Friday, November 30, 2007

Fort Worth Texans in the Motherflippin' House

What could be more GenX than appropriately obscure t-shirts and hats from long-defunct local sports teams? How ironic and retro cool.

Well, you can have your vintage sportswear needs met right here at Section 219, a Dallas-based company with some cool old Fort Worth sports team logos. If that's not enough, venture over to Cooperstown Ball Cap Co. for some custom sized Fort Worth Cats and Fort Worth Panthers hats. Thanks to Unfair Park for the tip!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

TCU Gas Drilling Site Receives Permits

The first TCU gas wells have received permits from the Texas Railroad Commission. The wells, TCU Well No. 1H, TCU Well No. 3H and TCU Well No. 5H received permits on Nov. 16.

It is unclear if a high impact variance will be required. According to the city's gas drilling ordinance, a high impact permit is required if the well is within 600 feet of a residence, religious institution, public building, hospital, school, or public park. There are many houses north of Cantey that appear to be within the 600 perimeter, but no request for a variance has been submitted, the city's Engineering Services Office told me this morning. And that red dot? That's the main reason I care. Gas drilling is not without some risk, and that red dot is Alice Carlson Elementary School. My daughter goes to school there.

All high impact permits, without a waiver from the protected use property owners, must be approved by the city council after a public hearing. At the hearing, the city council may consider whether the natural gas drilling would conflict with the orderly growth of the city, whether there are other alternative sites, access for fire personnel and equipment and the recommendations of the gas inspector. The city council may accept, reject or modify the application.

If the gas well is located greater than 600 feet but less than 1,000 feet from a residence, religious institution, public building, hospital, school or a public park, the well is classified as an urban permit. No public hearing is required, however, the city told me that as a courtesy, they will inform the school board if a school is within 1,200 feet. Whether or not that means there will be a hearing remains unclear.

Stay tuned.

City Responds to Trinity Trees Lawsuit

The Startlegram reports that the city is asking a state district judge to throw out Melissa Kohout's lawsuit to prevent drilling at the Trinity Trees site. The basis for Kohout's lawsuit is that she was denied her right to address the government.

Sez the S-T (emphasis below is mine): "Kohout and her lawyer Jason Smith say in the lawsuit that the city violated its own ordinance by giving Chesapeake a special high-impact permit to drill near the trail.

"Such permits are required for gas wells within 600 feet of homes, parks or other 'protected uses' and can't be issued without a waiver from the property owner or the City Council. The ordinance doesn't include the trail system, though, because it is owned by the Tarrant Regional Water District.

"Chesapeake didn't apply for a high-impact permit and didn't post notices that it was seeking one. But city officials gave Chesapeake a permit after water district President Jim Oliver signed a waiver.

"Kohout's lawsuit points out that the city argued exactly the opposite in a 1995 zoning case, when it fought a topless bar that it felt would have been too close to the trail system. The lawsuit also says the city gave preferential treatment to Chesapeake and denied residents a chance to petition the council about the permit because the company's notices didn't mention it. Instead, they mentioned a less restrictive type of permit."

Although I am not a lawyer -- I'm just a simple caveman -- the whole sneaky way that the high-impact variance was granted seems to have some merit. We depend on the city's gas drilling ordinance to protect the environment and the safety of the people who live here. If the ordinance doesn't do that, what's to prevent a gas drilling company from putting up a well wherever they please? Is the public just going to be left out of this process altogether?

Monday, November 26, 2007

Back to Reality -- Football Edition

I'm back after the holiday layoff, which consisted mainly of food coma and Guitar Hero 3. Oh, and football. Lots of football. Some random thoughts:

  • In the aftermath of the Aggies' thrashing of my Texas Longhorns, I have to say a few kind words about A&M quarterback Stephen McGee. He's brought his A-game for three straight years against Texas and won two of them. The Longhorns dared him to throw and he did. He completed 25 of 36 passes with three touchdowns and two interceptions for a career-high 362 yards. He played with a grit and intensity that is the signature of football played at its best. Hats off to him. I also admire the young man from Burnet for the way he stood by his embattled coach, Dennis Franchione. I wish the Fran-man was worthy of the loyalty, but, as a former S-T colleague once told me years ago, Fran is all about Fran. And, as another Startlegramer pointed out, Fran showed his true colors again on Friday. This, of course, after he left every gadget play on the field to beat the Horns. I'm sure the Agroid faithful wonder where was this Dennis Franchione for most of the past five years? Oh, well, bring on Mike Sherman. Yeah, that is a hire sure to fill the Big 12 with trepidation.

  • Get used to saying the No.1-ranked Missouri Tigers, at least for one week. After an impressive victory over the Kansas Manginos, they look like a team that can handle Oklahoma this time around, although I'm having a hard time imagining a Gary Pinkel-coached squad reaching the promised land. I'll be rooting for them, which is sure to be the kiss of death for El Tigres. But who wouldn't love to see a Missouri-West Virginia national championship tilt?

  • If I had a vote in the Heisman race, it would go to Arkansas' Darren McFadden, whom we all owe a debt of gratitude for knocking off No. 1-ranked LSU on Friday and preventing Les Miles from reaching the National Championship. Mizzou-rah's Chase Daniel will get some votes and could have a shot at it. Oregon's Dennis Dixon would have had a chance if he hadn't suffered a season-ending knee injury that sent the Ducks' season south. But DMac is the nation's most exciting player to watch IMO. The real irony of this is that Darren's coach, Houston Nutt, will probably be fired soon anyway. Maybe Houston and Fran can have rousing game of "Remember when we won our last game?"

  • Another reason Arlington sucks: Texas A&M and Arkansas officials are working out the final details to play an annual non-conference football game between the two schools in the Dallas Cowboys' new stadium in Arlington, sources from both schools told the San Antonio Express-News on Sunday. An announcement on the series, which would start in 2009 at the earliest, could come as early as this week. My feeling are unchanged. The jihad continues.

  • The Austin American-Statesman's columnist Kirk Bohls usually takes a lot of shots from the Longhorn faithful for his columns, and I'm sure this one will be no different. But I usually find Kirk to be on target and this one is no different. Mack Brown is still a great coach, but he needs to fix the defensive staff like big time. In the Longhorns' past four games, the defense has given up an average of 512.5 yards and 35.3 points. Does that mean Defensive Coordinator Duana Akina is out the door? It should. The personnel are on campus for a dramatic improvement next year -- I'm talking to your Misters Kindle, Norton and Muckleroy -- but he's got to get the right coach in place to maximize their potential. Is Syracuse done with Greg Robinson yet?
  • Tuesday, November 20, 2007

    Let Us Not Forget

    Gas drilling can be dangerous business. The citizens of Fort Worth are right to ask the city to provide adequate protection for our neighborhoods. You can do this by asking the Mayor and the City Council if they are serious about revisiting the gas drilling ordinance.

    S-T's a Wee-Bit Touchy on the Barnett Shale

    The Star-Telegram has taken lots of licks lately for its coverage of urban gas drilling -- both from me and from the FWWeekly.

    And that why it shouldn't surprise that the paper felt the need to defend its coverage with this post on the Barnett Shale blog. So, does the S-T have a point?


    Although I think the S-T is showing more enterprise and less boosterism in its reporting over the past three months, I think there is a long way to go. The S-T hasn't been asking enough questions and tended to be more rah-rah about gas drilling than anything else.

    I expect our daily newspaper to hold government and business accountable for their actions. Freedom of the press is an important component of a health democracy. But who holds the newspaper accountable? We do -- the people of Fort Worth. And I think that's what is going on. The readers are demanding better and the paper is hearing it.

    I'm not saying that there is nothing good going on at 400 West 7th. I think the Barnett Shale blog is generally good. However, in spite of the Sunday story, I think there is a lot more to report on injection wells. Hell, go out to Wise County and find out why people are so pissed off about the environmental impact of gas drilling because they are already at where we will be in a few years. There's a great story idea right there.

    Injection wells are the issue flying under the radar at City Hall right now. There is a lot of backroom movement of this, but the public is generally shut out of the process. We depend on the newspaper to shine the light into the dark corners of public policy and help us find our way.

    One issue that hangs over the Star-Telegram and its relationship with Chesapeake Energy. I think the readers of the Star-Telegram would be well-served if the paper would disclose how much money the paper received from Chesapeake Energy as a signing bonus on the lease for the 40 acres at the South Plant. The paper should also disclose the terms of the deal.

    If the paper is in a business arrangement with Chesapeake that could potentially net the paper hundreds of thousands, or even millions of dollars, the readers need to know this information so they can weigh for themselves whether or not the business arrangement compromises the objective coverage of urban gas drilling.

    The S-T earned its Turkey Award this year, but at least the paper is trying to make some changes in its coverage. I applaud these efforts. I would encourage everyone in Fort Worth to be a part of the conversation. Continue reading the paper and share your opinions -- positive and negative -- with the editors.

    More Westside Drilling on the Way

    All those folks in Tanglewood will soon get to find out how much they really like urban gas drilling. TCU announced on its Web site that the natural gas exploration lease for TCU's campus has been transferred from Four Sevens Resources Co., Ltd. to Chesapeake Exploration, LLC, an affiliate of Chesapeake Energy Corporation.

    Four Sevens work as the landmen for Chesapeake, and it's an arrangement that works quite well for them. Last year, Four Sevens and Sinclair Oil sold 39,000 acres in the to Chesapeake for $845 million in cash to Chesapeake Energy. Four Sevens and Sinclair split the take 50-50.

    Sez TCU: "Currently, Chesapeake has begun to conduct site analysis near remote parking on the north side of campus. In addition, the company also will begin the process of filing initial permits with the Texas Railroad Commission and communicating with local residents.

    "TCU's decision to drill follows on the heels of other Metroplex organizations pursuing natural gas exploration opportunities with Chesapeake. These organizations include the City of Fort Worth, Tarrant County College, Fort Worth Independent School District, Tarrant Regional Water District, Colonial Country Club and the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport."

    Wow, that's pretty impressive list of clients, Chesapeake.

    Of course, I think it is also worth noting that Four Sevens executive Dick Lowe was the booster at the heart of the TCU football recruiting scandal back in the 1980s. Back then, Lowe said that a "blue chip" running back cost $10,000 to $25,000 down, $1,000 a month and a new car.

    Stuff from the Paper

  • Fort Worth to Rick Perry -- Thanks for nothing: In a not-very-surprising move, Governor Goodhair chose Dec. 18 for a runoff election for a seat in the Texas House of Representatives, rejecting a request by Tarrant County election officials to hold the runoff on Dec. 11 to coincide with the District 9 City Council runoff. After learning of Perry's decision, the City Council moved the District 9 runoff date to Dec. 18. I figured that Slick Rick would do this because the thought of all of those Democrats showing up to vote for Juan Rangel or Joel Burns are probably also going to cast a vote for Dan Barrett. Burns told the S-T that he is concerned that a date closer to Christmas will hold down turnout. Rangel said he is concerned that no early voting will take place on a Saturday.

  • FW is gay-friendly: Not new information here, but still it is a positive trend that deserves noting. Sez the S-T: " "Fort Worth, long known as one of the nation's more conservative communities, is home to 10 times as many same-sex couples than it was 16 years before, a new study shows. ... In Fort Worth, the number of same-sex couples in Fort Worth jumped to 2,254 in 2006 from 196 in 1990, the study shows." Why is this positive? Richard Florida said in his book, The Rise of the Creative Class, thriving, growing cities attract culturally and ethnically diverse people — artists, gays, people who are physically fit and open-minded and anyone who thinks and creates for a living. I see this trend as a positive indicator of the city's economic health.
  • Monday, November 19, 2007

    Scat Jazz Lounge -- Opening Dec. 6

    We finally have a date -- Ricki Derek's Scat Jazz Lounge will open on Dec. 6!

    Ricki will be joined by "special friends" for the big grand opening party. You can find the Scat Jazz Lounge at 111 West 4th Street in the basement of the Woolworth Building. For more information, visit the club's Web site. For more on Ricki Derek, read the West and Clear interview.

    The Looming Tower

    In case you haven't noticed, there's a gas well towering over Bluebonnet Circle. I did a little scribbling about the looming tower this morning. For the story and more photos from mi amigo PeteG, head on over to West and Clear.

    Sunday, November 18, 2007

    Barnett Shale Weekend Roundup

    A busy weekend of Barnett Shale news in the Star-Telegram:

  • An interesting read on the injection well issue in Fort Worth. Gas drillers frame their argument this way: "Lack of available, accessible, affordable saltwater disposal wells is a deal-killer for the Barnett Shale in Fort Worth." God if that were only true. But it ain't a deal killer, it just cuts into their profit margin.

    Gas companies have said that they need as many as 15 injection wells, connected by a network of pipelines. Although gas drillers claim injection wells are safer than having trucks with wastewater on our streets, this argument overlooks a few things. If a water truck tips over and spills its cargo -- how much water is spilled? 10,000 gallons? If a pipeline leaks and goes undetected for a week or more, how much water is spilled? 10 or 100 times as much?

    However, this argument is getting some traction at City Hall and, unless something changes soon, the current moratorium against injection wells won't stand up. If you care about the environment in Fort Worth, I encourage you to write the Mayor and your City Council representative and let them know that you do not want injection wells in our city.

    Injection wells are easier and cheaper for the gas drillers, but this disposal method is not in the best interests of the people of Fort Worth or our natural environment.

  • Whoever wrote the headline for this story must also dot their i's with smiley faces or little hearts. I mean, talk about looking on the bright side: "Johnson, Wise county residents say benefits [of gas drilling] outweigh costs." How about this -- "90 percent of those surveyed in Wise County say that gas operators MUST adopt and use more environmentally friendly drilling practices."

  • A video from the S-T's Barnett Shale blog shows us that gas drilling is noisy and -- what a surprise -- people who have gas wells on their property like it and their neighbors don't.

  • Mitch Schnurman writes about JPMorgan's deal with the City of Fort Worth to manage its gas lease paperwork will undoubtedly raise more than a few eyebrows. The money quote: Gene Powell -- that big ol' teddy bear for the gas industry -- sez "They're always asking me, 'What's the best deal you've ever seen in the Barnett Shale?'" Powell says. "That's easy: JPMorgan's contract with the city of Fort Worth." Yipes!
  • Wednesday, November 14, 2007

    Joel Burns: A Clarification

    I've been a little rough on Joel Burns during the campaign season. As in asking him to drop out of the race rough.

    However, we had a little chat on Election Day in front of the polling place at Lily B. Clayton Elementary. "I'd appreciate it if you gave me another chance," he said. "I'm really not a bad guy."

    He explained a few things about the phone poll and the URLgate thing and reiterated his apologies for both. He also explained that he does own more than the six URLs I listed in my article, and he was kind enough to provide me with a list of 55 URLs, which I checked out as being owned by him.

    "I offered Bernie’s [URL] to him by transfer or by not renewing it when it expires in Jan. I also have some for Wendy [Davis] I registered at the same time that I’m transferring to her once she gets her campaign set up."

    Joel's explanation and his apology for what happened are enough for me. I believe that my own apology is in order for inaccurate reporting. I'm sincerely sorry.

    I also offered Joel a fresh start, and in that spirit, we are turning the page. I am going to reset the game clock to zero. Joel has agreed to an interview. I've also asked Juan Rangel for an interview, but have not received a response yet. I look forward to bringing those interviews to you soon to help you make your voting decisions in the District 9 race.

    One thing I would hope to hear from both candidates is a clear and comprehensive position on urban gas drilling issues confronting our city, such as the injection well moratorium, downtown gas drilling and high-impact variances. Gentlemen, start your engines.

    Barnett Shale News Items

  • South Side Update: The FWWeekly offers a catch-up story on the gas drilling battle on the South Side, primarily focusing on Don Young and Liane Janovsky. Not really much new in here, but I think it is worth remembering that XTO's alternative to its Eighth Avenue drilling site is, as Liann reminds us, "within 1,000 feet of the Fort Worth ISD’s Daggett Montessori school, as well as Daggett Elementary and [Daggett] Middle School and the Montessori preschool. There are also a couple of dozen poor rental properties over there. And I object to the idea of a gas well that close to schools.”

    In the article, Young also says that a gas drilling pad site has been staked out just south of the beautiful old Texas & Pacific warehouse on Lancaster Avenue, which is going to be developed for high-end condos. I asked Kevin Buchanan at Fort Worthology about this the other day, and he actually went down to the site and took some pictures. He didn't see anything. Did he miss it? Nonetheless, I find it hard to believe that drilling would be allowed so close to a building complex that is on the National Register of Historic Places and an active residential complex at that. But there are so many dumbfounding aspects to urban gas drilling, where do you begin the list?

  • Oh, funny running into you here: Talk about an awkward moment. Mayor Mikey decided to take a little stroll down by the Trinity Trees the other day. Maybe he was thinking about the $620,000 he earned from his oil and gas holdings in 2006. 2007 should be a better year. Then, boom! He runs into Melissa Kohout, who is suing the city over the Trinity Trees drilling site. Wow. Where can a Mayor go to get away around here anyway?
  • Remembering Hank Thompson

    Sometimes, it just happens. You pick up one of those records that realigns your view of the musical landscape, that happily sends you off exploring in a different direction.

    For me, one of the records was Hillbilly Music: Thank God! Vol. 1, which was the result of letting Marshall Crenshaw loot the Capitol Records archives back in the late 1980s. So, after being immersed in punk and alternative music for most of my junior high and high school years, suddenly I was listening to Merle Travis, the Louvin Brothers, Jimmy Bryant & Speedy West and Rose Maddox.

    But the real thunderbolt moment for me was the first cut, Hank Thompson playing "How Cold Hearted Can You Get." Maybe it was the virtuoso guitar work, maybe it was Hank's deep clear voice and the jauntiness of his phrasing. I don't know what it was, but at that moment, the twang hooked me and it lives in my heart still.

    Last week, Thompson, the country music Hall of Famer and Fort Worth-area resident, passed away last week after a long battle with lung cancer. He was 82. Since then, I've been thinking about him a lot and trying to put my thoughts into words.

    I was lucky enough to meet Hank a couple of times. I saw him play a gig at The Sons of Hermann Hall in Dallas back in 1995, an almost religious experience. As he played that big ole Gibson hollow-body and sang all of his classics, I sipped on a Shiner Bock and watched dancers, old and young, scoot their boots across that old wooden floor. And I thought gawd-damn, THAT is the kind of old guy I wanna be.

    I got to meet Hank after the show, say thanks and get an autograph on my Hatch Show Print poster. That poster still hangs in my man-cave to this day (it's in the photo in the upper right).

    I saw Hank again a few years back, I think it was 2003. I wanted to take my wife and daughter to see him, and I laughed because we were probably the only folks under 60 there at the theater in Grapevine. He had slowed a step, but was still able to play a 45-minute set and sign autographs after the show. He autographed my daughter's program, graciously accepted our thanks for a show well played, and gave me a firm handshake and his trademark smile.

    You have to admire a guy who could keep working like that at an age when most would have consigned themselves to a Barcolounger to watch reruns of the Lawrence Welk Show. Not Hank. In fact, I think we can all learn a few things from him:

    Do What You Love
    Growing up outside of Waco to German immigrants, Hank showed a knack for music and played on local radio before a stint in the Navy took him to the South Pacific during World War II. He studied electrical engineering briefly at Princeton after the war. It was a great opportunity, but what he really wanted to do was play music. So he returned to Waco and to the radio business, and put together a band he called the Brazos Valley Boys. They recorded their first single, "Whoa Sailor," a song inspired by his time in the Navy, for the Globe label in 1946. (See a video of "Whoa Sailor" below:

    When the song became a regional hit, it caught the notice of Tex Ritter who helped Hank get a record deal with Capitol Records. From 1948 through 1980, Hank recorded 60 top 40 hits on the country charts. Yeah, electrical engineering is good job, but country music legend is a hell of a lot better. Lesson learned: You can always play it safe in life. Listen to your heart and take a few chances.

    Don't Be Afraid to Try New Things
    Hank enjoyed a lot of firsts in a career that spanned seven decades. His band was the first act to tour with a sound and lighting system; first to receive corporate tour sponsorship; first to record a live album "Hank Thompson, Live At The Golden Nugget In Las Vegas" released on Capitol in 1960, first country music show to play in Las Vegas, first to record in Hi-Fi stereo; and first to perform on a color broadcast of a television variety show. Lesson learned: Life changes. Change along with it.

    Keep On Keeping On
    This could also be called "Do what you love 'til it kills you." Hank kept performing until a few weeks before he died. Seven decades doing anything is impressive. Seven decades of doing something well -- now that's special. Lesson learned: You're going to die anyway, but there's time for that later. Live. Now.

    Don't Expect People to Make a Big Deal When You're Gone
    At his request, there will be no funeral for Hank Thompson. However, his fans will gather to celebrate his life at 2 p.m. today at Billy Bob's Texas, 2520 Rodeo Plaza. Lesson learned: If people really love you, they'll remember you anyway.

    Because I can't make it, I offer these videos I found on YouTube that show the man in his prime. Take a minute to check out the greatness.

    Playing "Green Light":

    Playing "Wildwood Flower / Just to Ease The Pain":

    Interview on the Hal Peters Show. It's kind of funny. His house is on Tenkiller Lake and my grandfather was an engineer who helped build Tenkiller Dam:

    Thanks for the memories, Hank. Rest in peace.

    In The Spirit of Turkey Day

    ... the FWWeekly offers up it's Turkey Awards, and all the usual suspects are there for (well-deserved) roasting -- Mayor Mikey, Chuck Silcox, and Kay Granger. My personal favorite:

    "Fort Worth Star-Telegram and the Gas Drillers: The city’s daily newspaper has celebrated gas drilling from the outset of the Barnett Shale phenomenon several years ago. With so many millions at stake, it’s not surprising that Fort Worth city officials have kowtowed to the industry so far. What’s less easily explained is the Star-Telegram’s motivation for cheering on drillers erecting rigs in bustling neighborhoods. Gushing editorials were nauseating enough, but then we got columnist Bud Kennedy’s view that allowing a high-impact gas well in a tree-covered area near a Trinity River hike and bike trail was A-OK, no problema. More than a thousand residents rallied against the permit, trying to convince the company to drop the proposal or at least reduce its impact on the property. But that passionate show of democracy in action was just so much fuss to Kennedy — the company had a legal right to drill, and nothing more needed to be said.

    "That column aside, the paper’s coverage has some people wondering how much Barnett Shale money is making its way to the Star-T’s bank account, either through advertisements or from drilling royalties from its properties. The newspaper has practiced boosterism since chief booster Amon G. Carter founded it. But no newspaper worth its salt should act as uncritical apologist for an industry that has thus far shown little concern for the environment or citizens’ safety and quality of life and shown every indication that it’s willing to bully citizens and, in many cases, lie, cheat, and steal to get what it needs. (No, of course those injection wells won’t affect water wells; 300 feet is plenty of clearance from houses and schools; officer, please arrest those legal demonstrators for daring to express their opposition to our arm-twisting.)

    "Recently, however, the newspaper has begun offering a little more balance in its coverage and on its blog site devoted to the Barnett. So in the spirit of the day, we give thanks for small wonders."

    Someone give Gayle Reaves a hug. Or buy her a beer. Or both.

    Tuesday, November 13, 2007

    Environmental Notes

  • Need your help on an urgent matter. Letters are needed before Nov. 15 for a proposed wastewater permit just upstream from Prairie Creek Park. The Fort Worth Prairie Park trailer park has asked for a state permit to dump 10,000 gallons a day of ‘treated’ sewage into pristine Rock Creek. That’s over 3.6 million gallons a year! The health of Rock Creek is critical to native aquatic wildlife, including rare and threatened species. Local children play in and learn along this wild creek. And this creek flows into Benbrook Lake, the Trinity River, and our drinking water. Please write the TCEQ (Texas Commission on Environmental Quality) and demand that they DENY THE PERMIT TO DUMP SEWAGE INTO ROCK CREEK. Anybody who lives in Texas can comment because TCEQ is a State agency, and water quality is a statewide issue. The Proposed Wastewater Permit number is WQ0014753001. Send your letters to: Office of the Chief Clerk, Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, Mail Code MC-105, P.O. Box 13087, Austin, TX 78711-3087.

  • When does art imitate life? When Don Young and gas drillers mix it up over a couple of FWISD poster contests. If you are interested in entering FWCanDo's Buzzworms in the Backyard contest, there's still time. The deadline is Dec. 1. Artists may enter one artwork and there will be a $10.00 entry fee. There will be a young person’s category (age 6 to 17) and an artist category (18 and older). For more information, visit the FWCanDo Web site.
  • Monday, November 12, 2007

    Does Mike Leach Have a Point?

    I've always kind of liked Mike Leach. Although he's sometimes derided as Coach PlayStation for his crazy fourth-down gambles and sometimes questionable playcalling, I think the guy is a football genius. I also like the fact that in a job where every aspect of media exposure is tightly managed, Mike refuses to stick to the script. He tells it with the bark off, like this outburst earlier this season:

    However, I went to Austin on Saturday to watch the Longhorns beat Mike's Pirate School. Texas won, 59-43, in a game that was entertaining to watch, that is assuming you prefer non-stop scoring over gritty defense.

    That's why I was a little surprised at Leach's comments about the poor officiating after the game.

    Let's look at the calls that set off Leach. These calls came in the third quarter:

  • A pass to Tech receiver Michael Crabtree deep in Texas territory was ruled incomplete. Leach challenged the ruling, but it was upheld after a review.

  • Later in the same drive, quarterback Graham Harrell completed what would have been an 18-yard touchdown pass to Edward Britton, but it was overturned after an official review. Replays appeared to show the ball had hit the ground.

  • Moments later, an apparent touchdown was wiped out by a holding penalty, and Leach thought a late hit should have been called on Texas defensive end Henry Melton on the same play.

  • Did Leach have a point?

  • The Crabtree catch: If the video evidence was inconclusive, the ruling on the field stands. I couldn't tell from my seat in the stadium, and I haven't consulted TIVO yet. My thought at the time was that he caught the ball.

  • The Britton TD: The replay showed in the stadium clearly showed the ball hitting the ground.

  • The Holding Penalty: The holding call on Louis Vasquez was pretty obvious.

  • The Late Hit: Texas defensive end Henry Melton probably should have gotten flagged for lighting up Harrell.

  • Of course, Leach didn't mention Harrell's jackassery after one of Tech's TDs that could have easily gotten a flag. Leach laid in to Harrell on the sideline after that one. And that's the way it goes. Some things get flagged, some things don't. Is it a conspiracy? Is it incompetence? Is it bias? No. It's just the the way the game goes.

    So does Mike have a point? Does Texas get favorable calls from the refs?

    You know, Mark Mangino thought so back in 2005:

    These days, Mangino doesn't spend as much time complaining about Big 12 refs because his team is 10-0. And that's what it comes down to -- if you are making the plays and winning games, you don't have to worry about the refs.

    If anyone has grounds to talk about late hits not being called, talk to Texas QB Colt McCoy. There were about three hits on Colt in the KState game that could have been flagged. Then there was the time he got blown up by Auston English after a play was stopped in the OU game. Texas lost both of those games, but was it because of no-calls? Nope. It was about not making plays.

    Look, Leach is a smart guy. He's got a talented team and he's frustrated that things haven't gone better for them this year. I understand that. But his team has to make the plays, and right now, his defense isn't doing that. I don't think any of the calls in question would have turned the game for Tech. Texas moved the ball at will on the Red Raiders and chewed up lots of clock. That killed Leach's team more than the refs.

    Leach has lots of talent on his pirate crew. He's got a powerful offense, but his team needs to play better defense. If that happens, I think a lot of his officiating problems will disappear.

    More Questions Than Answers in the Pipeline

    OK, I need to modify a comment I made yesterday.

    Specifically, this one: "While the Star-Telegram toils relentlessly to tell you about the horse race to sign neighborhoods in the Barnett Shale, the Dallas Morning News and the Denton Record-Chronicle are busy doing actual journalism."

    I still find most of the Startlegram's coverage of the Barnett Shale to be too much on the rah-rah side, but I think that my comment is unfair to Mike Lee's reporting.

    I think Mike is doing good public service journalism on Barnett Shale topics, and he did so again on Sunday with his story on how little say communities have on the natural gas pipelines that run through them.

    One of the more interesting points of the story -- a subsidiary of Chesapeake Energy has applied for permission to run a pipeline under the Fort Worth & Western Railroad tracks. The tracks run through Trinity Park, then southward past Lily B. Clayton Elementary School and the Mistletoe Heights and Berkeley Place neighborhoods.

    That pipeline will run about a football field away from the elementary school. Plus that right-of-way might carry a future commuter rail line -- that is if you can build a rail line on top of a pipeline. Doesn't sound like a great idea, does it?

    Lee's story also shines a light on the lack of effectiveness of oversight from the Texas Railroad Commission. Recent reports from WFAA and The Dallas Morning News indicate that the commission watered down a report on defective gas pipe couplings that were involved in several fatal explosions.

    Although the Railroad Commission contends it is doing a good job on pipeline safety, the facts show otherwise. Mike Lee writes: "In 2000, the Commission directed Texas natural gas utilities to remove all Poly 1 pipe in their systems, after finding evidence of substantial material failures. ... Poly 1 was a type of plastic pipe used in the early 1970s. A Star-Telegram investigation in 2004 showed that Lone Star Gas, a predecessor to Atmos Energy, knew the pipe was prone to cracking even before the company began using it. The Railroad Commission learned about the problems with Poly 1 pipe in 1983, 17 years before ordering the pipe's removal."

    17 years. Wow.

    If that doesn't scare you about the quality of the oversight we get from the Railroad Commission, consider this: the Texas Railroad commissioners receive hundreds of thousands of dollars in contributions from the oil and gas industry. In 2006, Michael Williams received $106,765, Victor Carillo received $164,154 and Elizabeth Ames Jones received $640,388. And to think, I was worried about Railroad Commission inspectors getting free lunches from gas companies.

    Jones is my favorite commissioner by far. Her qualifications for the job? She's a former interior decorator. Kind of reminds me of Michael "Heckuva Job Brownie" Brown, who parlayed running horse shows into mismanaging the Hurricane Katrina response. Isn't America a great country?

    Anyway, this a roundabout way of pointing out that not everybody is asleep at the switch at 400 West 7th. My apologies to Mike, but Mike's only one guy. Maybe his editors ought to throw a few more bodies at covering public safety and environmental impact aspects at the Barnett Shale coverage. I think this could be a Pulitzer-winning topic for the S-T. I think the issues are there. All they have to do is report the facts.

    Sunday, November 11, 2007

    Gas Drilling Extracts Radioactive Waste

    While the Star-Telegram toils relentlessly to tell you about the horse race to sign neighborhoods in the Barnett Shale, the Dallas Morning News and the Denton Record-Chronicle are busy doing actual journalism. Imagine!

    In this morning's DMN and DRC, a report indicates that the fracing process used to extract the natural gas from the Barnett Shale can also extract radioactive waste. Known as technologically enhanced, naturally occurring radioactive material, or NORM, the residue can be the most toxic waste that oil and gas production generates.

    Blasted free by millions of gallons of fresh water and chemical soup sent miles below ground, some of earth's baddest geological actors – radioactive elements capable of scarring soil and scourging human health – are slowly rising to the surface along with the Barnett Shale's natural gas.

    Writes Peggy Heinkel-Wolfe: "Statewide, 140 such sites were decontaminated from January 2005 to the present, according to documents obtained from the Department of State Health Services, which oversees disposal of the state's hottest radioactive waste. ... Moreover, 25 of those decontamination sites were in Denton, Tarrant and Wise counties, the core counties of the Barnett Shale."

    Even though the Barnett Shale is being sold to us as easy money with no downside, this is not the case. Don't just accept what drillers say, get involved and demand accountability. I recommend that you:

  • Contact the Fort Worth Department of Environmental Management and ask them what steps they take to survey drilling equipment for NORM.

  • Contact the Mayor and your city council representative and take steps to protect us and our natural environment from these dangerous drilling by-products.

  • Contact the Star-Telegram and demand less coverage of the Barnett Shale horse race and more coverage of the real-world consequences of urban gas drilling.
  • Friday, November 09, 2007

    Lone Star International Film Festival

    If you haven't been down to check out the screenings yet, go downtown for the Lone Star International Film Festival, going on all weekend. And if you want to read about it, head over to West and Clear for the low-down. Last night, I saw a couple of movies and ended up latching on to Bill Paxton's entourage. Kind of surreal.

    Wednesday, November 07, 2007

    Knee-Jerk Reaction to Election Day

    Yesterday was a long day. I was up early and out late with Bernie Scheffler on the campaign trail. So if anyone dropped by expecting up-to-the-minute coverage, sorry.

    I'm still processing everything that went on yesterday, and I'll have more to write on this in the coming days, but I do have a few thoughts I would like to share about yesterday's District 9 election:

  • Before I get into anything else, my first question is this -- was my vote counted? When I look at the precinct-by-precinct results for both the District 9 City Council race and the House District 97 race, I do not find results for my precinct, 1435. Was mine the only missing precinct? Or were there others?

  • Obviously, I am disappointed that there were not more votes for Bernie, but I don't think it diminishes his effort. As that great Republican environmentalist, Teddy Roosevelt, once said: "The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly...who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, and spends himself in a worthy cause." That describes Bernie pretty well. I admire him because of his effort and his enthusiasm. And Fort Worth is a worthy cause. Our community is a better place because of you, Bernie. I am honored to be your friend.

  • So our choice is this: Joel Burns or Juan Rangel. Although I have previously taken issue with the conduct of Joel's campaign and I have had one particularly overzealous Juan supporter make a racist comment directed at me on my blog, I am taking the approach that this is a new campaign. I am starting with a clean slate. I will write more on this later, but for now let me just say that in the last few months, Wendy Davis has been a much-needed advocate on gas drilling safety issues at City Hall. As the City Council considers revisions to the gas drilling ordinance and considers the future of injection wells in the city, we need a candidate who will actively work to protect the citizens and environment of Fort Worth and not just kow-tow to the desires of gas drilling companies. If one of these candidates shows a willingness to stand up and show leadership on this issue, I will endorse and vote for that man. But I haven't ruled out not voting at all.

  • You know, I always thought that District 9 was liberal, but I didn't know it was that liberal -- two-thirds of the vote went to Burns, Rangel and Scheffler.

  • Maybe I drank a little of the Kool-Aid, but I thought Chris Turner would do better than 18 percent. Did the whole Silcox-gate thing hurt Turner? Yeah, I think so. The funny thing is that I don't believe that Turner or Silcox are homophobic, I think Silcox was just cynically throwing out red-meat for Republican voters and Turner was paralyzed by indecision about how to handle the issue. Was that indecision enough to cost Turner a shot at the runoff? Maybe. What's interesting is there are rumblings that Turner may endorse Juan Rangel. It's pretty clear there is no love lost between Turner and Burns. I think these guys truly hate each other.

  • Another candidate that had a disappointing day was Jim Beckman. He had a lot going for him -- a big pile of money, the top Republican political consultant in Texas -- Bryan Eppstein running his campaign, and the endorsements of lots of big names and fat wallets. What happened? My hunch is that he really didn't want it bad enough. It's a hell of a lot of work, and if I'm Jim, I'm thinking "Who needs it?" You're a nice guy, Jim. Get back on your bike and forget about all this political nonsense.
  • Monday, November 05, 2007

    One Last Word About Bernie Scheffler

    I have a confession to make: I am really sick of this election process.

    Tales of dirty campaigning have just gotten worse as we get closer to Election Day tomorrow. And it's easy to understand why this election went south on us: this race is anybody's ballgame and the candidates all know that. That has created a lot of apprehension among the faithful supporters of each candidate across the field in the District 9 City Council Race.

    As much as I wish that this race could be about the issues and the candidates themselves, a lot of this race has been about money. I know that money is the lifeblood of politics, but these numbers are staggering. And so are these. And the amount of money spent sickens me as much as the name calling.

    You've probably already made up your mind about a candidate. You may have already voted early, like I did. But if you haven't, hang with me for a few more paragraphs. I want to get in one last word about Bernie Scheffler.

    You can get all of his platform stuff on his Web site. Or read the man tell you in his own words why you should vote for him. If you have a question, call him at his shop at (817) 348-0660. He'll talk to you. And if you're wondering about money, he spent around $1,600 last time he ran against Wendy Davis and he'll be lucky to double that figure this time around.

    But one thing that's hard to get from a Web site or a phone call is the content of a man's character. And that's what I want to share today.

    I have helped Bernie with his campaign for months. We've developed another blog together with our friends. We've worked on community issues together. I've gotten to know the man. He's my friend and I'm here to tell you that what you see is what you get. He's got a heart as big as the one on the front of the "I love FW" t-shirt he often wears.

    And that's why I believe that Fort Worth needs him. He's one of us -- a regular guy who is trying to make this great city better for everyone.

    That's it. I won't bore you any further. Go vote what's in your hearts tomorrow, Fort Worth. Best of luck to you!

    Star-Telegram News

  • Allow us to bid farewell to Wes Turner, who is stepping down as publisher of the Startlegram at the end of the year. Although I have A LOT of quibbles with the S-T, I always respected Wes. I liked him a lot personally and thought he tried to do right by his people. I wish him a long and happy retirement.

  • The McClatchy-ization of the Star-Telegram begins! Gary Wortel, president and publisher of The Sun News in Myrtle Beach, S.C., will succeed Turner. I'm a little surprised that they selected someone from another old Knight Ridder paper. I'm not surprised that no one inside the building at 400 West 7th was selected. This line jumped out at me from the press release announcing the move:

    "Gary did a stellar job as publisher in Myrtle Beach, one of the fastest-growing, most attractive markets in the country," said Lynn Dickerson, McClatchy vice president, operations, who oversees 11 McClatchy newspapers in Texas and the South, including the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and The Sun News. "Under Gary’s leadership, The Sun News delivered excellent revenue and profit growth, circulation growth and editorial excellence over the past few years. Weekly Surge, an alternative newsweekly, was started last fall by Gary and his team, and they have been innovative leaders in online traffic and revenue growth," added Dickerson. "Gary is an excellent candidate to lead the Star-Telegram during these challenging times in our industry."

    Indications of things to come in Fort Worth? Obviously, something has to give. McClatchy earnings have been in the tank since the Knight Ridder acquisition and the pressure from Wall Street to do something about it will only continue. Online revenue growth will be essential to that solution. And right now there is a lot of room for improvement. I'm also wondering if an alternative newsweekly will also be in the cards. Stay tuned.

  • Although this here blogger and Bud Kennedy don't see eye-to-eye on every issue, sometimes you just gotta put down the brickbats and say Bonne chance, mon ami. The occasion? Bud's getting hitched. The 52-year-old Kennedy proposed to Shelly Seymour, 47, in Austin on Saturday. It will be the first time jumping the broom for both of 'em. No date is set yet. Congratulations, Bud. Best wishes!

  • The best and worst of the Star-Telegram on Sunday both came from the op-ed page. The Best: Bob Ray Sanders' excellent defense of Huckleberry Finn as it relates to the recent Birdville controversy. Well done, Bob! The Worst: J.R. Labbe's column on labels in local political races seemed to deplore the use of party affiliation in other knee-jerk labels, but then went to label just about every damn candidate running. Thanks for helping cut through this issue for the voters. In a word, lame.
  • Saturday, November 03, 2007

    The Ice Cream Man Cometh

    I called Bernie Scheffler the other day to ask him what his big plans were for the last weekend before Election Day.

    "Steve," he said. "I'm renting an ice cream truck."


    So Saturday was spent meeting the voters of District 9 and handing out free ice cream from the window of a 1973 vintage ice cream truck covered with campaign signs and shoe polish. I can't think of a better way to wrap up a campaign, and I can't think of a better way to sum up the kind of guy Bernie is.

    So my daughter and I met Bernie and his wife, Victoria, and Pete and Jenna up at the Rahr Brewery where hundreds of people gather every Saturday for free samples of their fine beer. We answered questions, shook hands and handed out ice cream and Vote Bernie postcards.

    One of the Harley riding guys asked Bernie why he was running. Bernie told him that he wants to make a difference and he believes that government is too important to leave to the politicians and consultants. We need some real people in government.

    "You are EXACTLY the kind of person he need more of in government!" the biker said as he walked off with his girlfriend. "I can vote for you."

    During a lull, Bernie sat in the back of the truck and put his hand on the freezer. "You know, my granddad used to drive an ice cream truck," he said. "Both he and my dad had a lot of different jobs. You know, they'd do something for a little while and then do something different." Bernie looked around the inside of the truck that looked every second of its 34 years. "I gotta say, I wouldn't mind doing this. I mean, what could be better than handing out ice cream to kids?"

    A little later, we made our way back into the brewery to shake a few more hands before leaving. A man holding a bag of Chex Mix stopped us and asked a question. "Why do you oppose gas drilling?"

    Bernie carefully explained his position to the man. "I don't oppose all gas drilling, I just don't think it should be done in our neighborhoods," he said. "There's one proposed drilling site that is four blocks from an elementary school. I'm not OK with that. There are lots of open spaces away homes, schools and parks in Fort Worth. If there is going to be drilling, let's use those."

    "That's a good answer," the man with the Chex Mix said. "You sound like the kind of guy I could vote for."

    And so it went. Bernie Scheffler, winning over one voter at a time.

    As the brewery closed down, we packed up and took the show on the road. Bernie and Victoria drove with the truck through Fairmount and Ryan Place with "Home On The Range" blaring through the loudspeaker. They stopped every block or so, shaking hands and offering free ice cream and postcards. Based on the kids' reactions, you would have thought he was handing out gold bars and not ice cream. "Vote Bernie!" one kid yelled as we drove off.

    So did Bernie win over some new voters on Saturday? A few. The ratio of votes earned to ice creams handed out was nowhere near one, but you can't put a number on the feeling of satisfaction you get from giving away ice cream on beautiful, clear fall day. That is a feeling of true accomplishment.

    As Bernie and Victoria finished up their ride in the long shadows of late afternoon, they stopped a few houses down from their where they live to hand out ice cream to their neighbors. "Hey!" said one guy who was wearing a Cowboys jersey and walking with crutches. "Get a picture of me shaking Bernie's hand."

    So who am I to argue?

    "Bernie is the best neighbor a guy could have," the guy said. "I can't wait to vote for him on Tuesday."

    I hope there are a lot of people who feel the same way.

    Friday, November 02, 2007

    Why Vote for Bernie Scheffler?

    Bret Starr explains his reasons.

    El Dia de los Muertos

    South of the border they call it El Dia de los Muertos, in the Disciples Church, it's All Saints' Day. Whatever you want to call it, it is a day to remember and celebrate those who have passed. A few people I will be remembering today:

  • John Reuler: A good friend with whom I enjoyed many a LuAnn plate at Luby's. A West Point graduate, classmate of two Heisman Trophy winners, a member of the honor guard at FDR's funeral, a great guy.

  • Karl King: As a teen-age Marine, he fought on Bataan and Corregidor, then survived over three years in Japanese POW camps. He later worked as broadcast journalist in Fort Worth and covered the JFK assassination. After he retired, he went back to school and received a bachelor's degree from TCU in 1980. When I knew him at the end of his life -- in spite of everything he had experienced -- he held no bitterness.

  • Kurth Sprague: He was one my favorite professors at the University of Texas. If ever learned anything about writing, he should get a chunk of the credit.

  • Aunt Edie: She showed me kindness and love and that a person could live their life their own way.

  • My Dad: For everything.

  • I miss you all.

    Thursday, November 01, 2007

    The Trinity Trees' Biggest Supporter ....

    ... in the District 9 race is ... Juan Rangel?!?


    I got the above mailer today from the Juan Rangel campaign, and I am just gobsmacked. "Juan Rangel has the only proposal -- a six-month moratorium on drilling within 1,000 feet of the Trinity River -- that would protect the river, the Trinity Trees and the families that use the Trinity Trails. So I'm for Juan." Melissa Kohout.

    Wow, that would be really impressive if it were true.

    Unfortunately, it's not. If you follow the link, you will read Bernie's proposal for a new gas drilling ordinance for Fort Worth. You will also see a picture of Bernie speaking AT the Trinity Trees picnic, which Juan Rangel did NOT attend. Hell, Juan, even Chris Turner showed up for that one.

    On Oct. 4, Bernie proposed a new gas drilling ordinance for Fort Worth that would impose a moratorium on all urban gas drilling until studies have been conducted to determine environmental impact as well as the impact on quality of life and safety in neighborhoods where drilling has already begun. Last time I checked, the Trinity River did flow through Fort Worth.

    Furthermore, Bernie's proposal would increase the minimum set back of drill sites to one mile from homes, parks, schools and hospitals, and ban high-impact variances to the set back distance. Last time I checked, one mile was a greater distance than 1,000 feet.

    I'm disappointed that Juan used the Trinity Trees mailing list for this purpose. And I'm also disappointed that Juan is coming late to the party and playing fast and loose with the facts on this one. I guess Juan is worried about the endorsement of Bernie Scheffler from the most prominent opponents of urban gas drilling, FW Can Do.

    At this time, we need leaders, not politicians. Vote for a leader on this issue on Tuesday. Vote for Bernie Scheffler.

    UPDATE:, 11.3.07: "Rangel 'Trees' flier sparks controversy" in the Star-Telegram: Mike Lee writes: "The Trinity Trees petition organizers haven't endorsed anyone, said Jim Marshall, one of the group's founders. And he's a little miffed that Rangel got hold of the petition drive's mailing list. 'Trinity Trees is an organization of people who agreed on that one issue -- we did not endorse any candidate for District 9,' said Marshall, who helped organize the petition drive." I agree with Jim 100 percent -- I don't think the organization should endorse any candidate. I also think that using the mailing list and the issue in this way was inappropriate.

    Joel Burns Campaign Continues Pushing It

    Was a Joel Burns campaign supporter stalking Juan Rangel? Rangel was certainly freaked out by it, but Burns said his supporter was acting on his own. "I had nothing to do with this," Burns told the Startlegram.

    Unfortunately, this incident fits a pattern of campaigning from Burns. Will the voters notice? We'll find out on Tuesday.

    Tandy Hills Park Survey

    I love Tandy Hills Park. If you do too, please take a few minutes to help preserve and protect Tandy Hills by completing the Tandy Hills Nature Area Community Interest Questionnaire online from the Fort Worth Parks Department. Deadline for questionnaires is November 20. It's VERY quick and easy to do.

    This is part of developing the Master Plan now being designed for Tandy Hills that will address such things as erosion mitigation, invasive species removal, trail
    design and construction, interpretive signage and other developments. Your answers on the questionnaire play an essential part in the process.

    When it comes to getting things done at Fort Worth parks, big numbers make a big difference. Your attendance at the public comment meeting in December is equally important. I'll provide more details on that soon.