Monday, December 31, 2007

Kiss Me Deadly (Behind the Right Ear, If You Please)

The Chuck Rosenthal email saga keeps on giving, what with mullahs of the local Republican Party asking the district attorney (unanimously!) to withdraw his re-election bid and Rosenthal telling them to go screw themselves (figuratively, as the D.A. himself might put it). This GOP “advisory committee” is certainly powerful: So far all they’ve done is to ensure the matter gets even more media attention during the traditionally slow local holiday news cycle and, in an even neater trick, managed to make Rosenthal a sympathetic figure (well, almost). Perhaps they are a super-clever bunch and that was their intent all along.

We should note here that all the above-mentioned individuals are getting what they justly deserve for presenting themselves as the earthly representatives of Jesus Christ and Dr. Steven Hotze. Especially the district attorney. Yet we’re not sure what exactly Rosenthal is guilty off, other than being a Late Middle-Aged Lover Boy (is there nothing more pathetic?) and leaving himself open to the courtroom bullyragging of Lloyd Kelley. The use of a county car by executive secretary Kerry Stevens, the object of Rosenthal’s semi-amorous electronic mailings, is indeed bothersome if not a raging scandal, so perhaps the D.A. could usher in the New Year by announcing his executive secretary will henceforth be driving her own vehicle (or bicycling, or taking the bus) to and from work. We doubt, however, that the resplendently tan and headstrong D.A. will bring himself to do even that modest bit of housecleaning.

It’s rich---the notion that the filling of a high-profile county office might hinge on supposedly unintentionally disclosed emails in which the sender tells the recipient he wants to plant a smooch on her right ear---if not enough to make us want to cast a ballot for Clarence Bradford for D.A. (What’s the matter with the local Democratic Party: It couldn’t disinter Lee P. Brown and prop him on the ballot for some high office?) It certainly threatens to set a new standard of saintliness for the holding of local office. Perhaps the League of Women Voters should ask the following question of candidates for its next Voters Guide: Have you ever carried on an affair of any sort with an underling in your workplace, or sent emails from which a reader might reasonably infer you were conducting an affair? Perhaps Rosenthal could ask the question of whatever GOP primary challengers the party scares up.

Let’s get it on!

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Oh, Now He’s Sorry

The supposedly inadvertent disclosure* of emails from Harris County District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal suggesting he’s been carrying on with his executive secretary has proved a satisfying holiday diversion---much better entertainment than, say, driving through River Oaks to “look at the lights.” Any story that includes an extramarital tryst involving a high elected official and returns Lloyd Kelley** (bad ’90s flashback!), the not-so-lovable Irish cop from the east side, to the public stage … well, as Rosenthal himself might say in another context, We are truly blessed.

Ordinarily we aren’t exercised one way or another by anything an elected official does behind closed doors (short of pedophilia and/or heroin addiction). We figure his or her rich and rewarding private life is his or her business and no one else’s. But in Rosenthal’s case the media intrusion into his extracurricular activities is wholly justified, if only on the grounds that this longtime pillar of the Second Baptist Church has exuded a very thick air of sanctimony throughout his public career.

But there’s the more tangible question of whether putative gal pal Kerry Stevens’ $75,000 salary is out of line for the work she does---a point Chronicle birddog Matt Stiles endeavored mightily to prove in Saturday’s newspaper (although the figure doesn’t seem that outrageous)---and the even more tangible question of why Stevens is allowed to use a taxpayer-funded county car that she can fill with taxpayer-funded county gasoline. The last perk bugs us: Stevens is a secretary and presumably must only drive to and from the courthouse in connection with her job, unlike, say, an investigator for Rosenthal’s office who has to get out and about. We’ll be thinking of Stevens next time we gas up at our neighborhood Hugo Chavez gas station.

We hate to have to be the first to point out the obvious, and we’re sure the principals would strenuously object, but it would seem that Stevens is the walking definition of a “kept woman.” Here’s the chronology, as supplied by Rosenthal before he clammed up: He and Stevens had an affair back in the ’80s when both worked in the D.A.’s office and he was married to his first wife, although the relationship did not cause the break-up of that marriage. Since then he’s taken a second wife, a special agent for the FBI. After winning election in 2000, Rosenthal elevated Stevens to the executive secretaryship and, at least until very recently, was sending her such icky-poo professions of amore as “The very next time I see you, I want to kiss you behind your right ear” and “I always want to see you. You own my heart whether you want or not.” The “kiss you behind your right ear” line suggests a certain old-school gentlemanlyess, but you’ve got to wonder about a politician who’d convey such sentiment via publicly funded email, especially in light of the way elected officials’ electronic missives are FOI’ed right and left these days.

Rosenthal has said he’s sorry, and his apology included the somewhat cryptic suggestion that his public embarrassment is part of God’s plan:
I also understand that sometimes things happen for a purpose. This event has served as a wake-up call to me to get my house in order both literally and figuratively.***
Yeah, the D.A. sounds remarkably like many of the criminals he's prosecuted over the years: They’re always sorry after they get caught.

* How did the judge “accidentally” unseal the emails? Wasn’t he a Reagan appointee?
**Another question: Hadn’t Lloyd Kelley been married three (or four) times back when he was an elected city official, and wasn’t he once accused of having a fling with an underling in one of his offices (or it was strongly implied that he had …)? Maybe we’ve confused him with some other ex-official.
***We’re not sure what this means, exactly, but if Rosenthal needs help getting his house in order literally we’ve got some time on our hands right now and would be available for housecleaning duty at $50 an hour. We realize this is higher than a professional firm would charge but we’re fast, organized and speak nearly impeccable English.

Friday, December 21, 2007

The Corporate Dominated Power Structure Can Knock Down Our Bucolic Project Abodes, But They’ll Never Take Away Our Large-Screen TVs

The ruckus in New Orleans over the city’s plans to raze four public-housing projects landed on the front page of the Houston Chronicle Friday via a pick-up of a Los Angeles Times story (which we can find no evidence of in the Chronicle’s on-line archives, so you’ll have to take our word on it). For some reason the Chronicle decided to lard the Times story with a local insert that did not address how the demise of these complexes might affect former residents still biding their time in southwest Houston apartments but instead quoted at length one Nick Cooper, a “volunteer from the Houston chapter of Food Not Bombs who has made several visits to New Orleans.” Mr. Cooper’s expertise in the matter---hey, he’s made several trips to New Orleans!---apparently accorded him the standing to be directly quoted at a length found in the local paper only when its publisher is trying to explain away the latest fall in circulation. Thus the insight of Mr. Cooper:
“What happened today in New Orleans is in many ways microcosm of New Orleans and the U.S. … A corporate-dominated power structure using weapons and making decisions for people of color who are without the ability even to attend a public meeting …

This is not a New Orleans issue … This is an issue of housing redevelopment in the South, trying to turn public housing into mixed income.
Well said, comrade! Chronicle publisher Jack Sweeney couldn’t have had it written for him any better, if he shared your particular ideological orientation (which we’re pretty sure he doesn’t).

We happened to make a brief swing through New Orleans this week, spending just enough time there to make our first post-Katrina visit to the reopened Camellia Grill, which appears to be run by a Middle Easterner but retains the same general sort of white-jacketed waiters behind the counter, including a youngish white guy who repeatedly addressed the cook, a black gentleman of extremely short stature, as “little gay guy” (as in, “Gimme a Spanish Omelet, Little Gay Guy!”*) and pick up a copy of Wednesday’s Times-Picayune, which had in-depth pre-demonstration coverage of the housing issue (which basically boils down to the loudly enunciated demand of some past and present project dwellers and free-lance activists such as Mr. Cooper to have the feds spend untold millions to renovate and repopulate the ancient yet architecturally significant hellholes versus the aim of federal housing officials and the local housing authority [run by the feds in recent years due to local corruption] to replace them with less dense mixed-income developments).

Part of the new assimilationist policy calls for displaced project residents to use vouchers to rent private apartments, as is done elsewhere with almost no commotion, but that’s apparently a problem in New Orleans, where, according to the Picayune, “many former public housing residents avoid privately owned apartments because they typically face utility and deposit expenses not charged in public housing.” The paper relates the complaint of Sharon Jasper, drolly identified as “a former St. Bernard complex resident presented by activists Tuesday as a victim of changing public housing policies.” Ms. Jasper, pictured above (when we downloaded the photo from the Times-Picayune for unauthorized use here we noticed some wag had titled the file “Miss Saigon”**),

took a moment before the start of the City Hall protest to complain about her subsidized private apartment, which she called a "slum." A [housing authority] voucher covers her rent on a unit in an old Faubourg St. John home, but she said she faced several hundred dollars in deposit charges and now faces a steep utility bill.

"I'm tired of the slum landlords, and I'm tired of the slum houses," she said.

Pointing across the street to an encampment of homeless people at Duncan Plaza, Jasper said, "I might do better out here with one of these tents."

Jasper, who later allowed a photographer to tour the subsidized apartment, also complained about missing window screens, a slow leak in a sink, a warped back door and a few other details of a residence that otherwise appeared to have been recently renovated.
The cutline under the picture was more accurate: “ … details of a residence that otherwise appeared to have been nicely renovated.” In the online version of the story Ms. Jasper was quoted saying, “I might be poor but I don't like to live poor. I thank God for a place to live but it's pitiful what people give you."

Well, yes. But judging by the T-P photos, Ms. Jasper’s new home is hardly a slum: One shot of the exterior shows a spruced-up if unadorned Double Shotgun, while the above interior view suggests a nicely appointed if smallish living space. It also suggests that Ms. Japser might have been able to repair the slow faucet leak and scare up some window screens IF SHE HAD JUST PURCHASED A SMALLER TELEVISION.

(Sorry to be so hard-hearted and unfeeling here at Xmas …)
*Gotta love New Olreans!
**Gotta love New Orleans!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

What We All Knew, and When Did We Know It?

It was unfortunate that on the day the Mitchell Report was issued the Houston Chronicle’s front page bore the headline “Baseball braces for report on use of steroids” adjacent to a large picture of a large man with an unusually large head diving into third base beneath the overline “ASTROS: Club finally gets its man---Miguel Tejada” (a juxtaposition that was somewhat more unfortunate for the Astros than the newspaper). Deeper in the Chronicle it was reported that

Roger Clemens was filming a video for the Web site of the Memorial Hermann Hospital Sports Medicine and Human Performance Institute that carries his name when he learned that the Astros had acquired All-Star shortstop Miguel Tejada from the Baltimore Orioles.
Yes, well, we hope the filming wrapped up early because the report for which baseball was bracing on Thursday morning left the mere concept of a Roger Clemens Institute for Sports Medicine and Human Performance overly fraught with irony (the real funny kind!) by Thursday afternoon. (Allegedly, of course.)

The Mitchell Report’s allegation that Clemens had pumped himself up on something other than 12-oz. rib-eyes from H-E-B quickly supplanted the Pasadena resident’s dispatching by shotgun of the two house burglars as Local Topic of Public Discourse #1. It appears that the notion of The Rocket being hit in the ass with a spoonful of testosterone has robbed Our Town’s dewy-eyed baseball fans and pious sports scribes of the last vestiges of their hard-won innocence.

But we were not surprised, according to Chronicle sports columnist Jerome Solomon, who hastily offered up this considered wisdom:

Roger Clemens? Andy Pettite [sic]?

Yes, it hurts.

We all knew. We all knew. But, still it hurts.
OK, man, here’s a hankie. Compose yourself.

Now explain what you mean by “we all knew” (and was that a cut-and-paste typo or did you mean to repeat “we all knew” intentionally, for, um emphasis?). Is that a far-flung global pronouncement to the effect that “we” “knew” that baseball had a “drug problem” similar to the “drug problem” “besetting” society at-large (that is, “we” take drugs, of all kinds, to make “us” feel better and enhance our human performance; at this very moment, for instance, we [that is, me] are enjoying the tail-end of the performance enhancement provided by the Advil Cold and Sinus pill we swallowed some six hours ago). Oh, the pain!

Or was that a “we all knew” in a more localized sense, as in “we all knew that Clemens and Pettitte were doping themselves but really didn’t know, or pretended not to know,” which gives rise to the question, “Why, then, didn’t you exercise your journalistic duty to tell us?” If that’s indeed the case, than Jerome Solomon should immediately fold up his blog and turn in his membership card to Sigma Delta Chi or whatever professional organizations he belongs to.

But we don’t suspect he “knew.” How could anyone have known about Clemens, a guy who seemed to get bigger and better as he got older (for a while, anyway), contrary to the way most of the rest of humanity has aged for hundreds of thousands of years?*

Personally, we (that is, I) don’t care if Clemens juiced himself. He was an unreconstructed prick before the Mitchell Report was issued and he doubtless will remain one (he’s also a hellacious competitor and one of the two or three best pitchers in baseball history---conditions that are not mutually exclusive but mutually reinforcing). We see that he’s denied the allegations and joined Councilwoman Carol Alvarado on the list of celebrities who’ve hired Rusty Hardin as counsel even though they have been accused of no crime.

So he’s exactly like Barry Bonds, without the indictment---he’s accused but denying or in denial. For some reason, though, we suspect the fans and sportswriters won’t be quite so hard on The Rocket.

* Consider, for example, the decline in the quality of this blog over the years.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Diversity in Action: A Tale from the Schoolyard

A young gentleman of our acquaintance has eagerly related to us information regarding a recent event at his very diverse (and highly rated) public middle school, a story that he believes deserves wider dissemination. We explained to the lad that while the story did not rise to the level of “news” as it is traditionally defined, it was the kind of “news” in which we have become increasingly interested, and we would do our part if he would “write up” an account. We instructed him to pretend he was a “reporter” and try to stick the “facts” as he witnessed them, without seeming to favor one side or another. This young man has been in the USA for only a couple of years and thus is not fully comfortable with the nuances and complexities of our difficult English language, yet he already possesses a talent for sequencing and chronology that far surpasses those of much older and more experienced native English writers with whom we’ve worked. We present his report here, with only the lightest touch of the editor’s hand, not to embarrass the young man but because … it’s interesting (a lot more interesting than, say, this prattle). The youngster’s title for his story was “The Race War,” a choice that may or may not reflect his mastery of the American art of hype. We cannot vouch for the veracity of all of the particulars, but then again it sounds real true. We have changed a name to protect the innocent:
The war started with a childish arguement during lunch. When this Asian kid said “Asians are the smartest race.” And then this white kid said “hell(x2) no, female dog!” [and] “F***ing Asian.”

Then all these Asian kids started to beat this white kid. Using the Asian martial arts such as Tae Kwon Do, Karate, Kung Fu, etc. And then reinforcements came from the other side of the school. Yelling “White Pride.”

However they didn’t fight they just stared at the fight. The kid who was getting beaten up saw these Mexicans laughing at him and said “D**n Mexican” and then the strongest and biggest kid came and joined the war.

That kid was a bully who was the violentest kid in the whole school (one time he brought a weed and guns to school and went to juvenile detention canter).

He said “Hey kid, I heard that you are talking sh** about Mexicans.” The kid who was getting beaten up literally shook by the time he saw the bully kid coming. When that Mexican kid came Arab kids said “ooh ….,” then the kid who was getting beat up said “shut up you F***ing terrorists.” Then the whole school surrounded the arena. When the teacher noticed that all the kids are gone, he ran to the courtyard and stopped the violent action. He gave 1 little detention to a Japanese kid who hit the pressure points to the white kid and then he gave 3 ISS (in-school suspensions) to all these white kids. That was the end of the Race War of 2007 at [Ambrose Bierce Middle School].
We suggested to the author that there was only one element missing from the story---a quote from Rice University sociologist Stephen Klineberg---but the boy apparently did not understand our lame attempt at jocularity.