Sunday, April 27, 2008

A Pre-Emptive Invasion, Based on a False Premise, With No Apparent Exit Strategy

And Greeted With Nearly Unanimous Credulity By a Compliant and Unquestioning Media

Where Have We Heard That Before?

We’ve held our tongue on the state’s raid and dismemberment of the Yearning for Zion Ranch, lest we be accused of endorsing child abuse in a public forum, but we can no longer stand by and jingle the change in our pockets after watching Channel 11’s Friday night coverage of the arrival in Brazoria County of some of the dispossessed-by-the-state-of-Texas FLDS children. For some reason the Belo-owned CBS affiliate thought it was newsworthy to show footage of the children as they were herded off the school buses and hustled into the foster care facility. The filming appeared to have been done from a helicopter hovering directly above the procession at a height of 40 or so feet (we could be off on this, but it was too damn close). Then one of the male anchors, we can’t remember if it was Greg Hurst or the other clown, offered up this unattributed “fact”: “Yeah, y’know, some of these kids had never ridden in a moving vehicle before!”* Now that the Therapeutic State has taken care of that alleged omission in their upbringing, we’re sure it won’t be long before some of these kids will be watching Teletubbies and pestering their foster parents (or whoever they end up with) to buy flat-screen TVs from Wal-Mart.

We’ve been surprised by the lack of sustained outrage, or even skepticism, on the part of politicians, journalists, pastors and other mainstream tastemakers (even, um, bloggers) over what seems to have been an egregious misapplication of police power by the state (of Texas), not to mention a gross violation of the Constitution. One person who been ringing the alarm is James Harrington of the Texas Civil Rights Project, who in in op-ed piece in Wednesday’s Houston Chronicle asked why the state is “so intent” on punishing the FLDS mothers and children (who, barring proof of actual documented child abuse, have a right to be left alone) and suggests the raid and its aftermath “may be a tragedy in the making.” In case you missed it, we’ll quote Harrington at length:
It is becoming increasing apparent that either officials were duped into obtaining a false warrant or obtained a warrant for which they knew there was no reasonable factual basis.

It is also clear the evidence Texas Child Protective Services has so far is slim, to say the least, and even that questionable evidence may have been manufactured.

If there was child abuse, it should be punished — that means the perpetrator and not the mothers and the children. It is the culpable man or men who should be arrested.

Nothing at this time suggests wrongdoing to justify mass separation of all the children from their mothers. Otherwise, all that happens is victimizing innocent children. So far, nothing has come to light that shows any grievous misconduct at the Eldorado ranch. In fact, it now turns out that the one alleged perpetrator has been in Colorado all the time.Yet, CPS convinced the judge that mass genetic testing was necessary and wants to move forward, removing children from their moms.

... One certainly can get the impression the officials may be motivated more by bias against the FLDS people because of their practice of plural marriage and their self-isolation in an enclave. It would not be the first time in American history that majority society has struck out against Mormons or other self-isolating religious groups.

Simply because their beliefs and lifestyle are very different, and maybe even incomprehensible to majority society, is no reason to leverage the law against them. Religious freedom is a cardinal tenet of the First Amendment. It may be hard to swallow for many "mainstream" folks, but it is essential to any pluralist democracy. And so is due process.
Amen. We suspect somebody’s going to be very embarrassed (and liable, too) when this shameful episode finally plays out (but not Greg Hurst!).

*Something we wish we could say---that we'd never ridden in a motorized vehicle.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Long-Term Memory Loss

We read with interest the letter to the editor from Bob Lanier that was published in Tuesday’s Houston Chronicle, wherein the former mayor chastised City Councilman Peter Brown for telling the newspaper that if elected mayor in 2009 "he will go to the state Legislature to avoid allowing Houstonians to vote on [a stricter development code].” Such a move “circumvents the right of our citizens to decide the course of Houston public policy,” wrote Lanier. “… It would be a mistake to limit the public’s role in any policy that seeks to shift private property rights to City Hall.”

We agree whole-heartedly, but as a long-time resident we found Lanier’s defense of the democratic process somewhat, shall we say, ironic. Let us return now to those halcyon days of the late 1980s, when the city was trying to shake off the Oil Bust hangover and Lanier, a bigfoot developer, was among the movers who forged a compromise between road-building suburban interests and mass transit advocates under which Metro would pursue construction of a light-rail system while devoting a portion of its revenue to streets and thoroughfares. The plan was put to a referendum and was approved (by how much we forget---no time for this “fact-checking” business this evening) and Lanier became Metro chairman, presumably to carry out the voter-approved plan. But not too long after taking the reins of the transit agency Lanier began raising doubts about the viability of the rail plan, based on numbers assembled by an outside expert he had hired who deemed the proposal highly cost-ineffective. When it finally became apparent that Lanier was out to kill rail and not carry out the wishes of voters, the then-mayor, Kathy Whitmire, had the old boy 86'ed from the Metro board. In what turned out to be a supreme act of vengeance, Lanier ran against Whitmire, initially basing his campaign on the idea that voters should be allowed to have another say on the rail plan, based on the “new information” that had emerged since it had been approved. But once he had ousted Whitmire and assumed her job, nothing more was to be heard about the need for a new referendum, or about the old referendum for that matter, and when pressed Lanier said that his election as mayor had been a referendum on rail and there was no need to waste money and time on more of this voting business (even though rail, pro or con, never was much of an issue with voters and was quickly subsumed by Lanier's put-more-cops-on-the-streets platform).

And that’s our history lesson for today. There will be no homework, but you must answer this sample TAKS question before dismissal:

When the author of this passage uses the phrase “shake off the Oil Bust
hangover” in paragraph 2, line 3, he:

A. Is using a simile.
B. Is using a metaphor
C. Is hung over himself.
D. Is up past his bedtime.

Don’t forget to use your strategies!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Latent Obamaism Detected in America's Newsrooms---Again!

The Chronicle's reader representative (again, the Slampo's Place Stylebook dictates that we lower-case this job title) has raised the question of whether the newspaper's policy on identifying crime suspects by race (and ethnicity, we presume) is outmoded, given the alternate sources of information now readily available---sources whose producers (including the cops and readers who append comments to online stories) aren't as squeamish as the daily newspaper's brain trust about including the world's recognized No. 1 identification marker in its descriptions of Our Town's wanted men and women. This amounts to another astute admission by Re-Rep II that the daily newspaper is no longer the be-all and end-all of all things newsy. The policy in question, he reports, is as follows:

Race should not be used in a police description that is too skimpy to identify a suspect, such as "a black man in his 20s." But a complete description (several
elements, such as height, weight and personal characteristics) should always
include race.
(Which makes sense, except in any given week the paper seems to be all over the place in its application.)

We're not sure whether this marks a recent or long-past change of policy at the Chronicle. We do recall that the paper's previous ombuds-fellow---Re-Rep I---explained that the paper generally avoided fingering crime suspects by race because that amounted to "racial scorekeeping," a sentiment that we believe he once attributed to the paper's exceutive editor, although we can no longer find evidence of that in the Chronicle archives (maybe we imagined it). This stank to us of something that we lacked the vocabulary to name at the time but which we will henceforth call Obamaism*---the keen ability to discern the true motive/cause behind the failings of your social inferiors, coupled with the overwhelming compulsion to lecture them on how they might cure themselves of their frailties. We believe that what was meant by the dismissive "racial scorekeeping" was this: We are trained professionals with college degrees and many years of experience in our field and it is our duty to protect our feeble-minded readers from themselves. You may cling to your racial scorekeeping, most likely because you are bitter, about something, but there will be no racial scorekeeping** on our watch (except, of course, when it comes to filling newsroom jobs).

The current Re-Rep---who we know to be a smart guy with probably the best news sense/judgment of any higher-up at that newspaper***---explained that the "theory" behind the current policy is that
the limited description of "a black man in his 20s" is so vague as to be meaningless. At the same time, it tends to promote the stereotype that young black men are likely to be involved in criminal activity.
We're down with the "so vague to be meaningless" explanation, if the result is that no published description at all is offered beyond "a man," although a "black man in his 20s" does narrow the possible pool of all suspects down a notch or two (it eliminates us, for instance and most importantly). But we have to wonder about the notion that such a description "tends to promote a stereotype." Is it the task of a supposedly objective, even-handed newspaper to do whatever is the opposite of promoting stereotypes (debunking stereotypes?) any more than it is to promote stereotypes?

We think this explanation, like that of editor's deployment of the racial scorekeeping pejorative, reflects an overinflated notion of the power and influence of the media to direct the thinking of their customers. Humans were stereotyping other humans, both inside and outside their tribes, centuries before there were any media, mass or otherwise, and have continued to do right up until 11:39 this evening, despite the local newspaper's circumspection with racial IDs. Stereotyping---or profiling, if you will---used to be a survival mechanism, now it's material for 1001 bad Comedy Central comedians, as well as a survival mechanism. Everyone does it (including you). It's part of the complex calculus of existence. (Our recent favorite episode of flagrant public stereotyping came courtesy of light heavyweight champ/chump Bernard Hopkins, who prior to his bout with Caucasian [a limey to boot!] Joe Calzaghe repeatedly proclaimed that he would "never lose to a white boy," then proceeded to have his ass royally kicked by the whitey.) Intelligent people of all hues recognize their prejudices and learn to work around them, usually by simply taking people as they come and without censorious moral instruction from the media.

Still, we think the Chronicle should hold off on any change in policy and simply await the glorious post-racial, post-ethnic and possibly post-gender future to be ushered in by President Obama.

*An exlcusive coinage of Slampo's Place Ltd., copyright 2008, unauhtorized use prohibited.

**"Racial Scorekeeping"---a great title/subject for a new blog: "Jews continued to hold a commanding lead today in the number of theoretical physicists, while Eastern Europeans made further inroads into NBA line-ups and African Americans stayed away from bowling alleys in droves ... "

***If favorable comment from this quarter might cause this individual any problems with his superiors, please substitute "roaring asshole" for "smart guy with best new sense, etc."

Thursday, April 17, 2008

“The Screen Door Slams, Obama’s Dress Waves … ”

An audible murmur of discontent arose Monday night at the Toyota Center after Bruce launched into the longest of his two or three brief anti-Bush spiels of the evening. (We can't remember if it accompanied the one when he was swinging around on the mic stand like it was a maypole or the one when he was stomping along at the back of stage and speed-mumbling about “rendition”* and some other stuff we didn’t catch.) It wasn’t exactly widespread booing---although we detected plenty of scattered boos, from both the grandstand** and ringside seats---but more like a sustained groan or collective sigh, as if the malcontents were saying, “Oh no---we gotta listen to this political horseshit again, when what really wanna do is hear Born to Run and Thunder Road for the 999th time played exactly like they sounded on the record …” But the grumblers were quickly drowned in a wild sea of cheers and applause, and Bruce rowed on.

We don’t suppose anyone was surprised. Springsteen’s been boring fans with his political profundities for years, and Magic, his bestest album since [insert name of your own last bestest Bruce album here---we gonna just pick Lucky Town out of the air and mosey along], is chock-a-block with anti-Bush songs, too many for us to remember without hoisting up our tired carcass and retrieving the CD jacket.

This does not bother us at all; we are not a “shut up and sing” grouser. Springsteen is at least as intelligent and well-informed as Tucker Carlson or Edward R. Murrow cutout Keith Olbermann---no, he’s as intelligent and well-informed as both of ’em combined (we’ll throw in Joe Scarborough and Chris Matthews to narrow the gap a wee bit). And we tend to generally agree with him, at least on the broad outlines of his Bush-Cheney critique, although we have to step out of the cha-cha line when it comes to the notion that those two bumblers have brought Fascism to America (as if they would be capable of such, although that seems to be one of the prevailing themes of Magic [e.g., Livin’ in the Future]).

But as of Wednesday, a mere two days after we exited the Toyota Center with our ears ringing and the feeling that we almost got our $95 worth***, Bruce has officially begun to bug us. It’s not just that he considers himself important and influential enough to issue a statement endorsing Obama---he’s been making favorable remarks about the Illinois senator for a while, and Obama supposedly has said that Bruce was No. 1 among Americans he’d like to meet---but what he said in doing it:
[Obama] has the depth, the reflectiveness, and the resilience to be our next president. He speaks to the America I've envisioned in my music for the past 35 years, a generous nation with a citizenry willing to tackle nuanced and complex problems, a country that's interested in its collective destiny and in the potential of its gathered spirit. A place where "...nobody crowds you, and nobody goes it alone."
OK, now we understand Obama---he's a Springsteen song!

We know Bruce is a decent and generous guy---amply demonstrated Monday when he brought Austin journeyman Alejandro Escovedo (still with the cool red boots!) on stage and plugged Escovedo's upcoming album---but we're afraid the old boy has now crossed the line into self-caricature. He makes an endorsement because the candidate "speaks to the America I've envisioned in my music" (one, we suppose, where no one clings to God 'n' guns or gives a second thought to illegal immigration) AND THEN QUOTES HIS OWN SELF (no matter that it's an evocative line). We stupidly thought it was all about winning an election, when it's actually all about validating Bruce Springsteen's artistic vision. It's like he believes every word that Dave Marsh ever wrote about him! Obviously Bruce still harbors overly romantic notions of self and world, which come in handy when you're 25 and composing The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle but suggest a much too prolonged adolescence when you're 58 (still waiting for a savior to rise from these streets, apparently).

(Oh, Bruce did acknowledge those gathering problems:
... critics have tried to diminish Senator Obama through the exaggeration of certain of his comments and relationships. While these matters are worthy of some discussion, they have been ripped out of the context and fabric of the man's life and vision ...
Yeah, there's gonna be some discussion ... like all summer and fall until the second Tuesday of November.)

And this America he envisions: Is it anything like the one we saw at the Toyota Center? Because that one is overwhelmingly white (hey, we did see two black people---looked like a mother/daughter combination, very light skinned, and they left early not looking real happy) and affluent (those ticket prices, plus the frickin' parking downtown) and transparently self-satisfied (as in "not wanting to be challenged or surprised in any way"---when he sang with Escovedo we saw lots of people in our section bolt for the restrooms, and you could almost feel the restlessness surge through the crowd 'cause he wasn't doing something they'd already jerked their knees to 15,000 times previously).

But we're not going to stop liking Bruce just because he's a pompous old fart, and, as we said, we enjoyed the show, especially Nils Lofgrin's searing [insert additional rock critic cliche here] solo on Because the Night and Bruce's geared-back version of Out in the Street (one of our all-time faves, and how dated is that "I work 5 days a week, loadin' crates down on the docks" line?---those jobs were going thew way of analog television even when he wrote it 30 years ago). We dutifully hopped to our feet with everybody else when he and the band closed out with America Land, a self-penned tune from his Bruce-as-Woody Guthrie oeuvre (Bruce-as-Woody being a most uninteresting pose; Woody-as-Woody wasn't even that interesting). It's a rollicking, Pogues-ish number, without the bracing Pogues-ish bile, that celebrates America as a nation of immigrants, or something. Despite the upbeat message, we think Bruce was aiming a little jab at all those folks who, as his man Obama put it, still cling to "anti-immigrant sentiment," apparently because they need a scapegoat and not because they might be more directly affected by illegal immigration than, say, Bruce Springsteen. It reminded us of that great line by a better songwriter, the late Warren Zevon****, who never aspired to be Woody Guthrie: "Bruce and Patti ... they don't live around here."

*Which is vile indeed.
**Which is where we were: Section 407, Row 6, Seat 1, near the top of the Toyota Center and lined-up with the stage: so high and far away we couldn't have hit Bruce with a heft-able rock, or even hit a larger, less mobile target, like "Little" Steven.
***Actually, it was our wife's $95, our ticket being a b-day gift. Poetic license.
****Who, unlike Bruce, was a fairly reprehensible individual, not to mention a stone-hard right-winger, at least according to that recent biography by his ex-wife.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

H-Town Lifestyle: Algae-Filled Pool Included

Chronicle birddog Matt Stiles---who’s single-handedly transformed the state Rep. Hubert Vo narrative from one of happy-ass “multiculturalism” and “local Democratic resurgence” to that of "venal, office-abusing slumlord”---is on the scent of other sub-standard apartment complexes and has solicited tips from readers on the newspaper’s politics blog. This is a noble endeavor, but it’s possible Stiles may have inadvertently booked himself solid for the next several years. Just pinpointing the actual owners of some of these hellholes could be a life’s work.

The finely detailed and descriptive comments* affixed to Stiles’ posting confirm that there’s nothing like the topic of “crappy apartments” to arouse the local populace. You don’t have to be a really perceptive sort to see that many of the bright-line social divisions in Houston---over crime, schools, “changing” neighborhoods---neatly align with the divide between apartment renters and owners of single-family homes and townhouses (and while race and/or ethnicity is a factor in these divisions, class is the underpinning). This is partly due to the proximity of subdivisions to sprawling complexes, a phenomenon that we assume is somehow linked to the city’s lack of zoning (but one that, come to think of it, we’ve noticed in other, newer-type Sunbelt** cities). But mostly it’s because landlords allow these places to go down the toilet and become magnets for crime and gangs. The saving grace of the unfashionable (meaning “zoned to mostly suck-ass schools”) neighborhood where we lay our head is the lack of nearby crappy apartments---the closet complex, adjacent to the neighborhood, is small and well-tended and is or apparently was owned by the former mayor Lanier, while the other, larger complex in the vicinity was run by the late Harold Farb, who had a sterling rep for upkeep (or so we always heard).

We’ve long contended---in barrooms, on Metro buses, while walking our dog late at night---that the signature Houston residence is not the River Oaks mansion or the Heights cottage or the Westbury suburban rambler or the Randall Davis “loft” apartment or the Pulte Home in the Outer East Jesus Subdivision (we just love the ones with paddle boats on the man-made “lakes”) but rather the one- or two-bedroom unit in a two-story complex, usually but not always situated outside The Loop, that was constructed anytime from the late 1960s through mid-’80s and whose population typically has gone through one or more pronounced demographic shifts: say, from all-white to mixed to mostly black to predominantly Hispanic (it’s a safe conjecture that all but a tiny percentage of the city’s illegal population resides in complexes similar to the one described earlier in this sprawling but grammatically flawless sentence). Lots of these places sport the same the dusty-brown brick veneers, which always bring to our mind the adjective “dowdy” (no “curb appeal”), especially when we’re driving down a street like West Airport that seems to be lined with mile after mile after such complexes.

Judging by the pictures Stiles has posted of Vo’s tenements, we have to say that over the years we’ve walked into, walked through, knocked on doors in and run away from worse. They certainly aren’t typical, but neither are they unusual. Owners continue to stuff people into these places long after their expiration dates. Frayed wiring, backed-up plumbing, punched-out wallboard, garbage piled high in the hen-scratch “courtyards” and rampant graffiti are just some of the non-advertised amenities. Not to mention the pools with what looks like bayou water. (And you gotta love the toilet under the stairs---that’s playground equipment.) And as we’re periodically reminded, these places regularly go up in flames.

Yet these are people’s homes. We’d bet that Vo himself once lived in a small apartment after arriving here (and before settling in this modest Alief homestead---in his district!---and undertaking construction of this Mexican drug dealer’s fantasy of a mansion***). It’s probably the middle-class suburban liberal arts major in us, but it always blows what’s left of our mind when somebody tells us they’ve lived in the same small two-bedroom apartment for “eight years” or “15 years” or “all my life” (if a kid). Stiles interviewed a 58-year-old woman named Tomasa Compean who’s lived in her one-bedroom unit at the Vo-owned Northpoint Apartments for 18 years (probably predating Vo’s ownership by no telling how many previous owners). Compean

pays $450 a month and has never received new carpet or paint. White powder bug poison outlines her baseboards, and a leaky faucet has left a large patch of rust and mildew in her tub, which apartment officials have covered only with paint.

"There are a lot of defects in the apartment," said Compean, speaking in Spanish. She also complained about a lack of security at the complex. "The worst things are the roaches and mice. That's just too much."

In a city intent on adorning itself with Floridian baubles and trinkets, it doesn’t seem like it would cost much to see to it that Hubert Vos do a little better---just a little!---by the Tomasa Compeans.

*Our favorite: “The Princeton Club apartments on Memorial near Dairy Ashford has vacant apartments that are still full of rotting garbage (and maggots and roaches) months after they are vacated. There are squatters living there too since about half the apartments are vacant. I lived there for almost a year, and was robbed 4 times not counting the bike that was stolen after I left it outside my front door for a few moments to go inside for a drink.”

**Serviceable, descriptive term that seems to have fallen out of use.

***What’s with these Democrats who turn out incumbents and then
build these huge homes? Being a state rep pays, what, 7K or so a year?

****As in Richard.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Let’s Go Downtown. For Some Bocce.

The daily newspaper’s Mike Snyder, one of Our Town’s ablest reporters (has a deep, deep knowledge of the city that can only be acquired through years of not only working and living here but paying attention here) had an excellent story in Sunday’s editions about the new Discovery Green thing-a-ma-bob downtown, which is set to open next week. In a very even-handed way, Snyder gently raises what has seemed to us to be the obvious question about Discovery Green: Will anyone aside from vagrants and other idlers actually go there, once the whoop-de-do dies down and the brass-band welcome from the tail-waggers in the media goes silent?

Based on Snyder’s reporting, it sounds to us as if the attractions at Discovery Green were concocted not by actual park patrons and/or taxpayers but by a committee of faux hipsters-cum-PR-and-marketing shills. According to Snyder

Visitors can sprawl in the grass for a concert, race model boats or splash in an interactive fountain. Runners can try out the jogging path while more sedate visitors can read a magazine in a small library or have a drink at The Grove restaurant … People who enjoy trendy games can play bocce, an Italian sport similar to lawn-bowling, while more traditional Texans can pitch horseshoes. Part of the model boat pool will be frozen during winter months for ice skating. Children can frolic in a "mist tree" that also serves as a piece of public art and a place for joggers to cool off … A farmer's market will serve a demand for locally produced food. On weekends, families can visit the park, put their pets in one of two dog runs and watch their kids play on the playground while they discard their newspapers and cans into recycling bins.

Bocce? This is Texas, podnuh: Why not an actual non-smoke-free* bowling alley? Anyway, we hope this all works out and the park is perpetually packed from dawn to dusk and taxpayers’ $41 million investment pays off (oh yeah, one of the lead designers of the park---her firm’s from San Francisco, of course---told Snyder that all activity sites in Discovery Green will be aligned “along the Andrea and Bill White Promenade, which runs through the park.”**)

We, however, are skeptical. Let us stop for a moment and consider why people go to parks, based not on the fanciful notions of some overpaid designer types but on the unfashionable evidence presented to our own lying eyes: People with little kids go to parks to let their offspring frolic on the rubberized, injury- and liability-proof playground equipment, as is available at city SPARK parks on school grounds across Houston; if there are jogging paths, as at Memorial and déclassé Bayland, a county-run facility near our home, people go to run and walk around the track, although we wouldn’t consider a jogging path a destination attraction (we’d bet most of the lithe young folks prancing around Memorial work and/or live near downtown, while we notice about the only people doing the circuit at Bayland are slightly overweight Hispanic women from nearby apartments [we when lope past we say encouragingly, “You go, muchacha!”); if there are tennis courts, the old and middle-aged go to knock the balls over the net; there are also many, many people, usually not from the upper-income zip codes, who go to the park to picnic and be with family (at Hermann Park on any given Saturday it’s like half of Mexico is having a family reunion [and that’s cool]); occasionally---meaning “not too often”---citizens will be drawn to Hermann Park to attend a special function targeted to their particular demographic profile***: Shakespeare in the Park, the Asian Festival, the Juneteenth Celebration****, the Meshketian Turk Pig Run and Roast, etc. (But apparently some of those to-dos, or related ones, are being pulled over to Discovery Green: Snyder reports that “the park plans to host a health fair on Juneteenth and an Asian festival.”)

Personally, we know of no one who’s going to drive downtown and stash their vehicle in Discovery Green’s underground parking lot (sheesh: a park with an underground lot, what a Houstonesque touch!) to read a magazine or dump their recyclables or play bocce or even horseshoes.***** We’re sure the Del Grande-Schiller restaurant operations will do just fine, but it’s a safe bet that what we’ll reductively designate as “regular folks” won’t be thronging the front doors. Snyder taps an out-of-towner, Phil Myrick, a vice president of New York-based non-profit Project for Public Spaces, which participated in early planning for Discovery Green, to delicately raise these points:

… the public and philanthropic investment in Discovery Green can be justified only if the park attracts many people from throughout the Houston area, said [Myrick].

Too often, Myrick said, "money gets poured into a place that very few people end up enjoying and spending time in."

Because Discovery Green is in a "challenging location," Myrick said, it will have to offer compelling activities to attract visitors from far-flung neighborhoods.

"Consider your average person on a Saturday or Sunday. Are they really going to pack up the kids and head downtown, or stay closer to home?" Myrick asked. "If downtown is the only audience (for the park), it will be a terrible waste."

Time will tell. In the spirit of civic-mindedness we had suggested the facility be named in honor of Lightnin’ Hopkins*****, a move that certainly wouldn’t have forestalled the bocce lanes or the Andrea and Bill White Promenade but would have generated some international buzz and perhaps ensured the park would attract the occasional visitor from Copenhagen or Lyons, should the homeless eventually take over.

*’Cause cigarettes and bowling go together like … Bill and Andrea White.

**Maybe it’s just our raisin’, but it strikes us an unseemly for a sitting mayor and his old lady to have anything connected to a taxpayer-funded facility---even a “promenade”--- named after themselves, no matter how instrumental White was in helping raise the private funding for the park. Discretion should have dictated that the mayor demur and suggest the avenue be named, say, the Bob and Elyse Lanier Promenade (plant a few roses bushes along the way) or even the Lee P. and Missus (Whatshername) Brown Promenade. Hey, while we’re on the subject, how come nothing’s named after Kathy Whitmire around here? After all, she was the town’s first and so far only female mayor and did a decent job under trying circumstances (oil bust, rampantly surreal gay-bashing, etc.), but is there even a Ladies Room at City Hall bearing her name?

***Once, it must have been in the mid- or late ’80s, we heard Sun Ra and his Arkestra in Hermann Park. Now that was cool.

****Looks like Al Edwards will be back this year in fighting trim!

*****We, of course, won’t be going, as we only venture downtown if we need to see a lawyer or a broker, and we aren’t interested in talking with a representative of either profession at the moment.

******Y’know, a local from the locality, who nevertheless was/is known all over the globe. (We’re still scratchin’ that thing.)

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

You Don’t Have to Be Mexican to Love McDonald’s

Several months back we wrote of a bizarre television advertisement for McDonald’s that seemed to blatantly encourage emigration from Mexico to the United States---legal, we’re sure, although that was not stipulated---while playing upon currency fluctuations. The message, at least the way we interpreted it, was that the dollar was firm and strong against … the peso … so Mexicans with a yen for sunshine and $1 hamburguesas should hie themselves over to the U.S. for a taste, post haste. The $1 deal was solid, in perpetuity, immune to shifts in the value of the peso against the dollar.

We saw that ad only two or three times and suspect someone at McDonald’s belatedly snapped-to and had it pulled before the viral contagion of Internet outrage could spread. Now we see that McDonald’s is at it again with the currency exchange angle, although this time the intended audience is not hungry, border-jumping Mexicans but budget-conscious white-collar Americans looking to save a nickel or two in these times of high economic anxiety. If you’ve been watching the NCAAs you’ve probably seen it: Black guy comes up to co-workers in their cubicles and says “Dollar’s down again” and the co-workers second that observation with a round of “feeble … dropping like a lead balloon … tanking,” etc. Y’know, everyday water-cooler chat, like at your office (we’re pretty sure currency traders don’t talk this way). Then a skinny, big-eared white dude appears with a “double cheeseburger from the dollar menu” and the jealous co-workers (jealous, that is, of the grease he’s consuming) chime in with a reappraisal of the dollar’s worth: “The dollar’s lookin’ good … strong,” etc.

(Y’know, if you stop to really think about it---and we’re sure that you, like us, don’t have the time to stop and really think about it---these are some strange fucking days we’re passing through.)

We fully expect McDonald’s to go the celebrity route for a future commercial, with, perhaps, Alan Greenspan sitting knee-to-knee with Andrea Mitchell at a mid-Manhattan McDonald’s and saying something like, “The ceaseless volatility of global markets overstimulates my amygdala, but these hamburgers made from South American-raised beef have a placating effect on my irrationally exuberant nervous system. And if I haven’t previously mentioned it, they’re only one American dollar.”

It might work. We must confess that a McDonald’s promotion, and our desire to save a nickel or two, recently brought us to the door of our neighborhood Golden Arches for the first time in about 10 years, or since our children decided that their palettes were too refined for the Happy Meal (but mostly we steer clear of McDonald’s because one of our late-life goals is to live as long as possible so we can inflict as much pain as the law allows on our enemies, real and imagined). We had received a page of McD’s coupons in the mail---they were all in Spanish, natch---including a freebie offer for one of the new coffee drinks that are supposedly going to bring Starbucks down. Since we were headed down to the Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market, we figured we’d stop at the McDonald’s along the way and submit the coupon for a free $1.67 iced coffee and get our self amped for some Sunday afternoon shopping (as a sap who bought into Starbucks thinking there was no way it could fall below some mystical “$20 floor,” we considered the visit to McDonald’s part of our deep research).

The first thing we noticed when we walked into the joint was that everybody behind the counter was jabbering away en espanol, not something we remembered from a decade ago. There were no other customers but it seemed we stood there longer than we should have before a heavy-set young Hispanic woman with an unwelcoming face ambled up. She asked if she could help us, but no sooner had we opened our mouth to give our order than she turned to an underling, an African-American girl who appeared to be the only monolinguist on duty, to bark, “Were’s Tanisha?” Tanisha, it seemed, was on her break, but the managerial type directed the African-American girl to go fetch Tanisha from the parking lot. We had just launched our second effort to place our order when Tanisha, also African American, came in the door and the hard-faced managerial type saw fit to redirect her attention to Tanisha.
“Where you been?” (Suspiciously)

“You said I could have a break,” said Tanisha (Innocently)

“I said you could have a break, I didn’t say you could be out in the parking lot conversatin’.” (Bitterly. Meanly.)
Finally, the woman directed her self back to us. We stared hard at her for a good 5 or so seconds, to ensure we finally had the floor, before placing our order and handing over the coupon, which of course she had to scrutinize like it was printed in Chinese. Then she moseyed back to the dispending machine---apparently this wasn’t going to be “real” brewed coffee---and Lord if its operation didn’t present yet another obstacle to timely service. The gal consulted with a couple of co-workers who seemed to have a better grasp of how to get the thing to squirt, and soon we had our coffee. Or “coffee.” Whatever it was, it was truly some of the foulest shit we’ve ever swallowed. It was like some kind of “coffee syrup” with what tasted like 50 or 60 grams of sugar. We poured most of it in the parking lot.

Just the other day we heard an old guy at our Y (an old guy who seems to take care of most of his personal hygiene needs---shaving, showering, toenail-clipping---in the locker room) rhapsodizing about the “coffee from McDonald’s---it’s only a dollar sixty-seven!” But us, we’re going long on Starbucks (and the dollar).

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Everything Depends

... on a brown shoulder bag and pink suitcase

left for the taking

against a telephone pole

at the intersection of Harwin and Beltway 8

on Friday, March 28, 2008.