Carole Keeton Strayhorn’s responses to abortion questions in today’s DMN suggest she’s finding out how difficult it is to run for governor when you're a Republican who used to be a Democrat, you're running as an independent in this campaign, and you’re trying to reach out to all sides. There’s no middle ground on abortion rights, so she’s chosen thus far to stonewall. Won't work.
On five questions posed to five gubernatorial candidates in an Issue Watch on abortion, Strayhorn “declined to answer” three. She answered two with the most general of statements. Meanwhile, Democrats Bob Gammage and Chris Bell, the Republican incumbent Rick Perry, and even the other indie candidate Kinky Friedman, gave more definitive and specific answers.
Questions Strayhorn declined to answer included:
-- Are Texas laws too restrictive for adult women? Would you favor adding new restrictions or repealing current ones?
-- Should pharmacists be allowed to refuse to dispense the “morning-after” pill?
-- Should schools limit discussion of pregnancy prevention to abstinence only?
And whether abortion should be legal in cases of rape, incest and to protect the life of the woman, she said: “I know there are those extraordinarily tough circumstances where heartbreaking choices have to be made.” I suppose that’s a “yes,” but the other four candidates said yes with no equivocation.
Strayhorn’s opening ads emphasize her priority issues – “to cut property taxes and fix our schools,” but she’s is going to have to be more forthcoming on some of the tougher issues, as well, to make this campaign fly.
The candidates also were asked whether Roe vs. Wade should be overturned – an issue over which the governor has absolutely no power. The DMN justified its abortion story and the question, nonetheless, by suggesting that the U.S. Supreme Court – with Bush’s appointees on it – eventually will push abortion back to the states, making the issue more relevant at the state level. On whether the landmark case should be overturned, Bell, Gammage and Friedman answered “no.” Strayhorn’s response was: “I believe in the sanctity of life,” which no doubt tracks what she’s said as a Republican state officeholder. Perry sensibly noted that the final disposition of Roe vs. Wade is up to Congress or the courts.
The abortion issue is going to be a difficult one for Strayhorn to straddle if she gets on the ballot for the general election. While she can leave the big question of Roe vs. Wade to the Supreme Court, she'd better spend some time thinking about how she's going to address the abortion-related questions that have some relevance to the state and potential legislative action.
Drew BledsoeI don’t want to tell you that quarterbacking is not a tremendous, tremendous part of the game…But as we focus on quarterbacking, look at the oddness of the QBs that hang around at this time of year.
Often it is not the perceived “best QBs” that take their teams far in the playoffs. Look at what happened last week: the two “best” QBs got bounced from the playoffs.
LSR has gotten lots of news releases and calls about yesterday’s action of the Houston City Council. Several conservative groups had urged the Houston City Council not to pay dues to organizations such as the Texas Municipal League that oppose lower caps on property tax appraisals and caps on increases in property tax revenue. A motion to approve TML dues was on the city council agenda for yesterday. According to The Houston Chronicle, the motion to pay dues from public funds was withdrawn. Houston mayor Bill White was quoted by the Houston Chronicle saying he would seek to raise private funds to pay the membership dues.
“Our hats off to the Houston City Council members who were prepared to cast their votes for the taxpayers they represent," said Peggy Venable, Texas director of Americans for Prosperity. "We also applaud Harris County Republican Party, whose leadership has embraced our campaign to end taxpayer-funded lobbying.“
The council’s action was erroneously reported in some media outlets as the City of Houston withdrawing from the TML. The city did not withdraw from the organization. It is still a TML member city. Rather, it chose not to use city funds to pay the dues. “We consider that a paid membership,” said Frank Sturzl, executive director of the Texas Municipal League on the use of private funds to pay Houston’s dues.
“We have a handful of cities that disagreed with our position on appraisal caps,” Sturzl said. “But we have 1,080 member cities, and Houston, Lubbock, and some other cities in the Harris County area did not agree with our opposition to lowering the appraisal cap. The only city that has talked about not paying dues was Houston. And that’s because the other cities recognize that while we may disagree on that issue, we agree on hundreds of other issues.”
Venable expressed a different view. “It is appropriate that the first blow to the TML come from Houston. Harris County voters are overwhelmingly in support of taxpayer protections. Last year, Houston voters approved a city Taxpayer Bill of Rights to limit city spending to population increases and inflation, with taxpayer approval required for spending above that cap.”
The coalition against using public funds to pay for TML dues included Americans for Prosperity and Harris County Republican Party Chairman Jared Woodfill. "It is unfathomable that we as a city would use taxpayer money totaling more than $60,000 to fund an organization that is actively trying to stop tax relief in our city. The voters of Houston and Harris County have spoken on this issue; and we do not need any group fighting us with our own money.”
Sturzl said the groups have not damaged the TML. “If that’s the way they wanted to play this, was to see if they could in some way undo our membership base or our finances, they’ve got a right to do that. That’s not the way I play the game, but if that’s the way they play the game, that’s fine,” he said. Sturzl told LSR that dues are less than one-third of TML’s total revenue. “I don’t think they could hurt us that way … We could eliminate dues 100 percent, and we wouldn’t stop what we were doing at the Capitol, not for a second,” he said.
Democrat Donna HowardDown in the state's Capitol last week there was a special election for a Texas House seat held by a Republican. It should have been a safe GOP seat. A Democrat, Donna Howard, came within less than 1% of winning outright. Tom DeLay, education and Gov. Perry himself were the issues. It will not be over until it is over but if the Democrat wins Republicans should face facts: Democrats really could take back the House this November.
Barbara NicolosiIn fact you would be hard pressed to find anything further from Hollywood than a roomful of Catholic, pro-life women in a North Dallas hotel, but it’s just this kind of incongruity that I live for.
Nicolosi’s theme – "Living the new evangelization: Pop-culture and Holiness in the 21st Century" – fairly leaped from the page of my local Catholic newspaper which carried notice of the lecture-- the words "pop-culture" and "holiness" not known for their close association. This, I said to myself, I gotta see.
But there was another reason I had to go. I find myself at something of a crossroads on a journey that began with NYU film school in the early 80’s and then doglegged over to the long, pastoral stretch that is childrearing. I miss the arts. My passion for the movies has not quite gone cold, despite the assault on my senses that began long before Hollywood crowned Silence of the Lambs Best Picture in 1990.
"What Hollywood needs to learn is how to entertain without violating," says Nicolosi, who, along with a group of like-minded writers launched Act One, Inc. in 1999, a non-profit training and formation program for Hollywood writers and executives.
Act One offers an intensive four-week "boot camp" for aspiring writers who have demonstrated talent and a commitment to mastering the craft of screenwriting. The mentoring program provides the follow-up and networking new artists need to find entry level jobs in the business, and the fellowship to support them in their faith while they’re doing it.
Nicolosi is not advocating a move toward a more "Christian" cinema. "If we turned Hollywood over to the Christians tomorrow, we’d make worse movies than we’re making now." Christian productions like the Left Behind series consistently fail to gain wide distribution not because they’re Christian, but because they are unwatchable. In last year’s Therese: The Story of St. Therese of Lisieux, the protagonist is treated with such reverence that no moviegoer could possibly identify with her. And they stayed away in droves.
"Most religious films are just dreadful, because they’re not done artistically enough," says Nicolosi, who, as director of development for Paulist Productions in the late ‘90’s plowed through more than her fair share of toothless scripts written by "nice, godly people...On the other hand when you can tell a spiritual story well, they become classics, like The Passion or Gandhi."
If Christians want to see more movies and television shows that reflect their values, then it will take more Christians crafting the kind of compelling dramas and hit comedies that sell tickets and attract advertisers. Nicolosi’s concern is that it can take years to attain that level of mastery, but the culture needs them now.
Act One’s mission is to create an alternative to the top secular film schools, whose worldview Nicolosi deems "radically nihilistic…As a Christian, you can learn the craft in those places but everything you believe will be ridiculed by your professors." Nicolosi recounts having to crawl over a dozen or so students’ laps to escape a porn film that her professor at Northwestern had chosen to screen in order to introduce the immense commercial potential of the genre.
What will transform the culture, according to Nicolosi, is when we have a significant stable of talent with a leavening worldview that can turn out the kind of stories that your teens will want to see. Though that might sound like a tall order, she points to the small band of Christian writers and producers currently in Hollywood who’ve helped shape a variety of mainstream projects like That 70’s Show, X-Men, Batman Forever and Joan of Arcadia.
Instead of walling ourselves off from Hollywood, she suggests that Christians study and support what it does well. Take one particular moment in HBO’s Band of Brothers, for example, when PFC Blithe fells his first German soldier, and then rushes onto the field to find him. Or Carmela Soprano’s titanic struggle with her faith in season three. And if you didn’t see last summer’s action thriller The Island, you missed one of the most profoundly pro-life messages ever to sneak out of Hollywood.
What Hollywood seems to grasp is "the power of movies to change the way we’re thinking," as director Ang Lee put it when he accepted the Golden Globe for Best Picture on behalf of Brokeback Mountain.
The Christian aesthetic, on the other hand, seems to have pooled into a slough of niceness -- pleasant hymns, harmless dramas and treacly paintings epitomized by Thomas Kincaide’s warmly-lit thatched-roof cottages dotting cutesy, winding lanes. "I mean," thunders Nicolosi, "WHO LIVES LIKE THAT??"
She is a Jeremiah for the post-modern world, calling God’s people back to the arts. The middle ages produced its cathedrals, the Renaissance its religious masterpieces. Writers like Dostoyevsky, Flannery O’Connor and Walker Percy explored moral themes with a rich complexity that’s gone missing from contemporary spiritual themes. Theologian Karl Barth played Mozart each morning before going to work on his dogma, believing that "it is a child, even a ‘divine’ child, who speaks in Mozart’s music to us."
The message is still transcendence. The medium is the movies. "Think it over," Nicolosi writes in the introduction to the book she edited with Spencer Lewerenz, Behind the Screen: Hollywood Insiders on Faith, Film and Culture, "and then it will be up to you to do something new."
Caroline Walker is a freelance writer based in Dallas. Her work has appeared in the Dallas Morning News, D Magazine, American Way and Spirit Magazines.
"I believe that children are the future…." So goes one of the 1990s most cloying, yet irritatingly catchy songs. "Teach them well, and let them them find the way…." I’ll bet the treacly melody is already running through your head right now. Hard to get out, isn’t it? Try slapping a classical CD into your PC—Mozart, maybe. Let good music drive out the bad.
Still, the sentiment is sound. And like most clichés (such as "The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world") it’s anchored in the truth. Such simple realities, which are easily obscured by ideology, don’t go away just because we hide our eyes.
Careful parents know that the help they give their children in choosing a college will make a profound difference in how they turn out—in the development of their souls as well as their scholarship or success. That’s why millions of dollars are spent every year on tutors, SAT preps, campus visits, expensive applications, and 1000-page college guides. But too few of these resources address what is really the central question of college education—what does a given school teach, how well, and why? That is what we try to do in Choosing the Right College, a regular publication of Intercollegiate Studies Institute. Serious high school students also want to know what College best fits their interests.
In the current edition of Choosing the Right College, which I edit, over 130 schools are covered in greater depth than you’ll find anywhere else.
This installment: UNIVERSITY OF DALLAS
What sets UD apart from many of its peer institutions is the way in which its core curriculum actually does set students on a path to the moral and intellectual virtues. The core at UD is "designed to foster the student’s pursuit of wisdom through formation in intellectual and moral excellence, to foster a mature understanding of the Catholic faith, and to encourage a responsible concern for shaping society." UD was the very first university to receive accreditation from the American Academy for Liberal Education, a group committed to recognizing schools that have solid core curricula. That group’s endorsement is quickly becoming the gold standard for those looking for a true liberal arts curriculum.
Though Dallas faculty receive high marks from their students for teaching, they are also actively involved in their respective disciplines, publishing and attending professional meetings. "UD faculty are the best in the country," one student says. UD expects junior faculty to publish in order to be awarded tenure, but even tenured faculty continue to publish. "There’s peer pressure to keep going," says one professor. "Everyone wants to pull his weight." There is no evidence, however, that publishing demands detract from professors’ work in the classroom. To the contrary, professors appear to be dedicated to the school’s liberal arts mission and to recognize its value within a broader humane context; they are happy to be in a place where open support for the traditional canon of the West is not viewed with suspicion.
The surrounding community that students face is Irving, a town that has precious little to recommend it, least of all natural beauty. Many students complain that the university is not placed in a student-friendly neighborhood; there are no stores, coffeehouses, restaurants, or bars within easy walking distance. "I never really saw Dallas because I didn’t have a car," says a recent graduate. "If you don’t have a car, you’re lucky to make it to the grocery store." The university’s Dallas Year program tries to overcome this limitation by organizing outings for freshmen to the opera, museum, concerts, and sporting events (although Texas Stadium, home of the Dallas Cowboys, is within walking distance). The convenience of the Dallas-Fort Worth airport is an advantage, but along with its pile-of-bricks architectural style, the university’s location is clearly its greatest weakness.
A phone survey about city politics sounds like one of several potential Dallas mayoral candidates for next year is trying to guage voter sentiment about the field. I was called last night by a "national polling firm" and the questions were about Laura Miller, Max Wells, Gary Griffith, Phil Ritter and Darrell Jordan -- all names mentioned as possible candidates.
I have no idea who commissioned the poll, but the first two questions asked were whether the respondent usually votes in bond elections and how did the respondent vote in the November stronger mayor ballot proposition.
Then to the nuts of the poll. The respondent is asked whether he/she has a strong positive/strong negative or somewhat strong/somewhat negative impression of Miller, Wells, Griffith, Ritter and Jordan. Then, if Miller is running in a 2-person race against each of the other candidates, which candidate would you prefer. Then, if Miller is not running, which of the other four candidates would you prefer.
Finally, the respondent is asked whether they usually vote Democrat or Republican.
Wouldn't we like to see how the other potential candidates measure up in a trial run against the current mayor? For that matter, wouldn't we like to see which one of the non-incumbents polls the best?
D Magazine's February issue is in the mail and online, and it has two home run pieces on Dallas dirty laundry.
Brent Flynn has a compelling expose on the boondoggle that is the Dallas County jail's computer system. It's all about sex, lies and computer code.
Meanwhile Todd Bensman, a D contributor and investigative producer for CBS 11, asks and answers everything you want to know about what's going on with the FBI investigation of Mayor Pro Tem Don Hill and other city council members.