ABI scorecards were merely a sideshow. Yet the World was perfectly willing to go on the attack with a complete misstatement of ABI's positions. What were they thinking? As lapses in editorial judgment go, this is so utterly amazing that I have to wonder if the World has been raiding CBS News to staff its editorial board.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:45 PM)
11 October 2004
Hit the bricks

As Tulsa wrestles with trying to lure people downtown, Michael Bates explains what it takes:

Most of what needs to be done to make downtown appealing again involves the basics — a visible police presence to act as a deterrent against crime and an assurance to downtown visitors and residents alike, improvements to lighting and sidewalks, fixing and, where possible, reopening streets to auto traffic.

Mike Jones [in a Tulsa World editorial] goes on to say that downtown is no more dangerous than 71st & Memorial or 41st & Yale. That may be so, but at those other locations, people feel insulated from danger because they are in their cars. In a real downtown, you're going to be on foot as you go from place to place. If the arena is going to spark new restaurants and clubs downtown, people will have to feel safe and comfortable walking from the arena to the Blue Dome and Brady Village districts. Once an arena patron is in his car, downtown has lost the advantage of proximity — a myriad of restaurants and clubs are at his disposal, all within a 20 minute drive.

We've figured this out down here. Oklahoma City has increased its police presence in Bricktown and has installed a police substation in a rented storefront, pending the completion of a full-time police building on East Main. The Walnut Avenue bridge is closed for now, but will be rebuilt. And if you'd rather not walk all over Bricktown, there's always the trolley.

Of course, we provide places where you can feel a sense of danger in your car, too: just try to get through the Pennsylvania Avenue/Memorial Road/Kilpatrick Turnpike intersection.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:03 AM)
13 October 2004
Greens on the State Questions

What is most interesting, I think, about this list of Green Party positions on this fall's ballot initiatives, is that it's deliberately incomplete; on three of the nine State Questions, the party will "make no statement." J. M. Branum explains:

Those questions with "make no statement" were those for which we...could not reach consensus on what a Green stance on this measure should be.

Which is fine with me. There's no compelling reason why a political party should have a stance on every conceivable issue.

Mr Branum notes further:

One thing that was abundantly apparent in our discussions was how badly written the measure descriptions were and how absolutely ignorant the legislature must think Oklahoma voters must be.

He cites SQ 713 as a particularly heinous example, and indeed 713, which raises the tobacco tax while cutting the top rate of the income tax, is a powerful argument for the metaphor of legislation as sausage.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:28 AM)
When activists attack

Vandals tagged Brad Carson's Tulsa campaign office at 1404 S. Utica with graffiti Sunday night; among the inscriptions were "Carson lies" and "Leave Tulsa alone" and, perhaps most horrifying, "liberal".

The vandalism was discovered Monday morning; campaign volunteers have been scraping off the graffiti.

"Froth on both sides of the aisle," I said.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:10 AM)
14 October 2004
Gimme back my ballots

At 5 pm today, there will be a Ballot Access Forum at Oklahoma City University, featuring Thom Holmes, Rachel Jackson and Chris Powell, from the Constitution, Green and Libertarian parties respectively.

The forum will be held in Room 102 of the Sarkeys Law Center on the OCU campus. It's free, and it's open to the public.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:09 AM)
And no hazard pay, either

Mike at Okiedoke has compiled from OSHA records a list of the most dangerous workplaces in Oklahoma.

What makes them "dangerous"? OSHA sent this letter to some 13,000 employers using these criteria:

The employers are those whose establishments are covered by Federal OSHA and reported the highest "Days Away from work, Restricted work or job Transfer injury and illness" (DART) rate to OSHA in a survey of 2002 injury and illness data. For every 100 full-time workers, the 13,000 employers had seven or more injuries or illnesses which resulted in days away from work, restricted work or job transfer. The national average is 2.8.

No place I have ever worked in this state appears on this list. There do seem to be a lot of nursing homes and Wal-Mart stores, though.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:51 AM)
Clutter reduction

The local GOP is now issuing dual yard signs: they're the same size as the standard-issue signs, but they carry both Bush/Cheney and Tom Coburn indicia. I caught two of them this evening within a mile of each other. Are the Republicans (or, for that matter, the Democrats) doing something like this in other areas?

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:47 PM)
15 October 2004
It's fraud, says the AG

Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson has told the Associated Press that the filing of the Medicaid reimbursement form for Dr Tom Coburn's 1990 operations on Angela Plummer constituted "fraud," though no charges will be filed as the statute of limitations has expired.

Coburn treated Plummer's ectopic pregnancy by removing both her Fallopian tubes, even though only one was affected, leaving her sterile. Since Medicaid did not pay for sterilization procedures for patients under twenty-one years of age — Plummer was twenty — Coburn reported only the removal of the tube containing the embryo.

Edmondson says that had Coburn described his actions in full, he would have received no reimbursement from Medicaid, and that his omission was intended to make sure he "got paid for something that he would not have been paid for had he submitted the claim accurately."

Plummer eventually filed suit against Coburn, claiming she had never consented to the sterilization, but did not pursue the matter.

Meanwhile, Coburn's rival for a hotly-contested Senate seat, Brad Carson, is already running ads waving the "fraud" description around.

Persuaded as I am that wording treatment descriptions in the way that pries the most money out of insurance companies is a true 21st-century art form, I'm inclined to dismiss Edmondson's claims as so much white noise. On the other hand, Coburn's deposition, in which he states that he had asked Plummer not to discuss the sterilization with Medicaid, is more troubling, at least to me.

(If you'd just as soon not go through NewsOK.com, the Carson campaign has posted the entire AP story here.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:28 AM)
19 October 2004
The Senate road show continues

Brad Carson and Tom Coburn are scheduled to mix it up again, this time at the Performing Arts Center at Rose State College (I-40 at Hudiburg Drive, Midwest City), and beforehand, there will be another demonstration for ballot-access reform. Be there at 5 pm. (I'll be recovering from a dental appointment and will be in no mood to scream at passersby.) KFOR-TV will carry the debate live at 7 pm.

(Update, 8 am: This week's WRS poll gives Coburn a three-point lead, within the poll's 4.4-percent margin of error.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:29 AM)
It's the thought that counts

Just arrived at Surlywood, courtesy of the Oklahoma County Republican Party: a cover letter signed by outgoing Senator Don Nickles, names and photos of GOP candidates, and two copies of the official state absentee-ballot application form.

A nice idea, I'd say, though I think I might have been more impressed had they addressed it to me, rather than to the person who had owned the house up until 1996, fercryingoutloud. (Has this place been occupied by Democrats for the last eight years?)

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:28 AM)
20 October 2004
What have you done for us lately?

"All politics is local," they say, and last night's Carson/Coburn debate, in which the dominant theme proved to be "What can you do for Oklahoma?", would seem to corroborate that generalization.

Meanwhile in Tulsa, a news story on the proposed state lottery almost turned into a debate in its own right, featuring lottery proponent Pat Hall and longtime opponent Rep. Forrest Claunch (R-Midwest City).

Color me officially undecided on both of these for now.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:40 AM)
23 October 2004
Taking the initiatives

This week, a Very Special Vent: I take on this year's state questions. As Harry Kim might have said, I favor seven of nine.

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:23 PM)
24 October 2004
The G spots

James Inhofe (R-OK) got to the Senate in 1994 on a platform of, in his words, "God, gays and guns," a phrase which has since become unofficial shorthand for the alleged motivations of the Oklahoma electorate. And on the off-chance that he was actually right, something that happens less often than you'd like with Inhofe, 2004 should be two-thirds of a banner year at the polls.

With no fewer than three State Questions on gambling, and a fourth dealing with Demon Tobacco, those with a mind to stamp out vice will have plenty to do on November's ballot. What's more, there's a referendum on same-sex marriage. I think it's a safe bet that the God and Gays segments will be present and accounted for.

Guns, however, have turned into a non-issue. The National Rifle Association sent along a copy of its Oklahoma Voter Guide — you can read it here — and while they note elsewhere that the Democrats have a faux sportsman at the top of the ticket, once you get down to the state level there's not a lot of difference in the candidates. Both Brad Carson and Tom Coburn picked up A ratings from the NRA, as did all the major House candidates except Bert Smith in District 5, who didn't return the questionnaire. In the state legislature, there are very few incumbents or challengers in either party who scored as low as a C. I interpret this as a simple statement: "We like our guns, now leave us the hell alone."

Still, even with guns off the table, turnout, I think, will be tremendous.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:35 AM)
25 October 2004
The official naughty list

Like most states these days, Oklahoma has a list of registered sexual offenders. Unlike most states, we're about to register violent offenders as well. (Only Montana maintains a similar list.)

The new law, named for murder victim Mary Rippy, specifies that offenders must register with area law enforcement within three days after entering the state or after moving to a new location. They must be continuously registered during the term of their sentences and for ten years thereafter, and are not permitted to work near children, or for any person or business working on school premises.

The law is not retroactive, so the list begins fresh on the first of November.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:29 AM)
26 October 2004
Shoes for industry, compadre

Mayor Cornett called last night. Or rather, his voice on tape called last night, and as such things go, it was a very professional job, fitting perfectly into the space alloted on my voice recorder. (Cornett's years of broadcasting and video production have obviously served him well.)

Anyway, the Mickster was making a pitch for State Question 707, which extends tax-increment financing beyond a single fiscal year. He pointed out that all the usual municipal and Chamber of Commerce types were solidly behind it, and that its passage would be a Good Thing. Since Cornett's own Oklahoma City is arguably the master of tax-increment financing, albeit most of the current projects occurred before he moved into the middle of the horseshoe, Cornett's arguments could have carried some weight — if he'd actually explained what SQ 707 would do, or if he'd bothered to mention so much as a single project that would benefit from it.

Then again, I rather suspect that explaining what state questions actually do is considered detrimental to their passage. Here's the ballot language:

This measure amends Section 6C of Article 10 of the Oklahoma Constitution. The amendment deals with the use of certain city, town and county taxes and fees. When authorized by law, cities, towns or counties can put these taxes and fees to use in three ways. The first use is specific public investments. The second use is aid in development financing. The third use is an income source for other public bodies in the area.

The Legislature can authorize cities, towns and counties to direct the apportionment of these fees and taxes among or between these uses. The amendment allows these apportionments to be prospective. The amendment permits these apportionments to continue from year to year.

The amendment permits cities, towns and counties to pledge certain taxes and fees beyond the current fiscal year and to pledge certain taxes and fees to repay some debts of other public entities.

Now I wouldn't have expected the Legislature to have written it like this:

This measure allows cities like Oklahoma City to sink millions into the rescue and restoration of the Skirvin Hotel over an extended period, rather than to have to spend it all at once.

But it would have been a pleasant change from the standard legislative boilerplate, which seems to be predicated upon the notion that the electorate is dumb as a post.

Which, come to think of it, it may be: somebody on the daytime version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire yesterday (at the $8,000 level!) was unable to identify the home state of Senator John Kerry, meaning either that this was a very old rerun or that Karl Rove forgot to send out the checks one week.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:22 AM)
Electoral collage

Political bits from around the state:

And remember: when news breaks, we scatter the pieces.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:05 AM)
Paging Ernst Stavro Blofeld

A 527 operation called Citizens for a Strong Senate, largely funded by San Francisco Bay bankers Herb and Marion Sandler, is running some anti-Tom Coburn ads locally, and one of them wound up in my mailbox. Listing a series of issues Coburn reputedly voted against during his six years in the House, the ad characterizes the physician as Dr. No.

Pity they couldn't get Ursula Andress for the ads.

(Comments about "fighting in the trenches" will be summarily deleted.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:52 PM)
27 October 2004
Questioning the state answers

TheTulsan.com has its endorsements up, and for some reason they urge reading my commentary on the state questions, even though we differ on our recommendations.

More to the point, they're quite a bit funnier. In disapproving of SQ 714, which adjusts the threshold for the senior real-estate valuation freeze, they offer the following:

Sorry, Grandpa, time to play "lifeboat": your generation has never, ever, paid in taxes what it is consuming in resources. The overwhelming majority of our generation will have to work until we are eighty or we drop dead to pay for your Viagra and motor scooters; most of you retirees will spend more time retired than you did on the workforce.

Well, maybe, if I live to be 118. (Should I tell them I'm barely into my fifties? Naw. Why make it worse?)

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:29 AM)
Retention headaches

Nineteen states, including Oklahoma, have a retention ballot for appellate judges: under the name of the court, the ballot reads, "Shall [judge's name] be retained?" The voter gets to choose Yes or No.

Dr. Bob Darcy, Regents professor of political science and statistics at Oklahoma State University, says that we don't know much of anything about the judges, but we vote to retain them as a measure of support for the judicial system.

Can anything be done? Should anything be done? Appointments for life will obviously remove the judges entirely from oversight by the electorate. The state bar maintains a Council on Judicial Complaints, but the Council's operations generally fly well under the public radar. Once in a while an interest group will try to stir up opposition to a judge who has issued a ruling unfavorable to them, but seldom does it make any difference: judges are routinely returned to office with about a 2-1 majority. Before I took up the mantle of Sort of Political Blogger, my own rule of thumb was to vote against anyone I'd ever heard of, on the basis that if the judge had somehow gotten into the news, it likely wouldn't have been good news.

Maybe there's a better way, but for the moment, I'm stumped.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:03 AM)
29 October 2004
We pick 'em: state and local

US Senator

I don't know which is more disheartening: the fact that reliably-loose cannon Tom Coburn (R) is still at large, or the fact that once-sensible Brad Carson (D) has reached new heights of shrillness in his efforts to get elected. My own political leanings are somewhere in between the two, and my fondness for gridlock would normally push me in Carson's direction — no way the GOP is going to lose the House this year, which means that a Democratic-controlled Senate would have great amusement value — but geez, what a whining kvetch Carson is these days, and even Coburn's lunatic claim that parts of Little Dixie are overrun with busty lesbian ninja pirates, or some such nonsense, doesn't make Carson look any saner. Under these circumstances, the least I can do is pick someone who isn't either of them, which leaves me with Sheila "Mobile Receiver" Bilyeu (I), and frankly, I fear for a world in which I can be left with Sheila Bilyeu.

Corporation Commission

I have no real gripe with incumbent Denise Bode (R) — her longtime ties to the oil and gas industry are hardly news — but challenger John Wylie (D), who publishes a newspaper in Oologah and who, as a reporter, covered public utilities for many years, might shake up the often-somnolent Corp Comm, which I suspect might be good for all of us.

House District 5

Who is Bert Smith (D)? Damned if I know. But he's not Ernest Istook (R) either, and with Frank Robinson off the ballot, not being Istook is probably enough to give Smith the nod. (And how many other districts can offer Bert vs. Ernie? I tell you, there are reasons to love this place.)

State House District 87

Don't get me wrong. I like Trebor Worthen (R), even if he is the evil spawn of an incumbent. But John Morgan (D) is a friend and a neighbor, and, well, I do have one of his yard signs. Besides, Worthen's most recent mailing showed entirely too many signs of "Well, maybe this will work," noting that Morgan is presumably a gay-marriage advocate (I dunno, though he did get an endorsement from GayOKC.com) and worse, Morgan is (gasp!) a lawyer. And I do know this much: John Morgan doesn't fret if you spit watermelon seeds on his shoes. For now, let's leave Trebor Worthen on his side in a cool, dark room until he matures.

Judicial Retention (eight seats)

As noted before, I'm not overly fond of retention ballots. Applying my usual rule — if his name rings a bell, vote him down — all these guys get a pass, because I don't recognize a single one of them.

Sheriff

I'm still peeved with current Sheriff John Whetsel (D) for trying to wangle a sales-tax increase for his little empire. On the other hand, I know nothing about Stuart Earnest (R), unless this is the same Stuart Earnest who used to be a county commissioner, in which case he's really, really old.

County Clerk

There's one thing I like about incumbent Carolynn Caudill (R): she caught hell for supporting Jim Roth, once her deputy, for county commissioner, what with Roth being gay and worse, being a Democrat, and she shrugged it off. Enough, I think, to keep her around, especially since I haven't seen any compelling reason to vote for challenger Lillie R. Hastings Buckner (D).

I reserve the right to change my mind between now and Tuesday, but I don't think I will.

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:19 PM)
Stark raving letter 23

An anti-Tom Coburn piece showed up here today, courtesy of the Oklahoma Democratic Party, castigating the GOP candidate for having had kind words for the national sales tax known familiarly — except, apparently, to Democrats — as the "FairTax". The reputed Coburn quotes are here.

The print ad features a typical collection of supermarket purchases, each with a price tag, and each with the notation +23% TAX below the purchase price.

Similar pieces have shown up in Kansas, attacking Kris Kobach, running for the 3rd District House seat, and also in Minnesota, where the target is Mark Kennedy, 6th District incumbent. What they all have in common, of course, is that nowhere is it mentioned that the adoption of the "FairTax" is contingent upon the abolition of the Federal income tax. Of course, the income tax is subject to all sorts of Congressional fiddling and diddling, and taking it away will leave the Democrats (and, yes, it is true, rather a large number of Republicans) with fewer tools to bend the populace to their wills, quite apart from the economic benefits we might accrue without their permission.

And while we're on the subject: if these people are actually paying $3.29 for a loaf of Home Pride Whole Wheat Butter Top, or $5.99 for what appears to be an 18-ounce jar of Skippy peanut butter, as pictured in the anti-Coburn piece, I'm damned glad they don't do my grocery shopping.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:25 PM)
2 November 2004
To do my patriotic chore

It was cold and blustery and damp, but I've lived here long enough to know that it takes glare ice to make much of a difference in turnout, so I figured I'd pull in at about 6:40. About fifty folks had had the same idea, only slightly earlier, and there was, at least among this group, considerable sentiment for opening the polls at 6 am instead of 7.

Still, things worked with commendable efficiency; I spied one spoiled ballot — replaced on the spot with a new one — and one voter who was shunted to the side while someone researched his address change, but everyone else breezed through the two lines (divided alphabetically), and a dozen booths, plus three sit-down areas for wheelchair users, accommodated the crowd with, if not exactly ease, at least a general lack of hassle. The box counts the ballots as they're inserted, and mine, number forty-five, went into the slot at precisely 7:15.

And I was glad to have done the deed, and gladder still that I hadn't waited until this evening, when things are likely to get seriously hairy and, weatherwise, quite a bit wetter.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:54 AM)
Looking ahead

The City Council is apparently going to shrink by two: Ward 4 Councilman Brent Rinehart is leading in the race for District 2 County Commissioner, and Ward 8 Councilman Guy Liebmann looks like a lock for House District 82. Mayor Cornett will have to call special elections to fill whatever vacancies are created.

Meanwhile, the Republicans are jumping the gun, but only a little: Tom Coburn declared victory over an hour ago, and about 9:00 the GOP decided that they'd won control of the state House. So far, the numbers are continuing to go their way.

Seven of the nine State Questions will pass, and 707 and 713 are leading, but just barely.

The State Election Board is posting their latest numbers here.

(Update, 10 pm: 707 is falling behind; 713 is starting to lose steam.)

(Update, 11:15 pm: 707 is back on the plus side; 713 is stabilizing at around 52 percent. Trebor Worthen has won House District 87. John Whetsel will return as Oklahoma County Sheriff, and Carolynn Caudill will return as County Clerk. Bert Smith didn't beat Ernest Istook, but he got a lot more votes than I thought he would. And, well, Sheila Bilyeu pulled over 70,000 votes, which means that a lot of people wanted nothing to do with either Brad Carson or Tom Coburn. Carson's concession speech, incidentally, was a lot nicer than any of his ads.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:20 PM)
3 November 2004
Rather a lot of us, actually

Mike Clingman of the Oklahoma State Election Board reports that 1,463,875 votes were cast in the 2004 general election, beating the 1992 record by seventy thousand.

Oh, we have a few provisional ballots: 2,603 of them. I leave to someone more involved than I the question of why Ohio, with three and a quarter times the population, should have fifty times as many provisional ballots.

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:02 PM)
4 November 2004
They fought the law

State Question 711, which barred same-sex marriages and which passed Tuesday by a three-to-one margin, has now been challenged in court. Two couples from Tulsa have filed a lawsuit in US District Court which seeks to overturn both the Oklahoma statute and the federal Defense of Marriage Act. Apparently this suit has been in the works for some time, but the plaintiffs decided to wait until SQ 711 was passed.

Senator James Williamson (R-Tulsa), who sponsored the legislation in SQ 711, says he thinks it will stand up to the court's scrutiny; the suit will probably be heard some time next year.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:37 PM)
5 November 2004
Gearing up for 2008

The bottom line on ballot access in this state is still "It takes too many signatures," and the resources that must be devoted to gathering those signatures are considerable. The obvious question, therefore, is "How many signatures would not be 'too many'?"

One suggestion: one percent of the votes cast in the last general election, which would be a shade under 15,000. Still sounds like a lot, but getting a Presidential candidate on the 2004 ballot required over 37,000 signatures, so a one-percent threshold should certainly be easier to reach.

My own thinking, right this minute, calls for a flat 10,000 signatures to gain party recognition, maybe half that for a Presidential candidate, though I'm willing to entertain other ideas. The hard part, of course, will be persuading the legislature, which is made up entirely of members of major parties, to go along with changes like this.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:51 AM)
6 November 2004
Back in the New York groove

BatesLine has a funny piece about cranky liberals in Tulsa, a fraction of which seem to feel that but for the grace of God — well, were there actually a God, you know — they'd be right at home in Manhattan:

[Y]ou have a minority of that minority who are stuck here against their will. NPR on the FM dial, home delivery of The New York Times, Borders, Utica Square, the museums, the opera, the ballet, and the coffee bars (local indies and national chains alike) all help to insulate these folks from the indignity of living in Oklahoma.

Of course, if they want a real taste of the New York experience in the Bloomberg era, they're welcome to come down the turnpike to Oklahoma City, where we fine people for dropping sunflower seeds on the street.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:19 AM)
Playing the numbers

The Oklahoman had a few charts in the Sunday edition (not on the Web site yet) that struck me as interesting. It's no secret that here, as in other states, voter registrations were way up this year; they report that in 74 of the 77 counties, there were more new Republicans registering than new Democrats, and in two counties — Alfalfa and Harper — the number of registered Democrats actually dropped. Only in Oklahoma County (which includes most of Oklahoma City) did new Democratic registrations outnumber new GOP registrations, though they were pretty close in Tulsa County.

Still, even after that GOP upsurge, only 19 counties have Republican majorities; the Democrats have majorities in 58. And yet not one county gave more votes to the Kerry/Edwards ticket than to Bush/Cheney.

It's anybody's guess what will happen in 2006. I don't see any of the five House members (four Republicans, one Democrat) being replaced — Senator Inhofe will only be four years into his current term — but the GOP has control of the state House for the first time in ages between now and then, and Governor Henry, a Democrat, will be up for re-election in '06.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:58 PM)
9 November 2004
Along the paper trail

Today the State Election Board will certify the election results, which means that any recounts have to be completed by today.

And it appears there will be one: for State House District 78, apparently won by Jeannie McDaniel (D) over David J. Schaeffer (R), 7892 to 7858, a difference of thirty-four votes. There were approximately 29 provisional ballots, and Michael Bates reports that there were some ballot-scanner issues in one precinct.

Of course, what's important here is that we actually can recount these ballots. Says Bates:

The fact that we can have this recount and cope with a voting machine problem is an indication of the superiority [of] Oklahoma's approach to counting votes. We fall short in voter authentication, but there is a tangible, persistent record of those votes which are cast, unlike the touchscreen systems and the old-fashioned mechanical tallying systems which leave no records, at least none which can be verified by the voter and which are human-readable.

And we could improve our level of voter authentication just by looking at the voter-ID cards issued by the state. (I always present mine, mostly because I have a fairly common name and having the card handy makes it unnecessary to ask for middle initial or street address or other identifying factors, but that's just me.) But by and large, the system we have is pretty darn good, and what's more, it's pretty darn cheap; you can buy a whole lot of low-tech scanning devices for the cost of a single touch-screen.

(Update, 8:45 pm: Michael Bates reports that Jeannie McDaniel did win House District 78, by a margin of 24 votes. And there's a second recount, in Senate District 32 — Comanche County — which hasn't been completed yet: Randy Bass (D) led Kenneth Easton, 9809-9774, though so far Bass' lead has been cut to 30.)

(Update, 8:10 am, 10 November: The Bass-Easton recount finished with Bass ahead by 51, 9854-9803. The Lawton Constitution doesn't apparently archive stories, but for now you can read it here.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:47 AM)
13 November 2004
Giving back

Dr. William S. Spears (OSU '62), founder and CEO of Energy Education, Inc., has bestowed upon his alma mater the largest gift in the history of Oklahoma State University. The amount of the gift was not disclosed, but it was sufficient for OSU to rename its School of Business after Dr. Spears; The Oklahoman reports that it exceeds the $70 million given to the school by oilman T. Boone Pickens (OSU '51), for whom the school's football stadium was renamed this year.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:02 AM)
17 November 2004
Frank Lucas at USDA?

Rep. Frank Lucas (R-OK 3) is apparently on a list of candidates to replace Ann Veneman at the Department of Agriculture.

Lucas has announced that he's "not holding his breath," but at least he has some plausible credentials for the job: he's on the House Agriculture Committee, heads up the Subcommittee on Conservation, Credit, Rural Development, and Research, and when he's not in Washington he actually farms (and grazes cattle) in rural Roger Mills County.

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:19 PM)
23 November 2004
1PL8 THX

Nineteen states, including Oklahoma, get by with a single license plate, mounted in the back. I don't know anyone here who complains about that, but apparently there's some sentiment among law enforcement for adding a tag up front. Herewith, an Okiedoke quote of a Dallas Morning News column:

"Do I think it?s a good idea? Yes," said Trooper Pete Norwood of the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety. He used the example of a convenience store holdup caught on videotape. "If you see a vehicle pull in, back up and pull out, you would hardly ever see the back license plate."

And of course your law-abiding convenience-store robber isn't going to do anything to obscure that front plate.

Being the cranky curmudgeon that I am, I persist in thinking that it's bad enough I have to have one plate. And that plate is there as a registration indicator for the state; law-enforcement applications are inevitably secondary.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:44 AM)
28 November 2004
Nichols' confession revealed

The Oklahoman is reporting today that during the plea negotiations for his state trial, Terry Nichols admitted that he had had a major role in the Oklahoma City bombing in April 1995, and that he was unaware of anyone else besides himself, Timothy McVeigh, and Michael Fortier who had any connection to the terrorist act.

Who was in on the plot? Nichols stated:

McVeigh did the planning and was involved in all aspects of the bombing, including carrying it out.

I was involved in the gathering and storing of the components of the bomb, the testing of some of the components, going to Oklahoma City on Easter Sunday to pick up McVeigh, and the actual making of the bomb.

As to Michael Fortier, Lori Fortier, or others, I was unaware of their involvement. McVeigh was very careful to make sure that all discussions were held in private between him and I and, it seems, between him and others.

Prosecutors apparently could not use Nichols' statement against him at his state trial, since he did not testify. Judge Steven Taylor had issued a bar to releasing this and other documents connected to the trial; no one has yet said how the statement was disclosed. Oklahoma County District Attorney Wes Lane said he wasn't the leaker, but he wasn't bothered by it either:

Although I had nothing to do with the release of this document, I cannot say that I am disappointed that the public finally gets a glimpse of my frustration with Terry Nichols, and his refusal to tell us where certain bomb-making materials are still hidden, even to this day. There was no point in talking to him any further.

Nichols has been tried twice: first on federal charges, including seven counts of murder, for which he drew life without parole; later, the state of Oklahoma tried him for the deaths of the other 161 bombing victims, for which he drew life without parole. Michael Fortier is currently serving twelve years for knowing about the bomb plot and not telling anyone, for assisting McVeigh with weapons management, and for lying to the FBI after the fact. Lori Fortier, Michael's wife, was never charged. Timothy McVeigh was executed at the Federal Penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana in 2001 for his part in the bombing.

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:09 PM)
30 November 2004
Everything's going to be ok.gov

Just when we'd gotten used to YourOklahoma.com, the state decided it needed a newer new Web site, and presto (actually, probably fairly lento, at least behind the scenes), there was OK.gov.

And already there's a flap over it: the first version of the front page had pictures of, and links to, both Governor Brad Henry and Lieutenant Governor Mary Fallin, but some time on Day One, the Fallin references had vanished. Since Henry is a Democrat and Fallin is a Republican, this is an open invitation to conspiracy theorists; Fallin apparently complained to Scott Meacham at Finance, who spearheaded the design effort. Meacham says that there should be links for all statewide officials, or for none, and that's the word he gave to the Web designers. (Henry, of course, is still featured prominently.)

Sometimes you just want to scream in the general direction of 23rd and Lincoln.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:36 AM)
3 December 2004
Double unsecret probation

Sally Allen, to my delight, gives the new University of Oklahoma alcohol policy the derision it deserves:

[T]he university will hire a licensed alcohol counselor. Let's see ... 27,000 enrolled binge-drinkers vs. one counselor ... that's about adequate for mass rehabilitation (insert sarcasm graphic).

Seventy-seven percent of respondents to NewsOK's recent poll agreed with OU's new policies banning campus drinking, which means exactly squat statistically since we all know college students don't vote.

There is good news for those pre-inebriated, orange-toting Sooner faithful football fans — campus parking lots have been designated "Safe Havens of Intoxication" as the new alcohol ban won't affect tailgating. (Your parents' tuition dollars at work!)

Then again, this is the state that gave us "non-intoxicating" 3.2 beer.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:12 AM)
4 December 2004
Second thoughts

This past year's Senate Bill 1529, passed by the legislature in March and signed by Governor Henry in April, permits municipal employees of cities with populations of 35,000 or more to unionize. (This would include Oklahoma City, Tulsa, Norman, Lawton, Broken Arrow, Edmond, Midwest City, Enid, Moore, Stillwater, Muskogee, and maybe Bartlesville, which recorded 34,748 at the last Census; it does not cover firefighters and police, who have their own collective-bargaining rules.)

The law took effect on the first of November. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees almost immediately announced that they would seek to organize Lawton, Enid, Bartlesville and Moore city employees, and employees of the Oklahoma City Zoo Trust, who are not covered under the agreement between Oklahoma City and AFSCME Local 2406.

Since then, Enid has filed suit to block the implementation of the law, arguing that it's unconstitutional because of that population standard; Lawton City Council has authorized a suit; Bartlesville, on that population cusp, would like to be excluded; and the Zoo Trust has won a restraining order against AFSCME until such time as the District Court decides whether its employees meet the definition of "municipal employees" in the new law.

The new House will be under Republican control, and Marian Cooksey (R-Edmond), in what seems to be her first official action, has introduced House Bill 1002, which would repeal the measure outright.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:47 AM)
8 December 2004
Weirder than thou

Four hundred miles down I-35 is the city of Austin, the capital of Texas, a place where I have lots of roots, and a place that prides itself on its weirdness. Nothing wrong with that, say I, but I've been back a few times since my days at The University (yes, that one), and while there are aspects of it I dearly love, it never struck me as being, well, all that weird.

J. M. Branum, who's lived both here and there, makes a case that Oklahoma City might be weirder than Austin:

  • OKC has nicer activists who aren't so full of themselves.

  • OKC is more diverse. I used to not think this (because I grew up in Newcastle and spent most of my time in whitebread far south OKC... I'm talking south of I-240 BTW. I know many folks consider the southside everything south of I-40 which is very Hispanic these days), but now it is super-diverse. We have one of the biggest Asian populations in the southwest, lots of African Americans and American Indians, and a rapidly growing Hispanic population.

  • OKC has fewer rich people and fewer recent transplants from California. Also on that note, OKC is decidedly NOT hip which is a good thing because the yuppies stay away. (well except the home-grown variety)

  • The OKC tattoo artists are way cooler because they have to break the law to practice their art. They also are way better because they don't waste time doing flash art. Everyone goes to Texas if they want a lame tattoo. You stay in-state if you want something original.

And lots more reasons. I don't think that Oklahoma City is destined to be, well, the "next Austin," but I don't lie awake at night wondering what I'm missing by living here either.

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:37 PM)
9 December 2004
Fears on trial (the finale)

Daniel Fears, convicted of shooting up Sallisaw in October 2002, was sentenced today to life without parole. During the rampage, apparently prompted by a complaint about Fears' driving, two townspeople were killed and eight others wounded. As predicted here, counsel for the defense had attempted to show that Mr Fears was suffering from a mental disorder.

Previous coverage:
Berserk? We got that
Sallisaw shooting update
Fears on trial
Fears on trial (part two)
Delayed follow-ups

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:49 PM)
11 December 2004
Get stuffed

Some people actually fall for this:

You pay your "registration fee" usually around $30.00, pure profit for the scam operator. The operator will then send you a copy of the ad you originally responded to, along with the wording to a classified ad, telling people about how much money they can make stuffing envelopes, and to send a self-addressed stamped envelope for information. When you receive someone's SASE, you send them a copy of the ad. There, you have stuffed your first envelope!

A chap from San Antonio named Alan Louis Chavis apparently got enough "pure profit," even at the discount price of $25, to operate two customer-response centers, which he was careful to locate in faraway Oklahoma. It didn't save him; in September, prosecutors in Oklahoma put him on trial for mail fraud, and yesterday Chavis was sentenced to 19 years and three months and ordered to forfeit $250,000.

One down, however many thousands to go.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:19 AM)
12 December 2004
A slightly bigger ballot

Tuesday's election in Oklahoma City will feature the measure to increase the hotel/motel room tax from 2 percent to 5.5 percent — not including the sales tax, which they conveniently forgot to mention in their promotional materials.

But that's not the only ballot issue you may see in the city. If you live in the Midwest City/Del City school district, whose boundaries [link requires Adobe Reader] include some parts of eastern Oklahoma City, you'll also be voting on a ten-year bond issue for Rose State College, which would raise $7.65 million for a facility for Tinker AFB civilians attending specialized classes.

The really interesting ballot measure in the area, though, is outside the city. In Choctaw, Mayor Don Griffin is facing a recall, and the story reads like a bad television drama. Two challengers, Robert Mabra and Randy Ross, will be seeking to unseat Griffin.

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:57 PM)
13 December 2004
Breaking the cycle of rent

The Oklahoman reports this morning that despite low mortgage-interest rates, 31 percent of black and Hispanic customers failed to qualify for conventional home loans during 2003, versus 23 percent of American Indians, 15 percent of whites and 12 percent of Asians.

This does not indicate any pattern of discrimination among lenders: the practice of "redlining" — refusing to make loans in presumably-undesirable areas — is essentially extinct. It does, however, indicate that black and Latino borrowers tend to have poorer credit scores. (Not that mine is all that wonderful.)

While no one has made a case that the scores themselves are discriminatory, it's reasonable, I think, to assume that not everyone understands the scores, and the factors that contribute to them, equally well. The Oklahoma Homebuyer Education Association, a joint venture of lenders and community groups, is working to upgrade people's knowledge of what it takes to qualify for a mortgage.

Lenders, to their credit, have been coming up with alternative mortgage programs to reach more buyers. (Disclosure: I took advantage of one such program myself, a pilot program by a major lender, directed at people with okay credit scores but iffy prospects for substantial down payments.) The upside, of course, is more homeowners, which means more people with tangible assets, and which, because people have more of a stake in their community, ultimately means better neighborhoods. This may be somewhat easier in Oklahoma, with its relatively low-priced housing stock, but the principles apply everywhere.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:23 AM)
More than a big box o' books

Michael Bates applauds the idea of a new central library in Tulsa, but he's not all that happy with the location:

When a new Grand Central Library was first proposed, it was going to be an urban building — something that looked like it belonged downtown — located in the "East Village" area as a catalyst for development, and tied in with the Centennial Walk, the Tulsa Tablets, and other urban amenities. Now it appears we will be approving a suburban-style spaceship building, complete with useless plaza, designed for easy expressway access — and that means no likelihood of stimulating nearby redevelopment, as patrons will zip back home on the expressway rather than venture out on foot.

I don't believe anyone ever considered building the new downtown Oklahoma City library anywhere other than, well, downtown. While motor-vehicle access is a bit cumbersome, the facility, despite a certain similarity to buildings used by the United Federation of Planets, fits nicely into the city's notion of an Arts District along the western edge of downtown: Hudson Avenue southbound will also take you to the Oklahoma City Museum of Art (at Couch Drive) and StageCenter (at Sheridan Avenue), and the spring Festival of the Arts is conducted largely in the middle of Hudson.

Tulsa's growth over the years has been largely to the south and east, so downtown Tulsa is actually rather far removed from the geographical center of the city. Apparently it's been suggested that a Central Library be more, um, central. I don't think so, and neither does Mr Bates:

It makes sense for the main city-county library branch to be near the seat of government for both city and county, especially in its function as repository of government documents. Tulsa needs one densely developed urban district, and within the inner dispersal loop you have the land, the street grid, and the zoning rules that are most hospitable to that kind of development, and you don't have to worry about offending the neighbors. A well-designed and well-sited library could make a significant contribution to creating that kind of place. Better at 11th and Denver than in the middle of a massive parking lot at, say, 51st and Mingo.

Our big worry down here right now is finding places for the two new branch libraries. (We have the funding: the bond issue for them, and for upgrades at three existing branches, passed in 2000.) Right now, residents of far northwest Oklahoma City have to go at least as far as The Village (Pennsylvania north of Britton Road) or Warr Acres (63rd and MacArthur) branches, or to Edmond, and things aren't much better in the southwest quadrant. That new southwest library will be in Cleveland County and will be operated by the Pioneer Library System out of Norman; the 50,000 or so Oklahoma City residents in Cleveland County can get cards at both Pioneer and Metro [Oklahoma County] systems.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:26 AM)
"Slapout" was taken

Top Ten possible new names for the city of Lawton:

  10.  Arridextra
    9.  Spentshell
    8.  Cache Heights
    7.  Offlimits
    6.  Faxon Farms
    5.  Sillville
    4.  Cooler Than Altus
    3.  Wichita Springs
    2.  Dustbunny
    1.  Lawlesston

(Tip of the sombrero to Mike H.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:55 PM)
A somewhat muted fanfare

Oklahoma's seven Presidential electors officially cast their ballots for George W. Bush today, mostly because they believed in the man, and perhaps partly because they'd be fined a thousand bucks if they didn't.

Minnesota electors, under no such strictures, cast nine of the state's 10 votes for John Kerry, the tenth unaccountably going to John Edwards, an action which no doubt will frost Timothy Noah no end.

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:06 PM)
16 December 2004
Won't somebody please tax us?

I don't normally pay much attention to the Tulsa World; they've never been known for having a surplus of clues anyway, and most of their really absurd statements end up dissected on BatesLine.

This morning's editorial page [link requires Adobe Reader], however, is silly enough to merit some pokes from my end of the turnpike. On the failure of a measure to issue bonds for the improvement of the Tulsa County library system, the World came up with this meaningless comparison:

The defeat of such a basic service as libraries came on the same day that Oklahoma City voters voted 10-1 to approve an increase in the city's hotel-motel tax from 2 percent to 5.5 percent. Oklahoma City is basking in the growth that has been prompted by more than $1 billion in tax increases to rebuild downtown and the school system in the capital city.

What, was the library system shutting down? Of course not. It's not even suffering. What was turned down was a bond issue to finance some improvements, the sort of thing they haven't seen in Tulsa since, oh, 1998 or so. Michael Bates explains:

No libraries will close, no librarians will be laid off as a result of the vote. The message of the library tax defeat wasn't "we hate taxes," or "we hate libraries," it was, "we love you, but you don't need any more money right now."

(In case you're curious, the library system accounts for 5.32 mills of the Tulsa County tax rate; it's 5.20 in Oklahoma County.)

But those crapheads in Oklahoma City — why, they've taxed themselves a whole lot more than that, says the World. Well, yes, we did. Mere taxation, though, didn't produce the growth we're enjoying. We put $360 million into MAPS, but the private sector has forked over more than a billion. The $700 million for MAPS for Kids won't produce that kind of private investment, but bringing city schools up to the quality level expected (if not always achieved) in suburban schools will help keep the city growing at nearly the same rate as the 'burbs, while other central cities stagnate or contract as families with children flee. (Yeah, I know: vouchers. We'll get to them some other time.)

In other words, taxation is just a means to an end, not an end in itself. The World doesn't seem to grasp that idea:

Perhaps the central lesson from Tuesday should be that tax questions should be thoroughly aired before a vote. One thing that can be taken for granted is that there are a number of voters who always vote against tax measures.

Conversely, the great number of voters who vote for taxes have to be persuaded to do that.

This is eerily reminiscent of the post-election Democratic mantra "We didn't get our message out." Does it not occur to the World, or for that matter to the Democratic establishment, that the problem wasn't the distribution of the message but the message itself?

Just for icing on the cake, here's a bit from the second editorial on the page, concerning the distribution of federal highway funds:

Of course because [Rep. Ernest] Istook represents the Oklahoma City area it is only natural that the lion's share of federal money he procures will be spent there. Once again the biggest piece of the pie — $51 million — will go for the Interstate 44 Crosstown Expressway in Oklahoma City, a $350 million project that is being done almost entirely with federal funds.

Um, the Crosstown Expressway is Interstate 40. And lions aren't generally inclined to share.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:27 AM)
20 December 2004
The Deming business

I've stayed off the David Deming story, partly because our paths have crossed a few times, mostly in the context of Usenet, and I think it's reasonable to say that there's no love lost.

On the other hand, I am not at all pleased to note that Dr Deming has been gradually reclassified as an unperson by his employer, the University of Oklahoma, as he explained earlier this year in FrontPage:

My troubles began in March of 2000 when I published a "letter to the editor" in the campus newspaper that some people found offensive. Responding to a female columnist who claimed that possession of a firearm made every gun owner a potential murderer, I pointed out by way of analogy that her possession of an unregistered sexual organ made her a potential prostitute. For writing this letter, twenty-five charges of sexual harassment were filed against me by people I had never met. My attitudes, convictions, and beliefs were put on trial in a secret Star Chamber proceeding. After I admitted (gasp) that I was a member of the National Rifle Association, I was asked this question: do you think the Nazis were bad people?

For publishing "the letter," I received a formal letter of reprimand from Dean John T. Snow. After receiving the reprimand, I asked Dean Snow how the publication of my controversial letter would affect my position at OU with regard to issues such as promotion and raises. Instead of reassuring me that my expression of a political opinion would not affect my professional career, Snow said that the answer was "unclear." In a statement that I believe was intended to intimidate me, Snow said that in making future decisions he would "weigh in" how much I had learned from past experiences.

What Dr Deming learned is that the hand that feeds him was inclined to slap him around, and he continued to bite back. In the summer of '03, Deming ventured the opinion that the University was opening itself up to charges of conflict of interest by naming a new professor who happened to be an officer at a consulting firm in which other faculty members held interests. The University responded by stripping him of most of his classes and banishing him to the basement. Deming sued; OU filed a motion to dismiss; the University's motion has now been itself dismissed, meaning Deming's suit can go forward.

The complete text of Deming's complaint can be read here. [Link requires Adobe Reader.]

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:23 AM)
25 December 2004
Pieces of the action

The Feds are complaining that the profits from the three Cheyenne-Arapaho casinos in the state are not being spent properly.

Under an agreement with the Department of the Interior, tribal leaders have a template for disbursing the funds; the agreement has been challenged in court. While the casinos could theoretically be closed, the government has not yet imposed a deadline for compliance.

The Lucky Star casinos in Clinton and Concho — the latter heavily advertised in Oklahoma City media — earned around $10 million last year.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:13 AM)
26 December 2004
Snickering about architecture

Our man at the Red Dirt Blog is soliciting examples of Oklahoma kitsch, demonstrations of this state's long tradition of "creative freedumb."

And really, you can't get much kitschier than the Braum's (previously Townley's) Milk Bottle standing on top of that tiny storefront (lately, Saigon Baguette) at 24th and Classen; there's an Andy Warhol-on-Route 66 vibe to it that tickles me every time I see it, and its proximity to the Bucky Fuller geodesic dome across 23rd — well, can you imagine the reaction of someone new to the city southbound on Classen for the first time? First the bottle, then the dome, then that missile gantry of a tower at 22nd, and by 21st he's thinking "Were these people out of their minds?"

Well, of course we were. Sheesh.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:46 AM)
27 December 2004
Can it happen here?

A quake of magnitude 9.0 is almost unimaginable. The worst in the past century was a 9.5 quake (six times as severe) that struck the coast of Chile in 1960; nearly a thousand miles of fault line ruptured, and 80-foot waves were reported. Just over two thousand people were killed.

Still, in terms of sheer destructiveness, the 9.0 temblor off the coast of Sumatra is more than holding its own: deaths are now over ten thousand, and 40-foot waves have been reported more than half a mile inland in Sri Lanka.

Andrea Harris doesn't wonder what a disaster like that would do to Florida:

[T]here is little to no high ground in my entire state until you get near the Georgia border; if a tidal wave as big as this one hits we're pretty screwed. We're also close to the Caribbean, where they have live volcanoes.

You have to figure that any tidal wave big enough to reach Oklahoma has already taken out Louisiana and much of Texas, but we have more than our share of earthquakes. The Meers fault in the southwestern part of the state is big enough to see for much of its 16-mile length; it was relatively dormant for a few millennia, but then exploded about 1600 years ago into a quake estimated at magnitude 7.0. The worst quake to hit the state in recent years, though, wasn't along the Meers, but along a fault line running from El Reno to Kingfisher; it struck El Reno in 1952.

A bigger danger, perhaps, comes from the New Madrid fault line, which runs from southern Illinois down the Missouri bootheel into northeastern Arkansas, crossing the Mississippi River three times (and the Ohio twice) along the way. In the winter of 1811-1812, three successive 8.0-plus quakes laid waste to the Mississippi Valley; church bells rang as far away as Boston. There is, say some experts, about a 1 in 4 chance of a quake as large as 7.5 between now and 2040, which would be enough to cause damage in northeastern Oklahoma; the chance of at least a 6.0 by 2040 is almost 90 percent.

The worst earthquake recorded in North America US struck Prince William Sound in Alaska in 1964; it was somewhere in the high eights, maybe low nines, about a point above the San Francisco quake of 1906.

I still plan to sleep tonight.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:31 AM)
28 December 2004
Be thankful I don't take it all

Senator Christopher S. "Kit" Bond (R-MO) calls it a "disaster tax," and has vowed to fight it.

"It" is a decision by the Internal Revenue Service to tax recipients of FEMA disaster-mitigation funds, and it's starting to hit close to home: Tulsa County residents who received an average of $50,000 to move out of designated floodplains will apparently be hit with a tax bill for those payments. And the state's Emergency Management has begun notifying counties and municipalities that the IRS is wanting its cut of tornado-shelter grants.

"The IRS," says Bond, "is an agency perpetually in search of your tax dollars, but I am stunned that they would even consider a tax on federal disaster mitigation aid."

Fair Tax, anyone?

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:33 AM)
31 December 2004
We're not as think as you dumb we are

How do you measure literacy, anyway? If you're Dr. Jack Miller, chancellor of the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, you use five major factors: newspaper circulation, numbers of bookstores, library resources, publishing and educational attainment. Variables derived from the data are then blended, poured into a pan, baked at 350 degrees, and served as America's Most Literate Cities 2004, which ranks the seventy-nine US cities with populations over two hundred thousand.

If you'd asked me out of the blue where, on a scale like this with criteria like these, I'd estimate Oklahoma City might fall, I'd have pointed to the middle: we're not really especially high or low in any of these areas. Turns out we're 39th of 79, which is pretty close to the center. On the individual factors:

  • Education: 35th (tied with Boston)
  • Periodicals published: 35th
  • Newspaper circulation: 36th
  • Libraries: 49th
  • Booksellers: 39th

Tulsa, which did better in three categories and worse in two, is up in 21st place.

I don't anticipate an increase in statewide braggadocio as a result of these findings, but anything that puts a dent in the persistent dumb-Okie stereotype is fine with me.

(Via Red Dirt Blog.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:51 AM)
2 January 2005
We also like pork rinds

The Los Angeles Times looks ahead to the Orange Bowl, and explains how it is that football is such a passion in this state:

The devotion reaches 75 years back to the Dust Bowl, dark winds that ravaged much of the state, desperate images etched into the popular conscience by John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath. Not long after that historic drought ended, the rains coming in 1939, Bud Wilkinson arrived as coach of the Sooners. Over the next two decades, his teams won three national championships and, during one stretch, went undefeated for nearly four seasons.

If you read that with a straight face, you'd almost think that Bud had been hiding out in Minnesota, where he'd played college ball, and waited for the weather to improve before he'd show up in Norman.

But Los Angeles, given its position at the far end of Route 66, still believes itself to be the Promised Land, and God help us poor, benighted sons of Tom Joad. As Chase McInerney grumbles:

According to the L.A. Times, even Oklahoma's gung-ho love for college football has its roots in the destitute hellhole of the Dust Bowl and its era of toothless, gangly, bug-eyed, backwoods, mattress-strapped to-the-top-of-the-jalopy Okies.

How often do you think a newspaper or magazine story about Dallas, Texas, dredges up the Kennedy assassination? How often do articles about modern-day California delve into the 1906 San Francisco earthquake? When will mainstream media be able to mention Oklahoma without a reflex nod to the Dust Bowl?

Actually, there are surprisingly many grassy-knoll references in East Coast coverage of Dallas, and for pretty much the same reason the Times harps on Steinbeck's version of Oklahoma: they don't know anything else about the damn place. It's convenient shorthand, and it fills up column space, and their local audiences, having heard exactly the same stereotypes all their lives, sit back and nod, "Yes, that's true."

Not that we've never been complicit in these stereotypes: longtime OU President George Lynn Cross once quipped to a legislative budget committee that "I would like to build a university of which the football team can be proud," a statement intended to reflect Cross' frustration with the appropriations process, but one which has gone into the record books implying more regard for pigskins than for sheepskins.

Besides, "Boomer Sooner," despite being basically the same song as Yale's "Boola Boola," is a lot more creative.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:48 AM)
3 January 2005
We don't need no stinkin' feedback

The Tulsa Tribune had a feature called "Call the Editor," where readers got to call, if not necessarily the Editor, certainly the Editor's answering machine, and a sampling of what they had to say was published in a subsequent edition. When the Tribune was killed off in 1992, the Tulsa World picked up the feature, which ran through 2004. It was an archaic system, I suppose, in this age of email and blogging, but it was open to everyone.

The World has now discontinued "Call the Editor," and their announcement to that effect [link requires Adobe Reader] is available in an annotated version by Michael Bates, as follows (Bates' notes in italics):

Since 1992, when The Tulsa Tribune ceased publication, Call the Editor has been a mainstay on A-2 of the Tulsa World.

We believe that it is time to take a more positive approach to commentary in our community. [We are sick and tired of all of you telling us how rotten the paper is.] Despite careful editing [censorship], we believe — and many of you have told us — that Call the Editor has become extremely negative and divisive within our communities. [Our feelings are wounded. Get the iodine.] Call the Sports Editor, which appeared in the Sports section, also has been discontinued.

We still want to hear from you and give you an opportunity to express your views on everything from the Tulsa World to the world at large. However, we ask that you write your comments to our Opinion section. [That way we can sit on them for three weeks until no one can remember the article to which you responded.]

There, you'll be given the opportunity to put your name with your comments and stand up for your point of view. [If we agree with it.] Editorial Pages Editor Ken Neal plans to run more of your letters [through the shredder], and we look forward to carrying on Call the Editor's history of commentary in those letters.

The Oklahoman, incidentally, will take letters through their Web site: click on Opinions, then use the tab for "Send Letter."

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:57 AM)
4 January 2005
We wuz screwed

The Oklahoma Supreme Court has a Chief Justice and a Vice Chief Justice, who serve two years in these titles. After the two-year term expires, the Chief Justice drops back to the bottom of the list, and everyone else moves up, the Vice Chief Justice becoming Chief.

At least, that was the rule until last fall, when the Court changed its rule to allow the Chief Justice to serve a second consecutive term as Chief. Marion Opala, the Vice Chief Justice, has filed suit against Chief Justice Joseph Watt and the other Supremes, charging that the rule change was intentionally discriminatory and based largely on Opala's age — he's 83.

According to the suit, "defendants participated in, condoned and ratified the denial of equal protection toward plaintiff," and what's more, "as [a] result of the rule change, plaintiff has been deprived of the opportunity to earn additional income and to achieve the prestige of the position of chief justice."

Senate Bill 1075, passed last year, set the annual salary of a Supreme Court Justice at $113,571, with an additional $4000 going to the Chief Justice, effective July 2005.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:08 AM)
6 January 2005
Slightly less tubby

Men's Fitness magazine has once again issued its list of 25 Fattest Cities, and both Oklahoma City and Tulsa still rank, but not quite so high: this year, OKC is 21st and Tulsa 22nd. (Last year OKC was 13th and Tulsa 19th.) As a practical matter, I refuse to believe that my own 30-lb weight loss last year was any kind of a factor in the ratings.

Houston rules as Fat City this year, followed by Philadelphia and Detroit. The magazine also rates fittest cities, which are topped by Seattle, Honolulu and Colorado Springs.

(The magazine's methodology is here.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:19 PM)
9 January 2005
Another fine meth

Last April, Oklahoma imposed limits on over-the-counter tablets containing pseudoephedrine, limiting the amount any one buyer can purchase to nine grams in thirty days and requiring pharmacies (the only legal outlets in the state for them) to obtain photo IDs and signatures. The idea, of course, was to put a dent in the state's methamphetamine production — pseudoephedrine is the primary ingredient in meth — and by all accounts it has worked fairly well.

"Yeah," you say, "they'll just drive out of state to get the stuff." And they're doing exactly that, leading other states in the region to ponder whether they should adopt similar restrictions. Governor Henry, of course, thinks they should:

Nationwide success in stopping the methamphetamine epidemic will come from a combined effort of states limiting access to key ingredients. That is why laws similar to Oklahoma's hold such tremendous potential in stamping out this scourge.

A second path suggests itself: replacing the tablets with liquids and gelcaps, from which pseudoephedrine is not so easily isolated. The Oklahoma statute, in fact, does not mandate the same restrictions on liquids and gels, though pharmacies might reasonably impose the restrictions themselves, as a matter of simplifying inventory control, or as a means of avoiding customer confusion: "How come you have Sudafed gelcaps on the shelf, but I have to sign for the tablets?" Some of us who have certain reservations about the War On [some] Drugs might find this approach a bit more palatable than shoving the entire class of products onto Schedule V.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:50 AM)
10 January 2005
Preservation act

Tulsa's historic preservation ordinance is excessively weak, says Michael Bates:

HP overlay zoning can only be applied to residential areas — commercial buildings can't be covered. If a property owner wants to demolish an HP-zoned home, the most the City can do is delay demolition for four months, in hopes that the owner can be persuaded to sell it to someone who will keep the building standing.

Oklahoma City, conversely, applies the pertinent zoning overlay to an entire district, including both commercial and residential buildings within that district, and there are various gradations of overlay, from Historical Landmark (the most stringent) on down.

The point of an HP ordinance is to preserve the investment of homeowners who restore and improve their homes. When you demolish three historic homes to build a parking lot, you not only lose a part of a neighborhood, but homes that once were buffered from commercial development and major streets are now exposed, and they lose some of their value in the process. This can trigger a gradual erosion of the neighborhood from the outside in.

The criteria for demolition are stricter here also. (The Oklahoma City Municipal Code is kept in database form and can be searched.)

But the key to the issue, says Michael Bates:

[T]he Council should be working on improving our zoning code so that it recognizes the difference between 15th & Utica and 71st & Memorial. What works in one type of neighborhood may be destructive to another.

As we learned, more or less the hard way.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:00 AM)
License to pave

If you've occasionally wondered if maybe Oklahoma doesn't know its asphalt from a hole in the road, you might be pleased to hear that Rep. Jim Newport (R-Ponca City) has an idea to raise some bucks to patch our low-quality highways.

Newport's House Bill 1218 would change the distribution of license-tag receipts in this state. Right now, 45 percent of tag proceeds go into the state's General Revenue Fund; HB 1218, beginning in fiscal year 2006, would allocate the first $5 million in receipts each month to the Highway Construction and Maintenance Fund. In FY '07, the figure would be increased to $10 million per month; in FY '08 and afterwards, $15 million.

The General Revenue Fund allocates some money to ODOT, says Newport, but that's not enough:

[F]or years legislators seem to have had the misconception that, since the state Department of Transportation receives so much federal funding, they don't need too much in state funds. Therefore, ODOT has not been able to finance all of the projects in its budget.

I expect the argument to be made that since this proposal is technically revenue-neutral, something's going to have to be cut elsewhere. Well, duh.

Aside: Speaking of "revenue-neutral," P. J. O'Rourke, discussing the American Jobs Creation Act of 2004 in the January/February Atlantic Monthly, disposes of this phrase for all time, thusly:

The House-Senate Joint Committee on Taxation produced a sheaf of charts showing that the bill's $8.678 billion in costs from 2005 to 2009 will be balanced by the bill's $8.679 billion in savings from 2010 to 2014. By this logic a Friday-night drunk too severe to prevent Saturday-afternoon mall shopping gives me revenue-neutral alcoholism.

Proof enough (80, maybe 86) for me.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:49 PM)
11 January 2005
Road scholar

Eric Scheie of Classical Values drove through these parts yesterday, and squeezed off a couple of good shots from the older (and more interesting) part of Sapulpa, plus one nicely-evocative sunrise composition west of Oklahoma City.

I do wish he'd had time to sit and gab, but, well, life is like that sometimes.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:44 PM)
13 January 2005
Second second thoughts

Last month you read here about Oklahoma's new collective-bargaining law, which allows municipal employees in cities with populations of 35,000 and over to unionize.

Cities have been challenging the law, and yesterday Enid, arguing that the arbitrary population threshold was constitutionally invalid, prevailed; District Judge Daniel Owens ruled that the law was indeed "unconstitutional as passed." Enid employees issued a statement to the effect that the city should recognize their organization effort, even without the sanction of law.

Representative Marian Cooksey (R-Edmond) has introduced a bill which would repeal the law outright.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:47 AM)
15 January 2005
Splitting the difference

Last year the Oklahoma legislature more than doubled the mandatory minimum auto insurance in this state: the long-standing requirement of 10/20/10 ($10,000 for a single death, $20,000 for multiple deaths, $10,000 for property damage) was increased to 25/50/25.

This perturbed Rep. Jerry Shoemake (D-Morris), who is trying to roll back the increase, at least partially. Shoemake says the increase will create a hardship on agricultural and oil interests, who are likely to own motor vehicles that are seldom operated on the public roads but aren't exempt from liability coverage. And what's more, says Shoemake, we're discouraging uninsured motorists from buying insurance by jacking up the cost.

Shoemake's alternative proposal, 15/30/15, wins no points from Mike at Okiedoke:

Using Shoemake's logic, his proposal will still increase the number of uninsured motorists. And I doubt the few bucks saved with Shoemake's new minimum coverage will make any difference to already uninsured motorists. If that were actually the case, perhaps he should be thinking about lowering the requirement to 1/2/1 and then everyone would buy insurance.

I suspect that people go without auto insurance because they figure it's an acceptable risk. In Oklahoma City, the fine for failure to produce proof of insurance is $202. If the chance of getting busted is, say, one in twenty, the expected opportunity cost of driving uninsured is barely over ten bucks. Compare that to a thousand dollars or so in annual insurance premiums, and it's something of a miracle that only twenty or thirty percent of our drivers are uninsured. And it's not likely the city will raise the fine to $20,000 to compensate, either.

This measure affects me only peripherally, since I carry more than the new legal minimum anyway, but it's still an irritant, another example of the state's tradition of trying to micromanage everything possible. (The state Constitution is huge to the point of preposterousness; for example, its Bill of Rights contains, not a mere ten, but thirty-four items.) And I have to wonder just how much of the high cost of insurance is due simply to the fact that it's required by law.

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:03 AM)
17 January 2005
Why this day matters

Nineteen fifty-four. The big story was in Washington, where the Supreme Court, to the surprise of many, had thrown out school segregation:

[I]n the field of public education, the doctrine of "separate but equal" has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal. Therefore, we hold that the plaintiffs and others similarly situated for whom the actions have been brought are, by reason of the segregation complained of, deprived of the equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment.

This was the decision in Brown v. Board of Education, and the Board of Education in question was in Topeka, Kansas.

Farther south, down in Oklahoma City, Martin Luther King, Jr., all of twenty-five years old, was knocking on the door of the Calvary Baptist Church in Deep Deuce, hoping to fill a ministerial vacancy. They turned him down: too young, they said. So King headed east, and wound up the pastor of Dexter Avenue Church in Montgomery, Alabama.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Clara Luper had studied Dr. King's work in Montgomery, where a twelve-month-long boycott of the bus system brought an end to segregation in Alabama public transit. In 1957, her play Brother President, about Dr. King's work, was presented in Oklahoma City with a cast of members of the local NAACP Youth Council, to which Luper was an advisor; the following year, she was able to present the play in New York.

The tour bus had taken a northern route to the Big Apple, where the children experienced for the first time the joys of non-segregated lunch counters. They came back through the south, where Jim Crow still held sway, and they vowed to do something about it. In her book Behold the Walls, Luper remembered it this way:

I though about my father who had died in 1957 in the Veterans' Hospital and who had never been able to sit down and eat a meal in a decent restaurant. I remembered how he used to tell us that someday he would take us to dinner and to parks and zoos. And when I asked him when was someday, he would always say, "Someday will be real soon," as tears ran down his cheeks. So my answer was, "Yes, tonight is the night. History compels us to go, and let History alone be our final judge."

And so it came to pass that Clara Luper and a dozen children walked into Katz Drug Store in downtown Oklahoma City and ordered thirteen Coca-Colas, and not to go, either. White customers left. A crowd gathered, mostly hostile. Luper and company stood their ground. Epithets were hurled. Finally, still thirsty, they abandoned their quest for the day.

The next day, all the children were back, and a dozen more besides, and they had but a single thought on their minds: "Let's go back downtown." They did. And this time, they got their drinks. Shortly thereafter, Katz headquarters in Kansas City ordered that their soda fountains in all their stores would henceforth serve all customers, period. The walls were coming down.

In 1960, Dr. King returned to Oklahoma City and spoke at Calvary. Fifteen hundred turned out to hear him. There would be no turning back.

Last week in the Oklahoma Gazette, reporter Deborah Benjamin asked former state senator E. Melvin Porter, who was among those 1500, where things stood today. Said Porter:

It's a legacy of hope, of inspiration, of overcoming. We've overcome many odds. But as long as you live, there will always be obstacles.... I doubt we can ever arrive to everybody being in a perfect society. But America is a better society, and I think that white people appreciate the legacy of Dr. King now more than they did when he was actually involved.

We're not there yet by any means. But we might not have gotten this far were it not for Dr. King. And that's why this day matters, to all of us, no matter which drinking fountain we got to use back then: today, the waters run more freely than ever.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:32 AM)
19 January 2005
3434: the number of the Beast

Bill and Larry Mathis — yes, they are brothers — have snagged 14.5 acres of land in Ontario, California, on which they're going to build a monster of a furniture store, 150,000 square feet with 230,000 square feet of warehouse space.

The Mathis brothers are paying $11.50 per square foot cash for the property, a bit above market. The tract in question is part of 202 acres owned by the city of Ontario which once made up now-defunct Ontario Motor Speedway.

This will be the second Mathis Brothers store in California; a store in Indio, in the Low Desert, opened in 1999.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:50 PM)
21 January 2005
Tastes great, less signing

Your semi-humble scribe has been sniping about Oklahoma's ballot access laws for some time, so it's a pleasure to see the possibility of something being done about it.

Richard Winger's Ballot Access News reports that Rep. Marian Cooksey (R-Edmond) has introduced an access-reform bill. Under House Bill 1429, the number of signatures required to get a third-party candidate on the ballot would drop, from 5 percent of the vote in the previous general election (73,188 for 2006), to a flat 5,000. Third parties could retain official recognition with one percent (instead of five) of the vote for President or Governor, whichever is more recent.

Perhaps needless to say, I'm hoping this bill, or something very much like it, manages to pass.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:29 AM)
Taking the wrinkles out of the robe

Former judge Donald Thompson will be getting his day in court.

Thompson came under fire for sending Johnson up for a long stretch, so to speak, and gave up his bench; he has entered a plea of Not Guilty to three counts of indecent exposure.

I believe I speak for many Oklahomans when I say "Ewwwwwww."

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:26 PM)
24 January 2005
Bumper sticklers

When you spend time with Dawn Eden, you learn to be prepared for almost any possible question. One thing she mentioned during her whirlwind trip through Oklahoma was the wide variety of auto license plates she saw; I pointed out that there were about a hundred specialty plates available for an additional fee. (Inexplicably, I forgot to mention that the major tribes in this state issue plates to their members.)

And then she asked: "Is there a pro-life plate?"

I told her that there was, and she was quite pleased to hear that.

She will not be quite so pleased to hear that the Supreme Court will not hear the appeal of a decision that overturned the law authorizing similar plates in South Carolina. A lawsuit similar to the one filed in South Carolina is pending in Oklahoma.

So far as I can tell, there has been no complaint from Camaro owners regarding the state's Oklahoma Mustang Club plate.

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:14 PM)
27 January 2005
Conventional wisdom

Last week, Michael Bates, citing this Brookings Institution report, said that convention centers aren't a cure-all for a city's ills:

It's a declining industry, but cities persist in believing that convention centers will bring a return on investment. They don't.

Tom at Undercaffeinated notes that this is no less true in his home town:

If the underlying assumption that 400,000 people will visit the convention center every year is true, then of course putting the [proposed new] convention center on the water is a good idea. The problem is, there is no way 350,000 more people will be having their conventions in Buffalo. The city has a horrible reputation, there is a glut of convention space around the country (since every city thinks building a convention center is the answer to all their woes), and the lakefront is windy and cold most of the year. The assumption is wrong — common sense proves it wrong.

So what's it going to take?

No one is magically appearing in Buffalo until Buffalo rebuilds itself for itself. As we begin to migrate back to downtown, as downtown businesses and restaurants and bars and shops reappear to serve the new migrants, as the city's reputation slowly changes from cold, snowy, dead, depressed and boring to cold, snowy, lively, and historically significant, people will suddenly appear.

Not everyone in Tulsa has caught on to this, suggests Michael Bates:

[A]t the TulsaNow annual meeting, an urban planner commented that Tulsa's leaders seem to think that it's enough for downtown that we're building the arena, and no one is thinking about how Denver Avenue will develop, or what kind of development is needed to connect the arena to the Blue Dome district and the Brady district.

We're still playing it by ear in Oklahoma City, but I think we're (mostly) on the right track. As Tom says of his northern outpost:

It sounds corny, but before anyone else will love Buffalo, we Buffalonians must first love it ourselves.

Tulsa, that's your cue.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:34 AM)
Insert Tyson joke here

Senator Frank Shurden (D-Doublewide) has never quite given up his quest to get the Oklahoma cockfighting ban reversed or modified; his latest tactic is to take the blood out of the blood sport by requiring the equivalent of tiny boxing gloves on the birds.

(Via Rodney Dill by way of Kevin McGehee, who is puzzled that this would show up at Outside the Beltway before it did here. Truth be told, I'm fairly sick of Shurden's endless posturing on this topic and would just as soon not give him any more publicity, but when the readers speak, I respond, or at least riposte. NewsOK.com's Sally Allen has a far better take on this cringeworthy topic.)

(Is this the first time I've had an article with more parenthetical asides than actual material?)

(Update, 11:10 am: Matt Deatherage says term limits can't come too soon for Shurden.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:43 AM)
1 February 2005
Checking out Brad's package

Brad Henry's tax package, that is.

A few things perplex me about it — who knew there was a constitutional maximum on the Rainy Day Fund? — and "targeted" tax cuts usually mean I don't get squat, but this doesn't seem too awful. This year's $200-million surplus (thanks at least partially to petroleum prices out the wazoo) will be split down the middle, taxpayers to get one half as a rebate, the new EDGE Endowment to be seeded with the other.

Over and beyond this bit of spending, there are actual tax cuts: capital gains on Oklahoma property, eliminated last year for individuals, would be eliminated for corporations as well; the list of heirs qualifying for estate-tax exemption would be extended to include siblings; the personal exemption for retirees would be boosted from $7500 to $10,000; and there will be a sales-tax holiday counterprogrammed against one already scheduled in Texas.

House Republicans, I think, will probably insist on an income-tax rollback as well, but the Governor's proposal is a reasonable start. All else being equal, though, I'd rather have the brackets moved downward than get a one-time check.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:51 PM)
3 February 2005
How now, Dow Jones?

Oklahomans have something of a reputation for fatalism, perhaps even pessimism. (The Dust Bowl will do that to you.) Still, it's 2005 already, the Dow is over 10,000, but NewsOK.com's market graphic hasn't caught up with the times:

Market averages

I'm sure there's an explanation for this somewhere.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:15 AM)
The Fuzzy Puppies and Bunnies Act

No, wait, it's the "Justice & Common Sense Act" of 2005.

Well, actually, House Bill 2047 is a tort-reform measure, which would cap damages, limit attorney fees, and require jury unanimity for punitive damages.

Okay, it's not as annoying as the USA Patriot Act, at least in terms of nomenclature, but it does suggest to me that House Speaker Todd Hiett (R-Kellyville) doesn't really think it would pass if it got a name that was actually, you know, relevant.

This is not a good sign for the beginning of the legislative session.

(Via Okiedoke, where it's viewed even less favorably.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:37 PM)
4 February 2005
A plane deal

Boeing CEO Harry Stonecipher says the airframe giant is nearing a deal to sell its Wichita and Tulsa plants. Workers, said Stonecipher, should get the word in 10 to 20 days; he says there is no indication that there will be layoffs.

Tulsa's Boeing facility was originally owned by Douglas; during World War II, its products included the B-24 Liberator.

Toronto-based Onex Corp. is rumored to be the prospective buyer.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:18 AM)
5 February 2005
You could call it product placement

This chap in Tulsa is willing to change his name if the price is right.

John Cox is hoping some corporation will kick in $75k or more for him to change his first name legally — although he'd rather it wasn't Fannie Mae.

And, well, you have to figure no private individual is likely to fork over that much money to stick him with a name like "Enormous" or "Turgid," either.

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:47 PM)
8 February 2005
Oh, shut up, Tom

Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) comes up with another zinger:

I thought I would just share with you what science says today about silicone breast implants. If you have them, you're healthier than if you don't. That is what the ultimate science shows.... In fact, there's no science that shows that silicone breast implants are detrimental and, in fact, they make you healthier.

Geez, you think he's looking for a new revenue source or something?

Tell you what, Tommy boy: you get the implants, and we'll watch. At a safe distance.

(Via Choire Sicha, filling in for Wonkette.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:14 PM)
11 February 2005
General disorganization

Mike at Okiedoke has a thoughtful piece on the decline in union membership in Oklahoma, now down to 86,000 or so. Losses in manufacturing jobs and the state's right-to-work law are the usual suspects, though the state government does its part: the recent appointment of the ever-surly Patrick B. McGuigan, former editorial-page editor of The Oklahoman, to a deputy Labor Commissioner position, would seem to bespeak hostility toward working folks. (McGuigan, quips Mike, is to worker rights what Michael Jackson is to children, a comparison I hope is purely superficial.)

I've carried a union card; I've carried a picket sign or two in my day. There's a lot of that old labor vs. management distrust still out there today. But I can't help wonder if maybe the union as we know it is the wrong vessel for change, especially when they keep coming up with stuff like this:

Australian Manufacturing Workers Union (AMWU) national secretary Doug Cameron said production line jobs were tough on some women during their monthly cycle and their problems should be recognized with a day's menstrual leave every month.

Which, were I running a production line, would strongly suggest that I run it with men just to gain that 3-percent added efficiency.

(With thanks to Ravenwood's Universe.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:00 AM)
15 February 2005
A World of their own

It was always thus: you read The Tulsa Tribune for news, and the Tulsa World for, um, well, no one really knows why anyone read the Tulsa World. But there were two papers, operating under one of those Joint Operating Agreements, and all was well with the world — or with the World, anyway, which shut down the JOA in 1992 and acquired monopoly status.

Editorially, the Tribune was farther right than the World, but the problem, from the World's point of view, wasn't the Tribune's politics: it was the fact that the Tribune was in a position to keep an eye on the Lorton family's wheelings and dealings, not all of which made it into their paper.

And the Lortons still don't like attention being drawn to their back-door deals, in any way, shape, size or form. When their slate of Tulsa City Council candidates didn't do well enough to secure a pro-Lorton majority, the World began attacks on two of their opponents, and World associates put together a recall petition against them, which alleges no wrongdoing, only that they vote the "wrong way."

The World's latest scheme is to fume at bloggers. Both Chris Medlock, a Councilman who opposes the World's agenda, and Michael Bates, a community activist who has been covering the opposition, have received nasty letters from a World vice-president threatening them with copyright-infringement suits for quoting World articles and linking to the World's Web site. This sort of thing would be laughed out of any courtroom in the country, which undoubtedly is why the threats came from a World officer and not from its legal team. (What'll you bet that the World board actually called in the lawyers, and were told flatly that they had no case?)

If it weren't so pathetic, it would almost be tragic. There are many cities like Tulsa, where a favored few seek to maximize their profits at the expense of everyone else; what makes Tulsa different is the World, which evidently would rather be a conspirator than a crusader. The people of Tulsa are the poorer for it.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:41 AM)
16 February 2005
Lorton hears a Huh

The Tulsa World apparently still has nastygrams to dispatch: they sent one to the Tulsa Now bulletin board.

Discussion of same is here.

(Via Tulsa Topics.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:32 PM)
17 February 2005
No charge for giving it away

Freshman Rep. Dale DePue (R-Edmond) has gotten his Sexually Explicit Business and Escort Service Tax Act through the House Revenue and Taxation Committee.

House Bill 1532 seeks to impose a 10-percent tax on strip clubs, dealers of smut, and traffickers in related vices, proceeds to go to DHS to support domestic-violence and sexual-abuse programs.

This presumably was a difficult issue for DePue: he's a Traditional Values kind of guy, but he also thinks the state imposes too many taxes.

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:24 PM)
The secret life of John Bair

John R. Bair, as BatesLine readers know, has been the official Tulsa World hatchet man: the nastygrams to bloggers and such have come out over his signature.

The Interested-Participant has checked out Bair's background, and reports:

Curiously, a quick look at Google suggests that VP John Bair has moved through the ranks in the TulsaWorld organization, recently holding the position of Circulation Director. As such, it would seem that his experience is better suited for plotting truck routes and delivery schedules rather than confronting the complexities of copyright law.

Not that they'll bust him back to Circulation, of course; it would violate the Peter Principle.

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:55 PM)
22 February 2005
A letter to a state legislator

To: treborworthen-at-okhouse.gov
From: chaz-at-dustbury.com
Subject: A plea for some action

There's not much chance of Democrats acting on a bill like HR 1429, but since the GOP was wise enough to bring up the topic in the first place — Marion Cooksey introduced the bill into the House, and Randy Brogdon is sponsoring it in the Senate — I hope you and your fellow Republicans on the Rules Committee will see fit to push it along and give the full House a chance to consider it. The 1974 ballot-access laws in this state are unworthy of a Third World hellhole; it's time to give the people of Oklahoma a chance at some serious democracy. With a small d.

(Sent 6:20 pm, 22 February 2005)

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:28 PM)
25 February 2005
Thanks, Bob

Robert Butkin will leave his job as Treasurer of the State of Oklahoma on Tuesday, 31 May; the next morning, he will become Dean of the College of Law at the University of Tulsa.

Butkin, a Democrat who has run unopposed in his last two elections, came on board in 1994 to clean up an ongoing mess at the Treasurer's office. Quite a lot of Democrats, myself included, were hoping he might see fit to run for some higher office some day — his track record over the past ten years has been impeccable — but it was not to be, and I wish him well as he goes back home to Tulsa.

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:00 PM)
28 February 2005
The semi-final frontier

Had I $150k to spare (maybe I should put up a tip jar, huh?), I'd definitely want to take a spin in this contraption, and I'd only have to drive out to Burns Flat to get to it.

(Courtesy of Gridskipper, minus a couple of points for their chronic inability to spell "Oklahoma.")

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:18 AM)
3 March 2005
Third second thoughts

The House has voted 59-39 to repeal the Oklahoma Municipal Employees Collective Bargaining Act, which permits employees of cities with 35,000 population or more to organize into unions. The law has previously been found unconstitutional by judicial ruling.

The Senate has yet to vote on the repeal.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:31 AM)
Not this year, folks

The Oklahoma Libertarian Party sent this as a press release (it's not on their Web site yet), and rather than rewrite it and take credit for having written something, I'm running it as is:

After being told that ballot access reform legislation will not be heard in committee this legislative session, Oklahomans for Ballot Access Reform says the new rules put in place at the State House aren't delivering openness and accountability as promised by House Speaker Todd Hiett.

House Bill 1429, which would lower the number of signatures necessary for an unrecognized party to get on the ballot, is assigned to the Rules Committee. Supporters of the bill were told by its author, Rep. Marian Cooksey (R-Edmond), that it would not be heard in committee. The office of Rep. Sue Tibbs (R-Tulsa), Chair of the Rules Committee, has confirmed that the bill will not be heard, but no reason is being given. The bill is identical to a bill introduced by Tibbs two years ago. Several members of the committee have already indicated they would support the bill, and Sen. Randy Brogdon (R-Owasso) agreed to sponsor the bill in the State Senate. OBAR members are finding it difficult to understand why the bill won't even be heard in committee, a necessary step for the measure to proceed to the House floor.

"Rep. Hiett took over as speaker and promised an open process," said OBAR spokesman James Branum. "HB 1429 has support inside and outside the Legislature. Someone is keeping this bill from proceeding, but there's no way for us to find out who or why. That's not an open process, and there's no accountability."

Current law requires an unrecognized party to petition for signatures of registered voters equal to 5% of the number of voters in the last presidential or gubernatorial election in order to get on the ballot. To participate in the 2006 elections, a party would need to gather more than 73,000 signatures. HB 1429 would change that to 5,000 signatures, the amount required until 1974. Surrounding states all have much lower signature requirements for ballot access, 1% of voters from the last election in Texas, 10,000 in Missouri, 5,000 in Kansas, and 1,000 in Arkansas. During the 2004 election, Oklahoma was the only state in the country limited to just two candidates for President.

If ballot access reform is not passed into law this legislative session, the issue may be taken out of the Legislature's hands. A lawsuit brought by the Oklahoma Libertarian Party is on appeal to the State Supreme Court. The Libertarians agreed to a stay in the case to give the Legislature the opportunity to act, but if HB 1429 is not even heard in committee the case will continue. Past litigation by the OKLP has resulted in easing restrictions on alternative parties at least four occasions.

And while the Libertarians are pushing this, they're not alone; members of the Constitution and Green parties are also backing the movement to loosen up the ballot. Could someone in the state GOP be pulling the strings behind the scenes? I don't know, but I find the idea that Republican brass might feel threatened by third parties more than a little amusing.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:57 PM)
4 March 2005
A ha'penny will do

The city of Broken Arrow has reduced its sales-tax rate from 3.5 percent to 3 percent this week. (The state sales tax remains at 4.5 percent; county tax varies, as Broken Arrow straddles the Tulsa/Wagoner county line.)

In 1998, Broken Arrow began collecting that extra half-cent to finance a new branch campus of Tahlequah-based Northeastern State University. The tax was scheduled to run eight years, but it brought in more money than anticipated, and additional NSU funding materialized. The city decided to drop the additional half-cent, and on the first of March made it official.

What's more, the bonds for the NSU project, which were supposed to be retired in 2011, are being paid off early, which will save the city about $1 million in interest.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:40 AM)
Raiders of the Deep Rock

As of yesterday, billionaire Carl Icahn was the largest single stockholder in Oklahoma City's Kerr-McGee Corporation, controlling about 4.68 percent of KMG stock. Icahn associate Barry Rosenstein controls about 3 percent of KMG.

Typically for Icahn, he began making suggestions. In a letter to Kerr-McGee chairman Luke Corbett, Icahn suggested that the chemical business be spun off and that the oil-production business start selling future production in advance while prices are high. "Never before," said Icahn, "has there been such a disconnect between the stock market valuation of publicly traded (exploration and production) companies such as KMG . . . and the value at which oil and gas futures are trading in the commodity markets."

And while he was at it, Icahn nominated himself and Rosenstein to the Kerr-McGee board, a move which was not greeted warmly by management.

The most likely outcome? KMG will follow Icahn's recommendations to the extent that they get the stock price up to where he wants it, and then will pay him handsomely to go away.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:45 AM)
7 March 2005
Term limits for everyone

Rep. Trebor Worthen (R-Oklahoma City) has come up with House Joint Resolution 1015, which would limit all statewide officeholders to two terms.

The Lieutenant Governor, the State Superintendent of Schools, the Insurance Commissioner, the Treasurer, the Attorney General, the Labor Commissioner, and the Auditor and Inspector are all elected for four-year terms; the three members of the Corporation Commission are elected for six-year terms. Of the ten offices in question, five are occupied by Democrats, five by Republicans, so it's not like Worthen, a freshman Republican, is trying to engineer some sort of GOP coup here.

Worthen knows from term limits: his father, Robert Worthen, used to hold that same District 87 seat before running out of time. State legislators are now limited to twelve years in office. If you ask me, if twelve years is enough for legislators, twelve years is enough for other statewide offices; I'd support this measure if it were rewritten to set a twelve-year limit, three terms for everyone except the Corp Comm. And it is, at least in part, up to me: since this requires a change to the state Constitution, HJR 1015, if passed, would call for an election.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:20 AM)
9 March 2005
Kermac splits the difference

Kerr-McGee has now responded to the proposals by Carl Icahn, and while they're considering spinning off the chemical division as he suggested, and will engage in the sort of stock-repurchase plan he recommended, they dismissed his suggestion of selling off future production as "irresponsible." CEO Luke Corbett:

Mr. Icahn's proposal of a VPP [volumetric production payment] of this magnitude would extract the revenue from approximately 32% of our proved developed producing reserves, while leaving the company with 100% of the costs.

And that's not all:

We have seen VPPs employed productively on a much more prudent scale, but Mr. Icahn's proposal is tantamount to mortgaging the company's future simply to provide Mr. Icahn and his partners with some quick cash.

I'm not persuaded that selling off the chemical division is such a wonderful idea — if oil goes bust again, the company will be in, you should pardon the expression, a deep hole — but buying back $1 billion worth of stock puts some idle cash to work and props up the value of those equities at the same time, which should be useful.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:13 PM)
11 March 2005
Kermac ups the ante

Round three in the battle of Carl Icahn vs. Kerr-McGee Corporation begins with a lawsuit filed by KMG against Icahn and his associates.

The suit claims that Icahn's group violated the Securities Act of 1934 by acting collectively without identifying themselves as a group, and that the SEC was not notified in a timely manner as required when one of the group acquired more than $50 million in KMG shares.

Counsel for Icahn said he hadn't seen the suit yet, but he believed it was "without merit."

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:14 PM)
12 March 2005
New improved full dimensional stereotypes

This made the email rounds and wound up in The Oklahoma Observer, fercryingoutloud, so I figure it's probably semi-safe to post. If you're considering seeking an engineering degree from a college in this state, you should be able to answer the following questions:

  1. Calculate the smallest limb diameter on a persimmon tree that will support a 10-pound possum.

  2. Which of these cars will rust out the quickest when placed on blocks in your front yard: a '65 Ford Fairlane, a '69 Chevrolet Chevelle, or a '64 Pontiac GTO?

  3. If your uncle builds a still which operates at a capacity of 20 gallons of 'shine produced per hour, how many car radiators are required to condense the product?

  4. A woodcutter has a chainsaw which operates at 2700 RPM. The density of the pine trees in the plot to be harvested is 470 per acre. The plot is 2.3 acres in size. The average tree diameter is 14 inches. How many Budweisers will be drunk before the trees are cut down?

  5. If every old refrigerator in the state vented a charge of R-12 simultaneously, what would be the percentage decrease in the ozone layer?

  6. A front porch is constructed of 2x8 pine on 24-inch centers with a field-rock foundation. The span is 8 feet and the porch length is 16 feet. The porch floor is one-inch rough-sawn pine. When the porch collapses, how many hound dogs will be killed?

  7. A man owns a Little Dixie house and 3.7 acres of land in a hollow with an average slope of 15%. The man has five children. Can each of his grown children place a mobile home on the man's land and still have enough property for their electric appliances to sit out front?

  8. A two-ton truck is overloaded and proceeding 900 yards down a steep slope on a secondary road at 45 MPH. The brakes fail. Given average traffic conditions on secondary roads, what is the probability that it will strike a vehicle with a muffler?

  9. A coal mine operates an NFPA Class 1, Division 2 Hazardous Area. The mine employs 120 miners per shift. A gas warning is issued at the beginning of the third shift. How many cartons of unfiltered Camels will be smoked during the shift?

  10. At a reduction in the gene-pool variability rate of 7.5% per generation, how long will it take a town which has been bypassed by the Interstate to breed a country-western singer?

As always, be sure to show your work.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:20 AM)
13 March 2005
Where the beaches are not so good

John Phillips, editor at large for Car and Driver, has a couple of things in common with me: we're both in our early 50s, and we've both been to the Oklahoma Panhandle once. The difference is that Phillips drove there (with a photographer) in a European-spec three-cylinder turbo Smart ForTwo, and his observations got into the magazine's April issue (not on their Web site as of this writing). I can't tell whether he actually liked the place or not. A sample or three:

For the first time in recent memory, I was driving daily on roads that were sometimes empty to the horizon. And there's precisely no one selling grande decaf frappuccinos, plus it's as quiet as a mausoleum, if you can imagine a mausoleum with a steady 30-knot wind and a herd of polled Herefords. Throughout history, the Panhandle has been a place that would either kill you or make a man of you, especially if you were a woman.

Scary prospect. And there's this:

We headed south to Wheeless, which certainly was. "Is it free of wheels," [photographer Greg] Jarem asked, "or free of whee?" In fact, we could locate no living soul to confirm that the town was uninhabited, yet it contained one firehouse, a white clapboard Baptist church, a red limestone garage, and a graveyard. We tried to walk to the cemetery but were stymied by six inches of mud. In the schoolyard lay toys that might have been dropped 30 years prior. Wheeless appeared to have been abandoned one day at about 2 p.m. and no one could think of a reason to return. As we departed, the Smart hit a tumbleweed the size of a dishwasher. "That really cheered me up," said Jarem.

There's a picture of said tumbleweed, too. Let's hope the C/D Web site picks up on it.

That night, at the Pop-A-Top Lounge in Guymon, the Panhandle's largest town, a bartender named Wendy Ward told us, "This is the most judgmental place in the U.S. We have harsh opinions of everyone." I asked her the Panhandle's population. "Don't know, don't care," she shot back.

Um, 28,478 (US Census Bureau estimate, 1 July 2003).

But I suspect he just might have enjoyed the trip:

It took three 10-hour days to hit every berg and hamlet in the Panhandle. It was never boring. We finished in Slapout, whose eight residents live opposite the town's only business, a gas station. Two cowboys ran out to greet us, eager to lay hands on the Smart. They grinned at first, then smiled, then laughed until they were emitting wet pig snorts and their faces turned red.

And you know, if I saw one of these up close and personal, I just might giggle myself.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:59 AM)
Worst bill of 2005

The session isn't over yet, but I can't imagine anyone coming up with anything more asinine than this. Witness HR 1746, by Dan Sullivan (R-Tulsa):

SECTION 1. NEW LAW A new section of law to be codified in the Oklahoma Statutes as Section 3119 of Title 74, unless there is created a duplication in numbering, reads as follows:

Any agency or governmental entity of this state that develops and implements a nondiscriminatory policy based on sexual preference shall be null and void.

SECTION 2. This act shall become effective November 1, 2005.

Two possibilities:

1) Sullivan didn't realize that the text as written calls for the outright abolition of any such "agency or governmental entity";

2) He did realize that.

Either way, it's the sort of thing that makes you wonder if Sullivan was always this stupid, or if he had to train for it. No wonder the Tulsa World has such dripping contempt for the electorate: they vote for people like Sullivan.

Matt Deatherage has much, much more. Incidentally, this thing passed the House in its original form 65-28; there being only 57 Republicans in the House, somehow at least eight Democrats got sucked, so to speak, into voting for it. What were they thinking?

(With thanks to Matthew.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:00 PM)
18 March 2005
I think I will have fries with that

The Oklahoma House has passed, 93-7, a bill to insulate food producers from lawsuits by activists who seek to force their personal food choices on everyone.

House Bill 1554, by Dale DeWitt (R-Braman), protects food producers who meet existing state and Federal standards from civil liability for claims of weight gain or obesity. Said DeWitt:

Some individuals don't want to take responsibility for their own health and instead look to put the blame on food producers.

The Senate will consider this bill in due course. Similar measures have passed in sixteen states and are under consideration in twenty others.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:02 AM)
20 March 2005
Where sculpture meets architecture

Artist Dennis Oppenheim, at first glance, seems to be the curator of the Island of Misfit Toys; his sculptures are simultaneously utterly familiar and incredibly disorienting, and blown up to town-square size, they delight and disturb.

In short, he's a major figure in American conceptual art, and the Price Tower Arts Center in Bartlesville is presenting Dennis Oppenheim: Indoors, Outdoors for the next couple of months. Oppenheim himself will appear at the Arts Center's annual gala in April, to be followed by an exhibition of his video art at Tulsa's Circle Cinema.

I have a feeling I'm going to want to see all of this, just because.

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:02 PM)
21 March 2005
Here comes Uncle Ernie to guide you

Fifth District Congressman Ernest Istook (R-Warr Acres) will be holding four Town Hall meetings during the balance of this month. Interestingly, the two in the city will be confined to specific subjects, while those in the outlying areas will be open for discussion on a range of topics. I leave it to someone more cynical than I to speculate as to why.

Here's the schedule (as a taxpayer, I paid for a mailing of this stuff, so I figure I'm entitled to reproduce it):

Thursday, 24 March, 6:40 pm
Putnam City High School Auditorium, 5300 NW 50th
"Web-Wise Kids: Protecting Our Children from On-Line Predators"
With Sandy Garrett, Superintendent of Public Instruction

Tuesday, 29 March, 10 am
Rudolph Hargrave Community Center, 123 South Mekusukey, Wewoka
Open forum

Tuesday, 29 March, 4 pm
Room B, Shawnee Public Library, 101 North Philadelphia, Shawnee
Open forum

Thursday, 31 March, 6:30 pm
Garvey Center Recital Hall, Oklahoma Christian University, 2501 East Memorial
"Seniors & Seniors on Social Security: Panel Discussion with High-School Seniors and Senior Citizens"

Says Rep. Istook, "Locally, the federal government interacts with our lives in ways which we may not always understand." I guess he ought to know.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:03 AM)
23 March 2005
Hobson chooses

For twenty-seven years Cal Hobson, a Lexington Democrat, has served in the Oklahoma legislature, twelve in the House, then moving up to the Senate, where he became President pro tempore in 2003, about the time he first acknowledged that he was struggling with the slings and arrows of alcoholism.

Today, Hobson is expected to step down from his leadership position. Mike at Okiedoke gives him a sendoff which puts the emphasis where it belongs: on the battles at the Capitol, not on the bottles in his desk.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:05 AM)
The last word on ballot access

Actually, it probably won't be, but I doubt anyone will say anything much pithier than J. M. Branum's commentary in this week's Oklahoma Gazette.

Money quote:

If our state legislators think Oklahoma voters are too stupid to choose from more than two choices, they should have the guts to go on the record and say so. HB 1429 should have had a fair hearing before the Rules Committee with a roll-call vote. Instead, though, the bill was killed outside of public scrutiny in a process that seems more like how they do things in the People?s Republic of China than in a free country.

Speaker Hiett talks a lot about making state government "open and accountable"; I'd like to see him account for what happened to this bill.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:39 PM)
25 March 2005
Some of our road scholars

At Tulsa Topics, Bobby has no kind words for a proposed gas-tax increase:

I was pretty biased to vote NO anyway if this ever made it to a ballot. I'm for better bridges and roads BUT after investigating the people behind the initiative, Oklahomans for Safe Bridges and Roads, and realizing the group that wants this tax is actually drumming up business for themselves, basically soured my opinion of this group. Since one of the major players is Bob Poe, ex-president of the Tulsa Metro Chamber of Commerce, I believe that fact in and of itself is enough of a reason to vote NO on this tax increase.

Self-serving advocacy groups are hardly new to Oklahoma, but given Bob Poe's M.O., which includes such useful tools as "wild rants," and the fact that in his capacity at OSBR he's working for noted bumbler Neal McCaleb, there's at least a reasonable chance that OSBR will shoot itself in its collective foot long before a tax election can be scheduled.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:32 AM)
28 March 2005
Handbags and history

I have to applaud this effort on the basis of sheer nerve:

Okiedoke.com is sponsoring the Oklahoma Sexiest Power Woman Awards. But I need your help in choosing the nominees.

Recognized women who are either currently, or have been, in government office, or top positions in business, journalism, academic institutions, the arts, non-profit community work or members of the Oklahoma Women's Hall of Fame, are eligible.

To submit a nominee, please leave a comment [to this post] with a link to a recent photograph of the nominee and a brief biography. Nominations will close on Sunday, 12:01 AM, April 3, 2005. Decisions for eligibility will be up to me. Beauty is not the determining factor for eligibility.

I'm speechless.

On the other hand, I did come up with a candidate: former Representative Laura Boyd, the only woman ever to be nominated for governor of this state by a major party (in 1998).

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:29 AM)
29 March 2005
Small potatoes

HCA Incorporated, which operates medical facilities in 23 states, has announced that it will sell off ten of its hospitals, including Southwestern Medical Center in Lawton.

All the facilities to be divested are in relatively small cities; HCA plans to focus on hospitals in larger markets, such as Oklahoma City, where HCA operates the OU Medical Center.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:41 PM)
31 March 2005
On the edge of town

A bill last year to simplify incorporation for small communities in the shadow of the big cities apparently didn't simplify matters enough, says the Attorney General.

The rural community of Banner, south of El Reno in Canadian County, sought to incorporate, citing 2004's House Bill 1858, which specified that communities within five miles of a city with population over 200,000 (which is to say, Oklahoma City and Tulsa) would be allowed the option provided the county commissioners can be persuaded that the area involved is compact and has historically been identified as a community. But the opinion of Attorney General Drew Edmondson states that while Banner might meet that requirement, a previously-existing requirement which prohibits incorporation of communities within three miles of cities with population under 200,000 was still legally in effect. Both Mustang and El Reno are within three miles of Banner.

The AG's opinion might also spoil the incorporation plans of Turley, a community in north Tulsa County, whose proposed city limits reach to within three miles of Sperry.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:42 AM)
1 April 2005
I like "House o' Funk" myself

Express Personnel chairman Bob Funk, no stranger to downtown arenas — he owns the Oklahoma City Blazers hockey team — has been asked to bid on the naming rights for Tulsa's new arena.

Tulsa Vision Builders project director Bart Boatright confirms that Funk was offered a shot, but declined to name anyone else who might have been asked to bid; The Oklahoman called up Bank of Oklahoma, Williams Companies, and QuikTrip, three major Tulsa-based firms, none of whom, said their spokespersons, were participating.

Of course, had I a spare ten million or so — the naming rights for Oklahoma City's Ford Center went for $8.1 million a few years back — I might be inclined to hang Michael Bates' name over the door, just to see the reaction from various T-Town types.

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:06 PM)
2 April 2005
In other news, stovetops can get hot

The Oklahoma Tax Commission has discovered to its horror that people are trying to avoid the fourfold increase in the tobacco tax which kicked in at the first of the year.

The tax, by design, is assessed at the wholesale level, and then passed on to the consumer. The OTC has dispatched agents to check the inventories of retail outlets in northeast Oklahoma for the state stamp of approval: God forbid they could be buying smokes from (shudder) out of state. (Why the northeast? Missouri's tax per pack is a mere 17 cents, versus $1.03 in the sanitary Sooner State. Then again, all the states that border on Oklahoma have tobacco taxes lower than ours.)

And the next step is to crack down on those nasty Internet buyers. Apparently a Federal law requires online tobacco dealers to report purchase details to the individual states; the knock on the door presumably follows.

Is anyone actually surprised by this?

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:25 AM)
4 April 2005
Getting even with the odds

The new Oklahoma lottery law earmarks 30 percent of the proceeds for education in the first two years of operation, increasing to 35 percent after that. The law also requires that at least 45 percent of the proceeds be paid out in prizes.

And that's the problem, says Tennessee lottery president Rebecca Graham Powell, consulting to Oklahoma lottery officials: most states are paying out 50 to 55 percent, which makes the Oklahoma lotto look like a comparatively bad bet. And to match that 55 percent with 35 percent still going into the education fund, costs will have to be cut to the bare minimum.

Oklahoma lottery chairman James Orbison recognizes the issue:

Just looking around at other lotteries, you just almost have to have that kind of percentage across the board. The public is amazingly savvy about which products have the best odds, and if they think they can go across the border to Texas and get a better deal, they will, I'm sure.

Still, Orbison isn't running scared:

In a way, it's almost kind of good. I like the idea of having to be creative on costs. That's one good thing about having these strict parameters — it forces you to do the best you can.

The first scratch-off cards are expected this fall, with online games and multi-state games to follow over the next year.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:37 AM)
5 April 2005
Out of second thoughts

The bill to repeal the Oklahoma Municipal Employees Collective Bargaining Act, which permits employees of cities over 35,000 population to organize, previously passed in the House, has died in committee in the Senate.

While the Act remains in force, it continues to be tested in the courts following challenges to its constitutionality.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:29 AM)
7 April 2005
Anyone seen John Doe?

JunkYardBlog has a startler: the oft-rumored link between the 1995 Oklahoma City bombers and Islamist terrorists may have been located.

In the months preceding the bombing, Terry Nichols paid a visit to the Philippines. At the time he was there, 1993 WTC bomber Ramzi Yousef was operating an al-Qaeda affiliate called Abu Sayyaf. What better way for Nichols to learn a trade than by becoming an apprentice?

What's more, last week a cache of weapons was found at Nichols' former home in Kansas. (He currently is a member of Club Fed.) Information reportedly obtained from another prisoner suggests that the cache might have been intended for use on the 19th of this month, the tenth anniversary of the Murrah Building bombing.

This is getting extremely creepy.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:30 AM)
Perhaps they'd take Cleveland

The thousand or so members of the Ottawa Tribe of Oklahoma have claimed a 350-acre section of North Bass Island, on Lake Erie north of Port Clinton, Ohio, a tract currently owned by Ohio state government.

The tribe contends that it has hunting and fishing rights to the island under an 1805 treaty, and has announced plans to set up a fishing fleet. Some in Ohio, including Attorney General Jim Petro, dispute the claim, and inasmuch as the Ottawa are also seeking a casino in Ohio, it's been suggested that the claim is essentially a ploy to extract a casino concession from the state.

In addition to the 350 acres, the Ottawa are seeking to collect damages for being deprived of its use during the intervening years.

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:51 PM)
9 April 2005
Watts in store

Political consultant and former Congressman J. C. Watts has hinted that he might run for governor against Brad Henry in 2006. Watts, now living in the Washington metro, still comes back to Oklahoma on occasion, still owns a house near Lake Eufaula, and surely misses one aspect of life here in the slow lane: he'd take, he quipped, any job "that would get me in Oklahoma and get me a driver." After once around the Beltway, I can't say as I blame him.

Rep. Tom Cole, who occupies Watts' old House seat, says there's still time for J. C. to make up his mind, and suggests that Mary Fallin, the three-term Lieutenant Governor, is also contemplating a run for the Mansion. Can either of them beat Brad Henry? Too early to say at this point, but while Henry is popular, he's not all that popular.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:31 AM)
10 April 2005
Electile dysfunction

Don Danz isn't much concerned about low voter turnout:

I'm perfectly alright with half the nation or more not regularly voting. This is because I don't believe one should vote if they are not knowledgeable about the issues. Nor should one vote if they have completely screwed up lives. Think about it; imagine someone who has, at every opportunity, made the wrong decision — they are uneducated, unskilled, unemployed/underemployed, gone from one dysfunctional relationship to another and for unknown reasons the first intelligent thing they have ever done is register to vote. Do you really trust that person to make two brilliant decisions in [a] row?

Some people evidently do, as he discovered last week at the polls:

Me:  Hi. (smiling)

Poll Worker 1:  Last name? (smiling)

Me:  Danz...Don Danz. (now with dead serious expression and tone) But, I'm not really him. And, you can't do anything about it because you can't ask for my ID. (I sign my name?or at least my alias for that precinct)

Poll Worker 2:  We don't care. (hands me my ballots)

Poll Worker 3:  The state of Oklahoma doesn't care. (everyone exchanges knowing smiles and small chuckles as it's obvious I'm making a point with which the workers agree)

Me:  (after having voted) Well I'm off to go vote in a few more precincts.

Poll Worker 2:  Good luck.

You'd almost get the feeling from this conversation that the State Election Board had ordered no IDs ever be checked, lest someone be upset by having to prove his vote was, you know, legal.

The Election Board sends out a card, to the address given, with the voter's name, party registration, county, precinct number and location. A person who has this card and doesn't know where he's supposed to vote is, prima facie, probably too stupid to exercise the franchise.

At the very least, every voter should be required to present the card to the election official with the signature book. (If everyone has to, it can't possibly be considered discriminatory no matter what kind of "cultural" bushwah is proffered by the beneficiaries of vote fraud.)

Michael Bates notes:

Oklahoma election officials are justly proud of our optical ballot readers, which gives us the ability to obtain quick and accurate results while still having a paper record of each vote, preserving the option of a manual count. But a ballot reader is like any other computer — Garbage In, Garbage Out — and it can't detect a ballot cast fraudulently. We've had too many close elections that could have been swayed by even a tiny amount of fraud: House District 78 in 2004 was decided by less than 30 votes; the 2002 Governor's race was decided by less than three votes per precinct.

And if we learned anything from 2004, it's that vote fraud is a growth industry.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:58 AM)
If we build it, they will... something

A "Concerned Native Tulsan" added this comment to a Michael Bates article on downtown Tulsa:

[W]e are quickly trying to convince the folks that a NEW landmark, an architecturally unique arena will help revive folks' momentum to return to Tulsa. Then, placing that arena in a blighted area of downtown, that is known to be a chancy area to enter at anytime of day or night. Many folks feel that developing the arena along the river would have been a better choice ... but, who knew that Tulsa citizens would foot the bill for the arena, but, have no input as to where it would be built. Something is obviously not going right, when there are a select few that are dictating and controlling all issues within the city. And these few are very wealthy and with each decision, likely to become wealthier!

For some reason, this reminded me of a recent episode of The Simpsons, in which the Springfield city fathers are persuaded that what they need to bring their town up to speed, or at least up to Shelbyville standards, is a brand-new performing-arts center designed by Frank Gehry. (Gehry does his own voice.) The building is constructed, and when the townspeople discover that a performing-arts center is going to house, well, performing arts, they stay away in droves, and finally Mr Burns takes it over and turns it into a prison.

Now the likelihood of the new Tulsa arena becoming a correctional facility is of course nil. But there's still the matter of getting people downtown in the first place.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:06 PM)
12 April 2005
Just a slob like one of us

DCSOB's list of Washington's Most Loathsome manages to include one person from this neck of the woods:

13. Rep. Ernest Istook (R-Okla.): Since I announced the creation of this list, people have told me that I have a very, very long list of people in Congress from which to draw, assuming that they count as Washingtonians. While the vast majority of Congresspeople don't care much for the District and jet to fundraisers back home as soon as possible, the metro area has drawn the attention of this guy, so he will stand in as pure concentrated liquid douchebaggery for the rest of the asshats in Congress who think we're too dumb to vote.

You may recall that it was Istook who tried to block funding any transit agency (such as WMATA) that runs ads from groups seeking to change drug laws. It was such a naked violation of the constitution that even the speaking-in-tongues Ashcroft Justice Department said it didn't have a leg to stand on. Just like a shy flower waiting for a chance to bloom ... getting accosted by Black Israelites on the way out of the Metro Center Station, sometimes attention isn't a good thing.

I'm looking forward to an Anybody But Ernest campaign in 2006.

And actually, in terms of sheer loathsomeness, even Istook, in DCSOB's estimation, takes a back seat to Rep. Tom DeLay (R-TX), at #2.

(Via Wonkette, who was #3.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:01 PM)
16 April 2005
Kermac, Icahn strike a deal

Details of the settlement between Kerr-McGee and Carl Icahn have begun to pour out.

The Icahn group is getting most of what it wants: KMG is spinning off the chemical division (a plan which was already on the table), buying back up to $4 billion worth of common stock, and selling off about $2 billion of oil and gas assets which the company classifies as "non-core."

What KMG gets is to be left alone — Icahn is withdrawing all of his proxy solicitations and his board nominations — and some assurance that the company will remain in Oklahoma City.

This isn't exactly what I predicted, but it's close.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:27 AM)
19 April 2005
The right to remain silent

This won't do Syaffolee any good, but it's still promising: the city of Shawnee has rewritten its loud-music ordinance to make audibility beyond 50 feet a ticketable offense, with fines ranging up to $500.

Of course, if they really wanted to make a dent in this problem, they'd have written in a provision for confiscation of equipment after repeat offenses.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:39 AM)
20 April 2005
A grunt of approval

A franchisee of the Piggly Wiggly grocery chain, which has eased into eastern Oklahoma in recent years, has acquired its first Oklahoma City-area store location.

The store, once a Snyder's IGA and most recently an Eagle Crest supermarket, is at Memorial and Bryant. It's owned by Green Country Food Markets of Tulsa, which owns the Tulsa-area stores and which is looking for other locations around Oklahoma City.

This will be the first rhyming trochee seen on a supermarket sign in the area since the demise of Humpty Dumpty.

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:00 PM)
22 April 2005
3... 2... 1... budget!

The Legislature has come to a budget agreement which calls for $5.9 billion in spending, a ramped-up increase in road construction (and reconstruction), a few more bucks for education, a $2 million subsidy for the Heartland Flyer passenger train, and $58 million in to-be-determined tax cuts.

House and Senate leadership have provided the outline: now the subcommittees must dot every I and cross every T. (I, of course, worry about the Fs.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:00 AM)
23 April 2005
Side by side

The 22nd of April went unmentioned at this outpost, not because I wanted to minimize its significance — it was on that date in 1889, which, contrary to popular belief, was 116 years ago, when the Land Run which created Oklahoma City took place — but because, well, it's not exactly news, you know?

Then I happened upon this piece, in which Louis Gray, head of the Tulsa Indian Coalition Against Racism, makes a reasonable case against re-enactments of the Run in schools — right up there with a victory parade in Custer's home town, he says — and indeed it does seem rather churlish for the winners to rub it in, as it were.

George Milburn wrote in the Yale Review in 1946:

A hundred years ago Oklahoma was turned into a vast concentration camp for Red Indians, because it was such worthless land. Fifty years ago, white people from every State in the Union swarmed in to dispossess the banished Indians, because Oklahoma was such valuable land.

I think, though, that the complaint about the Land Run is not so much for what it did to the tribes, which in reality was not all that much — the area defined for the Run was not part of any of the existing reservations and was largely unoccupied, and the Seminoles and Creeks, who had claims to the territory, were bought out by the US government — as for what it stands for: the entire westward movement, the whole history of the frontier, the arrival of white settlers and the displacement of the natives, boiled down to a single day in the spring of 1889. A natural focal point, if you have grievances, and certainly the tribes had.

By default or by design, the Land Run Monument and the American Indian Cultural Center will be more or less cheek-by-jowl east of downtown Oklahoma City. The juxtaposition, from a historical standpoint, makes perfect sense.

(Submitted to Wizbang's Carnival of the Trackbacks.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:12 AM)
25 April 2005
Jim Barker yields the floor

Former Oklahoma House Speaker Jim Barker has died from a stroke in Oklahoma City.

Barker, a Democrat, represented a Muskogee-area district in the House from 1969 to 1970 and again from 1976 to 1990; he was chosen as Speaker in 1983, succeeding Dan Draper, who was convicted of taking part in a vote-fraud scheme. In 1989, dissident House members of both parties ousted Barker, and he did not seek reelection the following year.

Barker was 69.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:44 PM)
1 May 2005
We do it differently

The fall of Saigon propelled thousands of Vietnamese out of their homeland and into the States as refugees, and quite a few found themselves in and around Oklahoma City, sponsored by local citizens or by area charities. And once here, they went to work, partly because the sponsors gave them encouragement, but mostly because, well, that's what they do.

At least, that's what I've always believed. The Oklahoman has been running stories on the Vietnamese in Oklahoma for the past few days, and from this Friday article, something jumped out at me:

Refugees themselves bragged about their quick path to self-sufficiency. On the 10th anniversary of the fall of Saigon, the Vietnamese American Association of Oklahoma City reported that only 15.6 percent of Indochinese refugees in Oklahoma remained dependent on public assistance after 18 months here. The comparable rate in California at the time was about 80 percent.

Were the refugees in California somehow different from the refugees in Oklahoma? I don't have any reason to think so. Which means that the reason the Oklahoma refugees did so much better, most likely, was the relatively low level of benefits — present-day progressives would presumably call it "stingy" — provided at that time in Oklahoma.

Last summer I wrote about Oklahoma City's Asian District, and quoted local real-estate magnate Tom Waken, whose offices are in the District, as follows:

The Asian business people staked out Classen Blvd. in 1975.... they are responsible for bringing Classen from a dying area to a place where business is thriving and property owners and business owners are paying more taxes into the city's treasury than they were previously.

Which is the sort of thing that works, even in California.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:35 AM)
4 May 2005
A handful of woolyboogers

Based on the events of the last week or so, I have to conclude that Lieutenant Governor Mary Fallin thinks the quickest road to the Governor's Mansion is to paint the Senate as a bunch of do-nothings.

Which, most of the time, they are. The Democrats' powder-taking, reminiscent of the way their Texas counterparts fled quorum calls during the redistricting dust-up in Austin, might be characterized as a tad juvenile. The spectacle of the Republicans doing the same was comparably silly. But the Democrats do have one thing on their side: they can point to Mary Fallin and say "Well, she started it." The state GOP is asking the state Supreme Court just what power Fallin actually has; they could have saved themselves a trip by asking Mike Morgan.

Oh, the pertinent Constitutional passage?

The Senate shall, at the beginning of each regular session and at such other times as may be necessary, elect one of its members President pro tempore, who shall preside over its deliberations in the absence or place of the Lieutenant Governor; and the Senate shall provide for all its standing committees and, by a majority vote, elect the members thereof.

Not the most precise wording, to be sure, but if the writers of the Constitution had intended that the Lieutenant Governor should always preside when present, it's reasonable to assume that they would have said so, rather than go through the trouble of requiring the Senate to elect a President pro tempore in the first place.

And frankly, I'm inclined to distrust anyone's bill when its proponents insist that it should pass without going through a conference committee, even though it didn't get out of committee in the house in which it was introduced.

Anyone for a nuclear option?

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:29 AM)
The Treasury vacancy is filled

Governor Henry has appointed State Finance Director Scott Meacham to the State Treasurer slot, replacing Robert Butkin, who is leaving at the end of this month to become dean of the University of Tulsa law school. Butkin's term would otherwise have ended in 2006, at which time Meacham says he'll run for the office.

Budget Division Director Claudia San Pedro will take over as Finance Director.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:35 AM)
5 May 2005
Receding tempest

Leaders of the Oklahoma Senate have, for now, buried the hatchet: everyone showed up for a quorum call, Mary Fallin got one more chance with the gavel, and the stalled GOP workers'-comp bill was given one last reading, but wound up in the dustbin on a 26-22 vote against suspending the rules to give it further consideration. (By coincidence, the Democrat/Republican ratio in the Senate is 26:22.)

With this out of the way, perhaps the remaining bills on the subject can be turned into something resembling legislation. As for that hatchet, it may be buried, but you know they remember where they buried it.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:52 AM)
7 May 2005
Down on the farm

One of the more reasonable objections to power production by wind turbine is "What if you get enough wind to blow down a turbine?"

Well, there wasn't that much wind yesterday — 12 mph or so — but a tower at an FPL Energy wind farm near Weatherford snapped: two-thirds of the structure came crashing to the ground. The turbine had been operating for only a week when it broke; officials are at a loss to explain how it happened. Power delivery was unaffected.

(Addendum, 9 May, 1 pm: The Faulking Truth reports from the field — hat tip to JMBranum.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:11 AM)
8 May 2005
First past the post

What do South Belfast and northeast Tulsa have in common? Michael Bates explains:

In Thursday's [UK] vote, unionist parties received 51.1% of the vote, while nationalist parties received 41.3% — the rest of the votes went to three minor parties which are neither unionist nor nationalist. Even though a majority of voters supported unionists, the winning candidate was a nationalist. Most of the nationalist votes went to the SDLP [Social Democratic and Labour Party] candidate, who took 32.3% of the vote, while the DUP [Democratic Unionist Party] and UUP [Ulster Unionist Party] candidates split the unionist vote almost down the middle — 28.4% and 22.7% respectively. If there were a runoff, the DUP candidate would almost certainly have won, but there isn't going to be a runoff — just a "winner" who had two-thirds of the voters against him.

And this relates to Tulsa how?

Tulsa's upcoming City Council special election — no primary, no runoff, no majority required — has the same flaw, only to a greater degree.

And in Bates' worst-case scenario, the two reform-minded candidates will wind up in a virtual tie for second place while a representative of Business As Usual waltzes into District 5 with a minority of the votes but enough to finish first.

In Oklahoma City, this is the sort of situation that produces a runoff, but not in Tulsa. I have to wonder if this isn't the sort of divide-and-conquer business that's kept the Tulsa power structure in power all along.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:18 AM)
10 May 2005
Fresh angles in the public square

After the kerfuffle over last December's Lakehoma School musical in Mustang, it was clear something was going to be done, and the something begins this way:

Public schools may neither instill nor inhibit religion. They must be places where religion and religious conviction are treated with fairness and respect. Mustang Public Schools uphold the First Amendment by protecting the religious liberty rights of students of all faiths or no faith.

It remains to be seen whether this new policy, adopted by the Mustang school board last night, will be enough to keep everybody happy, but the opening words, at least, seem scrupulously fair. (The full document hasn't been posted yet.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:20 AM)
11 May 2005
Postponed until Boys' Night Out

Defamer reports that the soon-to-be-DVDed Director's Cut of Alexander is eight minutes shorter than the theatrical release.

Why would they do such a thing? To, um, straighten it up, perhaps?

Is Warner Bros. trying to de-gay Alexander for the home video market? We'd really hate to lose some of the interesting moments which explored the young conqueror?s fluid sexuality. Without Anthony Hopkins' revealing voiceover that, "It is said that Alexander was never defeated — except by Hephaiston's thighs, and occasionally by the huge, glistening cock that dangled between them," or the scene where the two fast friends are chased out of the Academy by rock-wielding bullies taunting them as "toga-biters," all [Oliver] Stone really has left is Jared Leto in eyeliner, a couple of elephants, and Rosario Dawson's unexpectedly huge rack. Maybe they think that'll play better in Oklahoma.

Gee, thanks for the cultural stereotype, Bunsen.

Actually, you had us at Rosario Dawson's rack.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:19 AM)
12 May 2005
Brad on a roll

SurveyUSA ranks the nation's governors by approval/disapproval ratings, and Brad Henry should probably be smiling: he's doing better than 40 of them.

As of Tuesday, based on data gathered over the previous weekend, 59 percent of the Oklahomans surveyed think the Guv is doing just fine; 30 percent think quite the opposite.

The average is 48/41; bringing up the rear are some people with serious problems, Ohio's Bob Taft being the worst off by a considerable margin. There doesn't seem to be any party preference: Republicans hold the top two and the bottom three slots. Of course, none of this is guaranteed to last.

(Filched from Paul Musgrave.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:29 AM)
13 May 2005
Them hicks

One recurring complaint about Oklahoma in some local circles is that while its population is actually predominantly urban these days, its politics are still fundamentally rural (read "backward"). This is a questionable assumption at best — both houses of the Legislature reflect the population shift to the cities and the suburbs — but the knack of some small-town legislators for seizing the spotlight (think Senator Frank Shurden, D-Henryetta) causes consternation in those folks who think that if only we could shake off this hillbilly stuff we could have the next Dallas, or at least the next Fort Worth.

This notion basically ignores history: there has always been an urban/rural divide in this state, and it's hardly unique to Oklahoma. Julie Neidlinger reports from North Dakota:

I remember after 9/11, a friend and I were talking. She made the comment that she was glad there were farmers and people living out in the country and that everyone wasn't in the cities because it was nice to know there were people out there watching, knowing what was going on across the land. I hadn't thought of that, ever, until she mentioned it.

Cities need rural people, and not just for the obvious "we need farmers so we have food" connection. You need people out on the land, watching and aware of what is going on. Just because you live in a place of pavement doesn't mean you don't have a connection to what is going on in the country. You need people out there. Stuff happens out in the country, from weed or pest outbreaks to weather to crime to you-name-it that needs to be noticed for the good of everyone.

And you need people in the rural areas because they are a different kind of people than city dwellers. Rural people have a different work ethic and attitude, different priorities and concerns, a different outlook ... that kind of thing. It isn't better, it's just different. We need that. Think about it. Why are the students of North Dakota so eagerly snapped up by other states? What is it that makes this state unusual as compared to, say, California? The ruralness of the state produces a different kind of person. If everyone were urban, it would be unfortunate.

Much of what we think of as the Oklahoma character originated out in the countryside. On the farm we learned the basics of fatalism, that a few hours of horrible weather can take out a season's crop; in the small towns we learned that for every person who is content with his lot, there's another who wants out.

The rural population in most states is declining, as people pack up and look for jobs in the cities. But I can't imagine everyone moving: those who remain behind, I suspect, become even more firmly attached to the land. The Oklahoma Panhandle may seem like a vast, empty place, but twenty thousand people live there, and fifty years from now, I'm betting there will still be twenty thousand people living there.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:52 AM)
Waters less BRACish

Apparently Oklahoma will lose no military bases under the current Pentagon plan, and will in fact gain nearly 4,000 personnel.

Some local reserve centers will be closed, but the major facilities will remain.

(DefenseLink has the complete list here; you'll need Adobe Reader.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:13 AM)
15 May 2005
Spanned out

NewsOK.com has a map of substandard bridges in the state, and there are plenty of them; every county has at least four or more.

The one nearest to Surlywood (there are three within a mile or so) is the May Avenue overpass above Northwest Distressway, which dates to 1952 and carries about 5000 vehicles a day, occasionally including mine. The deck has been downgraded to Critical; the superstructure is Poor, while the substructure holds on to Fair. Redoing this bridge will cost $4.89 million.

It doesn't take a lot of these to get into some serious money. Unfortunately, we do have a lot of these — nearly 7500, in fact — and ODOT's Gary Ridley says the tab for fixing all of them will run $3 billion or so.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:47 AM)
16 May 2005
A window closes

Last fall, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed a lawsuit by surviving victims of the 1921 Tulsa race riot, citing the statute of limitations. The plaintiffs had argued that the countdown should begin with the release of the report of the State Commission which investigated the riot, which was published on 28 February 2001, four days less than two years before the suit was filed.

Today the Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal of the 10th Circuit's decision, effectively putting an end to the suit.

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:24 PM)
20 May 2005
That new abortion package

Today Governor Henry is expected to sign House Bill 1686, which requires parental notification before an abortion can be performed on a minor, criminalizes the killing of a fetus in the process of killing the mother, and mandates "informed consent," which means basically that the service provider must hand out a state-approved packet of information regarding the procedure and its, um, consequences.

Meanwhile, Reproductive Services of Tulsa has filed a legal challenge to the bill, saying that the parental-notification measure lacks guidelines for waivers. New York attorney Bebe Anderson, representing the clinic, stated:

Our client, Reproductive Services, already strongly encourages all of its young patients to involve a parent before having an abortion, and in fact, most of them do. But it's the minors who have the most difficult family situations or who have no family situation ... those minors have to be able to go to court, and they've got to be sure they can do that and have it done quickly.

The Legislature in Oklahoma failed to include any time frame in which the court must act on a petition or for any appeals.

Oklahoma Republicans are busy taking credit for the bill, despite the fact that its House and Senate authors are both Democrats.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:33 AM)
22 May 2005
The new OG&E rate case

There's some interesting stuff in the $89 million rate increase sought by OG&E. From the statement filed by CFO James R. Hatfield [requires Adobe Reader]:

Small business drives Oklahoma's economic growth, and it is clear that they have been paying more than their fair share for electricity for far too long.

So they get a rate cut, about seven percent. Not so lucky this bunch:

Large industrial and residential customers have enjoyed artificially low rates for several years, and it is time to bring them in line with what they should be paying.

And Tinker gets a break because it's, well, Tinker:

We are recommending that Tinker Air Force Base receive a special military base tariff that will result in cost savings. We hope this will contribute to efforts to better position Tinker as a critical military installation over the long term.

Take that, BRAC.

Down among the nuts and bolts, Roger Walkingstick, in charge of pricing and revenue analysis, notes the following with regard to the classes of service who are being hardest hit by the proposed new rates:

The existing subsidies among customer classes should be minimized, new rates should reflect a rate design consistent with marginal costs, and additional customer rate options should be offered to our customers.

Since [Residential and Large Power and Light] represent almost 60% of all energy sales in the Oklahoma jurisdiction, this presents a significant problem in rate design. Ideally, both classes should be moved to the average Oklahoma jurisdictional ROR [rate of return] and that is what I am proposing for the LPL class. However, the revenue impact of completely eliminating the subsidy for the Residential class would impose an unacceptable level of customer impact. This group of customers has limited ability to modify their consumption so as to mitigate increases and no way to pass those cost increases on to others.

So customers in the Residential class will still be subsidized, albeit at a lower level.

There's a lot of regulatory jargon in the proposal, of course, but there's a definite trend toward demand-based pricing, with higher rates in the summer (of course). The biggest change? Right now, you pay one rate for the first 600 kWh you use and a lower rate for usage over 600 kWh, except in the summer, when all usage is billed at the same rate. Under the new plan, the rate for summer usage will actually increase at the 1400-kWh point. There is also a new subsidy: customers qualifying under the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program will be exempted from the flat $6.50 customer charge that is included in the standard Residential rate during the four-month summer rate period. The net increase to Residential customers, they say, will be about 3.5 percent, around $3 a month.

Those of us who buy OG&E's wind-farm watts, however, get a break. Last month I paid $12 for my 600-kW package, offset by $7.55 in fuel adjustments I didn't have to pay. Under the new rates, if I'm reading this correctly, I wouldn't have any of the fuel adjustments — the new base for computing them would be higher than actual numbers for the month — but the cost of the package itself would drop from $12 to 60 cents, a $3.95 savings overall.

I can't imagine the Corporation Commission raising much of a fuss about this proposal; I expect it will be approved with minor changes at most.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:22 AM)
23 May 2005
Whirled without end

Here in Oklahoma City, Oklahoman-bashing has been a popular pastime for years; with the death of Edward L. Gaylord, the paper's longtime conservatism has evolved, if that's the word, from blind to bland, but sniping at Fourth and Broadway remains a major topic of conversation, even though the paper hasn't actually occupied that corner for ages.

With the perceived mellowing of the Oklahoman, there's now an opening for Most Hated Newspaper in Oklahoma, though the position might already be filled:

I believe that most democratic peoples of the world are quite capable of creatively dealing with the problems they face if they have access to both sides of the argument through mainstream media sources. This is not the case in the City of Tulsa where our City's only daily newspaper, the Tulsa World, uses the power of its editorial page and slanted news coverage to secretly promote the financial interests of its publisher. From its undisclosed interests in Great Plains Airlines to stifling free and honest Council debate, this paper suppresses democracy and attempts to profit from our City's government. An informed public can make good decisions, but one manipulated for the benefit of the Tulsa World's owners is going to make poor decisions based on inaccurate information. The biggest lie in the World is that this newspaper represents the interests of the citizens of Tulsa.

At least the Oklahoman was (occasionally) open about promoting the financial interests of its publisher.

(Via Steven Roemerman.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:43 AM)
The primary remains closed

Well, so much for Clingman v. Beaver.

From the 6-3 majority opinion [link requires Adobe Reader], written by Justice Thomas:

The [Libertarian Party of Oklahoma] is free to canvass the electorate, enroll or exclude potential members, nominate the candidate of its choice, and engage in the same electoral activities as every other political party in Oklahoma. Oklahoma merely prohibits the LPO from leaving the selection of its candidates to people who are members of another political party. Nothing in §1-104 prevents members of other parties from switching their registration to the LPO or to Independent status. The question is whether the Constitution requires that voters who are registered in other parties be allowed to vote in the LPO's primary.

The Court declined to consider whether Oklahoma's unusually-difficult ballot access made any difference in the LPO's ability actually to do any of these things.

(Update, 24 May, 11:15 am: The Libertarian Party of Oklahoma responds.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:17 PM)
24 May 2005
The implications of term limits

Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK), when he was in the House, said he would serve three terms at most, served three terms, and did not run for reelection. Now 57, he suggested to the Heritage Foundation that two terms in the Senate would be enough for him:

Why would you want to be up here when you're 68 years of age? If you have any type of life, this is the last place you?d want to be.

I note in passing that Robert C. Byrd (D-WV) is 87. Then again, as Coburn observes:

There are a lot of people who are in the Congress that would never achieve in the private sector anywhere close to the remuneration they receive as a member of Congress.

That's gonna leave a mark.

(Via Wonkette.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:14 AM)
3 June 2005
Shadows over the tables

This year's Sovereignty Symposium incorporated one classic, or at least warmed over, bit of political heat, courtesy of Citizen Potawatomi Nation chairman John "Rocky" Barrett.

Gaming has brought economic good fortune to Native Americans, says Barrett, but a vast right-wing conspiracy threatens the tribes, including the oil industry, Rep. Tom DeLay (R-TX) and Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), who presumably won't stand for that sort of thing:

Never in the history of the United States have tribes been allowed to profit at the expense of the European invaders ever and it will not happen now.

Barrett also objected to the compact between the State of Oklahoma and various tribes enacted as the result of the passage of State Question 712 last year, which he characterized as the "stupidest, most absurd" agreement ever developed. Scott Meacham, state treasurer, was happy to point out that the Citizen Potawatomi were among the first in line to file for membership in the compact.

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:52 PM)
7 June 2005
Cross purposes

The state has laws against placing memorials by the side of the road, though they tend not to be particularly strict about enforcement: after all, somebody died there.

On the other hand, it's possible to abuse a privilege, and the placing of about 3000 crosses by a lobbying group hoping to win support for a fuel-tax increase would certainly thus qualify.

Why are these things illegal, you ask? They're considered a distraction to drivers, and therefore a safety hazard.

Neal McCaleb, head of Oklahomans for Safe Bridges and Roads, says that if his group's crosses should be removed, so should everyone else's.

I think I've just made up my mind on SQ 723.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:25 AM)
12 June 2005
Fish story

His name was Albert Fish, and his story ended in the electric chair at Sing Sing in 1936, a story filled with murder and perversion and cannibalism.

Inevitably, there is, or will be, Wisteria: The Story of Albert Fish, after Wisteria Cottage in Westchester County, New York, where Fish in 1928 killed a young girl and finished her off, probably not with fava beans and a nice Chianti. It's a pure New York story, so naturally it was filmed in central Oklahoma.

Most of the filming was done in and around Guthrie and Pawhuska; scenes requiring a New York City look were shot in Oklahoma City, where the old OPUBCO building at Fourth and Broadway, with a few minor tweaks, passed for the outside of a NYC police station (interior shots were done at the Guthrie Public Library). Local car clubs brought in vintage vehicles. This is not a huge production: budget is around $2 million, which is above shoestring, though not much.

Wisteria: The Albert Fish Story is produced by Wisteria Cottage Productions and is scheduled for release by Ravenwolf Films in 2006. (If you have QuickTime, you can see a teaser here.) The busy Patrick Bauchau stars.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:26 AM)
14 June 2005
Wired for safety

A cable barrier down the middle of Interstate 35 near Purcell will be installed this summer as a test.

This is not the same product that is being used on the Lake Hefner Parkway in Oklahoma City, made by Brifen; it's a new product from Dallas-based Cass, which would like to get into the highway-barrier market and is providing free wire and installation for the test. The Cass system uses three intertwined strands, versus four for the Brifen.

A third firm, Safe Fence, has a test barrier in the median near the I-35 Goldsby exit.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:00 AM)
15 June 2005
Right. What's a cubit?

And Tulsa was corrupt before God, and the political system was filled with violence, and God said unto Meeciteewurkor, "Build an ark, and save two of every animal, for I shall destroy this land called Tulsa. Except for Cain's Ballroom, of course."

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:00 PM)
17 June 2005
Got any salsa for those chips?

Nichols Dollar Saver in Marietta was the last supermarket in all of Love County, and now it's closed, apparently unable to pay the $14,000 monthly rent demanded by the building's owner in Florida, a figure that has also discouraged the Homeland grocery chain from taking over the location.

This is what I found most perturbing:

"We have a casino, but we don't have a grocery store," said Pat Eggleston, director of the Retired Senior Volunteer Program for Love and Marshall counties.

Supermarkets in Ardmore, or in Gainesville, Texas, are about twenty miles away.

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:25 PM)
19 June 2005
The equalizer

Neal McCaleb is on the op-ed page of the Oklahoman this morning pitching for State Question 723, and he let this one slip by:

For diesel, the proposed increase is 8 cents, phased in over four years. I respectfully submit to truckers that it is more than fair for them to be taxed at the same rate as the rest of us, given their 18-wheel axles cause much more wear and tear on our roads than normal traffic.

Were that the criterion, it would seem logical to tax them at a higher rate than "the rest of us," wouldn't it?

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:36 PM)
22 June 2005
Bedlam steel

Oklahoma State is the new Nebraska, says Berry Tramel:

It's sacrilege to Sooners fans, but OU-OSU has turned into a series worthy to fill the calendar void of the cherished Big Red rivalry.

OSU-OU is not OU-Nebraska in stakes. Not in significance. But in drama. In entertainment.

And that's something to be encouraged:

This is what an in-state rivalry should look like. Michigan [State] should have to fight and scratch against Michigan. Alabama should not walk over Auburn.

[insert Longhorn/Aggie and/or Jayhawk/Wildcat comparison here]

Norman will always sneer at Stillwater; the difference today is that Stillwater is in a position to sneer back.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:59 AM)
Bistrociousness

Bistro, n. 1. A small restaurant, featuring simple fare, sometimes with entertainment. [Fr. bistro] 2. A vehicle for transferring credit risk to a Special Purpose [financial] Vehicle. [Acronym for Broad Index Secured Trust Offering]

Either way, I don't want it creamy and/or garlic-ridden.

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:13 PM)
24 June 2005
The new ethical Tulsa

Okay, this is probably a premature judgment, but the city now has a stronger (or at least "less pitiful") ethics ordinance. Here's the new definition of "personal interest," courtesy of Roemerman on Record:

Personal Interest means a direct or indirect interest, matter or relationship not shared by the general public which could be reasonably expected to impair the City Official?s objectivity or independence of judgment.

Not the strongest possible statement, but a heck of a lot better than this:

Personal Interest shall be an item which creates a feeling of affection, aversion, or emotional investment so as to influence the City official's objectivity.

Kudos to T-town for trying to narrow the loophole. The tricky part, of course, is going to be getting the Usual Suspects to follow the new rule, or indeed any rule at all.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:17 AM)
An eminent-domain case in Oklahoma

From this morning's Oklahoman:

Five miles north of the Texas border along Interstate 35, Joe Heim breeds and trains quarter horses on 56 acres he bought in 1980 as an investment. Heim is among six defendants in condemnation lawsuits filed by Western Electrical Cooperative, which wants to build 80-foot transmission poles across the owners' land.

All around Heim, property values have skyrocketed since the Chickasaw Nation built the massive WinStar Casino in 2003. Two miles south of Heim's farm, the tribe's casino partner paid $1.4 million last October for 216 acres, or $6,481 per acre. Nearby land that fronts I-35 near an exit, like Heim's, has been valued at up to $80,000 an acre, his attorney said.

The casino also has brought a need for electrical transmission improvements. Heim said Western Farmers Electric Cooperative offered him $2,700 to erect the transmission poles on 10 of his acres, he said. "It would make it useless for anything other than a parking lot or grass."

Brian Hobbs, the cooperative's attorney, said the utility is seeking an easement on Heim's land of just 467 feet long and 100 feet wide. Only one pole would be built on his property.

This isn't directly affected by Kelo v. City of New London: WEC is not a governmental unit, and it's seeking, not the entire tract, but a narrow strip as an easement. Still, the Kelo definition of "public use," which is "just about anything," might play a role in the unwinding of this case.

Meanwhile, Mr Heim has other complaints:

Heim said cooperative officials have admitted in depositions that the Chickasaw Nation is paying for the power lines, and that the upgrade wouldn't be necessary except for the casino and a planned resort, including two hotels.

Heim said he had considered selling part of his land for a truck stop and for apartments to accommodate casino workers. Condemnation of his property would ruin those plans.

And I'm wondering just how much impact the presence of the Chickasaw Nation as an interested party will have on the outcome; the state's relationship with the tribes has often been prickly.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:14 AM)
25 June 2005
The Gaylord legacy

Matt Deatherage has a good roundup of the history of the Gaylord clan in Oklahoma, their media holdings, their politics (which have varied from right-wing to way right-wing), and their philanthropic activities.

One minor correction: The Oklahoma Publishing Company no longer owns radio station WKY, which was sold to Citadel Broadcasting in early 2003. [Link requires Adobe Reader.]

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:43 AM)
28 June 2005
How dry they are

In 1984, Oklahoma voters approved a Constitutional change allowing county option on liquor by the drink. The following year, a number of counties (including Oklahoma and Tulsa counties) voted to open the bars. McClain County turned it down, and there hasn't been any pressure to get county voters to the polls to try again, probably because it's easy enough to drive to Norman or Oklahoma City.

But Linda Clark of the Purcell Chamber of Commerce reports that the county lost out on a Red Lobster restaurant being considered for the future boomtown of Newcastle, because of McClain's liquor laws. So Clark approached McClain County commissioners, and two of the three said that they had more important issues to worry about.

I wouldn't be surprised to see a petition drive later this year.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:53 AM)
2 July 2005
And don't be eating that gingerbread man

I am normally not a big fan of Michelangelo Signorile — in the celebrated dustup between him and Andrew Sullivan, I tend to take Sullivan's side — but sometimes he just nails it, and this is one of those times. In conversation with Oklahoma State Rep. Sally Kern (R-Oklahoma City):

"There's no sex in [King and King] but what the book does is it encourages the lifestyle of homosexuality, which is against the law here in Oklahoma," Kern claims, "because we passed a state law, a constitutional amendment that says marriage is to be defined between one man and one woman. In this book two men get married and so it is going against the law in Oklahoma."

What about all of the violence in some fairy tales? What about Hansel and Gretel? Little Red Riding Hood ?

"Those stories aren't advocating that kids go out and be violent," she explains — even if they are scaring the daylights out of kids — "but the homosexual books are telling children to adopt the lifestyle." And how about Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs? Isn't that one a hotbed of lust and intrigue? After all, I said to Kern, Snow White kisses the Prince, and at one point the Prince isn't even human — he's a frog! "The difference there," she responded, "is that that is still in the heterosexual lifestyle."

So Cyrus Futz is off the hook, because his beloved pig was, after all, a female.

I'm not sure which of these is more perplexing: Signorile's goofy attempt at relativism, or Kern's desperate attempts to stay on message.

And anyway, State Question 712 may have outlawed same-sex marriages and comparable civil unions, but inasmuch as they weren't legal in this state to begin with, I'd hardly consider the passage of the measure some sort of watershed event, despite Kern's presumed delight.

It is irresistible to point out here that Kern's predecessor in District 84 was Bill Graves, whose greatest distinctions during his tenure (praise the Lord and pass the term limits) were a bill to mandate copies of the Ten Commandments in public buildings and a declaration that feminism caused breast cancer. I've got to assume that this sort of thing went over well with the residents of the district. (And I've got to admit that one of my criteria for househunting in 2003 was "Not in Bill Graves' district.")

And what the heck is a "lifestyle," anyway, and where can I get one?

(Found at Existential Ramble; one paragraph added since publication.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:27 PM)
3 July 2005
It's just his neurosis that oughta be curbed

Does Oklahoma City bomber Terry Nichols have Asperger Syndrome?

His family in Michigan certainly thinks so, and presumably it might explain why he got involved in the conspiracy in the first place.

Nichols, meanwhile, has been talking. No longer facing the possibility of a death sentence, he's opened up to, among others, the FBI.

Wes Lane, Oklahoma County District Attorney, who pushed for Nichols' state trial — Nichols had previously been convicted on federal charges — scoffs:

He has already spun his tale to multiple people. The only thing he is truly afraid of is that people will stop paying attention to him and he will be left all alone in his Colorado prison cell.

I don't know about that, but he does seem to have a knack for getting news coverage.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:09 AM)
7 July 2005
No hot licks, either

The Dan Hicks/Tulsa Zoo dustup made it to NPR this week, which means that I'm almost, but not quite, up on the matter.

The Wallace Perspective follows up:

After giving some thought to Dan Hicks' request for equal representation of his religion, the board felt adding a Creationism display did not meet the criteria of equal representation. Instead, they did an intensive study of the Ganesha statue. Here is what they found:
  1. The statue is near the elephant exhibit.

  2. The god looks an awful lot like an elephant.

So the only way to be fair would be to build a statue of Jesus next to the primate exhibit.

Wallace expects to catch flak for this remark; I figure the least I could do is to help out, especially since I thought essentially the same thing at one point. (If nothing else, this proves that I don't write up everything that comes into my head, for which all of you should be grateful.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:43 PM)
13 July 2005
It's just illusions, I can't recall

The recall of two Tulsa City Councilors has fallen flat, and considering the lengths to which the opposition went to get the meager results they got — well, they had this coming.

(In Tulsa, it's now Bloggers 2, Old World Order 0. The rest of you, be you in Walla Walla or Woonsocket, should take note.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:41 AM)
21 July 2005
Speaking through the wind

The last surviving World War II Comanche code talker has died at a Tulsa nursing home.

Charles Chibitty was one of about twenty Comanches assigned to the Army's Signal Corps who served the Allied cause by using their native language to transmit messages to and from the front, a language that the Germans could not translate.

Other tribes participated as well; most code talkers in the Pacific theater were Navajo. The practice began during World War I, when the Choctaws provided code talkers. (Read more about them here.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:00 PM)
22 July 2005
These aren't the voting machines you're looking for

Seemingly everyone thinks highly of Oklahoma's optical-scan voting system: it's uniform statewide, it produces no hanging chads or other perplexing anomalies, and it produces results quickly.

So naturally, it's got to go.

The Feds are handing out money for "improvements" to voting systems, and God forbid we should ever have to turn down money from the Feds — never mind where it came from in the first place — so Oklahoma will be buying a bunch of touch-screen devices at $3500 to $5000 a shot.

There's one defensible aspect to this: the new machines will theoretically improve the voting experience for the disabled and the blind, who presumably won't have to request assistance from a poll worker. And the existing pool of optical-scan machines is getting old, and replacements for them run four grand or so.

Mike Clingman at the Election Board is making noises about slapping a touch-screen interface on the current optical-scan technology, a prospect which should scare anyone who's ever tried to install Windows XP Service Pack 2 or to uninstall any version of RealPlayer.

To borrow a phrase, I have a bad feeling about this.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:53 AM)
24 July 2005
Little moviehouse on the prairie

I don't live in El Reno, but if I did, I rather suspect I'd get really annoyed if I had to drive twenty or thirty miles just to watch a first-run movie.

Acting on the reasonable assumption that there are a lot of such people in Canadian County, the Missouri-based B&B theater chain has opened up the Reno Cinema 8 multiplex on El Reno's southwest side, on Country Club Drive south of I-40. B&B has similar 8-plexes in Sapulpa and Claremore, and a two-screener in Ponca City.

Sensibly, they didn't spend a whole lot of money on exterior decor. The actual screening rooms and the concession stand, though, are up to contemporary standards; at least four of the eight rooms are set up for DTS digital sound, and the seating, at least where I was, was comfortable and well-placed.

I have no doubt that the Reno 8 is going to be a hit: before the inevitable trailers, there were lots of ads for local businesses. For all I know, they may make more money off the ads than off tickets, at least during the first week of a film's release. And the staff was uniformly friendly, if perhaps still on the learning curve. I may have to go out there more often, just to shake off the big-city tinsel.

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:54 PM)
26 July 2005
Is Tulsa just Jenksed?

On the lack of riverfront development in T-town, from Urban Tulsa:

Bob Workman, chairman, BSW International, an engineering and architectural company based in Tulsa, answers it this way: "It takes a vision big enough to overcome the inertia of the comfortable."

"When was the last time," asks Workman, "you saw an article on the Jenks city council such as those that have become commonplace in Tulsa? Tulsa seems to enjoy taking the role of the example of what not to do."

And one of those things that Tulsa didn't do, as mentioned, was the aquarium — a place that drew 500,000 last year to Jenks, or the equivalent of 27 sell-outs at the yet-to-be-built arena in downtown Tulsa.

Think about the projects that Tulsa has planned — the arena, convention center expansion, and The American — compared with those here, and you can see the difference in philosophy. Tulsa is trying to attract tourists, Jenks is trying to attract residents.

I reprint this here lest we in Oklahoma City start to get smug.

And because Jamie, who delivers Urban Tulsa, said this.

(Spotted by way of Meeciteewurkor.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:22 AM)
27 July 2005
You see one, you've seen 'em both

If you live here, it's pointless to write your Senators, says LiteraryTech:

[B]oth of them are utterly intractable and one of them has proven himself, in correspondence to me, an insufferably arrogant pedant.

I've got to assume that the latter is Coburn, since it's impossible to imagine Inhofe having enough knowledge at his command to be pedantic.

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:59 AM)
28 July 2005
Fewer strings

With two of the three Corporation Commissioners already on board, price controls on SBC's Oklahoma telephone services will be lifted at the Commission's meeting today.

SBC competitors are not happy, and Cox Communications regional manager Dave Bialis complained:

It basically gives a company with dominant market power free reign to do what they want without oversight.

I assume this is the same Cox Communications who tacked an extra $2.05 onto my cable bill starting last month.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:27 AM)
30 July 2005
More than pocket change

Terry Neese, founder of the staffing agency that bears her name, will be going to Washington: President Bush has nominated her for the position of Director of the Mint at Treasury, replacing Henrietta Fore, who is moving to State.

Neese is a Republican, but she has friends on both sides of the aisle; she is a founder of the bipartisan organization Women Impacting Public Policy. Senate confirmation should be a breeze.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:38 AM)
31 July 2005
Before skyboxes and designated hitters

You gotta love this: a reenactment of 70s baseball.

That would be the 1870s.

"Gloves? What gloves?"

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:59 PM)
1 August 2005
Lest we forget

San Francisco journalist Rose Aguilar interviews Clara Luper.

You really should read the whole thing — Luper is one of the three or four most important people in the American civil-rights movement, ever — but I wanted to pass on a couple of bits.

Here, Aguilar asks, "What's the climate like today? I notice that when I go to churches, they're either all-white or all-black."

The climate today in Oklahoma has changed. The churches are still the most segregated part of Oklahoma. Our school system has changed, the employment picture has changed on the lower level, but we are still the last ones hired and the first ones fired. I think it's a climate of understanding and credit must not only be given to the NAACP. It must be given to the men that fought in World War II and the Korean War and Vietnam because these guys came back with a different attitude.

It's damned hard to hate someone who helped keep you alive.

And one more:

When I ran for the United States Senate and I was down in what is known as Little Dixie, one of the leaders of the community asked me how I felt about interracial marriage. I really hated that he asked me that because I know so many marriages have failed whether they're white and white or black and black. I told him, I have never seen an elephant having intercourse with an ant and therefore, I believe that anything that God did not want to mate, he made biologically impossible. He didn't like that, but nobody asked me about interracial marriage again. I think people are hung up on the wrong thing.

Wouldn't be the first time.

We've come a long way from the days when we set the miserable standard for Jim Crow, but there's still a way to go.

Thank you, Ms Aguilar, and thank you, Ms Luper.

And thanks to J. M. Branum, who passed on the link; he and Dr Kurt Hochenauer of Okie Funk were also interviewed.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:18 AM)
3 August 2005
Deflector shields

You'd be hard-pressed to find anyone who calls it that, but a 2.5-mile stretch of Tulsa's Inner Dispersal Loop, despite a lack of signage to that effect, is technically Interstate 444.

I thought of this when I was running around the I-44/235 interchange, and noted that the 235 designation ends at this point: the Broadway Extension northward is signed simply as US 77. Could this be another "hidden" interstate? No; I-235 does not extend north of I-44.

But I found, while getting corroboration for this fact, that the city's entry in Wikipedia describes the Lake Hefner Parkway, otherwise Oklahoma 74, as "Interstate 644." This is plausible, I suppose, but I have no idea where this came from.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:03 AM)
7 August 2005
The Skyy's the limit

Maurice Kanbar has an impressive résumé. He owns three dozen patents on various consumer and medical products — among other things, he invented the D-Fuzz-It comb for sweaters and a plastic shield for hypodermic needles — and he is the founder of Skyy Spirits, which vends America's #2 brand of premium vodka.

And now he owns half of downtown Tulsa. Well, okay, not half; but he did buy six downtown buildings at one fell swoop, including the gorgeous 1929 PSO building at 6th and Main and the 1931 Pythian Building at 5th and Boulder. Tulsa is on the verge of a renaissance, thinks Kanbar, and he wants to be part of it.

Preservationists have had a tough time of it in Tulsa lately; with Kanbar apparently on their side, the balance of power could well tip in their favor. And about time, say I.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:40 AM)
12 August 2005
That nitwit in Norman

Charlie Dreyling is out on $10,000 bail after being caught at Will Rogers World Airport with a crude detonation device in his bags. The chances of this being usable for anything beyond blowing crap up in one's back yard, a popular Oklahoma pastime, are next to nil, but people who ought to know better are arguing that we're talking terrorism here.

I have no doubt Dreyling is every bit as clueless as your average terrorist, but until someone comes up with some actual evidence, I'm going with the oft-proven Oklahoma adage:

The wealthy children of privilege in Oklahoma are always screwing up in spectacularly sociopathic ways. They're almost as entertaining (cough) as the children of evangelists.

What I can't fathom is the apparent hope that Dreyling is some sort of terrorist and therefore we can forget about all that horrible "profiling" business — as though one white guy trumps a whole sea of Muslims. How racist of them.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:40 AM)
Storm report

One of the defining characteristics of an Oklahoma thunderstorm is that it packs its biggest wallop into a compact size. When the Weather Guys say "locally heavy rainfall," they mean it; today's thunderboomers dropped a mere 0.04 inch of rain on parched Will Rogers Airport, while the cup at Wiley Post, across town and markedly closer to me, filled up with almost two-thirds of an inch.

With neither hail nor funnels, the major threat was industrial-strength winds, and as I rounded the corner to my street, I found the top of a tree — a little triangular section about a foot and a half across — parked in the right lane. Not a good sign, I thought. And beyond my driveway, on the corner lot belonging to an apartment complex, a formerly eight-foot-tall mutant shrub was bent over to a height of five feet, its trunk split to within a foot of the ground, its top actually scraping the grass.

A quick survey of my place revealed a few broken branches, none thicker than 1/8 inch. Maybe there's some actual advantage (other than flood resistance) to being on top of a slight rise.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:30 PM)
16 August 2005
Selling the Bixby bridge

The Oklahoman reports this morning that a study commissioned by Infrastructure Ventures, Inc. indicates that IVI's proposed private toll bridge over the Arkansas River between Bixby and Tulsa will produce $970 million in economic development for south Tulsa in its first ten years.

I haven't seen the study, so I don't know if this figure includes the $658 million that IVI itself will pocket from the bridge.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:47 AM)
An opinion with teeth

The pertinent 1991 statute (4 O.S. 46, section B):

Potentially dangerous or dangerous dogs may be regulated through local, municipal and county authorities, provided the regulations are not breed specific. Nothing in this act shall prohibit such local governments from enforcing penalties for violation of such local laws.

Attorney General Drew Edmondson read this off to Rep. Paul Wesselhoft (R-Moore), who is pushing for a state ban on pit bulls.

Wesselhoft's response:

The fact the attorney general has ruled in this manner makes it more imperative that my bill become the new law.

One of my readers asks: "I used to have a child that bit all the time. Can we ban children too?"

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:35 PM)
19 August 2005
Fungus among us

Some people apparently have really bad ideas:

Recent rains across Oklahoma have quickly produced an unsettling and possibly dangerous crop of mushrooms on fields and yards, prompting telephone calls to the Oklahoma Poison Control Center from concerned parents.

"All wild mushrooms must be considered unsafe to eat, and prevention is the best defense against mushroom poisoning," said Lee McGoodwin, managing director of the Oklahoma Poison Control Center in Oklahoma City.

"Parents should teach their children never to eat a mushroom unless it has been purchased at the grocery store. Parents should destroy any wild mushroom around the house or garden," she said.

Well, okay, fine. I have a string of the suckers on the east side where the sun scarcely shines, the inevitable result of a six-foot fence less than six feet from the house, but it never once occurred to me to pop them into a saucepan.

More worrisome, though, is the idea that there might be children who think, "Ooo, something on the ground! Let's eat it!" At the very least, mushrooms in the yard are a screaming violation of the five-second rule.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:45 AM)
23 August 2005
Do not mock the emperor's jumpsuit

Well, this is fun:

Oklahoma prosecutors will soon weigh whether to take up criminal charges against a former mayoral candidate accused of libeling a longtime state politician on his Web forum.

In a police report filed Aug. 16, former state senator and convicted felon Gene Stipe charged that Harold King had published false information about Stipe and his family on his Web forum, the McAlester Watercooler, said Capt. Darrell Miller of the McAlester, Okla., police force. The nature of the information was not disclosed.

Okiedoke emphasizes this part of the article:

Oklahoma is among a minority of states that still have criminal libel laws in place. In the last 50 years, such laws have been widely viewed as violating the First Amendment, and most states have repealed them or seen them struck down because of conflicts with the U.S. Supreme Court's opinion in New York Times v. Sullivan, which set a higher bar for their constitutionality.

Instead, most states handle libel cases exclusively as civil matters, awarding monetary damages after weighing factors such as harm caused by the defamation. Those convicted under Oklahoma's criminal libel laws can face up to a year in a county jail, a fine of up to $1,000, or both, and they can also be sued in civil court.

McAlester Councilman Greg Rock comments:

There is a part of me that wants to comment on the impending battle between our former State Senator and Harold King, but all that I will say is this: Public figures must learn to deal with certain levels of "celebrity", if I can be afforded to use that term very loosely, and the ridicule that goes with it.

Especially if they've read the actual decision in New York Times v. Sullivan. Quoting the concurring opinion by Justice Arthur J. Goldberg:

If liability can attach to political criticism because it damages the reputation of a public official as a public official, then no critical citizen can safely utter anything but faint praise about the government or its officials. The vigorous criticism by press and citizen of the conduct of the government of the day by the officials of the day will soon yield to silence if officials in control of government agencies, instead of answering criticisms, can resort to friendly juries to forestall criticism of their official conduct.

Mr Stipe, of course, is no longer a public official; however, he wields enough clout in southeastern Oklahoma to be considered part of the power structure despite being stripped of his office, and it's hard to characterize his reaction as anything but "How dare they say anything about me?"

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:34 AM)
Not this time

Former Congressman J. C. Watts announced this morning that he will not run for governor in 2006.

In a radio interview, Watts said that he wouldn't ask his family to endure the rigors of a statewide campaign; he also declined to endorse any of the declared candidates.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:54 AM)
24 August 2005
The wrong argument for SQ 723

A Tulsa World editorial, as quoted by Steven Roemerman:

[I]t is the height of hypocrisy to drive gasoline-guzzling vehicles but balk at raising enough money to build roads on which to drive them.

My car gets 25 mpg around town. Is it okay for me to balk?

The causality here is exactly bass-ackwards: the drivers of the guzzlers are putting more money into road-building than the rest of us already, simply because they use more fuel and therefore pay more in fuel taxes.

The road problems in Oklahoma are simple. The state has never taxed its citizens enough to build them.

Has the World ever met a tax it didn't like?

One of the big advantages of SQ 723, says Neal McCaleb of Oklahomans for Safe Bridges and Roads, the proponent of the new tax, is that "a constitutionally protected lock box feature ensures future transportation funding can never be diverted by the Legislature to the General Fund." It didn't seem to bother McCaleb that the Legislature was dipping into the fuel-tax revenues when he was the Secretary of Transportation; you have to wonder just how big a check what caused his change of heart.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:23 AM)
26 August 2005
Sometimes it's easy

Someone once asked me what it would take to get me to vote for Brad Henry for governor in 2006.

Well, something like this:

U.S. Rep. Ernest Istook may throw his hat into the race for Oklahoma's next governor.

Oklahoma County Assessor Leonard Sullivan, one of about 90 people who attended Istook's town hall meeting at the Francis Tuttle Technology Center's Rockwell campus on Thursday, asked Istook (R-OK) whether he would run now that Lt. Gov. Mary Fallin and former Rep. J.C. Watts have announced they won't seek the office.

"I've had a lot of people ask me to consider it, and I'm listening to them," Istook said.

I can imagine a lot of Congressmen asking him to consider it.

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:06 PM)
27 August 2005
How conservative are we?

Johnny Carson could tell this one. "Well, let me tell you: Oklahoma is so conservative that their most prominent member of the Federalist Society is a Democrat."

As Mr Carson would say, I did not know that; Frosty Troy mentions it in a piece on the Society in the current Oklahoma Observer, alongside the expected references to John G. Roberts and the apparently-required-by-law mention of right-wing paymaster Richard Mellon Scaife.

Said member is Attorney General Drew Edmondson, who is a Democrat from a whole family of Democrats.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:01 PM)
30 August 2005
Powerball is coming

It won't be right away, but the Oklahoma lottery, most likely in 2006, will be joining the Powerball combine, the 28th state to do so. This will give Oklahomans an essentially-infinitesimal shot at winning implausibly-huge prizes without having to drive to Kansas or Missouri to buy tickets.

(Why are you looking at me like that? Do I look like the kind of person who would drive a couple hundred miles for a shot at a hundred million dollars?)

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:00 AM)
31 August 2005
Cents and sensibilities

In 1980, Tulsa voters first authorized a one-cent sales tax, over and above the existing two cents, to finance capital improvements in the city. The tax went into effect in 1981, and has been renewed by the voters every five years since.

It's not on the City of Tulsa Web site yet, but Tulsa Topics is reporting that this year, the protocols will be just a little different. Quoting from the city's press release:

Typically, the Mayor's staff selects projects that are already part of the City's capital improvement program, adopted by the City Council on an annual basis. The projects are selected based on the need, the benefit to the city and criteria related to the condition of the existing infrastructure or amenities. The staff presents the proposed projects to the City Council in public committee, and later joins with the Councilors to present the projects to the public in each of the nine Council districts. Citizens also have an opportunity to address the Council during a public hearing held when it considers the project list. The proposed package is then placed on a ballot for a public vote.

For the first time, based on Mayor LaFortune's initiative, the administration wants public input at the front end of the process, while the package is still in the draft stages. Mayor LaFortune said, "Citizens know best what their most important infrastructure needs are. I am inviting all citizens to the meetings to provide their input and to share my vision for the future of the City of Tulsa directly with them."

There will be five such meetings in September. This is, of course, a good idea — public input is better than no public input, at least if it's at all heeded — but given what's been happening in Tulsa in recent years, I have to wonder if maybe someone in the Mayor's office has figured out that a lot of Tulsans feel the city government is out to screw them over, and the city might well lose that third penny when it expires in July 2006.

(For comparison, the Oklahoma City sales tax is apportioned as follows: two cents, general expenditures; one cent, MAPS for Kids [expires 1/2009]; 0.75 cent, earmarked for public safety; 0.125 cent, Oklahoma City Zoo. Including the 4.5-cent state sales tax, this comes to 8.375 cents, unless you're in the part of the city that extends into Canadian County, which levies a 0.35-cent sales tax of its own. Tulsa County has a 1.017-cent sales tax; Oklahoma County has no sales tax.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:16 AM)
1 September 2005
Sounds like a plan

It is a truism in Republican circles that Democrats simply don't understand how markets operate. Turnabout being fair play, it's great fun to point out a GOP partisan who, to be charitable as possible about it, was blinded by his rage.

The Gazette's "Chicken Fried News" took a potshot at state Republican chairman Gary Jones a few issues back, which prompted this fume from a fellow on a Republican message board:

"Attacking Gary is wrong and it is time to put this sad Chicken Fried Puppy to sleep. Boycott the OKGAZ, or better yet, whenever you see them on display, remove all copies and put them in the trash without reading them. If just 20 dedicated Republicans would do this it would kill the OKGAZ circulation. I imagine it would be a long time before they attacked Gary again."

What's wrong with this scenario? It's obvious:

[T]he Gazette is a free publication and bases its circulation on the number of copies picked up from stands. The more copies [he] and his GOP cohorts swipe, the more Gazette's circulation numbers go up.

Eventually, the poor schmuck figured this out, but by then his fellow Republicans were berating him for his cluelessness.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:03 AM)
Vision, schmision

There is rivalry, and there is utter silliness. Tulsa Mayor LaFortune, speaking at the groundbreaking of T-town's new downtown sports arena, flirted with the line of demarcation, and then flopped right over it:

[Voters who supported Vision 2025] recognized that Tulsa had to build, invest, invest in our infrastructure, to remain competitive with similar cities. They recognized, those citizens who voted yes, that Tulsa had to build to provide facilities that would serve as the foundation for Tulsa's future economic growth. Those citizens, with their foresight, recognized that Tulsa had to build facilities and amenities that would serve us for decades to come. For us, but most importantly as I said — and we should never tire of this theme — for our kids and our grandkids, those same citizens rejected the negativism of some, those same individuals who were content with the status quo, content to go by decade after decade with no major public facility improvement, all the while watching almost every other comparable city, including Oklahoma City, move past us, leaving us in their construction dust.

But today I say to you: No more! No more to Oklahoma City, no more to Des Moines, no more to Omaha! Tulsa is alive and well!

Michael Bates calls this dementia exactly what it is:

"Fie upon you, Des Moines and Omaha, and fie, fie upon you, Oklahoma City! Your vaunted convention centers will be brought low and shall be no more! Not one stone will remain standing upon another. Your downtowns will run with blood! We will loot your concert tour dates, kill your men, enslave your women and children, and sow your fields with salt. My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings! Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!"

Look back over that quote. What a paltry vision: Remain competitive with similar cities by building an arena. Nothing about developing our workforce, encouraging risk-takers to start new businesses, accommodating the needs of the elderly and disabled, rethinking our approach to urban design. Nothing about becoming a great city, just making sure Cher has a place to perform when she brings her Frankensteinish carcass to town.

Believe me, with Bill LaFortune running the show in Tulsa, Oklahoma City doesn't have a thing in the world to worry about — except maybe Des Moines.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:36 AM)
Timing is everything

A page stolen from Neal McCaleb's diary, late last night:

Three dollars a gallon? It's perfect! Now we can tell them that the additional tax will be less than two percent of the price at the pump. Why, they'll never even notice it!

You can't blame the guy for trying. (Or can you?)

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:02 PM)
3 September 2005
Right up there with Y2k

We saw this before, when the prices first surged over one dollar:

Some gasoline stations are having a particularly difficult time keeping up with soaring prices because their antiquated pumps are incapable of charging more than $2.99 a gallon.

To get around the problem, the stations Friday received permission from the Oklahoma Corporation Commission to use "half pricing," meaning the pump would read half the sales price, and the cost would be doubled inside the store. For example, $3.10 gasoline would be charged at $1.55 at the pump, but consumers would pay the cashier full price.

Anyone who lived through the previous gas crunches could have anticipated this sort of thing, which presumably includes this guy:

"Who would have ever thought prices would get so high we would have to worry about this?" said Vance McSpadden, executive director of the Oklahoma Petroleum Marketers Association.

McSpadden, in fact, owned four gas stations in 1973. He, of all people, should know better.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:09 AM)
A little advance planning

I suspect this was in the works long before Katrina, but it's here now: a twelve-page booklet issued by the state Department of Health, with the imprimaturs of the Department of Emergency Management and the Office of Homeland Security, dubbed the Family Readiness Guide: Plan, Prepare, Be Aware.

The booklet contains helpful hints for anticipating evacuations, government contact points, a wallet card upon which you can list emergency information, a list of documents you ought to try to protect (including computer backup media!), and other useful bits of information.

I got my copy in the Sunday Oklahoman, scattered among the two or three dozen ad pieces; other papers in the state will presumably be carrying it also.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:34 PM)
4 September 2005
Top of the heap

What does it take to make the best blog in the state?

Ramblings on politics, film, music, literature, current events, pop culture, what the voices are commanding and any other damned thing that strikes my synapses.

So says Chase McInerney, and the results bear him out.

My congratulations to Chase and his occasional co-bloggers on winning the hearts and minds of Oklahoma's blog community.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:11 AM)
The Oklahoman on 723

They're not exactly enthusiastic, but they're endorsing it:

We're not fond of tax increases. However, we see State Question 723 as a fair and reasonable way to deal with an issue that needs attention now.

They don't say so anywhere, but the entire editorial, to me anyway, seems to be a shrug and a tossed-off "Well, if this is the best we can do...."

What I fear is the possibility that maybe this is the best we can do. But the likelihood that it's going to pass while there's a big 3 up on the price board — or worse, a 4 — is, I suspect, next to nil.

Small socially-redeeming value: the people who use the most gas would pay the most tax, which seems at least somewhat fair, and the tax increases would not push us beyond the regional averages.

I think I could support this thing if it had an actual expiration date on it. But it doesn't, and there's no way they're going to let go of this revenue even if they actually get all the billions of bucks worth of backlog completed.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:40 PM)
8 September 2005
My three cents' worth

A couple weeks ago I brought up the topic of Tulsa's "third penny" sales tax, and suggested that its renewal wasn't exactly a sure thing despite Mayor LaFortune's town meetings to promote it:

Given what's been happening in Tulsa in recent years, I have to wonder if maybe someone in the Mayor's office has figured out that a lot of Tulsans feel the city government is out to screw them over, and the city might well lose that third penny when it expires in July 2006.

One such Tulsan is the Mad Okie:

After hearing LaFortune's ranting at the groundbreaking and later hearing plans to pump yet another 20 million into downtown using 3rd penny funds (specifically the East Village and yet another sports venue) I'm tempted to not vote for the 3rd penny extension ... If the Gov't can't spend our money properly, then it's time to take our money back.

Bobby at Tulsa Topics sees it similarly:

Citizens are the ultimate "checks and balances" of government via their vote. Not only does this include elections for Mayors and City Councillors, but it also includes the choice to continue or not continue giving an additional ... 1% of our hard earned money via the 3rd Penny Sales Tax to the city.

I think for the time being, I want to keep my voting power intact and say nope to making the 3rd Penny Sales Tax permanent.

Two people do not a movement make, but I'm thinking there's a lot more than two out there.

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:36 PM)
9 September 2005
There stands the glass

In the twenty-one years since county-option liquor by the drink was authorized in Oklahoma, forty-two counties have opted to open the taps at the watering holes.

That leaves thirty-five who haven't, one of which is Lincoln County, northeast of Oklahoma City, and this makes life perhaps a little more difficult for the county's winemakers: about half the state's grapes are grown in Lincoln, but you can't even get a taste at the vineyard.

The growers, therefore, have offered to foot the bill for a county-option election this December, which will cost them around $7000 or so.

Lincoln County last voted on this issue in 1986, and turned it down by a two-to-one margin.

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:08 PM)
13 September 2005
Today's ballot

I no longer live in Senate District 48, so I don't have any particular reason to back anyone in the special election to replace Angela Monson, who is being term-limited out of her seat after the standard twelve years.

Why a special election? Because Monson will not be allowed to complete her full term. I explained this a couple of years ago:

Oklahoma's term-limits law, enacted as State Question 632 in 1990, allows a legislator a maximum of twelve years, whether in the state House, the state Senate, or both. The law specified that legislators serving as of January 1991 would be allowed to complete their current term before their 12-year clock would be started.

Which means that individuals who were serving in the subsequent legislature — 1993-94 — are now about to be squeezed out, and the first squeezee looks like Senator Angela Z. Monson, Oklahoma City Democrat, who began her career in the Senate in 1993 but who previously served one term in the House. (Disclosure: I used to live in Monson's district, and voted for her twice. Not in the same election.) The law says that Monson's clock starts with the beginning of her Senate service, which means that although she was elected to a full four-year term in 2002, she will have to leave the Senate in 2005.

On State Question 723, I have to go with my gut. I don't question the need to raise some bucks to fix these freaking roads, which seem to have deteriorated markedly in the last 48 hours, but 723 doesn't do anything to address one underlying issue: what causes roads to become substandard, and how properly to attribute the costs of maintenance and repair. Therefore I choose to wait for a more complete approach to the problem. One could argue that the perfect is the enemy of the good, and indeed it is, but 723, a temporary patch with a permanent tax increase, hardly qualifies as the "good".

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:46 AM)
Rejection notice

State Question 723 is being tuned out faster than NBC sitcoms: as of last look, with about 93 percent of the precincts in, the proposed fuel-tax increase is pulling just short of 13 percent of the vote. My dating record is better than that, though just barely.

Over in District 48, the winner will be someone named Johnson. (At the moment, Connie Johnson has about a 1-percent lead over Willa Johnson.)

Update, 11 pm: It's Connie by 1.4 percent over Willa. SQ 723 pulled about 51,000 votes out of 400,000 or so; assuming the AP's figure of $2 million in the proponents' war chest is kosher, they forked over $39 per vote.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:00 PM)
15 September 2005
I am he as you are he as you are me (2)

Once again, Don Danz wants to know when poll watchers are going to start checking ID on a regular basis.

My best guess: The first election after a carded individual, his dignity putatively outraged, sues the Election Board, and loses — and not one minute before.

Previous discussion here. Be it noted that the Code Warrior got to his polling place in northwest Oklahoma City on Tuesday and found someone had already cast a ballot on his behalf. I suspect, though, something other than garden-variety election fraud in this particular case.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:23 AM)
18 September 2005
Luciano into the sunset

Don Danz reports in from Pavarotti's farewell tour:

The program consisted of eleven songs, an intermission and ten more songs followed by three encores. The main program included eleven Pavarotti solos, two duets with Cynthia Lawrence, six Lawrence solos and two of the Tulsa City Orchestra* by itself. Several of the evening's performances were immediately recognizable, many were vaguely familiar and all were incredibly performed.

Tulsa was the first of just three American cities on Pavarotti's forty-city Farewell Tour around the world after which he will permanently retire.

Oh, and there's a reason for that asterisk:

Interestingly, the program credited the "Tulsa City Orchestra" but that phrase does not appear on any internet search engine. The well known Tulsa Philharmonic, Oklahoma's last full-time orchestra, ceased operations on September 12, 2002, due to financial problems which have similarly plagued orchestras around the country.

They probably haven't all left town yet and were happy to have the work. (For the curious, the Oklahoma City Philharmonic, which rose from the ashes of the defunct Oklahoma Symphony Orchestra in 1988, contracts its musicians on a per-service basis, which precludes use of the term "full-time" despite the Phil's extensive schedule and $3.6-million budget.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:16 AM)
20 September 2005
Neese backs away

Terry Neese has asked that her nomination to be Director of the US Mint be dropped. Here's her statement:

I am honored that President Bush nominated me as the first Oklahoman to serve as Director of the United States Mint.

After clearing an exhaustive FBI investigation, an IRS review and the Office of Government Ethics requirements, I have reflected on my decision to move forward and have regretfully asked the President to withdraw my name from consideration.

I am deeply thankful to the President for placing his confidence in my abilities.

I am looking forward to spending meaningful, quality time with my 83-year-old mother, husband, daughter and grandchildren.

I also want to thank all of the Oklahomans for their counsel and support.

I will continue my longtime work and passion as an advocate for small business and women and minority business owners in Oklahoma and across the nation.

That's all she's saying. Given her track record, I seriously doubt anyone would have discovered anything negative. Publicist Brenda Jones, speaking to The Oklahoman, says it's just that Neese really didn't want to end up in Washington full-time:

She just had to come to grips with what this would mean to her family. She felt like being so far away is inconsistent with the priorities in her life, which has always been family. She regretfully but voluntarily had a change of heart.

And that would seem to be that.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:33 PM)
21 September 2005
Return of the hanging judge

Not that you or I or anyone in the courtroom wants to know how it's hanging, but — oh, let's have Sean Gleeson finish the story:

The trial of former District Judge Donald Thompson, accused of onanistic impropriety in his Creek County courtroom, starts Monday in Bristow. Among the state?s evidence will be a masturbatory device which has been sawed in half, and 180 hours of audio tapes on which can be heard a telltale rhythmic whooshing sound.

(Previous coverage here and here.)

Counsel for the former jurist, at least in public, is confident his client will beat the rap.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:41 AM)
26 September 2005
Out in the open

A question by Chris Medlock of the Tulsa City Council:

When Governor Henry gives the State-of-the-State Address, he delivers it before a joint session of the State Legislature. When President Bush gives the State-of-the-Union Address, he delivers it before a joint session of Congress. But when Mayor LaFortune delivers the State-of-the-City Address, he gives it to the Metro Chamber of Commerce.

Somewhat shows where the Mayor's priorities lie, doesn?t it?

Well, maybe. The same situation holds in Oklahoma City, where the Mayor gives his speech in January, with one notable exception: the city posted the speech, including some graphs, on its Web site, and broadcast it on tape-delay on the city's cable channel. If I remember correctly, it was also reprinted in full in the Oklahoman, so pretty much anyone who wanted to know what Mayor Cornett was talking about could find out easily enough.

Still, I have to take Medlock's side here:

The proper venue for the State-of-the-City Address is the Francis Campbell City Council Meeting Room. The proper audience is the Tulsa City Council and the citizens of Tulsa, via the gallery and the cable TV audience.

And we should do similarly here, I believe.

(Via BatesLine.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:15 AM)
27 September 2005
Judge Thompson gets an extension

The trial of former judge Donald Thompson has been postponed until November because of a bad call by a sitting judge.

Creek County District Judge Joe Sam Vassar on Friday had started cutting down the jury pool; he'd gotten it down from 300 to 80 or so when Thompson's defense pointed out that Vassar had already removed himself from the case and had no business dealing with the jury. Prosecutors, fearing a retrial on this basis alone, agreed with the defense; Comanche County District Judge C. Allen McCall, who is hearing the case, concurred, and sent home the entire jury.

A new jury will be empaneled when the trial begins on 7 November.

Previous coverage, so to speak: here, and at links therein.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:42 AM)
1 October 2005
The white flag is up

Michael Bates reports that the last Casa Bonita in Oklahoma, at 21st and Sheridan in Tulsa, closed last night when their lease was not renewed.

Casa Bonita used to have locations in Oklahoma City — in fact, the chain's first locations were here in OKC — but they've long since gone away, and in fact the only remaining Casa Bonita is on the west side of Denver, Colorado, presumably still within a reasonable distance from South Park.

The stepchild of the Casa Bonita operation, Taco Bueno, continues to flourish.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:44 AM)
2 October 2005
Bombs away, dream babies

Lan Lamphere, whose Overnight AM radio show used to be carried here on KOKC, questions the official story about the explosion on the OU campus yesterday:

What I find amazing is that the press release that [OU President David] Boren's office has released to the public stated that "Prior to the game, the entire stadium was swept by the expert bomb teams with the help of dogs." Was there a bomb threat that OU didn't take seriously? Is that why the stadium was swept with "expert bomb teams with the help of dogs"?

Logic dictates that two "devices" suggest that two people were involved. A terrorist cell? Why would someone committing suicide using a large bomb to kill themselves just keep another bombing laying around? You know, just in case the first one didn't click off? It?s all premeditated in the first place. That means conspiracy to kill at least themselves if not someone else in the process. But then there's that whole "large bomb" thing we're left to contend with? Why would someone use such a large "device" to take himself or herself out if they were not targeting others to go with them? And when I say a "large bomb" that's exactly what I mean.

My family and I were sitting at home, roughly one mile away from the stadium as a bird flies, when we heard and felt an earth shattering explosion. I was monitoring my hand held amateur radio when the local repeater erupted with chatter about a explosion. It was so loud that people wanted to know if others had heard it. I called the Police who advised me that officers were on the scene and that a explosion had occurred but they would not give any other details. Our house literally shook. The ground vibrated with a deep rolling growling sound. This was a large explosion. Not some mere Pipe bomb put together by a pissed off student. But when I arrived at the stadium to shoot video for a local news station I regularly freelance for, already this was the spin on the story. This was serious business. This bomb was meant to kill not one person, but as many as could be reached in a crowd based on the size and power of the "device" alone.

The explosion apparently took place in the courtyard of George Lynn Cross Hall, across Asp Avenue from the stadium; Boren says [link requires Adobe Reader] there really wasn't a second device.

(Submitted to the Outside the Beltway Sunday Drive.)

Update: The Oklahoma Daily has a roundup of announcements and findings and statements and whatnot here.

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:51 PM)
3 October 2005
One-line reaction to Istook's announcement

Finally, a good reason to vote for Brad Henry.

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:00 PM)
4 October 2005
The first volley of 2008?

Something styling itself "Citizens Against Corporate Welfare" slipped a flyer onto my door today which castigated Rep. Trebor Worthen of District 87, where I live, for voting for two bills they considered particularly heinous.

Chesapeake Energy spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in the last election buying elected officials. They gave Trebor Worthen $3,000. Once the election was over, it was payback time! Representative Worthen paid back. He voted for legislation that would give over $100 million of your tax dollars in Corporate Welfare to Chesapeake at a time when their profits are obscene. Since 2003, CEO salaries at oil companies have increased by 109%.

With the possible exception of 42nd and Treadmill, CEO salaries are bloated just about everywhere in the nation. I'm assuming (since CACW didn't bother to spell it out) that this was HB 1588, which provided exemptions from the state Gross Production Tax for really deep drilling (12,500 feet and beyond). (Text of the enrolled version in RTF format here.) This bill passed the House 79-19 on its way to being approved by the Governor; I don't remember taking a position on it myself, but historically there are only two occasions when oil and gas producers are looking for incentives:

  1. When prices are low;
  2. When prices are high.

Then there's SB 484 (enrolled version in RTF format here), of which CACW said:

SB 484 was a bill that prevents counties and cities from regulating the over application of animal waste (they call it fertilizer) to land. Why would [Worthen] take away the ability of cities and counties to protect us from chicken waste in our water?

Well, actually, what 484 does is to take away the ability of cities and counties to regulate any fertilizer products of any sort. I complained about it myself in Vent #434:

Senate Bill 484, by Daisy Lawler (D-Comanche), would (what a surprise) give the Legislature more turf: it puts fertilizer under state, rather than local, regulations. The Oklahoma Municipal League opposed it for that reason alone, and sought amendments.

Says lobbyist Keith Smith: "Our fertilizer laws in Oklahoma are so weak that just about anything can be defined as fertilizer if it contains enough Nitrogen, Phosphorus or Potassium to qualify as beneficial to plants. There is no required labeling for heavy metals (lead, arsenic, etc.), dioxin or pathogens. By our law's definition, a "guaranteed analysis" of fertilizer only discloses its N-P-K content."

Emphasis in the original. I looked at the actual bill, and Smith's right: so long as you specify N-P-K correctly, you can dump just about anything else in the mix and still call it "fertilizer" under SB 484. At the very least, the bill should be amended to require more comprehensive labeling.

Today's Legislative Lesson: A chickenshit bill doesn't necessarily have anything to do with literal chicken shit.

If anyone outside District 87 got a flyer from "Citizens Against Corporate Welfare," I'd like to hear about it.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:15 PM)
5 October 2005
Boomer Sooner, so to speak

The father of the "Sooner bomber" is disputing claims that his son was a budding jihadi:

[He] would have become a Muslim fanatic when pigs fly.

The FBI says they have found no connection between Joel Henry Hinrichs III and any known extremist groups. (Full text of FBI statement in PDF format here.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:00 AM)
Selling the story

The online poll at NewsOK.com as of this writing:

Two to one believe it's a suicide

I draw no conclusions. Yet.

(Update, 7 am, 6 October: It's down from 2-1 to 3-2.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:43 PM)
7 October 2005
The last of Pratt's

You have to wonder if maybe J. B. Pratt was too far ahead of his time.

In his thirty years in the grocery business, he came up with some ideas that sounded distinctly odd: he had sections devoted to products actually grown or made in Oklahoma, and he put the organically-grown produce right up front where you couldn't miss it.

This would have worked wonderfully in, say, 2003 or 2004, but it didn't play well in the 1980s and 1990s, and the last outpost of Pratt's modest empire, Shawnee Community Foods, which closed this summer, is about to be auctioned off, part of his company's Chapter 7 liquidation.

Smaller grocery stores survive: Kamp's continues to anchor the Asian District, and Crescent Market, literally as old as the city itself, is still hidden away in Nichols Hills. Braum's has added small grocery sections to some of its dairy stores. But the big story, not unexpectedly, is Wal-Mart, which garners about half the local sales.

The sad thing, I think, is that it would probably take a J. B. Pratt to create the sort of niche market that is needed downtown: his stores were always just enough off-kilter to shake off the stigma of the suburban Big Box. (His Wellmarket in Edmond, opened in 2001, had the right idea, but it closed after half a year.) And Pratt, in Chapter 7 himself separately from the company, is in no position to do so.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:45 AM)
Clamming up

Whatever is going on down there in Norman, they don't want to talk about it:

The warrant used to execute a search of Oklahoma University bomber Joel Henry Hinrichs III's apartment, where an undetermined amount of explosives were found, has been sealed by a federal court at the request of the Justice Department.

Hinrichs blew himself up yards from Oklahoma Memorial Stadium Saturday night while tens of thousands of fans watched an OU-Kansas State football game.

Bob Troester, first asst. U.S. attorney in Oklahoma City, said the department requested the warrant be sealed, but declined to elaborate when asked why it was necessary to do so given previous media reports that a depressed Hinrichs acted alone and on a whim.

"You can draw whatever assumption you like," he said. "We don't comment on any sealed indictments."

Which, of course, is exactly why those documents get sealed: to eliminate possible comments and/or potential tip-offs.

Beneath the surface, the iceberg continues to grow.

(Via A Blog For All.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:58 PM)
8 October 2005
Assembling the pieces

As evidence goes, there is circumstantial, and there is really circumstantial.

This paragraph in an Oklahoman story is instructive:

Hinrichs lived near [an] Islamic mosque, had a roommate from Pakistan, had other explosives in his apartment and had tried to buy ammonium nitrate two days before the attack. Those circumstances as well as some news reports have fueled public concern that the bomb was part of a larger plot.

The reporters have arranged these, it appears, in increasing order of relevance.

Living "near" the mosque, for instance, is no big deal: it's located fairly close to the University (on George Avenue), so lots of students are in the vicinity, and no one seems to recall ever seeing him there anyway.

In my experience, finance types (like Hinrichs' roommate) tend to be fairly apolitical, but none of the finance types in said experience were Pakistani (like Hinrichs' roommate), so score this as a slight possibility, but no more than that.

There's still the question of what he wanted with this humongous cache of explosives, and anyone who knows anything about the Oklahoma City bombing knows about ammonium nitrate. Unfortunately, for the moment, the answer to this question was washed off the side of a bus with a hose.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:06 AM)
10 October 2005
Escape from Malibu

Found on the local craigslist:

I'm a script writer and thinking about moving to OK ... because I can sell my house here and get one hell of a cool one in your country!

Politically, I'm in the center. Left on social issues; and I'm a "soft and cuddly" atheist: I'm not an enemy of religion, I just don't believe.

My friends say I'm CRAZY for even thinking about a move to OK ... they say the religious right will "kill" me; and, there is no "culture."

I don't believe it! Should I consider a move? What do you think? Does OK want a happy open-minded atheist in their midst. Hey, I always tell my religious friends that they just could be right ... I'm always ready to change my mind.

I've been here thirty-odd years, and the number of people actually killed by the religious right during that period seems fairly minimal. There is plenty of proselytizing, to be sure, but everyone reacts to it differently; the sort of person who takes the slightest mention of any deity as a threat is probably not well-suited to life on the Windy Plains. Me, I consider it to be just like telemarketing: it can be an irritant, but nowhere does it say that I have to pick up the phone.

Our writer says he's "happy," which is a plus, and when he finds out how much of a house he can get here for, say, a quarter-million, he might well be ecstatic, though probably not inclined to attribute said ecstasy to divine intervention.

And I am not inclined to discourage someone just because he's "left on social issues"; it's a minority viewpoint around here, to be sure, but active crushing of dissent is conspicuous by its comparative absence. A lot depends on how insistent he is on being surrounded by like-minded souls.

A reply to the fellow asserted baldly that "coming here will murder your muse," which is maybe a half-truth: frustration plays hell with the creative process, to be sure, but no muse I know of takes it as anything more than a challenge.

Of course, in my idea of the best of all possible worlds, he arrives the same day as Steve H.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:07 AM)
And now, a word from Pore Jud

Well, maybe not, since he's daid.

But listen to Meryl:

In what universe did any Oklahoman ever talk like the actors were taught to do in the film Oklahoma!?

They used a dialogue coach to get them to mangle those accents.

Jus Addiss was laughing all the way to the bank.

Or should that be "laffin?"?

He probably don't kyeer.

I'd say something here, but someone would no doubt remember my origins in northern Illinois.

And besides, sometimes it's fun to work the stereotypes, as I did the first time I visited Joisey.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:09 PM)
11 October 2005
Where you won't find lottery tickets

Pawn shops, cash-advance and check-cashing storefronts in Oklahoma will not be selling lottery tickets; the Oklahoma Lottery Commission has so decreed.

In a separate action, local 7-Eleven stores have decided not to carry the tickets, reasoning that keeping that much cash on hand is not something they want to do.

Approximately 1200 stores will be selling the tickets starting tomorrow, about a third as many as the Commission had hoped.

Addendum: Bubbaworld points out:

Neither Governor Henry or the concerned lawmakers have announced any plan to deter financially strapped Oklahomans from purchasing lottery tickets at a convenience store next door or down the block from a pawnshop, payday loan company or check-cashing store. But give them time and they will probably propose some silly kind of "distance restriction" wherein convenience stores, gas-stations and other merchants within a specified distance of the businesses today prohibited from selling lottery tickets are also banished from their sales.

I wouldn't put it past them.

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:19 PM)
13 October 2005
Well, there's that greed factor, too

What's the real attraction of the new lottery?

At one Tulsa convenience store Catherine Davis said she was on her way to gamble at a tribal casino when she stopped to try her luck at the lottery. Davis says it's just "the thrill of scratching something."

Catherine Davis, I must point out, is a woman. Men don't have any problem finding things to scratch, or times to scratch them.

(Via Steven Roemerman.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:00 AM)
14 October 2005
It's a start

Gary-Williams Energy's Wynnewood Refining Company, the nation's 97th largest, will expand capacity nearly 30 percent over the next two years.

Wynnewood, fifth in size among Oklahoma refineries, will be able to process 70,000 barrels a day, up from 55,000. Alongside the additional capacity, the refinery will add new environmental equipment.

Tax incentives? Well, yeah, there's that.

Gary-Williams acquired the Wynnewood facility in 1995 from Kerr-McGee; it produces gasoline, diesel, jet fuel, solvents and asphalt.

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:21 PM)
Well, that's one way to do it

The unemployment rate in the Tulsa metropolitan area has dropped from 6.7 percent to 4.1 percent.

Mayor Bill LaFortune is happy to take credit for the decrease, whether it occurred within the city of Tulsa or not.

The Mad Okie would like to know if LaFortune will take credit for the continuing decrease in Tulsa population as well:

[I]s this something that the mayor of Tulsa should be proud of? Or, is he hoping people don't bother looking at the numbers.

If the latter, his hope is, um, misplaced.

(Via Tulsa Topics.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:28 PM)
15 October 2005
Screen of Death, though not blue

The father of the late Joel Henry Hinrichs III, the OU engineering student who blew himself to the far side of Kingdom Come two weeks ago, has told the Oklahoman that his son left behind an electronic suicide note on his computer.

Joel Hinrichs Jr., in town to clear out the lad's apartment, says that the FBI found the message still onscreen when they searched the place, and disclosed it to him Friday.

The FBI says again they have found no evidence of a rumored link between the younger Hinrichs and various terrorist organizations.

The story will appear in the Sunday edition; as of this writing, it's not on the paper's Web site.

Addendum, 9:30 pm: John Hinderaker at Power Line is not impressed with reassurances given by The Wall Street Journal:

[W]e have no independent knowledge of Joel Hinrichs. We don't know whether he was a free-lance terrorist, part of an extremist group, or just a depressed student. But it simply won't do to cite bland, "no known link" statements by the FBI as an excuse to sweep all questions under the rug. It is important to know whether Hinrichs intended a spectacular terrorist attack at an Oklahoma football game. If he did, it is important to know whether he was inspired by extremist ideology, and it is important to know whether he was part of an extremist group that is still operating. The answers to these questions may be No, No and No. But at this point, we have no reason to believe that the authorities actually know the answers. And the Journal's effort to stifle discussion of the subject is unworthy of that newspaper.

Speaking for myself, I'm still waiting for an explanation of why Hinrichs wanted that load of fertilizer.

Actually, "depressed student" might explain that as well as anything else: "By God, they'll remember me when I'm gone!" A much-used Lincoln Town Car as the equivalent of a Murrah-era truck bomb? Yeah, that'll show them.

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:51 PM)
17 October 2005
Were this fiction, you'd complain

All the karma you could possibly want:

The first $25,000 winner in the Oklahoma Lottery is a New Orleans man who escaped the wrath of Katrina and wound up in Bethany.

Although the article doesn't make clear how many losing tickets he'd gone through before hitting a winner.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:39 PM)
21 October 2005
Oil things bright and beautiful

During this year's World Tour, I wrote about Pennsylvania's Oil Heritage Festival, and noted semi-snidely that such a thing would never happen here: "Oklahoma is far too embarrassed about its own oil patch ... we'd like to think we're so over that."

Perhaps I spoke too soon. Devon Energy has put up half a million bucks for the construction of a four-acre oil-patch exhibit at the new Oklahoma History Center northeast of the Capitol, which, when it's finished, will start off with a replica of the 1905 derrick at the Glenn Pool south of Tulsa, the state's first major oil field, and cover a whole century of drilling and exploration.

The Oklahoma exhibit apparently won't be as big as the Kansas Oil Museum in El Dorado, which I visited in 2001, but I'm happy to see this state making some sort of acknowledgement of the importance of the oil industry in some way that doesn't boil down to another package of tax subsidies.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:00 AM)
Darling Dave's debt service

Michael Wright, writing from Norman, says that OU President David Boren is handling the Hinrichs case this way for one very obvious reason:

Boren's problem is that he is very worried about the financial condition of the athletic program. History shows that revenues from ticket sales and donations fall after losing football seasons. At the time of this writing, Coach Bob Stoops had lost four of the past seven, including the January '05 Orange Bowl fiasco. Texas Tech and Nebraska will probably be favored to beat OU later in the season. Both teams will have the home field advantage. A terrorism scare would also hurt the money flow.

In recent years Boren has indulged Stoops (with other people's money) in these ways:

  1. Huge stadium expansion driving up the bonded indebtedness of the athletic program to $152.7 million:

  2. $2.4 million annual compensation package;

  3. $3 million bonus (if Stoops stays at OU through 2008).

The stadium expansion encumbered OU with an annual debt service of about $5 million for 30 years. Official records confirm that Boren has already been raiding the OU general fund to help out his pals in the athletic department. Due to his extravagant over-spending, Boren is desperate for cash. That explains the huge tuition hikes he has been inflicting on OU students. To deal with these debts, he needs to maximize revenue flowing into the athletic department through ticket sales also. That's why he doesn't want football fans to think they might be at risk of a terrorist suicide bomb attack by going to the games.

Which at the very least suggests that Joel Hinrichs' choice of self-immolation location was perhaps rather astute.

(Suggested by a comment to this post at Gates of Vienna.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:22 PM)
24 October 2005
The early line

We're starting to accumulate candidates all of a sudden, and so far, this is what I'm thinking:

Governor: If it comes down to Henry vs. Istook, as I suspect it will, it's an easy preference for Henry.

Lt. Governor: I like Nancy Riley, but I'm leaning slightly toward Jari Askins right now. I think I've seen enough of Todd Hiett.

House District 5: Unless the Democrats manage to find someone with something resembling throw-weight — the Fifth has long drawn sacrificial lambs — I'm inclined to go with Mary Fallin. Then again, the true joy of this race comes from not seeing Istook on the ballot.

Caution: with a whole year still to go, almost anything can happen.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:51 PM)
28 October 2005
Everything's going to BOK

Tulsa's new arena will be called the BOK Center, after Bank of Oklahoma, which ponied up $11 million over 20 years for the naming rights.

Meanwhile, I'm waiting to see what happens to the SBC Bricktown Ballpark in Oklahoma City after AT&T child SBC buys out its parent and assumes its identity.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:55 AM)
30 October 2005
They want a shoehorn (the kind with teeth)

A bit in the weekly Tulsa Beacon was picked up by guest writer TulTellitarian at Meeciteewurkor, and it seems troubling:

The arena [the BOK Center], with approximately 550,000 square feet, has a maximum seating capacity of 18,041. It will seat a maximum of 17,534 for basketball, 16,466 for hockey, 16,346 for arena football, 13,717 for "end stage" concerts and 6,988 for theater seating.

Which, for a nominal 18,000-seat facility, seems fairly normal. The ostensible 20,000-seat Ford Center in Oklahoma City, 586,000 square feet in size, seats 19,599 for basketball, 18,036 for hockey, 17,868 for arena football, 19,231 for "end stage" concerts, 19,711 for "center stage" concerts, and a mere 4,961 for theater seating.

There's just one problem from Tulsa's point of view:

I personally understood the goal was to provide 18,000 seats for basketball since the Mayor's "vision" seemed to center on NCAA Regional Basketball possibilities as a major component of future attractions. And, I recall the NCAA required places to seat 18,000 (for basketball) to be considered as a playoff site. Appears we may get left out anyway, by cludge design. No event could actually seat 18,000.

Let's see how many seats there will be for the 2006 version of March Madness:

  • Midwest at Metrodome, Minneapolis: c. 50,000
  • West at Oakland Arena, Oakland: 19,596
  • East at MCI Center, Washington: 18,756
  • South at Georgia Dome, Atlanta: c. 40,000

As a practical matter, they'd probably have fewer than 17,534 seats for a Regional, what with all the extra media presence and whatnot.

Is Tulsa's white-winged wonder destined to be an albatross?

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:04 PM)
3 November 2005
A handbasket from Helena

Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer was in Oklahoma this week. He gave an address at the National Congress of American Indians at the Tulsa Crowne Plaza, in which he said that the worst part of his job was consoling the survivors of fallen warriors.

Schweitzer has oil on his mind these days; he told the NCAI that the US has "140,000 troops in Iraq and we know why they are there. They are there because that is the corner of the oil production world." He also visited Syntroleum's coal-to-natural-gas conversion facility and got in a plug for Montana coal; Syntroleum suggested that synthetic-fuel plants could be built on-site at coal mines, eliminating the expense of hauling coal across the country to processing facilities.

There were rumors that Schweitzer has his eye on the White House, which he denied: "I have the best job in America," he said. "I'm not looking to go downhill."

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:00 AM)
4 November 2005
Whirled without end

Don Danz proposes a new logo for the Tulsa World.

A Google search produces no results for norman trashwrap; yours truly gets the "I'm Feeling Lucky" treatment for oily dorklahoman.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:20 AM)
6 November 2005
Two eggs, one basket

Or maybe four eggs, one basket: Tulsa Mayor Bill LaFortune has tapped SMG to manage both the Tulsa Convention Center and the new BOK Center arena. SMG currently manages the Cox Convention Center and the Ford Center arena in Oklahoma City, which, says Michael Bates, could be a problem:

[W]hen a major concert tour is going to make one stop in Oklahoma, you won't have a competition between the two cities to get the show — instead SMG will decide, based on their bottom line.

I have to assume LaFortune was thinking that unless he got a brand-name management firm, Tulsa wouldn't get any of these events at all. Still, I'm wondering if Tulsa, or for that matter Oklahoma City, wouldn't have been better served if he'd sought out an SMG competitor: having the four largest venues in the state under a single management strikes me as at least potentially counterproductive.

Addendum, 9:15 am, 7 November: Tulsa Councilman Chris Medlock notes that the major competition was Global Spectrum, a corporate affiliate of cable giant Comcast. And Comcast, as a cable giant, is a competitor to Cox Communications, which runs the Oklahoma City and Tulsa cable systems, which owns a piece of the Tulsa radio market, and which has its name on the wall at Oklahoma City's convention center, managed by SMG. Did Cox ever-so-subtly point this out to Bill LaFortune?

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:03 AM)
9 November 2005
In the beginning

State Representative Humus B. Kyddenme last month began drafting a bill for the 2006 session of the Legislature which would mandate the teaching of any and all creation stories which might be pertinent to state residents. With thirty-nine Native American tribes in some way connected to the state, it's possible that the first month of Biology I will be devoted entirely to them. In the Cherokee story, for instance, all the animals originally lived in the sky, above the water, and when the sky became too crowded, Dayuni'si, the water beetle, volunteered to explore what lay below. He found no solid ground, but did find mud at the bottom of the water; the animals attached strings to the corners, hauled the mud up to the surface, and waited for it to dry. (It was left for the wings of the great Buzzard from Galun'lati to finish the job.)

The discovery last week of a small traditional Egyptian community near Tahlequah made it necessary for Kyddenme to include their story as well. Atum, rising from Heliopolis (City of the Sun), produced Shu, the air, and Tefnut, moisture, by "copulating with his hand"; they, in turn, begat Earth and Sky by way of possibly more conventional methods. It's not likely that the state text will contain any illustrations of Atum's act of manipulation, though Rep. Thad Balkman might be able to help.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:17 PM)
11 November 2005
Dave's not here

Dave Simpson, picked up as editorial cartoonist by the Tulsa World after the closing of the rival Tribune in 1992, was sacked by the World this week: a June cartoon he drew was apparently a blatant copy of a 1981 Bob Englehart cartoon published in The Hartford Courant.

Simpson said he had a copy of the cartoon in his files, unsigned, and thought it was one of his own.

World publisher Robert Lorton said that the paper would begin a review of its journalistic standards; Tulsa political writer Michael Bates is expected to stop laughing by mid-December.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:15 PM)
15 November 2005
911 and all that

The FCC has decreed that Phase II of Enhanced 911 for wireless phones shall be implemented by wireless providers by the end of this year. My wireless carrier has already certified that it can meet the FCC's specs in every county in the central part of the state except McClain, and that won't take long.

But it takes two for this particular tango: the local 911 implementation has to be upgraded to work with the Phase II specs, and it hasn't — yet. To finance the upgrade, there's going to be, you guessed it, an election, in which voters will be asked to approve a 50-cent monthly charge on their cell bills to cover the cost of E911 Phase II.

On balance, this seems like a good idea, since, according to proponents, more than half the calls to 911 in this area are made by cell phones, which can't be located precisely under the older technology, resulting in delays.

How does it work?

There are two primary location technologies that can be used with the wireless 9-1-1 system. The first one is called GSM (Global System for Mobile communications), and it utilizes a global positioning system chip in the telephone that transmits latitude and longitude information through satellites and cell phone towers. The second method is called "triangulation," and it uses several wireless towers in the area working in unison to triangulate and estimate the location of the call by providing latitude and longitude coordinates. The latitude and longitude data works through a map that the dispatcher will have on a computer screen, which will pinpoint the caller?s location and provide directions to responding police, fire and EMS units.

If I'm reading this correctly, GSM phones can be read directly; CDMA and TDMA phones will require the triangulation method. (I have GSM.)

Were my paranoia at elevated levels, I might be concerned that the powers that be could track my every move with Phase II, but they insist that the location parameters are transmitted back to HQ only when a 911 call is placed.

The election in central Oklahoma (six counties) will be on the 13th of December.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:23 AM)
The reality check comes due

The state has been grumbling that the newly-increased tobacco tax wasn't bringing in as much money as they'd planned: what with people quitting the habit, sales are down about 16 percent overall, and tribal smoke shops, which don't have to fork over anywhere near the full $1.03 per pack, are garnering a much larger share of the market than anticipated.

This, of course, is the Law of Unintended Consequences in action, though it could have been predicted by anyone who got through the first semester of Econ 101. Now Ron Cross, owner of Indian Nation Wholesale Company and a member of the state's advisory committee, is proposing that the entire system be scrapped.

It won't happen, of course. And Sooner Politics' Keith Gaddie notes:

The decision of some cigarette smokers to cut back or quit as a consequence of the new tobacco taxes — an admirable public health consequence — nonetheless indicates that in our poor state, there is a very delicate revenue tipping point for the consumption of sin. High gas, high cigarettes, and lottery tickets: At the end of the day, where do working poor consumers place their moneys? And what are the consequences for Oklahoma?

The phrase "muddling along" comes immediately to mind.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:52 AM)
19 November 2005
Beyond trading spouses

An Oklahoma man is suing the producers of ABC-TV's "reality" series Wife Swap, claiming they sent him, not another woman, but a gay man, causing him to become emotionally distraught. Jeffrey Bedford of Haileyville says the show misled him as to its intentions.

Named in the suit: ABC, the Walt Disney Company (ABC's corporate parent) and RDF Media, which produces the show.

(First link has been updated.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:23 AM)
24 November 2005
Down by the riverside

Tulsa attorney David McKinney is spearheading a campaign he calls Do The River First, a call for Tulsa County voters to reject three of the four propositions on the "4 to Fix the County" ballot and spend the money instead on Arkansas River development, which, he says, "is the best chance we have to improve our economy."

Certainly it's worked for Jenks, to the south of Tulsa, which is busily developing its stretch of the Arkansas while Tulsa commissions studies and such. And, McKinney points out:

Our overall sales tax burden is almost 10%. It is unlikely that the voters will approve any higher sales tax. This means that if we do not use the expiring 1/6% sales tax for the Arkansas River, we will not have any substantial amount of sales tax money available to DO THE RIVER for five more years.

Worse, he says, other cities in the region are way ahead of Tulsa in riverside development:

Most Kansas cities and towns — including those that share the Arkansas River with us — have ambitious river development plans. These include Topeka [link requires Adobe Reader] and Wichita.

Our neighboring cities [are] turning their rivers into economic development engines. These include Dallas/Fort Worth, San Antonio, Des Moines, Memphis and Kansas City. And look what Oklahoma City has done ? and they had to CREATE their river through Bricktown!

(Links in the first paragraph added by me.)

I have one small quibble with this:

Instead of spreading a thin, ineffective, coat of tax money around the county, we should focus our available sales tax dollars on a project that really will improve our community. Oklahoma City used this approach when it concentrated its sales tax proceeds on the successful Bricktown project.

The two situations aren't strictly comparable, since Oklahoma City's MAPS projects tended to be much larger than anything on the "4 to Fix the County" agenda, and only 2.5 of the nine MAPS projects (the ballpark, the canal, and half the trolley routes) were specific to Bricktown. The only MAPS project that is really comparable to anything in "4 to Fix" is the general upgrading of State Fair Park. There's Vision 2025, of course, but any plans Vision 2025 might have for the river will, "due to a multiplicity of complicated issues", take a long time.

Perhaps more to the point, both "4 to Fix" and Vision 2025 are Tulsa County projects: they are funded by a county sales tax, and inevitably, given the structure of county government in Oklahoma, this leads to turf issues. (McKinney alludes to this: "The extension of ["4 to Fix"] will pay for road projects in the suburbs, balanced almost to the penny so each commissioner has the same money to spread around his/her district.") MAPS, by contrast, was undertaken entirely by Oklahoma City; Oklahoma County has no sales tax of its own.

Then again, would riverfront development in Tulsa move along more swiftly if the City of Tulsa were more directly involved? Somehow I doubt it.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:25 AM)
28 November 2005
Where there's a Will

The Downtown Guy says that for the state's centennial in 2007, we need something to grab the nation's interest:

A movie. A wide release movie that hits theaters across the country. Of course, it can't be something corny. It can't be a remake of Oklahoma. It's got to fit in with what today's audiences are looking for.

Think about some of the biggest critical hits the past few years: Ray. Walk the Line.

Now, who is widely held up as one of the best representations of Sooner pride, someone whose life story was pretty incredible?

Will Rogers. I'll let someone far more qualified than I take up this argument and explain why his life story is so perfect for the big screen, and why it's time to retell his story to today's generation.

It's time. With Gray Frederickson and others in state, and maybe some help from E. K. Gaylord II's movie studio, is it really such an impossible idea?

Get a good script writer, convince Frederickson and his young charges that this is the opportunity to make something great, something that can pay off big dividends for their state, and then present a plan to Gaylord's studio that suggests that maybe this can make money and draw in crowds, and if not, it would still be a great service to his state.

I like. And both these guys have a decent track record — Frederickson's won an Oscar, fercryingoutloud — which might make the project easier to sell upstream.

Last time Hollywood tried this tale was in 1952 with The Story of Will Rogers, directed by Michael Curtiz (Casablanca), and starring Will Jr. as his dad. Obviously we don't have this option today, and we probably shouldn't figure on getting an A-list cast, so as to keep the budget within reason. And we don't have a whole lot of time, since 2007 is a mere 13 months away. If you have casting suggestions, drop them into Comments.

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:20 PM)
29 November 2005
More on the hanging judge

Former judge Donald Thompson, who resigned from office after charges of manually-operated sexual misconduct were brought against him, is facing new charges: improper use (or, more precisely, non-use) of briefs during trials, and storage of inappropriate materials on his office computer.

Counsel for Thompson argues that the prosecutors, by adding these new charges, are "surly" and "vindictive." Meanwhile, DNA tests have fingered Thompson as the creator of various chair deposits, possibly with contributions from the manager of Thompson's rental-property operation, who is mentioned in several not-all-that-appropriate emails on Thompson's PC.

Just when you think you've heard it all ....

(Previous coverage here, here, here, here and here.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:29 AM)
In the Hinrichs files

Michelle Malkin has been sifting through the unsealed documents from the Joel Hinrichs case, and she didn't find much therein:

None of the hundreds of e-mails in Hinrichs' Yahoo.com account accessed by the FBI/JTTF are included in the release. Nor are the names or URLs of any of the websites he visited from his home computer or any of the nine campus computers searched by the FBI/JTTF. The last line of Hinrichs' suicide message is reported, but not the rest of the text document. So, was he simply a troubled soul, a freelance Islamist bent on mass murder at the OU football stadium, or something else? The unsealed papers neither prove nor disprove any of these theories.

I have serious doubts about "freelance Islamist," but I suspect "troubled soul" doesn't fully explain it either.

An FBI spokesman told Malkin that the investigation was not complete, but was nearly so.

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:48 PM)
30 November 2005
$45 cash back

Well, actually, it's a check, and anyone who paid Oklahoma income tax for 2004 will be getting it as a rebate. (I had no idea the state was so flush with cash that they could afford to hand out these things; maybe they're making a killing on the Gross Production Tax or something.) Taxpayers who filed joint, head-of-household or surviving-spouse returns will get $90.

Says the Treasurer's office, 1.2 million checks totalling $92 million will be disbursed. That's an average of $76 and change; apparently comparatively few of us are (sigh) single these days.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:05 AM)
1 December 2005
Oh, great

Former State Representative Bill Graves (R-Dystopia) says he'll run for the 5th District Congressional seat being vacated by Ernest Istook, who's seeking the Governor's job.

In a state where we often find ourselves trying to explain that not every conservative Christian is a loony theocrat who wants to stick Jesus in your ear and any other inconvenient orifice, we try to avoid mentioning Graves, who, though he didn't invent that stereotype, works as hard as anyone on earth to earn it.

Last year, I wrote:

Proximity to Graves is probably harmful to one's higher brain functions; fortunately, I don't live in his district, and he'll be term-limited into oblivion soon enough.

Also fortunately, Graves doesn't have much of a base outside of a small gaggle of witch-burners and such, and there are already three GOP candidates in the race, none of whom he's likely to be able to beat in the primary; still, now that I am in District 5, it behooves me to help keep the ballot clean of embarrassments. (I have never, for instance, voted for Istook.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:59 AM)
Just shut up and sign, okay?

This is not good:

A person went to the [Tulsa] post office and a petition was presented for he/she to sign. The top petition page was for the TABOR (Tax Payer Bill of Rights) and all indications were that was the petition being signed. HOWEVER, THE ACTUAL PETITION WAS FOR THE COUNCILOR AT LARGE PROPOSAL. That, folks, is lower in life forms than dung beetles. So, if you are asked to sign a petition, just refuse unless you read everything completely and know for a fact exactly what you are signing.

In fairness to dung beetles, they never really had a choice in the matter.

Unlike these guys:

Title 34, Oklahoma Statute 3.1, says signature collectors must be citizens of the State of Oklahoma. Violations of that statute can be fined $1000.00 plus 1 year in jail for each offense. Two of the signature gatherers were from out of state and ran away when asked to provide identification.

A TABOR petition came through here the other day; I ignored it. I'm thinking maybe I should have looked it over after all.

(Via BatesLine.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:33 AM)
4 December 2005
Scratching off Christmas

You'd think this would be innocuous enough, even secular enough for anyone at this time of year. You would, however, be wrong:

The teachers and their students came up with the theme of the gift of education money from the lottery. The teachers gathered discarded, cancelled lottery tickets from convenience stores. The kids cut ornaments from the discarded tickets and even folded and cut some of the tickets into three-dimensional mathematical shapes. They cut the top tree star out of a lottery poster. Ping pong balls with numbers carefully written to mimic the big lottery drawing balls were strung together with twine and bows to complete the decoration. After school on Wednesday, the church across the street provided vans to take the kids up to the State Capitol to decorate the tree allocated for our school.

The Capitol was abuzz with excitement as children from schools from all over the state decorated their trees as we decorated ours. The Governor and his wife went from tree to tree and posed with the students from the different schools. Our children excitedly gathered around the Governor, the Mrs. and Santa Claus to get their pictures taken. We were so proud of our tree and our creative theme.

Then not all hell, but a significant fraction thereof, broke loose:

[A radio] reporter accused us of having our children sell lottery tickets. We were accused of an inappropriate display to publicize the lottery. We were accused of a lot of heinous things. What had started out as a clever idea turned out to be a sinister plot to undermine the morality of our culture.

When our annual event was over that afternoon, I called the state representative whom the radio station (and subsequently the television station) told us had called them about the tree. I apologized to him for having caused such heart burn. I explained that we had no intention of making a political statement and would gladly remove the tree. I did not wish this nastiness to besmirch our children or embarrass our Governor who had allowed the children of our state to decorate Capitol Christmas trees. I hope our controversy will not ruin this event for all the children and schools.

I am no great fan of the lottery, and have spent the sum of $0 on tickets thus far. But I am even less enthusiastic about the idea of disillusioning fifth-graders for the sake of an irrelevant political point, and I do mean irrelevant; the lottery was voted on and passed and is now part of the law, there is no organized opposition to it — and this would be one spectacularly stupid way to start one. What's next? County option?

It is an axiom of American politics that those who most loudly proclaim the need to protect the children from one thing or another are invariably those who are most willing to use those children as political pawns. And we wonder why we're raising a generation of cynics.

Addendum, 5 December: AP wire story on this incident.

Addendum, 7 December: Follow-up.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:59 AM)
Go ahead and bid, we don't care

Last month I noted that it seemed odd that Tulsa would select the same management company for its arena and convention center — SMG — that is used by Oklahoma City. At the time, I said that "having the four largest venues in the state under a single management strikes me as at least potentially counterproductive." An addendum, courtesy of Chris Medlock of the Tulsa City Council, suggested that productivity, at least to the Tulsa power structure, is secondary to the peddling of influence.

And Medlock was right: the bidding process was rigged, and the fix was in from the very beginning.

When you use your public office for personal gain, you're supposed to go through the motions of making it look like you have the best interests of your constituents at heart. This is covered in the very first week of Graft 101; apparently Tulsa Mayor Bill LaFortune was absent that day.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:15 AM)
5 December 2005
Some of us can read

Of the 69 American cities with populations of 250,000 or more, Oklahoma City is, says this survey, the 38th most literate. (Seattle is at the top; Stockton, California, the bottom.)

Components of this scale:

  • Booksellers: 36th
  • Educational Level: 33rd
  • Internet Usage: 65th
  • Libraries: 27th
  • Newspaper Circulation: 31st (tied with Baltimore)
  • Periodicals: 29th (tied with Milwaukee)

A fairly middling showing, except for the Net-usage level, a new consideration for this year's survey, and given some of what's on the Net, I'd wonder if that criterion should be given so much weight. Incidentally, we pulled 49th last year in Libraries, which indicates either some substantial gains or a major tweak in the methodology.

Tulsa, which made Top 15 in both Educational Level and Libraries, scored 24th overall, tied with Tampa; their worst showing, which will surprise no one who has read this, is in Newspaper Circulation — 48th, tied with Wichita.

Compared with last year, Oklahoma City is up one notch, despite the poor Net showing, and Tulsa is down three.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:01 AM)
7 December 2005
Maybe someone set him up

Tulsa Mayor Bill LaFortune, explaining his city's less-than-wonderful crime rate:

More police officers mean more arrests mean a higher crime rate.

This guy is turning into the Marion Barry of the Midwest. (Well, I suppose we'll have to catch him buying crack first.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:05 AM)
Rush to trash

Dr Jan follows up on the infamous Lotto Tree:

Everyone was in a complete uproar about this; so I went from place to place and calmed and rebuked everyone from freaking out. It was just about this time that I made morning announcements and during our state mandated moment of silence (and yes I really do love that time each morning because I do take the opportunity to pray ... and you can imagine what I was praying about this morning), things seemed to kind of turn around. We quit thinking about the mess and just got right on with business; and our business is about teaching the kids how to read, write, and problem solve.

The fifth grade teachers began to use all these events to teach their students about the political process. They read and talked about the lottery legislation. They were able to give tangible evidence how perspective is everything in a story and how we all had a different perspective. The teachers were able to take this disappointing event and make a lasting contribution to the children's understanding of point of view. We harbored no ill will. We did not "sell" the lottery or even support it; we simply taught about the legislation and the proposed effect on public education in Oklahoma. We let the negativity go.

If nothing else, there's a new entry on the kids' vocabulary list: Grandstanding. As products of the Oklahoma Legislature go, it's second in volume, ranking just above Bad Bills but below Desperate Pleas for Attention. (Remember this for Social Studies, if they still teach Social Studies anywhere on earth.)

(Previous coverage here.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:52 PM)
9 December 2005
Your DA wants deadbeats

One major revenue source for local prosecutors in this state is collecting on bad checks, which typically bring in $140 or so per item. So it's no surprise that Cleveland County DA Tim Kuykendall was unhappy to hear that Wal-Mart may start turning over bad checks to collection agencies rather than to district attorneys.

Kuykendall says that his office brings in about $1.5 million per year, half of which comes from bad-check charges; half of those come from Wal-Mart, about $384,000 worth in 2004.

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:24 PM)
11 December 2005
The last word in OETA: Authority

This past summer I endorsed this prescription by Doc Searls:

Commercial radio and television have a huge (and problematic) split between customers (advertisers) and consumers (viewers and listeners). Yet, for some dumb reason (too many staffers coming over from the growing labor pool of laid-off commercial broadcast marketers?), public broadcasting has looked to commercial broadcasting as an ideal model. Rather than make it easier than ever for its consumers to become customers, and for its customers to become more involved with the stations, public broadcasting whored itself to underwriters and other "sponsors."

Maybe that's an unkind characterization, but there's a follow-the-money effect at work here. As dependence on federal money shrinks, commercial sponsors take up the slack. There is a natural drift of energy toward pleasing those advertisers (which is what they are), and away from customers that really matter: paying listeners and viewers. In other words, public broadcasting has been doing its best to behave like commercial broadcasting. Not helpful.

Regarding our own (so to speak) PBS facilities, Matt Deatherage notes:

OETA is rich because it turns the purpose of public broadcasting as upside-down as it can and still call itself "public broadcasting." OETA is rich because it made sure it wouldn't run programs giving progressive Oklahomans a voice if what they said might annoy people with deep pockets.

Of course, the most grievous problem with OETA is that it's an entity of the state, subject to legislative oversight, and legislators in this state are rather easily spooked (cf. "Scratching off Christmas"). I frankly don't see how we can expect any changes in OETA's practices unless it can be slid out from under the twitchy eye of government and into the control of a private foundation, the way most PBS affiliates nationwide are operated; the new service will still have to go hat in hand to donors, but at least it won't have to answer to 23rd and Lincoln.

Possible compromise: Let OETA continue to run the statewide network of LPTV translators and the two full-power outlets in Cheyenne and Eufaula, and spin off the Oklahoma City and Tulsa stations to local operators. The hard part, needless to say, is convincing the legislature that this would be a Good Thing.

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:12 PM)
12 December 2005
E911 election tomorrow

You will be asked to approve a 50-cent (at least in central Oklahoma) monthly fee, which will be used to pay for an upgraded 911 Phase II system which can automatically track wireless calls, a function beyond the capacity of the existing 911 system.

The promoters have posted this FAQ file; I've covered the issue here. In your area of the state, the provisions may vary slightly.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:41 AM)
14 December 2005
Everybody say Yeah

Well, they did, at least those who showed up at the polls: the 50-cent fee for E911 Phase II was approved in Central Oklahoma by 3-1 margins or better. Voters in Norman, Edmond and Mid-Del schools also approved bond issues for building improvements and such.

In the Tulsa area, the "4 to Fix the County" initiatives passed, though not by huge margins.

Statewide results are here.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:10 AM)
16 December 2005
Ken Neal hates you

He'll probably hate me after this, if he doesn't already, but the amount of sleep I plan to lose over it can be measured in nanoseconds.

Ken Neal, for those of you who aren't familiar with him, is the flapper in the toilet that is the Tulsa World, and I suspect he's been exposed to too many toxic chemicals at editorial-board meetings, judging by this email he sent to the South Tulsa Citizens Coalition, which had the temerity to oppose something the World wanted passed:

Let's see now: After months of rhetoric and barrels of ink and who knows how much arm-twisting, you convinced 58 per cent to vote against ["4 to Fix the County"]. Even if you weren't there, the vote would have probably been about 50-50. So much for your influence. And let's don't forget: the motive for opposition to 4 to Fix was "if you don't do what we want in our neighborhood, then we are against everything in the county." Great citizenship, don't you think?

Translation: "Nanny nanny boo boo."

And people wonder why the World is held in such bad, um, odor these days — or perhaps they don't.

(Courtesy of Steven Roemerman.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:03 PM)
22 December 2005
Tulsa wants an orchestra

And three years after the demise of the Philharmonic, it looks like they may get one: a new Tulsa Symphony Orchestra is forming, and hopes to raise $1 million by the end of the year. The new TSO will have about 70 members; director Tim McFadden is a member of the executive board of AFM Local 94.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:17 AM)
A solid position, sort of

I've mentioned once or twice that buying off OG&E's wind farm was becoming cheaper than buying the regular gridstuff, largely because said regular gridstuff is obtained by burning natural gas, which costs more than a supermodel's body parts these days.

OG&E, in a letter to its wind customers, is now acknowledging this fact, and notes that in its new rate schedule, the $2/100-kw wind price will be lowered by, um, a dollar ninety.

This puts me ahead $11.40 a month before other changes to the rate schedule are figured in, or almost enough to cover what I'm losing on ONG's gas billing.

Addendum: And I'm quite sure that OG&E is serious about this wind business; they've signed on to a deal to build a new 120-megawatt wind farm, which could be on line in a year.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:21 PM)
23 December 2005
More absorption

Metris Companies, a major credit-card issuer catering to the less-than-bucks-up market — I have one of their titanium cards sitting in a drawer somewhere — has been acquired by HSBC, which is a Pacific Rim operation (Hongkong Shanghai Banking Corp.) which also owns, among other things, the old Household Finance Company, its one-time rival Beneficial, and what used to be called Marine Midland Bank up in Buffalo.

Metris has a customer-service center in Tulsa, one reason I kept this account open; I expect that office to be closed shortly.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:00 AM)
Where is this place again?

Michael Bates, writing in Urban Tulsa Weekly, on buildings as icons, and how the new BOk Center doesn't measure up:

[Architect Cesar] Pelli's design fails as an icon because it is not distinctive. It's arena-shaped, it's built with steel, concrete, and lots of glass, and it looks like millions of other modern buildings, just differently arranged. It doesn't draw on any symbol that would bring to mind Tulsa or Oklahoma or even the United States. It could be anywhere in the world, and so it brings to mind nowhere.

Although Pelli claims that he used Native American and Art Deco elements, they aren't apparent. The shape of the building is reminiscent of a QuikTrip coffee lid, but that's the nearest connection to Tulsa's heritage that I can find.

Oklahoma City's Ford Center isn't particularly iconic either, but it's intended to fit into an existing urban environment, not to anchor a new one.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:30 AM)
27 December 2005
That weird fiscal-responsibility business

In 1994, Blanchard voters approved a one-cent sales tax to pay off a 40-year Federal loan to cover the cost of running a 15-mile water line to connect to Oklahoma City's water system. The idea was that at the end of the 40 years, the tax would duly expire.

But Blanchard's growth since 1994 has been greater than anticipated, and the city has announced that the loan is now almost completely paid off; the city attorney says that February revenues will cover the last of it, and once that's done, the Oklahoma Tax Commission, which collects the tax, will be directed to stop doing so.

I bring up stuff like this from time to time to remind people that not everyone in a government office carries the Spendthrift Gene.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:27 AM)
28 December 2005
Rock down to Electric Avenue

In 1990, the city of McAlester, Oklahoma renamed a major thoroughfare Gene Stipe Boulevard, after a local lawyer who had served in the state Senate for four decades.

Two years ago, after pleading guilty to federal charges of funneling money illegally into an associate's Congressional race and subsequently laundering the funds, Stipe resigned from the Senate in disgrace, was fined a gazillion dollars, and gave up his law license.

Earlier this year, five hundred McAlester residents submitted a petition to get Stipe's name off the street signs, and yesterday the City Council voted 5-2 to do just that; the street will revert to its previous name of Electric Avenue.

A friend of Stipe's said he'd see to it that Mayor Don Lewis was turned out of office at the next election.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:35 AM)
29 December 2005
Defective products, I guess

Oklahoma State Trooper Nikky Joe Green was murdered two years ago by meth-head Ricky Ray Malone; a mobile meth lab was found in Malone's car.

Green's widow has now filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against Malone — and against the manufacturers and sellers of the cold-remedy tablets Malone used in his traveling lab. Linda Green charges that the stores knew the tabs were being used to produce meth, and that the drug companies know ways to keep pseudoephedrine from being extracted to produce meth, but deliberately don't use them.

It was Nik Green's death that prompted the state, in the spring of 2004, to enact stricter controls on the drugs in question; Malone is presently parked on Death Row at Big Mac.

Still, I'm wondering if it's possible to sue concrete companies if a Mob informant is found in the river wearing cement overshoes.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:37 AM)
30 December 2005
Other things to do in a drought

Three 10-year-old boys from down Durant way broke into the local middle school and ran amok, fooling around with the athletic equipment, swiping snacks from the cafeteria, pounding dents into the gym floor, and generally acting like morons.

Trust me on this: "Do not take off your clothes in front of a surveillance camera."

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:30 AM)
4 January 2006
Are we not men? We are Bevo

Some reasons Berry Tramel says we should be pulling for Texas over USC in the Dilemma Bowl:

1. The streak. I don't think USC is going 13-0 next season. I don't think the Trojans can reach 48 straight. But you never know. No reason to monkey with it. End the streak now.

3. Big 12 pride. Miami 37, Nebraska 14. LSU 21, OU 14. USC 55, OU 19. The Big 12 is making like the AFC of the '80s, developing a well-deserved reputation for gagging in the big game. Another flop job will make it official: The Big 12 is a fraud.

12. Blood pressure. Rancor is bad for the soul. The best way to deal with an enemy is to make them your friend. So spit out your anger and swallow your pride, if not arsenic, and cheer on Texas.

Yes, there are nine other reasons.

Beyond that, deponent (who attended a school in Austin which shall remain nameless) saith not.

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:13 PM)
6 January 2006
It helps when the rules make sense

The Oklahoma Tax Commission has sent me a Form 1099-G, and I know why: I itemized deductions in 2004, and this means that the tax refund I received is considered income for 2005. Nothing startling about that.

However, something doesn't quite add up: the amount specified on 1099-G exceeds the amount of the refund — by an amount which happens to equal the amount I kicked in for use tax.

I have emailed the OTC with a query, and also asked why they didn't bother to include the $45 rebate that popped up this fall. (Best guess here: they haven't gotten the records back from Bank of America, to whom they outsourced the sending of the actual rebate checks.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:24 PM)
7 January 2006
Welcome to the 21st century

The Oklahoman is running ads for Brokeback Mountain.

If this sounds odd to you, you haven't been here very long.

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:57 PM)
13 January 2006
The Jack and Ennis Show

If you were wondering if anyone in this state (besides me) would go to see Brokeback Mountain, hear this from GayOKC.com's Rob Abiera:

Jackie Faubus at Harkins Theatres tells me that Brokeback Mountain made $40,000 in its opening weekend here in OKC, and that $15,000 of that was at the Harkins Bricktown. The other $25,000 was split between the AMC Quail Springs and the Spotlight 14 in Norman.

Compared to nationwide per-screen averages for any movie, that's still pretty spectacular — even the biggest blockbuster opening at 3000 screens on its first weekend tends to make less than $10,000 per screen.

AMC was also impressed:

According to AMC Entertainment's Melanie Bell, "Brokeback Mountain is playing well at AMC Theatres in Oklahoma. In fact, last week AMC Southroads 20 (in Tulsa) and AMC Quail Springs 24 (in Oklahoma City) ranked in the top ten in terms of grosses for this film in the AMC circuit."

The obvious point, says Abiera:

The movie has to be pulling in more than just Gay people in order to get numbers like that.

Which doesn't surprise me in the least.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:21 AM)
18 January 2006
Back to the shadows again

Oklahoma City bombing conspirator Michael Fortier, having served the bulk of his 12-year sentence, will be released Friday.

Fortier, who did not take part in the actual bomb placement but who assisted bomber Timothy McVeigh with his preparations and lied to federal authorities about them, struck a deal with prosecutors in exchange for a shorter jail term. He will remain under some unspecified form of supervision for three years following his discharge from the federal prison system.

No announcement has been made as to where Fortier will go; he had been a resident of Kingman, Arizona prior to the 1995 bombing.

Addendum, 7:45 am: Chase McInerney looks at the man and his mission, such as it was.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:21 AM)
20 January 2006
Taking a stand against evil

Rep. Guy Liebmann (R-Oklahoma City) has prefiled House Bill 2083, which if passed would permit the filing of lawsuits against purveyors of spyware and other scummy software.

Under 2083, service or hardware providers, or the Attorney General, would be allowed to sue anyone or any entity who "deceitfully" plants unwanted software on a computer.

Things I want to know: if burying something in the second paragraph of a EULA will constitute deceit, and how effective this measure will be against a pack of sociopaths in deepest Elbonia.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:25 AM)
21 January 2006
The book of exodus

Jack Boyte points to the Delta Faucet closing in Chickasha and the desperate attempt by state officials to save GM's Oklahoma City Assembly plant, and reminds us:

In the recent sessions passed, the legislature has passed "Right to Work" and "Workers Compensation Reform" bills, all touted as saviors of jobs and imperative to creating new jobs in Oklahoma.

The increase in job holders in Oklahoma from November 2004 to November 2005 was 1.1%. These statistics don't distinguish between part-time and full-time workers because some companies claim 28 hours per week is full time.

These measures were sold on the premise that they would have salutary effects on job creation, and such effects have yet to materialize to any great extent; literally for decades Opubco and various Chamber of Commerce types preached the gospel of right-to-work, and when it finally got here, its effect on actual employment proved to be essentially nil.

Let it be said up front that cutting the costs of doing business (such as that workers-comp reform) is usually a Good Thing, and that low taxes are to be preferred to high taxes. But the state seems convinced that if it hits exactly the right combination of "incentives," the floodgates will open, and that's simply not true. Says Boyte:

Our state leaders must change their long held convictions that today's reality contradict. Some other formula exists other than the short-sighted low-wage, tax give-away model.

I'm not sure that there is a formula that works infallibly — different companies will have somewhat different priorities — but the "Come Exploit Our Serfs!" approach isn't working very well at all.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:27 AM)
22 January 2006
There she is

For some reason, Oklahoma produces more than its share of Miss America winners: Jennifer Berry, Miss America 2006, is the fifth* in 85 years, minus a few years when the pageant was suspended. Given that the Sooner State has maybe 1/80 of the nation's population, we're clearly punching above our weight class. I leave for someone with greater vision than mine the task of explaining why things have worked out this way.

As for Miss Berry, she's twenty-two, a student at OU, and she'll receive a $30k scholarship, presumably for when she finishes her year-long speaking tour.

* Previous winners:

    1926:  Norma Smallwood
    1967:  Jane Jayroe
    1981:  Susan Powell
    1996:  Shawntell Smith

The official list through 2005 is here.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:45 AM)
1 February 2006
Foyilled again

Actually, few of us are ever Foyilled to begin with. I go through there maybe once a year just to avoid the Will Rogers Turnpike.

Foyil, Oklahoma, population 250 or thereabouts, is a little more than a wide spot in the road along Route 66 between Chelsea and Claremore, where Oklahoma 28 veers off to the east; the railroad runs parallel to 66 on the west.

Lynn has a few photos from this little town, including its terminally cute City Hall — although there is one explicable omission.

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:00 PM)
6 February 2006
Such an expensive legislature

Mike's view from Little Axe:

The idea of streamlining bloated state legislatures is not new. More than one person has looked at Nebraska's legislature made up of 49 legislators, total, and wondered why a state like Oklahoma needs one hundred more than that.

Of course, Nebraska has a single legislative body: the other states have two, following the pattern established in the national Constitution.

There's no reason why it couldn't be done here, though. Mike cites this Muskogee Phoenix op-ed:

My vote would be to excise representatives, but call our senators "representatives." This is to punish senators for their disdainful attitude that being a representative is an inferior position.

They actually have about the same responsibilities, but I have it from a reliable source that senators carry on as if they are better than your common representative.

Myself, I'm persuaded that the attitude is more of an annoyance than the numbers, which is why I rather like the New Hampshire layout: twenty-two senators and four hundred representatives, none of whom get paid enough to make a career of it. (Annual pay, per the state constitution, is $100, with an extra $25 for presiding officers; subsequent amendments have introduced a mileage allowance, but the pay remains what it was in 1784.) At this level, it's hard to look down your nose at anyone.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:56 AM)
The State of things

Governor Henry's State of the State Address was given today, and I listened to it on the radio.

There was no mention of one of his pet projects, the state lottery, except in the most elliptical of terms:

We gave voters an opportunity, and they created the first new revenue streams for education in more than 15 years.

And he attempted to preempt ongoing GOP obsessions:

Together we rebounded from difficult times to build a vibrant economy. We permanently reduced the income tax, eliminated capital gains taxes, and even provided rebates to all Oklahoma taxpayers for the first time in history.

Together, we lowered taxes on our retirees and veterans, and we passed landmark workers' compensation reforms. Our policies have breathed new life into our economy. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that our growth in jobs and personal income now outpace the regional and national averages.

He's calling, again, for cheaper drugs:

Prescription drugs are one of the chief drivers of increased medical costs. When needy Oklahomans must choose between food and medicine while drug companies spend more than $4 billion on advertising, something has gone terribly wrong. The status quo is unacceptable.

This session, I renew my call that we work together in a bipartisan manner to help Oklahomans safely re-import lower-cost prescription drugs from other industrialized nations. We know some pharmaceutical companies will again fight this every step of the way, but the people of Oklahoma elected us to represent their interests, and not special interests.

And he's willing to spend the bucks to push the state as a research center:

Leveraged by a $180 million bond issue, we will stimulate cutting-edge research. We will invest in sensor technology at Oklahoma State University. We will invest in cancer and diabetes research at the University of Oklahoma. And, we will support private-sector research throughout the state. It is critical we equip ourselves with every tool needed to develop a research infrastructure that will fuel our long-term prosperity.

He departed substantially from his advance copy only twice: to acknowledge the absence of Chickasaw Nation Governor Bill Anoatubby, who was scheduled to be there but was called away on an emergency, and to add something of a homily to the closing.

Most of his new proposals are fairly non-controversial; there may be quibbling over the details, but I suspect he'll get most of what he wants. Which, if you get right down to it, sums up his first term pretty well.

Towards the end, he dropped the name of WWII correspondent Ernie Pyle, by way of one of my old favorite quotes, circa 1943:

The men of Oklahoma are drawling and soft-spoken. Something of the purity of the soil seems to be in them.... An Oklahoman is straight and direct. He is slow to criticize and hard to anger, but once he is convinced of the wrong of something, brother, watch out.

As a Midwestern transplant, I have long since learned the value of this approach.

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:32 PM)
8 February 2006
This will pass quickly enough

Senate Bill 1022, by Mike Morgan and Todd Hiett (as heavyweight authorship goes, you can't get much heavier), adds one new sales tax exemption to the 50 already in existence:

51. Sales of tickets made on or after September 21, 2005, for admission to a professional athletic event in which a team in the National Basketball Association or National Hockey League is a participant, which is held in a facility owned or operated by a municipality or a public trust of which a municipality is the sole beneficiary.

Which, of course, applies to the Hornets: this was part of the package deal that brought the Bees to OKC, but the legislature was out of session at the time.

(Full text here, in Rich Text Format.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:06 AM)
10 February 2006
Though we really did try to make it

The Oklahoma House has watched the livestock flee, but they're going to close the barn door anyway.

House Bill 2091, by John Wright (R-Broken Arrow), would provide a tax credit equal to the 3.5-percent vehicle excise tax to buyers of General Motors vehicles built in Oklahoma — which means, vehicles produced at GM Oklahoma City Assembly, which will be idled later this month in advance of permanent closing.

Wright is hopeful:

Obviously, the plant is not yet closed, so as long as production is still taking place, there's still time for a change of heart.

Last month, Governor Henry announced an incentive package he hoped would persuade GM to keep the plant open; Treasurer Scott Meacham says that the company is scheduled to discuss the package with state officials before the production line shuts down.

Wright's bill made it out of committee at mid-week and will go before the full House.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:19 AM)
15 February 2006
Smaller hole, bigger donut?

This Michael Bates "side note" carries more weight than you'd think:

I was at a political event a few weeks ago and met Tom Kimball, the head of economic development for Owasso. He told me that right now, about half the population of the metro area lives within the City of Tulsa, and half without. He said that it's natural for the center city to become an even smaller proportion of the metro area, and pointed to St. Louis as an example. I thought, but didn't say, that Tulsa tripled its land area in 1966 precisely to avoid getting hemmed in by its suburbs. I forget the exact number he quoted me, but I believe he suggested that Tulsa shouldn't complain about ending up at around a quarter to a third of the metro area population.

The city of St. Louis has much less than a quarter to a third of the St. Louis Metro population: St. Louis County alone, which has been separate from the city of St. Louis for 125 years or so, has three times the population of the city. What the Census Bureau considers the St. Louis Metropolitan Statistical Area includes 2.75 million people; just over one million live in St. Louis County, and about 340,000 live in St. Louis City. This gives the city about an eighth of the metro area. More to the point, the city of St. Louis literally cannot expand: it's completely surrounded. Any population growth has to come within the original 61 square miles.

There's no particular rule of thumb for the proportion of the metro area population which lives in the central city: nearly two-thirds of the 1.6 million people in the San Antonio metro live in the city of San Antonio. (The figure in Oklahoma City is just under one-half.) Ultimately, what matters is the growth of the city relative to the growth of the suburbs. And this is a major issue in Tulsa, because the city isn't growing: the population of the city of Tulsa fell by 10,000 between 2000 and 2004. Not even St. Louis is shrinking that fast. For critics of Tulsa city government, who have suggested that the power structure is enriching Tulsa suburbs at the expense of city taxpayers, this could well constitute a call to arms.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:13 AM)
Minimizing the minimum wage

House Bill 2639, authored by Rep. Richard Morrissette (D-OKC), would have raised the state minimum wage to $6.15 effective in November. The House Business and Economic Development Committee killed the bill today on a party-line 5-3 vote.

The AP story contains this curious paragraph:

Opponents say raising minimum wages will increase costs for businesses. They also argue that almost all businesses in the state already pay more than the minimum wage.

Which, of course, invites the obvious question: if they're already paying more, how does this increase their costs? I can assure you that I wasn't going to get paid more if this bill had passed. Are some people being paid at a rate defined as the minimum plus X, or the minimum times X?

Yes, I understand the philosophical issues. But if this wire story accurately reflects statements by the opponents of the bill, let it be said that the state GOP is doing a fairly inept job of selling its positions: this stance, as represented, merely makes them look like dullards, and cheap dullards at that.

Now if their real objection was to the provision of HB 2639 that would establish a "living wage" for school-district staff and contractors (for districts of 30,000 students or more), which starts at $11.67 an hour and increases yearly thereafter, why didn't they say so?

(RTF text here.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:41 PM)
16 February 2006
Mistletoe expression

(In 2004, Senate Bill 7 designated the "Oklahoma Rose," a hybrid tea rose developed at Oklahoma State University, as the state flower; mistletoe, which had served in this capacity since 1893 — before statehood, mind you — was bumped to "official floral emblem." Tom Elmore, executive director of the North American Transportation Institute in Moore, is not happy about it, and here he explains why.)

A little insight on the Mistletoe, as related by my grandparents and others along the way:

Among the luxuries today's artificially insulated Americans have claimed is the "right" to sometimes scoff dismissively at those who went before us and the things they loved.

Life on the barren prairie was hard on those in the horse-drawn world. The hearty souls who came here, far from the frontiers of developing modern civilization, had to rely on themselves, their families, their faith and whatever comforts they could find, especially in times of tragedy. The loss of children to accidental injuries, cholera, appendicitis was common. The survivors had no choice but to deal with death and grief first hand.

Even in the depths of winter, Mistletoe was often used to decorate the windswept graves of the children. But it was more than just decoration; it seemed to be a message, a reminder that God, who made the Mistletoe to flourish improbably, defiantly amidst death and the inescapable winter desolation, now held their beloved children in His arms — and that their lives continued in a land of eternal spring.

To recognize this is to understand the love the settlers and even native tribes before them held for the lowly Mistletoe. It's also to understand why its replacement as state flower with a hothouse rose verges on blasphemy. But, then, that's about what we'd expect from the Oklahoma state legislature.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:30 PM)
17 February 2006
A new way to empty your checking account

Debit-card usage is on the rise, and Discover, wanting a piece of that action, has now decided to issue a Discover Debit Card, which will be available in the usual two flavors: individual and business. This will come in handy at Sam's Club and when renewing an Oklahoma auto tag.

The first actual bank to issue the Discover Debit Card, other than Discover's own bank in Delaware, will be the Central National Bank of Enid, Oklahoma, which didn't say whether the card would replace its existing Visa Check Card.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:44 AM)
23 February 2006
Latex review

Conrad Spencer finds this statistic buried in the "State of the State's Health" report:

About 50 percent of our high school students are sexually active, about the same level of activity as the nation. Our high teen birth rate relates in part to the fact that 63 percent of sexually active students nationally regularly use condoms, compared to only 33 percent in Oklahoma.

Concerned, he went looking for examples of Oklahoma sex-ed curricula, but apparently these aren't waiting for stray Googlers.

The pertinent statute would seem to be 70 O.S. §11-103.3, which requires students to receive instruction on AIDS prevention education at least once during grades 5-6, 7-9, and 10-12. Instruction about STDs or pregnancy prevention is apparently not required by this statute.

Then there's this:

All curriculum and materials including supplementary materials which will be used to teach or will be used for or in connection with a sex education class or program which is designed for the exclusive purpose of discussing sexual behavior or attitudes, or any test, survey or questionnaire whose primary purpose is to elicit responses on sexual behavior or attitudes shall be available through the superintendent or a designee of the school district for inspection by parents and guardians of the student who will be involved with the class, program or test, survey or questionnaire. Such curriculum, materials, classes, programs, tests, surveys or questionnaires shall have as one of its primary purposes the teaching of or informing students about the practice of abstinence. The superintendent or a designee of the school district shall provide prior written notification to the parents or guardians of the students involved of their right to inspect the curriculum and material and of their obligation to notify the school in writing if they do not want their child to participate in the class, program, test, survey or questionnaire. Each local board of education shall determine the means of providing written notification to the parents and guardian which will ensure effective notice in an efficient and appropriate manner. No student shall be required to participate in a sex education class or program which discusses sexual behavior or attitudes if a parent or guardian of the student objects in writing to such participation. If the type of program referred to in this section is a part of or is taught during a credit course, a student may be required to enroll in the course but shall not be required to receive instruction in or participate in the program if a parent or guardian objects in writing.

I think it might be reasonable to conclude that (1) they aren't teaching much and (2) they aren't teaching it to many.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:52 AM)
24 February 2006
Taxation without respiration

Oklahoma House Speaker Todd Hiett has pointed out, reasonably enough, that "Oklahoma has an outdated tax system that prevents us from being competitive."

Okay, fine. I can go along with that. And it might be easier to swallow were it not for Hiett's tendency to harp on the same things over and over and over again.

House Bill 3125, which got out of committee this week, is Hiett's latest shot against the state estate tax; should the bill pass in its present form, the tax would be eliminated entirely.

Now I'm not one to scoff at a tax cut, even one which won't affect me in the least — the existing estate tax has a $1 million exemption, which exceeds the amount of my estate by, um, rather a lot — but this quote from Hiett bugs me slightly:

We want to fully eliminate the death tax for two key reasons. One, it's just clearly wrong to make death a taxable event and, two, we won't be able to attract capital, wealth and industry until we do it.

It is an article of faith among Oklahoma Republicans that every business between here and International Falls is champing at the bit to relocate at the drop of a tax provision, and we're missing out because we don't [fill in item from GOP agenda]. Once in a great while this might even be true, but mostly it's bluster. Remember when right-to-work was supposed to break down the walls? Do you know of any jobs that were created thereby?

Neither does Todd Hiett. But you have to admit, he does a good job of sticking to the script. And while there's nothing in the world wrong with attracting "capital, wealth and industry," I fear you'll wait a long time for House Republicans to come up with any ideas to build some of it here instead of trying to import it from somewhere else. No wonder this state seems to have an inferiority complex.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:06 AM)
25 February 2006
Do something, even if it's wrong

About eleventeen-bazillion bills get introduced into the State Legislature every session, and I suspect not even the lobbyists can keep track of all of them. House Bill 2743, by Ryan Kiesel (D-Seminole), got through committee mostly unnoticed; Tom Elmore dropped me a line about it, and I decided I'd give it a read.

A. For the purposes of creating a free-flow of traffic and the promotion of public safety, certain motor vehicles shall be permitted to bypass a required stop pursuant to subsection B of this section.

B. Any motor vehicle required to stop at a weigh station located on the highways of this state, pursuant to the size, weight and load provisions under Section 14-101 et seq. of Title 47 of the Oklahoma Statutes, shall be allowed to bypass such weigh station when the station is at full occupancy. Full occupancy shall be determined by a painted line and sign at a designated location on the exit lane that allows access to the weigh station. When a motor vehicle comes to a stop behind the other motor vehicles on the exit lane for the weigh station and any part of that motor vehicle is on or over the designated line, then the station is at full occupancy. The designation of the line shall be determined by the Department of Public Safety and an agreement for the placement of any sign shall be made with the Department of Transportation.

I have to admire the simplicity of this bill: "Weigh station too crowded? Just speed on by!" Kiesel's press release contains this explanation:

"[E]ven if the legislature appropriates the money for the renovation of our weigh stations, it could still be more than a decade before the safety concerns caused by congestion are remedied and House Bill 2743 gives us the opportunity to address this situation now."

"Safety concerns"?

Kiesel drafted the legislation in response to fatal traffic accidents in which semi-trucks waiting at weigh stations backed up into interstate traffic and were then struck from behind by passenger vehicles.

Oh. I see. Because we have inattentive drivers in cars, we must occasionally waive the laws for truckers.

Obvious question: if the problem is inadequate weigh stations, why are we not spending the money to upgrade them?

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:09 AM)
1 March 2006
A visual I didn't need

Frosty Troy's Oklahoma Observer describes District 84 Representative Sally Kern as "Bill Graves in drag."

Considering that Graves himself represented District 84 before term limits kicked in, and considering that Graves and Kern have thus far been pretty indistinguishable on the issues, and ... never mind, it's too close to lunchtime.

(Previous snarkage here.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:31 AM)
3 March 2006
And the feathers shall fly

If you thought cockfighting in Oklahoma was dead and settled, you might want to think again.

Val Holland of the Oklahoma Game Fowl Breeders Association says that the battling birds used to bring $100 million a year into the state economy, largely in rural areas, and that the statewide ban should be changed to county option, in the manner of liquor by the drink; indeed, Senator Frank Shurden (D-Henryetta) had shepherded a bill to do exactly that through the Legislature, though it died this week in committee.

I haven't seen any "Don't Touch Our Cocks" bumper stickers yet, though it's presumably just a matter of time; Pamela Anderson, usually attentive to the putative needs of chickens, was not available for comment.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:29 AM)
4 March 2006
Preemptive action

Two military funerals will be held in Oklahoma next week, and lest anyone think it would be a really cool idea to picket them, the state has enacted a ban on such things, effective immediately.

Under the Oklahoma Funeral Picketing Act, it's a misdemeanor to stage a demonstration within 500 feet of a church, mortuary or cemetery from one hour before the services begin to one hour after they end.

Take that, Fred.

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:07 PM)
7 March 2006
Taxpayer Bill of Goods

I tend to be suspicious of anything that's labeled a Bill of Rights: the likelihood that any legislative package deserves this auspicious a title, I reason, is scant indeed.

The proposed Taxpayer Bill of Rights has been kicking around a while, and actually got adopted in Colorado — and promptly got suspended when the state ran up against a recession, which duly cut available funds for state spending. At the very least, the Colorado version of TABOR seems a bit inflexible; I am assured that the Oklahoma implementation, to appear on the ballot as State Question 726, will be different.

This is not to say better, though. If the Oklahoma legislature had carte blanche to raise taxes any time it wanted, I could see the need for TABOR; but in point of fact, the state has some fairly stringent spending limits already. Even the State Chamber knows this. Kent Olson of Oklahoma 21st Century, a think tank affiliated with the Chamber, made this clear last week:

"Oklahoma's TEL, Taxation Expenditure Limits, is one of the most stringent in the country," Olson explained.

He said the main problem with TABOR is that it does not take into account the effect of [the] state's aging population on population growth. With Oklahoma's continuously aging population, Olson said those residents will have different expenditure needs than younger Oklahomans.

Olson added that TABOR in its current form would drastically shrink Oklahoma state government, falling from a current level of 8 percent to just 3 percent, which Olson said is "frightening to say the least."

The bottom line, Olson said, is that the state needs to engage in a serious debate about what Oklahomans want government to do and how large it should be. He said adopting TABOR will not settle the issue and will make the problem more difficult to solve.

I'm not quite so frightened by this prospect — and the State Chamber is under no obligation to accept this finding as its official position — but I'm inclined to agree with Dr Olson: we need to find a proper size for government before we think about ordering a straitjacket.

Update, 14 March: Francis W. Porretto suggests that even TABORs aren't enough:

[A] TABOR measure is only a first step. Our spending mess is what it is because governments have seized many powers and responsibilities their enabling documents never granted them. To reverse the trend in government growth will require the reassertion of the principle of constitutionally enumerated and limited powers: each and every bill that comes before any legislature must begin with the specific Constitutional or charter clause that authorizes the relevant level and organ of government to do what it proposes to do.

To me, that is the more logical first step; we can work on (de)funding issues later.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:03 AM)
8 March 2006
Winchester '73

Which would be 1973, the year of Roe v. Wade.

In this Vent, I complained about a new abortion "reporting" measure being pushed by Rep. Susan Winchester (R-Chickasha), which I characterized as "intrusive." This KWTV news clip might actually make it look even worse than I said it was. [Brief ad before clip begins.]

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:00 AM)
12 March 2006
Best buds

I'm just starting to see the faintest hint of blossoming on my twin redbud trees out front — once they get going, they look something like this — which means that it's a perfect time to point to this BlogOklahoma story on the official state tree.

In the 1930s, Mrs. Mamie Lee Browne helped organize a campaign for adopting the "eastern" redbud as Oklahoma's state flower. Later this was changed to a campaign for a state tree, when they learned Oklahoma already had a state flower, the mistletoe.

In March 1937, Governor E. W. Marland was about to sign the bill making the redbud the state tree, when a telegram arrived starting a controversy over the redbud. Mrs. Edward Campbell Lawson of Tulsa, president of the National Federation of Women's Clubs, sent the telegram claiming the redbud was the Judas Tree that Judas Iscariot used to hang himself after he betrayed Christ.

The controversy appeared in Newspaper stories and editorials all over the United States and other countries.

The dispute was resolved by an Oklahoma City resident who was a native of Jerusalem. He affirmed that there was no connection between Oklahoma's Redbud tree and Israel's "Judas tree."

With the controversy resolved, on March 30, 1937, Governor Marland signed the bill into law, making the redbud Oklahoma's state tree.

For the purists and/or botanists: our redbud is Cercis reniformis; the Judas tree is Cercis siliquastrum.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:17 AM)
13 March 2006
I lift my lamp beside the cellblock door

Vermont's prisons are full. What to do? Why, outsource the jailarity to Oklahoma, of course:

"We're looking at ... a relatively new facility in western Oklahoma as the site for coming up [with] some more beds," said Vt. Corrections Commissioner Rob Hoffman.

Hoffman says the corrections department is contracting to reserve to up to 240 beds at the North Fork Correctional Facility in Sayre, Oklahoma for Vermont inmates. But the beds will not be filled all at once.

"Let's say over the next several weeks I expect we'll start with what'll be a trickle of a few dozens to start," said Hoffman.

This presumably is good news for Sayre: North Fork is the city's largest single employer. Capacity is 1440; it's operated under state license by Corrections Corp. of America.

And it's such a deal:

Jailing the inmates out-of-state is a taxpayers bargain: it costs only $20,000 per year per inmate compared to the $40,000 per year to house them in one of Vermont's nine state prisons.

"Oklahoma Discount Prisons, now with three great locations!"

And I suppose it's something of a relief to know that even with incarceration rates increasing far faster than the population, we still can make room for out-of-state, um, visitors.

(Via Fark.)

Update, 14 March: Sayre is happy.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:54 PM)
15 March 2006
Third second thoughts

The 2004 measure which permitted municipal employees of the state's largest cities to unionize went through a series of legal challenges, the most serious of which claimed that it was contrary to the state constitution to enact a law which applied only to those cities.

The state Supreme Court, five to four, has now decided otherwise, and the law will stand.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:20 AM)
Rather crummy odds, considering

Sean Gleeson has looked into the matter, and he estimates between 80 and 90 percent of child abuse/neglect investigations in this state prove to be bogus.

DHS annual report for FY '04, the latest released, is here; you'll need Adobe Reader. Here's Sean's take:

Every investigation of child abuse or neglect has two possible outcomes: "confirmed" or "unconfirmed." If any of the allegations is true, or if any of the children have ever been abused or neglected in any way at all, the result is "confirmed." "Unconfirmed" is just the OKDHS's way of saying "completely innocent."

In Fiscal Year 2004, fully 80 percent of all Oklahoma abuse and neglect investigations resulted in an "unconfirmed" finding. Some of these might have been real abusers who just managed to avoid detection, but the rest of them were completely innocent people falsely accused of child abuse. When considered with the "screened out" reports that don't even merit an investigation, this means that almost 90 percent of all child abuse reports in Oklahoma are found to be absolutely groundless.

I need hardly point out that some of them are more groundless than others.

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:52 PM)
16 March 2006
Time to stomp on Sally Kern

Remember when conservatives used to talk about smaller government? Rep. Sally Kern (R-OKC) has had her Hanes Her Way in a wad for at least a year over the possibility that some poor innocent child might stumble upon a book that doesn't take an unfavorable view of homosexuality. In 2005 she managed to get the House to vote for a resolution to restrict children's access to any such books, regardless of their target audience; this year the House has approved her bill to withhold state funding to any library which doesn't follow her dictum.

Mostly unmentioned in the kerfuffle is Kern's review process, which mandates the creation of a State Library Material Content Advisory Board. Another farging state agency! This is conservatism? Even people sympathetic to Kern's, um, cause have their doubts about this sort of thing. Said Rep. Mike Wilk (R-Bartlesville): "How many times are we going to run a state bill to fix an Oklahoma City problem?"

What's more, the Oklahoman, seldom described as gay-friendly, refuses to sign on:

We find it ironic that the bill said each policy should "reflect the contemporary community standard of the community the library is located in." In putting the bill on a path to becoming law, lawmakers are taking away such local control and substituting it with their judgment. It's not the Legislature's job to tell libraries which books to stock and where to put them. Local library boards are capable of making decisions on whether restricted access is necessary.

Kern insists:

I'm not a Nazi. I believe in free speech. But for every right we have, there is a responsibility.

Indeed. The state Senate has a responsibility to abort this monstrosity before it reaches any stage of viability.

(Thanks to Library Stories, which has stayed on top of this story from the beginning.)

Update, 20 March: Mike of Okiedoke endorses the compromise position adopted by the Metro Library System: "[W]hy do I think this is a good compromise? Because both sides are still unhappy." A good sign indeed.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:02 AM)
18 March 2006
Halliburton comes home, briefly

Halliburton's 2006 shareholders meeting will be held on the 17th of May in Duncan, Oklahoma, where Erle P. Halliburton founded the company back in 1924 as successor to his New Method Oil Well Cementing Company.

From Cathy Mann of Halliburton PR:

We are holding our meeting in Duncan because we are a company that values our tradition and spirit of innovation — much of which was started in Duncan more than 80 years ago. We are excited to showcase this heritage for our shareholders.

And indeed Halliburton, despite having moved its corporate headquarters to Houston along with most of the oil industry, still has lots of facilities in the Sooner State.

Unspoken but probably hoped-for fringe benefit: fewer protesters than last year.

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:37 PM)
20 March 2006
Kiss her, she's Iris

Now here's an eye-opener: the Ponca City Iris Festival, 5-7 May, is looking for women named Iris for recognition and a special presentation.

As though the wine/cheese tasting and the Victorian Chocolate Festival — not to mention an appearance by Roy Clark — weren't enough.

(I grow irises myself — actually, they grow without much help from me — so I should probably go to this thing just for the flowers.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:29 AM)
Throw some shrimp on the arc welder

The burn ban has been lifted, effective today.

Update, 28 March: It's back.

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:50 PM)
21 March 2006
Democrats avoiding 5th

That's the 5th District, not the 5th Amendment, wiseguy.

I was sort of hoping Bernest Cain, soon to be term-limited out of the state Senate, might want to take on the House seat being vacated by goobernatorial wannabe Ernest Istook, but Cain says it's not going to happen:

I couldn't work out a scenario that I thought could pull it off. I've talked with a lot of people about it and done a lot of statistical work and it's just not the way I'm going to spend my time this year.

Also passing up the race is Bridgeport Holdings chairman Jim Meyer, who says "it's not the right time" for him.

I refuse to believe that this is an automatic GOP seat, but given the number of name-brand Republicans signed up, and the low name recognition of any of the three Democrats in the race — there's a political novice, last election's sacrificial lamb, and the Oklahoma County Court Clerk — I've got to figure that the Democratic apparatus thinks it's a lost cause.

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:33 PM)
25 March 2006
The self-pwn3d man

Ever seen this page before?

Yeah. No big deal. It's a default page that the CentOS version of Apache serves up before the Web server is given a proper index page.

But when a version of it showed up on cityoftuttle.org, the Web site of the city of Tuttle, southwest of Oklahoma City, city manager Jerry Taylor spiraled into a State of High Guano.

Who gave you permission to invade my website and block me and anyone else from accessing it???

Please remove your software immediately before I report it to government officials!!

I am the City Manager of Tuttle, Oklahoma.

Ashlee Vance snickers in The Register:

Few people would initiate a tech support query like this, but these are dangerous times, and Taylor suspected the worst. (Er, but only the world's most boring hacker would break into a site and then throw up a boilerplate about how to fix the hack.)

After a heated exchange between Taylor and CentOS tech Johnny Hughes, the truth of the matter was at hand:

The problem has been resolved by VIDIA who used to host the City website. They still provide cable service but do not host the website. The explanation was that they had a crash and during the rebuild they reinstalled the software that affected our website.

Still not CentOS's fault, but hey, you work for the city, you find people to blame.

As of this writing, cityoftuttle.org is still showing the Apache test page.

I could say something here about not letting your service provider also host your site, but I won't.

(Hat tip: Mad Mel.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:25 AM)
27 March 2006
Thinking outside the gate

Just when I thought I'd figured out the concept of semi-boneless ham, Rep. Randy Terrill (R-Moore) comes up with the semi-gated community.

Under Terrill's House Bill 2807, which so far has passed the House and has yet to emerge from committee in the Senate, "semi-public" gated communities, which are accessible to the general public from 6 am to 6 pm, would be authorized and would be eligible for public road maintenance, presumably to be performed during daylight hours. It's no different, he says, from closing public parks at night.

Developers are apparently keen to see this pass, and homebuilder Marvin Haworth says he'll start on just such a community if it does. The bill has no retroactive provisions: a gated community apparently will not be allowed to convert to semi-public status.

I'm of two minds about this. You can count me as one that doesn't love a wall; then again, if people want to live behind these things, I don't feel as though it's my job to talk them out of it. And I can certainly understand why the demand exists, though I'm not convinced that any gate will ward off 100 percent of the riff and/or raff. (I have a fence of my own, as tall as I am, but it has a certain porosity.)

And Terrill is ready to fight off the presumably-inevitable charge of elitism:

The purpose of it is to allow folks other than just wealthy folks to be able to live in gated communities.

If this bill does pass, I'd be interested in seeing if any houses at a price point below, say, $120k end up behind Terrill's semi-walls.

Update, 1 May: The Senate turned it down, albeit by a mere two votes.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:43 AM)
28 March 2006
The self-pwn3d man (the sequel)

Last we heard from Tuttle city manager Jerry Taylor, he was distraught at finding a default Apache information page instead of the town's Web site, and was sending out emails that just missed the threshold of hysteria.

He's no longer missing. To The Register, which broke the story, he sent this:

I do not follow instructions that show up when a website that I am not familiar with appears on my computer and I do not think anyone with experience would do so either. Once the Centos site appeared on four computers at one site I contacted our web service provider. The web service provider did not know what could cause the problem and had never heard of "CentOS". I then contacted the internet provider's local office and was told that they did nothing to cause the problem. I checked the building's server and found nothing relating to CentOS on the server. I was then left with only the web page email address to contact. I asked for the strange website to be removed because it blocked my City web site and I could not post public information. I only got help after threatening to contact the FBI.

Now I am being flooded with emails from CentOS users that after knowing the answer say the problem was simple. I think this is unjustified and would like for this to stop. Your website should provide useful information and be a credit to the IT world. I do not believe it should be used to incite the users. Your attention to this matter is greatly appreciated.

The users seem to be doing just fine inciting themselves, it seems to me.

But cut the guy some slack, wouldja please? If you were thinking of, say, sending him a batch file which runs fdisk, you might want to reconsider.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:39 AM)
29 March 2006
The de-Stipe-ization continues

Now that the city of McAlester has put up fresh green signage on Electric Avenue, there's a whole shelf full of old Gene Stipe Blvd. signs just gathering dust, and they will be sold as surplus property at the annual auction.

Those of us who were hoping that they might show up on eBay are just out of luck.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:38 AM)
30 March 2006
More Tuttle scuttlebutt

The lovely and talented Amanda Congdon makes fun of Jerry Taylor:

Is the city manager a true dolt, or is this some kind of thinly-veiled publicity stunt?

She reads a couple of excerpts from the Gospel According to Jerry, and then:

Regardless of his intentions, what a nutjob, right? Man. I have half a mind to send my Virtual Wingman on his ass.

Waste of time, darlin'; the man responds to email like a dead fish responds to ultraviolet light. (No movement, per se, but the, um, aroma increments.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:27 PM)
31 March 2006
See you at 6.15

Rep. Richard Morrissette (D-OKC) tried earlier this year to get the state's minimum wage increased above the federal minimum, and failed.

Now a group called Raise Oklahoma will be circulating a petition to get a minimum-wage hike on the state ballot, and Morrissette says he's one of the backers thereof.

The petition calls for a $1 increase in 2007 and in 2008, and indexing of the wage to the Consumer Price Index thereafter; the petitioners must obtain approximately 120,000 signatures in 90 days.

As expected, the State Chamber announced its opposition; this is consistent with the Chamber's general belief that state law should match federal law in such matters. Senior VP/operations Mike Seney said:

This is an issue that needs to be resolved on a federal basis so it applies across the board to all states.

Of course, were there a federal bill to increase the minimum wage, the State Chamber would presumably oppose it also, so their definition of "resolved" might vary a bit from Webster's.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:31 AM)
5 April 2006
Tulsa boots Bill

Incumbent Tulsa Mayor Bill LaFortune was turned out of office yesterday in favor of former Secretary of Commerce Kathy Taylor.

More than 75,000 votes were cast. (By comparison, the rather sleepy election in Oklahoma City, in which incumbent Mick Cornett pulled about 87 percent of the vote, drew less than 15,000.)

What can we expect? Michael Bates once characterized Kathy Taylor as the second coming of Susan Savage, and suggested that Tulsa could look forward to More Of The Same upon her election. Taylor, like Savage, is a dealmaker rather than a policy wonk, and if there's one thing Tulsa has in abundance, it's people anxious to make deals.

What fascinates me about this election is that the Tulsa power structure, more or less en masse, decided that Bill LaFortune had become a liability and threw its support to a challenger. The result is cognitive dissonance on a grand scale: the ostensible agent for change turns out to be a Good Old Boy in a dress.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:40 AM)
7 April 2006
Paper! Get yer paper!

The Muskogee Daily Phoenix is up for sale: Gannett Co. has transferred control of the paper to its foundation. The sale, which should take place about a month from now, ultimately serves two purposes: as it pares down the corporation's list of properties, it replenishes the foundation's coffers.

There are buyers waiting: five, says Phoenix publisher Larry Corvi. The Phoenix sells about 17,000 copies daily.

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:29 PM)
11 April 2006
Separated at birth?

Oklahoma State mascot Pistol Pete and Mexican president Vicente Fox?

Pistol Pete and Vicente Fox

You make the call. And there's more where that came from.

(Via Deadspin.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:56 PM)
17 April 2006
Home of the sorta brave

Bits from an Oklahoma Daily columnist, courtesy of Okiedoke:

Oklahoma has plenty of problems, and there is nothing wrong with cracking some jokes about them. But it's different to poke fun at your homeland or current state than it is to appear removed from and superior to it.

I periodically hear a lone Oklahoman in the company of outsiders dogging the Sooner State. The sellout Oklahoman will get exasperated and say, "You all are so fortunate to live in civilization. I live in Oklahoma." (At which point they roll their eyes.) "I would kill to live in a place with culture and literati."

What's really being said is this: "I am an insecure person. In order to appear sophisticated and astute, I will draw a distinction between myself and all the people I assume you look down upon. By removing and elevating myself, you can realize that I, too, am intelligent, and accept me. Please, please accept me."

For my part, I'm quite unapologetic about who I am and where I'm from, and I'm sorry if you can't deal with it. While it is indeed true that there is no single place in the Sooner State from which you can swing a dead cat and hit restaurants of twenty-seven different ethnicities, and that there is no surplus of waifish Goth girls with art-history degrees, not everyone — not even everyone of college age — aspires to live inside a Bertolucci film.

Some people indubitably would be happier somewhere else, and I urge them to follow their dreams. And a year from now, when they're on craigslist musing about how much they miss the Steak Sandwich Supreme from Del Rancho, I promise not to mock them.

Much.

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:52 PM)
24 April 2006
Spreading the buzz

Marketing whiz and bloggish type Matt Galloway was interviewed this morning on KGOU, and the centerpiece of the interview was a sampling from Galloway's Buzz-o-phone, the "drive-by shooting of the marketing world".

It came off well, I think, and Buzz-o-phone will no doubt get a few more calls as a result. KGOU has a link to a paragraph about the piece, which I expect will be updated with actual audio once it's uploaded.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:03 AM)
26 April 2006
Local zoning be damned

Now this is slick. Big, bad municipal commission not giving you what you want? Put the District Court in charge of appeals.

This passed the House by a wide margin, meaning it had substantial Republican support, meaning that the old conservative dictum about settling matters as low in the governmental hierarchy as possible — state rather than Federal, city or county rather than state, and for God's sake, keep it out of the courts — is apparently now as passé as leisure suits.

On the other hand, trial lawyers, who routinely get a lot of grief from the GOP, are surely snickering in the hallways at being handed this opportunity for new business.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:30 AM)
27 April 2006
Busy, busy

The Oklahoma Employment Security Commission reports that 41,400 jobs have been added in the year since March 2005.

This includes an increase of 3600 jobs in manufacturing, despite the idling of General Motors' Oklahoma City Assembly plant; most of the gains, however, came from services and government.

The state unemployment rate is 4.2 percent; Oklahoma City reports 4.1 percent, Tulsa 4.0, and Lawton 4.6.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:56 AM)
29 April 2006
More breeze from OG&E

OG&E's wind farm really isn't theirs: the 50-MW facility near Woodward is owned and operated by FPL Energy. (The farm actually produces 100 MW, but the other half is contracted to the Oklahoma Municipal Power Authority.)

For the next phase of expansion, OG&E will build its own wind farm, a 120-MW facility in Harper County, north of the existing turbine array. The Corporation Commission gave its official blessing Friday.

The new farm, which should be online by the end of the year, will bring Oklahoma's wind production to nearly 600 MW, fifth highest among the states.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:03 AM)
1 May 2006
Guess we won't cry

A possibly-appropriate song for the day:

When I was small, and Christmas trees were tall,
We used to love while others used to play.
Don't ask me why, but time has passed us by,
Someone else moved in from far away.

It's the first of May, as noted above by the Bee Gees, and some of those who have moved in from far away will take pains to remind us of that fact today.

Actually, I anticipate things will be rather quiet around town. Latino high-school students in the city are expected to take to the streets — after school hours. The city school district has put out no statement that I've seen. In fact, I didn't even see any rally notices at the local branch of Indymedia.

Which means, unless things change in a big hurry, that you're most likely to be affected if you're expecting a delivery from the Home Depot today.

Update, 8:50 am: KGOU reports that a pork processor in the Panhandle will close for the day.

9:45 am: Lonewacko points to this report that says Oklahoma LULAC is "not promoting a work stoppage." Director Ray Madrid: "It's not a good idea to risk either academic status or [one's] livelihood."

1:10 pm: KWTV interviews the leader of Hispanic Democrats of Oklahoma at the Capitol; he talks May Day before he talks immigration. [Brief ad before video clip.]

9:40 pm: AP reports about 4,000 turned up for a march through OKC's Capitol Hill; city schools report approximately normal attendance.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:00 AM)
2 May 2006
What? We don't tax that?

Some of the fine print from Apple:

iTunes Music Store purchases will include sales tax based on the bill-to address and the sales tax rate in effect at the time of download. If the sales tax rate for the billing address changes before the song is downloaded, the new tax rate in effect at the time of download will apply. We will only charge tax in states where music downloads are taxable.

Oklahoma is not one of those states, and apparently isn't rushing to become one of them:

"I have not heard or seen any legislation," Oklahoma Tax Commission spokeswoman Paula Ross said. "I don't see it happening any time soon for Oklahoma."

How long the state can hold out remains to be seen, what with the market for digital music now running $1 billion a year, but the mere fact that the Capitol can read the news and not immediately think "Ooh, a new revenue source!" has to be considered a Good Sign.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:00 AM)
Phoenix reborn, or at least resold

Alabama-based Community Newspaper Holdings Inc., which owns 15 dailies and a number of other newspapers in Oklahoma, is acquiring the Muskogee Daily Phoenix for an undisclosed sum.

No editorial changes are planned at the Phoenix, which has been owned for the last twenty-nine years by Gannett.

The Muskogee paper will be CNHI's third-largest in the state, behind the Norman Transcript and the Enid News & Eagle.

(Previous coverage here.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:42 PM)
9 May 2006
Break out the Elector Set

Today in the city, a handful of voters will decide if OG&E's city franchise will be extended another 25 years.

In Tulsa, expect bigger turnout as the third penny of sales tax comes up for renewal.

Addendum, 5:15 pm: Did I say "handful"? At 5 pm, I was the 27th voter in our usually-busy precinct.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:21 AM)
11 May 2006
You won't feel a thing

Governor Henry has signed Senate Bill 806, which legalizes the fine art of tattoo, putting the Sooner State out in front of ... well, nobody, actually, since every other state has already taken tattooing off the Forbidden List.

Since the provisions of the bill don't take effect until the first of November, the only immediate effect is to reduce by one the number of gripes from those who believe that if there's a bright center to the universe, they're in the state that it's farthest from.

Despite the law, those under 18 cannot go under the drawing pen, and body piercing for minors (except ears, presumably in the usual place) still requires a note from the parental units.

And, to no one's surprise, the state is contemplating annual licensing fees for tattoo artists and their establishments.

The Oklahoma tattoo ban was enacted in 1963, possibly motivated by health concerns; other states had bans of their own, but all fell by the wayside over the next four decades.

For those keeping score, the state's Greens and Libertarians have long been on record in favor of legalization.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:42 AM)
12 May 2006
We can stand it

Governor Henry has signed a "stand your ground" law, which expands the areas where a person can use deadly force to stop a crime in progress or, in his judgment, about to be in progress.

There are, admittedly, some people whose judgment might not be the most trustworthy in such matters, but I tend to doubt the scary scenarios invented by the usual cluster of anti-gun groups, simply because there's no scenario they can imagine which isn't scary.

The law takes effect on the first of November, which is just as well, inasmuch as there will be a lot of people in masks and such the night before.

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:56 PM)
20 May 2006
So full faith and credit does work

From my archives, March 2004:

The story so far:
  • Massachusetts same-sex couple adopts child from Oklahoma, seeks state birth certificate.
  • Department of Health asks Attorney General what the law specifies.
  • AG responds that it's a legal adoption, even if the parents don't qualify under Oklahoma law; Health duly issues certificate.
  • Republican lawmakers vow to do something about it.

They did, and what they did has now been undone: U.S. District Judge Robin Cauthron ruled on Friday that the state law banning recognition of out-of-state adoptions by same-sex parents is unconstitutional.

Health will duly reissue the certificate.

And with all other state issues now resolved, expect a GOP House member — probably Balkman, Kern or Williamson — to come up with a slightly-reworded version of the unacceptable bill (a Williamson production) in an effort to save face.

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:44 PM)
25 May 2006
Some people are just so zoned out

Tulsa's historic zoning is a plastic latch: it's there, and it makes a satisfying click sound, but sooner or later you know it's going to break.

A Tulsa developer decided he didn't want to wait for the mechanism to fail, and so he prevailed upon a member of the legislature to introduce a bill to provide what is in effect a system to bypass zoning overlays altogether. (I grumbled about it here.)

Yesterday, the state Senate, in as close as I've ever seen to unanimity on a matter that didn't endorse Mom or apple pie or baseball, voted 42-3 to kill it. History suggests that it won't stay dead, that a similar measure will be prefiled for next session, but for now, consider this one well and truly stomped.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:31 AM)
26 May 2006
We got us a big box here

The new owner of Tulsa's dead-in-the-water Eastland Mall has apparently requested a zoning change from Commercial Shopping to Light Industrial.

Inasmuch as everyone seemed to be thinking that the mall would be converted to an office complex, like Oklahoma City's Shepherd Mall, this comes as something of a surprise.

Steven Roemerman details the differences between the two zoning classifications.

Update, 7 pm: MCW reports that the zoning-change request has been withdrawn.

Update, 1 June: Then again, maybe not.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:00 AM)
27 May 2006
It's cow-tippin' time!

Actual dialogue in Fantastic Four #536:

Reed: Ben. Up and at 'em. We need to be in the air in five minutes.

Ben: Yer kidding me....

Reed: Four minutes, fifty seconds.

Ben: In the air? Where're we goin'?

Reed: Oklahoma.

Ben: Oklahoma....? We're goin' ta Oklahoma? On purpose?

Reed: Three minutes, fifty seconds.

Geez. You'd think the place was fulla Yancy Streeters or somethin'.

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:41 PM)
29 May 2006
"Baja Kansas" is out

Fake news item: "Responding to mounting public pressure that the name of the nation's 46th state is offensive to Native Americans, the Oklahoma Legislature has passed and Governor Brad Henry has signed into law legislation that will change the name of the state of Oklahoma effective November 16, 2007. The law, which was drafted by Oklahoma State Senator Polly K. Rekt (I-Bowlegs), calls for a blue-ribbon commission, selected by the Governor, to propose three new names for the state."

From my own Pabst Blue Ribbon commission, the Top Ten Unlikely New Names for the State Previously Known as Oklahoma:

  1. Bricktown Adjacent
  2. Nazareno
  3. Funnelland
  4. Shotkickers
  5. New New Mexico
  6. Istuchas
  7. [this space reserved for Rodgers and/or Hammerstein]
  8. Claynation
  9. Arrid Extra Dry
  10. Dustbury [under license]

New signage will go up about as soon as we finish cleaning up the rest stops on the Interstates.

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:22 PM)
1 June 2006
Well, somebody got a big box here

The saga of Tulsa's Eastland Mall (only slightly hinted at here) has taken some strange twists.

Jennifer Weaver reports:

I have been in communication with Councilor [Dennis K.] Troyer and he told me the [rezoning] application would be withdrawn, and he even came by in person to tell me the application had been withdrawn. Then, the following day, the Tulsa World had an article (pdf) that states [Ed] Kallay realizes he doesn't need the IL zoning, but some "variances". Mr. Kallay made a point to reemphasize his initial plan. But, as Roemerman on Record states, the application has not been withdrawn, as of today. Councilor Troyer was awaiting a call to verify this.

In the meantime, the rumor mill is churning with even talk of a casino. Now, if Mr. Kallay is seeking variances, that leaves more questions. Moreover, Mr. Kallay does not actually own the mall, it still belongs to [Haywood] Whichard of NSC New Markets Real Estate, LLC. Variances are very wide ranging, and will follow the ownership of the mall.

So who's calling the shots here? Or are Kallay and Whichard in cahoots? And if they are, what's the harm in saying so? Or is there a third party, yet unnamed, tugging at both their strings?

Skullduggery, thy name is Tulsa.

(Via BatesLine.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:26 PM)
2 June 2006
One new hat in the ring

Blogger, Web designer, political activist, and occasional dustbury reader J. M. Branum has announced his candidacy for the District 99 House seat being vacated by Opio Toure due to state term limits. The District covers most of the east side of the city south of NE 23rd Street, with a strip extending more or less parallel to the Broadway Extension to within a mile and a half of Edmond.

Branum is filing as an independent, but he's also seeking support from the Green Party, and he may do well in this heavily-Democratic district.

His issues include a moratorium on the death penalty while seeking support for discontinuing it altogether; a more-progressive tax system and a state minimum wage based on the "living wage" concept; support for alternative transportation; and the improvement of ballot access for non-major party candidates.

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:46 PM)
6 June 2006
See how they run

The State Election Board is posting to the Web a regularly-updated list of candidates during this filing period (hat tip: BatesLine), and a few things jumped out at me, as things occasionally do:

  • J. M. Branum, as he said and as I mentioned, has filed as an Independent for the District 99 House seat, one of six candidates for this position.

  • Superintendent of Public Instruction Sandy Garrett lives in a condo.

  • Two Democrats (so far) have signed up to face Trebor Worthen here in District 87; I know nothing about either.

  • There are candidates as young as 21 and as old as 88.

  • Governor Brad Henry lists his address as 820 NE 23rd Street, Oklahoma City. While this is accurate, I suppose, it still strikes me as odd. (Wonder if he puts it on his tax return?)

The filing period ends tomorrow.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:57 PM)
7 June 2006
Fallout from the Albertson's buyout

The new owners of Albertson's supermarkets in this area will close five Oklahoma stores: two in Tulsa, two in Broken Arrow, and one in Edmond. A total of 30 locations in the 188-store Dallas-Fort Worth Division, which includes Texas, Louisiana and Oklahoma, are being shuttered.

Dan Lovejoy once noted that the Edmond location was "nothing special."

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:52 PM)
8 June 2006
Scariest news of the week

What, the Democrats couldn't find an opponent for Sally Kern? Sheesh.

Meanwhile, Vince Orza snarks in the Gazette:

Political logic disproves the theory of "intelligent design." If [Ernest] Istook had any sense, he'd run for re-election instead of governor, [Mary] Fallin would remain lieutenant governor, and they'd save all of us a lot of grief.

I think it proves merely that some designs are more intelligent than others. And I derive no grief whatever from the knowledge that I can go to the polls this fall and vote, as I always do, for Anyone But Istook, and be assured that this time, Anyone But Istook will actually win.

Oh, and is anyone besides me hoping that Mary Fallin smacks down Mick Cornett in the GOP primary? Geez, Mickey, you're so fine you blow my mind, but dammit, you're getting too big for your britches too fast.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:02 AM)
9 June 2006
Come in, John Doe #2

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) will lead a Congressional investigation into the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, saying that "we need to answer some very serious questions in order to have confidence that the truth of this monstrous crime is fully known.

The McCurtain Daily Gazette in Idabel, Oklahoma reports that Rohrabacher had asked House International Relations Committee chairman Henry Hyde (R-IL) for authority to conduct the probe, and that he was looking for evidence connecting convicted bombers Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols to Arab terrorists and/or to Andreas Carl Strassmeier, a German national who was head of security at Elohim City in Adair County near the Arkansas border.

An excerpt from Rohrabacher's letter to Hyde:

It is highly likely that the Arab connection and/or the Strassmeir connection played a significant role in the planning and execution of the murderous bombing of the OKC federal building. In both possible scenarios, the official investigation fell short and further investigation has been discouraged ever since.

(The complete Daily Gazette story has been reprinted here.)

I'm not much of a conspiracy theorist by nature, but I do believe in getting to the bottom of things, especially when there's a nagging suspicion that those who wrote the Official Story penciled a false floor into the blueprints.

More at Wild Bill's.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:34 PM)
11 June 2006
Istook in the mud

When Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) starts his investigation into the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, apparently he won't get much support from the city's own Representative.

Said Congressman Ernest Istook:

I'm afraid we have to get used to this. Every few years someone wants to revisit the Kennedy assassination, and every few years someone will want to revisit the Murrah Building bombing. I feel for the families who have to relive tragic memories every time this happens.

"Avert your eyes, and let us never speak of this again." Remember, feelings trump truth.

I'm waiting for someone to pop up a link to the effect that "Istook" is actually an old Sanskrit word for "ostrich."

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:07 PM)
12 June 2006
Librarians welcome

And, well, why wouldn't they be?

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:05 PM)
14 June 2006
It's that time again

If you liked the 2005 Okie Blog Awards, and I'm sure at least ten of us did, get ready for the 2006 version — now with eleven categories!

To be nominated, you have to post at least something on your Oklahoma-based blog in the 60 days before nominations open on the 14th of August, which is why it's being mentioned now.

I, of course, expect to lock up the trophy for Least Improved, once I persuade Mike that we actually ought to have such a thing.

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:22 AM)
Joad, party of thirteen

Chase McInerney, January '05:

According to the L.A. Times, even Oklahoma's gung-ho love for college football has its roots in the destitute hellhole of the Dust Bowl and its era of toothless, gangly, bug-eyed, backwoods, mattress-strapped to-the-top-of-the-jalopy Okies.

How often do you think a newspaper or magazine story about Dallas, Texas, dredges up the Kennedy assassination? How often do articles about modern-day California delve into the 1906 San Francisco earthquake? When will mainstream media be able to mention Oklahoma without a reflex nod to the Dust Bowl?

Evidently not yet. Chase McInerney, June '06:

Witness this ostensibly benign review in The New York Times Review of Books for a new book about Oklahoma's alt-rock band, the Flaming Lips:

"[Author Jim] DeRogatis, the pop music critic for the Chicago Sun-Times and the author of a biography of Lester Bangs, does a nice job rendering the 60's and 70's cultural dust bowl that produced these alt-rock lifers ..."

Huh? Is it possible for The New York Times to get past Oklahoma's dust bowl?

Maybe not. From a Jan. 14, 2004, feature in the Times about Wayne Coyne and the Flaming Lips:

"Onstage [Coyne] usually dresses in a white suit and an open-collar shirt, looking something like a charismatic New Age guru. More than anything else, though, he and his bandmates come across as Dust Bowl Everymen with Bible Belt work ethics."

Is it possible for any major metropolitan newspaper to write about the Flaming Lips without conjuring up the 70-year-old specter of the dust bowl?

Not gonna happen. I explained why here:

[T]here are surprisingly many grassy-knoll references in East Coast coverage of Dallas, and for pretty much the same reason the Times harps on Steinbeck's version of Oklahoma: they don't know anything else about the damn place. It's convenient shorthand, and it fills up column space, and their local audiences, having heard exactly the same stereotypes all their lives, sit back and nod, "Yes, that's true."

The Lips book by DeRogatis is titled Staring at Sound: The True Story of Oklahoma's Fabulous Flaming Lips: I mumbled something about it back in April.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:02 AM)
I shot the desktop

But I did not shoot the monitor:

A Midwest City man was arrested after shooting his computer during a dispute with his wife over an Internet password.

William Lawrence Perras, 36, was released after he agreed to turn over his eight firearms and underwent a mental health evaluation, police chief Brandon Clabes said.

Clabes said Perras told police he was tired from working a graveyard shift and wanted to unwind by surfing the Internet, but his wife had changed the password without telling him. When the argument over the password escalated, Perras shot the computer with a .40-caliber handgun, he said.

Me, I'm usually not tempted to shoot a computer unless Windows is acting up, which happens less than, oh, eighty percent of the time.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:21 AM)
15 June 2006
Take a deep breath

There was a Clean Air Alert today, which, as a term, is risible: "Omigod, we have clean air! Hide the children, quick!"

Actually, I suspect the "Clean Air" tag is related to the Clean Air Act, which mandated this sort of thing. There were seven cities with Action Days today: Oklahoma City, Tulsa, Lawton, Dallas, Houston, Birmingham and Memphis. Tomorrow's list eliminates the more-westerly cities and adds some to the east, as you might expect given the standard west-to-east motion of weather patterns in the Northern Hemipshere. (The list is posted here.) The three pollutants considered important enough to spring into Action are ozone, carbon monoxide and particulate matter; each day in each city monitored an Air Quality Index is issued, along with the most significant pollutant for that day.

This is the third such Alert this year; there was one Monday, and one in May. There were nine last year, though two of them covered more than one day. All these alerts were for ozone; for some time ozone has been the only pollutant within spitting distance of putting Oklahoma metro areas out of compliance with the Clean Air Act. (Currently we're not on the EPA's blacklist.)

There's one other weird aspect of these things: the mandated wording. It is common to run into statements like "The Air Quality Index was 46, with the air quality rated Good. The primary pollutant causing this condition was ozone." This bumps up against the brain every time I hear it, even though I know perfectly well that the EPA doesn't have any higher praise than "Good."

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:02 PM)
18 June 2006
Still lotsa blue around here

Mike in Little Axe turns up a Tulsa World map of the state's Senate districts color-coded by voter-registration totals. (Actual voter performance and turnout, of course, cannot be predicted; the straight-party ballot, while still allowed under state law, is pretty much ignored.)

There aren't any real surprises here, unless you thought that maybe they could do the whole map in red, in which case you were quite wrong.

(Disclosure: I live in District 40, which was close to evenly balanced in recent years, and which the World now reports as "Republican plurality." Through most of the 1990s I lived in District 48.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:33 AM)
21 June 2006
Summer's here and the time is right

For dancing in the street? Sure, if you're so inclined.

We tend to think of Summer as starting right around Memorial Day, but the actual solstice is this morning.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:26 AM)
SQ 729 shot down

The State Supreme Court, which of late has been sympathetic to the plight of landholders in eminent-domain cases, yesterday struck down an initiative petition to restrict the application of eminent domain and to provide for compensation for property holders losing value as a result of zoning decisions, not because the Court has necessarily had a change of heart, but because the petition appeared to deal with two separate matters, which the State forbids.

Opponents of the measure, including the State Chamber, were happy to point this out to the Court.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:03 AM)
23 June 2006
We can be bought

Right off the press release this morning:

Oklahoma City, June 23, 2006 - Kerr-McGee Corp. (NYSE: KMG) announced today that its board of directors has unanimously approved an all cash offer of $70.50 per common share to merge into Anadarko Petroleum Corp. (NYSE: APC). The transaction is subject to the approval of Kerr-McGee shareholders as well as other customary regulatory approvals and is expected to close by the end of the third quarter.

"This compelling offer represents a 40% premium to yesterday's closing stock price and immediately recognizes the value of Kerr-McGee's strategy and assets for our shareholders," said Luke R. Corbett, Kerr-McGee chairman and chief executive officer. "The merger with Anadarko combines two companies with similar strategies and creates the largest U.S.-based independent exploration and production company.

"Kerr-McGee has a long history as an innovator in the energy industry. I thank each of our employees for their many contributions that have helped build the company and achieve the successes that enabled stockholders to realize the significant value this transaction will deliver."

Anadarko is paying approximately $16 billion for Kerr-McGee, and in a separate transaction is acquiring Western Gas Resources, based in Denver. Review, then dismemberment, will follow.

So long, guys. It was a nice ride while it lasted.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:42 AM)
24 June 2006
Last one out, turn off the lights

Tulsa Chiggers sees the Oil Capital's population decline as "ominous":

Tulsa's population has declined every year since the 2000 census. In fact, our population has declined by 2.7% in the past five years. Over that same period, three of Tulsa's suburbs, Bixby, Jenks and Owasso had the highest percentage growth rate in the state of Oklahoma over the same 5 year period. By the way, Broken Arrow, Catoosa and Claremore all had substantial gains over the period.

Oklahoma City had a respectable 5% gain over the period.

On the other hand, some municipalities would love to have lost only 2.7 percent:

Cincinnati's population declined by 22,555 people between April 2000 and July 2005, or 6.8 percent, shrinking to 308,728 from 331,283. Detroit also fell 6.8 percent, losing 64,599 people. New Orleans was next, losing 6.2 percent of its population, and this was well before the Katrina disaster. Pittsburgh lost 5.3 percent of its population. Rounding out the bottom five was Cleveland, which shed 5.3 percent of its inhabitants.

St. Louis, which dropped by 1.8 percent in one year, now has 344,362 people. Improbable as it may seem today, in 1900, St. Louis was the fourth-largest city in the country, with a population of 575,238; the peak was 1950, with 856,796.) Is St. Louis "dying on the vine"? Not even close.

Tulsa indisputably has its problems, but there's no way it's about to collapse.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:21 AM)
25 June 2006
Off the top of the headcount

When the Census Bureau puts out its annual estimates, the wire services report on maybe the top 100 cities, and local papers concentrate on the town in which they're published. But the complete "subcounty" list is an enormous spreadsheet (about 7 megabytes) which breaks down each state by county, and then each county by municipality or whatever therein.

Oklahoma City spills into three counties, and there's a tiny sliver in a fourth. In the Sixties, there was a fifth — McClain — but that area was eventually deannexed and now belongs to Newcastle. The 2005 estimate for OKC, just released, was 531,324, up 4624 from the revised 2004 count of 526,700, and here's how they're distributed:

Canadian County: 32,536, up 1511.
Cleveland County: 52,039, up 632.
Oklahoma County: 446,678, up 2477.
Pottawatomie County: 71, up 4.

The Cleveland County section of the city is still larger than Moore (47,697), but Moore is growing faster these days and may catch up by 2010.

Elsewhere among the numbers:

  • The town of Fanshawe, in Latimer County, is unchanged since the 2000 Census: the population remains at 0. (Hoot Owl, in Mayes County, which started the decade at 0, is now apparently up to 1; it was 5 back in 1990.)

  • I knew that there was a sizable chunk of Tulsa in Osage County; I had not realized that there is also a section in Wagoner County, apparently annexed in the past decade, with a population of 226 (up 29 from 2004), and another in Rogers County, population 3.

  • Rather a lot of municipalities straddle county lines: for instance, 244 of Okarche's 1158 people live, not in Kingfisher County, but in Canadian County. A lot of this I'd attribute to fencelining.

Fascinating things, these numbers.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:05 AM)
30 June 2006
Judge Thompson gets hard time

Retired District Judge Donald Thompson has been sentenced to four years behind bars and fined $40,000 for various crimes against whatever public decency exists in an Oklahoma courtroom.

Dave at Garfield Ridge sums it up nicely:

If a man can't use a vacuum-sealed device to inspire an erection in the comfort of his own place of business, this is truly a sad day for us all. I mean, c'mon — he was behind a bench! Aside from the pumping sound, and the whimsical look of detached euphoria on his face, this judge wasn't bothering anybody with his penis inserted into a plastic tube while supervising his courtroom. Except, you know, the defendants' rights to a fair trial. But who cares about them anyway?

That's what I need around here: some detached euphoria.

(Previous coverage here, here, here, here, here, and here.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:44 AM)
3 July 2006
The short arm of the law

"Now, what was that silly business about a ticket?"

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:11 PM)
5 July 2006
Let there be trends

The Oklahoman's Don Mecoy plays with Google Trends, and discovers:

It's little surprise that no one in America is more curious about tornadoes, pickups and okra than Okies. Perhaps more unexpected is our fascination with dirt, academics and Britney.

Not so much, really. We have lots of dirt, lots of Britney wannabes, and more state colleges than you can shake a stick at.

Or a bankrupt flea.

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:42 PM)
6 July 2006
And lo, they sacrificed unto the Capitol

The Oklahoma auto buyer, some time within the first thirty days after the buy, must submit to the ritual known as "Tag, Title and Tax," in which he exchanges a large check for a small metal plate and a handful of documents.

It is not necessary to visit an actual state office to do this sort of thing: the Tax Commission has farmed this task out to various private enterprises under the general name "tag agency," and just about every county has one. (Oklahoma County, with a fifth of the state's population, has three dozen or so.) This is not to say that it's less expensive: while the actual tax has been cut slightly in recent years, it's still pretty stiff.

This paragraph from the Tax Commission could be scary:

Most vehicles are assessed excise tax on the basis of their purchase price, provided that purchase price is within 20% of the average retail value for that specific model vehicle. If the purchase price provided is not within that 20% range, a taxable value within that range is established for excise tax assessment purposes.

This is presumably to keep you from selling your Cadillac to your brother-in-law for $200. And after thirty-odd years here, I'm persuaded that the gum-chewing (I think it's required) girl at the tag agency knows at least as much about the retail value of a vehicle as the Kelley Blue Book.

To the tax, add the price of the title ($11, generally), the price of the registration (under $100, but not much under $100), and pretty soon you're looking at real money. My own participation in the ritual cost $486.50, all of which was duly itemized on a handwritten slip.

And no, I didn't order a vanity tag. Under Oklahoma law, the plate stays with the car, not with the owner, when the car is sold; I decided I was too lazy to (1) take out two bolts and (2) learn a new number, and unless there's a warrant for the previous owner's arrest for skipping out of parking tickets in Kansas City, I figure I'm fine.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:23 PM)
11 July 2006
Linger on the sidewalks

Oklahoma City has big plans for making downtown the Next Residential Destination, and Tulsa has ideas of its own. Neither of them, however, have allowed for this:

Nationwide, developers clamber to cash in on this movement, building swanky apartments in the shadow of the skyline, city leaders discuss shopping centers and fancy hotels, hoping to satisfy these folk?s craving for culture in an urban landscape.

Well, I got news for you, all you Planning Committees and Downtown Developers. Culture don?t just come from the top tax brackets. Poor, young folks are the ones that make all that artsy fartsy stuff work. And looking at the various proposals for downtown, it don?t look like we?re gonna make much room for them in our sleek, high-dollar downtown.

The number of new residential units planned downtown seems to grow every day. 166, 350, 500, 700. I haven?t seen the study that specifically calls for the attraction of the upper middle class to downtown Tulsa, and I know it costs a pretty penny to renovate decrepit old buildings into livable space, but somewhere in all that unused space within the inner dispersal loop, there?s gotta be a place where a girl can get a 1bdrm for less than $500/month.

The new arrivals in downtown OKC have been generally an upscale bunch; whatever amenities they can't find downtown are just a drive away. If all this is going to work, though, there's got to be some stuff downtown that you don't have to drive to: grocery, laundry facilities, an actual drug store fercryingoutloud. Otherwise you're blocking out people who might be able to afford living in the middle of things if they don't simultaneously have to support a secondhand Subaru.

I caught this ad in the Oklahoman:

Large, cozy studios near Bricktown, 116 NW 15th, $450 all bills paid, [telephone number redacted].

This isn't at all bad, but:

  1. It's at least a mile from Bricktown, the far fringe of "near";
  2. The nearest place to buy foodstuffs is the Earthgrains/Rainbo bargain store on Broadway, and, well, man does not live by bread alone.

It is, however, within a couple of blocks of Metro Transit, which runs along 13th, and it's in the Heritage Hills East district, which means the city pays a little more attention to building condition than it might in lesser areas.

I haven't been too perturbed with the perceived lack of urban character of the Legacy Summit apartment development between the Museum of Art and Midtown: if the cookie-cutter design, borrowed from other Legacy communities in the 'burbs, saves a few bucks on rent, it's fine with me. Purists will howl; then again, purists tend to make more than $500 a week.

(Found at BatesLine.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:09 AM)
12 July 2006
Another chapter in the Octagon soap

We got your globalization right here, pal: the latest incarnation of the classic British sports car will be built by the Chinese in Oklahoma.

Nanjing Automobile Group, which wound up owning the MG brand after the collapse of UK-based MG Rover, has announced plans to assemble MG TF coupes at a new plant to be built in Ardmore next year. Nanjing will also reactivate a British factory to build the roadster version of the TF, and will build home-market cars in China. Production is expect to begin in the fall of 2008.

Duke T. Hale has been appointed president and CEO of MG North America/Europe, which will be based in Oklahoma City. I'd say he's got his work cut out for him.

TF, incidentally, is a series name from MG's past: the original TF, a repository of 1930s technology, was built from 1953 through 1955, when it was replaced by the shockingly-modern MGA. The new TF will look like this.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:35 AM)
Kan't buy a Klue

A couple of days ago, someone wandered into this site with the search string kevin calvey, KKK. Calvey is a state legislator running for Congress; the KKK needs no introduction. Nothing I'd said connected the two — they happened to be on the same archive page, and the archives around here tend to be huge — but I decided I'd read down the list of results, and turned up something else entirely: an actual page run by the Bayou Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, based in that traditional bayou town, Shawnee, Oklahoma. (I am disinclined to give them a link, partly on general principle, partly because they insist on running a bunch of annoying Java applets; you can find them easily enough if you're interested, since they have their own domain.)

And Rep. Calvey is indeed mentioned thereupon: he had voted against the African-American Centennial Plaza to be built at the Capitol grounds, and the Klan's Webmaster apparently lifted Calvey's press release intact, leaving in all the personal pronouns and stuff:

I voted NO on this item, as I think Oklahoma history should not be balkanized into different ethnic groups.

More amusing was the disclaimer: "We are not what you have been told by your media."

And from the Department of Unconscious Irony: the page sports a black background.

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:43 PM)
13 July 2006
A dime's worth of difference

That ten cents, said George Wallace, exceeds the amount by which the nation's two major parties differ.

The Oklahoma Libertarian Party sent a nine-question survey out to all the candidates for the state legislature. They've posted the results, and given the limitations of the survey and the paucity of responses — only 46 surveys were returned — ol' George may have been on to something. Of the Democrats responding, the average score (on a 30-to-100 scale) was 74; the Republicans averaged 73. (Independents, some of whom may be LP members, averaged 84.)

I note with some amusement that J. M. Branum, a Green running as an Independent, scored higher than GOP stalwart Thad Balkman.

And the OKLP had the gumption to publish the comments of the respondents, which are worth reading even if surveys make your eyes glaze over.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:17 PM)
20 July 2006
Must be a pants shortage or something

First, there was the Broken Arrow nimrod who worked on his car in the front yard wearing nothing but a thin coating of greasy sweat (and/or sweaty grease).

Now here's a pantsless dork shopping at the Shawnee Mall Sears.

As a person who avoids clothing as much as circumstances and the weather permit, I must decry this sort of stupidity, if only because it puts me in a bad light. (Actually, any light in which you can see me is a bad light, but let that pass.) It's not "striking a blow for body freedom" or anything high-flown like that; it's simply making oneself look ridiculous.

A word to the wise: if anyone really wanted to see your genitalia, you'd have an actual date.

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:41 PM)
Actual Democrat sighting

Joe Hartman, last seen commenting on this site in his capacity as campaign manager for John Morgan's run for House District 87 in 2004 — Morgan lost, but not by much — is now running for the seat himself, and he dropped by Surlywood today to say hello and pass out literature.

Hartman will face Dana Orwig (who doesn't have a campaign Web site as of this writing) in the Democratic primary Tuesday; the winner meets Trebor Worthen in the general election.

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:14 PM)
25 July 2006
New Jersey on the prairie

Oh, yeah, we catch a lot of flak from Texans, and in the last couple of weeks we've heard some rumblings from the Puget Sound area, but in the main, nobody bashes Oklahoma quite like Oklahomans: the state's inferiority complex, reinforced by years as a national punchline, is, well, downright superior.

In this morning's Oklahoman, Steve Lackmeyer thinks we're getting over it:

Back in the late 1980s, civic boosters such as Ray Ackerman and Lee Allan Smith spent much of their time thinking up ways to build up hometown pride. Oklahomans back then were worse than Texans when it came to criticizing the Sooner State.

But over the past few years, I've seen that low self-esteem disappear. Sometimes we even sound like Texans, bragging about ourselves whenever we're put down by out-of-state rivals.

This does not mean, of course, that Bud Light is going to put out a radio spot celebrating "Mr. Way Too Proud of Oklahoma Guy" any time soon, but I get the impression that a lot of the state's detractors would be unhappy no matter where they were.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:55 AM)
26 July 2006
Is TABOR tabled?

Do you think somebody lost count? Proponents of the so-called Taxpayer Bill of Rights collected 299,029 signatures; Oklahoma Supreme Court referee Greg Albert says the verified count is 218,223, just slightly shy of the constitutional specification (219,564) for going onto the ballot as a State Question. It is, of course, standard practice to get as many signatures as possible, with the expectation that some of them will be invalidated, but having more than twenty percent of them scratched indicates, at the very least, sloppy work. Of the 80,806 signatures invalidated, 56,940 were collected by persons legally unqualified to accept them. Pertinent constitutional language:

It shall be unlawful for any person other than a qualified elector of the State of Oklahoma to circulate any initiative or referendum petition to amend, add to, delete, strike or otherwise change in any way the Constitution or laws of the State of Oklahoma, or of any subdivision of the State of Oklahoma. Every person convicted of a violation of this section shall be punished by a fine of not to exceed One Thousand Dollars ($1,000.00), or by imprisonment in the county jail for not to exceed one (1) year, or by both said fine and imprisonment.

Albert's report notes that the state's definition of "qualified elector" requires "bona fide" residency, which a number of circulators were not able to establish: an address at the EconoLodge on I-40 West, for instance, does not make you a resident.

The Court may overrule Albert, and indeed has done so in the past on other matters, but this is not a good sign for TABOR fans.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:02 AM)
30 July 2006
Oklahoma political advertising 101

An overview by Lynn:

I can't say for certain if Oklahoma politicians are actually nastier than politicians anywhere else but it certainly seems like it — nastier and more childish. The worst insult of all is "Liberal!" Politicians around here assault each other's character in every imaginable way but when they want to bring out the big gun it's always, "[My opponent] is a liberal," with the word "Liberal" spoken in the most distasteful tone possible, as if the word itself were almost too vile to say out loud. They're like kids on the playground shouting insults at each other. It doesn't even matter whether the insult makes sense or not, just that it is as vile as possible.

One of the things that has kept me in the Democratic fold all these years, despite a personal turn to the right — or is it that the Democratic organization has veered to the left? — is the persistent Republican "more conservative than thou" posturing: if that's all they have to say, they don't really have much to say, do they?

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:59 AM)
Tetched by Teh Gay

The Oklahoman this morning had a story on House District 88 winner Al McAffrey, and titled it Gay legislator not expected to push agenda.

My first thought was "Who are they kidding? Every legislator has an agenda, and ...."

Oh. Right. That agenda. What was I thinking? (And how come everyone else has a "platform" or a "values statement," but gay candidates have an "agenda"?)

Meanwhile, Chuck Wolfe of the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, which assisted McAffrey's campaign, asks rhetorically:

Have you ever heard of anyone running as a straight candidate?

Sssh. Don't give Thad Balkman any ideas.

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:48 PM)
2 August 2006
Heyla, heyla, the burn ban's back

Governor Henry today imposed a new statewide ban on outdoor burning for "as long as conditions merit."

Given the weather patterns of late, this sounds like at least a couple of months.

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:35 PM)
14 August 2006
Let's not always see the same hands

Nominations are now open for the 2006 Okie Blog Awards, and will continue through the end of August; the actual voting begins on the 2nd of September.

What defines an Okie blog? From the rules:

Only Okie bloggers with active Okie blogs at the start of nominations are eligible. "Active" is defined as having at least one blog post during the previous 60 days. An "Okie blog" is defined as having at least one active blog author residing within the state of Oklahoma. All Okie Blog Awards are to be decided only by Okie bloggers.

And Okiedoke, despite being more deserving than some of us (like, well, um, me, for instance), is officially ineligible, since Mike's running the tabulations and wishes to avoid the very hint of scandal, which doesn't necessarily explain why he's not running for a statewide office this year, but could.

There are a dozen categories this year. Get your nominations in soon and avoid an abundance of nagging posts.

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:08 PM)
15 August 2006
Words from the Duke

Edmunds.com's Inside Line gets MG's Duke Hale to sit for a few questions:

What is your sense — and do you have any data to support — if MG has any brand equity left, particularly after being out of the U.S. since 1980? And if it has any, who is that equity with? Mostly older people?

I have looked at research done by a European-based firm that definitely indicates there is positive equity in North America with the 40-plus crowd. It certainly has more positive equity in Europe, where MGs were sold up until about 10 months ago in the range of 120,000 cars a year. It's been 25-plus years since the MG was sold in North America so people as young as in their late 30s and early 40s still remember the brand. Younger than that, they don't. But look at the Mini Cooper. That was never as strong a brand as MG. I hardly remember the Mini Cooper. But look at what they've done, selling 200,000-plus a year. I think we can learn from Mini on how to not only appeal to the 40-plus crowd, but also how to tap into the 22-40 crowd. We'll tear a page out of Mini's playbook.

Why Oklahoma? General Motors recently closed the state's only assembly plant there.

The opportunity in Oklahoma is immense. The Ardmore Air Park, where we will build the coupe, is a 3000-acre parcel. Some of the land is sovereign Indian state. We are partnered with Mark Nuttle. [Editor's note: Nuttle is manager of the Oklahoma Sovereign Development LLC, which has a joint venture with the Chickasaw Nation to develop the land into an international trade and distribution center. Nanjing would benefit from tax advantages, including property tax exemptions, accelerated tax depreciation and employment tax credits if the tribe purchases 650 or more acres for the Ardmore Airpark and leases it to Nanjing.] Let imagination run and you can think of creative ways that allow the business to be more efficient and profitable to the point that one might be able to build vehicles in Oklahoma nearly as cheaply as China.

There is, of course, a lot more being discussed, but these were the questions I most wanted answered.

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:52 PM)
18 August 2006
Scroll up

A monument engraved with the Ten Commandments is to be installed near the Coal County Courthouse, though not actually on the courthouse grounds: it's on private property and was built entirely with private funds — "to keep some of these protesters away from it," said County Commissioner Johnny Ward.

I'd like to get a look at it, but given what happened the last time I was in Coal County, I'm thinking I can wait a good long time.

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:49 PM)
We're all OK

In case you thought you were the only one who noticed:

Seriously, what is it about Oklahoma that there are so many, and such interesting, blogs?! I check these three daily as I'm sure many people do (dustbury, numskullery, sweet familiar dissonance) and finally realized that they're all Oklahomans. Sheesh, is there something in the water? the air? the soil??

It's a hundred and five outside. No wonder we're at our keyboards, our tumblers of [fill in name of preferred libation] at our sides, our tongues loosened just enough to tell you things like this.

(Were this January, amend the first sentence to "It's twenty-seven and drizzling outside.")

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:48 PM)
20 August 2006
Welcome to the Panhandle State

Dan Paden meets the beggars:

Perfectly able-bodied — they don't all have bad backs, friends — people, often young, standing on corners or walking around parking lots, begging. I swear sometimes I've seen it all. I've seen people begging — in tandem! — on a corner in one part of town, and getting off a bus to beg on a different corner later in the day. I've seen the same guy show up on the same corner at regular intervals — usually Saturdays. I guess he'd beg all week long, but it must interfere with something else he's doing. He must be doing okay. He's not getting any skinnier, that's for sure.

Nice work if you can get it. Oh, wait, did I say "work"?

Tulsa has an unemployment rate of somewhere between 3.75 and 4.25 percent, if memory serves. Employers are screaming for people, often anyone who'll just show up and try. At this point, you practically have to hide under a rock to avoid getting a job in this town. Or you have to be way too dadgum choosy.

Or maybe you'd rather just spend your days playing the slots and Governor Henry's lotto and letting strangers buy your beer, cigarettes, and lotto tickets before you go back home to the city-subsidized apartment you share with the disabled lady.

One commenter wrote that "they come to Tulsa because they can't panhandle in OKC," which should be a surprise to anyone who's driven past Penn Square lately.

In the event that you saw this and immediately thought "But panhandlers are protected by the First Amendment," I note that (1) courts have indeed often, if not invariably, so ruled, and (2) such protection, whatever its extent, imposes no obligation on the general public: no one is guaranteed an audience.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:10 PM)
24 August 2006
Giving them no quarters

The Oklahoma Turnpike Authority has revised those mysterious "Failure to pay toll strictly enforced" signs, and presumably now they mean business.

Then again, things happen. One of them happened to Steven Roemerman:

The other day I was forced to run a toll booth on the Creek Turnpike. I did not have exact change and the exit did not have a change machine.

Not wanting to get nailed to the wall for 60 cents, I called OTA Enforcement (1-877-774-9569). I was told to complete the following steps.

  • Write a check to the OTA for the amount of the missed toll.
  • In the memo field, put the offending vehicle's tag number, the date and time of the infraction, and the toll road.
  • Mail said check to P.O. Box 960029 Oklahoma City, OK 73196.
  • Wait for the OTA to mail you citation.
  • Call the OTA with the details of the citation and the number on the aforementioned check.

This sad story, of course, gives me an opportunity to recount this tale from my sordid past:

I got on the Kilpatrick Turnpike, duly stopped at the toll-basket, reached into my pocket, and did not find thirty cents. There was a Sacajawea dollar, though, so I grat my teeth and pitched the buckette into the basket.

Nothing.

This was not one of the toll stations with an actual bill changer, so I sat there. A truck pulled up behind me. I pondered running the toll light and sitting there waiting for the gendarmes, but decided this would be even more expensive. The occupants of the truck began to fidget.

Finally I flicked a second Sacajawea, my last, into the basket, and this time was granted admission.

I concluded at the time:

Yeah, I suppose this is a good argument for a PikePass. Truth be told, I was holding out until they came up with some measure of compatibility with the East Coast E-Z Pass systems, into which I pour a lot of coin during (some of) the World Tours. On the other hand, if I'm running a regular risk of spending $2 for a thirty-cent fare, the transponder will justify itself rather quickly.

I may get one of these critters yet, especially since Gwendolyn has some strategically-placed Velcro which might accommodate it.

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:26 AM)
27 August 2006
The first premium channel

Just in case you thought HBO started it all, Bryan Painter has a piece in this morning's Oklahoman about the real origin of subscription television.

For $9.95 a month, "Telemovie," using a coaxial cable, would feed you 30 films a month, seventeen of them first-run, twelve hours a day — if you happened to be living in Bartlesville, Oklahoma. In 1957.

The Telemovie operation was a joint venture between a hardware manufacturer (Jerrold) and a theater chain (Video Independent Theaters). It lasted about a year. (The Green Channel, the predecessor of HBO, started up in 1970.)

Oh, and Oklahoma also had a half-premium channel for a while. KAUT signed on in the late 1970s with a mixture of news programming during the day — George Tomek anchored "Newswatch 43" — and a scrambled signal during the evening which presented to subscribers an HBO-like channel called Vue. The news programming proved to be expensive, and was dropped after about a year, but Vue was offered at least through the end of 1982. This wasn't even the weirdest mix ever on the station: when Paramount Stations Group acquired it in 1998 and changed its calls to KPSG, the station ran PBS programming in the morning — by agreement with OETA, who had sold it to them — and UPN shows in the evening. (How did OETA get the station in the first place, you ask? The previous owner of channel 43, when it was a Fox affiliate, donated it to the state so that they could buy the presumably-better facillity on channel 25. No, this wasn't Sinclair; that came later.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:53 AM)
31 August 2006
TABOR is dead

A month ago, I said something to the effect that TABOR was going down:

Proponents of the so-called Taxpayer Bill of Rights collected 299,029 signatures; Oklahoma Supreme Court referee Greg Albert says the verified count is 218,223, just slightly shy of the constitutional specification (219,564) for going onto the ballot as a State Question. It is, of course, standard practice to get as many signatures as possible, with the expectation that some of them will be invalidated, but having more than twenty percent of them scratched indicates, at the very least, sloppy work. Of the 80,806 signatures invalidated, 56,940 were collected by persons legally unqualified to accept them.

And now it's official:

A unanimous Oklahoma Supreme Court threw out today the taxpayer bill of rights petition aimed at limiting state government spending, saying it lacked sufficient valid signatures for a statewide vote.

TABOR proponent Senator Randy Brogdon (R-Owasso) said he wasn't giving up on the idea. Perhaps he might be interested in this one:

Considering it was out-of-staters that messed things up in the first place, maybe Brogdon should start a petition drive to ban the gathering of signatures by paid out-of-state petitioners to begin with.

I'll sign that just as soon as I see some I.D.

Update, 1 September: The Oklahoman gave half the front page to the TABOR story today, and noted in their lead editorial that they had opposed the measure as written, citing the need to spend more on infrastructure and education and such to catch up to the rest of the country.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:04 PM)
3 September 2006
Oh, yeah, those

I am pleased to report that everyone I nominated for the 2006 Okie Blog Awards did actually make it into the final round of voting.

I do, of course, question my own inclusion in the running for Best Overall Blog; to my knowledge, I have posted only one item this year mentioning overalls.

And I do encourage you to vote for your favorites, whoever they may be.

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:53 PM)
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The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

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