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Commie of the Year

The Houston Rockets' Yao Ming has won a ton of awards, and we're not just talking about the Softest Guy in the Paint award given out on talk radio after the team's every loss.

His trophy cabinet now formally boasts another occupant, however: the Model Worker given out by the Chinese Communist Party last May Day. In case you've been wondering, the Communist Party's definition of "model worker" has been expanded lately beyond the usual coal miners who meet the Five-Year Plan to include multimillionaires who endorse McDonald's and Visa cards.

We set out to discover more about this award, which is given out every five years. Rockets spokesman Nelson Luis says he didn't have "a whole lot of detail on it" and urged us to call Yao's people. Yao's people, it turns out, don't return capitalists' phone calls, as far as we can tell.

So we called the Chinese embassy in Washington, eager to find out why a Chinese model worker would be a multimillionaire living in America and embracing every dollar-loving aspect of our lifestyle.

Embassy official Chu Maoming took our call, and sounded like he couldn't wait to end it.

Q. Who selected Yao for this?

A. I think there is a committee to choose who will be the model worker. Anyway, Yao Ming is very famous in China and he is very friendly to the people.

Q. So the model worker is someone who basically works hard? That's the criterion?

A. Yeah.

Q. So it doesn't matter if someone espouses--

A. It doesn't matter what he does, it doesn't matter the profession.

Q. Right. But it doesn't matter--

A. And actually, Yao Ming is also a member of the [Chinese] international team.

Q. Right. Is this the first time the award has been given to someone living in the U.S.?

A. Ahhh, this I cannot verify. Because I don't check the history. All right? Okay?

Q. One more question?

A. Yeah.

Q. So basically, someone could be a model worker, but they don't believe in Communism?

A. Why is that a question? You don't think Yao Ming believes in Communism?

Q. I don't know.

A. So that's not related…But anyway, as long as he contributes to the society, as long as he's diligent, he works hard, I think the committee will take it into consideration. All right?

Q. All right.

A. Okay, that's all. Bye.

Unfortunately, we never got to ask the big question: Does winning the Model Worker award mean you finally start going to the rim with authority?

Dog Days of Summer

When the word went out that the decidedly low-tech Special Pals animal shelter needed help, Houston responded. Unfortunately, some of Houston responded by trying to gouge the place.

The Katy-area shelter's five-ton a/c unit collapsed suddenly, causing life-or-death conditions for puppies and kittens. Director Yvonne David put out a press release July 22, and several media outlets did stories.

Some companies, like Bellaire Air Conditioning and Excel Building Services, responded and offered to help, she says. Others, though -- which she won't name -- weren't so generous.

"We were so happy when the first one came and said, 'I'll give you a unit; you just have to pay for the labor,'" she says. "But then the story would grow and grow and he'd need more parts and it just wouldn't end."

Another time, she says, she "got an estimate from someone who obviously didn't think I knew what an a/c unit would cost."

The job is expected to cost $30,000 to $40,000, and David is still optimistic, even though she's been turned down by the feel-good reality show Extreme Makeover.

One note for Good Samaritan contractors: Beware the raccoons in the a/c ducts.

"There are at least five in there, and one really big one," David says. "But she watches over us as we work. She's friendly."

Suck This

Texas State Representative Aaron Peña (D-Edinburg) took the bold step this year of introducing a bill to ban hemp-flavored lollipops, a heretofore little-known scourge of society.

The pops contain no THC, but Peña says they may serve as a gateway drug, just as Choco-Pops lead to eventual Death By Chocolate (the dessert, not the fatality).

We sent out two guys who are familiar with what the kids call the marijuana "scene" to conduct a taste test on these lollipops. The first two head shops they tried were sold out, perhaps because of Peña's free advertising.

Eventually Pot Suckers ($2.99) and Hemp Suckers (99 cents) were obtained.

First up, the cheaper of the two. "It really does taste like marijuana," one tester said. "It has that taste like you're chewing on a stem."

The other tester went all jargon on us, saying it tasted like hydro -- "not like the dank, but dank-ish."

Cleansing their palates with Bud Light, they moved on to Pot Suckers, which disappointed. "It has a citrusy taste with a hint of weed," said one. "This would be the schwag of the two," pronounced the other.

Deep in their lollipop high, the two developed a plan where instead of being banned, the candies could be used as Nicorette-type aids to help those trying to quit.

Then Judge Judy came on, and further interviewing proved impossible.


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