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December 21st, 2012:

Friday random ten: The annual Christmas list

The staff of Popdose has their fifty favorite holiday songs for your consideration. Those of you familiar with the Mellowmas tradition will note with amusement a few crossovers, but theirs is a pretty solid collection. As is my tradition, here are ten songs from their list in my iTunes library:

1. Christmas Wrapping – Waitresses
2. Fairytale of New York – The Priestess and The Fool (orig. Pogues/Kirsty MacColl)
3. Christmas in Hollis – Run DMC
4. Happy Xmas (War Is Over) – John Lennon and Yoko Ono
5. Blue Christmas – Collective Soul (orig. Elvis Presley)
6. Do They Know It’s Christmas? – Band Aid
7. Mele Kalikimaka – Asylum Street Spankers (orig. Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters)
8. Winter Song – Lindisfarne
9. Christmas Time Is Here – Vince Guaraldi Trio
10. – You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch – Michael Gaither (orig. Thurl Ravenscroft)

Tastes differ, and this is Just Another List, so the usual caveats apply, but overall I thought it was solid even if I myself can’t abide “The Little Drummer Boy”. There are other songs on their list for which I have one or more versions – I mean, does anyone not have at least one “White Christmas” in their collection? – so I let myself skip around a bit. What are your favorite Christmas tunes, this year or any year?

One year of Helena

The Observer‘s Emily dePrang takes a look at CM Helena Brown, one year after her upset win in District A.

CM Helena Brown

When she took office, Brown made waves for her nearly satirical level of budget hawkery. She made simplistic government-bad, free-market-good speeches that evoked The Colbert Report to justify voting against funding meals for the elderly, storm sewers, and fire trucks. Then people started to get wind of the weirdness. Brown, 34, still lives with her parents. She proposed fixing the city budget deficit by defaulting on the city’s pensions and tax bonds, and by outsourcing emergency services. And she allegedly tried to get a staff member to take medical leave because Brown was worried she’d be liable for complications with the staffer’s pregnancy.

In this way, Brown’s story is a corrective to the perennial Hollywood myth of the everyman candidate, the Mr.-Smith-Goes-to-Washington type, the underdog who beats the odds and refuses to cave to the establishment, thus changing the game forever. What that fantasy looks like in reality, playing out week after week in Houston City Council meetings, is agenda items passing 16 to 1, with Brown’s vote the lonely, irrelevant “no.”

But Brown’s is also a mystery story. The more attention you pay, the murkier it gets. The smidgen of professional history available about her turns out to be less than true. She’s been involved with radical Catholic groups whose beliefs fall between esoteric and fringe. And then there was her trip to Korea—a trip she paid for with public funds, though it’s not clear whether she was conducting city business or why she went in the first place. Back in Houston, much of her staff quit a few months into her term, and her volunteer “chief advisor” is a disgraced financier whom some believe secretly directs her council votes. Explanations for these mysteries haven’t been forthcoming; Brown never answers media questions after City Council meetings, and rarely grants interviews.

In a state full of wingnut politicians, Helena Brown stands out. It’s not that she’s the most extreme or conservative or outspoken, or even the most incompetent yahoo in public office. It’s that, unlike her confederates, there’s no apparent method to her madness. She’s not following the money, building coalitions to help her climb some ladder, or even adhering to a particular party. She’s fumbling forward, drawn on by a voice only she can hear.

As someone who has never understood the appeal of “I’m not a professional politician!” campaigns, dePrang’s characterization of Brown as a “corrective to the perennial Hollywood myth of the everyman candidate” resonates with me. Politics is a collaborative business, and as much as it may need to be shaken up at times no one person can change things if they can’t relate to and communicate with those other people who were elected and feel like they have a mandate from their voters, too. DePrang covers a lot of familiar turf in her story but also uncovers some new things (new to me, certainly) about CM Brown, reminding me in the process that I do still have the capacity to be amazed. Check it out.

Former HPD lab supervisor files sues Lykos, county

Here’s a nice little going away present for District Attorney Pat Lykos.

DA Pat Lykos

Two former Houston Police Department crime lab supervisors have filed a federal lawsuit against Harris County District Attorney Pat Lykos, saying the county’s top prosecutor retaliated against them after they spoke out about problems with HPD’s breath-alcohol testing vans.

The lawsuit, filed Monday, was brought against Lykos, prosecutor Rachel Palmer and Harris County by Amanda Culbertson and Jorge Wong, identified as “citizen whistle-blowers” in the lawsuit.

Among several allegations, the lawsuit says that officials with the DA’s office retaliated against Culbertson and Wong by lobbying the Harris County Commissioner’s Court to cancel a contract with a local private laboratory, where the two found jobs after leaving HPD.

The lawsuit also alleges that retaliatory actions taken by Lykos and Palmer included harming Culbertson and Wong’s reputations and putting their licenses as technical supervisors for the state’s breath-alcohol testing program at stake.

Culbertson and Wong said the retaliation began after they expressed concerns about the reliability of tests conducted in HPD’s breath-alcohol testing vans.

“It’s important for citizens to be able to speak openly and publicly about matters of public concern, such as problems with the (breath-alcohol testing) vans and problems with the crime lab,” said attorney Scott Cook, who represents Culbertson and Wong. “That is the heart of the First Amendment.”

I didn’t follow this saga very closely, so let me refer you to some other people who did:

Grits for Breakfast

Paul Kennedy

Murray Newman

See also this Grits post, in which he makes the point that breathalyzers and their efficacy should be under the purview of the Forensic Science Commission but aren’t, and this Big Jolly post, which has video from the plaintiffs’ press conference and a copy of their statements and the lawsuit itself. I’m sure there’s more but that’s plenty for now. I’m also sure Murray’s prediction that this will move along slowly is accurate. Anyone in the peanut gallery want to add something to this?

City-county cooperation

It’s a beautiful thing, isn’t it?

At 9:27 p.m. on Election Day, when it was clear a Metro referendum crucial to both of their road-building budgets had passed, Harris County Commissioner Steve Radack’s phone buzzed with a text message from Houston Mayor Annise Parker: “Maybe we can tackle world peace next.”

The note hinted at the unlikeliness of their pact. As recently as August, before the cooperative push for a “yes” vote on the Metro referendum, the bombastic Radack, long a city critic, could be counted among the anti-Parker crowd.

And while it is not world peace, this political odd couple’s new alliance could spur progress on several languishing projects, most notably a joint city-county inmate processing center that first was proposed in the 1990s.

Over his steak salad, her bowl of chili and two iced teas at Tony’s last Wednesday, Parker and Radack decided movement could come on the processing center as early as next month, perhaps in the form of a clear plan presented to Commissioners Court and City Council.

“The processing facility is something that’s been brewing for a very long time. We need some resolution,” Parker said. “Commissioner Radack was previously in law enforcement, and he understands these issues. He’s interested in taking some lead on it in the county.”

Radack, a former Houston policeman and county constable, already has talked to other members of Commissioners Court and the county’s top budget and social services directors about moving forward.

“There’s a strong possibility we can help a lot of people, like the mentally ill,” Radack said. “I think we can operate much more efficiently, save taxpayers’ money, and do a better job. That potential is there. It’s time to seize the opportunity and get it going.”

It all sounds good, and this is certainly a sensible project. They’re also continuing to talk about jointly doing a crime lab that is independent of HPD – the city’s crime lab proposal is still a theoretical entity at this point – and about dealing with the city’s great backlog of rape kits. If all this comes together, it would be a pretty nice legacy for Parker no matter what happens in next year’s election.

Craft versus crafty

Just because that beer you’re drinking has a quirky name and a whimsical label on the bottle doesn’t mean it came from a microbrewery.

In a biting opening salvo, a trade group for the nation’s craft brewers on Thursday accused Anheuser-Busch InBev and other major manufacturers of “deliberately attempting to blur the lines between their crafty, craft-like beers and true craft beers from today’s small and independent brewers.”

“We call for transparency in brand ownership and for information to be clearly presented in a way that allows beer drinkers to make an informed choice about who brewed the beer they are drinking,” the Colorado-based Brewers Association said.

The group singled out Blue Moon and the Shock Top line. Those popular beers are owned and produced by, respectively, SABMiller, the same company that makes Miller Lite, and AB-InBev, the Belgium-based purveyor of the ubiquitous Budweiser and Bud Lite.

“You would not know that from looking at the labels,” said Julia Herz, craft beer director for the Brewers Association, which represents such locally owned breweries as Saint Arnold, Southern Star, No Label and Karbach.

There’s more information from the Brewers Association here and here. I don’t think it’s asking a lot to clearly state on the label that thus-and-such beer is a product of whichever brewery. A lot of people are choosy about which businesses they support and which they don’t. More generally, I favor customers getting full information about the products they buy. How can you make an informed choice if you don’t have all the relevant information? Beer, TX has more.