Magic Bus: Truckin', got their (fried) chips cashed in.
Magic Bus: Truckin', got their (fried) chips cashed in.
Daniel Kramer

News to Use

Times have been tough at the world headquarters for Talon News. Its White House correspondent, "Jeff Gannon," sparked a national tizzy by lobbing an incredibly softball question during a President Bush press conference; subsequent blog research discovered "Gannon" was a guy named Jim Guckert who also dabbled in gay-sex Web sites.

Talon News came under fire for being little more than an extension of the GOP propaganda machine, one that made Fox News look fair and balanced. Reporters were highly annoyed that the "news" organization was granted the rare opportunity to get a question in to Bush; noted that the president's decision to call on Talon's representative "bestowed instant credibility on the apparently novice reporter" as well as Talon News.

(Gannon's question said Democratic leaders were "divorced from reality" and misquoted them as claiming people were in soup lines.)

So things are tense at Talon News World HQ. Which turns out to be a completely unprepossessing suburban tract house in Pearland.

Talon is owned by GOP supporter Bobby Eberle, who also owns the GOPUSA Web site. Eberle, who says he's CEO and editor in chief of Talon News, wouldn't go into the specifics of the Gannon controversy, but did answer a few questions.

A few questions -- Talon News-style!

Q. Can you really blame a guy like Gannon for wanting to give the Bush administration respectful questions when you're in the presence of such an honorable leader?

A. Uh, I'm not sure I understand the question.

Q. When you see liberals trying to get Gannon barred from press conferences, where does that rank in censorship, with Harvard and Larry Summers being a one and North Korea being a ten?

A. People need to put this in perspective and realize that the White House press corps is dominated by those of the opposite political persuasion. And they ask pointed questions every day (etc., etc., etc.).

Q. How tough do you think it is to get the conservative message through to the people, especially when you only have the most popular cable news network and most AM radio stations?

A. I think it's still extremely difficult.

The best quote from Eberle, by the way, was this analysis of Gannon's press-conference performance: "If you actually look at the question that was asked, and strip away the partisanship, it was a very good question."

Well, yes. Good point.

Like we say, Eberle wouldn't talk much about specifics, but he did make this promise to the journalistic world: Even though Gannon no longer works there, Talon News will survive.

So we can only hope the Bush administration is practicing how to answer piercing questions about how great it's doing.

It's Fine with Us

Timothy Despain, a former assistant treasurer at Enron, pleaded guilty to lying to various credit agencies in order to boost the company's prospects. He then cooperated with authorities, receiving immunity for any other possible criminal acts he might have committed at Enron or his subsequent employer, Halliburton. (What, Martha Stewart wouldn't hire him?)

Despain was sentenced February 8, receiving a $300,000 fine from the Securities and Exchange Commission. The fine was waived, however, because of Despain's "inability to pay."

His inability to pay? Is that how cavalier things are getting in the white-collar-crime world? "Sorry, I'm a little short -- could you waive that fine for me? Thanks awfully."

Next time you're sent to TDCJ for robbing a Stop-N-Go and get hit with a fine, just remember to tell the judge you can't afford it.

"It's pretty unusual," says criminal defense expert Kent Schaffer. "It's just window dressing, designed to deceive the public into thinking the guy was punished."

Schaffer says federal judges may choose not to fine someone who's indigent, but fining and then waiving is another thing altogether.

"In other words, he got paid $300,000 for his cooperation," he says. "The government said, 'We'll waive this and call it even.' "

Nice work if you can get it.

Magic Bus

Sandra Kirkpatrick is a 25-year-old Houston native who's back in town with a bus. A bus that runs on vegetable oil.

She and partner Chris King converted a 1988 Ford Econoline -- formerly used by a day-care center -- so that it would run on vegetable oil instead of diesel fuel. Such conversions are all the rage in places like Vermont and Europe and wherever, really, trees are in constant danger of being hugged.

Q. Where do you get your vegetable oil from? Do you walk into a grocery store, pick up a bottle and throw it in the gas tank?

A. Oh, wow, no. We use waste vegetable oil. New vegetable oil here would be, like, $4 a gallon, so what we do is pull up to the back of restaurants. And we tend to focus on Chinese, Japanese and Thai food restaurants. They fry fewer things in batter, so there's less chunky bits and coagulated stuff. And so we just ask 'em to plug our pump in, and we're able to suck it right out of their bins into our filters, into our tank.

Q. Do certain cities have better restaurants for your purposes?

A. I think, um, vegetable oil -- the standard American diet is fast food, you know. So the vegetable oil is pretty abundant anywhere that you go.

Q. So if you go to a Chinese restaurant, do the exhaust fumes coming out of your bus smell like egg rolls?

A. Generally, yeah, it'll smell like whatever we put in it. And we don't usually use a french-fry kind of thing, we usually go to some type of Asian food restaurant. But we have had barbecue before and french fries and stuff.

An earth-friendly bus that runs on the vegetable oil used to prepare meat products: Yet another in a long list of moral dilemmas for the vegans out there.

Shower the People

If students weren't busy being upset with the administration at Texas Southern University, it wouldn't be the TSU we've all grown to know and love. But this time there's a twist.

Sure, a group of students is calling for the ouster of President Priscilla Slade. Nothing new there. But they're also upset about a shower newly installed in the office of Dr. Gayla Thomas, senior VP of enrollment management and planning.

"We the students want to know what is the purpose of wasting state and federal funding to put a shower in your office, being that you only sit in your office and sign papers all day if you come to work," says TSU student Will Hudson. "It's not like she's doing any physical activity."

Hudson used to work for Thomas and in many ways is the epitome of the Disgruntled Former Employee, but maybe he has a point. We had visions of the $6,000 shower curtain purchased by Tyco exec Dennis Kozlowski; of gold-enameled Jacuzzi fixtures overlooking the perpetually underfunded campus; of cherubs spouting water from their mouths as classical music played softly.

Alas, it was not to be. Thomas showed Hair Balls the shower, and let's just say Kozlowski wouldn't be too jealous. The description from our correspondent: "It was one of those prefab ones you can get from Home Depot…There was a stand-alone sink with exposed pipes, cheap linoleum tile. One light overhead. The whole setup was pretty drab. I think I would get depressed if I took a shower there."

Thomas says the shower was put in during other renovations. "I guarantee not more than $300 was charged to the shower," she says. "This is a bathroom renovation that reflects a bare-bones project. Nothing that reflects frivolous spending."

Hudson says the shower is only one indication of overspending on administration offices. At one point he tried to rally a group of students to go take a shower in Thomas's office, but the idea never really caught fire.

Maybe everyone was waiting for the cherubs to be delivered.


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