Sunday, July 29, 2007

Marvin Zindler: Another Reason Houston Ain’t Dallas (Yet)

He’s gone and of course you can say one thing without fear of contradiction: We won’t see his like again. He was sure enough from another time, before everything got so brainlessly serious and money-slick.

He was Jerry Lee Lewis’s lost cousin. He did some good, too.

We used to see him at Rockets games back in the early ’80s, in that post-Calvin-and-Rudy dry stretch when you could buy a decent scalped ticket out front for $2 or $3. People went nuts when he’d amble in to The Summit to take his seat, which we don’t recall as being at courtside but rather up a ways and almost behind one of the baskets. Black people always seemed to get a special buzz from Marvin, a phenomenon we’ll leave to black people to explain.

When our oldest child was real little he saw Marvin with his wife buying a large bag of dog food at the Wal-Mart that later became the privately run alternative school for hardened children. Our son talked about the sighting quite often then and says he remembers it to this day.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Emerging Paradigm of Opportunity Urbanism, Mexico City Division, One in a Continuing Series

Houston police announced Wednesday the discovery of a kidnapping and robbery operation in which unsuspecting people were snatched and held hostage until their relatives paid ransoms of a few thousand dollars … the actions of the ring mirror random kidnappings that have plagued Mexico and other Latin American nations for years … experts familiar with so called "express kidnappings" taking place just south of the border said the Texas operation appears similar … The operation sounds familiar to Hector Navarro, assistant security chief at the Regional Security Office at the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City. He said such kidnappings are nearly a daily occurrence in Mexico. Attackers grab people off the street or from taxis, drive them to ATMs and force them to withdraw $500 to $1,000 from their accounts, Navarro said. And similar to the Houston victims, people in Mexico don't call the police.

-- “Kidnapping ring similar to scams south of border,” by Dale Lezon and Mike Glenn, Houston Chronicle, July 26, 2007

Semi-related: Report From Occupied America: Sunday in the Park with Jorge, by Steve Sailer

Thoroughly related: Retiring newspaper columnist makes bold political statement by turning on radio as he drives self from airport to home office

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Mid-Summer Minuet, In Which We Pay Tribute to the Anonymous Civil Servant Who Helped Us Along Life’s Tollway

We were handing our payment over to the Beltway toll taker the other morning when most of the $1.25 in coins of various denominations somehow eluded our grasp and plummeted to the concrete beside our car. As we opened the door to retrieve our toll (while inwardly cussing our self and wondering if we’d ever again enjoy a morning free from some spillage or another), the lady in the booth smiled soothingly and said, “Don’t worry---I’ll get it.” Although her cheeriness at that hour of the morning was confounding, we gratefully thanked her and drove on when she lifted the arm.

It then occurred to us that in all our years of plying the toll roads of Harris County we had never crossed paths with a surly toll taker. Most, in fact, seem to be unfailingly pleasant if not jovial, or at least to possess a natural’s ability for faking these facades (we’ll take it)---making change with a smile or politely asking if we’d like a receipt or wishing us a blessed day as we shove off into the either (we’ll take that, too). Surely this is an anomaly, a bizarre quirk of chance, and there are plenty of teeth-grinding sourballs manning the toll booths hereabouts, for toll taking would seem to be the most mind-numbing of professions, its practitioners prone to not only Carpal Tunnel of the wrist but Carpal Tunnel of the mind. But, as we said, we’ve never transacted with one.

For all we know the toll taker was only following the policy of the Harris County Toll Road Authority, yet we were so moved by her kindness that we resolved to refrain from being a churlish prick for the rest of the day. The resolution was not kept, but we tried.

This is all we wish to report today. We will return shortly with another bellowing narcissistic shriek.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

A Narcissistic Shriek at Mid-Summer (Why We Blog, or, Why Do We Blog?)

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the blog, an observance that would have passed us by save for a big write-up on same in Saturday’s Wall Street Journal. Although the provenance is in some dispute, the first blog, as well as coinage of the term “Web log”, is generally credited to the “polemical” Jorn Barger*, as the WSJ describes him, whose Robot Wisdom was launched in 1997 and is still going, if not going strong.

Since then, WSJ writer Tunku Varadarajan notes
… blogs, once a smorgasbord of links, have evolved into vehicles for a fuller, more forceful and opinionated prose. Not all of it has been lovely to behold, or even edifying. Inevitably, there has been bombast, verbosity and exposure to the public eye of thoughts that, ideally, should have remained locked inside fevered heads.
In observation of the anniversary, the WSJ trotted out a range of non-fevered heads, from James Tarnato on the right to Jane Hamsher on the left to the proprietor of, and blog consumers, including SEC Chairman Christopher Cox and Craigslist CEO Jim Buckmaster, to ruminate on the meaning of the Blogosphere (or the “jerk-off-osphere,” as we have occasionally referred to it, but only good-naturedly and usually after reading the latest blog offering from the formerly blog-less local newspaper). We were nodding along to the music until we got to the contribution from somebody named Tom Wolfe, who is identified as a “novelist,” whatever that is, and who expends most of his allotted 6 or 7 inches grousing about a falsehood he says he espied in the Wikipedia entry on a novelist named Tom Wolfe (not of Time and the River, um, fame).

This Wolfe, who seems to be a fusty old lady with an especially displeasing personality, does proclaim that “the universe of blogs is a universe of rumors”---although he offers no evidence, that is, facts, for this sweeping assertion---and allows that he has no favorite blogs because he no longer reads any, owing to his purported weariness with “narcissistic shrieks and baseless ‘information.’ ”

So there, sonny … blah and harrumph.**

Wolfe’s harangue set us in mind of another bowtie-wearing wordsmith, the man we credit with being the inspiration for our humble little operation (“Bestest Blog in the Greater Upper Meyerland Area,” 2005 and 2007) and for getting us back into the blogging game after the demise of our short-lived first venture, (cited by the Pearland Penny Shopper as “Bestest Blog in 40-Point Type” for 2000).

That would be James Howard Gibbons, person in charge of the Houston Chronicle editorial page, who back in early 2005, before his newspaper had flooded the blogosphere with the brackish effluvia of its many dubious offerings, deigned to “sample a few blogs” and reported back, with Wolfe-ian hauteur, that he found "most blogs lack[ing] the elegance, wit and insight one looks for in magazine commentary and editorial pages in their ideal state.” Others quickly noted the irony in the editor of the city’s ill-written, poorly argued purveyor of unexamined conventional wisdom scorning any other written product for a lack of wit and insight (we assume this was simply a momentary affectation on the part of J. H. Gibbons, whom we remember as a pleasant and engaging sort in person, although our raising inclines us to be wary of anyone who publicly presents him or herself bearing three names---no exceptions).

We occasionally have taken pause to wonder why we bother with this blogging business, aside from the money, sex and fame that regularly comes the lone blogger’s way, and always conclude that an honest inventory would start with a reason that Tom Wolfe would deplore, possibly with exclamation points: There is indeed an element of showing off, of strutting and preening, at work here. Beyond that, there is the simple desire for an outlet, and the knowledge that, if done right and amplified in the right quarters, one’s work can have at least some marginal impact, perhaps along the far edges. Or at least provide a moment or two of cheap and reliably tawdry entertainment. And, of course, there is the unshackled ability to tell the truth, the small-t truth as we see it, free from the usual constraints. But mostly it comes down to a question, a question we would put to Tom Wolfe or, in his stead, James Howard Gibbons, or even Mia Farrow, if she were available and for the hell of it. It is the most American of questions, one that requires us to cue the banjo music while apologizing in advance for resorting to the upcoming use of a bad word (this, after all, is a blog).

The question is this: Who … the fuck … are you?

*Barger is not what is now considered to be a typical blogger, as he mostly provides links to stuff he finds interesting and forgoes writing about what he had for dinner or the proposed garbage pick-up fee, although he does have a world view.

**In contrast to Wolfe, Norman Mailer, another gone-to-seed American novelist who long ago presaged the coming of the Internet Age through the exquisite title of his 1950s collection Advertisements for Myself, has said somewhere---we can’t find it right now, but you can trust us---that if he were a young writer today he’d be blogging like crazy.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

There's No Prude Like a Sanctimonious Prude

An interesting story interred in the graveyard pages of Sunday’s daily newspaper examines Mayor Bill White’s hard-on for the city’s high-end topless clubs and suggests that if the mayor has his way Houston just won’t be … Houston.

Without its topless “cabarets,” the newspaper reports, Houston
to some would be akin to San Francisco without cable cars or Seattle without rain and coffee.
(We have no evidence to refute the bold assertion of this “some,” and in fact have long held that aside from its sexually oriented businesses the city has been woefully short on signature attractions/phenomena since the Holder’s Pest Control roach was removed from its perch alongside the Southwest Freeway.)

To personalize the issue, reporter Mike Tolson introduces us to Ivy Taylor, who says her job as a dancer at the Men’s Club allows her to pay for the behavioral therapy required by her 2 ½-year-old autistic daughter. "I wish,” says Ms. Taylor, possibly with a straight face, “government officials were more concerned about the needs of special-education kids than topless bars."

The mayor, when questioned about the potential plight of Ms. Taylor and child should the city’s distance requirement for SOBs eventually be enforced (estimated date for resolution of court proceedings: late 2061), “suggested that she find a new line of work,” according to the newspaper.
"There's bound to be a better way to address the challenges of a young mother trying to take care of a child and make ends meet than by having businesses that have her take off all her clothes and dance in front of strangers," White said.
As far as we know the mayor has no standing to dispense career advice (not in the city charter), but we do, having recently won our certification as a Life Coach. Here’s what we’d suggest to Ms. Taylor: Instead of working at a job that pays decent money and gives you some sense of control (however illusory), hire on as an office flunky somewhere at many times less your current salary and enjoy the leering and sexual badinage---without getting tipped for it, of course.

If that doesn’t sound fulfilling, Ms. Taylor should try obtaining a law degree and becoming a wealthy trial lawyer, then parlaying her connections into a high-level presidential appointment in the Energy Department, then using those connections to attain greater wealth in the private sector, then launching a successful political career ... Such a path would require a considerable amount of get-up-and-go, it's true, but it’ll beat taking off all your clothes and dancing in front of strangers any day.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Our Summer of Love (Naked If I Want To)

Nineteen sixty-seven, yes: but for us, the Summer of Golf, the Summer of Lawn Mowing, the Summer of Listening to Albums (phonograph recordings that spun on a turntable and were translated into sound by a needle), the latter and former of which we did, quasi-religiously, in the company of our best friend R-b, the middle activity one we pursued alone, with our dad’s Lawn Boy, 6 or 7 yards at $3 per---a reasonable price, even then, and these were big lawns by today’s standards. We’d take the proceeds, the first money we’d earned, and save it for incidentals when on the links ---hamburgers, French fries, tees, balls---or to buy phonograph recordings at a downtown record shop called Leisure Landing (actual name), where all the new 33 1/3 long players could be had for a steeply discounted $2.79 (or maybe it was $3.79). Then we’d sit in R-b’s bedroom and listen to his little “stereo” with the blue speakers, tuning our heads to messages from a world that seemed faraway and exotic but even then was barreling our way.

At that point, though, our interest in these doings was limited to the music, to whanging the Sunshine of Your Love riff on the guitar or trying to grow our hair out, a little, but primarily to listening to the great albums that were issuing forth that season, at least the ones we could find. To that end we’d glean direction on our consumer purchases from Hit Parader and the ersatz hippie magazines (we think there was one called Eye, and one called Cheetah) that’d we’d flip through while loitering at the newsstand next to Leisure Landing, which reeked of Have-a-Tampas and whose proprietor booked racetrack wagers from behind a high glass counter. Or we’d pick up on something new from the loosely formatted local Top 40 station, where we first heard Sgt. Pepper’s---they played almost every song off it, this in the days before the proliferation of “underground” FM stations. For his part, R-b would buy a record based solely on the psychedelic goofiness of the cover or the outrageousness of the band’s name, which is how we came to be sitting in his room on a rainy Saturday afternoon listening to as much as we could take of an agonizingly bad and pretentious (although we didn’t know what the word meant at the time) album by Ultimate Spinach (for some reason we have a clear visual memory of this long-ago interval of meaninglessness but can no longer recall what our kids sounded like when they were tykes---one of the brutal mysteries of time, we guess).

Ah, but the good stuff: It wasn’t just Sgt. Pepper’s but Traffic’s first album (Paper Sun---a cogent, poppy dissertation on life as illusion), The Doors’ scary first album, the initial Hendrix offering (for several weeks that summer the radio advertised an upcoming concert at the Lakeshore Auditorium in Baton Rouge featuring the Monkees and opening act The Jimi Hendrix Experience), Cream’s Disraeli Gears (this stuff was educational: We consulted the World Book Encyclopedia to determine who or what this Disraeli was), the Mothers of Invention’s Absolutely Free ... The music was better not because we were young and stupid, but because it was better.

One of R-b’s impulse purchases was the first Moby Grape album, which we spun constantly that summer and fall. Most of the above-mentioned music still holds up but this one sounds like it could have been recorded yesterday, or in a shack in the woods behind Uncle Jed’s house in 1934. No tangerine trees and marmalade skies, but a careening, amped-up insistency. A love song titled Hey Grandma (“You’re so fine, but your old man is just a boy”) and harmonized questions without answers: “Would let me walk down the street, naked if I want to?” and “Can I buy an amplifier on time?” Not just timeless, but utilitarian.

The Moby Grape album was mildly infamous because one of the band members was photographed on the cover surreptitiously shooting the bird, a middle finger stretched out over a knee, or a washboard, something. The guy was trying to appear casual, like kids still do when flipping one in the class picture, but it was the first thing you noticed when you looked at the album. The record company airbrushed the protruding digit off the cover of future pressings, but R-b got his copy early. It came with a poster of the album cover, enhanced to many times scale, the bird-flipping big as day. R-b put the poster up on the wall, but his dad walked into his room that night and made him take it down.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Let Go (And Turn Off the Spanish-Language TV While You’re At It)

Peggy Noonan, who’s been posting some thoughtful pieces on immigration for the past couple of months, had another one in this weekend’s Wall Street Journal. Writing of “the decision” past immigrants to the U.S. made to finally relinquish their psychic ties to the old country and cast their lot with the new, Noonan put a finger squarely on what’s made Americans uncomfortable with the massive illegal relocation of Mexicans and Central Americans here for the past 25 years or so:

A problem with newer immigrants now is that for some it's no longer necessary to make The Decision. They don't always have to cast their lot. There are so many ways not to let go of the old country now, from choosing to believe that America is only about money, to technology that encourages you to stay in constant touch with the land you left, to TV stations that broadcast in the old language. If you're an immigrant now, you don't have to let go. Which means you don't have to fully join, to enmesh. Your psychic investment in America doesn't have to be full. It can be provisional, temporary. Or underdeveloped, or not developed at all.

And this may have implications down the road, and I suspect people whose families have been here a long time are concerned about it. It's one of the reasons so many Americans want a pause, a stopping of the flow, a time for the new ones to settle down and settle in. It's why they oppose the mischief of the Masters of the Universe, as they're being called, in Washington, who make believe they cannot close our borders while they claim they can competently micromanage all other aspects of immigration.

Which is what we’ve been saying here, ad nauseam and with a good deal less polish, for the past year or so. With the demise of the Grand Bargain, we’d humbly suggest that immigrants who are here illegally might use this time to “settle down and settle in” and consider what it actually means to be a citizen (this would entail of host of baseline duties, from learning English to not parking your pick-up in the front yard to buying car insurance to realizing the public schools are more than a baby-sitting service for your children to not throwing your scratch-off lottery tickets all over the parking lot to not tossing beer and screaming obscenities at U.S. soccer players to not waving the Mexican flag at your next “immigrant rights rally” … but you've probably figured that last one out by now).

Perhaps some of America’s leaders could step up and offer friendly, non-coercive persuasion to that end, the way the governor of California did recently when he suggested constituents stop watching Spanish-language TV. Maybe our mayor in Houston could feint or jab in that direction, seeing as how he has no overriding mission, and he likes to make TV commercials.