In an annual rite that goes back to the Truman administration, President Bush recently spared two turkeys from the ax and sent them to a petting zoo. If ever there was going to be a year when the White House decided to buck tradition and offer up some kind of turkey-beheading video, this certainly wasn't going to be it.
No turkeys are spared here, however. The last 12 months have brought a flock of unpalatable birds to Space City, and we now take time to honor them in all their glory:
Turkey of the Year: Janet Jackson
After 30 years of being treated like the dorkiest guy at the dance, Houston finally got another Super Bowl in 2004. And the city delivered with a weeklong celebration, a dizzying moment in the bright sun of celebrity-watching (who can forget the Galleria riot over some B-list rappers?) and, not least of all, a thrilling game that was decided at the last moment.
And what will we be remembered for? A nipple.
Not just any nipple, though. This was a Super Nipple. A nipple that unleashed a new wave of Calvinistic thunder from self-appointed moral guardians, who grabbed that nipple and wrung it for all it was worth, who used that nipple as a bludgeon against Howard Stern, who brandished that nipple to get seven-second delays on everything but Blue's Clues, who flaunted that nipple as a way to protect America from seeing youth-warping movies such as Saving Private Ryan.
That, obviously, is one helluva nipple. And it belongs, just as obviously, to Janet Jackson, our Houston Turkey of the Year.
Here's the NFL's apparent thought process for the halftime show: 1) Get an aging rock diva, one whose fast-fading star needs to be propped up fast with lots of edgy publicity; 2) Make sure she's plugging her second sex-drenched album in a row; 3) If possible, have her be part of the country's strangest family (non-Manson division); and 4) Sit back and watch as she performs a show that would make Anita Bryant and the Up With People folks proud!
Somehow Al Qaeda smuggled an operative into Jackson's wardrobe department, and the ensuing sabotage plunged this nation into a new onslaught of religious fervor that ultimately ended up re-electing George W. Bush.
As we said, it was one amazing nipple. And Houston was proud to do its part.
International Turkey: Talmadge Heflin
Face it: If you're a Texas legislator with a name like Talmadge Heflin, you're pretty much expected to be wearing a seersucker suit and floppy tie, fanning yourself with a panama hat as you boom out with a Foghorn Leghorn voice about the dangers of communism in the schools. Or Janet Jackson on the TV.
But Heflin, chair of the influential House Appropriations Committee, is actually a subtle geopolitical thinker whose interests range all over the globe.
His vast knowledge of Africa led him to take bold action earlier this year, getting a judge to send out a constable to seize custody of his maid's son in order to adopt the kid. (And we use the word "maid" in the sense that Heflin uses it for any illegal immigrant who lives in his house and performs occasional chores, which is to say "a guest.")
Why would he want to adopt the baby? "We all know the terrible problem that black male children have growing up into manhood without being in prison," he told the court.
He also noted that the birth mother might have trouble providing proper health care for her son; Heflin is something of an expert on the subject, having led the fight to cut state health programs for kids of low-income parents.
Unfortunately, a family court judge, utterly blind to the inevitable disaster of black parents raising a black son, refused to give the Heflins custody.
Despite his powerful position, he was then defeated for re-election by Hubert Vo, a Vietnamese immigrant.
Heflin's district apparently didn't appreciate his grasp of immigration issues, ably displayed when a Houston Press reporter asked him about government crackdowns and personal attacks on local Arabs and Middle East natives.
He replied by telling of a Middle Eastern family in his district whose tire store had been burned to the ground. "It turned out the family burned the store for insurance purposes," he said. "So, you know, there's always people who are trying to point something out about how we are discriminating, when in fact we are not."
And this man couldn't get re-elected? Or be declared World's Best Dad of Adopted Negroes?
It's a strange world we live in, man.
Movie Turkey: The Alamo
Take one notable military defeat, surround it with pompous dialogue and pseudo-heroic speeches, throw in a nice amount of historical inaccuracy, and what have you got? Movie magic! Hey, it worked with Pearl Harbor, how could it fail with The Alamo?
That, apparently, was the thinking at Disney, which somehow convinced itself the world was waiting for yet another long, long movie about that battle in San Antonio. Teens the world over were just desperate to hand over money to watch Dennis Quaid's interpretation of Sam Houston, a historical figure who has as much fame outside Texas as Rick Perry.
The Alamo cost $100 million to make. It brought in well over $22 million at the box office, although not more than $23 million.
Some movies released this year that outperformed The Alamo: the equally bloated and unseen Around the World in 80 Days; the indie Napoleon Dynamite, whose $400,000 budget probably equaled what The Alamo spent on bagels; and -- this is really salt in the wound -- even a Ben Affleck film. It's true: More moviegoers wanted to see Jersey Girl than The Alamo.
On the other hand, The Alamo did outperform The Yu-Gi-Oh Movie, if just barely. And it also nosed out NASCAR 3D: The IMAX Experience.
About the only good thing that can be said about The Alamo is that it embarrassed Texas Monthly. People who don't fawn over George W. Bush would tell you that it takes some doing to accomplish that these days, but The Alamo managed to do the trick. Quaid and Billy Bob Thornton, in historical garb, were featured on a December cover that promised Exclusive! looks behind the scenes of the movie TM assumed everyone was dying to see.
The film eventually hit theaters in April. Not so's you'd notice, though.
Sports Turkey: Drayton McLane
Yes, we realize that the Houston Astros actually won a playoff series this year. It was the feel-good baseball story of the year, unless you were part of the 95 percent of America who doesn't give a flip about the Astros.
Enjoy it while you can, folks. Things are about to get dismal in Astro-land, where owner Drayton McLane has decided he's had enough of so-called baseball experts and is going to take matters into his own hands.
Shortly after the season ended, McLane ran off general manager Gerry Hunsicker, who said he "wanted to spend more time with [his] family." Here's an SAT question: Hunsicker's "more family time" means: a) getting pushed out the door; b) finally having enough of his tightwad, Bible-thumping boss; c) knowing there's got to be a better job somewhere; or d) all of the above.
McLane dropping Hunsicker is like Hollywood deciding to go ahead and do that Meatballs sequel without Bill Murray -- only bad things can ensue.
Hunsicker's the one who worked magic under Drayton's arbitrary salary cap; Drayton's the one who decided to keep Craig Biggio for next year. Hunsicker is a forthright guy who stood up for Astros front-office employees; Drayton's the one henpecking those employees with his tired "Be a Champion" shtick, his Scrooge-like managerial style and all the great ideas that come from a lifetime of not giving a crap about baseball until he bought the team 12 years ago.
Now that he has the place to himself, now that he's our version of the Yankees' George Steinbrenner (a tightwad version, of course), we are entering a dark period of Astros history.
And given how un-bright Astros history has been up till now, that could be very dark indeed.
Turkey Actress: Kelly Siegler
Kelly Siegler may look like a Harris County prosecutor, but she's really the Meryl Streep of the courtroom. Actually, given the sleazy direct-to-video thriller feel of her performances, she's more the Karen Black of the courtroom.
If you ever need a prosecutor to bring in a bed, tie a colleague to it and pretend to stab him countless times, Siegler's your gal. If you need a prosecutor to roll around on a table or on the floor to dramatize events, call Kelly.
If you need someone to respect the intelligence of juries and simply present evidence without trying to be the new Matlock, well, you're probably better off calling someone else.
While the bed-stabbing re-creation got the most attention this year, we prefer another Siegler performance, one that showed a softer, non-stabbing side.
It was the trial of a preacher accused of sexually assaulting a woman he was counseling. Instead of simply having the woman testify -- borrr-ingggg -- Siegler played the part of the woman, with a fellow prosecutor in a supporting role as the accused.
The transcript reads like a bad phone-sex call.
"Where would you be positioned? Just like this? This close?" Siegler asked the woman while she stood oh-so-close to her co-star. "Now say out loud for the record -- what did he do with his hands?"
"He just moved his hands down, right in between my legs," the woman testified. And, as visitors in the courtroom all moved to the edge of their seats, Siegler's well-rehearsed co-star moved his hands only slightly below Siegler's waist.
They went all PG-13 on us! Damn! We guess they save the R-rated stuff for stabbings.
In a move as unsurprising as it is depressing, Hollywood has expressed interest in creating a television series based on Siegler's exploits.
And the wheels of justice roll on -- Houston-style.
Turkey Relative: Neil Bush
Space does not permit us to wallow long in the glory of Houston's Neil Bush, son of one president and brother of another.
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We don't have the room that The Washington Post did for its story, which included this: "Ah, it's nice to be Neil Bush, who seems to be living the lifestyle immortalized in those famous Dire Straits lyrics: 'Money for nothing and chicks for free.' "
Since the last Houston Press Turkey Awards, Neil has gotten publicity for testifying about Asian trips where women came unbidden to his hotel room for sex ("I don't remember the exact number of times" it happened, he said); for undergoing a very public paternity test as part of his nasty divorce; and of earning this Houston Chronicle headline: "HISD Board Approves Neil Bush Software Deal -- Decision Overrides Legal, Ethical Qualms."
That's just the tip of the Neil iceberg, an iceberg that somehow has not managed to do much harm to the Bush image. Still, he's ours, and we wish him well.
Which is more than his brothers did earlier this year. Neil was remarried in a River Oaks ceremony that received fawning Chron coverage. Neither W. nor Jeb bothered to attend.