Tuesday, June 26, 2007

We Speak, They Listen: Slampo’s Place Gets Results, No Matter How Small the Consequence

In the interest of … could we call it closure? … we flag attention to this small entry by the estimable Matt Stiles on the Chronicle’s Newswatch: City Hall blog:
… I should also note that often these amendments are negotiating points between the members and the mayor. Take Councilman Michael Berry's amendment to eliminate the Mayor's Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs, or MOIRA. The mayor agreed that the office should end activities perceived as advocacy for illegal immigrants, so Berry tabled his amendment.
Good enough, we guess. Congrats to the councilman and the mayor for reaching a seemingly satisfactory conclusion. Everything else should be so easy when it comes to illegal immigration, right? Next thing you know the mayor will be coming out against that comprehensive "reform" legislation.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Passages: Lauck Slings Jacket Over Shoulder and Strolls into Fog; Cultural Coach Hangs Up Cleats; New Master of Irony Debuts at the Chronicle

“Short appreciation of Dan Lauck” was near the top of our blogging to-do list for many months, but something or other---our real-life to-do list, chronic lassitude, forgetfulness … forgetfulness … something---always intruded. Now we learn that Lauck has Parkinson’s and filed his last story as a regular for Channel 11 on Friday (as first reported here), so we best get it on. In honor of Lauck, we’ll keep it terse: The guy was one of the only (if not the only) local TV newshounds with an actual voice, a distinctive style of presentation (understated, laconic, ironic … Hemingwayesque!) that set him far above most of his peers. He could write---we weren’t surprised to learn upon his departure that he had reported at Newsday and The Washington Post before coming to Houston---and his stories were invariably interesting, usually telling us something about Our Town that we didn’t know. We always paid attention when he was on-screen.

Good luck to him.

Now for the happy news: next Friday apparently will mark the last appearance of the “Cultural Coach” in the Houston’s Chronicle’s baleful Star section (formerly “the women’s section”). The coach, whose column, best we can tell, appeared only in the Chronicle and the Fort Wayne Star-Sentinel (Houston=Fort Wayne w/good restaurants), opened her penultimate offering (not available from the newspaper's Web site, for some reason) by claiming to be on some “conservatives’ hit list” (an “uncomfortable and scary place to be,” she solemnly relates, sans adult editorial supervision) and then recounted the story of a “self-described conservative” named Lance Somebody or Other from Fort Wayne (natch) who, through sustained and respectful dialogue with the Coach, came to a greater understanding of other cultures and peoples. The Coach reported that she and Lance “are learning how to create an American family” (hmmm … there’s books you can buy with pictures, if you need a shortcut) before announcing that she was pulling the plug and moving her column to the Web “so I can provide in-depth answers and offer guest commentaries.” No explanation of whether the plug-pulling was voluntary.

The Coach’s columns were a perfectly realized expression of the diversity racket---almost everything she counseled boiled down to common sense and good manners, the stuff a reasonably well-raised 10-year-old could tell you but for which corporations pay $5,000 so self-styled diversity consultants can torture their employees for a half-day.

We especially enjoyed the letters the Coach allegedly received seeking counsel, usually attributed to some well-meaning but benighted white person in “Fort Wayne” or “Houston” who wondered why, for example, the black people at the Cineplex are always talking so loud and ruining the picture show for everybody else, or why the illegal Mexicans are always parking their 6 cars in the front yard and ruining the neighborhood for everybody else (oh, maybe we haven’t sent that one yet). A casual textual analysis of these letters suggested a striking stylistic resemblance to the Coach’s own prose … anyway, good luck to her.

But if you think the Coach’s departure signals the reassertion of some intelligence by the Chronicle brain trust, as our friend Banjo calls it, forget it. No sooner had the Coach announced her bowing-out than the newspaper, as part of its ceaseless effort to make customers out of people who can’t or won’t read, hustled a brand-new columnist into the Star section, a person named Whitney Casey (no relation to sabbaticzing Rick, we presume) who hosts a local TV show we have not seen called Great Day Houston. Casey’s charge, apparently, will be to give advice about relationships. Her debut was accompanied by a front-page plug and a typically gooey Star section profile, wherein “Whit” allowed that she counts Maureen Dowd and Peggy Noonan as her favorite columnists.

Whit’s first effort was devoted to the news that there are Web sites that young people can frequent in search of relationships, or maybe just to get laid (who knew!). You can read it here, if they have Internet access in the Texas prison system, but we feel duty-bound to call attention to this choice paragraph:

You won't find any BBWs or SSBBWs on the Web site DarwinDating.com. The site accepts only thin, fit, good-looking members and promises "no ugly, unattractive, desperate fatsos." It also notes: "Charles Darwin was a genius, but unfortunately very ugly." It is ironic that he wouldn't be able to join DarwinDating.com! Snap!
So whadaya think: Dowd or Noonan?

Friday, June 22, 2007

Proposed Garbage Fee, Once Front-Page News, Hardly Noticed as Its Corpse is Dragged Off Public Stage Under Cover of Night

As predicted a while back in this very space, the monthly fee for garbage pick-up (or waste reduction, if you will) proposed a few months back by Mayor White’s Solid Waste Task Force has come to naught, at least for the time being (and forever, too), getting the heave-ho from city council before it adopted the budget for the upcoming year.

We believe we may have been apprised of this possibility a week or so ago by Channel 11 (although weren’t paying attention at the time, having been distracted by our Spanish-language translation of Critique of Pure Reason, and if we’re wrong we apologize to anyone who would care), but we learned of its official demise from a one-paragraph obituary tucked deep down in a story on the new budget that appeared in Thursday’s Houston Chronicle. This was quite a comedown from the newspaper’s first big report on the proposal, which appeared on page one as that day’s play story and was followed by a ringing endorsement from the mayor’s Auxiliary Pep Squad on the Chronicle’s editorial board (the paper should now promptly re-endorse the garbage fee, just to show it has the courage of its supposed convictions).

Although the reasons for the rejection were left unexplained in the Chronicle, we can safely surmise that council members heard not one approving word about the proposal, unless it hailed from a Solid Waste Department minion or Chronicle editorialist. We suppose its disappearance in the middle of the night will accrue to White’s benefit, although come to think of it the ever-cautious mayor didn’t exactly hop up and grab the task force’s report in a smothering embrace.

Then again, it was his task force.

The rejected garbage pick-up tax also rated late mention in a notable column on Friday by Kristen Mack, the daily's political writer---notable because it was the rare instance of a Chronicle tastemaker not falling all over his or her self to plant a big wet one on the mayor’s hind cheeks. Although the column started out in less-than-promising fashion, quoting once and probably future mayoral candidate Chris Bell to the effect that a budget is a “moral document” (a statement we find objectionable on several levels, starting with the unearned hauteur it betrays; we’d expound further but supper’s on the stove), Mack goes on to posit that White is in Chapter 7 when it comes to new ideas and his “unambitious” budget lacks an “overriding mission.”

It’s a trenchant analysis of White’s last years in office, although we personally are averse to overriding missions (Five-Year Plans, Great Leap Forwards, rail systems to nowhere, false-premised preemptive invasions of sovereign Middle Eastern nations, false-premised “comprehensive immigration reform,” etc.). All we ask from municipal government is prudent taxation and spending and effective delivery of basic services. So if the mayor indeed has no other “overriding mission,” we’re down with that.

Almost as interesting as Mack’s analysis was the comment affixed to the online version of her column by one D. Jones (hmmm … name sounds familiar), who writes, sans caps
well, i'm just amazed. kristin mack has actually written truth about mayor white. your insight clear, analysis solid and presentation unhedged. he has run out of ideas. he is a mean little micro-manager of the kathy whitmire variety and he is totally media-driven in his ill-conceived run for statewide office. this man who viciously savages employees in meetings is a timid little mouse before any public criticism. mark that down: houstons' only newspaper has one person who is man enough(??!!!) to tell the truth.
Funny, we’ve heard a couple of similar critiques of the mayor, although their presentation lacked the tang of D. Jones’s. It’s clear the Chronicle ought to make this guy one of its 16,141 bloggers: We detect potentially high reader interest in what he’s got to say.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Close to Home

A few weeks back our oldest child was robbed at gunpoint. He wasn’t in a “bad” part of town or anyplace he might have thought to have his guard up, but in his own neighborhood, the one he’s lived in for almost 17 years. It was around 9 on a Sunday evening just after he had sat with the adults to watch The Sopranos, the episode where the boy only a few years older than him makes a half-assed attempt at killing himself in the family swimming pool. That scene was harrowing, almost too violent and intense, and in a passing moment of parental guilt we wondered whether we shouldn’t have somehow steered him away from the show, although at his age it’s a little late to start laying down restrictions on what he can watch on TV.

Afterward he felt the urge to peddle off some steam on his bike, as he sometimes does after dark, and took off around the neighborhood. Near an intersection several blocks from home he slowed to allow what he thinks was a red Ford Expedition to pass. Instead, the SUV’s lights went out, the vehicle rolled to a stop and a pistol came out the driver’s-side window, aimed at his head. He was addressed, repeatedly, as “nigger” (he’s white) and told to empty his pockets on the ground. He kept his eyes down, as he was instructed to do when he first entered the service economy, and placed his cell phone and house key on the pavement. One of the jabonies in the SUV---all were sporting sunglasses and bandanas over their scalps and faces, out for a Sunday evening drive---collected the bounty, and off they roared.

The cops were pretty good. After our son biked home, shaken and out of breath, we called 911, handed the phone to our wife, grabbed a utensil and set off to see if we could spot the vehicle (you never know). By the time we got to the scene an HPD patrol car was already there, and as we drove around aimlessly nearby the officer seemed to spend a lot of time casing the area and talking with neighbors who had wandered outside. Back at the house, our son told her he thought his assailants were probably Hispanic, maybe white, and that he hadn’t been able to get the license plate.

There it ended---out only a cell phone, a small price. We recovered the house key, which apparently held no attraction for the pricks.

That episode was fresh on our mind a week later when, at about 3 p.m. on a Saturday, we wheeled around the corner from our house and saw a half-dozen HPD cars in front of a neighbor’s. The dogs were out sniffing and one of the officers gripped a shotgun. The homeowner was in her front yard, looking whipsawed. A bystander we didn’t know explained that someone had broken into her house---on a sunny weekend afternoon---with the apparent aim of robbery and/or assault, but the woman managed to trigger an alarm that brought the cops. The asshole fled on foot.

“Maybe they can shoot him, save everybody a lot of trouble,” the bystander said.

We nodded, whole-heartedly, adding: And then they can put the Taser right on his sorry ass.

These aren’t pretty thoughts, we know, but that’s the way it plays these days in the Emerging Paradigm of Opportunity Urbanism.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Emerging Paradigm of Opportunity Urbanism, Mexico City Division

''The roads leading to Houston and away from Houston are very good, and there's many commercial transportation methods available to [smugglers of illegal aliens]," said ICE official Alonzo Pena.''So there (are) plenty of opportunities for them to blend in, and if they want to move on, there's infrastructure through commercial transportation modes to help them further their journeys." -- "Salvadoran charged with smuggling after 30 illegal immigrants found," by Susan Carroll, James Pinkerton and Kevin Moran, Houston Chronicle, June 13, 2007

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Big Heads on the Freeway in the “Liverpool of Southeast Texas”

Houston Chronicle funnyboy Ken Hoffman reports today that sculptor David Adickes’ 36-foot-tall rendering of the Beatles will soon be on display outside Adickes’ studio near Interstate 10 before being hauled to a spot farther west off the freeway for a more permanent situating.

Adickes, of course, is the longtime bane of Inner Loop art snobs who mock and belittle his outsized, cartoonish works.* His pieces are big and angular and (mock-?)heroic, untainted by self-conscious notions of artiness or even tradition, unless you consider (and we do) Jack Kirby’s muscular stylings in the Marvel Comics of the early 1960s an antecedent. They're sort of the sculptural equivalents of comfort food. At least that’s the way we feel---full---when we head up to the ancestral hunting grounds in East Texas and are greeted by Adickes’ giant Sam Houston.

Yet even the non-artsy types among us must wonder exactly what the Beatles have to do with Houston.

Well, for starters there is the pervasive influence the Fab Four had on the hair styles affected by many if not most of the city’s young white and Hispanic males (and even some African Americans with that “fine” hair)** during the years 1964 through, say, about 1979. And, more importantly, there’s the widespread musical influence the Beatles exerted on the young Houstonians who turned out to be some of Our Town’s finest and truest cultural ambassadors. Without the Beatles, these young guitar strummers never would have combed their hair down over the foreheads, learned a half-dozen chords and managed to snare less than lucrative recording contracts to turn out 45s and LPs now highly valued in the secondary market.

But we’ve discovered another and more profound connection, one that was revealed to us in an interview with Ringo Starr that appeared recently in the 40th anniversary edition of Rolling Stone. The Q&A included this exchange, in which the questioner is following up on Ringo’s earlier declaration that coming to the U.S. in ’64 was “the biggest thing for me”---bigger, if we’re reading Ringo right, than the ’67 release of Sgt. Pepper’s, which nearly killed off rock ’n’ roll with its self-conscious notions of artiness and tradition. Ringo, it appears, was among the many young people in post-war Europe who harbored overly romantic notions about the U.S.:

RS: Why was coming to American the biggest thing for you?

Ringo: All the music we were interested in came out of America. Even before the Beatles, I was a huge blues fan---Lightnin’ Hopkins was my hero. He was out of Houston, and I was trying to emigrate to Houston to get a factory job, because I was working in a factory [in Liverpool] …
Ah, think of the turns history might have taken. They can debate all day whether Houston is an Emerging Paradigm of Opprtunity Urbanism or just one big stinkin' hazard to your mortal health, but they can’t take this away: Ringo Starr almost moved here to work in a factory!

Well, that’s what he said.

* We’ve always wondered whether Adickes has considered turning out giant bobbing-head statuary. This might present some mechanical and liability obstacles, but nothing that Adickes couldn’t overcome. After all, this is Houston: We think big!

**Slampo's Place: Always inclusive, yet still against "comprehenisve" immigration reform.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Missing Rick Casey (Almost)

One of the columnists Houston’s leading daily newspaper has filling the space of the sabbaticizing* Rick Casey revealed this week that the area is home to many people who speak and understand only Spanish (!) and, in what was surely a coincidental act of product placement on behalf of a major advertiser that shares or shared a PR agency with the newspaper, there exist commercial establishments---well, at least one commercial establishment---that cater solely to these non-English speakers.

Needless to say this startling news blew what was left of our mind.

Now we know this columnist is a sharp writer who will one day tell us many interesting and incisive things we didn’t know about Our Town---perhaps without resorting to quoting Professor Nestor Rodriguez---and make us forget that we never knew Rick Casey. But not this week.

* Sabbaticizing: The act of taking off on a sabbatical. An exclusive coinage of Slampo’s Place Ltd. Copyright 2007. Unauthorized use is prohibited.