Monday, January 29, 2007

Keith Haring Was Misunderstood, Too: A Councilwoman’s Sincere Commitment

Like many of you, we couldn’t make it out to the “Off the Wall: Graffiti, Art or Not?” symposium held a couple of weeks back at Houston’s Museum of Fine Arts. We semi-seriously contemplated gracing the discussion with our presence (the promised lagniappe that “attendees are invited to samba in one of Oiticica's painted capes” being especially enticing), but after sobering up we realized we aren’t that hard up for laughs.

But thanks to the Jan. 24 edition of the West University Examiner, which is down like James Brown on the enclave city of West U (“Whitest People and Blackest Soil in the Greater Houston Standard Metropolitan Statistical Area”), we were able to cop a taste of the chin-stroking and in the process learned that one member of the Houston City Council is thinking big when it comes to graffiti abatement. In a story headlined “Councilwoman’s ‘Off the Wall’ comment on area’s graffiti” the Examiner reported that at-large member Sue Lovell

made a commitment some considered “off the wall,” [one is enough with that] when she suggested creating a “free space” for graffiti artists to work — prosecution free — if they promised to stop vandalizing public and private property.“I make a commitment to you that we’ll find the space you need, a legitimate space,” Lovell told fellow panelist and local graffiti artist “Article.” [Close readers of the Houston Chronicle’s Sunday Zest section will recall that Article is the former graffiti writer-turned-graffiti artist who’s responsible for the legally sanctioned mural of Rock ’n’ Roll Hall of Famer Jimmy Hendricks.]

A brief video clip of Lovell’s comments found its way onto the video-sharing Web site, where one poster expressed doubt that such a plan could actually work.

“The hope of negotiating with hundreds of teenagers and several fractious political groups of (graffiti) writers to stop graffiti in Houston is an impossible task representing a lack of understanding of the problem,” posted a user named “Cactus.”

Yeah, Monsieur or Madame Cactus is right: The idea that an officially sanctioned space for graffiti "art" would somehow deter the jugheads responsible for this betrays a deep misunderstanding of the problem. The risk involved in this puerile turf-marking is a big part of the motivation (and in our neighborhood the risk includes the outside possibility of getting greased with a 12 gauge, or so we’ve heard one of our neighbors proclaim). These dimshits don’t give a poo for art, fine or otherwise.

But after viewing the referenced clip and a second, shorter one posted on YouTube, you can see that the councilwoman is trying to toe a hard line against graffiti---in the short clip she equates ”writing your name across a stop sign” to “what male dogs do”*---while cozying up to Article and the rest of the deep thinkers who were inclined to waste part of an evening discussing this, um, issue.

One thing Lovell makes clear is that she really, really understands today's misunderstood youth:

"I certainly can relate, too,” she tells Article. “I felt really misunderstood a lot, too, and really, Keith Haring felt misunderstood a lot, but that doesn’t give you the right … ” Etc.

So we’d be inclined to ignore the councilwoman and go curl up with our 12 year old’s book of Haring's works, except for what she told the Examiner after the MFA to-do:

Lovell estimated the city spends $2 million a year cleaning up graffiti on public property, and though she made no promises to use city money to fund the spaces, she committed to do her best to find walls or free space where graffiti artists could exhibit their talents legally.

“If we can stop using city dollars to abate the graffiti that’s done illegally, we could use some of that money to put up free space where it could be done legally,” she said in a later interview. [Emphasis added, natch]
Why don’t we just give the full $2 million to Article, see what he can come up with. We’re really enjoying the city’s Third World ambiance.

UPDATE: Mr. Article has been misunderstood, too.

*What's with the anti-male bias?

Saturday, January 27, 2007

The Real John McCain?

Call us a Webb Democrat. At least this week.

Next week, who knows. The guy could go off and do something to embarrass us, maybe square up and paste Cheney on the chin (if Cheney is indeed still extant; it was hard to tell the other night if he’s dead or just supremely bored), and we’d have to delete this post or proclaim our self a post-Webb Democrat, perhaps a Ford Democrat (as in Harold, not Gerald). But this week Jim Webb gets our strong “buy” recommendation.

We notice all the girls who only a month or so were getting weak in the knees over that dreamy Obama are casting eyes at Jim. But will they love him tomorrow, when it’s time to come to grips with that “comprehensive” immigration reform?

The camera didn’t find him then, but we can't imagine that Webb applauded as obligingly as Nancy Pelosi when Bush plugged his favored immigration package. Webb has been unequivocal that increased border security should be the first priority, before Congress sets up any sort of “path to citizenship” for illegals.

That’s not the position of the Democratic leadership, of course, and it will be interesting to see whether Webb will hold fast or prove himself just another go-along (in which case we expect to see him shortly getting chummy with Imus every week, making us wish we hadn’t gotten up so early).

Watching him after Bush's speech, though, we thought we heard some of that music from the wild mountainside.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Reality? None of That, Please.

Sometimes we wonder what the corporate chain media really think about their audiences these days, or if they think about them at all. Based on the evidence, we’d have to conclude that they view the reader/viewer as a borderline dolt who can’t handle too much reality.

We were moved to ponder this state of affairs by the Houston Chronicle’s front page story earlier this week on the ill-advised and blatantly unconstitutional proposal by the apparently under-employed white mayor of Brazoria that his town outlaw the word nigger. The Chronicle devoted 20 or so inches of copy to this development without actually using the word whose “aggressive or offensive” utterance the mayor would like to make subject to a $500 fine, instead employing the tiresome, cutesy non-word “n-word” in both the headline and lede and elsewhere in the story.

In this, however, Houston’s leading daily newspaper was only following the lead of Brazosport’s leading daily newspaper, The Facts, which published essentially the same story two days two days earlier and also steered clear of nigger while dropping n-word again and again. And again.

Having grown up in these latitudes, back in the day when a white person’s use of nigger still had a fearsome and unsettling effect, we fully understand the squeamishness, particularly on the part of white news executives who hate to be awakened at home or have their golfing interrupted by frantic underlings terrified of making the wrong call and offending one too-easily-offended sector of the “community” or other. (Although, come to think of it, we can’t remember if we’ve ever heard a white person actually call a black person a nigger to his face. We did hear the word on the playing fields of our youth, often, and as a pre-teen let loose with it our self a time or two or three, although at least we had the raisin’ to be inwardly ashamed by our utter lack of integrity [take our word for it]. In all of these instances, now that we think about it, there probably wasn’t a black person within 5 miles of the slur. We didn’t know any blacks, and neither did the other white kids. It’s easy to do that stuff when there’s no real consequence for your ignorance.)

Yeah, hearing other white folks drop down a nigger or two always made us uneasy, and still would, except that it’s been a long, long time since we’ve heard a white person use it, unless it’s in the clinical sense in which we’re using it here (take our word for it). But these days we don’t flinch, inwardly or outwardly, when we hear nigger, because it’s almost always being emitted by one young black male when greeting or addressing another young black male or when both are in deep, heated discussion on theoretical physics or the roundness of some young lady’s behind. It’s become sort of a password to male bonding for males who aren’t deep into nuance. Recently the Chronicle sports columnist John Lopez called on NBA players to stop using the n-word (not nigger, mind you) and in doing so presented the interesting news (to us, anyway) that white players in the league call black teammates nigger, and vice versa. We were left to wonder whether these were American whites, or Eastern Europeans and other foreigners (either way, they must be dumber than they look). Lopez was astride his high horse, post-Kramer, but we could see where he was coming from: He’s probably weary from hearing it all the time while sitting courtside.

It’s become like that Lenny Bruce routine from the mid-‘60s, wherein the sometimes-wise junkie comedian ranted on about how the targets of nigger or queer or kike themselves should start using those slurs to divest them of their power.

It doesn’t work quite that way, but when the media reflexively resort to the chummy non-word n-word it turns the whole issue into a joke, which maybe it is. Just like the silly proposal by the mayor of Brazoria---who even told The Facts and the Chronicle that use of the word isn’t a problem in his town (ain’t that like government, always primed to tackle the non-problems)---the media’s flogging of n-word gives the real word a whole lot more due than it deserves.

Related: Slate’s Jack Shafer on a new book explaining the media’s Unpseak. Check it out!

Semi-related: We heard Hillary Clinton tell Katie Couric the other night that voters didn’t really know her because she had been
caricaturized over the years. We admire a presidential candidate who has enough command of English to make up her own words.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Man, With Cigarette (Still Life)

Our compadre Banjo Jones ushered in the New Year by giving up cigarettes. Instead of subjecting regular readers of his Brazosport News to the days and works of his quest, he’s launched a whole new blog, Stop Smoking with Banjo Jones, which we have added to our list of must-reads and suggest you do, too (if we could be so bold).

This is a subject that interests us--- the subject of Banjo foreswearing the cigs---not just because we’re big fans of The Brazosport News but because we once worked with Banjo at a since-discontinued publication out on the freeway and thus inhaled second-hand smoke from his cigarettes, and he from ours. Kind of a bonding experience.

We were surprised to learn from his blog that Banjo did not start smoking until the relatively advanced age of 27. From what we remember, Banjo was a natural with a cigarette---he wielded the butts with a certain authority and athletic grace, and that, of course, is at least half of what smoking is about (the other half being the health benefits and the sweet nicotine fragrance a smoker exudes). Banjo smoked like he rolled out of the womb with one hanging off of his lip.

Banjo’s new micro-blog naturally got us thinking about one of our favorite subjects: us (and our constituent parts---me, myself and I) and our own heroic struggle to shed the cigateen habit. This was not a subject we had considered for many years, although at one time we did actually devote at least a few of our waking minutes (or seconds, more accurately) to the questions of 1.) Why we smoked and 2.) Why we couldn’t stop.

We actually managed to quit the habit when we were at above-mentioned publication, after several stops and re-starts and a prolonged to habituation to other nicotine products (not recommended) as well as the incessant chewing of tooth picks (yum) and gum. We deployed these crutches, and still may, but basically we gave up smoking the same way we’ve given up other habits, bad and so-so: by erecting a steel wall in our mind against it.

In other words, by sheer exertion of Bush-like willpower (which is good for giving up stuff like booze and cigarettes, not so good for running a pointless, false-premised war in the Middle East). Not that we’re strutting on the flight deck under a "Mission Accomplished" banner.

We don’t remember our last cigarette, but we do remember when we decided to quit, once and for all: We were at a state Democratic convention being held at the then-new George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston (when these events were considered “newsworthy,” which they aren’t), puffing hard and mindlessly tapping away one of those primordial Radio Shack “Trash 80” laptops that we never could seem to get to work right, when we suddenly felt light-headed. We looked up and around the little area that had been cordoned off for the press and for some reason were moved to take inventory.

Of the 21 people we counted in the area, 19 were smoking at that moment, including us. We zeroed in on one of them, a guy who worked at one of the Dallas newspapers (when there were two), a funny and generous presence who died a few years ago of cancer, and for just a moment he appeared to be a cadaverous X-ray as sucked on his cig. It was one of those moments of heightened awareness we’ve very rarely experienced while in a mostly natural state, and the whole Pavlovian nature of the smoking racket was writ large before us.

“Man, we gotta quit this shit as soon as possible---this is weakness,” we said in a memo to our self.*

It took a while but we eventually had our last one (thus far) and can honestly say we haven’t missed it physically, although over the years at several points when things weren’t going our way (which, as with you, is most of the time, right?) we would conjure a mental image of our self sitting in the back yard on cool, crisp evening, drawing hard on one under a full moon. But this was just a self-mocking distraction---tempting our self with the mere notion of tempting our self. It’s easy for us to imagine how smoking would actually make us feel, and it passes. We tend our garden, watch the birds, take a long walk down a well-beaten path, hum the chorus to I Am the Japanese Sandman.

Smoking isn’t genetically encoded, we presume, but we’re pretty sure a person with a certain genetic make-up is more disposed to smoke than others (as well as take up other habits to vent anxiety, relieve boredom, look cool or whatever it is that drives people to reflexive behaviors). A few years ago we were looking at separate pictures of our grandfathers from the late 1940s and spotted something we hadn’t previously noticed: In the photos, informal family shots, each old man appears to be trying to place out of view a smoked-down cigarette lodged between the index and middle fingers.

Our mama smoked for a good 40 years, stopping cold turkey after our daddy, who never smoked, had bypass surgery in the mid-1980s. Sometime after that, she told us that she never inhaled, ever. Drew it up the nose and blew it out. We laughed our ass off but she swore it was true and basically challenged us to disprove it.

One reason we laughed is that although she might not have inhaled we certainly did, on those many nights we’d sit at the kitchen table eating supper or doing homework and she’d be across the way, grading papers and rounding off her days with a steady intake of Salems and the two Falstaffs she allowed herself. We didn’t like it, and sometimes we’d complain and she’d stub one out or blow the smoke away from us, but somehow our discomfort did not work as aversion therapy and we smoked our first one about the same time Eric Burdon did, gradually but inexorably advancing from puke-sick-every-time to teen smoker. Later, drink, employment, women, asshole buddies and just plain assholes all worked to reinforce our reliance on the coffin nails (and we’re incapable of imagining a bar without smoking---it seems against the natural order).

Our mother is an obstinate little woman with an iron will and undertook no crutch---no gum, no patch, no tooth picks, etc.---when she put the habit behind her. But for most of us it’s hard to quit without some substitution, and blogging would seem to be an excellent way to stave off the cravings, especially since blogging and smoking are similarly compulsive behaviors.

As Banjo shows, there’s a rich vein to mine through a smoking/not smoking blog, from the financial considerations---how do people of modest means afford ’em now?---to the vast body of folklore about smoking, such as the valuable advice we received as a young person that lighting up a mentholated cigarette first thing on waking was a guaranteed cure for constipation, which it was and probably still is (we’ve moved on to prunes and Grape Nuts).

Then there’s the exorcism angle. Back in the '70s, maybe the '80s (it all runs together from this vantage), there was the preacher we used to see on TV whose name was Jack Van Impe. In between healing congregants of cancers and tumors Van Impe would turn his powers on less severe afflictions: Some forlorn, broken-down looking sort would stand in front of the preacher and Van Impe would wind up and slap him upside the forehead, knocking him on his ass while hollering, “Out, foul nicotine demon!”

Who are we to say it didn’t work?

* All internal dialogue guaranteed verbatim.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

For Those Who Have Trouble with the Concept of “High” and “Low” …

Our favorite sentence in the Houston Chronicle this week---and we know the week’s not over---is from the front page of Wednesday’s three-star edition, in a story (no link available) headlined “Ice may slow commute today”:
Today’s high and low in Houston are just degrees apart---38 and 34, respectively.
You get the feeling the daily newspaper isn’t overestimating the intelligence of its readers.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Why Bill White Will Have a Hard Time Getting Elected Governor in Texas (Or Even Land Commissioner)

There’s the crime, of course, with the mayor’s “Criminals, get packing” tagline on his bond-election commercials coming perilously close to a Dukakis-in-a-tank moment.

For another, less pressing “for example,” consider this entity, the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs, and the newsletter it publishes every two weeks.

We don’t imagine this on-line newsletter has much circulation outside of a small circle of immigrant advocacy types, if it has even that---in fact, its disinterested readership may be limited to us and the public-spirited citizen who directed us to it---but it’s definitely not the kind of thing you’d want floating out there in the ether under your very own mayoral brand if you were serious about running for office outside the Loop as the nominee of a still-walking-with-a-crutch political party. It’s not hard to imagine some hardballing GOP operative hanging this all over the Bill White for Governor (or Senator) Campaign.

According to the city’s web site, the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs, which was created under Lee Brown (natch) and is run by Benito Juarez---not that one, we think---is “dedicated to facilitate [sic] a smoother transition for immigrant and refugee communities living in the city of Houston. The policy of MOIRA is to encourage access by all persons residing in the city of Houston, regardless of nation of birth or current citizenship status, to the full benefits, opportunities, and services which are provided and administered by the city of Houston.”

In addition to advising the mayor on immigration policy---which we thought he himself has said is a federal matter---the office seeks to “inform and educate the public about immigrant and immigration policies, act as a liaison between immigrant communities and city government [and] advocate on behalf of constituents.”

Some picky sorts might take issue with the notion that all people living in Houston are entitled to the “full benefits” offered by the city “regardless of … current citizenship status,” but we wouldn’t quibble with the larger notion that in a city with so many immigrants---many of them legal!---the mayor’s office ought to have some sort of formal liaison with the newcomers and the various institutions, organizations, Bar card holders and gum-beaters who represent them.

But check out almost any issue of MOIRA’s newsletter and it’s apparent that this arm of the mayor’s office takes its charge to “advocate on behalf of constituents” (which constituents, by the way?) to mean advocate in one of the most blatantly partisan and political manners that we’ve seen in supposedly non-partisan city government. The content is heavily slanted toward agitating for “comprehensive” immigration reform (which we’ve come to belatedly realize means amnesty, then more of the same when it comes to the non-enforcement of current law) or something even looser. Is that a responsibility of the mayor's office?

Sure, there’s some neutral, need-to-know information, such as a copy of HPD’s revised policy on illegal immigrants and the occasional news release from la migra or on some community event, but most of it is just straight-up polemics, rhetoric and information aimed at facilitating the organizing of illegal aliens.

Which is fine, it's a free country, but do taxpayers gotta foot the bill?

Take the Dec. 21 edition, which reprinted the United Nation’s “International Migrants Day 2006” resolution, with signatories ranging from the AFL-CIO to the Zapatista Solidarity Coalition and including this ripe verbiage:

In the United States, the U.S.-Mexico border region, in particular, continues to experience intensified militarization with impunity, and has become a de-constitutionalized zone where communities and immigrants are racially profiled and subjected to unfair detentions and deportations. We condemn the Bush Administration's and the U.S. Congress' approval of 700 more miles of additional walls, electronic surveillance and the deployment of 6,000 National Guard troops to police the border.

We reject restrictive immigration proposals in Congress that would criminalize immigrants through intensified border enforcement, and extend inhumane enforcement mechanisms to the interior. We further reject the current "compromise" proposals that contain guest-worker provisions that would expand and sustain an underclass of migrant workers, inevitably exposing migrant workers to employer abuse. Furthermore, we denounce such provisions that ensure corporations a pool of cheap, disposable labor for use and discard according to economic demands.
Is that Bill White’s position? (Although personally we can't argue with that last sentiment.)

Or consider this missive in the Nov. 16 edition, whose inclusion means city of Houston resources were used to encourage meddling in another municipality’s business:

Dear Community Leaders & Activists,

I was given a tip last night that a local municipality is going to follow in the footsteps of Farmers Branch, Texas. I was not told what city it was, but that it was going to be announced within the week.

I ask you to stay vigilant in the surrounding cities and inform us (LULAC District Directors) as soon as possible so we all can be present when they cast a vote for the anti-immigrant legislation.

LULAC has the petition ready to be filed against any city that passes this type of anti-immigrant legislation within our local area.

We will stand together against these types of actions within our Greater Houston.
Jose Luis Jimenez
Deputy District Director
LULAC District VIII – Houston
Or the Nov. 10 issue, which reproduced an “analysis” of the 2006 election by the Greenberg Traurig law firm that bizarrely included only one small section on immigration along with the “tax advice” disclaimer required by the IRS (somebody needs to do more than cut and paste and maybe read this stuff---free advice!) as well as a news release on the janitors' strike.

The previous week’s issue included a “want ad” from the National Association of Latino Elected Officials for poll watchers for the Nov. 7 election (offering a $50 stipend---if we’d only known).

And that's just from recent issues. It actually was a lot riper back in the spring, at the time of demonstrations and school walk-outs protesting non-comprehensive immigration reform.

We're pretty sure this sort of thing won't play well outside the 713 and 281 area codes.

We're pretty sure it wouldn't play all that well in many parts of the 713 and 281 area codes.

The mayor needs to get triangulatin’.

Friday, January 12, 2007

It’s a Legal Matter, Baby

The crew at blogHouston has noted the latest installment in Houston Chronicle soccer columnist Glenn Davis’ campaign to get somebody---probably you there, Mr. and Ms. Taxpayer---to build a soccer-only stadium for Ollie Luck and the Houston Dynamo. We can only add that the $250 million deal to bring washed-up matinee idol David Beckham to the Major League Soccer doubtless has brought renewed pressure on Luck, the former Harris County-Houston Sports Authority director, to deliver a new stadium.

After all, we can’t have a celebrity of Beckham’s stature and financial wherewithal squatting in dingy, artificially turfed Robertson Stadium, can we? Besides, somebody’s gotta cough up for Beckham’s salary (probably you there …). We expect Luck’s other agent at the Chronicle, John Lopez, to weigh in shortly with coy hints of a deal that’s probably being cooked up behind closed doors at this very moment. As soon as he gets Luck’s OK.

So we’ll turn our attention to another Chronicle crooner who stepped up to the microphone this week to unlimber some bu-bu-bu-boo on behalf of yet another prospective World Class venue for our town. This one was flagged for us by our colleague Il Pinguino. The estimable IP was righteously torqued by a line in the Thursday column by Ken Hoffman, in which the paper’s resident funnyman (not much competition on that front, unless it’s some of the anonymous authors of some of the paper’s editorials) made a strange and out-of-character endorsement of casino gambling. Il calls it “one of the all-time dumbest sentences ever printed in a major daily newspaper.” There is heavy competition on that front, but you be the judge:
Gambling already is legal, so it's not a moral question.
“Right,” says IP. “And equal rights for blacks was not a moral issue in 1955, because segregation was legal.”

As IP notes, it appears that the Drive-Thru Gourmet was saying that because bingo and horse and dog racing are already permitted in Texas, any moral questions about casino gambling have been resolved. The law just needs to catch up.

We say tell it to the Baptists.

Hoffman stumbled on with one of the all-time great unattributed paragraphs we’ve seen in a daily newspaper:
I could list all the potential benefits of legalizing casino gambling, like $3.2 billion in tax revenues for the state, with $1.6 billion helping send kids to college. Cities and counties would get $800 million. Thousands of people, including Wayne Newton, would find work in Texas.
Well, as our coozan George Will would say from between pursed lips.

Hoffman must have been mighty busy with his calculator, or, most likely, cutting and pasting somebody’s talking points. Do tell whose. It's SOP.

The whys and wherefores of Hoffman’s sudden interest in public policy are both a mystery and a puzzle. Along with Leon Hale, the last known survivor of The Alamo, Hoffman anchors the front of the Chronicle’s ghastly Star section and from what we remember usually devotes his inches to dashed-off updates on professional wrestlers, Jimmy Buffett and the whereabouts of second-tier local TV news personalities, and whatnot. He, of course, is wildly popular and easily the best-remunerated journalist in Houston and perhaps the entire state, at least on a dollars-to-hours-actually-worked basis. We can assume he’s not getting comped at Harrah’s.

Can’t we?

One of Hoffman’s arguments is that because next-door Louisiana has casinos, Texas must follow suit or continue to lose out on all that revenue … and fun!

Yes, the legalization of casinos has done so much for Louisiana. People from all over the country are banging on the door to live and work there.

We suppose casinos are inevitable in Texas, although we hope the state will hold out as long possible, the way we used to hope that formerly home-owned Randalls would never sell booze, just on principle and for no particular moral reason (us=sentimental sucker). They’re just another necessary component of our cheap credit, debt-fueled, Easy Motoring and Commodification of Risk economy that will rumble well along, until it won’t. Or, as the union boss Frank Sobotka observed just before his violent demise in the second season of HBO’s very sharp The Wire, an elegiac and morally complex (Dostoevsky level) exploration of the self-enabled selling-out of America’s white and black working class, “We used to make shit in this country. Now we just stick our hands in each other’s pockets.”

Along those lines, and in keeping with our Slampo’s Place Mission Statement Point No. 14 to “always give credit where due,” we must gratuitously commend the daily newspaper's Loren Steffy, a bona fide grown-up, for slipping one into the media punchbowl that flowed for Apple’s rollout of its iPhone.* Whatever the legal niceties, the backdating of stock options for Steve Jobs and other Apple executives is certainly a moral question.

*As with many Americans eligible for membership in AARP, our only question about all these incessant new technological marvels is how long will it be before we have to break down and buy one so that we can remain a marginally functioning member of society, and what new password or PIN or personal identity confirmer will we have to add to the lengthy handwritten list of such that we keep stashed between our mattress and boxspring.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Had to Rearrange Their Faces, Give Them All Another Name

At right is our favorite never-ending-touring sexagenarian rock ’n’ roll poet. (Or maybe it’s Larry Fine, at the tail-end of the Joe Besser Interregnum.) At left is a facial model sculpted by the Harris County Medical Examiner’s Office of an unknown white male whose remains were discovered in an overgrown lot in the 2000 block of Lamar in Houston on April 27, 2005. The man was thought to be between 55 and 65 years of age and stand 5-foot-5.

Sorry, that’s all we got today.

We ain’t even gonna pretend to give a damn about Tom Craddick.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

But 1st, R U eCkperiensed?

The Houston Chronicle must be following the open borders/cheap labor policy espoused by its editorial page by contracting out some of its editorial work to overseas or foreign labor. How else to explain the following passage, which appeared in a Sunday Zest section profile on a local graffiti artist (who used to be a “graffiti writer,” but now he’s all growed up, apparently):
With permission, he has spray painted murals on buildings throughout the Houston area, creating everything from Dizzy Gillespie, Jimmy Hendricks and Madonna on a sound studio to a 60-foot downtown skyline on a pool hall.
Yeah, we think we’ve seen that one of Jimmy Hendricks---y’know, that obscure guitarist from way back in the late ’60s with the hard-to-spell name. He made Ackis: Bold as Love, did he not?

We readed it. We wepted.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

If You So Smart, Why You So Racist?

That, more or less, is the question posed by a study co-conducted by Rice University sociologist Michael Emerson that recently came to our attention via blogger Steve Sailer (who’s the film critic for Pat Buchanan’s American Conservative magazine, if that matters, and if it does you should leave this site immediately and go here, especially if you’re having a slow day).

As summarized in the fall 2006 Sallyport, the Rice U magazine, research by Emerson and co-author David Sikkmik shows ...
that increased education of whites, in particular, may not only have little effect on eliminating prejudice, but it also may be one reason behind the rise of racial segregation in U.S. schools. Furthermore, higher-educated whites, regardless of their income, are more likely than less-educated whites to judge a school’s quality and base their school choice on its racial composition.*
Even after controlling for income and “other factors,” Emerson and Sikkmik found education has the “unintended effect” of whites placing a “greater emphasis” on race when choosing schools for their children while “higher-educated African Americans do not consider race,” according to Sallyport.
“I do believe that white people are being sincere when they claim that racial inequality is not a good thing and that they’d like to see it eliminated,” says Emerson. “However, they are caught in a social system in which their liberal attitudes about race aren’t reflected in their behavior.”
Based on this summary, we’re tempted to seize on Emerson’s work as an excuse to whip-up on one of our frequent (and admittedly easy) targets---hypocritical liberals of academia and the media who yammer on about diversity and multiculturalism but almost invariably toil at overwhelmingly white workplaces, send their kids to overwhelmingly white schools and usually don’t live within 5 miles of a black person who isn’t a fellow member of the professional class (although this truism doesn’t always hold in no-zoning Houston, where mostly black or mostly Hispanic low-income apartments are butt-up against mostly white suburban subdivisions).

But we’ll restrain our self, for the time being, so that we might quibble with Emerson's explanations, which reflect the reductive tendencies of white liberals when it comes to discussing diversity and race (we may, of course, be doing the professor a disservice, not having read his actual study).

Although we haven’t conducted a study, years of close observation suggest to us that the somewhat nebulous variable of class has more to do with phenomenon Emerson is trying to explain than the somewhat less nebulous factor of education, with which it is somewhat nebulously entwined. Black (and Hispanic) middle-class parents seek the same “status markers” for their children that Emerson suggests drives educated white parents to shun schools with large black populations, and they’ll work like hell to get them into magnets, private schools or charters, when and where that opportunity avails itself. Often, but not always, these schools have a majority or plurality of white students, a configuration that at least marginally contributes to the school’s image as place that is not just safe but provides an atmosphere conducive to learning (and signals such to attentive black and Hispanic parents).

When a kid---black, brown or white---tells you he goes to a “ghetto school,” he’s summoning a whole constellation of associations, none of them good, which parents of all colors instinctively understand. To break it down further, parents with any wherewithal---financial, mental, or that ineffable quality of drive---don’t want their kindergartners in the same class with other 5 year olds who learned to say “motherf—ker” from their parents’ rap CDs. That’s a desire that cuts across race.

One unfortunate result of this racial (or class) segregation is that the opinionating classes have little understanding of the enormity of the problems faced by schools that serve lower income students, which of course doesn’t deter them from issuing directives regarding diversity for others or making broad facile judgments, such as the media’s generally hostile stance toward vouchers, which in Texas seems to grow out of the fact that they’re being pushed by a rich right-wing bible thumper (being such doesn’t mean he’s wrong).

Emerson seems to be doing interesting work, but he loses us when he shifts from the observational to the prescriptive. As he is quoted by Sallyport:
“Our study arrived at a very sad and profound conclusion … More formal education is not the answer to racial segregation in this country. Without a structure of laws requiring desegregation, it appears that segregation will continue to breed segregation.”
Indeed, more formal education is not the answer to racial segregation. It’s the answer to how you become an educated person, or how you prepare yourself to get a decent job (or was the answer, past tense).

*Emerson speaks of “segregation” in a strict black/white sense, an outdated paradigm, at least in the Houston area, where many schools are highly desegregated by African-Americans, Hispanics, Asians, Africans and 57 other varieties of people. And don't forget the Meshketian Turks.