Thursday, April 26, 2007

Non-White-Skin Privilege

Author and journalist Martin Amis, man of the left (non-woozy division), explaining his “Islamismophobia” in Wednesday’s Wall Street Journal:
The situation in Britain is ridiculous and contemptible. Some left-wing people--it's a bit insulting to the left to call them that . . . see someone with a grievance who hasn't got white skin and they think, Well, we must have done something really horrible to them. There's this masochistic view that we can't be right about anything. The woozy left has made itself an apologist for a creedal wave that is racist, misogynist, homophobic, totalitarian, imperialist and genocidal. But at least they're not white! … Islamismophobia is not the right word, either, because a phobia is an irrational or exaggerated fear and it is neither irrational nor exaggerated to fear a movement that wants you dead and has said it wants you dead. This great gust of irrationality coming from the Middle East, we meet it with another gust of irrationality."

Monday, April 23, 2007

Massive, Looming, Ugly. (Not to Mention Controversial!)

Didja get a gander at page D3 of the Houston Chronicle’s Sunday business section? We’re not talking about the column by real estate reporter Nancy Sarnoff, which included a straightforward updating of the “controversial mixed-use project” planned for Rice Village by Lamesa Properties and developer Randall Davis. We’re talking about the accompanying architects’ rendering of the controversial mixed-use project, which apparently has been designed to resemble a runaway cruise ship come to rest on a palm-laced beach.

Davis’s Sonoma development (and what a meaningless earth-toned glop of wine-country nothing is the name Sonoma---how about something with some local multicultural cachet, like Anahuac) has been controversial, as Sarnoff notes, because of the developers’ request that the city abandon the stretch of Bolsover between Morningside and Kelvin so it can be used as greenspace for the project, a move that nearby homeowners argue will exacerbate the existing parking and traffic problems in the once tight-knit enclave of small merchants. Controversial seems to be the descriptive of choice, as it’s even used in this recent “launch” press release from Davis Properties, wherein it is noted that
Sonoma has been the topic of much political discussion among South Hampton [sic] residents who fear the development will only bring more traffic and congestion to the area.
Randall Davis Company, commissioned by La Mesa [sic] Properties, has carefully designed and placed Sonoma at a location that will preserve the pedestrian-friendly culture and independent retail culture that is so unique to the Rice Village area. The Sonoma property will boast 225 residences, open air markets, bountiful pedestrian access and an abundance of one-of-a-kind boutiques, shops and markets.
Well, that’s sufficient explanation for us, but we don’t live anywhere near Rice Village.

What we find truly controversial is the inherent cheesiness of the project---the massive looming ugliness that’s so far out of whack with the existing scale and one- and two-story small-town walkabout character of the Village (a small town with a surplus of oversized SUVs clogging the streets) and surrounding neighborhoods.

Davis told the Chronicle he had been studying up to bring a “Mediterranean feel” to the 225 “high-end” Sonoma condos, which will include such Mediterranean amenities as “complete Viking kitchens with plate racks” and a “koi pond surrounded by River Birch trees” on the roof. (We always thought the areas around Rice University had more of a Northern European, Protestant feel, but maybe that’s just us projecting … )

This would be a mere matter of aesthetics versus property rights, a conflict on which we’re more than qualified to issue damning judgments because of our longstanding status as a snob (as well as a reverse snob and a reverse-reverse snob), but the street closure makes it a public policy question. We see no reason that the city should subsidize this hulking traffic-magnet monstrosity by anteing up a public thoroughfare, and we’d urge you to contact your councilmember and call on him or her to deny final approval to the street closing … but, hey, why bother.

Saturday, April 21, 2007


These beauties sprouted from a tomato stalk that sprung, unplanted and untended by the hand of man, from a pot that holds a hydrangea we keep on our driveway. They look to be Big Boys or some other mainstream variety; the seedling most likely took root from the sinkwater we collect in a plastic basin and periodically dump in our pots and on our various gardens (ain’t we virtuous).

It’s the second tomato plant to recently take up residence in the hydrangea pot. Back in the late fall a smaller but more robust stalk began setting some variety of cherries and popped out 40 or 50 to pick right from the vine and eat (we believe our next-door neighbor helped himself to a few, but that’s OK) before getting singed back by a winter freeze. But the plant is going and blowing again with a new round of fruit.

We usually get three or four of these unbidden tomato plants growing somewhere in our yard each year, as well as several cucumber crawlers and way too many of those crazed Mexican cilantro bushes (one of which we made the mistake of planting and allowing to go to seed a couple of years back). They’re called volunteers, a nicely evocative term we first heard used by our parents and grandparents---always, or so we’d like to remember, with a touch of reverence for the surprises nature can spring.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

In Houston, Even the Ooze is Tasty

Caught the latest Constable Victor Trevino Show on one of the public access channels (yeah, we’re a fan: the constable’s a sincerely community-minded dude, plus he far and away has the best head of hair of any local elected official, male or female) and the topic de jour was pollution and litter and similar physical manifestations of Our Town’s distinctive character. Guests included reps from the improbably named Keep Houston Beautiful and Mothers for Clean Air as well as a lady from the city solid waste department who managed to sneak in a backhanded plug for the proposed garbage tax.

The panelists were skating along when the constable broke to take a call from a viewer, a gentleman who related, without a trace of irony or Punk'd smugness in his voice, that he had some green “ooze” “out back here”---meaning, presumably, behind his place of residence---that his dog had been eating regularly. “He really likes it. He thinks it’s delicious,”* the caller added before signing off and leaving the constable and his panelists to ponder the ramifications.

“What did he say? What’s the dog eating?” asked the constable.

“I think he said ‘ooze,’ ” explained one of the guests.

“That sounds worse than ‘booze,’” rhymed the constable.

The panelists resolved that whatever the ooze was it probably wasn’t a good idea to feed it to a household pet and moved on to other matters, but the caller obviously had struck a nerve with the audience, which possibly was in the high two-digit to low three-digit range.

One caller who said he had experience in the chemical industry told Trevino the pet owner definitely shouldn’t use the ooze as a Purina substitute, especially if it was leaking from a 55-gallon drum. Another guy who sounded equally knowledgeable cautioned against the practice if the stuff was spilling from a pipe and pooling on the ground. Finally, another intelligent-sounding caller, this one a female, fingered the ooze as most likely being "gak," a slimy green substance that keeps young kids entertained. It probably wouldn’t harm the dog but really shouldn’t be part of its diet, she added.

The last word was left to the lady from the solid waste department, who, stepping just beyond her purview, advised, “You shouldn’t eat something if you don’t know what it is.”

Everyone nodded. As do we.

*Dialogue not guaranteed verbatim, but close enough.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

We Take Part in the Ongoing National Dialogue on Race, Installment 347

“We got a sense that the healing has now begun.”
-- Greg Hurst, anchorman, Channel 11 News, Houston, putting a Cronkite-ian flourish on Friday’s report on the meeting between Don Imus and the Rutgers women’s basketball team

Certainly there were many more pressing concerns to occupy the national mind, such as last week’s stunning breach of security in the Green Zone (“On the other hand, the pacification is proceeding …” – Charles Krauthammer, deep thinker), but the Imus Affair quickly shifted into an uncharted dimension beyond the reliable “contrition and rehabilitation” script usually followed when some celebrity (whether of the A, B or C lists) steps too far over the line in his or her public utterances. How cruel the fate: to be condemned by Ann Coulter (!) and defended by Tom DeLay, who apparently was not among the audiences on the mornings when Imus referred to the former congressman from Sugar Land as the product of a brother-sister coupling (or something equally as lame).

Still, we figured its shelf life might not extend beyond the weekend, as some new spectacle or another would debut in the Big Top while Imus slunk off to peddle auto insurance on satellite radio. Then we heard Oprah declare her intent to explore “After Imus?” on Monday, an hour surely to be given over to a deep probing of “feelings” and expressions of “hurt” and the arduous seeking and finding of that elusive “healing” (or maybe that’s “heeling”).

If only Ann Coulter could be there, in a very short skirt.

It turns out our 13 year old’s Texas history teacher was way ahead of Oprah in using Imus (he being an important figure in Texas history) to launch a discussion on race and ethnicity and disparaging terms. While the 7th graders were unanimous in condemning the elderly white man, many, including some black students, took issue with his firing (our daughter, an Imus hater of longstanding, not being one). She reported that the teacher, in what must have been an awkward instructional moment, stressed that it was NOT OK for those outside a racial/ethnic category to use the apparently familial terms employed inside the group (like ’ho, we guess). Our daughter cited the example of “Cubans” at her very diverse school who refer to one another as “beaners”*; our 17-year-old son, briefly passing through the discussion on his way to the icebox, observed that these self-I.D.’ed beaners probably were Mexicans and asked if our daughter was aware of the term’s etymology. We then felt compelled to point out that most white Cubans we’ve known generally look down on other Hispanics because, as our son added from the kitchen, they consider themselves to be of “purer” Spanish blood.

Seeking to return to the issue at hand, we asked if black kids at our daughter’s school refer to white kids as “crackers,” and she gave us the duh-uh ... and replied, Yeah, sure, some do---and some Hispanics, too (we knew the answer already). Wandering back through on his way to his room, our soon volunteered that at his very diverse school the pejorative for whites favored by black and Hispanic gangsta types is “white bitch”---directed toward males of the Caucasian persuasion.

So, sure, let’s have that discussion, let’s keep yammering about it until Imus falls off the wagon or blows his brains out, but be advised that, to paraphrase early Fleetwood Mac---back before they had sniffed cocaine or laid eyes on Stevie Nicks and her scarves---it might not yield the answers that you want it to. If we want to make it more than just these little tableaux of self-validation or displays of moral hauteur, let’s strip away the hypocrisy and double standards, starting with those of CBS, which after years of tolerating similar remarks by Imus and his yukking buddies withdrew its original suspension and canned him more than a week after his “nappy-headed ’ho’s” crack---if its was a firing offense on Thursday it should have been a firing offense the day he said it---and MSNBC, which terminated his show earlier in the week but then for two days devoted the same airtime (and lots more, almost around-the-clock) to coverage of Imus’s downfall moderated by NBC correspondent David Gregory, a frequent guest of Imus’s (sheesh---we originally typed “Dick Gregory”; this race talk leaves us feeling logy). As far as we know, Imus has not agreed to be one of Gregory’s guests during the time spot he formerly occupied.

Then we could move on to all the pious African-American academics and journalists and social commentators solemnly weighing in with their ritual condemnations of Imus (so far so good) but who verbally look the other way when their (usually white) interlocutors timorously pipe up, “Yes, sir or madam, but what of this vile rap music so beloved by today’s youth, with its talk of ’ho’s and bi’ches and so forth?” or “Yes, Mr. Sharpton, but what of your promotion of the false changes against the Duke lacrosse players?” (as if expecting Sharpton to break down and summarily offer a heartfelt apology).

Imus in a sense was absent-mindedly backstroking along in the larger popular culture, although in an end of the pool where he wasn’t allowed, a point made more succinctly by our wife, also no fan of Imus---the chicks just didn't dig Imus---on the first day of the commotion, when she noted that “nappy headed ’ho” was exactly the sort of thing (maybe the exact thing) that one of her students would have said to a classmate---that is, a black male to a black female---back when she taught middle school, long before the pervasiveness of hip-hop culture or whatever you call it: “And since when did Imus start talking like a seventh grader from [South Park]?” (Note to our reader[s] in France: this South Park being a southeast Houston neighborhood, not the TV show, although that would work, too, if you wish.)

We hesitate to use “the lynch mob” metaphor, because as a white Southerner we’re sensitized to the reality of that term, but there’s something so unseemly about the piling-on and face-stomping that it's left us feeling sympathetic toward Imus and bereft at his passing. So for healing we’ll turn to the red-meat wisdom of our coozan, Pat Buchanan (yet another frequent Imus guest):
Imus threw himself on the mercy of the court of elite opinion – and that court, pandering to the mob, lynched him. Yet, for all his sins, he was a better man than the lot of them rejoicing at the foot of the cottonwood tree.
Yes, asshole that he is (was).

*A slur that we first became acquainted with as a 6 or 7 year old reading the educational book Texas History Movies.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

In the Matter of USA v. Don Imus

Note: Today this blogger broadens his usual hyper-local focus to address an issue of grave national concern, one that has divided the people and preoccupied the news media for the past three days. Thanks for your indulgence. – Hidalgo Hidalgo, executive editor and former Texas flyweight champion

Our first thought upon hearing that MSNBC had tossed Imus from its early morning broadcast was Where now can we turn when we’re in the mood to see Billy Joe Shaver live while we butter our toast?

Perhaps we’ll return to listening to NPR regularly. Or spend more quality time with the family.

For this development was must thank Al Sharpton (while wondering when he’ll get around to apologizing for the Tawana Brawley witch-hunt, which actually damaged lives), and of course MSNBC for bowing to the dictates of the market, but mostly we must thank Don Imus for managing to shoot himself in the head while aiming for his foot.

We were not among the TV audience for the “nappy-headed ’ho’s” comment, but we were somewhat surprised that it was the one that brought Imus down because we had heard similar or worse from Imus and his Boys’ Club regulars over the years (Slate compiled a lengthy bill of particulars; nothing like kicking a corpse when it’s stiff).

We still watched, although we can’t really say we “watched,” as we usually flipped on the TV a couple or mornings a week and then went about our routine---scanning the newspaper, brewing our pot of Community, screaming at the kids to wake up---while occasionally looking up to see if anything worthwhile was transpiring on the TV.

Most times there wasn’t, unless you found entertaining the tiresome in-jokes about Imus’s crankiness or his wife’s frequent expounding of her learned theories on the causes of autism and disease or the Clinton impersonator with the same stale lines, etc.

But … every so often Imus and his guests produced some real intelligence that worked its way to the foreground through the winking and nudging, like his recent unfeigned outrage over the conditions at Water Reed (something really deserving of outrage) and the way he vigorously pushed the Washington Post’s revelations about the army hospital in the faces of regular guest-pals like McCain and Lieberman. You don’t see that sort of thing too often on TV, with its denatured personalities so eager to bend down and spit-shine the shoes of anyone with even the faint aura of money, power or authority (and Keith Olbermann trying to wedge himself into Edward R. Murrow’s wingtips doesn’t count, ’cause the act’s as phony as his show his long).

Monday, April 09, 2007

The Living is Just Too Damn Free and Easy Here in the Trash-Monger’s Paradise

At the risk of coming across as a gimlet-eyed, tooth-grinding bore---or, more accurately, an even bigger gimlet-eyed, tooth-grinding bore---we must return to the issue of the recommended $3.50-a-month “waste reduction fee” for the city of Houston, which we will henceforth refer to simply as the proposed garbage tax.

We took note, as did others, that the Upper West Siders of the Houston Chronicle editorial board donned their revealing cheerleader outfits Sunday to slap their pom-poms and cut some rather shakily executed backflips on behalf of the garbage-tax recommendation by Mayor Bill White’s Solid Waste Task Force. Declaring Houston to be a “trash-monger’s paradise” (a catchy new city motto, don’t you think?), the Upper West Siders then claimed that
Heavy trash, a $28 million expense, gets whisked away free each month.
BlogHouston has pointed out that the editorial went on to contradict itself on that issue only four paragraphs later, so we see no reason to wheeze on refuting this obviously screwy assertion but instead will refer to the very first page of the “well researched proposals” of White’s task force, as the editorial described them, wherein it is flatly stated that
City solid waste services are provided without a user fee, which is a rare situation in Texas. While many residents look upon the City service as “free” it of course is not free but has both monetary and societal costs because 1.) taxpayers fund it …
Well, there you have it. Perhaps it would have been too much exertion to read the thing, which is posted on-line and can be accessed from the air-conditioned comfort of the home office.

Although the editorial’s author or authors seemed quite enamored of the task force’s projection that its proposals will save the city $14 million of the $28 million currently spent on free monthly heavy-trash pick-up, closer scrutiny might have led him, her or them to wonder why a proposed five-sixths reduction in service would result in only a projected one-half savings in three years (that’s because, as Ubu Roi, a blogger with a deep appreciation for the surreal, notes, this one won’t actually result in much in the way of “waste reduction,” the ostensible guise in which the garbage tax comes clothed.)

We write here as a humble payer of city property and sales taxes and regular user (not abuser, nor “monger”) of both heavy trash (the proud 30 percent, we guess) and recycling pick-up, and as such we of course have noticed that we keep paying more each year in property taxes to the city but aren’t getting any more in services. Not even a teensy bit more. Perhaps the Hearst Corp. does not pay its editorial writers enough to afford a standalone home, even at the very favorable terms now available, and that state of affairs that has left them with the misimpression that the whisking is on the house.

Now there may be some sensible recommendations in the task force’s report, particularly regarding "out of ordinance” service and the revival of city compositing, but we hope the mayor isn't just buying time when he suggests the entire report can stand as a point of departure for further discussion. Much further. Hell, it's remotely possible we might even be persuaded that some nominal monthly fee is warranted, although it would take more than a "succinct slide presentation" by the task force, omission of which the Chronicle found to be the biggest problem with the report's presentation (y'know, a colorful PowerPoint to boil it down for you stupes). Said discussion might begin with the priorities of a city that can find the pocket change to fund an office to tend the needs of non-citizens and agitate for comprehensive immigration reform, to cite one dubious (and, yeah, admittedly minor) expense.

Then our newly engaged and empowered city council members could move on to examining the priorities of a transit agency that dabbles in real estate development to improve ridership---we know, "dabbles" isn’t quite the right word for a $7.2 million deal---and then leaves hanging the question of whether it might try to wiggle out of paying property taxes on the parcel while it holds the land for repurchase by a private developer.

Which brings us way around to the question of why someone (that is, besides us, a mere rank-and-file trashmonger) hasn’t pinned Mayor White’s ears back on the Metro deal. If we remember correctly, the mayor appoints a majority of the Metro board, including the chairman, with the council's approval. These are among the same trustees who exercised their fiduciary duties last month by approving the land purchase with no public discussion. Not even a post-approval press release from their press-release factory. Imagine that!

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Would a Garbage Fee Mean the City Would Throw Our Recycling Bin Back in Our Yard and Not Leave It Out in the Street Anymore?

We hope Michael Berry wasn’t the only member of Houston City Council to make the rather obvious observation that the recommendations by Mayor Bill White’s Solid Waste Task Force amount to “less service, higher costs,” but we fear that Berry may be alone among the herd of independent minds on council.

The justifications for the panel’s proposed imposition of a first-ever garbage collection fee and curtailment of heavy-trash pick-up are that 1). Money from the city’s general fund now spent (we refuse to use the word “subsidize” here) on picking up recyclables and unwanted sofas could be used for parks and libraries and police and whatnot (and how can you argue against that---it’d be like moving to evict the mentally retarded from their long-time … oh, never mind) and 2.) All the other big cities in Texas do it, with monthly fees ranging from $16 to $23 for basic service.

We like parks and libraries and figure that Houston could always use more, but in the great scheme of things we’d consider hauling off the trash, whether it’s stuffed in the can or stacked by the curb, to be a more pressing priority. For the moment, though, let’s set aside the “higher costs” end of the equation and examine the “less service” portion.

According to the task force, one of the uses to which the new revenue would be put is stricter enforcement against illegal dumping. Of course, one guaranteed result of cutting heavy-trash collection from once a month to twice a year (eventually on an “on-call basis,” as the task force would have it) would be a marked increase in illegal dumping.

Not to worry, though: the service cut will be accompanied by “substantial enforcement” in “abused/abusing neighborhoods,” the former being where the folks just put out too damn much heavy trash, the latter being where commercial operators take advantage of the pick-up to get rid of their crap (which we would argue is better than dumping it in a vacant lot). The task force elaborates:
Effecting change in Houston will require strong enforcement (for a period of time until practices change) and material fines being levied that exceed the cost of taking the trash too a landfill or a neighborhood depository. The cost of enforcement and opening new depository sites can eventually be borne from heavy trash savings achieved. Enforcement will initially require extra funds …
Yes, one revenue stream begats another, till the mad rivers flow into the peaceful sea.

In outlining what it sees as the “problem,” the task forces observes that use of heavy trash pick-up is “unevenly distributed among neighborhoods,” with some using it “excessively” and others hardly at all (we’d guess ours would fit the first category, whatever “excessively” means, and Mayor White’s the second). That may be true, but it’s a meaningless observation---in some neighborhoods households can go weeks, months and maybe years without calling the cops while in other neighborhoods residents phone for police service “excessively,” so maybe the city should consider tacking a monthly “protection” fee on to water bills, just to make everybody happy.

On second thought forget we mentioned it, as we can see the day coming …

(By the way, we noticed the head of the county Republican Party came out against the White panel's recommendations, so we’re wondering where his Democratic counterpart is, Democrats being the party of progressives and populists and William Jennings Bryan. Oh yeah: Democrats are the ones pushing this.)

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Four-Alarm Garbage Fee Alert!!!!!!!!

News of Mayor Bill White’s (let’s give credit where it’s due) move to evict the Center Serving Persons with Mental Retardation from its longtime home on prized and highly developable city-owned property near River Oaks (as detailed in this very fair and balanced story in Sunday’s Chronicle) comes on the heels of word that the city may be poised, for the first time in its history*, to impose a fee for garbage collection services on single-family residences.

We learned the latter fact from the front page of last Thursday’s newspaper---not the front front page, but the front page of the weekly zoned edition of the Chronicle that’s distributed in our neck of the metropolis. And of this we’ve heard no more (talk about underplaying a story!).

In other words, this proposal hasn’t exactly gotten prominent mention in the media, or by our elected officials.

According to the Chronicle’s Alief/Southwest News, at-large Council member Ronald Green told the Alief Super Neighborhood Council last week that the city is likely to propose a $3 or $4 monthly fee for recycling and heavy trash pick-up and collection of such could come through city water bills (as if they aren’t high enough already). Green allowed that there “is a $2 million to $3 million gap in providing waste collection service and a fee for recycling and heavy trash is going to be an option.”

We’re not sure what he meant by “gap,” exactly, but we’ve never been under the impression that garbage collection (light, heavy, recyclable or otherwise) is a city service that is supposed to pay for itself, anymore than police protection is supposed to be a self-sustaining service. Fact of the matter is, we always thought that municipalities were incorporated mainly to provide for sanitation and public safety, but as usual we must have been wrong. What do we pay city property and sales taxes for, anyway? So we can, like, turn a city golf course into a soccer stadium for a California ga-jillionaire? Or what?

This doesn’t surprise us, as White has previously targeted both services: Early on as mayor he proposed making heavy trash collection a by-request service (it’s unlikely White and his neighbors haul their expired Maytags and decayed fence posts out to the curb, as the do-it-yourselfers in our neighborhood do, in large numbers), a proposal that went nowhere. More recently he threatened to do away with recycling pick-up in neighborhoods where residents don’t avail themselves of the service in sufficient numbers, but we've lost track of where that one stands.

So we’re thinking that maybe the city should go ahead and toss the mentally challenged folks out of their center because its 99-year lease violates the city charter or whatever legalism is justifying the eviction and use the windfall from the sale to cover the $2 to 3 million “gap” for waste collection and reap some revenue from the fug-ugly high-raise apartments that will no doubt replace the center---housing that, and we’re just taking a wild swing here, will be priced well beyond the “affordable” range for the rest of us down here on the ground paying the $3 or $4 garbage fee.

But here are our predictions, once the public is riled: No garbage fees, no eviction of the retarded. And here’s a gratuitous forecast with no connection to those two, which we’re throwing in as lagniappe just because we were over that way this weekend: Midtown=the “Gulfton Ghetto” of the 2030s (we’ll be too too dead to care or else blessedly medicated in the Old Folks Compound up in Navasota).

*We think that's the case but we're too time-pressed for this "fact-checking" business at present. If this would not be a historical first, then we regret the error, etc.