Your article on Mickey Dunlap ["Turnstyled and Junkpiled," by Brad Tyer, February 17] was alternately one of the saddest and most inspiring pieces of writing I've seen in the Press in a long time.
Does the state have any recourse against his parents? I hope those bastards get the chair.
Excellent story, lousy cover ["Billie Bob's (Mis)Fortune," by Steve McVicker, February 10].
When the Harrell family moved from their old house to their new home in Kingwood, they found themselves across the street from us. They were a wonderful family. Billie once described his family as the Beverly Hillbillies. I laughed and told him I looked and acted more like Jed than he did. The humor faded as I began to realize Billie lacked the self-esteem needed to support his sudden success.
No one will ever know exactly \what triggered the tragedy of Billie's suicide. The concern that I had for Billie was that he didn't feel like he deserved to be a millionaire. He felt unworthy of the money and therefore tried hard to get rid of it. Billie and I discussed it on a couple of occasions. Unfortunately, as your article reflects, Billie could be immune to advice.
While I think that Mr. McVicker did an excellent job portraying various things in the article, I wish people could also know just how good a father Billie Harrell was. He was devoted to his three children, spent as much time as he could with them after he won the lottery, and beamed with pride over their character. Billie also demonstrated courage in a manner that I will never forget: We once found our home burglarized, and I sent my wife and son into the front yard while I made sure no one was still in the house. Billie saw them crying, learned what had happened, ran into his house and immediately returned to my front door with a loaded pistol to make sure that I was safe.
Your cover was gory. I realize you need to get people to pick up the paper to read it, but there must be a better way to do it without such a disservice to Mrs. Harrell, their children, his parents and the family's friends.
I am getting more than tired of the ranting from the organizers of the Westheimer Street Festival ["Out in the Street," by Brandon Cullum, February 10]. Doesn't anyone remember about three or four years ago when there were plenty of Port-O-Lets and the streets were always cleaned daily after the fest? Or the ugly change of hands to the new organizers? The festival is a special event that represents the artistic underbelly of our great city. It has grown because we have.
The city is not to blame. The lack of Port-O-Lets and the trash and overall disorganization of the event can be blamed on only the current organizers. And the comment about police not doing their job is ludicrous. The organizers hire the security as well. So don't blame anyone but the organizers for the death of this once beautiful event. This has been a struggle for three years. It's funny that it comes to light only after they blew it.
Name withheld by request
Vice Is Nice
The highest and best use of the Fire Station No. 1 property would be for a large upscale brothel complex [Insider, by Tim Fleck, February 17]. Such a development could be subsidized by a special Prostitution Use Tax Zone (PUTZ).
Baghdad on the Bayou would then be closer to becoming a world-class city like Amsterdam and Sydney, Australia. In fact, an upscale red-light compound, or boys' town, would certainly help land the Olympics. There can be no doubt that Sydney's fabulous legal brothels and beautiful prostitutes were key to that city's landing the 2000 Summer Games.
Appeal to the Highest
It's incomprehensible that anyone would rejoice over the execution of a convicted murderer ["Stand Up and Holler," by Lauren Kern, February 3]. While I believe in the death penalty for those guilty of deliberate murder, I am certainly not in favor of the death penalty for those who are innocent.
There is an execution scheduled for March 1 for Odell Barnes. There are now three attorneys attempting to get George W. Bush to rule in Barnes's favor because of: 1) evidence that was never submitted to the jury, and 2) their investigations resulted in depositions of witnesses who were privy to information not brought out in the trial. The only thing left is a clemency petition to the board/governor.
I like Governor Bush, so I was dismayed to hear him state unequivocally in a campaign debate that "there aren't any innocent men on death row in Texas." I believe there's at least one, and George W. Bush is the only person who has the power to do anything about it.
I think it would be a better use of time, energy and effort if some of these people would stay home and pray for the victims' families, the men on death row who are faced with the ultimate punishment for their crimes, and for themselves.
Your ongoing notes about KTRH radio "staffers" being unhappy with changes made by the new general manager are amusing but, I find, inaccurate [News Hostage, by Richard Connelly, February 10].
I talk to lots of people at the station every day, and far afield from your reports, most people seem happy about the changes. This, even as KTRH's parent company merges to form one of the biggest broadcasting companies in the nation. Parsing your prose, it appears you talked to one or two people, then characterized dissatisfaction as the prevailing mood.
So if you want to find out how the proposed Time Warner-AOL merger is going, you can ask your Warner Cable installation guy. I'm sure he can tell you enough about company-wide morale to rate a graph in News Hostage, right?
Michael Shiloh, production manager
Millar's Encore Column
Houston Press readers might find useful this account of the choices made by Richard Connelly, in his reporting my retirement as the Houston Chronicle's film critic/humor columnist [News Hostage, February 10].
Connelly asked me for response to some "rumors/theories floating out there." Most of what he cited as rumors were unsigned reviews of my job performance by Chronicle staffers. Those are entirely fair game for what Connelly does. I've been dishing out subjective opinions of other folks' job performances since 1965. The recipients had to swallow it; so shall I.
One of Connelly's rumors concerned the chronology of the separation. That is an issue in fact, not in opinion, and I could speak to it because I was there.
"One version of your decision," Connelly e-mailed me, "describes a Monday argument where you snapped 'I quit' and they surprised you by saying 'OK,' so anything you might offer on how long this decision has been in the works would be helpful."
My e-mail reply, following, is condensed.
"I took early (by eight years) retirement," I replied to Connelly. "Two reasons, both simple. More than a year ago, this dawned on me: Thanks to [my comic-strip collaborator] Bill Hinds, one comic strip [Tank McNamara] in syndication for 24 years and another [Second Chances] for two; [and thanks to contributing] for three decades to retirement accounts, I may not need a full-time job anymore. I began monitoring my feelings about working for the Chronicle.
"My comic-strip business is growing and it needs my attention. I've been reviewing movies for 34 years, thousands and thousands of them, and I don't want to do that anymore.
"By the end of last year I concluded I'm done with writing movie reviews. In early January, I proposed writing two columns a week for a proportional reduction in pay. The Chronicle thought about it for about a week and passed. I was left with the option of working the same job or taking early retirement. I thought about it for a week [and retired]."
Here's how Connelly chose to print my chronology:
"Why the sudden move? Millar says in an e-mail that he 'took early [by eight years] retirement' for two reasons: the comic-strip business is taking up much of his time, and he's tired of the film-critic gig. 'I've been reviewing movies for 34 years, thousands and thousands of them, and I don't want to do that anymore,' he says. Millar says he offered to quit as film critic but remain as columnist 'for a proportional reduction in pay,' but the Chron turned him down. So he quit."
I had prefaced my chronology to Connelly with "If you get no story from [God's uninflected truth], my apologies in advance." But there it still was, that sweet, sweet image of onetime "untouchable veteran" Jeff Millar snapping "I quit" to an editor, then his sitting there slacked-jawed as the editor said, "OK."
I know why Connelly chose "sudden move." So do his editors. So do the folk in Phoenix, corporate headquarters of the Press's ownership.
But in fairness to Connelly, let's consider that he may not have printed my chronology because he decided I was not truthful. I have no way of proving what I told Connelly was uninflected truth. I went to those meetings with Chronicle management after a full year's emotional preparation, knowing that my leaving my job of 36 years was a 100 percent possibility.
Later in the same column, Connelly let "longtime reporter and editor Joe Householder" get out of dark-and-stormy KTRH with no suddenness at all.
Press readers might consider if Rich holds different respondents to different levels of proof when the personal reward is a Phoenix-pleasin' headline like "Prima donna film critic says 'I quit' in snit; relieved Chron says 'Yesss!' "
But it just didn't happen that way, Rich. Better luck with the next Chronicle retirement.
Richard Connelly responds: The move was "sudden," as far as readers and at least some of your co-workers were concerned. Anyone reading the column would, however, come away with the clear idea that in your view, the move was the result of a more thoughtful decision.
The column noted that "Millar says all his career talks with the paper were 'quiet, calm [and] professional.' " Note the plural in the phrase "career talks," and let me know how that sentence describes an argument with a snap decision.
You seem thrown by the fact that I ran a rumor by you about your allegedly blurting out "I quit" and being surprised when the editors accepted. But none of that was printed. Reporters run rumors by sources all the time; sometimes they check out, sometimes they don't. Your interpretation of the column seems based on a theory that I still believed the argument rumor and was somehow slyly trying to imply it in print.
You're reading too much between the lines.
What a fine piece of writing, your article on Oz ["Good-bye Yellow Brick Road," by Kathy Biehl, January 27].
I'm researching the subject of early Oz productions and have worked as a journalist, a writer of books and an editor. This is a note to compliment you on your fine writing. Keep up the good work.
East Chatham, New York
Thanks for the great cartoon on Perry Homes targeting historic landmarks in Europe for demolition [Chock Full O'Angst, by Kelly Klaasmeyer, February 17], and also for the informative article on cops and prosecutors targeting minorities as gang members ["Gang of One," by Melissa Hung, February 17].
The biggest unchecked gang activity in Houston is the organized crime by developers scheming to violate the rights of property owners. City and state officials need to recognize the pattern of fraud and malfeasance against the public through the abuse of city ordinances and nonprofit statutes to funnel profits into the hands of private developers at taxpayers' expense. Until government officials team up to investigate and fight real crime, instead of media-generated images of it, they are part of the crime problem. Antigang policies cannot be taken seriously while the government ignores, if not participates in, real organized crime.
I read with amazement Seth Landau's review of Liquid i's new release, Waves of Rain [Rotation, February 17]. I find the album very good, local or not. But what is baffling about the review is its caustic nature. The review starts out complimentary and positive, "most of Rain is solid," but then turns totally corrosive. If he thought it was solid, why not elaborate?
His criticism about the band's lyrics, "sophomoric," is way off. (He even incorrectly reprinted some of the lyrics.) Liquid i's lyrics are intelligent, thoughtful, evocative and poetic.
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His criticism of the band's remake of "Tainted Love" also doesn't make sense. Remaking songs is a tried-and-true tradition in music and is a means to pay tribute to one's influences. The real question is, who doesn't use it? Landau's comment: "Covering material is okay, so long as it's done honestly." What the hell does that mean? How do you cover a song dishonestly?
Waves of Rain is a damn good album. It grows on me the more I play it. Landau crossed the line from genuine music criticism to inexplicable malice. The underlying issue is his motives.
Andrew W. Chong