8 September 2006
Not our job, amigo

Reportedly, this comes from the Policy and Procedures Manual of the Tulsa Police:

Criminal violations of immigration law such as undocumented entry into the United States are appropiately dealt with at, or near the point of entry, or by a federal warrant. Other deplorable offenses, such as overstaying a work, educational, or special visa, are considered civil violations and not criminal offenses.

The Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (BCIS) has the responsibility and authority to enforce federal immigration laws. Their officers are uniquely prepared for this law enforcement responsibility due to their special training in dealing with the complexities and fine distinctions of immigration laws.

Therefore, officers of the Tulsa Police Department will not stop, detain, question or arrest any person solely on the basis that the individual might have unlawfully entered this country or exceeded his/her authorization to remain in the United States. Furthermore, officers shall not enforce the provisions of federal immigration law either by arrest or by placing holds on persons suspected of being undocumented aliens. This policy applies to situations where immigration status is brought to an officerís attention either in the context of an arrest, during a criminal investigation, or otherwise.

If, during the course of an investigation, an officer obtains reasonable suspicion that an individual possesses, or should possess immigration credentials such as a visa, passport, alien registration card, or any other official documentation issued by the BCIS, the officer may request such documentation for identification purposes only.

I'm just cynical enough to wonder how much of this is wanting to avoid trespassing on BCIS' turf — these are Federal laws, after all — and how much of it is wanting to avoid confrontation with open-borders advocates.

On the upside, now we know that overstaying one's student visa is "deplorable."

(Via Meeciteewurkor.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:40 AM)
9 September 2006
A bright golden haze on the meadow

Governor Henry introduces the Oklahoma Centennial Stamp, to be issued next January:

Oklahoma Centennial Stamp


(Photo by the Oklahoman's Nate Billings, from the AP wire. Inexplicably, this wasn't to be found at NewsOK.com.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:00 PM)
15 September 2006
Balancing local and yokel

News Item:

The Federal Communications Commission ordered its staff to destroy all copies of a draft study that suggested greater concentration of media ownership would hurt local TV news coverage, a former lawyer at the agency says.

Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) is "dismayed":

In a letter sent to [FCC Chairman Kevin] Martin Wednesday, Boxer said she was "dismayed that this report, which was done at taxpayer expense more than two years ago, and which concluded that localism is beneficial to the public, was shoved in a drawer."

Martin said he was not aware of the existence of the report, nor was his staff. His office indicated it had not received Boxer's letter as of midafternoon Thursday.

I can appreciate Boxer's dismay: whatever the alleged benefits of media consolidation, they are, I think, outweighed by the inevitably higher level of media homogenization that results.

The report claims that locally-owned stations put on more news:

The analysis showed local ownership of television stations adds almost five and one-half minutes of total news to broadcasts and more than three minutes of "on-location" news. The conclusion is at odds with FCC arguments made when it voted in 2003 to increase the number of television stations a company could own in a single market. It was part of a broader decision liberalizing ownership rules.

Of the major-network affiliates in Oklahoma City, only one can be construed as "local": KWTV, the CBS outlet, owned by Griffin Communications LLC, whose holdings include two other stations, both in Tulsa. I avoid watching TV news as a general rule — bad for my dyspepsia — but if there's any indication that News 9 (or Tulsa's The News on 6) actually put on more news than their competitors, I'd like to hear about it. (And if there isn't, I'd like to hear about that too.)

(Disclosure: Yours truly was once interviewed by News 9. Good thing it wasn't twice.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:08 PM)
Paper trails to you

Last year, Michael Clingman, secretary of the state's Election Board, expressed some interest in acquiring some touch-screen voting machines, apparently thumbing his nose at the ancient wisdom, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." At the time, I suggested that this was at least partially motivated by the desire to get the Feds to pay for the odious devices.

Steven Roemerman has now spoken with Clingman about the future of voting contraptions in Oklahoma, and I am somewhat reassured:

With regard to the actual voting process in Oklahoma, it ainít broke. I spoke with Michael Clingman, Oklahoma State Election Board Secretary, and he agrees with me. The paper based, optically scanning system, uniformly applied across Oklahoma, is one of the best in the country. Clingman told me, however, that our current system was purchased in 1990 and had an intended 10 year lifecycle. We are now 6 years past the shelf life of our current system and there are starting to be problems. It is becoming more and more difficult to find parts for maintenance. Clingman suggested that we might need to replace these machines as early as 2008. However, he assured me that Oklahoma has no desire to part with the basic system under which we currently operate. The paper trail that an actual paper ballot affords us is something that any new system will have to incorporate.

And with good reason, too, given the unreliability demonstrated by the most popular electronic voting machine.

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:27 PM)
One step forward

I grumbled back in July that Dana Orwig, Democratic candidate for House District 87, didn't have a Web site, and when she dropped by the palatial Surlywood estate, I asked her about that.

Now she does, which puts her one up on her opponent this fall. (VoteWorthen.com comes up 404 at this writing.) Issues she's supporting are here.

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:39 PM)
18 September 2006
Think smallish

I like big developments as much as the next guy — unless, of course, the next guy is the one who plans to make his fortune on them — but for those of us who aren't in the real-estate game, it's the small stuff that makes an inner-city area more interesting and more livable.

Michael Bates offers a case in point: the Gypsy Coffee House in Tulsa's Oldtown. The name comes from the long-defunct Gypsy Oil Company, whose building was boarded up in the 1970s and more or less abandoned.

New owner Bradley René Garcia took over on the last day of 1998 and faced a massive task: there were interior walls to remove, leaks to fix, amenities to install. It took six months to get to the point where he could start building what he wanted.

Still, it's paying off. The second floor is now occupied by a salon; the coffee house is open weeknights until midnight, Friday and Saturday until 3 am. Says Garcia:

I am grateful to be given the chance, through hard work and sacrifice, to leave Tulsa a little bit better off, and to leave something better than it was before & that will be here, long after I am gone.

We do need the big guys with the vast visions; but we need folks like Mr Garcia, devoted to the smaller things, just as much.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:46 AM)
21 September 2006
Boren says he's staying put

Rep. Dan Boren is the lone Democrat in the state's Congressional delegation, and his voting record is not exactly typical of Democrats in Congress; after speculation at The Hill that Boren might jump to the Republican side of the aisle, the Oklahoman revealed today Boren had told them last week he had no such plans.

"There's not a chance that I would ever change parties," said Boren, though he admitted that he had registered as an Independent during a period when he was working for Corporation Commissioner Denise Bode, a Republican who sought a Congressional seat of her own this year.

I feel for the guy. I twitch at some of the things national Democrats come up with, but I have no reason to think I'd feel any more comfortable were I to throw in my lot with the GOP.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:11 AM)
23 September 2006
We're off to see the bloggers

Those wonderful bloggers of ours.


If you don't blog, but you think you might like to, come anyway: at 1 pm there will be a 90-minute Blogging 101 workshop, led by the eminent Sean Gleeson, which is free to the general public, though space is limited.

The bash is at the Bricktown Central Plaza Hotel, Reno at Martin Luther King, east of downtown — and no, not actually in Bricktown.

Update, 12:45 pm: The crowd is starting to filter in, and of course we prefer our crowds filtered.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:29 AM)
They gave me the bird

The 2006 Okie Blogger Bash continues, even as I type, and the Awards have been given. Very good turnout, and a lot of deserving winners.

Me? Um, I was the last one anybody mentioned.

Congratulations to all the nominees.

Update, 10:10 pm: Don Danz has all the details.

Oh, and Monty? Serious voluptuosity.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:10 PM)
24 September 2006
With mallards toward none

Trophy duckWell, I suppose he is kinda cute, and if nothing else, I learned never to use the top of the range as a backdrop for a photo. (Note: I have replaced the original photo in this piece with Folger's Crystals a better one found at Okiedoke, shot by the intrepid Don Danz.) A dozen of these were handed out last night; I got the twelfth. (For the record, either three or four of my picks won their respective categories.) As for the rumors that I was seen on the actual dance floor, well, I plan to claim that all 15 or 20 people who have photographic evidence of the incident are buying material from AP and Reuters stringers and therefore you can't believe a word of it. (And anyway, Kurt Hochenauer is a better dancer.) I wonder if Dwight and Sarah have yet discovered that they're each entitled to 0.5 duck. And somewhere in the midst of it all, I asserted that this was my Best. Post. Ever. Nobody agreed.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:10 AM)
25 September 2006
If the chairs become musical

Chris Casteel of the Oklahoman's Washington bureau (I mention this in case some of you had no idea the Oklahoman even had a Washington bureau) talked to the state's Congressional delegation about the possibility of a Democratic resurgence sufficient to regain the majority.

Dan Boren, the lone Democrat in the bunch, took a collective view:

Undoubtedly, as a delegation, we would lose some clout. But it also produces a unique opportunity for someone like myself who has been willing to work across the aisle and be bipartisan.

Those who consider Boren a DINO, I suspect, will continue to do so.

John Sullivan echoed Boren's concerns about clout, but was confident the Democrats would come up just short of winning control. Tom Cole worries about seniority: the average House member, he says, has 11 years in, and with Ernest Istook departing, only Frank Lucas comes even close to that.

And Lucas admits he enjoys his chairmanship of an Agriculture subcommittee:

It's a lot more fun to have your hand on the gavel — or at least be close enough to see the wood grain.

Meanwhile, in the Senate, Tom Coburn, Scourge of Pork, isn't worried about losing his subcommittee:

I'll have an extra three hours a week to use to make trouble on the [Senate] floor.

The Big Spenders are herewith put on notice.

Predictions from yours truly, as posted New Year's Day: Republicans lose 13 seats in the House, two in the Senate, but retain a (thinner) majority.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:00 AM)
26 September 2006
Post-Frosty

Frosty Troy has been running the Oklahoma Observer for so long it's hard to remember when he wasn't. But Frosty is well into his seventies, and he announced a couple years ago that he was looking for someone to succeed him as editor.

Now he's found someone. The Dallas Morning News, in a cost-cutting move, is apparently shuttering its Oklahoma bureau, freeing up Arnold Hamilton to take over at the Observer.

Hamilton grew up in Midwest City, and got some of his earliest bylines at the late, lamented Oklahoma Journal. I remember him as a non-flashy, rock-solid reporter type, and I wasn't surprised to see his name in a Dallas paper after the Journal died. The News apparently is buying him out for about a year's salary; Troy says he'd been trying to talk Hamilton into the Observer position for a number of years.

On the masthead, Hamilton and his wife Beverly are now listed as editor and publisher respectively, Frosty and Helen Troy moving to "founding editor" and "founding publisher." This isn't strictly accurate — the first incarnation of the Observer was a church publication that was in danger of going under — but no one except the Troys would be likely to remember those days anyway, and certainly they deserve the credit for keeping the paper viable for thirty-odd years. Arnold Hamilton has a hard act to follow, but I'm sure he's up to the task.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:20 AM)
Oh, look, here comes the starfish truck

When last we checked in with Rep. Humus B. Kyddenme, he was pitching a House bill to include all known creation stories in the state-mandated public-school curriculum; to his chagrin, the bill never emerged from committee.

For next year, he has a new idea. Noting that population growth has been consistent along America's coastlines, and that the demand for housing has kept property values sky-high in those areas, Kyddenme has decided that landlocked Oklahoma can't compete unless it has a serious shoreline.

Bricktown Beach, despite its name, will not actually be located in Bricktown; the massive artificial ocean, about 185 square miles, will be created by flooding the northeastern quarter of Oklahoma County, roughly everything east of Sooner Road and north of NE 36th Street. (The famed Round Barn in Arcadia, which would otherwise be sunk, will be trucked up Old 66 to a new location west of Chandler.) Tides will be created by wind turbines placed at regular intervals along Pottawatomie Road; as a bonus, they will generate electricity for 3,000 homes in Lincoln County. Kyddenme hasn't given a cost estimate, but he insists that the revenue from the hotels, casinos and restaurants located along the shore will easily cover the expense of digging a two-thousand-foot-deep hole thirteen and a half miles square. As for the 30,000 or so displaced residents, Kyddenme says there's no problem: "Who do you think is gonna buy all those beach houses?" It's no more implausible, he says, than building artificial islands in the middle of the Arkansas River.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:30 PM)
29 September 2006
A sign of creeping cynicism

The headline in the Mid-City Advocate read:

Reneau holds illegal immigration hearings

First thought: "Omigod, what's Brenda done now?"

(The Surly Grammarian suggests a hyphen between "illegal" and "immigration.")

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:23 PM)
1 October 2006
Lots to hate

TulsaNow says the Oil Capital has enough asphalt, and has a map to prove it: for instance, Cincinnati between 10th and 13th is an almost-uninterrupted stretch of parking lots.

From the CORE proposals [link to PDF file]:

Surface parking lots have proliferated in Downtown Tulsa, eroding the urban fabric, livability, walkability, and property tax revenues, as many buildings have been demolished for surface parking. In addition, the abundance of lower-cost surface parking makes the preferred structured parking solution less viable. Despite this, the perception that "thereís nowhere to park downtown" persists.

We hear the same noises in Oklahoma City, particularly regarding Bricktown. I have never had any trouble finding a place to park downtown, even during big events like the Festival of the Arts, which draws something like 100,000 people a day, but no one believes me. More to the point, downtown activities continue to draw crowds, which should tell you that parking isn't that much of an issue at all.

A view from Indianapolis by Aaron Renn:

[P]arking at Broad Ripple and the Fashion Mall is a piece of cake compared to finding a parking spot in places like San Francisco, Chicago, or New York. In those places, there aren't even any illegal spots available. All the fire hydrants are taken. But people are willing to drive from 50 miles out in the suburbs to dine out in San Francisco's North Beach neighborhood. People from Indianapolis and beyond travel to Chicago to shop Michigan Ave., dine out in Lincoln Park, or take in a touring Broadway show in the Loop, where $15 charges for parking are commonplace and on street parking is a near impossibility. New York is of course the nation's premier tourist mecca and no one even thinks about trying to park there.

The truth is, parking has virtually nothing to do with whether or not people come downtown or not. It is simply an easy scapegoat for people to whine about when answering surveys. The fact is, people who don't come downtown stay away because there is nothing there they want. Provide these people with real attractions and they will come, regardless of parking. The Circle Centre Mall and its associated upscale restaurants provide the best example of this.

It's as simple as this, says Renn:

In reality, a parking lot is a vacant lot. And a vacant lot offers no attractions that tourists or suburbanites will come to see. It offers no office space for people to work in. It offers no place for downtown residents to live.

To get people into the city center, for a few hours or for the rest of their lives, you've got to give them something they want. Oklahoma City, after years of downtown desuetude, finally has a handle on the idea that they have to offer an experience that can't be had in Edmond or Yukon or Moore. And an irreplaceable part of that experience is the connection to history that exists only in those classic buildings with their inimitable architecture. (Edmond is busily sprucing up its old downtown, precisely for this reason.)

Michael Bates has a seven-minute video put together by TulsaNow to illustrate their point. But Joni Mitchell saw this coming decades ago: before the pink hotel, the boutique, or the swinging hot spot, they put up a parking lot. Then, as now, we don't know what we've got 'til it's gone.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:25 AM)
4 October 2006
Ashcroft on the whistlestop tour

Former Attorney General John Ashcroft will be in town next week: he'll be signing copies of his new book Never Again. And this book might draw rather a lot of interest locally, since one of the chapters is titled "The Botched Prosecution of Timothy McVeigh."

Nolan Clay reports in the Oklahoman:

He criticized prosecutors, writing they were overly generous to the defense in the first place. He said prosecutors agreed to provide materials not normally given to criminal defendants, causing the later confusion.

"What the law requires is plenty good in American justice," he said Monday in a phone interview from New York. "When the Justice Department goes above and beyond what the law requires, we get ourselves in trouble.... We significantly elevated the risks of disruption, which I think were unnecessary."

He also said the documents mistake [which delayed McVeigh's execution by approximately one month] was a lesson to him that the FBI needed reform.

The prosecution was not impressed:

Prosecutors scoffed at the criticism. They said they gave the defense "unprecedented discovery" because they wanted the public to be assured the government wasn't hiding anything, particularly since the case was one of the first high-profile ones after the controversial O.J. Simpson murder trial.

"It was a decision shared by every member of the prosecution team, including the attorney general at the time.... Ashcroft's view is fine for day-to-day drug buys, but this was the criminal justice system on trial," former prosecutor Larry Mackey said.

Not all of the public was so assured.

Ashcroft also noted that he was concerned about McVeigh's post-execution reputation:

He also revealed authorities feared the execution would inspire other terrorists to act on an anniversary of McVeigh's death. He wrote that the government limited McVeigh's access to the media in the months before the execution to keep him from becoming a symbol.

In that, at least, they were successful: the only mentions McVeigh gets these days are from apologists for Islam, who are anxious to point out that McVeigh, unlike ninety-nine-point-something percent of modern-day terrorists, was not in fact a Muslim.

Ashcroft will be appearing at the Wal-Mart Supercenter (!) in Edmond on Wednesday, 11 October, at noon. Note to women: you might want to be careful with the cleavage.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:42 AM)
6 October 2006
Snakes on a drain

Lynn is tired of those [word redacted] snakes coming up through the bathroom:

One day last week Number Two Son found a snake in the bathtub. It provided about five minutes or so of entertainment but it got away. A day or two later I found a small snake in the clothes hamper. I quickly decided that I didn't need to do laundry right that minute. Later the guys searched the hamper but didn't find anything.

This afternoon I found the same snake (or its twin) near the door to the other bathroom. Now that is simply unacceptable. I'm usually a live and let live kind of gal but a snake in my bathroom is something that I'm not willing to live with. So I ran outside and grabbed an old ax handle — a comfortingly long and hefty piece of wood — and went back and found the snake hiding behind the door a few inches from where I had first seen it. My plan was to bring my weapon straight down on the little beastie's head but he moved and I ended up smashing it right in the middle. I then scooped it up on a dustpan and carried it out to the trash outside. Yay me!

Complain? Not me. Here's why:

The little beastie has been identified. It was a young copperhead.

Sheesh. Even Kate has sworn off venom.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:02 AM)
15 October 2006
Just pluck it out of the air

Michael Bates argues that the Tulsa Airport Authority should drop its $9.95-a-day fee for wireless Internet at Tulsa International, and there are good reasons to do so:

There's a practical advantage: Free wi-fi allows business travelers to stay productive during delays, which makes for less tension on the concourse when a flight is rescheduled or cancelled. It also makes it possible for travelers to investigate alternate flights, so that everyone doesn't have to wait in line to get booked onto a new flight.

Mostly, though, free wi-fi would be a way to extend hospitality. It would be a way to leave a positive final impression on visitors to our city.

Besides, it's something we don't have in Oklahoma City (though the going rate at Will Rogers is two bucks less). Still, I must ruefully concede the point of commenter RJJ, who said:

Can we really expect anyone in Oklahoma to pass up the opportunity to charge someone a toll?

Probably not. In 1955, the legislature passed a law which said that so long as any bonds were outstanding on any state turnpike, no turnpike could be turned into a free road. And inasmuch as the Turner, the prototype for all such projects, contained a provision that allowed for refinancing those bonds — well, don't hold your breath waiting for the toll plazas to go away. It is true that there ain't no such thing as a free lunch; in this state, though, you might be well advised to bring your own napkins as well.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:12 AM)
19 October 2006
The line forms on the right

Earlier this week (in Vent #505) I came out in favor of all four state questions on this year's ballot, though I was least enthusiastic about SQ 725, which allows the state's Rainy Day Fund to be tapped to rescue failing manufacturing plants.

What I said was something like this:

The State Chamber and other chambers of commerce are pushing hard for 725; I might vote for it anyway, simply because we've already lost entirely too many manufacturing jobs. In a gesture toward sensibility, the Rainy Day Fund cannot be tapped for this purpose unless there's at least $80 million on hand. Consider this a Yes, but I've got my fingers crossed.

Not the most enthusiastic of endorsements, but there it is.

Mike has no such reservations. He doesn't like it at all:

Obviously, the idea is to make it easier to distribute state funds for use as corporate welfare. This proposal makes things a little too easy, in my opinion. If our elected leaders feel providing a special business incentive is in the stateís best interest, let them hash it out among themselves in legislative session. Isnít that what theyíre for?

Considering the Governor and the leaders of both houses have to sign off on any such incentives, I don't think there's too much danger of rushing into these things.

On the other hand, this is indisputably true:

And of course there will never be a shortage of "at-risk manufacturers", especially when state coffers are over-flowing.

Which is, of course, a disadvantage of any government program that writes checks: people will queue up to get it whether they need it or not.

And if SQ 725 turns out to be more boondoggle than boon, well, Mike told you (and me) so.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:05 AM)
31 October 2006
I think he's just needling us

This is the last day of the state's tattoo ban — as of tomorrow, practitioners can operate legally within the state, subject to (as always) state regulations.

Not everyone is happy about it. Rep. John Wright (R-Broken Arrow) says it's bad for the state's economy:

Our society as a whole still does not view tattoos in a favorable light. Many CEOs do not wish to have people working on their front lines who are overtly calling attention to themselves. Because of that, it [the legalization of tattooing] is somewhat going to have a diminishing effect on economic opportunities.

Indeed. Remember when Ken Lay chewed out Jeff Skilling for that "Born to Steal" scroll on his upper arm?

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:41 AM)
8 November 2006
The view from here

Actually, it was a pretty good day to be an Oklahoma incumbent: of the statewide officeholders, only Labor Commissioner Brenda Reneau was sent packing. More interesting is the apparent 24-24 tie in the state Senate, in which case Lt. Governor-elect Jari Askins, a Democrat, will hold the balance of power. (Senator Nancy Riley, who switched to the Democrats earlier this year, might well congratulate herself on her prescience.) The GOP still holds the House, though.

All the State Questions passed, although the only one that was never in doubt was 724, which cuts off state pay to an officeholder in jail, and which passed with better than a 7-1 margin.

I've seen no recount requests yet. If there are no challenges, the State Election Board will certify the results (current totals here) next Wednesday.

All in all, I can't complain with any degree of conviction: most of the folks I voted for actually won, which is far better than my usual track record, and it looks like I can retire my Big Book of Thad Balkman Jokes.

(Oh, and my predictions? Not so close.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:41 AM)
9 November 2006
Now this is bipartisan

Right out of the paper, simply because I like the way this sounds:

Both [Senate Democratic Leader Mike] Morgan and Republican leader Glenn Coffee said it's too early to say how things will be done in the wake of Tuesdayís election, which resulted in Republicans and Democrats each having 24 members in the Senate.

Morgan, D-Stillwater, said, "I'm going to continue dialogue so we can find a way to make this work."

He said he and Coffee get along well. That was proven Wednesday when Morgan gave reporters a glimpse of his office where Coffee had pulled a practical joke.

A strip of tape was placed in the middle of Morganís desk, with a note designating one side of the desk as "Glenn's" and the other as "Mike's."

"Glenn gets the refrigerator, and I get the couch," Morgan said.

You want to know why I voted for Jari Askins for Lieutenant Governor and Tie-Breaker? Because Todd Hiett wouldn't have thought this was so damn funny.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:24 AM)
13 November 2006
Forecast for today: blue

NewsOK.com usually has the weather radar at this link.

This morning, though, they had this.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:00 AM)
15 November 2006
Coming soon to your browser

Frosty Troy's Oklahoma Observer now has a Web site, and it looks pretty good, if a trifle short of content just yet. (This has to be Arnold Hamilton's idea.) Whether this will help Observer circulation, which has been sitting around 7500 for as long as I can remember, remains to be seen, but I'm sure it's worth the effort.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:16 AM)
22 November 2006
A light behind the rainbow

I drove past Keith Smith's house yesterday, which is nothing unusual, since it's near my house. At the time, I had no idea that he wasn't there.

Turns out that Smith, one of the founders of Central Oklahoma's Stonewall Democrats, and the party's first openly-gay delegate to the national Democratic convention, had died Monday night, a victim of pneumonia, at Integris Baptist Medical Center. The Smith Group, which he headed, had established itself as a major player in Oklahoma's progressive politics: Smith represented many left-of-center groups, not all of them GLBT-related.

Family services will be in Smith's hometown of Alva; there will be a memorial at the Capitol on the first of December.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:30 AM)
24 November 2006
1892 and all that

File this under Historical Inevitability: you can now get the B. C. Clark jingle on iTunes.

What's more, Oklahoma's Oldest Jeweler is presenting a collection of versions from the last thirty-odd years, including the original unexpurgated version. (Old Clarkies will remember that there used to be one extra line in the song, snipped when 30-second spots became the rule rather than the exception.)

The original jingle dates back to 1956, which means it's been around longer than "Jingle Bell Rock" ('57), the Chipmunk Song ('58) or "The Little Drummer Boy" ('58, though its Czech ancestor dates back to WWII).

Mercifully, no one recorded this version for posterity.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:25 AM)
25 November 2006
Always high prices

From Oklahoma Statutes, title 15, section 598.3:

It is hereby declared that any advertising, offer to sell, or sale of any merchandise, either by retailers or wholesalers, at less than cost as defined in this act with the intent and purpose of inducing the purchase of other merchandise or of unfairly diverting trade from a competitor or otherwise injuring a competitor, impair and prevent fair competition, injure public welfare, are unfair competition and contrary to public policy and the policy of this act, where the result of such advertising, offer or sale is to tend to deceive any purchaser or prospective purchaser, or to substantially lessen competition, or to unreasonably restrain trade, or to tend to create a monopoly in any line of commerce.

And how is "cost" defined in this act? See the previous section:

When used in this act, the term "cost to the retailer" shall mean the invoice cost of the merchandise to the retailer or the replacement cost of the merchandise to the retailer, whichever is the lower; less all trade discounts except customary discounts for cash; to which shall be added (1) freight charges not otherwise included in the invoice cost or the replacement cost of the merchandise as herein set forth, and (2) cartage to the retail outlet if done or paid for the retailer, which cartage cost, in the absence of proof of a lesser cost, shall be deemed to be three-fourths of one percent (3/4 of 1%) of the cost to the retailer as herein defined after adding thereto freight charges but before adding thereto cartage, and taxes, (3) all State and Federal taxes not heretofore added to the cost as such, and (4) a markup to cover a proportionate part of the cost of doing business, which markup, in the absence of proof of a lesser cost, shall be six percent (6%) of the cost of the retailer as herein set forth after adding thereto freight charges and cartage but before adding thereto a markup.

Which explains how it is that a woman from an Oklahoma town, having seen a national Wal-Mart ad for an RCA 52-inch TV for $474, was told that she'd have to pay $699 for it — or, alternatively, take a drive up to Missouri, which has no such law.

It's such a comfort to know that the state cares enough to protect you from the horror of excessively-low prices.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:51 AM)
Shannon Thomas needs a drummer

That's what it says on her MySpace Music page.

One thing she has in abundance, though, is perspective. I found this on her MySpace blog:

Here's the kind of stuff I'm constantly hearing:
  1. "Why did my favorite band have to get so popular & successful?!?! Waaahhhh!"

  2. "I don't like her 'pop' songs - I really only like her 'dark' tracks." (aka: Ew! Pop - EW!!!)

  3. "I can't believe (whatever artist) is working with (whatever popular producer who is known for their hits)! That must mean they're selling out."

  4. "(Insert any hit song here) is my guilty pleasure."

PEOPLE!! What are you guilty of?? Enjoying yourself?

You should know that it's totally possible to write a song that's meaningful AND catchy. In my opinion, that's what makes a song GREAT!

I should point out here that I didn't see this until after I'd bought Shannon's self-released CD Brainstorms, which contains 11 songs that are at least slightly meaningful and definitely catchy. And she would have won me over just from the chorus of "Don't Be Beautiful":

And since I can't have you, don't be beautiful
And if I can't love you, don't be so right
And if I can't see you, don't be beautiful, no
Please don't haunt me if I can't hide

It probably doesn't help her cause that she lives "a drama-free, abnormally normal life," which is seriously déclassé these days: a surprisingly-large number of people seem to crave All Angst, All The Time. Not I. Shannon Thomas is way young — I probably have dinnerware older than she is — but she's made a fan of me.

(Oh, and on Brainstorms, the sticks — and the other instrumentation, except for Shannon's piano — are wielded by John Conrad of Self-Titled Entertainment in Tulsa. And Conrad plays a pretty good drum, even if it's digital.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:26 PM)
29 November 2006
It came from out of the sky

It doesn't happen too often — air masses don't always move quickly — but now and then, if you pay attention, you can actually see a front coming through.

For that matter, you can hear it too. I was standing in my driveway about six-thirty this morning. The temperature was around 62 degrees, with a not-quite-brisk southerly wind keeping it way warmer than average. And above all the city noises there was this indefinable roar, seemingly from out of nowhere.

The trees, mostly bare by now, stopped quivering in the breeze. The roar grew louder, and louder still. A handful of leaves along the curb began rattling. More joined in. The trees started up again, this time faster. And a shot of cold Canadian air hit me square in the back, reminding me that I'd be well-advised to go get a jacket.

The temperature has dropped about 25 degrees in the hour since, and rain has started. They tell us that eventually that rain will mutate into something nasty and frozen. None of this is unusual, particularly; but unless you're a storm spotter or a major weather geek (I'm a few clicks short of the latter, I think), you simply shrug and go on, knowing that whatever is about to happen, you can't do anything about it anyway.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:30 AM)
30 November 2006
On the sleet where you live

I approach all Winter Weather Events with trepidation, just on general principle, especially since the forecast seems to change hourly. (If you were wondering why we have so many climate-change skeptics here in the middle of the country, it's simple: we've learned to expect the unexpected, although not the unexpected we expected.) *

Further apprehension arises when I note that this will be the first time on slick and nasty stuff with my overpriced semi-luxury sled. It's up to the turn-of-the-century standards that prevailed for that model year, but I have no reason to believe that it in any way advances the state of the art.

One thing that helps is that the freezing drizzle we were told to expect either didn't materialize or never made it to the ground, so while there were a few slick patches around the neighborhood, it was nothing to worry about.

Things got worse heading eastward, though I-44 was passable at 45-50 mph and I-35, with much more traffic, moved along in the lower 40s. The sleet, which was just starting to fall when I left home, was coming down briskly by the time I got to 42nd and Treadmill. For now, they've scaled back the 3-to-7-inches prediction to about half that, though they've added another inch after dark, when things were supposed to be tapering off.

And I'd rather drive on snow than on little ice pellets anyday.

* Yes, I suppose this is rather Rumsfeldian.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:29 AM)
The B-word

The Forecast Discussion on weather.gov is always fascinating, because it's so much more informal than the actual forecast itself; they will explain why they came up with this part of the forecast, or what models they were using to predict it, or the rationale for issuing, say, a warning instead of an advisory.

The current FD for the NWS branch in Norman is here. I excerpt the following from the just-before-noon edition:

THE MAJORITY OF OUR EFFORT THIS MORNING WAS TO REFINE OUR EXPECTATIONS FOR THE AFTERNOON AND EVENING PERIODS. WHAT STANDS OUT MOST IS THE STRONG WIND GUSTS WELL OVER 40 MPH THROUGHOUT NORTH CENTRAL AND WEST CENTRAL OKLAHOMA. THIS GREATLY INCREASES THE POTENTIAL FOR WHITE OUT CONDITIONS WHEN HEAVY SNOW IS FALLING. THIS PROMPTED THE UPGRADE TO A BLIZZARD WARNING FOR NORTH CENTRAL OKLAHOMA ... WHERE THE MOST PROLONGED PERIOD OF HEAVY SNOW IS EXPECTED THIS AFTERNOON. ON THE PERIPHERY OF THE BLIZZARD WARNING ... HOWEVER...THERE ARE PARTS OF WESTERN AND CENTRAL OKLAHOMA ... INCLUDING THE INTERSTATE 40 CORRIDOR FROM CLINTON THROUGH OKLAHOMA CITY ... WHERE NEAR BLIZZARD CONDITIONS MAY OCCUR AT TIMES.

I do dislike that word "blizzard," especially since I no longer have a Dairy Queen nearby.

For the first time in recent memory, 42nd and Treadmill shut down early, and I got to play in the road snow, which is always a thrill, in the sense that throwing yourself off a cliff is a thrill for the first 90 percent of the trip. I did follow my normal snow-travel protocol, which involves staying in third gear as much as possible on the freeway and second gear on surface streets. Gwendolyn, bless her little Japanese heart, was unexpectedly sure-footed, and even made it up the rather steep slope of the driveway to Surlywood on the first try with minimal wheelspin, something my last car didn't do so well. Travel time for the normally-18-minute run was only 28 minutes, which I consider a moral victory.

Of course, it's going to be worse tomorrow, at least until the sun comes out, and the predicted high is barely above freezing.

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:30 PM)
1 December 2006
Keep on scannin'

The Help America Vote Act of 2002 made some people suspicious, including me. And it didn't help when the Oklahoma State Election Board put out an RFP for a "Telecommunications-based Statewide Voting System" earlier this year.

A LiveJournal member, curious, wrote the OSEB and asked what was up, and was told:

Identical mark-sense optical scan voting devices manufactured by the Business Records Corporation (now Election Systems & Software) have been used in every precinct in the State of Oklahoma since 1992. As you know, these devices read paper ballots marked in the voter's own hand and preserve a complete and perfect paper audit trail. We do not have any plans to replace our optical scanners with direct recording electronic (touchscreen) devices, or with voting devices of any other type.

Their superior accuracy, reliability and audit capability notwithstanding, optical scan voting devices cannot be used conveniently by some persons with certain disabilities, including visual disabilities and motion impairments. For those voters, the act of hand-marking the ballot cannot be performed unaided in private. We are investigating other voting technologies to better serve those voters; however, we expect that any accommodative devices we integrate into the election system will be additions to — not replacements for — the existing optical scanners.

And that "telecommunications-based" system? Here's how it works:

At the polling place, the voter listens to an audio ballot and votes the ballot by pressing keys on a telephone keypad. The voting system then produces a marked paper ballot, which is scanned and read back to the voter, allowing the voter to confirm whether the paper ballot has been marked according to the way he or she voted. After the voter confirms that the ballot is correct, his or her vote is cast, and a paper ballot is tabulated by the same mark-sense optical scanning voting device used by all other voters statewide.

Oklahoma's telephone voting system features a fundamental and innovative improvement over direct recording electronic (touchscreen) voting systems, including even those that provide accommodative telephone keypad input devices and voter verifiable receipts. Typically, a touchscreen voting device in audio mode will read back a voter's marked ballot, but the information read back to the voter is merely that which exists in the device's memory. The readback may confirm the voter's selections, but there is no way to say that the vote eventually cast is the same as that voted by the voter or read back by the voting device. But with Oklahoma's system, it is the paper ballot generated by the system that is scanned and read back to the voter, and it is the paper ballot that is tabulated by our mark-sense optical scanners, preserving the complete and perfect paper audit trail that most Oklahoma voters seem to prefer.

I believe this calls for a "Yay us!"

(Via Batesline.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:38 AM)
4 December 2006
We'll have a bonfire to celebrate

Governor Henry, noting that there was a heck of a lot of snow last week, has canceled the burn ban for the four counties where it was still in effect.

This is not to say that we're permanently off the hook:

"Oklahomans must still use common sense when they are involved with any type of outdoor burning," said Gov. Henry. "If conditions merit in the weeks and months to come, I will not hesitate to reinstate the burn ban to protect lives and property in our state."

And it's not like we're out of the drought or anything: we're still running 20-25 percent below normal on rainfall here in the middle of the state, and other areas aren't doing even that well.

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:32 PM)
6 December 2006
The island of misfit Oklahomans

Sarah's still waiting for the Most Wonderful Day of the Year:

I tend to self-identify with those "elite snobs" much more than I self-identify with the term "hillbilly." I'm a blue state girl who happens to live in a red state. I should know better than anyone that not everyone who lives in flyover country is a rube. Furthermore, intolerant morons exist everywhere — not solely in the Bible Belt.

I've become really sensitive about the whole thing. I'm a little hurt when people speak disparagingly about this part of the country, and irritated when they use sweeping generalizations to describe its population. I almost cried when someone recently commented on my "twang" (which I didnít even know I had), and was embarrassed to speak for days afterward, for fear of sounding ignorant. I remember all the times I've gone out of my way to prove to some out-of-state friend or relative that I'm nothing like the Red State Stereotype existing in their minds. And then, like always, I become embarrassed that Iím embarrassed. I shouldn't care. I know that. But I do.

There's only one thing that can put a stereotype out of its misery: the counterexample. Nothing silences "They all do that" faster than someone who doesn't do that. We don't have a lot of blue-state girls? Be a blue-state girl. And be unapologetic about it. There's a strong populist streak here, and always has been. (Two words: "Woody Guthrie.") And if someone from distant Stuffy Heights says "You're from Oklahoma? I never would have guessed," you've done your part. Next time he'll think twice before spouting off like, um, an intolerant moron.

One more thing: don't worry about the "twang." We were not put on this earth to sound like network-news correspondents.

And now, back to your regularly-scheduled reindeer games.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:26 AM)
11 December 2006
Take these chains from us

I once suggested that a Banana Republic store might be a good fit for Bricktown, and people looked at me as though I were proposing to tear down the Acropolis and replace it with a Long John Silver's. "There's one in Utica Square," I argued, but nobody wanted to hear about things that worked in Tulsa; the No Chains sign is up.

And that's not necessarily a good thing, says Virginia Postrel:

Stores don't give places their character. Terrain and weather and culture do. Familiar retailers may take some of the discovery out of travel — to the consternation of journalists looking for obvious local color — but by holding some of the commercial background constant, chains make it easier to discern the real differences that define a place: the way, for instance, that people in Chandler [Arizona] come out to enjoy the summer twilight, when the sky glows purple and the dry air cools.

Besides, the idea that America was once filled with wildly varied business establishments is largely a myth. Big cities could, and still can, support more retail niches than small towns. And in a less competitive national market, there was certainly more variation in business efficiency — in prices, service, and merchandise quality. But the range of retailing ideas in any given town was rarely that great. One deli or diner or lunch counter or cafeteria was pretty much like every other one. A hardware store was a hardware store, a pharmacy a pharmacy. Before it became a ubiquitous part of urban life, Starbucks was, in most American cities, a radically new idea.

And yet we want those stores; we just don't want those names on them.

The contempt for chains represents a brand-obsessed view of place, as if store names were all that mattered to a city's character. For many critics, the name on the store really is all that matters. The planning consultant Robert Gibbs works with cities that want to revive their downtowns, and he also helps developers find space for retailers. To his frustration, he finds that many cities actually turn away national chains, preferring a moribund downtown that seems authentically local. But, he says, the same local activists who oppose chains "want specialty retail that sells exactly what the chains sell — the same price, the same fit, the same qualities, the same sizes, the same brands, even." You can show people pictures of a Pottery Barn with nothing but the name changed, he says, and they'll love the store. So downtown stores stay empty, or sell low-value tourist items like candles and kites, while the chains open on the edge of town. In the name of urbanism, officials and activists in cities like Ann Arbor and Fort Collins, Colorado, are driving business to the suburbs. "If people like shopping at the Banana Republic or the Gap, if that's your market — or Payless Shoes — why not?" says an exasperated Gibbs. "Why not sell the goods and services people want?"

The argument is always "It would put our local retailers out of business," even if we have no such local retailers.

Meanwhile, the IHOP in the middle of Bricktown flourishes.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:21 AM)
13 December 2006
Survival mechanisms

Worried that you didn't have enough to worry about? We should now start sweating public-health disasters:

Half of all U.S. states would run out of hospital beds within the first two weeks of a moderate flu pandemic and 47 states would run out if a bad one hit, according to a report issued on Tuesday.

The report from the Trust for America's Health shows the United States is still poorly prepared for a pandemic, biological attack or similar disaster, despite five years of government warnings and emphasis on the issue.

"I think the public believes that more is being done and that we are better prepared than we are," the group's executive director, Jeffrey Levi, told reporters in a telephone briefing.

Well, we are better prepared, at least in this neck of the woods. On the Trust's ten criteria, only Oklahoma got passing grades for all ten. Kansas got 9; the lowest scores were 4's and 5's.

Dr. Mike Crutcher, commissioner of the Department of Health, cautions that this year's commendable showing is but "a snapshot in time"; there is always work to be done.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:48 AM)
18 December 2006
Let there be jockeying for 2008

Somebody among the Democrats will face James (he's just not a Jim to me) Inhofe for that Senate seat in 2008, and so far, all we know is that it won't be Brad Henry.

The McCarville Report Web site is surveying the possibilities, and as of yesterday, the front-runners — very close together — were State Senator Jay Paul Gumm, AG Drew Edmondson, and District 1 Representative Dan Boren. Fourth was Tulsa Mayor Kathy Taylor.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:11 AM)
20 December 2006
We laugh at your silly suit

A 2003 Oklahoma tort-reform measure required persons filing medical-malpractice lawsuits to obtain an affidavit from an expert stating that in his opinion the case had merit. The idea, said proponents, was to discourage frivolous suits.

The state Supreme Court, by an 8-1 vote, has now stricken this particular provision, finding several things wrong with it. For one, the affidavit had to be obtained by the plaintiff at his own expense; for another, it applied only to medical negligence and not to any other form of negligence; for yet another, this:

These companies happily pay less out in tort-reform states while continuing to collect higher premiums from doctors and encouraging the public to blame the victim or attorney for bringing frivolous lawsuits.

While I worry about costs as much as the next guy, I won't miss this piece of misguided law: its underlying assumption, that all suits are frivolous until proven otherwise, is both insupportable and insulting.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:33 AM)
31 December 2006
I think you'd call this pre-pre-primary

OK Blue Notes is polling state Democrats on their Presidential preference for 2008. At this writing, Wesley Clark (!) has the lead; John Edwards and Barack Obama follow; the rest (including my own current choice, which is subject to change) are way back. Unlike most of the online polls I've seen, this one can apparently take write-ins.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:02 PM)
6 January 2007
A wiki of our own

J. M. Branum has a new project: the Oklahoma Wiki, and it's intended to go beyond the information available at, say, Wikipedia, where, he says, "some of the more interesting topics are often not covered or are even censored by the editors."

It will be interesting to see how this develops. Right now it's kind of raw and unpolished, but that's to be expected early on.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:31 AM)
8 January 2007
Harder to charter?

What's a charter school like? We have ten charter schools in the Oklahoma City district. Tulsa has three, including the Deborah Brown Community School:

The Deborah Brown Community School, Tulsaís first charter school, provides an alternative for you and other parents who want to give their children the best possible start in school. The Deborah Brown Community School teaches the total child, focusing on high standards of academic, moral and social behavior. The school promotes self-esteem, ingenuity, creativity and self-reliance, which ultimately contribute to the betterment and uplifting of the community.

Tulsa Public Schools pays Deborah Brown's school about $850,000 a year. All three Tulsa charters outperform the district as a whole, so obviously they've got to go:

The TPS Board will consider a resolution regarding charter schools this Monday evening that will make more Tulsa charter schools impossible.

What's in that resolution? Michael Bates parses it:

  • Renewals of charters with existing schools will be for at most three years, with a provision that funding from the school district will end the minute that the charter schools law is found unconstitutional.

  • Charter renewals won't be considered if the request includes plans to expand the number of students served.

  • No new charter applications will be considered.

And they're hoping that the law is found unconstitutional on technical grounds, since it covers only thirteen school districts. (Similar arguments were made against the law which permits municipal workers to organize, which applied only to cities 35,000 population and above; the state Supreme Court rejected them.)

As a resident of one of those thirteen districts, I'm firmly in favor of keeping, even expanding, the charters, and it's not hard to see why: if they improve the quality of education available in the district, it will make living here in the central city more appealing. Michael Bates explains:

I know many couples who started out in midtown, but as their first child approached school age, they stayed in the city of Tulsa, but moved into the Jenks or Union school district and left midtown behind. They hate to leave behind the shaded streets and the classic homes, but their children's education comes first.

And the regular schools, contrary to popular belief, benefit also:

Charter schools — and more of them — will keep people from moving out of the district, which means the homes are more valuable, which means higher property tax collections from homes. It also means that businesses catering to these families stay in the district, and that helps property tax collections as well. Then, too, more parents and grandparents who are happy with the school district will be more likely to help the passage of future bond issues.

The Oklahoma City charter experience has not been so unequivocally positive as Tulsa's — not all OKC charters are outperforming the district — but there's none of Tulsa's disdain, either.

The Tulsa school board will vote on this resolution tonight. Mark Twain is standing by with a remark about idiots, just in case.

Update: Steven Roemerman (the elder) attended the board meeting; the resolution passed 4-3.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:12 AM)
15 January 2007
Why this day matters (a reprint)

Two years ago, I wrote a piece on the points where the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the history of Oklahoma City intersected. In case you missed it, I'm reprinting it here.

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 7:08 AM)
26 January 2007
Then again, they're officially part-time

House Joint Resolution 1007, by Rep. Jason Murphey (R-Guthrie) would lay the groundwork for a State Question which, if approved by voters, would eliminate the Board on Legislative Compensation [link goes to Rich Text Format document] and fix the pay of state legislators, currently $38,400 per year, at:

Oklahomaís Annual State Per Capita Personal Income as determined by the United States Census Bureau of Economic Analysis or the successor body of the same.

According to the McCarville Report, this figure currently stands at $29,808.

Text of the proposed State Question:

This measure amends the State Constitution. It amends the section that sets pay for members of the Legislature. It does away with the Board that sets pay for Legislators. It provides a way for salaries to be set. The pay would be equal to Oklahoma's Annual State Per Capita Personal Income. This is determined by the federal Census Bureau. Other benefits, such as health insurance, retirement, travel, per diem and additional pay for Legislative leaders would have to go to a vote of the people. Oklahoma voters would have to vote to allow changes in these benefits.

What you think of this might depend on whether you think state legislators are overpaid. (I'm of two minds here: some of them earn every dime, some of them I'd pay to stay home.) But the idea of indexing their pay to everybody else's has a certain visceral appeal.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:17 AM)
28 January 2007
"Negroes in the News"

That's the title of a radio program developed by Abram Ross in 1948, and it's mentioned in a retrospective of black radio in Oklahoma in this morning's Oklahoman, compiled by Oklahoma Historical Society columnist Max Nichols. One of the more disheartening aspects of it all was the fact that there was this tremendous music scene in Deep Deuce in the 1920s and 1930s that wasn't even slightly reflected by Oklahoma City radio. (Current OKC bands will sigh and go "So what else is new?)

In the late 1940s, things started to change, albeit slowly. Black churches got their services on the air; station KBYE, founded in 1946, began adding programs aimed at the African-American audience. The legendary Ben Tipton, later a fixture at KOCO-TV and eventually an Oklahoma City Councilman — just in case you thought Mick Cornett did it first — was arguably the first black radio star in these parts. (Tipton's last radio gig, if I remember correctly, was at the much-missed KAEZ, a black-owned station that broadcast from on top of a hill at 23rd and Coltrane.) KBYE, which later added an FM service, sustained its audience into the 1970s, the AM side concentrating on gospel, the FM on popular soul music. The go-to guy in "urban" radio these days, of course, is Russell M. Perry, publisher of the Black Chronicle, who started with one AM daytimer and now owns fourteen stations, including KRMP/KVSP in Oklahoma City.

All this is to herald an Historical Society production, scheduled for the 10th of February, titled "History of African Americans in Oklahoma Radio Broadcasting."

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:19 AM)
29 January 2007
The Carlton papers

We've now gotten to the point where seemingly everyone on earth is Google-able, and we don't think anything of it until we discover someone who isn't — and that goes double if it seems like that someone really ought to be. This past weekend's project was the transfer from LP to CD of an album by Betty Carlton. And who exactly is Betty Carlton? Here's what the liner notes said:

Star of Ishtar by Shirley WhiteBetty Carlton, Oklahoma's Poet, was born in Ada, Oklahoma and attended East Central University. She is widely known throughout the Southwest for her prize-winning poetry. Her latest award was a national contest in which her entry, "Gramarye," won first place in [a] field of over 5,000 entries.

She has been nominated for the Poet Laureateship of the State of Oklahoma.

She is the first woman ever to teach in an all-male prison in the Oklahoma Correctional System. Her successful creative writing class has opened doors for other women to teach in all-male prisons in the stste.

She is a legal expert on drugs and does extensive rehabilitative work with women alcoholics and drug addicts.

Her poetry ranges from street poetry to mysticism, making it possible for any audience to identify with and enthusiastically welcome her performances.

She is a member of the Oklahoma Poetry Society, the National Federation of State Poetry Societies, and is listed in the International Who's Who in Poetry in London, England.

The album, titled Moxie, was cut in 1976 for the Val-West label in Albuquerque. (The illustration above is the Star of Ishtar by Shirley White, which serves as cover art.) I couldn't tell you how many copies were pressed — a hundred, maybe? — but apparently only two are known to survive, and one of them was brought to me for transfer. "Gramarye," one assumes, is her Greatest Hit — these days, we spell the word "Grimoire" — and it leans hard against the "mysticism" edge of her range; rather than transcribe it here, I'll let you hear it for yourself.

And maybe, just maybe, someone will remember, and will fill in some of the blanks.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:37 AM)
2 February 2007
Nyah

One Gersh Kuntzman (like there'd be two Gersh Kuntzmans, or Kuntzmen, or whatever) complains in the Brooklyn Paper that Miss America always seems to come from some place like, well, Oklahoma:

Look, I'm not going to pick a fight with my friends in Oklahoma. It's not Miss Oklahoma's fault that she's the latest in a long line of airy blondes with middle-aged-lady hairstyles, a talent for baton-twirling and vaguely Southern accents who have hijacked the notion of American beauty.

This year, it was supposed to be different. By sending the raven-haired, tap-dancing, no-nonsense [Bethlene] Pancoast to the contest, New York was saying "no" to the beauty queen-industrial complex that drives this, our nation's most illustrious pageant.

Unfortunately, the pageant said "no" right back.

Pancoast, of course, is far too gracious to accept my premise that the Miss America Organization is not only biased against beauty, but also against the northeast (which hasn't won since 1984).

Let the record show that Bethlene Pancoast is indeed hot. (Actually, every woman from Brooklyn I've ever met has been hot, but this is too small a sample to be considered Useful Data.)

And I wouldn't for a moment suggest that there's any connection between the following isolated factoids:

  • The Pageant is carried on Country Music Television.

  • Ms Pancoast lives in Brooklyn, one of five boroughs of the City of New York, which has no country-music radio station.

Nor does she herself suspect a fix:

I really don't think there's a bias against us. The thing is, pageants are a much bigger deal in the South. They train for them. A lot of girls down there do it from a young age.

I admit here that (1) I haven't watched one of these things in thirty years or so, inasmuch as they always seem a tad creepy to me, and (2) Kuntzman may well be right about the notion of American beauty having been "hijacked" — certainly the last time I was in Los Angeles, where beauty is a primary currency, all the Major Babes looked more or less alike.

Still: nyah.

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:23 PM)
8 February 2007
The tin DRM

The Metropolitan Library System is now offering downloadable audio books to which you can listen.

Maybe. Dwight is not impressed:

I was kind of excited about downloading one and giving this new service a try. Load one onto my iPod and listen during my lunch breaks, or as I fall asleep at night. But alas, I got my hopes up too soon. The audio files come as WMA (Windows Media Audio) DRM-protected files which are incompatible with the iPod.

Probably won't work with the Zune, either. And yes, there are workarounds, but:

[F]or at least some of the titles, I could go through the time-consuming process of burning these titles to a CD Ö ripping that CD back into iTunes Ö and then putting it onto my iPod. But, for all that effort, I might as well just actually read the damn thing.

Careful now. They might start putting DRM on e-books.

Oh, wait ....

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:10 AM)
11 February 2007
Support your local treasure

Jeff Shaw puts in a good word for something uniquely Tulsa:

City development is a serious and vogue issue in Tulsa these days. There is a reason for it. We have some tremendous obstacles ahead of us if we are to remain competitive as a city, both regionally and nationally. It's not really about being a destination hub for entertainment or having "cool places" to go, so that some mythical "creative class" of people might want to live here. These are a just a small part of the equation.

But I want to mention something that Tulsans ought to be supporting, but don't — and that is a place called Gilcrease Museum. It requires local support. All of the great cities with great museums support their museums, and we should too.

I will tell you from personal experience that most people in Tulsa don't know where the museum is, as Tim Farley aptly notes in his [Urban Tulsa Weekly] report. But also from personal experience I can tell you that people are quite apathetic on the subject.

That's scary. I live down here at the other end of the turnpike, and I can find the Gilcrease quite easily: I've been there twice in recent years. It's a splendid place, one Tulsa can be proud of. It doesn't get the press of the Philbrook, perhaps because some folks around these parts are still faintly embarrassed by that whole Western and/or Native American business. Fine. If you can't deal with the Old West, perhaps you can handle the gardens, which are lovely in their own right.

Or maybe it's just the Tyranny of the New. Thomas Gilcrease donated his collection of Western art to the city of Tulsa way back in the 1950s, and to some people, it might as well be ancient Sumeria. Distracted by shiny things, I suppose.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:21 PM)
14 February 2007
You need more boxes

The Senate Rules Committee has voted to send SB 16, by Senator Debbe Leftwich (D-OKC), which would eliminate straight-party voting in Oklahoma, to the full Senate.

Jason McCarty over at OK Blue Notes explains the rationale:

Leftwich says the problem is voters have to mark at least two or three boxes on the ballot and many voters don't realize that. She says a voter could mark the ballot as straight party for statewide races — but if they don't mark it again for local races the person would not have voted in the local election. And she says many voters also don't realized judicial candidates don't run as Democrats or Republicans and fail to vote in those races.

This won't affect me: I've never used the straight-party option, and I can think of only one person who might. Is this option actually popular, and will it be missed?

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:24 PM)
19 February 2007
Like we're sociologically sick

Silly me, I thought life without parole meant, well, life without parole. What was I thinking?

Daniel Hawke Fears was convicted in September 23, 2004 for the killing of two women, Patsy Wells and Reba Spangler and shooting several others during a shooting spree covering 20 miles of U.S. 64 from Sallisaw to Roland Oklahoma. A Sequoyah County jury convicted Fears to two terms of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole; nine terms of life imprisonment; and 120 years.

On July 7, 2006 by unpublished Opinion the Court reversed and remanded the case to the District Court of Sequoyah County for entry of a verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity. Attorney General Drew Edmondson filed a Petition for Rehearing on July 19, 2006. The Oklahoma Criminal Court of Appeals issued an order staying the mandate on July 20, 2006. On January 26, 2007 the Court denied the Petition for Rehearing and ordered Fears to a mental facility in Vinita, Oklahoma. The jury in this case was denied its decision and essentially ruled incompetent.

United Victims group is asking the Legislature to investigate possible Constitutional violations in the appeal of Fears v. State under Article 8, Section 1 & 4 of the Constitution of Oklahoma. Court members may have violated their oath, consciously disregarded state law and incorrectly cited the "Oklahoma Truth in Sentencing Act" as law that was repealed July 1, 1999 without ever taking effect.

This presents a problem only when you look at the general porosity of state law: says United Victims head Roger Nix, son of Patsy Wells, "According to the loose mental laws in Oklahoma, in 30 days he could be free to walk."

And, well, someone who claims that aliens were controlling his brain is probably not someone who ought to be running around loose, Officer Krupke.

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:26 PM)
20 February 2007
Until it's time for you to go

It's not time for Nathan to go yet, and I hope he hangs around for many years more — but when the time comes, this is what he asks of us:

If anything happens to me, I want to be cremated, and I want everyone who cares about me to drive out onto the plains. I want you see the incredible beauty God has placed in western Oklahoma. I want you to release me there, the one place on Earth where I feel most at home, both in an Earthly and a Heavenly sense. Then I want you to all go on vacation, somewhere beautiful, with beaches and sunshine and cool drinks, somewhere you've always wanted to go, and I want you all to enjoy each other's company and toast me, and have a really wonderful time. If I know you're doing all that, then I won't be afraid to go.

Sanest man alive, if you ask me.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:59 AM)
22 February 2007
Vince Orza, Frontier Gynecologist

Watch it now before it disappears.


Permalink to this item (posted at 6:48 AM)
5 March 2007
Do the meth

A rumor that's filtered into Consumerist:

I have no proof of this, but it comes from a reliable source (well, someone I consider reliable).

Home Depots in the South (specifically, Tulsa, OK) have a special "MethAmphetamine Lab" Section. Since all the Meth-Lab supplies are legal, they got sick of junkies coming in and pestering their staff for the whereabouts of dozens of supplies. Now they just point them to the designated aisle.

Actually, it's against the laws of this state to simplify matters for anyone who's even heard of meth labs. Ask your cousin with the head cold if you don't believe me.

(Besides, whoever came up with the idea that Home Depot might organize its stores by functionality? Not bloodly likely, bucko.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:38 PM)
9 March 2007
A whole new U

An idea from Kurt Hochenauer (bottom of item):

Oklahoma City and the state should consider creating a new university or a branch of an existing university in the Bricktown area.

This would be a great boost to Bricktown, and it would also give OKC residents a centralized, public university location for its area residents. I envision it as a primarily online college that would also offer hybrid and traditional courses. I see this future university as the most technologically advanced college in the state. It could also supplement curriculum at all the state's other colleges and universities. This would support trends in current higher education in terms of online education.

Apparently some city leaders actually considered the idea, according to recent news reports, but found that it just wasn't feasible because of its impact on area universities.

I hope this isn't the end of the idea. By making the new university a branch of the University of Central Oklahoma, which is probably most suited to the task, or even the University of Oklahoma, the state's most important research college, costs could be reduced. The college would not duplicate; it would supplement, create better access, and provide technological opportunities.

I like this idea, with one reservation: if you ask me, there's really no reason to put it in Bricktown, where costs are high and space is more limited every day.

Assuming we're going to do this from the ground up, the most sensible place, I think, would be just south of the "boulevard" that's supposed to replace the Crosstown Expressway. It's still central enough — it wouldn't take much to get COTPA to run a shuttle line in and out — and there's plenty of space down there just screaming for something that vaguely resembles the fabled Groves of Academe.

And the important thing, as Doc Hoc notes, is that it should not duplicate offerings elsewhere. We have rather a lot of four-year institutions already in this state, and there's no point in cloning them.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:24 AM)
10 March 2007
Latham gets off, as it were

T Town Tommy follows up on the Lonnie Latham case, which ended this week with the Southern Baptist pastor's acquittal on charges on offering to engage in an act of lewdness.

Earlier, Lachlan had observed:

[I]f no money was offered, and a simple proposition was made, then I fail to see how this case ever got to trial.

Which was at the core of Latham's ultimately-successful defense. Tommy notes:

In an odd karma like paradox Pastor Lathamís arrest and subsequent trial has been beneficial in further establishing gay rights in Oklahoma against police harassment and unfair judicial actions.

Tommy also links to Latham's Wikipedia page, which is mostly fairly sensible, though this howler got through:

This was not Latham's first visit to the area. Public records show that on December 2, 1998, at about 11:30 p.m., Latham was issued a traffic ticket for "failure to stop for a stop sign" at NW 39th and Frankford. This intersection is only blocks from where Latham was arrested and serves as rear access to the Habanna [sic] Inn."

"Rear access"? Real cute. And it's wrong: 39th and Frankford is almost a mile west of the Habana. Besides, December 1998 was seven years before Latham's arrest, and what's more, the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma headquarters is on May between 37th and 38th; Frankford is the next street east of May. Admittedly, they usually don't stay up until midnight, but this connection is tenuous at best.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:17 AM)
27 March 2007
Sidetracked

Oklahomans Taken for a Ride is a brief (24 minutes) documentary about rail service in Oklahoma, how it could be expanded, and who would prefer that it not be. It's posted at vocallocals.net, a community Web site in Cleveland County (click on the PROJECTS button).

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:10 AM)
28 March 2007
No Chinese British sports cars for you

National Public Radio is reporting that China's Nanjing Automotive is abandoning plans to assemble the MG automobile in Ardmore, Oklahoma, even as the first Chinese-built MGs are coming off the line.

Possibly supporting this story is this quote from Nanjing MG general manager Zhang Xin:

Despite high expectations on the Chinese domestic market, Mr Zhang says the priority is the British and European market. "British people like their own brands, and people in other European countries and the Commonwealth know MG's performance well," he says. "Nanjing MG will provide them with the same or better driving experience. We will make the best MG cars ever."

No mention of North American sales at all. Then there's this:

Duke Hale, the chief executive of Nanjing's U.S. business, which was to assemble MG TF roadsters from kits, left the company this month, reportedly being disappointed that the Chinese company had scaled back its planned production and sales operations in the U.S. — plans elaborated by Mr. Hale rather than by the Chinese company.

There is also a suggestion that tweaking the MG designs to meet US standards might have proven more difficult than anticipated.

Duke Hale had had big plans for MG, but if there's one thing certain in the auto industry, it's that nothing is certain.

Update, 1:45 pm: The Oklahoman reports:

"My understanding is that there is no more plans with the Oklahoma plant," MG's Paul Stowe told NPR. "We are discussing possible ventures in America in the future, but I don't believe there's anything on the table at the moment with Oklahoma."

British media reports have identified Stowe as quality director for Nanjing's MG division. He relocated to China from MG's former factory in Longbridge near Birmingham, England.

A joint statement from state and local officials in Oklahoma said Stowe was not speaking on behalf of the company.

"This individual is not a senior member of the team working with Oklahoma Global Motors and is not currently involved in moving the project forward," the statement said. "Representatives from ... MG in the U.K. have confirmed that his statement was not an official announcement by the company and reflected his own opinion and not that of management."

Officials said the deal was a complicated project "with individuals and companies on three continents, a foreign government and a former company in bankruptcy."

The statement was issued by the state, Greater Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce, the City of Oklahoma City and the Ardmore Development Authority.

See "Nothing is certain," supra.

Addendum, 7 pm: Statement by Richard Rush of the State Chamber, with audio, denying the NPR story.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:22 AM)
30 March 2007
OPUBCO and Griffin file for divorce

The Oklahoma Publishing Company has bought out Griffin Communications' share of NewsOK.com, which eventually will be operated solely by, and as a supplement to, the Oklahoman.

The phrase that pays is here:

"NewsOK.com has been a great strategic alliance for both companies for five-and-one-half years," said [David] Griffin. "But the opportunities online are changing rapidly and our business models must change accordingly."

No argument from his counterpart:

"Together, our staffs have built an award winning Web site that more Oklahomans use than any other media site in the state," [Oklahoman publisher] Thompson said. "But, the Internet has become more central to our core businesses and we realize that each of our strong brands need autonomy."

Certainly NewsOK.com was anomalous: you seldom see media joint ventures of this sort. (More common, but only slightly so, is the case of rival newspapers under a Joint Operating Agreement who have a common Web site, such as NWsource, run by the Seattle Times "representing the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.")

And I have to wonder if maybe KWTV was chafing a bit, given the heavy Web emphasis coming from the competition. At least they've retained the kwtv.com domain, which currently redirects to NewsOK; their new site will be launched next year.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:42 AM)
1 April 2007
Are we having funds yet? (2)

We're not doing such a great job of financing teacher retirement: the state system has never been more than 60-percent funded, and is now running in the vicinity of 49 percent.

Kurt Hochenauer reports on a possible new approach to funding:

A resolution calling for a vote of Oklahomans to redirect mineral income to the state teachersí retirement system has been passed by the House.

Under the proposal, sponsored by state Reps. Tad Jones (R-Claremore) and Joe Dorman (D-Rush Springs), voters would decide whether to amend the stateís constitution so the underfunded retirement system could benefit. Once the system was funded at 80 percent, the money would go back to the School Land Commission.

Text of the measure (Rich Text format) is here. Says Doc Hoc:

This seems like a permanent solution to the problem, though voter approval of the measure could be problematic, and the fund needs immediate new funding. Its sponsors say it would not affect overall funding for schools.

I'm sure I could vote for this measure without affecting my status as a tax-cutting right-wing meanie. And it sailed through the House, 98-3; I'd be very surprised if it died in the Senate, though the wild card here has to be Governor Henry, who's currently in "I have a veto and I'm not afraid to use it" mode.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:35 AM)
10 April 2007
Eat here and get gas

Well, not anymore: the gas stations along the Turner Turnpike will shut down on the 23rd, leaving the two "service plazas" with a place to eat, but no actual motor fuel.

A spokesman for the turnpike said that the station operator declined to renew the lease on the two stations.

It is possible to exit at Bristow — I've done this — and gas up, then return to the turnpike; presumably it's possible at Wellston. There is no apparent rush to sign up a new operator for the stations.

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:29 PM)
20 April 2007
Beware the I

Former Congressman Ernest Istook now has a blog, and I suppose the only real surprise (if surprise it be) is that it's on Blogspot.

Oh, well. The more, the merrier. And I have to give him some sort of props for this sidebar snark:

New Jersey Governor Corzine's vehicle was traveling 91 miles an hour before the accident that severely injured him. Maybe he was going after the NASCAR vote?

I always did appreciate a good non sequitur, but then I never was any good at jai alai.

(Via Mike McCarville.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:49 AM)
24 April 2007
Oh, Denise, ooby-doo

The Tailgate Politics take on Denise Bode's replacement on the Corp Comm declares Pete Regan the favorite, and I think he'd fill the slot nicely; he's always struck me as a genuinely positive sort of person, and he does his homework, an essential for a would-be regulator.

There's also a hint that Oklahoma County Commissioner Jim Roth might be under consideration:

I think he meets all of the things I think [Governor] Henry is looking for — young, bright, articulate, quick to learn, and most importantly won't run against Henry in something down the road.

I have my doubts. Roth is indeed all of those things, but I can't see him departing county government without some assurance that the place won't be turned over to the likes of Brent Rinehart, and Rinehart isn't about to leave on his own.

As for Ms Bode, I wish her well in the private sector. It will be strange, though, not seeing her name on any more ballots.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:57 PM)
1 May 2007
A brunch trodden

Brandon Dutcher of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs comes up with a story to explains Brad Henry's suddenly-busy veto pen:

For years the docs (the OSMA, Eli Reshef, and many others) have been working tirelessly for tort reform. Finally in 2007 it's within their grasp. Then a couple of weeks before a possible victory, the white coats (with honorable exceptions like baby doc Tom Coburn) spend quite a bit of energy lobbying Gov. Henry to veto a bill which would get Oklahoma taxpayers out of the abortion business. Henry does so, but in order for the veto to be upheld one Democrat state senator who had previously voted pro-life is going to have to fall on his sword. Sen. Charles Laster isn't going to do this for nothing, of course, so he tells his Shawnee buddy Brad Henry that he will flip flop only if the governor assures him that he will veto tort reform. Laster knows this would make him a hero among deep-pocketed trial lawyers, so he sacrifices the little ones and votes against the same bill he had just voted for three times. The anagram gods are watching, of course, and promptly remind us that "state Senator Charles Laster" can be anagrammed "heartless Senate tort rascal."

So it is that the docs, by choosing to spend so much capital defending that repugnant procedure that doesn't pass the dinner party test, help to guarantee that their beloved tort reform is dead on arrival on the governor's desk. Cause of death: irony.

"I'm not sure that it's true," says Dutcher, "but it's certainly plausible." Not to mention consistent with a century of wheeling and dealing.

(Via BatesLine.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:41 AM)
2 May 2007
Oh, that wicked ink

You might be forgiven if you thought that the Oklahoma Legislature was utterly afraid of tattoo artists: while they finally got around to letting the decorators ply their trade, they also stuck them with some locational limitations. The law provides, for instance, that no tattoo parlor can be located within 1000 feet of a school, a church, or a playground, a restriction consistent with — well, nothing, really:

[B]ars which serve alcohol for on-premise consumption must only be 300 feet away from any public or private school or church. Strip clubs must be 500 feet away from playgrounds.

In February, the Association of Body Art, a tattoo trade organization (and who knew there was one of those?), filed suit against the state; yesterday, an Oklahoma County District Judge ruled that the distance regulations, and the requirement for a $100,000 bond, were unconstitutional.

I presume that neither bars nor strip clubs will have to move in the wake of this decision.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:25 AM)
8 May 2007
Sorry I missed it

Ah, the perils of lead time:

The second annual Capitol Water Appreciation Day will be held May 8, 2007, at the State Capitol in Oklahoma City.

The Oklahoma Water Resources Board will host the event, scheduled from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the Capitol's 4th floor rotunda. Water Appreciation Day will present a unique opportunity for groups to demonstrate the importance of Oklahoma's water resources and provide information on their water management, conservation, and educational programs for state legislators and other government officials.

"Organizations have hosted Agriculture Day, GIS Day, Consumer Protection Day, and various other observations at the State Capitol, so itís only appropriate that Oklahoma has at least one day each year devoted solely to recognizing the importance [of] our water resources," says Duane Smith, OWRB Executive Director. "This unique celebration of Oklahoma's diverse water resources will not only help focus the attention of our Governor and Legislative leadership on water issues facing the state, but will also serve to recognize those who strive to protect Oklahoma's most precious natural resource."

I have to admit, I'd probably be a bit more appreciative if there didn't happen to be "diverse water resources" pooling on my office floor to a depth of 3/8 inch right about now.

(Rainfall for yesterday and today has totaled 4.27 inches; today isn't quite over yet.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:25 PM)
10 May 2007
To the East side

Both high schools in Norman will offer instruction in Chinese this fall, which strikes me as a fairly sensible thing to do (which Chinese? Standard Mandarin?), though I'm not quite sure I buy this rationale:

According to Dr. Jessica Stowell, associate director of the Confucius Institute at the University of Oklahoma and director of the Oklahoma Institute for Teaching East Asia, Norman will be among the 40 Oklahoma schools that will offer Chinese next school year. She said Chinese was important for the next generation of leaders in terms of economics and diplomacy.

"We must understand Chinese in order to have a level playing field in business and national security," Stowell said. "More Chinese people speak English than there are Americans. Over 400 million Chinese speak English; there are 300 million Americans. The Chinese are 1/5 of the world's population. When Americans allow others to speak English, rather than learning their language, we give away the competitive edge to those who speak our language and understand our culture."

Stowell also predicts Chinese, through the sheer volume of speakers, will become the leading language of commerce, the Internet and of the elite: "It is simply the language we need to become global citizens on a grand scale, and to reduce the trade deficit with China on a very self-serving scale."

I am, of course, in favor of being self-serving, but I don't see English being dethroned as the world's lingua franca any time soon, population figures notwithstanding.

Still, Asian influence is growing in Oklahoma. While fumbling around the Web, I turned up this application for the school-lunch program in Oklahoma City schools in Vietnamese. [Link to PDF file.] There being about ten thousand folks in town who trace their ancestry to Vietnam, this seems like a reasonable accommodation. (English Language Learner services are offered by the district in Vietnamese, Lao, and Spanish.) The state school with the widest variety of language instruction might be Booker T. Washington High in Tulsa, which offers eight languages: Chinese, Russian, French, German, Latin, Spanish, Italian and Japanese.

(Norman story via Tailgate Politics.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:54 PM)
15 May 2007
Leaving the frying pan behind

Governor Henry has named Oklahoma County Commissioner Jim Roth to the Corporation Commission, to fill the seat being vacated by Denise Bode, and while I have no doubt Roth, a genuine penny-pinching Democrat, will do a bang-up job at the Corp Comm, I worry about what's going to happen to Oklahoma County now that there's one fewer pair of eyeballs keeping watch on Brent "I Will Not Bend" Rinehart, who I have to figure is even now trying to come up with a way to thank the Guv without actually saying anything kindly about him. Mike McCarville is reporting that Forrest Claunch, formerly Representative for House District 101, is hoping to take over District 1 when Roth leaves for the Capitol; good luck with that. (Claunch evidently needs a day job; last year he ran an unsuccessful campaign for state GOP chair.) Governor Henry will have to call a special election sometime between now and November to fill the county vacancy.

Roth will presumably have to run for the Corp Comm in his own right in 2008; it will be almost amusing to see the opposition fall all over itself trying to come up with ways Roth has allegedly been "advancing the homosexual agenda" in the context of regulating utilities and oil producers and such. Because you know they will.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:17 AM)
21 May 2007
Alternative: SOL-123

Courtesy of Acme LabsMike's contemplating getting this vanity tag if it "isn't already taken." He's out of luck; it's not taken, actually, but it's an eight-letter word, and the state limits you to seven characters. [Link to PDF file.] He also quotes a newly-arrived fellow whose plate arrived in two months, which is about two months faster than the state claims it can stamp 'em out. And in point of fact, I don't have a state-issued vanity tag, though since Oklahoma doesn't have a front plate to mess with, I filled up the available space with a bird picture. (Plate graphic courtesy of Acme Labs.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:14 PM)
23 May 2007
The grizzly consequences

Actually, it probably wasn't a grizzly, but how often do you get to see this? Four men have pleaded guilty in federal court to a misdemeanor charge of interstate transportation of a bear.

And a dead bear at that: evidently the guys were engaging in some bear-baiting at the Upper Kiamichi Wilderness Area in the Ouachita National Forest, managed to snag one bear, and dragged the carcass into Arkansas.

It should be noted that last year, Governor Henry signed a bill providing for an actual season for hunting of black bear in Oklahoma, pending a study of the bear population; but the bear-baiters in Kiamichi did their kill before the enabling legislation. They were fined, but drew no jail time.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:32 AM)
24 May 2007
We can always use more ZIP

The news that two more ZIP codes will be assigned to the Edmond area got me wondering if we're maxed out yet. The answer is no, but in the entire 730xx range, there remain only nine unused codes: 35, 37, 46, 60, 76, 81, 87, 88 and 91. (This, of course, assumes that the mailing software used at 42nd and Treadmill is actually up to date: if I remember correctly, last time we installed an update was the weekend before the recent rate change, which took place on the 14th.)

And 73060 has been used before: it was originally assigned to Moore, which was subsequently assigned 73160 instead.

Numbers in the 731xx range are served by the Oklahoma City post office; they've got fewer than twenty left. (One of the unused numbers, 73161, was once in use in eastern Oklahoma County; its area was eventually combined with 73141.)

Originally, 732xx and 733xx (and 742xx) were reserved for future expansion, though the Internal Revenue Service has commandeered 73301 for itself. The others remain in the pool, though I wouldn't be surprised if the 742 range, at least, were reassigned to Texas, the way an unused range in Mississippi (398) got reassigned to southwest Georgia.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:00 PM)
25 May 2007
Welcome to Woodcrest

Where is Woodcrest, you ask? In the planning stages, according to this legal notice in the Guthrie News-Leader:

NOTICE OF INTENTION TO APPLY FOR INCORPORATION OF TOWN OF WOODCREST, OKLAHOMA
TO THE GENERAL PUBLIC
Certain Petitioners intend to apply for incorporation of a town under the name of Woodcrest, Oklahoma. A copy of the survey, plat and census thereof may be examined by those having an interest in the application at the home of Roy Dodson, 1850 East Lakewood Drive, Guthrie, Oklahoma, which is located within the area to be incorporated.
Roy Dodson, Petitioner

The petition, by law, must be presented to the County Commissioners, in this case Logan County. I made a perfunctory check of the map, and Mr Dodson's home, at least, is more than three miles from any incorporated area; I think it's probably safe to assume that the boundaries of the proposed town do not encroach on Guthrie or on Edmond. (Guthrie lies west of Interstate 35; Woodcrest is east of I-35.) It's also not within five miles of any section of Oklahoma City. There exists a Woodcrest Volunteer Fire Department.

The name has obviously been there for years; where it comes from, I'm not entirely sure, though there's a Woodcrest Tavern at Charter Oak Road and Midwest Boulevard, about a mile from the Dodson house, and a Woodcrest Baptist Church, about a mile to the east. And what's an Oklahoma town without a tavern and a Baptist church?

(Found here.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:56 AM)
22 June 2007
Wanette Wagoner-Bowlegs says hello

When TNT announced that they were doing a drama series set in Oklahoma City with a protagonist named Grace Anadarko, I feared for the worst, even though it stars Holly Hunter and I will watch Holly Hunter reading the classifieds in preference to a lot of other stuff, including a lot of other stuff on TNT.

Well, they've since hung an H on Grace's last name, making it look even sillier without reducing the sensation that they just pulled the name out of Google, and that's not even the half of it:

The one thing that gives me hope is the names of the characters:
    Grace Hanadarko
    Butch Stillwater
    Rhetta Rodriguez-Ardmore
    Ham Tipton
    Lonnie Purcell

You get the point. This appears to be the laziest group of writers in the history of Hollywood. They canít even come up with original names for the characters, so they just named them after towns in the state. And while this helps explain the ridiculous generalizations and furthers my fears that the show will be absolutely terrible, it also gives me hope that it will be canceled and forgotten very quickly.

At least they didn't have a Panhandle prostitute named, um, Betty Lou Hooker.

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:03 PM)
23 June 2007
Depth of Field

That's the title of the cover story in the July/August Oklahoma Today, which offers the editors' selection of the 46 (think about it) "top images" in the state's history. Inevitably, the set begins with a Land Run: the September 1893 opening of the Cherokee Strip, shot on behalf of (but not actually by) photographer William S. Prettyman. There's a shot of the first OU football team, in 1896, which set some sort of record for futility: they didn't score so much as a first down all season. There's Jim Thorpe doing the high jump, the Wild Mary Sudik going ballistic, inevitable Dust Bowl scenes, the sit-in at Katz Drug in 1958, and tornadoes all over the place. Stuff like this makes me wish I actually knew how to take pictures, and makes me grateful that there are people who do.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:02 PM)
30 June 2007
Mean streets

Oh, sorry, I meant "average roads."

The Reason Foundation, a libertarian think tank, has issued its 16th Annual Report on the Performance of State Highway Systems (1984Ė2005). (If that sounds like more than 16 years to you, you're not alone.) Here's what they had to say about Oklahoma:

In 2005, Oklahoma reported 13,389 miles of highway under the state control. The state ranked 24th in the overall performance rankings in 2005, as compared to 31st in 2000. Oklahoma's best ratings were for capital/bridge disbursements per mile of responsibility (11th), receipts per mile of responsibility (14th), total disbursements per mile of responsibility (15th), urban interstate congestion (15th), rural primary pavement narrow (15th) and maintenance disbursements per mile of responsibility (17th). Its lowest ratings were for urban interstate condition (46th), deficient bridges (42nd), rural primary pavement condition (38th) and fatality rate (33rd). Oklahoma's worse-than-average system performance is offset by its relatively low unit costs.

Although I'd hate to have to extend this you-get-what-you-pay-for premise to, say, the New Crosstown, which promises to deliver anything but.

According to the Reason numbers, 14.11 percent of our urban Interstate is rated Poor, a bit more than twice the national mean. This implies that more than 85 percent is not rated Poor, which makes me wonder just how bad a road has to get to be tagged as Poor.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:56 PM)
20 July 2007
We have a winner

Congratulations to old friend Michael Bates, named by the readers of Urban Tulsa Weekly as "Tulsa's Absolute Best Blogger".

Meanwhile, if the Gazette ever gets around to putting a "Least Relevant" category in the annual Best of OKC competition, I should be a shoo-in.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:27 AM)
22 July 2007
Next: Bill Gates trademarks "BSOD"

Nice work if you can get it:

Four inmates face new charges from their cells in [FCI] El Reno, authorities said.

Investigators have accused the men of copyrighting their names and demanding millions of dollars from El Reno prison leaders for using their names without permission.

Court papers showed the inmates filed liens against the warden's property and then actually hired somebody to seize his vehicles, to change the locks on his house and to freeze his bank accounts.

The inmates were identified as Russell Dean Landers, Clayton Heath Albers, Carl Ervin Batts and Barry Dean Bischof.

If these guys ever get out of stir, they have lucrative careers waiting at the Recording Industry Association of America.

(From Freshare via Boondoggled.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:08 AM)
27 July 2007
Speaking of overemphasizing appearance

Which, you'll remember, I was.

Fifth District Representative Mary Fallin, I note in passing, was named by D.C. news site The Hill (no relation) as one of the "50 most beautiful people on Capitol Hill." What's more, at 52, she's the third-oldest of the bunch. (Perennial hottie Nancy Pelosi, 67, is the oldest.)

Says the article:

When Rep. Mary Fallin (R-Okla.) was in her 20s, she was an extra in a movie starring Molly Ringwald.

Fallin, 52, doesnít remember the film's title, but was also an extra in several other independent, "walk-by-type" movies and did some modeling, too. The stylish blonde, with bangs and blue eyes, is still a knockout.

"I'm 5-foot-6, but I'm not going to tell you my weight," Fallin said, giggling.

This is almost — not quite — enough to make me miss Ernest Istook.

(Via Mike McCarville.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:00 AM)
3 August 2007
Not what you'd call a passing grade

One of the AP pieces on the I-35W collapse in Minneapolis notes that on a scale of 1 to 100 for structural stability, the failed bridge scored a 50.

The Oklahoman reports that Oklahoma City's Crosstown Expressway rates a 49, though the state does not consider it unsafe. (The bridge was closed once, in 1989, after a crack in a support beam was discovered.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:57 AM)
6 August 2007
Go downtown, dammit

Tulsa Mayor Kathy Taylor is apparently trying to drum up business for downtown eateries, reports meeciteewurkor. A staffer at St Simeon's Episcopal Home on the northside found this on the corkboard:

Dear Residents:

Mayor Kathy Taylor has asked for assistance in letting Downtown employees know that many of our Downtown restaurants are struggling, particularly the ones open at night. [List snipped.]

Until the BOK Center opens they need our help. Please send the attached list to anyone you know that visits downtown and remind them that during this construction period it would be appreciated if they would be patrons of our Downtown establishments.

I don't find this particularly troubling, but I must note that (1) the residents might not be able to patronize those fine Downtown establishments and (2) St Simeon's is up at 37th and N. Cincinnati, a good three or four miles from any of them.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:45 AM)
7 August 2007
The puppet considers string theory

BatesLine quotes Ken Neal in the Sunday Tulsa World:

The story of Tulsa's downtown is a story of decline, but the downtown neighborhood is still one of the most valuable in the city. Although commerce has largely fled to more lucrative locations in suburbia, magnificent old skyscrapers remain and downtown is the seat of banking, government, courts and the legal and financial community.

The city government sadly has neglected downtown for decades. Much of the work under way now would not be necessary if infrastructure had been replaced as needed through the years.

Neal uses that word "neglected." I do not believe it means what he thinks it means. Neither does Michael Bates:

For the last 50 years, city government has gone from one scheme to another to improve downtown: Urban renewal, the Inner Dispersal Loop, the Civic Center, the pedestrianized Main Mall, the Williams Center, and now the arena. Each city government-driven project has closed streets, driven out residents, brought down buildings, and generated new surface parking lots. As I've explored old news clippings, I've found that Ken Neal was a fervent advocate of most of those destructive ideas. The parts of downtown that are the healthiest and liveliest are the parts that the planners of decades past thought unworthy of their attention, like the Blue Dome District and the Brady Arts District.

Which fact should serve as an object lesson to Oklahoma City, where the urge to overregulate has never quite been entirely dampened. At least we're no longer being bowled over with wrecking balls. (If you're in the Core to Shore area, south of the old Crosstown, your mileage may — will — vary.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:43 PM)
8 August 2007
Bumper stickers not included

Well, isn't this sweet:

Global War on Terror tag

Proceeds from the sale of this tag will go to reducing Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to his component atoms support the 45th Infantry Museum.

(Via Princess Sparkle Pony.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:22 PM)
11 August 2007
More trains, less traffic

This is, in fact, a slogan of Virginia's Independent Green Party, but it played well in downtown Oklahoma City this morning, as about a hundred rail buffs, progressive activists, and old-fashioned penny-pinchers — the latter group includes me — gathered in front of Union Station to "Save the Rails."

And it's probably a good thing that they specified "Rails," because the station itself is in no danger. Heck, it's on the National Register of Historic Places, and has been for nearly thirty years. But the New Crosstown Expressway, currently advancing beyond the drawing-board stages, was cunningly (I suspect) designed to rip out the railyard behind the station, turning it from a viable transport hub into a stately but static relic.

While it's not surprising that the left would pick up on this issue — most of the support for public transportation comes from that side of the aisle — there's a fiscal-conservative angle as well, and it comes at you from two directions:

  • Estimates of the cost of the New Crosstown continue to rise. Right now, it's running around half a billion dollars. Repairing and upgrading the existing road wouldn't be inexpensive, and I suspect the $50-million figure suggested is a tad low, but even if it's twice that much it would still save $400 million. (Reminder: all the original MAPS projects combined cost less than $400 million.)

  • When Mayor Cornett put out a call for suggestions for a possible MAPS 3, the single most requested project, by more than three to one, was improved transit, so it's not at all inconceivable that the city would actually put a commuter-rail system into the MAPS 3 package as early as next year. And it makes no sense to trash a railyard that already has all the necessary connections in place, only to replicate it somewhere else at greater expense.

I talked with J. M. Branum after the speechifying, and we took a walk to the back of the station where the passenger facilities are. They've been left to deteriorate, of course, but they're not beyond repair, and the rail lines themselves need only a freshening here and there.

And we had one actual Presidential candidate on hand: Gail Parker, who hails these days from those Independent Greens in Virginia but who spent some of her childhood here in the Sooner State, and who was well received by the crowd. (She also schlepped along a Draft Bloomberg sign, which if nothing else indicates that she's keeping the options open.) I was hoping to hear Rep. Andrew Rice, who's working up a Senate campaign against Jim Inhofe next year, but he was stuck in traffic or something. The local NBC and Fox affiliates sent cameras to cover the event; so far as I know, only Branum and I represented local blogdom, and I'm pretty sure no one expected me. Certainly Tom Elmore didn't.

As these things go, this one went pretty well; there may be more rallies in months to come as the price tag on the Crosstown continues to rise and some of its boosters start feeling the heat.

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:40 PM)
12 August 2007
The train from Kansas City

The Save the Rails rally yesterday dealt specifically with the preservation of the Union Station railyard and the potential reinstatement of the old Interurban rail lines. This is not, however, the only passenger-rail issue facing the state, and at the rally there was a representative of the Northern Flyer Alliance, a group which seeks the expansion of Amtrak's existing Heartland Flyer, which currently runs between Oklahoma City and Fort Worth, into northern Oklahoma and eastern Kansas.

In late July, the Alliance organized a meeting in Wichita with various Kansas officials and an Amtrak representative, making the pitch that the existing Flyer was worth $3.8 million a year in economic development in Oklahoma and Texas. Nothing in transportation happens overnight, and Amtrak apparently is not permitted to undertake expansion studies using federal funds, so Kansas and Oklahoma (and maybe Texas) would have to put up the dollars for a route study.

NFA's proposed route would extend the Heartland Flyer northward more or less parallel to US 77, connecting to the Southwest Chief at Newton, Kansas, and then northeastward to Kansas City. The Chief, which connects Chicago and Los Angeles, already runs between Newton and Kansas City, but in the wee hours of the morning.

Unspoken in any of this is the actual cost, and there's an addtional problem: BNSF freight services are quite busy along the existing track, meaning windows of opportunity to run a passenger train will be limited. And if there's an elephant in the room, it's Amtrak's always-tenuous financial condition. I don't consider any of these to be entirely insurmountable, though it's going to take a lot of work to pull this off.

And if you thought this should have been called "The train to Kansas City," you're obviously not a Shangri-Las fan.

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:48 AM)
14 August 2007
Because it's so hard to get pizza here

From the press release:

Marco's Pizza, founded in Toledo, OH 29 years ago and home of the Ah! Thentic Italian Pizza, announced plans to open 38 stores in Oklahoma including 21 in Oklahoma City and 17 in the Tulsa area. Jack Butorac, Jr., president of Marco's Franchising, LLC, a franchise development veteran, announced the agreement with MG Pizza Ventures based [in Oklahoma City].

The first unit, which will represent the 9th state for Marco's, is expected to open October 2007.

"Ah! Thentic"? Oh, geez.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:44 AM)
18 August 2007
It's an honor just to be nominated

That's the mantra, anyway, and I'll be poking around the local galaxy o'blogs in the next couple of weeks looking for some fresh faces for the 2007 Okie Blog Awards, on the reasonable basis that everyone's seen enough of me already.

The best thing that could happen, I think, is if every Okie blogger, as defined by the rules, goes into a posting frenzy, thereby giving the voters (the same Okie bloggers, after all) more material to work with in the process of determining the most deserving.

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:31 PM)
19 August 2007
Sure looks like a hurricane

Weather guys: "It's official. Tropical depression."

Erin: "Oh, yeah? I'll show you."

And we are indeed being shown. The first wave, as it were, brought about three-quarters of an inch of rain, but that was trivial. Right now the "eye," and it certainly acts like one, is over the western edge of the city, moving at a snail's pace: 10 mph. Which means that we're in for a few more hours of this, "this" being 40-mph winds, rains somewhere between torrential and Biblical, and cars floating downstream. (Most of El Reno seems to be cut off by high water.)

Through 6 am we've had about three inches of rain over and above that first wave; if we get by with only six or eight for this storm, we'll have dodged something of a bullet. (The rainfall record for the 19th of August is a feeble 0.87 inch, so it's gone; the record for any day in August is 3.17 inches, which we are exceeding even as I type.)

Meanwhile, Lake Superior continues to fall. Not that I'd want them to get tropical depressions or anything, but geez.

Update, 9:50 am: The eye has passed and the rain has tapered off: 4.5 inches or so have fallen at the airport since the storms began yesterday; Tinker AFB reports around five inches. As the eye came through, the barometer dropped markedly and the winds picked up: 60-mph readings were not uncommon. Lots of road closings were announced, the nearest being 50th and the Lake Hefner Parkway; since this is fairly high ground, I'm guessing it was due to a downed pole or something rather than to high water. The only power interruption I saw came at 7:34, with a brief roll of God's Own Tympani; it lasted only long enough to screw up the clock on the microwave.

Around the yard, there are piles of leaves and occasional bits of tree branch, and there's the usual backwash into the garage, but otherwise I've found no problems: the winds peaked here in the 40s, less of a threat to that which is vertical. NOAA Weather Radio, for the moment, is doing a loop of flood warnings, of which we have a bunch. The "do not drive into flooded areas" message, of late, has contained the following notice: "Two feet of rushing water can carry away most vehicles, including sport-utility vehicles and pickup trucks." I assume this is aimed at the idiots who think hey, I've got a four-by-four, what can possibly go wrong?

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:19 AM)
20 August 2007
The conversion of the Smug Easterner

Okay, she's not all that smug, really, but still:

I will admit to being a liberal, pretentious east coaster who would cannot comprehend that there are places in this country without a proper H&M or IKEA at least within spitting distance; thus my ambivalence towards Oklahoma. Of course I know itís there, but no one actually lived there and no one goes there and is there anything there?

It would never occur to us to spit on IKEA. At least, I don't think it would.

So imagine my normally tame and non-sporadic self up and cashed in a rapid reward award for a flight to Oklahoma City. I seriously felt like I was having an outer-body experience as I completed my transaction because how the hell was I to explain my sudden interest in the pan handle state and James Inhofe?

Not to worry. Very few of us actually in Oklahoma have that much interest in James Inhofe, except to this extent: "His term ends when?"

I just did this dreamy sigh because thereís such a soft spot in my heart now for Oklahoma. Of course it has its faults, but those faults are negated by its good qualities such as Sonic and Super Target and my ability to have a nice quiet weekend with one of my favorite people in the world, where we did nothing but run errands and I napped and drank more than my share of wine.

Like I've always said, it's the people who make this place.

Well, that and the cherry limeade.

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:24 PM)
22 August 2007
Diacritical mass

Rep. Paul Wesselhoft (R-Moore) really, truly wants to send you to jail for yakking on your cell phone while you drive.

This strikes me as a trifle draconian: simply shooting out the offender's tires should be sufficient, I think, but nobody asked me. More amusing is the MidCity Advocate's headline on the story:

Wesselhöft: Keep both hands on the wheel

I know not whence cometh the umlaut, but all of a sudden, Wesselhoft — um, Wesselhöft — looks less like a governmental busybody and more like a Serious Thinker. Or the leader of a death-metal band, whichever is less plausible.

Come to think of it, this might be a way for a lightweight like Dävid Dänk to acquire some gravitas.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:14 PM)
25 August 2007
You and your damn dubs

My first car, inexplicably, had 14-inch wheels up front and 15-inchers in the back. Subsequent vehicles had the same size at each end, 13s on the Toyota, 14s on the first Mazda, 15s on the Mercury and the second Mazda, and now 16s on the Infiniti.

Which means that most likely I wouldn't have heard about this myself:

I just talked to a friend of mine that bought a new truck, and he got an extra little surprise when he went and purchased his tag ... I had to call the tag office and verify it because I wasn't sure that I heard him right.

Evidently, they are now charging an extra tax on wheels larger than 17.5" in diameter. $2.50 per wheel up to 19.5 inches and $3.50 per wheel over 19.5 inches.

The lady on the phone said that this started around July or so.

I was unable to find any reference to this in the Tax Commission's Motor Vehicle rules as currently posted. I did, however, turn up this new bit of legislation:

The value of any vehicle, for purposes of the excise tax levied by Section 2103 of this title, shall be the actual sales price of such a vehicle before any discounts or credits are given for a trade-in. However, the value of the vehicle prior to the subtraction of such discounts or credits for a trade-in shall be required to be within twenty percent (20%) of the average retail price value of such vehicle as listed in the automotive reference material prescribed by the Oklahoma Tax Commission. The actual sales price of the vehicle, which total shall be the basis of the motor vehicle excise tax, as well as the number of tires on the vehicle and the tire rim diameters, shall be entered on the bill of sale furnished by the seller to the purchaser, or on such other form as may be prescribed by the Tax Commission.

Emphasis as in the original. However, this isn't supposed to take effect until November, and it presumably affects the excise tax, which is a one-shot, rather than one's annual tag fee. Of course, the fellow with the new truck would have had to pay both of them at initial registration.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:44 AM)
Poppin' off at Pops

Not the Sodium Shoppe, but the tourist attraction in Arcadia that isn't the Round Barn. I dropped by this afternoon, and was informed that there was a two-hour wait to get into the actual building. For the benefit of those who just wanted a quickie lunch, they'd put up a tent on the western edge of the property, and they were serving up franks and burgers and a limited supply of sodas (Pepsi products, generally) which you could get more or less instantaneously.

So I still haven't actually been in the place. And if this pattern holds up, it may be years before I do. On the upside, Arcadia, which imposes a 4-percent sales tax (over and above the statewide 4.5 percent), is going to be flush with cash for once.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:35 PM)
26 August 2007
Title assurance

A collection of financial tips by Lisa M. Anderson, CPA, of Tulsa's Rowland Group, appears in the new Oklahoma Today with the following title: Girls Just Wanna Have Funds.

I mention this here in case anyone should think I had something to do with that, which I didn't.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:38 PM)
28 August 2007
Somewhere near Riverside

At the suggestion of Jeff Shaw, I took a look at NoTulsaRiverTax.com, a site which seeks to rally opposition to the proposed 0.4-percent Tulsa County sales tax to finance development of the Arkansas River.

The most pertinent question, I think, is this one: "Is it truly fair to tax the whole county for a massive project that only benefits a few communities?" If I lived in, say, Owasso, I might be asking that myself. On the other hand, it's not like the 'burbs never benefit from anything that happens in Tulsa, and certainly the local homebuilders' association, "dominated by developers based in Owasso and Broken Arrow", isn't at all averse to throwing around its weight downtown.

Still, it's worth remembering that when Oklahoma City put out its humongous MAPS wish list, the 1-percent sales tax was imposed only in the city; Edmond and Bethany and Midwest City were not expected to kick in.

Regarding the site in general, I hate to sound like a Firefox fanboy, but the curt "Links may not work in Mozilla Firefox browser" is an admission of ineptitude. (As is, for that matter, exporting anything from Word into Mickeysoft's shabby excuse for markup language in the first place.) The left-side menu doesn't even appear in Firefox. Nothing like alienating a quarter to a third of your prospective audience right off the bat, guys.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:43 AM)
29 August 2007
Fortunately, the pipes are already clean

Snagged from The Oklahoman's Notes from the Newsroom:

An unusual project earlier this year at the Childrenís Hospital at OU Medical Center in Oklahoma City has produced a Guinness World Record.

On Valentine's Day in February, volunteers from the hospital, community, and the Jimmy Everest Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders in Children who had made a pipe-cleaner chain — with individual links in the form of hearts — encircled the hospital on NE 13. In fact, the pipe-cleaner "Chain of Love" surrounded the hospital three times, with enough left over to encircle the building at least three more times. So the official Guinness World Record for the longest chain of pipe cleaners now is at 10,459 feet, or nearly 2 miles — and the Guinness record is in Oklahoma City. Hospital leaders recently were notified of the official record.

Ten thousand four hundred fifty-nine feet, by coincidence, is how far you'll walk to your parking space anywhere in the Oklahoma Health Center complex.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:42 AM)
2 September 2007
The online tool shed grows larger

We expect the county records in the state's metropolitan areas to be easily searchable online; we tend to doubt that we'll find anything in the rural areas.

Duncan-based KellPro is now offering searchable land records in twenty-seven counties at OKCountyRecords.com. In six of those counties (Carter, Craig, Delaware, Grady, Logan and Ottawa) you can also search plat maps, although apparently you will have to set up an online account — contact your county clerk — to view images. If you have to go poking through land records for a living (and I know some of you do), this may prove useful to you.

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:53 PM)
5 September 2007
The deed is done

I usually dawdle, and this year was no exception, but I did finally complete my list of nominations for the 2007 Okie Blog Awards. While my vote counts exactly the same as anyone else's, I have, I believe, one distinct advantage over everyone else: there's no way I can possibly vote for me.

You've got a few days left. Use them wisely.

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:51 AM)
11 September 2007
Governor Kim?

The Oklahoma Observer floats a trial balloon ("Observations", 10 September):

It's never too early to ponder the next gubernatorial race. Quick question: Can Democrats extend their grip on Oklahoma government's top job for a third term in a decidedly Red state?

Short answer: Yes, especially if the Republicans end up nominating a lightweight like, oh, say, Lance Cargill.

Unexpected answer from the Observer: Kimberly Ann Henry. Yes, really:

The First Lady never has held elective office, but knows first-hand the rigors of a statewide campaign. She's a powerful, behind-the-scenes force in her husband's administration.

As a former government, history and advanced placement teacher (eight years at Shawnee High School), she has street credibility as she advocates tirelessly for children and public education.

Further, she has charisma that would be the envy of any candidate.

I suspect her AP experience makes her overqualified to deal with the underachievers in the legislature. And there's that whole Lurleen Wallace thing: would people assume Brad was pulling the strings from behind the curtain?

There is, to my knowledge, no evidence that Kim Henry is considering any such thing. But hey, it's never too early to ponder the next gubernatorial race.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:00 AM)
And lo, there were nominees

The list has been pruned to the best of the best (well, not completely, since I'm still in there somewhere), and here they are: the nominees for the 2007 Okie Blog Awards.

It's a good group, and it's not just the usual suspects: I spotted several new blogs in contention. Do give them a look. Voting ends on the 26th of September.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:35 AM)
News from Logan County

The Logan County Report is a newsblog based, I presume, in Guthrie; their first posts went up on Sunday and they're looking for readers. And if it weren't for them, I'd have had no idea that on their ballot today was a measure to reduce the county sales tax from 1 percent to 0.75 percent, which means I probably should start paying attention to them myself.

Update: It passed by about 8 to 1.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:24 PM)
18 September 2007
Wince material

The Lost Ogle has been running, ten at a time, their Top 100 Oklahoma Embarrassments, which I mention here because (1) it's pretty darn funny in spots and (2) they were kind enough to leave me out of it.

You might disagree as to the exact placement of some of them — I know I do — but if you really, truly need a list of That Which Is Cringeworthy, and some night after not enough beers you will, the research is already done for you.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:52 AM)
21 September 2007
Six billionaires, no waiting

To make the Forbes 400, you have to be worth $1.3 billion or so, and half a dozen Oklahomans (up two from last year) qualify.

In addition to the usual suspects — George Kaiser, Aubrey McClendon, Tom Ward and David Green — this year's list includes Harold Hamm, of Enid's Continental Resources, and Lynn Schusterman, widow of Charles Schusterman, founder of Samson Investment Company, Tulsa. Kaiser, as usual, is at the top: he's listed at $11 billion, twenty-sixth among the 400.

For the benefit of visitors from Seattle: Clayton Bennett, of Dorchester Capital and the Professional Basketball Club, did not make the list.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:00 AM)
22 September 2007
Beyond R and D

I wasn't expecting to see this today:

Oklahomans for Ballot Access Reform (OBAR) has the noble goal of making it easier for candidates to win a place on the ballot when they don't have "Republican" or "Democrat" beside their name.

This is, after all, the Oklahoman's editorial page. I might have anticipated "curious" or "implausible" or even "quixotic," but "noble"?

And I think they might even be serious:

Changing the law would acquire approval by the people of a referendum that OBAR hopes to get on the 2008 ballot. Of course, the Legislature — consisting of only Republicans and Democrats — could call an election and spare OBAR the expense of circulating an initiative petition.

Wouldn't that be nice? But don't hold your breath.

And while the paper's enthusiasm for the prospect does seem a bit limited, you'd have never heard this kind of talk from Gaylord, père or fils:

We urge Oklahomans interested in freeing up state election restrictions to consider supporting OBAR. The people deserve a chance to vote on this issue and perhaps give politics as usual a run for its money.

Me, I've been harping on this issue for years.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:22 AM)
28 September 2007
A roof over your head

BusinessWeek reports on a Coldwell Banker survey of the most and least affordable homes in each state, complete with slideshow. Methodology:

The Coldwell Banker HPCI survey evaluates average selling prices in 317 U.S. markets for single-family houses of approximately 2,220 square feet with four bedrooms, two-and-a-half baths, a family room, and a two-car garage. The cumulative average sales price of these subject homes is $422,343 (higher than the National Association of Realtors' median home price of $218,200 for all existing homes sold in the U.S.).

You can theoretically buy this imaginary house in Tulsa for a mere $153,750, putting T-Town among the ten most affordable markets. If you want it in Oklahoma City, though, you'll have to cough up an extra $40k. (Exactly. The OKC figure is $193,750.)

Some states with small areas and/or populations — Delaware, Rhode Island, Wyoming — have only one market in the survey; otherwise, the state with the least variance seems to be Idaho, where the difference between Coeur d'Alene and Boise is a mere thirty bucks.

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:39 PM)
30 September 2007
Ballot-access kerfuffle

Mike at Okiedoke inadvertently precipitated a brouhaha with this observation:

Dart: To Frosty Troy of The Oklahoma Observer for his support of Oklahoma voters having only two parties on the ballot. Frosty says a third candidate might screw up a close race between a Democrat and a Republican. Yeah, that would be terrible. And imagine what might happen if neither a Democrat or Republican was elected; I like to.

Which was followed by this blast by Red S. Tater, and a return volley by J. M. Branum, with mutual sniping along the way.

Tater, unfortunately, damages his case by raising the spectre of "fusion," the process by which candidates in some states can run on multiple party tickets, and quotes Dan Cantor at TPM Cafe, who sees it as a useful tool for Democrats, which indeed it could be. However, inasmuch as nowhere in the Oklahoma petition is there any reference to fusion or any language which would expedite it, Tater is showing us, you should pardon the expression, a red herring.

And just for historical perspective: the Republicans were originally a third party, ascending to the Big Two in the wake of the dissolution of the Whigs. (If they play their cards right, they could be just as dead as the Whigs.)

In the meantime, I will continue to believe that we'd be better off if we had actual Greens and Libertarians and such on the state ballot, and if they "screw up a close race" — well, isn't that just too damn bad? No party, major, minor or minuscule, has any business thinking it's entitled to an office.

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:03 PM)
2 October 2007
A taxing question

Let's see if I have this straight. Passage of the so-called River Tax next Tuesday will provide Tulsa County with which of the following benefits?

  1. All the oil companies who fled to Houston will come home
  2. New, catchier name for the Inner Dispersal Loop
  3. The opportunity to sneer at Oklahoma City's "river"
  4. As if by magic, a riverfront will appear in Broken Arrow
  5. None of the above

Right now, I'm thinking C.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:49 AM)
3 October 2007
A reminder

I realize that some of you may have more important matters to deal with, but the 2007 Okie Blogger Roundup is this Saturday in Tulsa, and this is your one chance this year to see me lose at the Okie Blog Awards. (I realize that there is a statistically-significant possibility that I actually might not lose, but let's think negative, okay?)

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:12 PM)
6 October 2007
With a capital T

And that stands for Tulsa, and you can decide for yourself what it rhymes with. My congratulations to the winners of the Okie Blog Awards, who this year, as I told you earlier, did not include me. (It's kind of like the Emmys: eventually you're tired of seeing the same old names.) I figure the old peer group did us proud this year. (Oh, yes, they did mention the second-place finishers in each category, which leaves me with a distinction so far unique: two seconds out of a possible two. "Twice the Number Two for the coming year," I quipped.)

Anyway, if you haven't seen the Cherry Street district in Tulsa, and I hadn't in a while, it's worth the trip: just funky enough to be interesting, not so much as to make you wonder if you left your hipster credentials in your other jeans. Hideaway Pizza, of course, is legendary. (Their wireless connection, alas, is not so wonderful if you're sitting under the big-screen TV.)

And a personal thanks to Don Danz, who took the official attendance, and who was kind enough to spring for a three-topping small for yours truly.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:00 PM)
7 October 2007
Into the Circle

The previous entry was something of a review of In the Shadow of the Moon, which I saw last night. Regular readers might have noticed this complaint last Thursday:

What do we have to do to get In the Shadow of the Moon booked here? Do we not have enough screens for Good Luck Chuck, or what?

And indeed there was no exhibition scheduled anywhere in metro Oklahoma City, a situation not entirely unfamiliar to those of us at this end of the Turner. So inasmuch as I had already driven to Tulsa, and having satisfied myself that yesterday's awards had fallen favorably, I took the advice of a reader and headed for the Circle Cinema, the one theater in the state which did book the film.

The Circle, north of 1st on Lewis, was built in the 1920s as part of Tulsa's first suburban shopping center, Whittier Square. It's a small place, the antithesis of the contemporary multiplex, though eventually it will have three screens. The Circle is owned by a nonprofit foundation which has several community-outreach programs in addition to the regularly-scheduled screenings. The closest equivalent in Oklahoma City might be the film program at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art, which works similar cinematic turf, but which operates only four days a week. And the Circle, at least, has popcorn.

Apparently the Circle is Tulsa's last remaining pre-1960 moviehouse. (We have a few in OKC, though they're not being used for movies: the Plaza is now part of the Lyric Theatre complex, and the Tower is being converted to offices, retail, and maybe a music venue. The Centre, of course, was redeveloped as the Museum of Art.) It's gratifying to see it serving its original purpose, to a small but no doubt intensely-loyal audience; we could definitely use something like this down around my neck of the woods. And at least some Tulsans assumed that we already did: upon leaving last night, I made some noise about the long drive back to Oklahoma City, and people were shocked that In the Shadow of the Moon, which was drawing fairly well — they sold probably 60 of the 105 seats for the 7-pm showing, and people were arriving for the show at nine — wasn't going to be seen at all in the capital. "They needed the screens for Good Luck Chuck," I grumbled, getting double duty out of a single snark.

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:02 PM)
10 October 2007
Such cheapskates

Proponents of the new Tulsa river tax, which was rejected yesterday 52 percent to 48, might learn something from Oklahoma City's school bond issues, which passed with percentages in the 70s: if you're going to pitch something as For The Children™, you might want to assure that there's some actual benefit to children other than vague pieties about "making the world a better place" and other things generally beyond the scope of county government.

Or, as Bobby from Tulsa Topics put it:

I decided to vote NO for the older generation. Although I don't necessarily act it at times, I'm a bona fide member of the older Tulsan voter brigade. The group that has to pay the sales taxes for the groceries you kiddo's eat and the property taxes that keep a roof over your head.

I still fail to understand why this was considered a county project when only a single municipality would benefit. (There was some loose talk about a riverfront for Broken Arrow, despite the fact that nothing in the measure actually said such a thing.) Perhaps Tulsa city government should have undertaken the project on their own — but then that would have required them to pay for it on their own, rather than hit up the suburbs for part of the bill. (Reminder: Oklahoma City's original MAPS package was financed by a city, not a county, sales tax. Further reminder: Oklahoma County's sales-tax rate is 0. Zero. Bupkis.)

As for The Children, they'll get over it.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:57 AM)
11 October 2007
The official state sports car

Kentucky State Representative C. B. Embry (R-Morgantown) has proposed naming the Chevrolet Corvette the Official Sports Car of the Bluegrass State.

The premise seems at least reasonable, since the Corvette is built in semi-picturesque Bowling Green, Kentucky, and while other vehicles are built in the state, no one will ever accuse, say, the Toyota Camry, built in Georgetown, of being sporty.

Oklahoma doesn't have an official sports car, and with the state's one auto assembly plant mothballed and plans to build MGs in Ardmore on hold, we may not get one — in which case, please allow me to nominate the true sporting vehicle of Soonerland: a Ford F-150 pickup with worn shocks.

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:00 PM)
12 October 2007
Life after Red Rock

The idea here was simple enough: the state's three major electric providers would pool their resources and build a $1.75-billion plant near Red Rock, a plant big enough to produce 950 megawatts of power, running off comparatively-cheap coal. The plan drew fire almost immediately, not only from coal opponents, but from the likes of Aubrey McClendon at Chesapeake, who complained that it's an Oklahoma plant and ought to be using Oklahoma's gas supplies. (No points for guessing where Chesapeake makes its money.) The Corporation Commission took a dim view of the plant from day one, and yesterday officially denied preapproval, meaning the utilities could not begin recovering costs before the plant was actually built.

According to Assistant AG Bill Humes, the utilities really didn't make their case:

They said the Red Rock plant was the least expensive alternative, but they could never conclusively prove that. There was a great deal of testimony to the contrary. The sad fact is they never presented to the commission the cost of a second alternative.

Or, for that matter, a first alternative.

The vote was 2-1, with Bob Anthony declining to sign the denial but issuing a separate opinion only partly supporting the Red Rock plant. Anthony noted that OG&E would need 300 megawatts of new capacity in the next five years, which is going to have to come from somewhere: the wind farm is up to speed but produces a maximum of 170 MW. PSO, in the same period, will have to come up with 450 MW.

Me, I can't help but wonder if maybe they underestimated the cost of cleaning up after coal: you can't just point the smokestacks upward and hope nothing happens.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:00 AM)
13 October 2007
Unchained

The Sumner family of Sapulpa — Darrell D. Sumner, wife Patty, sons Darren and Derek — has bought three newspapers from the ginormous Community Newspaper Holdings, Inc., including their hometown Sapulpa Daily Herald.

The Sumners, who own four other papers in Oklahoma, will retain the newly-acquired Coffeyville [KS] Journal, but will spin off the Cushing Daily Citizen to David Reid, who had previously owned the Citizen but sold it to CNHI.

CNHI still owns several papers in Oklahoma, including the Edmond Sun and the Norman Transcript.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:14 AM)
Going it alone

In my own postmortem on the Tulsa River Tax, I offered this notion:

I still fail to understand why this was considered a county project when only a single municipality would benefit.... Perhaps Tulsa city government should have undertaken the project on their own — but then that would have required them to pay for it on their own, rather than hit up the suburbs for part of the bill. (Reminder: Oklahoma City's original MAPS package was financed by a city, not a county, sales tax. Further reminder: Oklahoma County's sales-tax rate is 0. Zero. Bupkis.)

Stan Geiger expands on this premise:

It was a clear strategic mistake, from a political standpoint, to make the river tax vote county-wide. The majority of people living in the burbs were opposed to paying a tax to fund a project they viewed as having no benefit for them. But I imagine the decision to go county-wide was less a political decision and more an economic decision.

Our metro area is a tightly-packed conglomeration of several municipalities. Tulsa sits in the middle. If sales taxes are hiked in Tulsa without a corresponding increase in tax rates for the surrounding cities, people will go to the surrounding cities to shop or dine out. Ergo, a unilateral tax bump in Tulsa could well backfire, dropping sales tax collections in total.

That logic works both ways, of course. If Broken Arrow bumps its sales tax to a level higher than its bordering communities, shoppers and diners will flee Broken Arrow for the cheaper confines of those adjoining communities.

It's not an inexorable law, of course. There are some things you can get in the city that you can't always get easily in the burbs. And it's got to be a fairly substantial purchase to make that much of a difference, I suspect: when I acquired the palatial estate at Surlywood in 2003, I ordered new appliances from Sears — from the Midwest City store, because (1) I'd been shopping there since I'd moved out east in the early 1990s and (2) the tax rate was 0.875 cent less. In that order, I think. And even then, the total tax savings came to well under twenty bucks. Of late, about the only time I need to shop outside Oklahoma City limits is when I make a pilgrimage to the New Balance store in Edmond. (Total sales tax in Edmond is 7.75 percent, versus 8.375 in Oklahoma City; on a hundred-dollar pair of shoes, we're looking at 63 cents, a bit less than what I'd spend for the gas to get there and back. I might think differently if I lived, say, north of 122nd.)

So these effects are real, but probably not so pronounced. And I'm not so sure that this wasn't primarily a political decision: Tulsa county government, at the time, probably had better (or at least "less bad") credibility than Tulsa city government, which in recent years has rivaled the Keystone Kops for comic ineffectuality.

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:31 PM)
16 October 2007
Also see Tulsa's Hanson Dam

The Lost Ogle is still doling out ideas, ten a week, for the Oklahoma 100 Ideas Initiative, and number 61 might actually have some traction:

Rename the portion of South Robinson between SW 15th and SW 44th as "Hinder Drive."

This would satisfy the throngs of Hinder fans that are upset that the Flaming Lips have an alley in Bricktown and Hinder doesn't. And since this section of South Robinson is notoriously known as the OKC red light district, there couldn't be a more perfect road to honorably don the Hinder name.

I don't know what's scarier: the fact that I used to have a job along this stretch of Robinson (no, you twerp, a desk job), or the idea that Hinder has enough fans to make up a throng.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:00 AM)
23 October 2007
Replies hazy, try again

The last page of the Centennial issue of Oklahoma Today (November/December '07) contains some projections for the bicentennial in 2107, utilizing the time-honored SWAG technique. Some of them strike me as being a bit on the low side. For example, I can't envision the state population to be a mere 5,349,192 a hundred years from now; there'll be that many people snarled in traffic on International 35. And surely we'll snag more than six additional Miss Americas between now and then.

A few of these numbers, though, seem way high: seventy-four McDonald's in Oklahoma City? What, are they going to put one in every Starbucks?

And this one is just upsetting:

Cost of an OU-Texas football ticket in the student section purchased through the OU Athletic Ticket Office: $813.

Versus $95 today. This is an increase of 950 percent, far greater than this:

Cost of resident undergraduate tuition per credit hour at OU, including fees: $440.

Which is up merely fourfold.

If any of you are still around in 2107, feel free to dig this out of your personal copy of the Wayback Machine and tell the world how wrong I was.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:32 AM)
27 October 2007
Crossing the line

Earlier this month, Stan Geiger noted that differences in sales tax between communities in close proximity will tend to shift purchase decisions in favor of the community with the lower tax rate, all else being equal. The crux of the biscuit:

If sales taxes are hiked in Tulsa without a corresponding increase in tax rates for the surrounding cities, people will go to the surrounding cities to shop or dine out. Ergo, a unilateral tax bump in Tulsa could well backfire, dropping sales tax collections in total.

In response, I pointed out that it didn't make that much difference to me, anyway:

Of late, about the only time I need to shop outside Oklahoma City limits is when I make a pilgrimage to the New Balance store in Edmond. (Total sales tax in Edmond is 7.75 percent, versus 8.375 in Oklahoma City; on a hundred-dollar pair of shoes, we're looking at 63 cents, a bit less than what I'd spend for the gas to get there and back. I might think differently if I lived, say, north of 122nd.)

Mr Geiger counters that this is exactly the sort of thinking that gets us into sales-tax trouble in the first place:

The hair in the soup, relative to the writer's perspective, has to do with consumer spending not being limited to a single purchase on a single day. I dare say most people spend money on sales taxed items on a daily basis, in fact. Multiply 63 cents times 365 and you get nearly $230. The "it's-just-a-half-a-penny" argument loses luster when viewed in the full light of day.

I'm a single guy. When I go to the grocery store, I buy only for myself and not for, say, a family of four. Beyond the simple numbers, there are no kids involved. So I don't have to make purchase of the things kids crave, like cereals, chips, ice cream and cookies. Yet, I can scarcely make a trip [to] a grocery store without dropping 40 or 50 bucks. It's not just the food, of course. Sundries, like razor blades, mouthwash and shampoo are necessary items as well.

Well, if there were 63 cents at stake every single day, then yes, it would be worth my while to go elsewhere, all else being equal. And today's trip to the supermarket (Crest in Windsor Hills) ran $63.85, which means I paid about $4.93 in sales tax, about 70 cents a day for a week's worth. But could I duplicate this same basket of goodies in, say, Warr Acres, the nearest town with a substantial (7.5 versus 8.375 percent) tax savings, for anything close to $58.92 before taxes? I don't think so: the erstwhile Warr Acres Wal-Mart Supercenter packed its bags and moved back into Oklahoma City several years ago. There's a Neighborhood Market at 23rd and MacArthur, but it's within OKC city limits, and besides, it's a decidedly creepy place; the one on 23rd west of Pennsylvania is inexplicably much nicer. Besides, I have this weird idea that it might be nice to direct some revenue into the coffers of the city in which I actually live. (Remember when Bethany painted blue lines along the city limits?)

I like this thought experiment, though:

Now then, let's assume a magic wand was waved and Tulsa's sales tax rate was increased to but one penny more than the rates in Jenks, Bixby and Broken Arrow.

The most heavily populated part of Tulsa is south Tulsa. And south Tulsa bumps up against the 3 cities noted. With a sales tax-exposed spending range of 10 to 20 grand per year, a south Tulsa resident would be able to save $100 to $200 in taxes annually for simply crossing the city line to shop and dine. I think most people would be willing to take a little drive to save that kind of money — fuel costs and inconvenience notwithstanding.

This example makes sense for the south Tulsa resident. It makes somewhat less sense for someone living, say, north of Brookside.

And I acknowledged as much in my Edmond example: "I might think differently if I lived, say, north of 122nd." But I'm pretty much in the center of Oklahoma City, and while I could shop at Crest stores in Edmond or Midwest City, get the same prices I get in OKC, and save half a buck in sales taxes every week, I'd end up spending $2 to $3 for the gas to get there and back. Were I shopping for a large family, to the tune of $300 a week or so, it's much more savings and pretty much the same gas, which shifts the balance considerably.

In sum: The advantage of a lower sales tax is real and tangible. I simply find it less compelling than Stan Geiger does, largely due to my own personal situation. Your mileage, of course, may vary.

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:08 PM)
28 October 2007
Expanding the pound of flesh

The new property-tax rate for my particular section of Oklahoma County is 110.42 mills, up from 109.81 last year, an increase of 0.56 percent. The rate has been wobbling around the 110 level for most of a decade, peaking at 113.33 in 2002. (The folks stuck with the highest rate in the county are those whose property lies in both Oklahoma City limits and the Piedmont school district: they will pay 129.44.)

This rate is reported as $110.42 per thousand of assessed value, which in this state is 11 percent of taxable market value. Zillow.com says the median home in my ZIP code is worth $96,967; a house worth that much would be assessed at 96967 x 0.11 = $10,666, and taxed to the tune of 10666 x 0.11042 = $1177.78, assuming no exemptions. (The most common exemption is the homestead exemption, which applies to those who actually live in the house they own; it knocks $1000 off the assessed value, hence $110.42 off the taxes this year.) Under the state cap law, the taxable market value cannot increase more than 5 percent a year unless the property is sold or substantially altered, and for the second year in a row, I report an increase of a hair over 4.99 percent, and therefore an overall tax increase of about 5.02 percent.

Side note: Two weeks ago I projected a tax bill of "$872 or so"; it will in fact be $876.07.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:30 PM)
2 November 2007
Pennies pinched while you wait

Kathleen Wilcoxson, who represents Senate District 45, is about to be term-limited out of office — 2008 is her twelfth and last year — and three Republicans are competing for her seat. (Democrats seldom even bother to file for this seat.) Mike McCarville has the numbers on their fundraising activities, and former Oklahoma City Councilman Jerry Foshee raised the most money during the reporting period ending 30 September; he's also spent the most.

Retired Army Lt. Colonel Steve Russell reported he raised $10,204 and spent $8.50, leaving him with $10,091.50 on hand.

He spent eight and a half bucks? Granted, the election is 53 weeks away, but I'm wondering whether this guy is God's Own Skinflint or just a big fan of The Producers.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:04 AM)
6 November 2007
The eight- (or twelve)-year itch

In case you thought the issue of term limits was settled, you might want to think again:

A term-limited state senator has filed legislation that would ask voters to repeal legislative term limits that prevent Oklahoma lawmakers from serving more than 12 years in office.

Sen. Mary Easley, D-Tulsa, said legislative term limits, passed in 1990 when voters approved State Question 632, have made special interests more powerful.

"How so?" you may ask.

Easley said she believes the 12-year limit has given more power to lobbyists and large corporations and has taken the voice away from the public. Easley said it takes a while to learn the legislative process. Inexperienced lawmakers might give more weight to lobbyists' opinions than those legislators with more tenure.

Having studied (via textbook, anyway) the operations of Oklahoma government, I have to agree that it does take a while to learn the legislative process. And this is certainly true:

Voters exercise term limits every time they go to the polls, she said.

But even as Easley's SJR 35 seeks to remove term limits, SJR 33 by Randy Brogdon (R-Owasso) seeks to extend them to other state offices:

Senate Joint Resolution 33 would put a two-term limit on the governor, lieutenant governor, state auditor, attorney general, state treasurer, labor commissioner, state superintendent, insurance commissioner and corporation commissioner.

And Brogdon isn't buying Easley's bit about lobbyists:

He believes term limits actually take power away from lobbyists and big corporations.

Brogdon said lawmakers who have served for decades get too familiar with lobbyists and then attempt to do things for their friends, rather than for the public good.

I'm waiting for someone to come up with a Senate Joint Resolution calling for term limits on lobbyists.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:38 PM)
7 November 2007
SandRidge turns a buck

Rather a lot of them, in fact: Monday's Initial Public Offering of 28.7 million shares at $26 brought in a quick $746 million to the Oklahoma City-based energy company, and by closing Tuesday the stock was trading around 32.

SandRidge is the former Riata Energy, acquired by Tom Ward after he left Chesapeake last year. Ward, who remains the largest single shareholder in SandRidge, is now technically a billionaire. The company expects to move from its current Northwest Expressway offices to the former Kerr-McGee Tower downtown within a year or so.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:01 AM)
8 November 2007
Side o' the road

We've all seen it: usually it's a little white cross with minimal inscription, sometimes accompanied by flowers. What it means is that somebody died there. I don't focus on them, exactly, but I have been known to mouth a few words, something along the lines of "There but for the grace of God," et cetera.

So what happens when they rebuild the road?

Many who travel [Oklahoma state highway] 199 will never forget the road's tragic history, Including Althea Raines. She says her husband built several memorials ... and Raines is wondering what will happen to them when roadwork starts.

"ODOT is going to move them over, or we are going to move them over, or are the families? What's going to happen?"

ODOT, as it happens, isn't going to move them:

Oklahoma Department of Transportation officials say they understand how much the memorials mean, but once roadwork begins, families will have to move them.

"We don't have any provisions in our statutes that allow memorials to be placed on state right of way. It's essentially one of those issues that we understand the sensitivity issue so we just overlook it."

One can always hope that the road improvements will result in fewer memorials in years to come.

(Seen Anywhere But Here, as it were.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:55 AM)
11 November 2007
After 1804

Rep. Shane Jett (R-Tecumseh) was one of only a handful of Republican opponents to House Bill 1804, the state's attempt to curb illegal immigration — not because he's in favor of illegal immigration, exactly, but because he says he fears the economic consequences when a couple hundred thousand folks suddenly disappear into Texas or California or North Carolina.

Jett says he's working on supplemental legislation to mitigate those consequences. What he wants, apparently, is a state-operated guest-worker program that will identify migrants and then earmark the taxes paid by them to cover the cost of state services to them.

I'm not quite sure how this could be made to work in the context of HB 1804, which closes as many doors as the Legislature thought possible at the time, but it will be interesting to see what Jett comes up with next spring.

(Jett abstained from the vote on 1804, which passed the House 88-9, perhaps out of conflict-of-interest concerns: his wife, Ana Carolina, is a Brazilian immigrant.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:31 AM)
14 November 2007
I guess it was nice while it lasted

You may remember this from way back in the summer of '04:

The community of Warr Acres, an enclave within Oklahoma City's northwest quadrant, has one claim to fame: its 6.5-percent sales tax rate (2 for Warr Acres, 4.5 for the state of Oklahoma), the lowest in the metro area. (Neighboring Bethany collects 8.5 percent; Oklahoma City, 8.375 percent.) Signs posted on the way out of town contain the ominous message "Warning: Higher Taxes Ahead."

Unfortunately, there may be higher taxes ahead for shoppers in Warr Acres.

And there were: in 2005, voters in Warr Acres opted to raise the two-cent city tax to three cents, bringing the total to 7.5 percent, still lower than its neighbors.

No more. Tuesday, 521 of 999 voters (population of Warr Acres is around 9500) approved an increase to four cents; the additional penny will be split between police and fire operations. The total will be 8.5 percent when the new rate goes into effect.

So now who gets to claim "Lowest Sales Tax in Metro Area"? Norman, Luther and Valley Brook are at 7.5 percent; Edmond at 7.75; Midwest City at 7.8; most everyone else is 8 and up. (Lake Aluma is officially 7.25 percent, though I don't remember seeing any actual retail there; this is the state's fourth-quarter list in PDF format.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:32 PM)
15 November 2007
Caravans forming now

Looks like Tulsa will be getting a Whole Foods:

Land in front of CityPlex towers at 81st Street and South Lewis in Tulsa, OK will soon be home to a full shopping complex including anchor stores Whole Foods market and Barnes and Noble Bookstore according to Mike Predovic, Managing Partner of Tower Realty Group. The current area of land has been vacant except for Victory kids building which was once a walk-through Bible exhibit for Oral Roberts Ministries.

Truth be told, while I expected Tulsa to land a Whole Foods before Oklahoma City did, I wouldn't have expected it to have been at 81st and Lewis.

And from the sound of things, when we do get one, it probably won't be downtown like everyone's hoping, either.

(Via Batesline.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:20 PM)
16 November 2007
A hundred years young

And I consider myself blessed to have been here for about a third of it.

Oklahoma Centennial

You're doin' fine, Oklahoma.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:26 AM)
A sense of the absurd

And sometimes it borders on no sense at all. This morning's Oklahoman contained images of the paper's front pages for Saturday and Sunday, the 16th and 17th of November 1907, and some of the headlines from those days would raise a 21st-century eyebrow or two. Across seven columns on the 16th, in red ink: STATEHOOD PROCLAMATION WILL BE ISSUED TODAY, followed by two columns of OKLAHOMA PASSES FROM CARPET BAG RULE INTO SISTERHOOD OF STATES. Somebody was seriously overreaching for a metaphor.

Or maybe something else. Down the first column: COMMISSION INSERTING PROBE.

None of this, however, prepares you for the Sunday edition, with a story datelined Guthrie, home of the FIRST INRUGURAL [sic] BALL, in which you learn this: WOMEN ATTEND BALL WITHOUT THEIR DICKEYS. Yeah, that sounds pretty inrugural to me.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:41 PM)
18 November 2007
The late Dr West

I'd heard that Donda West, mother of rapper Kanye West, had Oklahoma roots, but I had no idea just how deep those roots were until I read her obituary in this morning's Oklahoman, which begins this way:

Dr. Donda C. West, a resident of Playa Del Rey, California, was transitioned to her eternal reward on Saturday, November 10, 2007, at the age of 58. "Big Girl," as she was affectionately called by her father, was the 4th child born to Portwood and Lucille E. Williams on July 12, 1949. Her early education was at Culbertson and Dunbar Elementary Schools, F. D. Moon Jr. High School, and Douglass High School where she graduated in 1967. She joined 5th Street Baptist Church at age five. In 1958, under the leadership of NAACP Youth Council Leader and author Clara Luper, she, along with her brother, Portwood Jr., and others, participated in the first national sit-in demonstration to acquire public accommodations for people of color. Her father drove the first car.

(I wrote about the Katz Drug Store sit-in here.)

Dr West had a distinguished career, as educator, diplomat, and finally as entrepreneur, keeping an eye on son Kanye's business and charitable ventures; it's worth remembering that when she was a teenager, she helped change the world.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:04 AM)
22 November 2007
An application of push technology

It may be that some retailers aren't going to make a buck off Black Friday, but the Oklahoman intends to try its best: this morning's paper, maybe 40 pages of something resembling news and about six pounds of advertising supplements (did you know Kohl's opens tomorrow at 4 am?), bears a cover price of $1.50, triple the usual for a day that isn't Sunday.

For some reason I feel like I should go plant a tree.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:12 AM)
27 November 2007
Drain in vain

Apparently Tulsa has raised its residential stormwater rate, thereby raising an eyebrow at Stan Geiger's place:

[W]hatever you call it, what residents are coughing up to the Stormwater Management bureaucracy has been increased to $4.79 a month.

As I recall, that fee began at $2 a month in 1987. So in 20 years, it has gone up about 140 percent. I wonder how many Tulsa citizens haven't seen their pay go up 140 percent in 20 years. Quite a few, I'd say.

Tulsa city government explains what it's about:

Residential customers are charged $4.63 [I guess they haven't changed their Web site yet] per month to pay for operations and maintenance of more than 85 detention ponds, plus other stormwater facilities operated and maintained by the Public Works Department. Seventy percent of the money raised by the fee goes toward operations and maintenance of stormwater detention facilities, stream channels, pumping stations, culverts, ditches and other drainage facilities. The rest of the money goes toward small capital projects, utility billing, planning and design services, indirect costs, franchise fee and administration. In addition, the City's stormwater detention facilities provide residents with: open green space for playgrounds, soccer fields and trails; wetlands and ponds that serve as wildlife habitat; flood-resistant commercial and residential development; and safer streets due to drainage improvements.

Here in Oklahoma City, we pay a $4.00 "drainage fee," but it's apparently something entirely different:

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) now enforces strict storm water drainage regulations. The monthly Stormwater Drainage Utility Fee pays for work we must do to meet these new EPA drainage standards and requirements. The regulations are the result of a federal mandate to clean up pollution from storm water which drains into rivers, lakes and streams.

Washington did not provide any money to pay for meeting the requirements. Every large city in the United States must spend local money — millions of dollars — to avoid crippling fines.

If Tulsa is subject to this same mandate, it might be in their best interest to tell the people who pay the utility bills that some of that stormwater money is being spent on environmental compliance — if in fact it is.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:10 AM)
28 November 2007
Where the dollars are

It wasn't that long ago when you couldn't even have branch banks in Oklahoma, the sort of policy which discouraged out-of-state banks from competing — which, I have to assume, was the whole idea. Now that this rule and some others have been scrapped, you might wonder if the Big Boys from the Coast have taken over.

Don Mecoy reports in the Oklahoman that no, they haven't:

Oklahoma and its largest metropolitan areas are highly competitive banking markets, Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. statistics show. Oklahoma had the fifth-lowest concentration in its banking market in 2004, the FDIC said.

The state's largest bank, Bank of Oklahoma, controls just more than 11 percent of deposits, and the five biggest institutions manage about one-third of all deposits. By contrast, the five largest banks in Texas hold more than half of all deposits. In Arizona, the three largest banks control nearly two-thirds of state deposits.

Things I noticed:

  • We still prefer our homegrown banks. The top three — BOk, MidFirst and BancFirst — are all based in Oklahoma. And the out-of-state bank with the greatest market penetration is Arvest, right next door in Arkansas.

  • None of the aforementioned Big Boys from the Coast has scored 5 percent of the market; Bank of America comes closest, at 4.59 percent.

  • If you were wondering if everything's going to BOk, well, they've got a long way to go before they become the 800-lb gorilla of the state.

One of the Big Boys bought out my bank, and I haven't moved. Yet.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:57 AM)
30 November 2007
In remembrance

Helen Troy, former publisher of The Oklahoma Observer and beloved spouse of Forrest J. "Frosty" Troy, longtime Observer editor, has died at entirely too young an age. (Some of us hoped she'd go on forever.) The Troys sold the Observer to Arnold and Beverly Hamilton earlier this year, making it possible for Helen to retire; Arnold Hamilton, reports Mike McCarville, said today that Helen had been in "excellent health" and that her death was totally unexpected.

For you out-of-staters: the Observer, once a Catholic publication, was acquired by the Troys in 1970. Frosty had been covering the Capitol for the Tulsa Tribune, and briefly served as editor of the Oklahoma Journal. Duties at the Observer were divided: Helen was publishing, Frosty was editorial, and that's the way they ran it for all those year. The little semi-monthly never made that much money — Frosty's career as a public speaker took up the slack in the Troy family budget — but its influence was far greater than its circulation (around 7000) might suggest: just about everyone who's anyone in Oklahoma politics read it, whether they liked its politics (progressive but not free-spending) or not. (I'm up for renewal in April.)

For reference: this thread at Democrats of Oklahoma, where Helen's death was first reported.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:43 PM)
5 December 2007
Who is Jim Rogers?

We know one thing: he ponied up the filing fee to run in the 2008 Presidential primary as a Democrat.

Two years ago, he ran for Lieutenant Governor, and sent this biography to KFOR-TV. Background stuff:

I was born in Atoka County, OK and graduated from Atoka High School. I earned a Bachelors of Arts Degree at Oklahoma Baptist University and I earned Master of Science Degree at Wyoming University. I have an Educational Specialist Degree from Wyoming University and was an Honors Graduate there.

I have had further graduate studies at OSU, UT, KSU and NOSU.

I operated a small cattle heard in Atoka County when in high school and college. I was a teaching assistant part time at OSU. I taught at Connors College, Eastern Oklahoma State College, Western Wyoming College, Seminole State College and part time at Oklahoma Baptist University.

I ran for U.S. Senate for Oklahoma in 2002 and 2004. I think I came in third place for the democrats, but you might check with the election board records.

I am unmarried and currently living in Midwest City. It is a great city to live in, by the way, as is all the metro plex, Tulsa, and all of Oklahoma City and rural areas.

I did, of course, check with the election board records, and he did place third in both those primaries. His better showing was in 2002, when he got almost ten percent of the vote. In the '06 race for Lite Guv, he ran fourth with about 13 percent.

No campaign Web site yet.

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:26 PM)
6 December 2007
A rhyme that is quite unsingable

Right about now, they're bringing down Tulsa's Camelot Hotel.

The Camelot's Arthurian pretensions included a drawbridge over the moat and a pool shaped like a spearhead. Heady stuff for the 1960s; dead weight in the 1980s, and deteriorated "beyond repair" in subsequent years. It will be replaced with, among other things, a QuikTrip, should Guinevere need a pack of smokes late at night.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:37 AM)
7 December 2007
Avoiding the T word

The committee charged with drumming up support for the Oklahoma City bond issue, which will be voted on next Tuesday (mark your calendars), has already sent me two flyers; what's more, I got a phone call suggesting that since the weather is expected to be ghastly next week I might consider filling out a ballot early under the absentee procedures. Each of these reminders, you may be sure, mentioned that there is no tax increase involved, which is more or less true: the existing millage will be continued for eight years or so, but it won't go up.

On the other hand, when there is a tax increase involved, you might not hear about the election at all:

Northeast Tech Center (you may know this better as NE Vo-Tech) has a 400% tax increase on the ballot in Rogers County, but they donít want anyone to know about it.

Thanks to the watchful eyes of the Oologah Lake Leader, we do know about it.

From the Leader's story:

The NTC board voted on Oct. 1 to call the election but issued no public notice until Nov. 28, school spokesman Gary Fox confirmed Tuesday.

The only announcement made last week was a legal notice in the Pryor Daily Times — the smaller of the two legal newspaper in Mayes county. Neither it nor its larger weekly competitor, The Paper, makes any claim to be a regional newspaper (such as the Tulsa World or The Oklahoman).

By law, NTC is required to publish a notice in a newspaper "of general circulation in Northeast Technology Center School District No. 11."

And why did they keep this quiet?

Monday — just eight days before the election and after the deadline for some newspapers in the district — the school issued a press release to some news organizations.

That statement did not disclose the amount of money the tax increase would generate, $4.4 million, or that the largest payment — $1.8 million — would come from Rogers County. The figures were provided to the Leader Tuesday following a written request.

The statement also did not disclose that the increase represented a 400 percent increase in the building levy, from 1 mill to 5 mills. That means that the tax from this one levy on a $200,000 house would jump from about $20 to $100 a year.

I am normally a serious supporter of vocational education, but I have to hope that this measure — the election is Tuesday — goes down in flames, and that it takes some of the NTC higher-ups with it.

(Via BatesLine.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:46 AM)
10 December 2007
Worst. Outage. Ever.

OG&E says so:

Throughout the day Monday the number of customers left without power by the ice storm continued to rise to the point where it is now the worst disaster in the company's history in terms of the number of customers affected — more than 235,000.

The company has about 755,000 customers at retail, which means that 31 percent of their customers are freezing in the dark.

Their current estimate for full restoration is "between 7 and 10 days," which, considering the sheer massiveness of the storm, is possibly a shade optimistic, even with a thousand people working in the field. I've pretty much decided that if mine goes out, I'm going to think seriously about leaving town for a week. I'm not expecting it to, though: next door has about half a foot of tree-induced deflection in their line, and they've still got the lights on.

Update, 6:55 pm: Public Service Company of Oklahoma, says the Oklahoman, has about 200,000 customers with no power, mostly around Tulsa. PSO has 514,000 customers in the state.

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:23 PM)
12 December 2007
Speaking of elections

While Oklahoma City voters were approving a massive bond issue, that questionable tax vote for Northeast Tech Center, says Tyson Wynn, was put into the deep freeze:

I have it on good authority from John Wylie at the Oologah Lake Leader (which is also without power) that Mayes County Election Board was notified by NE Tech Center Board today that they have canceled the sneaky tax election scheduled for ... Dec. 11. No new date has been set. Recent ice storms have left many counties with no or few polling places with power. Terri Thomas, Mayes County Election Board, said there were no polling places operational in Oologah, Owasso, or Inola and few in Claremore. Additionally, some precinct voters remain unable to leave their homes due to downed branches and/or power lines. Further, several election boards — including the State Election Board — had advised NE Tech Centers that the vote, if it had passed, would likely face legal challenges and be invalidated due to the lack of proper public notice.

And that would seem to be the end of that, for now. Meanwhile, the Edmond and Norman school districts saw their bond issues approved, and there will be a runoff in Oklahoma City's Ward 7, where Skip Kelly got 49.9 percent of the vote. (It takes 50 to win outright.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:39 AM)
Should we bury power lines?

Oklahoma Corporation Commissioner Jeff Cloud says they will study the possibility of requiring underground electrical lines in the state:

We have had two storms of the century already this calendar year. Everybody is busy by doing what they need to do, and they are doing a great job in extremely difficult conditions.

But we cannot be the only state with above-ground lines that faces ice storms, so we are going to get together and start comparing notes about how other states do this.

I'm not sure what I think about this yet. Burying the lines will almost certainly reduce the incidence of outages, albeit at a steep price — and when there are outages, they might be harder to fix.

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:31 PM)
Tweaking the over/under

Ryan Welton caught this at a press conference:

At a news conference on Tuesday, OG&E spokesman Brian Alford said it would cost $1M a mile to bury power lines underground. Well, considering the bevy of line-damaging possibilities in the Sooner State, I say it's money well spent. A solid infrastructure is what attracts business and draws talented people.

Alford said it just didn't add up when the electric company does its cost-benefit analyses. I think he'd be surprised what Oklahomans would pay for in the name of real progress, although I think it would have to come with punitive damages against utilities for outages.

Right now I suspect the utilities are trying to figure out a way to recover the costs of restoration.

In the meantime, the Big Question remains unanswered. I was picking up a Gazette when a woman eastbound on 36th hailed me and asked "Do you have power?" And I drew a Google search today for "when the hell is oge going to get the power on".

The guy next door had brought out the chainsaw and was hacking up the residue of his elm tree, which, on sober second thought, looks like it might survive after all. I helped him haul some stuff up over the curb; he came over and sliced up the two major limbs that had fallen off my elm, and we reasoned, with a bow to Arlo Guthrie, that one big pile was better than two little piles. We had to knock off for lack of light, but we got quite a bit done — he more than I, you may be sure — and now the only major debris in the street is down on the corner at the apartment complex.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:14 PM)
13 December 2007
A heckuva record

I'm starting to think they should relocate FEMA permanently in Oklahoma, and this reinforces my belief:

This week's winter storm has allowed Oklahoma to set an apparent, if dubious, national record — that for presidential disaster declarations for one state in a calendar year.

That's right, folks: eight of 'em, with two and a half weeks left to go in 2007. Duh-worthy observation:

"Most states don't usually have to endure that many disasters," FEMA spokesman Earl Armstrong said.

Like I always say, the most perverse weather this side of Baffin Bay.

Yeah, we gripe about it. And then we clean up the mess and go back to work.

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:53 PM)
16 December 2007
As actual sunlight returns

As the lights slowly come back on, Michael Bates proposes a study:

For all the talk about trees, I am wondering how much of the ice storm damage is simply due to the effect of a ½ inch or more of ice on above-ground power lines. The main transmission lines are too high to be affected by trees; did we lose any of them? If no amount of tree trimming will spare us from this kind of situation, we need to weigh the cost of burying the lines against the costs — loss of productivity, loss of perishable food, deaths and injuries. I would love to see an analysis showing how many customers were without power due to various causes — downed line from ice, downed line from tree, blown transformer.

Do the utilities even keep track of these things, or do they just record each incident as a generalized outage? The Corp Comm's Jeff Cloud has already made noises about a feasibility study for burying the lines: the first step, I think, should be collection of this data, and expansion of its scope if necessary.

In the meantime, I tend to agree with Lynne, who commented on a previous post here:

I think all new construction should have lines installed underground, and a plan made to eventually hide existing lines. Time consuming and expensive, but worth it I think.

Clearly there will not be enough funding available to rewire the whole state at once, and if there were, you couldn't possibly get it done before the next ice storm. This is going to be a long, drawn-out process, and inevitably Neighborhood B is going to want to know how come Neighborhood A is getting it first. I see a whole lot of political infighting on the horizon.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:10 AM)
21 December 2007
OG&E says they're done

They projected "7 to 10 days," and it took 10:

"We will not stop until every last customer's lights are on," said OG&E spokesman Brian Alford. "It was 10 days ago when we said we expected a seven- to 10-day restoration. This storm affected 300,000 customers, the largest outage in OG&E's 105-year history. We congratulate everyone who has worked so hard to restore the OG&E electric system. They did it safely, with zero accidents. We also thank our customers for their patience and understanding."

SystemWatch is reporting just under 3000 outages, presumably those individuals whose electrical hardware was damaged by the storm and who must repair it before service can be reconnected. Most of them are on Oklahoma City's south side; the city has set up a hotline to report damaged meter bases which will be open through today and which will arrange for repairs largely on FEMA's tab. (The $500 repair will be paid for, $350 by FEMA, the rest split between the city and the state; OG&E will furnish hardware.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:44 AM)
22 December 2007
Darkness looms

Chickasha's Festival of Lights draws lots of visitors — 300,000 a year — but there's a chance that this year could be the last:

"[The festival] is in a very delicate state right now and could easily be lost next year due to the adversity we have faced this year," said spokesperson Kristi Davis: "The embezzlement, the losses and added expenses due to the flood, and now the loss of approximately 500,000 to 1 million lights."

The defalcation was engineered by former Festival treasurer Angie Jeffries, who apparently had diverted about $18,000; she entered a guilty plea in September.

Most of Oklahoma got too much rain this year, and Chickasha was no exception: extensive flooding damaged equipment used for the Festival, and a lot of what was left was finished off by the recent ice storm.

Kristi Davis says that they'll try to raise money from the community, and that they'd prefer to do that than to take on corporate sponsors:

"If we aren't able to get ample funding through that method, we'll go to a corporate sponsor," Davis said, "although we want to keep it Chickasha's Festival of Light rather than 'Big Corporation's' Festival of Light in Chickasha."

Meanwhile in Fayetteville, Arkansas, the Lights of the Ozarks could be in jeopardy. Says the Northwest Arkansas Times:

Fayetteville's budget crunch has once again raised the question of whether the Lights of the Ozarks will continue.

This is not the first time that city officials have talked of ending the program, but it is the first time the proposed budget hasn't included funding for the program, which started in the early 1990s. The $29,000 line item has been eliminated from the city's Capital Improvement Program for 2008 as a means of balancing the budget.

I admit to not attending either of these displays this year. Perhaps I should have — especially if it won't be an option in the future.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:31 AM)
31 December 2007
The decimating game

Not to minimize the damage from this month's ice storm, which was considerable, and yes, various parts of the state were declared disaster areas — but that's a legal term. The fact is, in terms of actual devastation, this was pretty big, but not so much as a patch on, say, New Orleans 2005.

This statement is nicely quantified by a peevish Tulsa World reader identified as "Not a survivor," with proofreading by Michael Bates, as follows:

Your city is not suffering a disaster if:
  1. The strip clubs are all open for regular business hours.

  2. You can go to Wal-Mart and buy the supplies you need instead of having to break into Wal-Mart and steal the supplies you need.

  3. You don't have to swim to work.

  4. The biggest portion of your insurance claim is that refrigerated goods spoilage check they sent you.

  5. You spent the week crapping in your own bathroom and not in a porta-potty provided by the Red Cross.

  6. You slept in your own bed and not in a cot at a shelter.

  7. Your job is still here.

  8. You could eat out at a restaurant every single day of the so called disaster.

  9. You still had a car to get around in.

  10. You could find an ATM machine that would process your request for funds.

  11. You could still make and receive calls on your cell phones.

If you couldn't do any of the above then congratulations you are a victim. For the rest of you well, you are just a bunch of whiners who need to get a little reality check.

Can I wait until I get my insurance check?

Actually, this sort of thing is to be expected in a culture which equates victims and saints, and since most of us have little if any claim to sainthood, we go for the next-best thing. Some people even feign victimhood in the hopes of personal gain, the surest sign that things have gotten totally out of hand.

Into each life a little rain must fall, and sometimes it's freezing rain. There's plenty of time to curse the darkness once you get the candles lit.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:13 AM)
3 January 2008
The mark of the E

The Oklahoman ran a partial list of Oklahoma-related earmarks in that huge federal-spending bill, and as pork goes, we seem to have gotten mostly rinds. This is the one, though, that really gets me:

$500,000 for the I-40 Crosstown Expressway project.

Half a million bucks for a project that's going to cost over a billion? What is this, National See If Tom Coburn Is Sleeping Day? Five hundred Gs wouldn't build one good onramp — not that we have any real experience in this state when it comes to building good onramps.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:41 AM)
5 January 2008
Cultural icons and all

Oklahoma is planning to redesign the standard state license plate again, and the Oklahoman is running a poll featuring six of the preliminary designs. Of the versions shown in the poll, I lean toward #1, which has an asymmetrical design — something we've never had before — and a decent rendering of Allan Houser's "Sacred Rain Arrow" sculpture.

Still, given the current emphasis on our collective chunkiness as a people, I'm thinking that a more accurate plate might look something like this:

Proposed new Oklahoma plate

After all, Will Rogers never met a cherry limeade he didn't like.

Addendum: There's a discussion at the TulsaNow forum.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:13 PM)
15 January 2008
Should we open the primary?

This morning, an Oklahoman editorial, noting the relative lack of candidate interest in the state's Presidential primary, hints that maybe we should:

Interest in the primary among Oklahomans isn't lacking. The Tulsa World reports a surge of voter registrations in the last two months of 2007, plus a wave of re-registration requests from independents who wish to participate in the Republican or Democratic presidential primary before, presumably, switching back to independent.

Unlike New Hampshire, whose primary allows independent participation, only those registered in a party can vote in a primary here. This is how it should be in most cases; perhaps the presidential primary should be an exception.

I haven't made up my mind about this yet. On the one hand, I hate to see the Independents and others frozen out of the process. Still, it's supposed to be an instrument for the use of the actual parties.

Any ideas?

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:40 AM)
16 January 2008
I fought the straw, and the straw won

J. M. Branum is conducting what he calls the Oklahoma Blog Authors Presidential Primary Straw Poll, and it's simple: you email him your top three choices in the party of your registration — he's not going to check your registration, so this is a lot more open than the real Presidential primary — and he'll total up the numbers, counting 3 points for your first choice, 2 for your second and 1 for your third.

I sent in my list last night. (If anyone is wondering, I am registered as a Democrat, and I selected accordingly.) Votes will be taken through the end of the month, and cumulative totals will be posted from time to time.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:55 AM)
18 January 2008
Calling all Gwartneys

First, the picture:

Gwartney Grocery postcard

A reader in Indiana happened upon this postcard (you can see a bigger version here), noting that the store advertised on the side of this cart, Gwartney's Cash Grocery, was at "Catalpa and College St. in Capitol Hill." Inasmuch as I once churned out an excessively-inadequate history of the Capitol Hill area of Oklahoma City, she wrote me and asked if I could nail down any of the particulars.

Working with the formidable Doug Loudenback, we were able to narrow it down to a few blocks. (What was once Catalpa Street is now SW/SE 20th.) The store is gone by now, but Gwartneys remain: Kurt Gwartney, for instance, is the operations manager at KGOU radio in Norman, and Bob and Janet Gwartney raise goats in Hammon. I figure if I drop enough Gwartney names here, sooner or later I'll hear from a family member who can fill in some more of the story.

Hey, it worked for the Steansons.

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:21 PM)
30 January 2008
To the back of the room with you

With Lance Cargill departing his post as Speaker of the Oklahoma House, lots of words flew up and around, but this comment by Rep. Gary Banz (R-Midwest City) seemed especially pertinent:

"For the most part, stuff that's been in the media with regard to Ethics Commission stuff and political kinds of things, most people kind of take that with a grain of salt. When it was taxes, it immediately connects with the people at an emotional level where they live."

Especially, you know, since we have to pay taxes on where we live.

Oh, well. It's not like we've never found feet of clay underneath a Golden Boy before. And as Michael Bates notes:

While many in the House Republican caucus have long had the desire to oust Cargill, it took a tax violation, just as it did with Al Capone, to force him out.

And now he's just one of a hundred and one, biding his time until term limits kick in — unless the voters decide to kick him out.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:26 PM)
31 January 2008
We're just holding it for safekeeping

Rep. Ken Luttrell (D-Ponca City) has come up with a measure to require mortgage holders to pay interest on escrow accounts.

Mike McCarville's précis:

House Bill 2594, by Luttrell, would require lenders to pay a portion of the interest earnings to the consumer whose money is funding the account. Under the bill, each lender holding funds in an escrow account would be required to pay the borrower dividends or interest at least once per quarter, calculated at a rate equal to at least 50 percent of the one-year Treasury Note rate or "rate of a comparable instrument." The lender could not deduct any charge for service from the interest or dividend payment. At least once a year, lenders would be required to provide mortgagors a financial statement showing the interest credited on the escrow account.

Immediate thought: How would they calculate the interest? Average daily balance? I know that my escrow account is fairly meager this time of year, grows substantially through the spring and summer, and is depleted in the autumn as the insurance and tax bills fall due.

So I went to look at the bill itself [link goes to RTF file] and found that yeah, that's pretty much what they have in mind:

The interest shall be computed on the daily balances in the account from the date of receipt to the date of disbursement and shall be credited to the account as of the last business day of each quarter of a calendar or fiscal year. If the account is closed or discontinued before the last business day of a quarter of a calendar or fiscal year, interest shall be computed and credited as of the day the account is closed or discontinued.

I won't make a ton of money off this deal should it pass — seldom does my escrow account exceed $2000 — but I like the idea. Now I'm waiting for someone to complain that this will make mortgages harder to obtain, and that (you knew this was coming) women and minorities will be hardest hit.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:09 PM)
3 February 2008
Don't buck the Huck

Michael Bates runs the numbers on Oklahoma Republicans, and concludes that if their first choice is not John McCain, regardless of their actual preference they should vote for Mike Huckabee:

If you're an Oklahoma Republican and want Mike Huckabee to have a chance at the nomination, vote for Huckabee. You won't be accidentally helping McCain.

If you're an Oklahoma Republican and want Mitt Romney to have a chance at the nomination, vote for Huckabee, even if you don't particularly like Huckabee. Huckabee has the best shot at denying McCain the delegates and the win here in Oklahoma and thus at slowing McCain's national momentum, which would give Romney the opportunity to fight on.

If you're an Oklahoma Republican and you don't like anyone left in the race — this is my category — vote for Huckabee. Denying McCain a win here helps to stop his momentum and leaves the door open for a new candidate to be chosen at the convention.

It appears that this might work in other states where Huckabee is running second to McCain, as the polls say he is in Oklahoma. And Bates offers a generalized version:

It comes down to this: If you don't want McCain to be the nominee, you need to vote for the non-McCain candidate who has the best poll numbers in your state.

Emphasis in the original. I am not a Republican, but should McCain prevail, I'll have no trouble voting against him in November.

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:44 PM)
4 February 2008
Homegrown talent

With the departure of John Q. Porter, Oklahoma City Public Schools have now gone through four superintendents in eight years, and the Oklahoman suggests looking closer to home for number five:

It isn't unusual for urban districts to seek superintendents with experience leading urban schools — with good reason, because urban districts have some unusual challenges. But Oklahoma City's recent superintendent history shows the pitfalls of going beyond state borders to find a schools chief.

For starters, transplants often aren't familiar with the state's education laws and procedures, particularly as they relate to spending.

And spending, and reimbursement for same, was a major factor in Porter's undoing.

Still, how do you find someone with big-city experience in a state with few big cities? Says the Oklahoman, look to the suburbs:

Many of the suburban districts face some of the same demographic and socioeconomic challenges as Oklahoma City.

Then again, if they're right next door, they might have a perfectly plausible reason for not wanting to take the Oklahoma City job. Stories do get around. Not that I know any of them.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:59 AM)
5 February 2008
Halfway home

Serious turnout, I dare say. With 55 percent of state precincts reporting, there are 220,000 votes counted on the Democratic side and over 150,000 on the Republican, which means that we've already beaten the 2004 primary total with lots of room to spare. (State record for a primary was 631,146, in 1996; we're on track to beat that handily.) Never underestimate the advantages of not having an incumbent.

Update, 9:30 pm: This was called for Clinton almost right after the polls closed; McCain has maintained about a four-percentage-point lead over Huckabee most of the evening, with Romney well back.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:53 PM)
8 February 2008
The pleasant harp with the psaltery

Then again, maybe not:

A local Church of Christ's decision to add musical instruments to its worship service has struck a wrong note with other church members.

"I do not believe that God is anti-instruments. The arguments that attempt to prove that He is are not persuasive to me," minister Mark Henderson said Wednesday.

Other ministers and members of Churches of Christ have denounced the recent addition of instrumental music to the worship service at Henderson's Quail Springs Church of Christ.

"There is no New Testament precedent for using instruments," Glover Shipp, author and retired Oklahoma Christian University professor, said Wednesday.

And so there isn't. There is also no New Testament precedent for air conditioning, but not a lot of churches pass it up.

Still, this is a conservative denomination, and were I a member, I might look askance at any break in tradition, however seemingly minor. However, I don't think I'd buy a page in the local newspaper to advertise my displeasure, and I definitely wouldn't be claiming something special about my own particular pulpit:

[T]he Churches of Christ, as a whole, do not recognize modern day apostolic authority because we find no authorization for such authority outside of the local congregation. Each congregation is autonomous. No congregation has authority over another. That includes authority to "mark" others with whom we disagree.

Does this portend an Anglicanesque schism? I don't think so. But it does remind me of how much authority I have in spiritual matters, which is none.

Disclosure: I was once married to a Freed-Hardeman girl, so I'm more familiar with this than you might think.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:02 AM)
11 February 2008
Hey, you missed one

Oklahoma apparently is not going to tax your stimulus-package receipts:

The rebates aren't being treated as income at the federal level, which means they will not be considered income at the state level either, Paula Ross, spokeswoman for the Tax Commission, said.

So there.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:35 PM)
13 February 2008
Tax holidays in the sun

That business about your Federal tax rebate being not taxable by the state? You might want to adjust your perspective a tad. Stan Geiger explains:

[T]here is this thing called a sales tax. So if Oklahomans do that which they are asked to do with their checks (spend them), the state damn sure will tax the rebates. The state will tax them at a rate of 4.5 percent.

If a person spends his or her rebate money in Tulsa, the state will tax it, the county will tax it, and the city will tax it. In such a scenario, a federal rebate would be taxed at a rate of 8.517 percent. And that rate far exceeds even the top marginal state income tax rate.

Now I feel better about using mine for debt reduction.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:40 PM)
14 February 2008
Bubble, bubble: what's the trouble?

Remember all those foreclosure stories on the news? They're always somewhere else, it seems. RealtyTrac, which monitors foreclosures nationwide, reports that the national foreclosure rate for 2007 was up 80 percent from 2006. Meanwhile:

Oklahoma City's foreclosure rate dropped 15.4 percent in 2007 even with increased filings statewide late in the year, RealtyTrac reported this week.

Tulsa's rate — the percentage of households in foreclosure — fell 3.6 percent last year compared with 2006.

Obviously we're doing something right around here. Mortgage banker Lyne Tracy explains:

She said subprime loans were made here, but not enough for problems with them to set back housing as a whole, as seems to have happened in some places.

Questionable and risky borrowing and lending didn't dominate in Oklahoma, Tracy said, because of lessons learned the hard way in the 1980s, when dicey lending and weak underwriting led to twin crashes, in energy and real estate.

Ah, the Beep Jennings era. Apparently we are capable of learning from our mistakes.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:48 PM)
17 February 2008
Forest fires are not an option

The Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Commission is contemplating allowing limited hunting of black bear in southeast Oklahoma; a bill has been introduced into the House to permit the Department of Wildlife Conservation to sell licenses.

This is not going to happen right away, apparently: quite apart from the time it takes to get the legislation passed, there's an ongoing study of the bear population, which is estimated to be somewhere between 200 and 300.

Research shows the bears are growing in population by about 11 to 12 percent each year, said [Department assistant director Richard Hatcher]. "If we harvest 10 percent per year, it would curtail the growth, but it would not cause a decline," he said.

If the population turns out to be around 200, only twenty bears could be taken by hunters, who would have to check in daily to keep the count updated.

The measure has already passed the House Environment and Wildlife subcommittee. The Humane Society of the United States, pleased by the suspension of bear hunting in New Jersey, did apparently send a representative to testify against the Oklahoma bill. Richard Hatcher says that bear-baiting and similarly-nasty methods would not be allowed during an Oklahoma bear hunt.

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:16 PM)
21 February 2008
Defining scum

At the start of the 2007 legislative session, Rep. Rebecca Hamilton (D-OKC) introduced a measure to increase the penalties for battering pregnant women; to give you an idea of what she thought of the batterers, she dubbed it the "Scum of the Earth bill." It got through committee with a Do Pass recommendation, but no farther; she refiled it for the 2008 session.

Hamilton explained the measure last year:

"I am proud Oklahoma law allows us to prosecute the scum who kill pregnant women or their unborn children," Hamilton said. "But I am very frustrated that we haven't taken the next step. We need to target these men early enough to save the lives of pregnant women and their babies."

I have no particular problem with this bill, which passed the House on a 95-0 vote today, but I must point out that there's plenty of scum out there, not all of it connected to incidents of domestic violence — which means that next time we have an anti-scum bill, we'll have to be more specific than just "scum of the earth."

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:10 PM)
24 February 2008
Democrats erase red ink

The AP is reporting that the state Democratic Party, mired in debt in recent years, is now back in the black:

"We are now debt-free," state Democratic Party chairman Ivan Holmes said at the party's annual convention in Oklahoma City.

Holmes said the party climbed out of debt by adding about 90 new members to its "Rooster Club," signifying a donation of $1,000 apiece. That club had 17 or 18 members last year, but now has 109, Holmes said.

Three years ago, the party was nearly half a million dollars in the hole; in addition to finding new donors, they've cut expenses markedly, and to help matters, Holmes is drawing no salary.

Perhaps surprisingly, no mention of this has been made yet on the party's Web site or blog.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:31 PM)
25 February 2008
So that's how it works

Mike McCarville is following this Tulsa World story:

Legislation to close a loophole in state law that allows some elected officials to retire with pensions bigger than the salaries they earned on the job has survived two committee hearings. But it is still questionable that a bill to abolish the loophole will become law this session, since numerous attempts in previous years have failed.

Republican lawmakers are trying to get the enhanced pension benefits abolished.

This is the, you should pardon the expression, money quote:

Lobbyist Dave Herbert, former state senator who represents county officers at the State Capitol, said it is only right that they get the enhanced benefits. "You suffered through a crappy old government job so you could have a decent pension when you retired," he said.

Ah, now we see the motivation inherent in the system.

Disclosure: I think I used to be in Herbert's Senate district, back in the days of the CrappiFlat™.

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:54 PM)
29 February 2008
Oh, hi, Brad

That was Brad Henry on the phone just now, telling me how important to the state it was for the city to land this NBA team.

Well, actually, he didn't tell me, precisely: his prerecorded voice played into my answering machine. To the Governor's credit, he kept his message to a brisk 28 seconds, insuring he'd get through the whole spiel before the machine rang off. To his discredit, whoever sent this for him did so through a number not identifiable by Caller ID, which I consider a breach of protocol.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:31 PM)
2 March 2008
We got smarts

I admit to having had a qualm or two about the teensy smart fortwo, inasmuch as the sort of high-density traffic mazes in which they'd seem to flourish hardly exist out here on the Plains.

Now that they've arrived here, a happy owner reports:

We just took delivery today. And we are very impressed. I live in Oklahoma City and the Smart dealer is located in Tulsa, which is about 100 miles. The drive back home was perfect. The car had no problem with keeping up with traffic, which on the turnpike speeds average 75-80mph. 80mph was not an issue to keep up. When we originally test drove the car during the tour, the cars seemed a little bouncy and jerky. Our cabrio is very solid and smooth. Top up on the highway, there is very little wind noise. Top down is stupendous. And the premium sound system ROCKS!!! All in all we couldn't be happier with our purchase. And for the days driving, after taking it on a tour to friends to show off, we averaged 44 mpg. WOOHOO! One other thing to point out, the attention the car gets is insane. I felt like I was in a parade on the highway. I have never had so many people waving and smiling and pointing. Some even snapped pictures.

The automated-manual transmission, however, is not your standard slushbox by any means:

This is not a typical automatic that we are used to in the US. If you drive it like one, the shifting is sluggish. However! If, when it comes time for it to shift, let off the gas just a little and it's quite smooth. In other words, you drive it like a typical standard transmission, you just don't have a clutch to push in. My dealer instructed on this at delivery and it took a little getting used to. But after a full day of driving you don't even think about it.

Still, every car has its quirks, and this particular quirk doesn't seem severe. Traffic on the Turner does move routinely at around 80 mph — posted speed limit is 75 — and I figure if the sheer volume of eighteen-wheelers didn't prove intimidating, smart should have no trouble selling a bunch of these little darbs here in the Sooner State.

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:57 PM)
3 March 2008
Welcome to March

And when there is March, there must be Madness, right?

Here's the pitch:

Ogle Madness is our very own gimmicky spin-off of the NCAA March Madness tournament bracket. Basically, we took 65 of Oklahoma's best and brightest "celebrities," and seeded and placed them into four regions. Starting Monday, we will post match-ups and let our readers vote on which celeb they want to advance to the next round. The celeb with the most votes advances, while the loser is sent home. The tournament will continue until the championship game on April 21st, where Oklahoma's top celebrity will be crowned.

And so it goes, exactly the way you'd think it would. Which leaves one question unanswered: why did they put "celebrities" in scare quotes?

The answer lies deep within the bracket diagram itself. [Link goes to PDF file.] There's no particular argument with TV eye candy and fantasy figure Amy McRee as the first seed in the Midwest, and she should easily dispose of #16, whoever it is who picks out Bob Mills' sweaters; but for some reason #5, yet another example of TV eye candy — this one a guy — has been put up against an #11 seed who not only lacks instant recognition, but who isn't even slightly presentable. I have reference to, um, me.

The other #11 seeds look like this:

East: Tall Paul
Paul's specialty: protecting all the things you own, like cars and trucks and mobile homes. And you probably know his phone number, too. (I'm in the book, but big whoop.)

West: Grant Johnston
Another semi-cute TV type, this one in front of the Doppler. (I don't think I've ever actually Doppled.)

South: Aubrey McClendon
Just about everyone in Seattle reviles him, which I suppose means he can't be all bad. (He makes more money than Tall Paul and I put together, too.)

Things which bother me:

  • I can't possibly win in the first round, because the sort of people who would vote in this thing will see the possibility of a Tyler-on-Tyler matchup in the second round.

  • Surely more than 65 people in this state are more famous than I.

  • Chuck Norris (born in Ryan, Oklahoma) doesn't enter brackets. He bends brackets.

Things which don't bother me:

  • The definition of "celebrity," once stretched enough to include the likes of me, is now so debased as to be essentially meaningless, giving me hope that eventually we will have role models based on something other than mere visibility.

  • At least I'm seeded higher than Hinder.

The voting for the 64th slot begins Wednesday.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:52 PM)
4 March 2008
Promising title of the day

"House Rules Committee Advances Dank Reform Bill."

You gotta admit, it takes a pretty strong committee to craft a reform bill that's really, truly dank.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:56 AM)
5 March 2008
Look them up in the Atlas

The Atlas Life building at 415 S. Boston in Tulsa, now an office building with 35 percent occupancy, will be transformed into a 120-room Courtyard by Marriott hotel.

Maurice Kanbar sold the 1922 building to Missouri-based SJS Hospitality for $1.7 million. The location is spiffy: between the Mid-Continent Tower and the Philtower. The conversion will cost about $15 million and should take about two years.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:27 AM)
6 March 2008
How low will this cap fit?

As I've mentioned a few times already, we have a property-tax assessment cap in this state: the assessed value can go up by a maximum of 5 percent per year, regardless of actual market value, unless there is a change in ownership or a substantial change in the property itself.

Senator Jim Reynolds (R-OKC) has been pushing for a lower cap, and this is as close as he's gotten so far: the Senate, by a 25-22 vote, passed Reynolds' Senate Joint Resolution 59, which would create a ballot measure to set the cap at 3 percent.

Now I never met a tax cut I didn't like, even if it's not really a cut but a slowing of the rate of increase, but this perplexes me somewhat:

"This legislation came straight from my constituents who are begging for relief from increases in property taxes," said Reynolds. "This is an especially burdensome tax for many low-income and older people in my district and throughout Oklahoma."

Reynolds said the five percent cap on property value assessments was supposed to limit yearly increases, but it has not worked in the way property owners thought it would.

Weird. It's worked exactly the way I thought it would.

What I really want to know is this: what am I going to do with a whole two percent? On my somewhere-below-$100k house, this is about a buck ninety a month. I'm spending that much on a frickin' basketball team.

Not that I'd turn it down, but I'm wondering if maybe it might be more pertinent to Reynolds' stated position to legislate some exemptions for those who are feeling the pinch more than I am.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:54 AM)
Paging David Gates

"And Aubrey was her name,
A not so very ordinary girl or name.
But who's to blame?"

Um, what? Not a girl, you say?

Oh. Never mind.

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:28 PM)
10 March 2008
General Kern fusion

Inasmuch as a quarter of my traffic these days is Sally Kern-related, here's a compilation of links to everything I've written about her.

Could she be a Greg Kihn fan? (19 June 2004)

On the King and King dustup (2 July 2005)

Restricting children's library access (16 March 2006)

About that "biggest threat" business (8 March 2008)

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:44 AM)
An arrow through the head

Rep. Steve Martin (R-Bartlesville) evidently fancies himself a modern-day Robin Hood: he's introduced a measure to siphon off a portion of sales-tax collections from larger cities and redistribute it to the smaller ones.

How Martin's proposal is supposed to work:

The Oklahoma Tax Commission each month would take 1 percent of each city's sales tax collections and put it in a fund. The commission then would give each city or town an amount of money based on its population in comparison to the total population of all cities and towns that had a sales tax levy of at least 1 percent.

County levies don't count. Tulsa would have to fork over about $16 million over the next year; Oklahoma City, around $13 million.

Surprisingly, this isn't the worst idea Martin's come up with:

Martin has spent the past couple of years looking at a method in which shoppers would give their home city's tax code. But that would require businesses to install equipment and to train employees, not to mention informing shoppers how the process would work.

Even if the complicated, costly proposal could be implemented, shoppers perhaps would have to present some identification so that the correct city would be credited with the sales tax on the purchase, Martin said.

What is needed, but so far not forthcoming, is some way to make Oklahoma municipalities less dependent upon sales tax for revenue. [Link goes to Word document.] We'll have to wait for some other wild and crazy guy to solve that one.

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:23 PM)
12 March 2008
What are we conserving, exactly?

I've mentioned before that the palatial Surlywood estate is part of one of Oklahoma City's Urban Conservation Districts, and that while the UCD designation preceded (by a whole month) my arrival, I supported its aims. And with some folks in Tulsa completely spooked by the idea, I figure this would be a good time to explain just what those aims are.

The following was scissored out of Oklahoma City Municipal Code, ß 59-13650, paragraph 1:

The Urban Conservation Districts (UC Districts) are intended to promote the health, safety, economic, cultural, and general welfare of the public by encouraging the conservation and enhancement of the urban environment. The purposes of the UC District are:
  1. To identify physical, social and economic resources within the urban environment worthy of conservation.
  2. To maintain neighborhood character and integrity by focusing special attention on the maintenance of the physical environment, the enhancement of physical, social and economic resources, and the accommodation of desirable change.
  3. To prevent economic obsolescence and promote reinvestment by fostering stable property values and a high level of economic activity, by maintaining essential urban services, and focusing financial assistance and other economic development programs.
  4. To promote the efficient use of urban lands, including the encouragement of compatible infill development on vacant and passed-over parcels.
  5. To encourage and support rehabilitation of the physical environment, and programs for the conservation and revitalization of urban areas.
  6. To foster the harmonious, orderly and efficient growth, development and redevelopment of Oklahoma City.

Scary, isn't it?

Where it gets frightful, I suppose, is that bit about "desirable change," which implies that some change is not desirable, and hints that changes that are not desirable are not to be accommodated. In practice, I don't see much of that happening around here; the only time I've had to consult the UCD ordinance at all was when I was looking for a new number plate for the house, and discovered that the maximum size permissible is four square feet. (The one I got is 4x19 inches, well within the limits and easily visible from the street.)

There are restrictions, yes: you can't park on the grass, you can't have a chain-link fence — I have a fairly ordinary six-foot stockade fence — and perhaps most important, if you plan to tear down a house, you can't replace it with a structure three times its size.

So basically, we're conserving a look and a feel; we're trying to maintain the character of a neighborhood that doesn't quite meet the standards for "historic." (All of Oklahoma City's historic districts date to well before World War II.) Just because we paid less doesn't mean we think less of it.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:55 AM)
13 March 2008
Bears breathe a little easier

One month after floating the idea of a black bear hunt, the author of the enabling legislation has had second thoughts:

[Rep. Joe] Dorman's bill would have created a new licensing procedure within the Department of Wildlife Conservation for hunting black bears. Conservation officials have said the bears' numbers have rebounded in southeastern Oklahoma and that they are becoming a nuisance in some areas. But Dorman said re-examination of the black-bear population indicates that there are too few in the state to sustain an annual hunt.

Fair enough. At least they looked at the numbers, as promised.

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:26 PM)
16 March 2008
Bring two pieces of ID

One of the functions of our State Treasurer is described by current officeholder Scott Meacham thusly:

Oklahoma businesses bring unclaimed cash, rebates, paychecks, royalties, stock[s] and bonds to my office and it's my job to return the money to the owners and heirs.

To this end, there's a Web search form; in addition, at regular intervals the Treasurer puts out a newspaper supplement listing the names of owners, which is now up to 128 pages.

I usually give this document a perfunctory glance at best: I check to see if there's anything for me, which there never is, and maybe flip a couple of pages to see if anything jumps out at me. Today's edition, for instance, had four items for the long-since-superseded Boatmen's Bank downtown. I'm not quite sure how these would be claimed. There's something for Michael Bates, though not this Michael Bates. However, I'd definitely like to be around if Jack Mehoff (reported to be at 708 NE 31st, Oklahoma City) shows up.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:42 AM)
19 March 2008
Did this man spam you?

I mean, how else would he have built up his business?

The owner and operator of an Internet pharmacy that was closed down by authorities was raking in more than $24,000 a day, according to a Delaware County, Okla., arrest affidavit.

Norman Edward Enyart Jr., 60, of Grove, Okla., was operating four Internet sites for his illegal pharmacy, known as the Grand Lake Pharmacy or the Grove Pharmacy, according to an arrest affidavit signed by Mike Eason, investigator for District Attorney Eddie Wyant.

And like the pharmacy, Enyart seems to have two names; he's Norman Edward, or he's J. R. (What, you thought people's initials had to reflect their actual names?)

Delaware County moved in on Leap Year Day:

[The] Delaware County Drug Task Force raided two residences belonging to J. R. and Randy Enyart and two storage units. Authorities seized 2,000 Soma pills, other pills, marijuana, prescriptions, prescription orders, computers, 25 to 30 guns, computers, $17,000 in cash and more than 50,000 untaxed cigarettes.

Eason said the estimated value of the items seized is around $300,000.

Were I as cynical as I like to think I am, I'd suspect that the real motivation here was to make sure nobody bought those 2500-odd packs of smokes, each of which would normally carry a tax of $1.03.

Meanwhile, Enyart is free on $46,250 bail. That's a lot of Soma.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:50 AM)
23 March 2008
Perhaps they could race MGs there

Jerry Kobyluk's newest venture:

A group of investors represented by Jerry Kobyluk, announced today that they plan to build a 100,000 seat Dome Stadium which will cost 1.2 Billion dollars, in one of three possible locations in the central Oklahoma vicinity.

The Dome Stadium will be the largest of it's kind in North America. It will have a natural grass retractable field on a Hitachi track system that can be removed in forty-five minutes or replaced in the same amount of time. "The retractable roof is three and a half acres in size," Kobyluk said.

The construction phase will create forty-five hundred jobs for Oklahomans, and take thirty-nine months until completion. The multipurpose facility offers an endless amount of opportunities for football, soccer, basketball, boxing, rodeos, concerts, etc. The facility will have 158 corporate suites and over 1 million feet of convention space.

"The benefits from this massive project will create tax revenues for schools, roads, and other infrastructure and will be an enormous economic boost for the entire State of Oklahoma," Kobyluk said.

First note: Stacy Swan, from whose Journal Record story I snagged this, didn't clean up any of the text in the original press release, and neither did I. If you feel [sic] from time to time, I understand.

Second note: Yeah, right.

Maybe it's just that Mr Kobyluk would like to be remembered for something other than, well, this:

Jacqueline Morrow Lewis Ledgerwood ... filed in July to become a Democratic candidate for the United States Senate, hoping to unseat Senator Don Nickles (R-Okla.), the three-term incumbent. To borrow a line from an earlier, more famous, candidate, if nominated she will not run, and if elected she will not serve. The reason for this is simple: she's dead.

Ms Ledgerwood, it seems, died soon after filing for the office, but not soon enough to meet the deadline for having her name removed from the ballot. So in the Democratic primary on the 25th of August, her name appeared alongside the names of three other wannabes. A chap named Don Carroll garnered about 46 percent of the votes, not enough for a majority, so the top two candidates will face each other in a runoff on the 15th of September — Mr Carroll and the late Ms Ledgerwood, who bagged about 21 percent. Jerry Kobyluk, who finished third, complained loudly and bitterly, but the secretary of the state Election Board would not be moved.

Nickles, incidentally, was re-elected, to what would turn out to be his last term in the Senate.

Apparently there's another press release coming:

From what I could ascertain, it's going to be somewhere between more sketchy information and the huge, official announcement that it's actually going to be built — and that it will feature unicorn rides for all the little elf children.

I have it on good authority that the Invisible Pink Unicorn wouldn't be seen in such a place.

(Via The Lost Ogle.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:58 AM)
Icing on the agenda

The Corporation Commission is taking a survey of folks who made it through the December 2007 ice storm, and basically, what they want to know is how much expense you incurred during power outages, and how much you'd be willing to kick in toward the seriously-expensive process of moving power lines underground.

Commissioner Jeff Cloud had said in December that the Corp Comm would be undertaking a study along these, um, lines, noting ruefully that we'd "had two storms of the century already this calendar year."

The survey asks only for your ZIP code, not your name or address.

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:01 PM)
24 March 2008
From the "How dare you" files

The owner of a Tulsa convenience store today pleaded no contest to three misdemeanor violations of the Oklahoma Emergency Price Stabilization Act during the December ice storm.

Mohammed Mannan, owner of the M&F Mart north of 31st on Memorial, was given a six-month deferred sentence, was fined $1500 plus court costs, and will have to pay refunds to customers who can prove their purchases.

Pertinent provision of the Act:

ß15-777.4.
A. No person for the duration of a declaration of emergency by the Governor of this state or by the President of the United States and for thirty (30) days thereafter shall sell, rent, or lease, or offer to sell, rent, or lease, for delivery in the emergency area, any goods, services, dwelling units, or storage space in the emergency area at a rate or price which is more than ten percent (10%) above the rate or price charged by the person for the same or similar goods, services, dwelling units, or storage spaces immediately prior to the declaration of emergency unless the increase in the rate or price is attributable only to factors unrelated to the emergency and does not include any increase in profit to the seller or owner.

Mr Mannan was charged with boosting his price for unleaded regular gasoline from $2.69 to $3.29, a 22-percent hike. Presumably there would have been no complaints had he simply closed up shop for the duration and sold no gas at all.

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:57 PM)
25 March 2008
How the game is played

Michael Bates is justifiably incensed at what he calls "Sonics madness," and wants to know what happened to all the fiscally-responsible Republicans in this state.

My guess is, they're queuing up for free tickets. The idea of state incentives was mentioned in the letter of intent Sonics ownership sent to Oklahoma City, though I really didn't expect them to be quite so blatant.

Still, this is the price of playing the game:

While libertarians rightly bemoan the notion of forcing taxpayers to subsidize wealthy team owners, they should understand that the market works both ways. If sports leagues have the leverage to demand public financing of stadia as a precondition for moving a franchise to a city, they would be foolish not to use it.

Luring a professional sports team is difficult and generally not economically smart. It is rather galling that the vast majority of a town's residents who will never attend a game are forced to pay for the privilege of added traffic congestion. Nonetheless, there are plenty of cities out there begging for a team. Public subsidies for arenas are the cost of playing.

I suppose this makes me a financial relativist; the best I can hope for, therefore, is to become a financial relativist with season tickets.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:14 AM)
30 March 2008
Bump, with or without grind

Every March, TRIP puts out a Survey of Horrible American Roads, and every March, our two biggest cities rank high in horribleness. Appendix A to the current Urban Roads Report [link goes to PDF file] rates 41 percent of Oklahoma City roads as Poor, 28 percent as Mediocre, 11 percent as Fair and 20 percent as Good. (Anyone know any Good roads around the metro?) Comparable figures for Tulsa: 40 / 37 / 7 / 16.

Also every March, someone from the state legislature brings up this survey and vows to Do Something About It, whether his proposed solution will actually solve anything or not. This year it's Rep. Mike Thompson (R-OKC), whose House Bill 3342 would require that auto tag fees be dedicated to road maintenance. "As many as 81 percent of Oklahomans support this proposal in some polls," says Thompson. Heck, I'd support it if I thought it would actually improve the roads. In practice, though, what it will do is provide a few more dollars for the same old contractor hacks who built these things to wear out as quickly as possible in the first place.

Meanwhile, the motor-fuel taxes are still applied with a certain perversity: the state gas tax is 17 cents a gallon, while diesel fuel is taxed at 14 cents, presumably a sop to the trucking industry. Never mind that one single eighteen-wheeler can inflict more pavement damage than a thousand cars. ("Yeah, but they only get 7 mpg so they buy more fuel," if taken to its logical conclusion, requires that the state discourage any and all fuel-economy efforts lest receipts decline, so don't even think of going there.) Tom Elmore once proposed a "weight-distance fee" for trucks in lieu of the diesel tax; it looks interesting, but I'd like to see some numbers.

The San Francisco Bay area is even worse off, roadwise, than we are. Can they turn this into a selling point? Let's see:

Why is this good news for the Bay Area that we [have] the worst roads in the nation?

Because it makes us special! And it ensures that only good people with new cars can live here.

You see, by having poor roads, people constantly need to repair or buy new cars. This is good because it helps keep the poor people out (you know, people making less than $100k — I don't even know who does that!) and it ensure that the cars on the road are constantly new. As a result, people are encouraged to buy nice new cars like S-classes, Maybachs, Lexus SUVs etc — making the community nicer in general. It helps us stay true to our heritage of bling and money. Isn't chasing status what Silicon Valley was always about?

I wield pretty good snark myself sometimes, but I don't think I could sell that premise here.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:03 PM)
1 April 2008
As opposed to the plan from Uranus

In a lifetime of klutziness, I've broken lots of light bulbs, even a socket or two, usually with no ill effects other than finding that one last shard of glass three weeks later. Of course, those were normal light bulbs, as distinguished from the compact-fluorescent light bulbs (they're not even bulbous, fercrissake) that are being forced upon us. Truth be told, I've made my peace with the CFLs, and I have six of them installed at the palatial Surlywood estate. But sooner or later I'm going to break one, and let me tell you, that little trace bit of mercury is genuinely nasty stuff, so I'm trying my darnedest to be careful.

Some people, however, aren't trying quite so hard:

A man and woman in southern Oklahoma were hospitalized with mercury poisoning last week after engaging in what officials said is a rare and dangerous science experiment — using mercury to pull gold from electronic equipment, apparently for profit.

Geez, and I thought I was a loose cannon in chem lab. Get a whiff of this:

Gold is found in small amounts in some electronic equipment. To isolate the gold in the circuit boards, the couple put the boards on a frying pan on their kitchen stove, said Eric Delgado, on-scene coordinator for the EPA. They poured mercury over the electronics. Mercury attached itself to the gold and helped the couple separate the precious metal from the circuit boards. The couple then heated the gold-mercury substance until the mercury evaporated, leaving only the gold behind.

And being a vapor, the stuff went straight up their noses, and they wound up in the hospital. As Darwin Award contestants go, these folks are pretty run-of-the-mill, although they might score difficulty points: this was a lot more mercury than you'll find in even half a dozen CFLs. As for their house, redoing the interior with lead paint might actually be an improvement.

Update: The man has died, and the house has been deemed "uninhabitable."

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:30 AM)
2 April 2008
Jones bounces back

Fire and ice make a deadly combination.

During the December ice storm, Jones High School was destroyed by a fire. Fighting that fire had been more difficult than usual: during the ice storm, electrical lines were down and water pressure was unusually low. Classes resumed in January, mostly in portable buildings on the edge of the campus.

Yesterday Jones school-district voters passed, 669-176, a $12 million bond issue to help rebuild the school on the original site, with construction to begin this fall. Superintendent Mike Steele is happy:

"It's gone from terrible to great," Steele said. "These students definitely needed a shot in the arm and this overwhelming support on this vote for the students is just going to do wonders for their morale and attitude."

Construction should be complete in 18 to 24 months.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:42 AM)
Getting graphic

This sounds ominous:

The federal government is investigating whether the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety violated the civil rights of Iranian immigrants by refusing to provide them with driver's license tests in their native Farsi language.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration launched the investigation in March after a complaint filed on behalf of two Iranian nationals living in Bartlesville accused the state agency of unlawful discrimination based on their national origin, according to a letter from the NHTSA to Public Safety Commissioner Kevin Ward.

One's immediate response might be "So they can't read? Where are they going to go?"

But there's a bit more to it than that:

The complaint was filed on behalf of Fardha Sharifi and her husband, Alireza Sanghinmanesh, who immigrated to the United States with their young son, said Hassan Sharifi, Fardha Sharifi's cousin and a restaurant owner in Bartlesville. He said the couple wanted to get Oklahoma driver's licenses last year but did not understand English well enough to take the Oklahoma test.

"They wanted to go to work. And I had to drive them around almost everywhere they went," said Hassan Sharifi, who immigrated to the U.S. 30 years ago. "It seemed like my life was interrupted."

He said he contacted state driver's license officials to see if the test could be provided in the couple's native language, Farsi. "They didn't answer me," Hassan Sharifi said. "I feel bad. No one wants to take the responsibility."

Finally, the couple went to the neighboring state of Kansas, located less than 25 miles north of Bartlesville, where they each passed a Kansas exam that tested their driving skills using graphic symbols rather than language, Hassan Sharifi said.

Two points:

  • Somebody in the DPS should have taken Mr Sharifi's call, if only to tell him that they couldn't help under existing law.

  • How hard would it be to adapt that Kansas test to Oklahoma?

The standard argument against this sort of thing is that it costs money, and of course it does. Rep. Randy Terrill (R-Moore) has his own idea: a bill that requires all state business be conducted in English. This, at least, is consistent with Terrill's standard Go Away stance. Let's see what he says after the investigation is completed.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:41 PM)
5 April 2008
Do we need a state rock song?

I'm still reeling over our state vegetable, so I shudder to think what would be considered an appropriate rock and/or roll number to celebrate at the Oklahoma History Center, and indeed my first look at the nominees list so far did nothing to ease the twitch.

So, prodded by Jason Bondy, I sent in the one and only song that makes sense to me in this context: Wanda Jackson's "Funnel of Love" (Capitol 4553, 1961), which offers not one, not two, but three connections to this state:

  1. Wanda's from Maud, and today lives in Moore.
  2. The tasty guitar licks are provided by latter-day Tulsan Roy Clark.
  3. What could be more Oklahoman than Tornado as Metaphor? I mean, really.

I hope someone on the committee at least has heard of it.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:50 AM)
Policy matters

Don Mecoy writes in this morning's Oklahoman:

About one of every four vehicles on Oklahoma roads is uninsured, and there's not much that can be done to improve that, state officials say.

Oklahoma lawmakers have proposed and adopted a number of measures designed to punish uninsured motorists, but the state's rate of uninsured motorists has remained steady in recent years, said Lonnie Jarman, driver compliance director at the state Department of Public Safety. "In the 50 states and the District of Columbia, there is no one that has found the perfect solution," Jarman said.

Many motorists who fail to carry auto insurance do so because they can't afford it, Jarman said. "Most states have found regardless of what they try to do, it doesn't change that rate very much. The reason why that is, is because it's a social issue, the social issue being, 'I can't afford it'."

And this differs from health insurance — how, exactly? Yet you don't see anyone calling for government-operated Universal Auto Coverage.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:40 AM)
9 April 2008
Because you can't get enough weather

At least, that's the general opinion here in Tornado Alley.

KOCO-TV, the local ABC affiliate, has been running a Weather Blog for a couple of years now; I noticed tonight that they're airing a separate all-weather subchannel. (I don't know if this is 7.1 or whatever; it comes in at 222 on Cox Digital Cable, and we cheapskates who still have analog cable hooked up to our HD sets can get it on QAM at 84-200 84-4, when Cox bothers to throw the switch. It didn't seem to be up this morning at 6-ish.) What with NBC's Weather Plus already in place, this makes two all-weather channels, not including The Weather Channel. Tulsa has a similar arrangement.

Now admittedly this is not Los Angeles, where Harris K. Telemacher can prerecord a week's worth of forecasts at a time, but I'm wondering just how far can we go before we cross the threshold of overkill. (Cell phones, you say? NWS is already there.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:07 AM)
10 April 2008
Longoria in excelsis

I've heard lots of arguments against HB 1804, but this one is new to me:

Hispanics are freakin' hot.

Seriously, have you seen Eva Longoria or Wilmer Valderrama?

Their naturally golden skin, dark eyes and dark hair.

Rarrrrrr.

I'd point out here that most of our local Latinos don't look like Eva or Wilmer — just like most of our local Caucasians don't look like [insert names of two white hotties] — and if we're going to enforce aesthetics at the state level, I should probably start packing now before that telltale knock at the door.

Still, I jump-start my heart five days a week with the babes of Telemundo's Cada Día, so I'm not going to take serious exception to this plan.

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:12 PM)
17 April 2008
Twelve is enough

Senate Bill 1987 [link goes to RTF file], which would limit certain statewide officeholders to 12 years' service, has passed the state House. The officeholders in question:

No person shall be eligible to serve as Lieutenant Governor, State Auditor and Inspector, Attorney General, State Treasurer, Commissioner of Labor or Superintendent of Public Instruction for a period of time in excess of twelve (12) years. Such years need not be consecutive. Any years served by a person elected or appointed to serve less than a full term to fill a vacancy in any such office shall not be included in the limitations set forth herein. Any person serving in such position at the time of passage of this amendment shall be eligible to complete the term for which he or she has been elected notwithstanding the provisions of this amendment.

Legislators are already limited to 12 years; the Governor, to two four-year terms.

Since this constitutes a change to the state Constitution, the voters will have to approve the measure once it gets through the Senate; at least one poll suggests that it would pass easily. The measure would affect only those officeholders elected during or after 2010, so neither Sandy Garrett nor Drew Edmondson (whose current terms end in 2010) will be immediately threatened.

Correction: I had Edmondson's dates messed up, and have rewritten the last sentence accordingly.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:43 PM)
23 April 2008
Brad boosts Barry

Governor Brad Henry has decided not to wait until the convention to declare his choice for the Democratic presidential nomination: this morning the Guv announced for Barack Obama, giving the Illinois Senator one more superdelegate.

Said Henry:

"Senator Obama is uniquely positioned to unite our nation and move beyond the divisiveness and partisan skirmishes that too often characterize politics as usual in Washington."

This gives Obama three of the ten superdelegates from Oklahoma; Senator Clinton has one, and the rest remain undeclared. (Of the regular delegates, Clinton has 24, Obama 14.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:02 AM)
24 April 2008
Endorse is endorse, of course, of course

I have to admit, I really don't understand what state GOP chairman Gary Jones stands to gain by doing this:

Republican Party Chairman Gary Jones called upon Democrat Senators to follow Governor Henry's lead ... in making public their preferences for President of the United States.

Henry, you'll remember, endorsed Barack Obama. Jones apparently wants all these Democrats on the record:

"Oklahoma voters deserve to know who their Democrat Senators and aspiring Senators will support. Does Nancy Riley support Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton? Will Charlie Laster follow the lead of his friend from Shawnee and throw his support to Obama? Who can the voters of southeastern Oklahoma expect Richard Lerblance to support?" Jones asked. "I hardly believe either Clinton or Obama reflects the conservative, pro-family, pro-Second Amendment values of that region. Who will it be, Senator Lerblance?"

What's it to you, Gary Jones? If you don't believe there's a dime's worth of difference between Clinton and Obama*, why do you think Senator Lerblance should worry about it?

This is standard-issue GOP ZOMGLIBRULS!!1! blather. It doesn't get any less tiresome with repetition.

* I calculate the difference at 7 cents, plus or minus a couple of mills.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:04 AM)
Jack Flash, call your service

Meanwhile, Rob "Flack" O'Hara is losing service:

Came home the other day, found a note on the front door. "Your gas has been turned off due to a suspected leak. Call us to arrange an inspection. Love, Oklahoma Natural Gas." Turns out, ONG has a courtesy service where they automatically shut your gas off when your bill hits a certain number. Apparently that number is around $500.

That's a lotta leak. Except that it wasn't:

ONG was called and the night shift fellow (who was quite friendly) stopped by. He checked our meter and found a tiny leak — so small, it may be costing us $2/month. The real problem, as determined by "the guy", is that when our air conditioner was fixed last summer, they crossed the wiring somehow, which causes our heater and furnace to cycle continually. This makes the gas heater fire up whether or not we turn on the heat, or the A/C. In fact, while he was there we looked at the heater, which was on and blowing heat at full blast while our air conditioner was fighting it to cool the house.

Your basic crossfire hurricane. Sheesh.

To fix the leak at the meter, the guy said they would be sending out a construction crew to dig up the back yard. Apparently the leak is underground, somewhere between the meter and the house. The solution for this is to dig everything up and move the meter next to the house. This is done free of charge, which is fortunate as I wouldn't pay much to stop a $2/month leak.

Been there, done that, except that my leak was more like $40 a month. Every once in a while I get a whiff of something that might be gas, but then in this neighborhood it might as easily be sewer gas. "Though this be madness, yet there is methane in 't."

In the meantime, Flack worries:

The part I'm looking forward to the most (sarcasm to follow) is the fact that our cable runs there as well, which I fully expect them to sever — I also expect this to happen on or around Saturday, the day of my gaming party at the house. I am already planning on not having cable television, cable modem, or telephone (which we also get via cable) for the weekend. I'd bet money on not having it this weekend.

Well, nobody's digging until Call Okie shows up to mark where the lines are. I called in my leak on a Wednesday; it was Friday before all the markers were in place, and the line was replaced Monday. If nothing else, this suggests that the cable might actually remain intact through Saturday.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:09 AM)
1 May 2008
Tulsa starts here

It's the fifth anniversary of BatesLine, and, courtesy of the Wayback Machine, here's a look at the first month's worth of posts.

And there's no arguing with this:

[F]ive years of fairly consistent and continuous blogging is pretty impressive in a world where blogs start and end at an alarming rate, if I do say so myself.

And he does say so himself, which is why I've read Michael Bates for about 4.95 of those five years: you know where he stands, and he has a pretty good idea where the bodies are buried.

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:52 PM)
3 May 2008
Trick or trauma

An incident in Tulsa:

Prosecutors will decide whether charges are warranted against a Tulsa surgeon who is accused of chasing down a carload of teenagers and bashing their vehicle with a baseball bat.

Richard Lee Cooper, 41, was arrested during the weekend on seven counts of assault with a dangerous weapon after the teenagers reportedly knocked on his door several times and then ran Saturday night, Officer Jason Willingham said. Cooper and his wife told police that they thought someone was trying to break into their home.

And so Dr Cooper reportedly defends the perimeter:

According to the investigation, Cooper chased down the carload of teenagers, blocked their Nissan Xterra and then drove his vehicle into theirs. He then reportedly got out of his car with a baseball bat and beat their vehicle, breaking several windows.

You see, Doc, this is why we have guns: so we don't have to go after people with a mere baseball bat.

Dr Cooper lives on Erie south of 101st. I recommend that you stay off his lawn.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:27 AM)
8 May 2008
So you just TiVoed a tornado warning

Never fear. The Irritated Tulsan has the solution:

I think I have a solution that is a win-win for everyone. It is an exchange program between the local news and the viewer. For every minute of programming that is interrupted to tell us there is mist in the air, a cloud in the sky, the potential for dangerous storms or bowling ball sized hail, is a minute the viewer gets to interrupt the news.

Hereís how it works:

  1. Meteorologist warns us of deadly raindrops.

  2. Lost, The Office or any other great program is interrupted.

  3. The number of minutes is totaled and given back to the viewer.

  4. Each viewer can cash in their minutes and interrupt the news.

An example:

So let's say KTUL cuts into Lost and 50,000 people were watching. Lost is on for one hour. Each viewer can now reclaim those minutes and interrupt KTUL's news broadcast. Sixty minutes per person would total 3 million minutes owed to the viewer. That equals 273 weeks we're allowed to interrupt the news. A little more than five years. (If we only count the 10 p.m. broadcast.)

Yeah, but what would you interrupt with?

When I redeem my minutes, I'm going to broadcast strip poker from a nursing home or shaving my back with a lid from a tuna can.

Watch out, YouTube!

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:28 PM)
9 May 2008
The lure of Number One

Once again, the Tulsa World and the Oklahoman are engaged in a pissing match, and, well, urine for it now.

The subject: that Forbes assertion that Oklahoma City was well-nigh "recession-proof." The World dribbled forth the first round:

[O]ur neighbors at the other end of the turnpike can justifiably point with pride to the Forbes-bestowed honor as the nation's most recession-proof city.

They just shouldn't forget the advantage that makes that so.

What advantage is that, you ask?

A high number of safe and stable government jobs probably constitutes the best hedge against recession.

Oklahoma City is indeed the state capital, and what's more, the huge Tinker Air Force Base complex is here. But Forbes didn't mention government jobs at all: the rating is based entirely on private-sector investment. Otherwise, snips the Oklahoman:

Washington, D.C., would lead the list every year and the rest of the list would be all be state capitals.

And then things escalate:

The relationship between Oklahoma City and Tulsa has evolved into a big brother-little sister equation, with the sister occasionally squeaking her high-pitched frustration with the older sibling. The headline on the Tulsa World editorial was "Recession proof?" The question mark speaks volumes, marginalizing the report and challenging Oklahoma City to put up or shut up.

We choose to put up with this sniveling because we think Tulsa's accomplishments are mighty and beneficial to the entire state. We wish Tulsa's opinion leaders shared our sentiments instead of retreating into petty provincialism.

Finally, a nearly-QOTW-worthy punchline:

Envy is one of the seven deadly sins. In Tulsa it's a default setting.

If only it were true. But Tulsa doesn't want to be Oklahoma City; Tulsa wants the sort of status that once came with the "Oil Capital of the World" label, and the ability to look down their collective noses at everyone else, Oklahoma City included. So this isn't envy, exactly: call it nostalgia for a bygone era.

Besides, the World has already given the game away:

[Oklahoma City's] citizens' willingness to tax themselves to radically improve their downtown — including manufacturing a now nationally recognized "river" out of a muddy trickle — really has the city rolling.

Tulsans, however, have largely seen fit to disregard the World's calls for higher taxes, and that, I suspect, annoys the World far more than anything that might be happening down here at the other end of the Turner.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:51 AM)
10 May 2008
The making of a ghost town

An AP story from this morning:

When the lead and zinc mines all around closed, many folks told themselves and promised their kids that Picher could go on and even be the same. There would always be church, high school football and the Dairy Queen.

But that was nearly 40 years ago, and all the praying and wishful thinking can't undo what's happened.

People are leaving, escaping the reality of life in one of the worst environmental nightmares in the country. A voluntary federal buyout is hastening the exodus.

This is a town's last stand.

Now this:

A tornado that tore through Picher has left at least six dead, according to preliminary reports given to the state medical examiner's office.

Kevin Rowland, chief investigator for the medical examiner, said none of his staff are on the scene yet, but the Oklahoma Highway Patrol confirmed five dead.

The south end of the city has been completely destroyed. At least a dozen ambulances have been seen leaving the area, and authorities have shut off access to the town. Utility poles have been snapped in half in the area and car windshields are blown out.

"If the lead don't get you, the winds will."

There once were 20,000 people in Picher. Now there might be eight hundred.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:36 PM)
18 May 2008
Inexplicable failure to suck

After that Forbes "recession-proof" business about Oklahoma City, and the drop in the state's unemployment rate to 2.9 percent, as low as it's ever been since they started keeping statistics, you might think that we're doing fine in Oklahoma, or at least better than the gloom-and-doom scenarios insisted upon by the national media.

And yet:

According to Oklahoma Association of Realtors, around 50% of Oklahomans surveyed last year believes that real estate market in the state is in poor condition. This is despite a consistent increase in average sales price of homes across the state from $116,298 in 2002 to $149,758 in 2007, as reported by Tradingmarkets.

"It's almost as if people want to hear bad news." Well, of course they do. Bad news, in this cynical age, comes with Extra Believability built right in. Good news invites suspicion: "Who's trying to sell me what?" Bad news is no less manipulable, but for some reason that never occurs to us.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:59 PM)
20 May 2008
A slightly greener grid

OG&E wants to build a 345-kilovolt electrical transmission line from Woodward to Oklahoma City to keep up with the utility's increasing windfarm capacity.

Right now OG&E has about 170 megawatts of wind power available, and plans an additional 600 MW over the next four years. Demand, says the utility, is increasing by 1.8 percent a year.

The line would cost around $220 million; OG&E says it will cost the average residential customer about $1.50 a month, which, says Stan Geiger, is about a buck and a half too high:

Let's raise rates for electricity so customers can pay for the infrastructure that allows a power company to generate electricity for free then sell it to customers at an inflated price.

It was indeed a happy day when fully-functional turbines were found growing in the wild.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:22 AM)
Because I'm a stick in the mud

If I'm reading correctly, under this new license-plate bill, everybody gets a new plate in 2009, but I can pay a $15 fee and get my current number with the new design.

Not that my current number is all that special or meaningful, but it took me a year to memorize the darn thing. (More precisely, it took me a year to de-memorize the number I had for six years prior.) The new plate will not look like this:

Not the new Oklahoma plate

At least, I don't think it will. (If you think you've seen this before, you have.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:11 PM)
21 May 2008
Rocked to its foundations

The Rock Cafe in Stroud, a Route 66 landmark, has been destroyed by a fire.

The restaurant was closed when the fire started, a bit after 11 last night; the cause of the fire has not been determined.

The stone structure at 114 West Main was built by Roy Rives in 1939 using stone from the construction of Route 66 and interior wood from the one-time Sac and Fox jail; it was placed on the National Register of Historical Places in 2001.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:20 AM)
24 May 2008
Beyond the oil patch

One of the recurring tales of woe in Oklahoma involves the state's economy, which is supposedly dependent on oil and/or agriculture. If these numbers are correct, though, we sell a whole lot more than that: in 2007, actual petroleum made up only four percent of the state's exports, behind stuff like pumps (as in water, not as in Manolos) and tires and forklift parts.

I draw two conclusions from these representations:

  • Clearly we're more diversified than some people (including, well, me) might think;

  • Should Maxine Waters come to town, we can give her the Glinda treatment: "You have no power here! Begone, before someone drops a house on you too!"

Oh, and the agricultural exports? Top of the list is pork. Who knew? (Answer: Anyone downwind in Guymon.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:10 AM)
29 May 2008
Barr being set

The Libertarian Party of Oklahoma reports that Presidential candidate Bob Barr will need 43,913 valid signatures [link goes to PDF file] to get on the ballot in Oklahoma. (A downloadable petition in PDF format is here.)

I figure there are at least that many people in the state who'd like to pick up some Claritin at Target without being treated like REO Speedwagon fans meth lab operators.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:12 AM)
31 May 2008
Icon has cheez

Rep. Shane Jett (R-Tecumseh) is promoting something called the Energy Tower, which is supposed to be iconic in the manner of the Gateway Arch or the Space Needle or the freaking Eiffel Tower, fercryingoutloud. Here's his pitch:

Brief flashback to World Tour '05, while I was in another place with oil-patch credentials:

[T]his is the fabled Oil Region of Pennsylvania — you don't see people putting Utahzoil or Magnolia State in their engines, do you? — which draws about 50,000 annually to the Oil Heritage Festival. It occurs to me that Oklahoma is far too embarrassed about its own oil patch, that we'd like to think we're so over that.

I still believe that, but I don't think the answer to that embarrassment is to shell out $100 million to build the world's tallest Purple Martin house.

(Via Brad Neese, who wonders how it would hold up in an Oklahoma storm.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:47 AM)
1 June 2008
A suggestion from the field

Humongous middle-of-page rotating banner at NewsOK today: "What does it take to fire a public school teacher in Oklahoma?"

NewsOK banner

How about, oh, evidence that the teacher in question approved of syntax like "View the list of Oklahoma teacher's with revoked licenses since 2003," as seen in a NewsOK rotating banner?

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:18 PM)
2 June 2008
Who's running this lemonade stand, anyway?

On the 22nd of May, Stan Lybarger and Mike Neal, Chairman and CEO respectively of the Tulsa Metro Chamber, sent letters to the members of Tulsa's City Council, asking them to postpone a July vote on a new street-funding proposal. Some of what they said:

The Chamber and our volunteer leadership are very concerned the City Council is rushing to develop a package for a July special election. We believe crucial steps are being overlooked that could possibly jeopardize the initiative.

Voters are eager for a streets package, but we cannot assume voters will blindly approve any package because of the "fix our streets first" mentality. When confronted with the actual cost and the details; [sic] support can quickly evaporate.

This translates roughly as "We want more input into the final package, and you guys are rushing us."

The reply by Ward 5's Bill Martinson is a classic of its kind. Excerpts therefrom:

Setting aside the condescending tone of your letter for a moment, it conveyed a serious lack of understanding as to the development and status of the Council's proposal to fix Tulsa's streets. The process has spanned eight months. In addition to holding more than two dozen fact finding meetings, which included hearing from both external and in-house experts, we conducted town hall meetings for all districts. All of these meetings were public and posted in advance. You and your staff were welcome to attend, and had you done so, I believe you would have found the meetings most informative.

Your contempt for Tulsa's City Council was apparent in your comments. To assume that the Council and City staff would advance an initiative of this magnitude to the voters and ignore fundamental due diligence and statutory requirements is arrogant and absurd.

The election would have been held on the 29th of July, the same date as the state's primary election, a date chosen because it's obviously less expensive to hold one election with multiple purposes than to hold two separate elections.

Further, Martinson questions the Tulsa Chamber's priorities:

Congratulations on your success in Oklahoma City to secure $25 million in funding for low water dams on the river. I believe we all support river development and welcome the day when you feel the same passion to convince the Tulsa delegation to support our transportation system. The conditions of our area highways, which are maintained by ODOT, rival those of our City streets. Also, returning tax dollars to Tulsa, and other area communities for that matter, would help us address our street needs.

The Chamber appears fixated on glamour and glitz to enhance economic development. You may understand these needs better than I, but I believe the condition of streets and right of ways say much about a community. If a city fails to consider basic infrastructure a priority, one must question the degree of civic pride.

Which I reprint here because down here in the 405 we're not exactly immune to glamour and/or glitz either.

Michael Bates is following this story. The next step, I'm guessing, will be an editorial in the Tulsa World calling for the special election to be delayed, for God knows what sort of reason.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:46 AM)
3 June 2008
Wind spat into

Okay, I knew Andrew Rice was running for Senate, but he's a Democrat, and the unwritten law among Republicans has been "You don't mess around with Jim."

Well, Jim is being messed around with: on the first day of filing, Senator Inhofe drew two Republican challengers. As a practical matter, neither Baptist minister Dennis Lopez, from the metropolis of Thackerville, nor frequent filer Evelyn Rogers, a Tulsa librarian, is likely to make much of a tug on Inhofe's cape. Still, the fact that he's getting GOP challengers at all is somewhat heartening.

Elsewhere: Dana Orwig, who ran against incumbent Trebor Worthen last time in House District 87, is trying again, what with Worthen deciding not to seek a third term. She'll face Jason Nelson, a political consultant who served as legislative liaison during Frank Keating's second term as governor. If you're new here, I bring up District 87 because I live there.

And for District 84 watchers, Ron Marlett made it official: he is running against Sally Kern. (Aside: I had no idea Sally Kern had a Wikipedia page.)

The State Board of Elections is posting candidate filings here; the filing period ends Wednesday.

Update, Wednesday: A second Republican has entered the District 87 race. Andrew Winningham is twenty-four, which makes him even younger than Worthen, and he was last seen at a Ron Paul meetup. And Winningham isn't even close to being the youngest person on this year's primary ballot.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:07 AM)
6 June 2008
Note to Oklahoma Democrats

I figured you didn't like sharing power in the Senate with the GOP — a 24-24 tie tends not to be a source of comfort — but geez, guys, the Republicans have 13 seats on the ballot in 2008, and you're only going after five of them?

And yes, this works both ways. Michael Bates noted on Wednesday afternoon:

We're now five hours away from the close of Oklahoma's filing period for the 2008 elections, and I'm still seeing way too many seats with unchallenged Democrats.

(First person to ask me why I didn't file to run — apart from Trini, who already did ask — will be requested to identify what in the world s/he is smoking.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:43 AM)
The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

These archives begin 6 September 2006. For items beginning in August 2002, click here and select the desired category.

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