The August 18 internal memo to all NASA personnel at Johnson Space Center seemed innocuous enough.
"With the party political conventions in full swing," wrote JSC chief counsel Bernard Roan, it was time to restate NASA's policy on employee campaign activities. Included was a warning against any political activity while on duty, and "on duty" could be defined as any time when an employee was wearing a NASA pin.
Then someone at NASA apparently realized that: 1) U.S. Representative Tom DeLay was being honored at an August 24 reception at nearby UH-Clear Lake; 2) Redistricting has put JSC in DeLay's district; and 3) NASA needs to do some serious kissing of the DeLay ass to keep getting funded.
So on August 19 a new memo went out. "It is my determination that it is in the Agency's interest for NASA [employees] and their guests to attend this event," deputy chief counsel Daniel Remington wrote.
The second memo alarmed some NASA workers. "I couldn't believe they'd do something like that," says one veteran employee. He said a co-worker had e-mailed to say he'd never seen anything like it in 30 years at JSC. "It just didn't pass the smell test," he said.
An anonymous complaint has been filed with NASA's inspector general, but somehow a ruling didn't come down before the DeLay event.
At the event, by the way, the number of protesters almost equaled the number of attendees.
We're hoping protesters removed any NASA pins they might have been entitled to wear. We're sure that's one investigation the inspector general would get right on top of.
Lawrence Allen, the principal of Jones High School, would seem to have a spotty résumé for higher office -- after all, the Houston school district once removed him from his post because of mismanagement; after he was reinstalled, a scathing report described Jones as unsafe, unorganized and uninspired. Not to mention that Allen's educational philosophy apparently involves installing video games, including one called Street Killer, in the cafeteria.
On the other hand, his mom is Alma Allen.
Alma Allen is the State Board of Education member who warmed the hearts of local Democrats by beating pseudo-Dem State Representative Ron Wilson. Basking in that glow, Ms. Allen lobbied to have her son named to fill her unexpired term on the SBOE.
She succeeded, but it wasn't easy. Precinct chairs from Allen's state board district in Harris and Fort Bend counties chose delegates who met August 27 to select someone to put on the ballot this November.
The Harris County delegate supported former cop and Democratic activist Michael Harris; the Fort Bend delegate had instructions to support Allen -- in part because Harris never appeared before the Fort Bend group to ask for its support.
After grilling the candidates for 90 minutes -- including point-by-point questions about Houston Press articles on Allen -- the two delegates deadlocked.
A coin flip was then proposed, but Harris objected. So the two delegates caucused again for 90 minutes and finally picked Allen.
We assume -- well, we hope -- Allen won't be bringing to Austin an agenda of "Video Games in Schools! And No Damn Accountants!" On the bright side, the state board is so dominated by right-wingers that Allen is sure to be marginalized.
So he'll actually have less effect on kids in the new job. Sometimes Mom does know best.
Narc Me Out
Lyle Lovett got his start hanging around the smoky environs of Montrose's Anderson Fair nightclub, where much of the smoke wasn't coming from Marlboros.
Now that he's gone all uptown -- an August 29 encore gig at the posh Hobby Center -- it seems he's forgotten his roots.
Lovett performed this summer at the Ottawa BluesFest in Canada, and one witness says Lovett went far to harsh the vibe, as the hip, young, drug-addled dopesters say.
"After the first song, Lyle said that he don't smoke no marijuana and he don't want to breathe no secondhand marijuana smoke," said the attendee, who prefers anonymity to being labeled a pro-dope commie. Lyle then asked "if the 'hippies' down front here could please put out that joint."
The crowd laughed, thinking he was joking, but Lovett "actually pointed out the offenders to security, who came over and told them to put it out. I heard people who've never smoked in their life say they thought it was a bit much."
Lighten up, potheads -- Lyle's a proud ambassador of George W.'s Texas, spreading the good word about our Christian ways. You don't like it, you can move to Canada.
Oh never mind.
Is This Job Worth It?
When you get elected mayor of the country's fourth-largest city despite being charisma-free, you tend to be thankful to the guys who ran your ad campaign. And Houston Mayor Bill White certainly is.
So when those ad guys -- the company sports the precious name ttweak -- put together a pro-bono PR campaign to boost Houston's image, you would think most city bureaucrats would say it's just wonderful.
That's not, however, what Jordy Tollett did. Tollett, the head of the Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau, has been giving a cold shoulder to ttweak's "Houston -- It's Worth It" campaign. He told the Houston Chronicle the campaign's point -- listing things like heat and traffic, then saying the city is still Worth It -- only highlights negative aspects of what he prefers to call Space City. He later refused to talk to a New York Times reporter for a story on it.
White is annoyed and is looking to oust Tollett, the rumor mill says.
Tollett has legendary survival skills -- he is to Houston mayoral administrations what cockroaches are to nuclear Armageddon -- but the mayor offered a noticeably tepid endorsement of him when given the chance to dispel the gossip at an August 25 meeting with the Houston Press.
Tollett is "colorful," the mayor said, not in a way that indicated he thought "colorful" was a key attribute for the job. "I want the [convention] bureau to book citywide conventions and if they don't, there will be personnel changes. If they do, then that's results."
He expects at least ten such conventions a year. It's still too early to judge how the GHCVB (and Tollett) have leveraged the Super Bowl success and new convention center hotel, he said, but time is short.
"Within the next year we'll have a good sense of how our marketing is working," he said.
Tollett says he hasn't heard the rumors about any mayoral rift. Ttweak's campaign "is cute and funny," he says, "but I can't sell a convention telling people those things -- I have to be positive."
He says the "turnaround year" for Houston as a convention hub would normally be three to five years after the late-2003 opening of the new convention center hotel, but things are going so well "it will be early 2006, not early 2007."
Which doesn't seem to jibe with White's schedule, but Tollett, the ultimate survivor, isn't worried. "I'm not asking for a free ride," he says. "If we don't perform, I shouldn't be here."
Harris County Tax-Assessor Collector Paul Bettencourt, along with other county officials, held an August 27 press conference to announce a voter registration drive.
Typical stuff, really. But reporters who got there early listened to a single song being looped over and over: the Beatles' "Taxman."
The song with lyrics like "Let me tell you how it will be -- there's one for you, 19 for me / 'Cause I'm the taxman."
We know Bettencourt is a fiscal conservative, but is he really so self-loathing? Is an intervention needed?
His media rep "just did that as a fun thing," Bettencourt says. "I find it hysterically humorous that the No. 1 rock and roll band in the world has a song about the taxman taking too much of their money."
So playing it is not actually a pathetic cry for help or a banner announcing terminally low self-esteem?
"Not at all," he says. "There's no self-loathing here, please."
Ten years ago, Kenneth Wilk was the president of the Houston chapter of the Log Cabin Republicans, the organization for gay GOPers. In October of that year, he told the Houston Press that he wasn't too upset that some GOP candidates had spurned the group's endorsement.
The organization, he said, wants to show other Republicans "we're not a Mardi Gras parade. That we're not deviant Mainly we want a fair shake, that's all."
Nowadays, Wilk's efforts to convince his Republican Party colleagues that he's "not deviant" have hit a snag. He's sitting in a Florida jail, charged with killing a cop who was trying to find Wilk's stash of child pornography.
Shockingly, neither the local nor national offices of the Log Cabin Republicans returned calls seeking comment on Wilk. But Ray Hill -- who's not very Republican, but is well versed on the gay Houston political scene -- remembers Wilk as having a brief, tempestuous reign as Log Cabin president.
He quickly moved up the ranks -- mostly by default, Hill says -- but angered people with his endorsements in 1994.
"He made some bad calls, and people thought he acted as a kingmaker when there were others in the group with more seniority, so they deposed him over that," Hill says.
Wilk was "a loose cannon," but no suspicion of child porn came up, he says. Nor did any talk of his hobby being "hunting cops," as Wilk listed on an Internet profile before his arrest. He moved to Florida in 1997.
Maybe he can put off his trial or plea bargain until November, so he can still proudly cast an all-important Florida vote for the GOP ticket.
Houstonians, the Olympics are over. It is safe to remove the armored breastplate protecting that blood-pumping organ in your chest.
As aficionados of overwrought writing know, every four years Houston Chronicle columnist John P. Lopez maniacally records how some Olympic athlete has done physical damage to TV viewers.
It's usually a female gymnast (or, as Lopez typically refers to them, a "pixie imp with cold-steel determination"). Which you would think might've caused some problems this year, the pixie imps having sucked and all. Lopez was not to be deterred, though. "We inched forward in our seats," he wrote, "not sure which gymnastics star would clench her teeth and stick her landing smack in the middle of our hearts." (Answer: none.)
Other heart-endangering Lopez highlights through the years: "[Kerri] Strug is sitting in a lavishly furnished hotel suite on the latest of her nearly 200 personal appearances since she stuck her feet onto the Olympic mats and landed square in the hearts of millions of fans worldwide."
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"For [Nadia] Comaneci it all began in 1976 with perfect scores of 10 and a perfectly choreographed vault into the hearts of millions of fans."
"It's Laura Wilkinson's face, standing up there 33 feet above the rest of the world at a place called Homebush Bay, about to dive into millions of hearts."
"There was little Kim Zmeskal falling off the balance beam and breaking only our hearts."
Warning: People with heart conditions should not read Lopez columns.