Lady Bird Johnson was barely cold in her coffin before federal highway administrators began gutting her heralded beautification efforts.

Back in the 1960s, the former first lady fought to remove junkyards and billboards from the edges of American highways. Her theory: The nation’s landscapes reflect the human spirit, and beauty creates harmony while clutter creates anxiety. She and hubby Lyndon B. Johnson went on the warpath, but billboard lobbyists are a powerful bunch. Regulation proved difficult, but a watered-down bill was eventually passed. Now it’s even thinner stuff, since the Federal Highway Administration recently decided that digital billboards don’t violate the law’s prohibition against intermittent, flashing, or moving lights – strange, since digital billboards include all of those things.

A local fellow who goes by the internet name StreetSpamShark (he wants anonymity because he fears repercussion from pro-billboard folks) said digital billboards and their huge video screens will distract motorists. “Drivers are going to get into accidents, and people are going to get killed,” he said. A federal safety study on that topic is under way but won’t be finished until 2009. Critics such as the nonprofit beautification group Scenic America want a moratorium on digital signs until the study is completed and have accused the feds of caving in – again – to the billboard industry.

Praying to St. Caffeine
Candidate forums are usually simple, not to say boring, affairs. Potential elected officials tell various half-truths embodying what they think voters want to hear about who they are and what they’ll do in office. But even the politically jaded Static was dumbfounded by the performance of James Schull at a recent forum for those running for the District 97 seat in the Texas House.


The event was held at University Christian Church, and coffee mugs with water were put in front of all six candidates. The phrase “Caring for God’s Creation” was printed on each mug. Apparently mesmerized by the words, Schull answered almost every question, whether the subject was toll roads, children’s healthcare, or the Trinity River Vision, by holding up the mug and saying he was going to Austin to work on behalf of God’s creation. So far, so weird – but consistent.

Then the question was raised of a law that would include actions against gays under the definition of a hate crime. Surely Schull would raise his mug to smite the homosexuals. But no, he just answered with “I pass.” Pass the coffee? The cream and sugar? Pass up an opportunity to Bible-thump? Surely, the mug works in mysterious ways.

Static is now thinking up new coffee mug slogans for the next candidate forum. How about “Jesus Wept (When He Met the Texas Legislature).” Or maybe something about driving the lobbyists from the temple. This is gonna be good.

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