Sunday, September 30, 2007

At the Frozen Edge of the Solar System

“Rock musician Bruce Springsteen is 58 …"
“Birthdays,” The Houston Chronicle, Sept. 23, 2007

So hand me down my walkin’ cane
And my travelin’ shoes
And my Smith & Wesson .44
And my EZ tag sticker
And if it’s not too much trouble
could you reach over there and hand me down
that can of WD-40?
Stuff always comes in handy.

And, um, hate to keep botherin’ you but ah how about fetchin’ me
that box of Grape Nuts? The big one. Right there.
Thank you so much.

'Cause I woke up this morning
on Pluto, but found a local station playing
Astral Traveling (from Thembi, Pharaoh Sanders w/Lonnie Liston Smith, ABC-Impulse, 1971),
“A gentle rain on the African veldt.”
But here’s no veldt here,
just miles of rock and ice
and the occasional "no smoking" sign.
And parentheses inside brackets inside parentheses,
but no clear order of operations.

The deejay claims Pluto’s no longer a planet
but still takes 248 years to circle the sun.
Which is why I’m going back to bed.

So could you please put all that shit back where it belongs?


Thursday, September 27, 2007

What was with that McDonald’s Commercial We Saw on TV a Couple of Weeks Ago?

Perhaps you saw it too: The one that showed a vaguely Hispanic guy sitting in a hammock or lawn chair on a sunny stage set decorated with fake blooming flowers and buzzing birds and/or bees? The guy is happily feeding his face with a wad of grease from McDonald’s while an announcer yammers something about the entrée costing only a dollar now and in the future, too, apparently because the dollar is so strong (which was news to us and the rest of the world, English-speaking and non-English speaking). Then you see another, similarly Euro-ish Hispanic guy who for some reason is holding up a hand-lettered sign that says “8.75 pesos” (it may have said “9.3 pesos,” as we weren’t taking notes, saw the ad only twice and didn’t snap-to to pay attention until the second viewing*) while standing against a dark, moody, urban-ish backdrop. The guy in the hammock smiles and waves the guy with the sign over, the non-verbalized message being that he needs to be over in the sunshine, where he can unload those shaky pesos and enjoy the still-only-a-dollar feed from McD’s. Next thing you see is the guy with the sign, except now he’s in the sunshine/on the hammock, eating some artery-clogging McDonald’s fare and motioning over a woman who’s standing against the dark backdrop and holding a sign reading “10.75 pesos” (maybe 11-something), a fairly remarkable slide in the space of 60 seconds.

This was one of the most bizarre things we’ve seen on television in a half century-plus of watching**---stranger, even, than the mere notion of the oreo pizza, our new favorite metaphor for early 21st century America---and not just because it’s the only commercial we can recall that uses currency exchange as a hook to sell a product. We can only conclude that McDonald’s is urging all of Mexico to come on over, have a hamburguesa and enjoy our strong, stable dollar (at least when compared to the peso, which may not qualify as a real currency).

But a multinational corporation wouldn’t encourage illegal activity just to sell hamburgers, would it?

We only hope one of our Republican U.S. senators will promptly sponsor a resolution condemning this outrageous abuse of free speech.

*This was about three weeks back and though we have waited eagerly for its return we have not seen the ad since, suggesting someone at McDonald’s may have sobered up.
**We’ve fallen into a deep depression after realizing the implications of that line. Excuse us while we sit down.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Sunset Over the Freeway, 09/24/07

The other evening at dusk we found our self in the parking lot of a small shopping center off a major thoroughfare in the metro area, just as a class was being dismissed at a storefront karate school. Almost all the exiting acolytes appeared to be under 12 and white---a curiously large percentage were tow-headed---although there were a couple of blacks and a Hispanic or two in the mix. Right next door to the dojo was one of those franchised “learning centers” where parents send their kids for help with their homework or to sharpen their English skills or bone up for their SATs. The learning center also was letting out for the evening and we couldn’t help but notice that every child leaving that establishment was Asian, mostly Korean and a few Japanese (we’re the attentive round-eyed type who can differentiate, even at a distance).

We duly noted the mild cross-cultural irony the scene presented but also were moved to ask our self a rhetorical question: Thirty years from now, who among those divergent crowds of kids will be working for whom?

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Wherever Injustice Rears Its Head, City Councilman Jarvis Johnson Will Be There to Loose His Terrible Swift Sword, Or at Least to Write an Op-Ed Piece

City Councilman Jarvis Johnson, who when last we noticed him was pitching on behalf of a no-bid contract extension for an airport concessionaire, and previous to that was knee-deep in December's raging CAFR controversy (you remember it, do you not?), was accorded 14 or so inches* on the opinion page of Friday’s Houston Chronicle to explain why he motored over to Jena for Thursday’s big march. We’re not sure that anybody asked for or needed a justification from the councilman, or even noticed him there among the estimated 10,000 (according to the New York Times) or “tens of thousands” (according to lefty Amy Goodman of radio’s Democracy Now!) of protestors who took to the streets (street?) of the Louisiana town.

But there it is, as they say.

The councilman, of course, was way too young for Selma and Montgomery or even the Herman Short-TSU riot, so it’s understandable that he’d be moved by the opportunity to make his bones as a front-line combatant against injustice. And right here, lest we find our humble blog being linked by David Duke’s Web site, we’d like to stipulate into the record that we do believe there was an injustice committed in LaSalle Parish and that the prosecution of the “Jena Six” has been way out of proportion to the crime. Alleged crime.

Yes, there is an allegation of a “crime” at the back of all this, and while it may have been only one small crime in a string of crimes large and small dating back to the beginnings of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, somebody got hurt. There’s a lot of murk in the entire story---here’s a quick summation by Meagan McArdle---but there doesn’t seem to be any question that the six black boys stomped a white boy’s ass, and if you get knocked unconscious in a brawl, or somehow “fall” into unconsciousness, as has been suggested, then you have indeed suffered an illegal ass-kicking, whether or not you’re up and about three hours later, as the victim is said to have been. But the councilman, who’s quick to invoke the Scottsboro Boys and Jim Crow, gives the crime the following passing mention:

… a schoolyard brawl ensued as a direct result of several white students hanging nooses on a tree that certain whites assumed was reserved for Whites Only…**
A schoolyard brawl … and that’s it. The crime is just an inconvenient fact that doesn’t fit Johnson’s assumed narrative, which seems to be that this one episode in a backwards and out-of-the-way burg*** somehow means the entire nation is a seething cauldron of double standards and racist motive.

Most of the information we’ve gleaned on the story has come from listening to Goodman’s show on KPFT-FM, 90.1. Goodman’s been on the story for months (by contrast, our local daily newspaper, the largest daily newspaper in the region, belatedly decided to parachute a reporter in for some undistinguished wire service-style reportage on the protest) and despite her biases has been talking to all comers and occasionally wandered into the realm of even-handedness. Today we heard her interview the mother of the white schoolboy victim, a manager at the local Super Wal-Mart, who asked whether the protestors believed the Jena 6 should escape any punishment at all for the beating of her son. This is a good question (although we personally think the kid who’s already done 10 months while appealing his conviction has done more than enough time). It’s a question that possibly Councilman Johnson could answer in his next op-ed contribution.

In the meantime, we must agree with the councilman’s explanation for his trip to Jena:

Some might say a Houston City Council member has no business meddling in the affairs of an issue in Central Louisiana. I beg to differ, because if an injustice can happen in Central Louisiana, it can also happen in Northeast Houston in District B.
Yes, it sure can. It can happen anywhere. It can even happen in Durham, N.C.

* Rough estimate.

**The nooses and the Honky Tree are the sort of phenomena that give us pause whenever we start fantasizing about moving away to enjoy our old age in a quiet little town.

***We attribute some of our own interest in this story to our having once worked with a girl from Jena who told wickedly funny stories about the place (she was a female Junior Samples), most of which we cannot repeat on a family blog.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Does Philip Roth Hate Houston, and If So Why Does Philip Roth Hate Houston?

Damned if we know, and it’s probably premature to raise the question, but we’re moved to ask after reading Christopher Hitchenswithering (yep) dismissal in the recent Atlantic Monthly of Roth’s forthcoming novel Exit Ghost.

Apparently Houston has a bit part in the book, not as setting but as touchstone for the pork-eating goyishe heartland beyond the metropolitan New York area that the septuagenarian novelist seems to now view with an alarmingly deluded fear and loathing, if you’ll pardon our imprecise application of that overworked phrase. In Exit Ghost Roth revives his longtime alter ego, the novelist Nathan Zuckerman, once unbound but now, according to Hitchens’ description, forced to “wear Pampers and to endure the regular humiliation of feeling sodden.” Zuckerman has left his hideaway on a Massachusetts mountaintop to return to New York “in the hope of an operation to repair his urinary arrangements” and there crosses paths with Jamie and her “slavish husband,” Billy, which is where Houston figures in. Hitchens quotes at length from a Rothian passage he finds especially uninspiring, prefaced by Zuckerman’s inquiring of Billy about Jamie’s background:
And so he told me, lavishly expatiating on her accomplishments: about Kinkaid, the exclusive private school in Houston from which she’d graduated valedictorian; about her stellar academic career at Harvard, where she graduated summa cum laude; about River Oaks, the wealthy Houston neighborhood where her family lived; about the Houston Country Club, where she played tennis and swam and had come out as a debutante against her will; about the conventional mother she tried so hard to accommodate and the difficult father she could never please ...
Hitchens continues:
The dull reported speech with which Roth economizes (so much easier to do the background of WASP-dread secondhand, rather than evoking it directly as he used to do) is limpid and engaging when set beside the great swaths of soliloquy-as-dialogue* in which the remainder of Exit Ghost is bogged down. (One of Billy’s later answers, about old and new money in the Greater Houston area, and its relation to anti-Semitism, goes on for almost two and a half pages. We are not spared further deep thoughts about country clubs. Everything is a cliché …
So it seems Roth is conveying the notion that the very upper crust of Houston, consorting behind the high walls and greenery of River Oaks and the Memorial-area villages, still nurses some Gentleman’s Agreement-style anti-Semitism, or, perhaps, is preoccupied with it. We, of course, don’t move in those circles and have no interest in defending the smug and the comfortable, of any stripe or economic station, but let us go on record here as saying we ain’t buying it.

Hitchens’ review, however, has whetted our appetite for Roth’s book, at least two and a half pages of it, and we now anxiously await what is surely the impending rebuttal of the novelist’s slander by our favorite port commissioner from the 77019 zip code.

*Although we admire Roth’s late-century trilogy, especially The Human Stain, Hitchens here hits on something that we’ve always found bothersome about the novelist. It’s why we often find our self going “Aww, nobody talks---or even thinks---like that” when reading recent Roth (us=stickler for “reality”).

Monday, September 17, 2007

Don’t Vote for Zaf Tahir If He Persists in Running for Houston City Council (A Special Slampo’s Place Non-Endorsement)

Zafar Tahir may be a prince of a fellow and for all we know would make an exemplary public servant, but he shouldn’t be running for city council, at least in Houston, and if he continues with his charade we call on all right-minded readers of this blog---at least the two or three who are registered to vote in the city---to shun his candidacy in favor of some suitable alternative (your choice).

Last week the Chronicle’s indefatigable Matt Stiles reported that Tahir and another candidate for the Position 5 at-large seat, former state board of education member Jack Christie, had both assumed addresses of convenience in the city in order to meet the loosely interpreted “residency” requirement for candidates. Each lived outside the city in before launching his campaign---Christie in the wealthy northwest enclave of Bunker Hill, Tahir in the rapidly diversifying burg of Sugar Land. Stiles proceeded to beat on Christie with his reportorial Ugly Stick---and it was beauteous thing---by revealing that Christie not only was claiming two homesteads for tax purposes with his estranged wife but had allowed an unsightly build-up of algae---what some would call “scum”---in the swimming pool at his in-town rental digs. Stiles’ reporting apparently led not only to a health department citation for the algae but to Christie’s quitting the race (results!). That was a good thing, because we're fairly certain we weren’t the only Houstonian unwilling to vote for a man who couldn't keep his pool clean.

Tahir, meanwhile, has of this writing escaped further blows from the Ugly Stick, apparently having no algae-infested pool---and possibly no pool at all---at his throwdown address, and no marital complications that might result in dual homestead claims. He has called for a return to a discussion of, ahem, real issues, whatever those are, presumably with the idea that the residency matter is but a temporary and minor obstacle on his road to taking his rightful place on City Council alongside his sponsor, fellow Paki-American and former (still?) non-Houston resident M.J. Khan. (And isn’t it a little odd for an incumbent council member to be so out front in backing an aspirant for another, open council seat at so early a date? It’s not, you say? Sorry we asked.)

We notice that Stiles’ stories have generated some discussion over whether “residency” really matters. Let us resolve the issue by explaining why it does: When you move into a jurisdiction solely to run for an elective office, you’re telling us (at least me) that you view the office first and foremost as a vehicle for your personal ambition(s), not as an opportunity for public service or to engage in the setting of public policy (yes, we know, most candidates for office are slightly touched egomaniacs driven by an admixture of motives, personal ambition being foremost, but the taking-an-apartment-in-town ruse makes it just too damn obvious). What you’re saying is that place doesn’t matter, that one is just the same as the other (false), and, above all, that commitment to place is meaningless. Commitment as in establishing a home and paying property taxes (at the least) in the jurisdiction where you want to serve, becoming part of a neighborhood (and not some phony-baloney “community”) and, if you want to get real crazy, sending whatever kids you have to the area public schools (okay, that might be asking too much).

We don’t know much of anything about Tahir, but we see his campaign Web site is full of blather about transforming Houston into a “truly global city” and so forth. We didn’t see the word “potholes” on the site, but maybe filling ’em is kinda passé and boring in our new borderless, place-less, flattened-out, gimme-the-money globe. Tahir himself apparently is in the business of expanding global economic opportunities, through an entity called International Spectrum Development and his affiliation with the government of Pakistan’s Board of Investment.

We suspect Tahir could find a similar opportunity for service on the Sugar Land City Council, although it might leave something to desire in the personal ambition category (less money, fewer outside business contacts/opportunities, less ass-kissing and having your ass kissed, etc.). But at least he wouldn’t have to bed down in that little townhouse all by his lonesome for the next two months.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Money for Nuthin’ (Updated With Latest Breaking Jason Yoo News, Correction of Misspelling of Our Own Councilmember's Name)

The Wall Street Journal, which is down like white on rice (’scuse us) on Democratic Party benefactor and recently apprehended fugitive Norman Hsu, revealed Wednesday that at least one possible source of the mysterious Chinaman’s heretofore inexplicable largesse was $40 million from a fund headed by Joel Rosenman, an investment banker who, as the WSJ put it, “first gained fame as one of the creators of the Woodstock rock festival in 1969.”

Yeah! Wooden Ships on the Water! This is turning into a story imagined by Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity during a night of heavy drinking.

According to the Journal, the Rosenman-run fund, Source Financing, entered into 37 separate deals with Mr. Hsu but recently found that checks from Hsu’s Components Ltd. were being returned for insufficient funds. Hsu’s attraction for Rosenman was understandable:

Hsu told Mr. Rosenman the money would be used to manufacture apparel in China for Gucci, Prada and other private labels, yielding a 40% profit on each deal [our emphasis] …
The Journal obtained a pitch letter from Rosenman outlining the deal for prospective investors, in which the Woodstock majordomo related that the funds would be lent

“ … to U.S. private label designers that needed interim financing to fill orders for a select group of well-known, high-end U.S. apparel retailers."

… In a "step-by-step" outline of a typical transaction prepared for investors, Source Financing describes the way a deal worked with Mr. Hsu. Source Financing would agree to provide bridge loans for seasonal high-ticket, high-quality retail goods made in China for exclusive brand names, according to investors. Mr. Hsu told the company that he would obtain from Chinese manufacturers a price quote for apparel production. He would then add a mark-up and give the quote to a high-end buyer in the U.S.
Now, the Journal reports, Mr. Rosenman’s attorney is asking that the many Democratic beneficiaries of Mr. Hsu’s generosity not return the tainted (and in some cases, it would appear, illegal) campaign donations so that Source Financing and investors in other apparently non-existent Hsu ventures can recoup some of their losses. "It appears that Source Financing Investors joins Hillary Clinton...and many others as his victims," the lawyer says of the presidential candidate for whom Hsu raised $850,000 before he ran out of suckers.


On second thought this story isn’t just a wet dream for right-wing talk hosts---it ties together almost everything that’s gone wrong with America for the past 25-30 years in one not-so-neat and still-developing narrative. Stay tuned, and beware.

Closer to home (yet oh so far away), the Chronicle’s Carolyn Feibel reported that Houston Mayor Bill White, who is said to harbor gubernatorial if not presidential aspirations, is involved in a move to unilaterally extend a “lucrative” food-sales concession at Bush Intercontinental without “a potentially messy competitive bid process.” The beneficiary of this extension would be Jason Yoo, described by the newspaper as “a local businessman” who owns JDDA Concession Management. Yoo has donated at least $28,000 in campaign funds to eight council members and $1,260 to White in the last four years, according to Feibel.

A council vote on the extension has been delayed a week by Councilmember Anne Clutterbuck, who wants the franchise to franchise outlets that sell extortionately overpriced food and drink at Terminal C put up for bid. White says he agreed to negotiate an amended contract with JDDA at the urging of some council members, whom Feibel identified as Jarvis Johnson and Michael Berry. (Update: In a Thursday follow-up Feibel and colleague Matt Stiles add the name of our very own representative on council, M.J. Khan, to the list of Yoo sponsors. Yoo, who according to the Chronicle urped up $4,000 in campaign funds for Khan, is listed as “president, construction co.” in the list of endorsements the councilman is touting in his re-election bid.) The mayor contends he’s wrangled a much better deal than if the city were to seek bids.

That may be so, but we didn’t know whether to laugh, cry or have our self voluntarily committed after reading the council members’ justifications for the extension:

"They had, I guess, a slump in business," said Berry, who received a $5,000 contribution from Yoo in 2005. "And they didn't think it was fair that the contract was up as soon as it was."

JDDA purchased the contract from the previous vendor, Entertainment One Inc., in 2005, but the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and renovations at Terminal C meant lower-than-expected revenues, according to JDDA's attorney, Robert Miller.

Johnson said the extension was the "right thing for the city to do," since food sales declined during the airport renovations.

"The new deal gives us what we need. It also gives the city more income," the councilman said. Johnson received a $2,000 contribution from Yoo this May. Yoo's daughter also worked briefly on Johnson's staff in early 2006. But Johnson and Berry denied any political favors or conflict of interest.
Yes, sure: Jason Yoo and his JDDA, a 65-percent minority-owned business, are victims of circumstance, much like Hillary Clinton and Rosenman of Woostock fame. And what about the legions of suckers who didn’t read or couldn’t understand the fine print in their mortgages … don’t they deserve an extension? Life is soooo unfair.

By the way---for those of us who don’t spend a lot of time loitering at City Hall---who is Jason Yoo?

Is he the same Jason Yoo listed on the steering committee of Friends of the Airport?

The same Jason Woo who founded HBS Construction, a certified Miniorty/Women-owned Business Enterprise and Historically Underutilized Business? (A designation apparently granted to make up for years of discrimination against Korean-Americans.)

The same Jason Yoo listed as a Friend of Bill?

The same Jason Yoo who dropped a grand on Clutterbuck, which the council member told Feibel she’s considering returning “but for reasons unrelated to the airport contract, which she declined to discuss.” Do tell, council lady: it’s the public’s business. Perhaps Clutterbuck has performed some kind of due diligence. We sure hope White has: Democrats need to be extra picky about their “friends” these days.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Would You Have Run Away from Home to Become a Beatnik If You Knew That The Man Who Wrote On the Road Lived With His Mother?

We didn’t write that headline, although we wish we had. We lifted it---stole it, we mean---from the May 1970 issue of a short-lived publication called US: The Paperback Magazine, just as we lifted (stole) our 95-cent Signet paperback copy of On the Road (“The riotous odyssey of two American drop-outs by the drop-out who started it all …”) from a defenseless little antique-y bookstore in our hometown whose name in English means Without Concern. We believe that small yet shameful act of thievery, which we may have committed under the mistaken notion that there was something Kerouacian about the gesture, occurred around 1969 or ’70. That was only 12 or 13 years after the original publication of book, but the Signet edition we five-fingered was already its 15th printing.

The printings probably have crossed into triple digits by now, Sept. 5 having marked a full 50 years since On the Road appeared, a suitable occasion or good excuse for the narrowing stratum of Americans still preoccupied with matters literary to chew over the fate of Kerouac’s work. The consensus seems to be that while it’s not a very good novel---some have even relegated it to the critical remainder bin marked “shitty,” starting with Truman Capote’s sneering, contemporaneous dismissal of Kerouac’s style as not writing but “typewriting”---it nonetheless hit America with a massive and sustained impact, leaving a deep and wide cultural crater whose outlines can be clearly discerned today, even through the obscuring haze emanating from Paris Hilton, Norman Hsu and other pure products of America.

We did not participate in this dialogue, mainly because no one asked us to but also because we read On the Road for the first and only time when we were 15 or 16, and even though we absorbed the book straight into our nervous system we haven’t retained much in the way of particulars (we do remember our delight in discovering that Kerouac/Sal Paradise's travels with Neal Cassidy/Dean Moriarty brought them along a path through South Louisiana and East Texas with which we were intimate). The book was a little different than we expected, and we recall detecting a deep sadness and yearning throughout, something our adolescent mind was not built to fully grasp and our as-yet-unkicked-ass could not relate to.

Now we find our self older than Kerouac was when he died, a bloated and sodden memoirist whom Alfred G. Aronowitz visited shortly before his passing and wrote about in the article that appeared below the purloined headline above. It is this late period Kerouac that interests us today: The homebody whose liver gave out as he sat drinking and watching I Dream of Jeanie with his mother, the middle-aged prude who shunned the excesses of the 1960s he helped set in motion, the conservative who defended the war in Vietnam and sat still (very) to be interviewed by William Buckley. Those latter developments were taken as proof of derangement by the then-ascendant cultural left, but Kerouac’s conservatism---and by that we mean we mean the “conservatism” we detect in the recent works of Bob Dylan (a deep respect for American locality, reverence for the past, an abiding love of nature and the outdoors, suspicion of modernism, cosmopolitanism, consumerism, globalism and all other isms)---was always evident in his books, and his person.

We would argue that Kerouac’s significance has been grievously underestimated: Without him, or more accurately without the influence of the poet Gary Snyder on him, the environmental movement wouldn’t have gotten the traction it did in the late ’60s and early ’70s. Without him, there would have been no “rucksack revolution” (and thus no REI catalogs and no Outside magazine). Without him, the White Negro (“At lilac evening I walked with every muscle aching among the lights of 27th and Welton in the Denver colored section, wishing I were a Negro …”) would have been still-birthed by Mezz Mezzrow. And without his interest in and ad hoc practice of Buddhism, there would be no suburban moms spouting The Four Noble Truths and folding themselves into asanas at the Hot Body yoga class.

The only dialogue on Kerouac in which we have engaged of late came a couple of years back with a woman who was then instructing us in the practice of yoga. The Yoga Lady was a nice person but apparently resistant to irony: She drove a Lexus SUV with a “Kerry-Edwards” bumpersticker and another that said something like “Why do people move to the suburbs to enjoy nature and then cut down all trees?” One day, in the course of the idle chat that ensued before class, she was moved to say she had recently read On the Road, for some unexplained reason. “How did you like it?” asked another student, a school librarian. The Yoga Lady, who had just turned 40, made a sour face and said she did not like the book at all. “Why?” we asked. “I … um … I dunno … I think it was all the drugs, all the drug-taking.” Yes, there was much drug-taking in the book: Kerouac and his thinly fictionalized characters partaking of Benzedrine (then legal), some pot, some cheap red wine, perhaps a paregoric cigarette or two. William Burroughs shooting junk here and there; the Cassidy character with Burroughs in Houston and the two searching for a friend in "every shooting gallery in town." But all this seemed incidental to us, beside the point, and as usual we were moved to correct the record. Assuming our English professor persona, we began to expound, “Well, you have to understand the context, the times, in which it was written: It was not long after World War II, The Bomb shadowed everything, blah blah …” The Yoga Lady’s face remained blankly impassive, and our final argument sputtered to a close: “Guess you woulda had to have been there,” we shrugged, and shortly thereafter the Yoga Lady was leading us through a round of Sun Salutations.

"In the empty Houston streets at four o'clock in the morning a motorcycle kid suddenly roared through, all bespangled and bedecked with glittering buttons, visor, slick black jacket, a Texas poet of the night, girl gripped on his back like a papoose, hair flying, onward-going ... "

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

"Survival of the Richest," Latest Breaking

With the trial of former Coastal Corp. chairman Oscar Wyatt getting under way in New York, we figured it was only a matter of time---days, if not hours---before someone in the local media suited up to inform us of the impact the proceedings are having on Lynn Wyatt, Oscar’s wife of many, many decades and either the reigning or former heavyweight champ-een (although still looking somewhat ill-nourished) of the haute social scene hereabouts.

Sure enough, Shelby Hodge, our very own Robin Leach at the Houston Chronicle, did not disappoint. The news, so to speak, on La Wyatt is kinda bad---for the second consecutive year, she’s foregone her annual summering at a villa in the south of France, previously a 30-year tradition, to stick close to the beleaguered Big O---but it’s also kinda good, according to a long, long line of Wyatt associates and “chums” trotted out and lavishly quoted attesting to Ms. Wyatt’s chin-up attitude as the government hounds seek to run her 83-year-old husband to ground. Hodge sums it up thusly:
The approaching legal storm has failed to dampen her gusto for the extraordinary lifestyle that she has enjoyed throughout her 44-year marriage to Oscar. And the absence of a personal villa did not mean months of seclusion in sweltering Houston.
Yes, no sense in lying around here fanning yourself in the stinkin’ heat when you can jet …
back and forth across the Atlantic, attending designer Valentino's 45th-anniversary celebration in Rome, house-guesting with billionaire Lily Safra on the French Riviera and visiting Lord Jacob Rothschild's archaeological digs at his vacation home in Corfu, Greece.

Wyatt also took time in recent months for the premiere of the London revival of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat as a guest of Andrew Lloyd Webber and a Renée Fleming concert in Monte Carlo combined with a visit to the palace for personal time with Prince Albert and Princess Caroline. (She was a friend of the late Princess Grace and Prince Rainier.)

Perhaps the highlight came in July when Elton John threw a grand black-tie birthday party for the ageless fashion diva. He hosted 16 guests from around the world at his estate in Windsor, England.
Nowhere in the story, of course, is there any connection drawn or even hinted at between the maintenance of at least a small part of that extraordinary lifestyle and the millions in surcharges, or kickbacks if you will, or bribes if you still will, that Mr. Wyatt is accused of paying to Saddam Hussein’s government to buy Iraqi oil under the U.N’s oil-for-food program.

But it’s possible that such a connection is a chimera, a fevered product of small, overly moralistic minds. After all, at this late date it’s very clear that Oscar Wyatt, and possibly even Lynn, was right in warning against our invasion of Iraq (although not, perhaps, in warning the Iraqis [allegedly]). And we’re certainly willing to entertain, if not immediately embrace, Wyatt’s assertion that he’s being unfairly singled out by the vindictive Bush clan (and here’s an interesting piece pushing that line by former Georgia congressman Bob Barr). We have no standing, and few if any facts, to judge Oscar Wyatt, a bull-headed son of Grimes County who generously donated his own time and money and forbearance in dealing with nettlesome foreigners to meet America’s unceasing demand for imported oil.

Yet we must forestall the temptation to extend any of our limited store of sympathy to Oscar and his resolutely jet-setting wife after learning of last week’s death of a 21-year-old Marine from Houston, blown apart by an IED while on his second tour of duty in Iraq---according to the Chronicle, the 89th person with ties to Houston to die there since Bush launched his war. We had heard a story about this young man: It seems the mother of a boy just a little younger than the Marine ran into one of his relatives early last week, and the two women talked of how the young men were faring, with the relative relating how good the military experience had been for the young Marine, how it had helped straighten him out and turn him from a slightly wayward path. At the time the two spoke, the young man was already dead.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Casey Limps Again

Gunfire---the ritualized, celebratory kind---erupted all across southwest Houston early Sunday morning as tens, if not dozens, of the Houston Chronicle’s remaining English-language subscribers unsheathed their newspapers and beheld the news bannered in the above-the-fold “reefer” box: “Rick Casey Rides Again.”

It wasn’t too long, however, before a low collective grumble could be heard metastasizing across the concrete-covered coastal prairie, from inside the Loop to far beyond the Beltway, as the same newspaper subscribers concluded that the writer of the front-page blurb was being wickedly, if not maliciously, ironic.

After a five months-plus “sabbatical,” Casey “rode” back into town (on what sort of conveyance the paper did not reveal, although we now believe that it may have been Casey whom we spotted chugging up the roadway the other day) with a timely column on prospects for the 2009 mayoral race (a subject, by the way, that the paper’s local political columnist could and probably will address with a sharper and better-reported take, at the appropriate time and not as a mere space filler).

If Casey charged his employer for more than the hour (hour and 15 minutes tops) it took to “report” and “write” this blowsy comeback column---or dictate it to a flunky while driving between San Antonio and Houston---then advertisers should immediately demand that the Hearst Corp. slash its ad rates, because that operation obviously has way too much disposable income in its purse. The discerning reader too may have noticed that Casey apparently did not devote any of his down time to learning how to craft a memorable sentence, paragraph, etc.

Oh well. We thnk it was Nietzsche, writing in The Birth of Tragedy, a full century prior to the advent of the blog, who observed: “It’s all asswipe in the end.”