2012 Turkeys of the Year
Check out our slideshow on the making if this year's Turkeys of the Year cover.
Literature's Count Zaroff (and California's Zodiac Killer) said that man is the most dangerous game of all, but those freaks never tried to bag a Turkey of the Year.
To best this most onerous of creatures, one must lay in wait year-round, camouflaged to the gills, with only a hip-flask of brandy and fading memories of loved ones passed to while away the interminable hours. One cannot rely on a standard turkey-call to lure the lumbering beast into the cross-hairs, nor can any bullet made by mortal hands fell the feathered tyrant.
Dispatched from the bowels of hell by Lucifer himself, its talons as sharp as its master's pitchfork, its glottal warble is a clarion call for idiots to don their idiot caps (they're sort of like pith helmets, only made out of pudding) and present arms. But it's not just any garden-variety idiot who responds to the winged interloper's yodel. It takes a special sort of stupid. Countless candidates have sacrificed themselves at the Altar of the Bird, like Congressman Ron Paul, who promised during his presidential campaign to allow abortions for victims of "honest rape," as opposed to those scallywags who come about their rape in a most unsporting manner.
But that's just one example; others who heeded the Turkey's cry this past year include Plano's former favorite son, Lance Armstrong, who was stripped of the majority of his titles (he got to keep the award for "Most Drugs"); the Occupy protesters who turned Tranquility Park into their personal pissoir for a month; millionaire polo-playboy John Goodman adopting his girlfriend in an icky attempt to protect his assets while on trial for a drunk-driving death; and the Houston police officer who shot and killed a wheelchair-bound double-amputee armed with a pen. (In the officer's defense, he probably did not know at the time if it was ballpoint or fountain.)
It all played out in the midst of turkey-worthy election madness, in which state Republicans pushed for a voter ID law to combat the plague of widespread voter fraud that has scourged Texas for zero years, and in which Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst, in an apparent attempt to out-Latino his opponent for a U.S. Senate seat, challenged Ted Cruz to a debate in Spanish. And of course, no roundup of local 2012 campaigns would be complete without mentioning democratic Harris County District Attorney candidate Lloyd Oliver, a man detested by his own party because, well, he's not really a Democrat, and because, well, he's sorta okay with domestic violence and homophobia. (He also displays mannequin boobs on his bedroom wall, which is really the kind of signature charm you want in a serial killer, as opposed to a serious contender for elected office.)
In fact, there was so much quality competition this year that, for the first time in Turkeys history, our winner is not a lone nutter, but an entire governing body. Abandon all hope, y'all who enter here...the Turkeys are amongst us.
TURKEY OF THE YEAR:
Houston City Council
There are 16 City Council members. That's one-six. It wasn't always that way. There used to be nine council members, and they were perfectly capable of doing dumb things on their own. But redistricting/gerrymandering necessitated expansion, and, as everyone knows, only good can come from increasing the number of officials at any level of government. Of course, maybe it's not the bloated bureaucracy that brought such weirdness to the mix — after all, if every city council member anywhere has simple common sense, then it wouldn't matter how many are at the table. But this is Houston, and we just don't do that.
Exhibit A: Helena Brown
Take for example, District A Councilwoman Helena Brown, whose conspiracy theories and taxpayer-funded trip to Korea, ostensibly to push for direct flights from Houston, makes us think she's really engaged in an Andy Kaufman-esque put-on. It doesn't help that she also appears to be a puppet for an adviser who was banned from selling securities — and who lied about it in the face of written proof. In fact, her tirades about communism and allusions to shadowy plots exasperated her fellow council members. They appeared to question the woman's sanity — which is sorta like being the black sheep of the Manson Family.
For example, Brown was the lone dissenter in the vote concerning a contract for the construction of maintenance garages for city vehicles, on the basis that it was really part of a UN plot.
"This is the United States of America — we don't answer to anyone but the good old U.S. of A.," she said, doing nothing to dispel the notion that she really answers to the tiny blue men who live in her shower drain.
As our own Terrence McCoy wrote in July: "Brown's extremism underscores a countrywide and, in fact, a global shift toward fringe politics. There are examples on either end, whether it's the Occupy Wall Street protesters advocating socialism or Tea Party advocates mourning the death of freedom. Historically, times of recession give rise to radicals and their ideas, and Helena Brown is Houston's incarnation of that effect."
Exhibit B: Tell Us About the Food Trucks, George...
Of course, Brown wasn't the only public servant standing between Houston and those who wish to destroy us.
At a public hearing on food truck regulations covered by our intrepid food writer Katharine Shilcutt, Councilman Andrew Burks hinted "at the possibility of terrorists using food trucks' propane tanks as weapons, a comment that prompted laughter from the audience."
Burks, who by all accounts is a fully-formed adult human being, said, "Anything catastrophic like that could be a real hard damage and hard time for Houston, Texas, or anywhere. And you know that in the times which we live in, I think this is totally outrageous. I'm outraged by that. Because the reason is that in these times when people get bombed in embassy attacks and we put this type of bomb directly here in front of us and we know we could be causing trouble..."
Hitching his float to the Crazy Parade, Councilman Jack Christie chimed in with another salient thought: "Food trucks — are they allowed to sell other items within the food trucks?" This was followed up with some philosophical musings: "To what extent does it not become a food truck? I realize there may be limitations on that — on those items — some legal...and some illegal."
To what extent does it not become a food truck?
We don't know why he stopped there. Why didn't he ask, What is the sound of one food truck clapping? If a food truck parks in the forest, does it serve any tacos?
Councilman C.O. Bradford then had to turn the exercise into a TAKS test: "I'm concerned about safety issues as it relates to 40 pounds of propane per truck. Forty pounds of propane per truck! But there's no limit to the number of trucks — you could have 10 trucks lined up with 40 pounds of propane each — is that correct?" That's when he whipped out his trusty abacus.
Exhibit C: Noises Off
Perhaps because it simply made too much sense, the city's noise ordinance was revised into a nebulous blob by the City Council in October 2011. Before then, the ordinance was informed by federal legislation based on decibel levels. "F that noise," said the Council. "We want something subjective!" And so they applied Justice Potter Stewart's obscenity dictum ("I know it when I see it") to the ear canal.
A lobbyist for the Greater Houston Entertainment Coalition Political Action Committee told our Steve Jansen in May, "Club owners don't know what they need to do, there are no objective measures for either the clubs or the police to go by, and the police have to be frustrated that these things are taking up so much of their time."
Three months after the ordinance passed, Jansen wrote, an HPD officer responding to a noise complaint felt it necessary to cock his shotgun to get the crowd's attention; the very day after the ordinance passed, Washington Avenue's Kung Fu Saloon got a ticket for violating the ordinance — "for the collective volume of people talking on the patio." Thanks, Council!
Exhibit D: Please Don't Feed the Pigeons — or the Homeless
Okay, admittedly, Mayor Parker and the Council might have taken more heat than they deserved for a misunderstood new policy on permits for feeding the homeless on public property. However, the heat could have been avoided if the Council didn't do dumb shit like make people get permits for feeding the homeless. Seriously, yo. At first, we didn't know what to think, because Helena "UN Shadow Government" Brown was against the ordinance, so we wondered if maybe that was proof that the ordinance made sense, but then we took a breath. The ordinance that passed was a scaled-back version of the original proposal, and, to everyone's credit, it's seemed to go off without a hitch.
But the funny thing is, the Council didn't seem to spend much time discussing who these homeless people are, or the reasons for their situation. There wasn't a lot of talk about mental health outreach, or employment services, or rehab, or anything approaching root causes. Just how much of a bother it is to, like, have to see them and stuff. We understand that Jesus obtained the required permits, as well as received proper instruction on safe food handling procedures, before feeding loaves and fishes to the 5,000, so, in that regard, the Council was on firm moral footing.
UT Coach Mack Brown
Our Sports Turkey of the Year also sports (heh) the dubious honor of being the only winner with his very own Deathwatch. Our Richard Connelly put Brown's mortal soul on the clock in October, writing "Brown is the guy who rode to a BCS title with a QB perfectly fitted for the college game, took another one far along the same route, and besides that has basically underperformed, considering he gets to pick and choose from the astounding collection of high school football talent the state of Texas offers."
Shortly after extending Brown's contract through 2020 — even though the existing one didn't expire until 2016 — UT's regents watched Oklahoma slaughter the Longhorns 63-21. Not exactly a bold affirmation. It was the second crushing defeat by the Sooners; the kind of embarrassment that casts a cloud over what has historically been fine leadership. It's not the kind of immediate result you expect when the extended contract tops the dude out at $6.1 million in his final year. And it's especially not the kind of thing you want after your school signs a mind-blowing deal with ESPN for a sports channel that barely had any justification for existing in the first place. That kind of PR swagger deserves swagger on the field. Simply put: Mack, what have you done for us lately?
CRIMINAL JUSTICE TURKEY
Harris County District Attorney Pat Lykos
For this one, we thought it'd be best to just provide the unexpurgated oath Pat Lykos swore to upon taking office. Looking at it now, we have to admit we, like the rest of local media, fell asleep. In hindsight, we should've seen it coming.
"I, Patricia R. Lykos, do solemnly swear or affirm that I will support the Constitution of the United States and of the State of Texas, and the laws thereof, although I shall not confirm nor deny my fingers are crossed behind my back, where you cannot see them. I promise to faithfully represent the State of Texas in all criminal matters before the District of Harris County Courts, except when my interests are more important, a matter that will be entrusted to my sole discretion as Queen of This Mother-effing Criminal Justice Building, beyatches. I will act strictly in the interest of justice for the State of Texas, but I am only human and cannot discount the possibility of my office being the subject of a grand jury investigation. Nor can I discount the possibility of my office being the subject of two grand jury investigations, one of which having to do with alleged misconduct, vis a vis faulty mobile breathylizer van readings. However, if either of these scenarios come to pass, I will do my best to comply with the requests of said grand jury/juries and special prosecutors, provided I am not in Hawaii for a seminar on drug trafficking. Wink-wink. And in the event that any of my henchmen — err, assistant district attorneys — are called to testify, I will instruct them not to invoke their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination; however, as previously mentioned, my fingers may or may not still be crossed. I will also in no way utilize the investigative resources of my office to task my flying monkeys to conduct background searches on the grand jury members. So sayeth I."
See what we mean?
The Press took a lot of heat for alleged "slut-shaming" Tressler, a society reporter for the Houston Chronicle who moonlighted as a stripper. Caught unawares, the Chron fired Tressler, ostensibly for not listing her stripping gig as "previous employment" on her application. The Hearst lawyers probably high-fived themselves for that one, because it had the ring of truth, when really her bosses just had to be embarrassed. Which is kind of funny: if you're not embarrassed for running "society" pages in 2012, then, really, you're missing the forest for the trees. Frankly, we don't think Tressler should have been canned. We could understand if she, say, covered crime — in the book she published after the outing, Diary of an Angry Stripper, she writes of the rules she learned upon her hiring at one club, "Pay no attention if you see a girl giving a blow job in the next booth." Because that would be ignoring a crime, and you shouldn't do that if you write about the criminal justice system. But again, it's okay, because she wrote about charity galas. She did not, say, break stories about the thousands of untested rape kits at the Houston Police Department, like another reporter at her paper.
We could also understand if the Chron was nervous about some of her humor; like warning strippers to be wary of "ESL-ers" and "rittle" Asian men. Or biting her tongue instead of telling a customer she would never date him "because you're a short Mexican in a bad suit." Again, a reporter should think twice before posting racially charged content — especially if it's not actually humorous.
Also, some reporters (and their editors) tend to be concerned about public perception. Accepting a meal or gift from a source might not influence your story one tiny bit, but the perception of conflict of interest is just as bad. So when Tressler writes about dancing at Treasures, which she says "has a notorious reputation as a strip club that functions more like a whorehouse," she's fully aware of how others might perceive her. The city of Houston certainly believes it functions like a whorehouse, which is why it spends so much money trying to shut the place down. Perhaps it's not the den of iniquity that some people believe it to be, but if you're aware of this reputation, then there is nothing wrong — as a reporter-slash-stripper — with saying, "I will not dance at Treasures." You might even do this out of deference to your colleagues at the paper who have to cover the city's battle against Treasures. You might be sacrificing some dough. You might be frustrated because you know you are not a prostitute. But that's just one of those things. Again: Tressler wrote boilerplate copy for grip-and-grins, so this was not the issue it might have been had she covered city politics.
Many of the comments the Press received in the wake of Tressler's outing opined about how Tressler must be laughing her way to the bank. She got a book deal and a temporary gig with Good Morning America. She continues to teach communications at the University of Houston. She got a primo education at NYU. They're right: Tressler has money and fame, unlike most of her former colleagues at the Chron. All those people did was bust their hump, 24-7, to cover important trials, political corruption, wrongful convictions, abuses of power, and stories of the downtrodden. If they were lucky, they survived round after round of layoffs. They dealt with prickly officials who don't like to talk and prefer to do their business in secret. They did not supplement their income with hundreds and hundreds of dollars in cash on a nightly basis. If they blogged about funny-looking guys in ill-fitting clothes offering them money to drink their own piss, they were smart enough to do it in such a way as to not get caught.
The absurdly confusing METRO expansion referendum
Some time ago, a bunch of major metropolitan areas got this craaazy idea to build an effective public transportation system, complete with choo-choos. Then, early in the 21st century, the city of Houston surveyed the landscape and thought the whole thing might be more than just a fad, like those flappers with their Fletcher Henderson gramophone records. Lo, seven miles of track were laid. And the Lord said it was good.
Then, this year, the public faced a thorny proposition: Should Metro continue to share up to 25 percent of its sales tax with unincorporated Harris County and 15 multi-cities?
The thing was, the way the referendum was worded, you had to vote "no" on the ballot if you wanted Metro to keep all of its money, ostensibly allowing for quicker expansion, and "yes" if you were fine waiting until hell froze over. Actually, the earliest draft of the ballot language was this: "The continued dedication of up to 25% of Metro's sales and use tax revenues for street improvements, except not; and the discontinuation of the continued re-dedication of deferred semi-annual temporary payments at year's end (when allowed, and except on Tuesdays), not to exceed the square root of the inverse of pi (whichever is greater), hold the lettuce." (Making things even more complicated, only right-handed people were allowed to vote.)
David Crossley of Houston Tomorrow, a nonprofit group that warned of the weird wording, summed up the "yes" win perfectly: "The confusion that all poll workers encountered about this issue was amazing, considering how passionate most voters were in their expressions of desire for more light rail and soon. Generally, they couldn't believe that elected officials and Metro were putting the question to them in a way that would achieve the opposite effect they intended if they voted For."
Crossley also wrote that Mayor Parker herself might have been confused (or deliberately misleading?), citing a Chron article stating that Parker insists "that passage of the proposition makes rail expansion more likely. One of the stated purposes of the referendum is to allow Metro to pay down debt, freeing up borrowing capacity that could be used on future rail lines. Referendum opponents are wrong when they say its passage will delay rail, Parker said...."
However, in all fairness, she did say this on Opposite Day, so....
The 103.7 FM Mess
For a couple of years, it looked like Houston had broken out of the commercial rock-radio slump it had been mired in since Rock 101 went Latin hits in November 2004. Calling itself "Houston's Adult Alternative," Cumulus Media's 103.7 FM really did offer a legitimate alternative to 24-7 Led Zeppelin and Journey on one hand and stale '90s alt-rock on the other, mingling "classic alternative" (R.E.M., The Cure) with "adult alternative" (Lucinda Williams, Coldplay), and especially connecting with fans of more commercial indie-rock groups like Death Cab for Cutie, the Black Keys and Mumford & Sons. Unlike Houston's other commercial rock stations, 103.7 always sounded like it was programmed by a living, breathing human being — and a music fan to boot.
But 103.7 was also especially vulnerable. As part of a Chapter 11 reorganization in 2011, parent company Cumulus Media transferred it to a holding company that instantly began shopping 103.7 around. It found a buyer in July, when Christian media conglomerate Educational Media Foundation snapped it up. It lingered in limbo for a couple of months until one afternoon in mid-September — appropriately, around the traditional quitting time of 5 p.m. — 103.7 played Semisonic's "Closing Time," R.E.M.'s "It's the End of the World as We Know It (and I Feel Fine)" and flipped its programming to EMF's contemporary-Christian "Air1" format.
Honestly, it's difficult to say exactly whom to award the Turkey here. Nobody really did anything wrong. Encouraged by its successful acquisition of a similar San Antonio station, EMF saw an opening in the market here and made its play. Despite some unusually vocal supporters, 103.7 was hardly a ratings juggernaut and had always struggled to gain a real foothold in the market. Either way, it became another tombstone in Houston's crowded radio graveyard, and it looks like the real turkeys are local rock listeners who haven't jumped ship to satellite radio or iPods by now.
Picasso Vandal Uriel Landeros
In June, 22-year-old Landeros strode into The Menil Collection and spray-painted the word "conquista" across Pablo Picasso's 1929 painting, Woman in a Red Armchair. He then high-tailed it to Monterrey, Mexico, later explaining via YouTube that "I dedicate this to everybody out there who has suffered any kind of injustice, whether from your family, your religion or from your government. And to Pablo Picasso, the intellectual artist who loved bullfighting and understood that, at the end of the dance, somebody has to die. And on this day, it was his turn."
Apparently, he was just continuing the grand tradition of great artists defacing earlier masters', uh, masterpieces. In fact, it was Picasso who, as a teen, sneaked into the Louvre with a charcoal pencil and added a rough-looking mustache to the Mona Lisa, which he further soiled by scrawling "ensuciado de Sanchez" above her head.
Prior to that, Francisco Goya late in his life dressed as a servant to infiltrate the estate of the 1st Marquess of Westminster and gain access to his private collection, featuring Gainsborough's oil masterwork Blue Boy, which he painted over as Lime Green Boy With Purple Polka-Dots. Witnesses overheard Goya giggling, but did not catch him in time. (It cost the Marquess $85,000 in today's dollars to restore.)
What we're saying is: we understand where Landeros was coming from. But we still think he's a dick.
We hope The Grand Bird has been sufficiently sated, and will leave us in peace for another year. Here's hoping for a stupidity-free 2013, but we have a feeling the Turkey will be back for more.
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