Friday, October 31, 2008
It was a beautiful, sunny day and everyone in line was courteous and seemed in relatively high spirits---living contradiction to the abstract nastiness of the national campaign. The queue graciously parted and closed again when precinct workers returned from fetching hobbled or enfeebled voters and escorted them to the front of the line (we'll remember to bring our cane next election). The variegated glory of the city, and southwest Houston in particular, was present in all its multitudinous parts: the middle-aged Chinese couple in front of us, conversing in Mandarin, the lady gripping a rolled-up League of Women Voters election guide; the young Hispanic woman behind us who said she had taken off from work and although initially daunted by the length of the line found it to be moving remarkably fast; the elderly black man, doddering precariously on his walker, who waited patiently until a poll worker helped him inside; the middle-aged white man in shades and the red Sopranos ball cap (that was us). People were happy, and chatty, but in a solemn and restrained way, as if they were on the steps of a Methodist church after services (light on the sermonizing, heavy on the good works, no fire and brimstone whatsoever). As sometimes happens, we were moved to a near-weepy reverie over our wonderful country, and how much we love it (despite its---and our---many failings).
Did we see any celebrities (you're probably asking)? Uh, no, but we did pass before candidates and relatives of candidates. There was citizen Bob Higley, who was passing out push cards for his wife, a candidate for re-election to a state appellate court (how sweet!)---literature that we noticed nowhere mentioned Justice Higley's party affiliation (R). As we rounded the corner there stood Joan Huffman, a Republican candidate in our top-of-the-ballot special election to fill an empty state Senate seat. Ms. Huffman was leaning on a crutch, literally (we did not inquire as to whether she had sustained injury while block-walking). When she sought to push her card on us we felt compelled to explain that we would gladly read her advertisement but would "probably" vote for the main Democratic candidate. "Sure, that's OK," said she. "Gee," we thought, as the line moved on, "she sure is a nice lady," a Gladwellian snap judgment that was reinforced when we heard the old black dude with the walker worry aloud whether his early vote would be fully counted---something off-the-wall like that---and Ms. Huffman patiently assured him it would be. Hmmm, thought we, maybe we'll vote for this lady. After all, we were in no way wedded to Democrat Chris Bell, and had only resolved to vote for him because he's a nice guy, too, and desperately wants to hold some---any?---public office. (We're not a natural people pleaser but we try to help others in need, when we can, and along those lines were hope Sr. Bell will consider a 12-step program for habitual office-seeks should he suffer voter rejection this go-round.) As we rounded into the home stretch---past the cardboard boxes some public-spirited type had provided for the "recycling" of push cards---we had just about made up our mind to go with Ms. Huffman. Then we perused her push card and noticed she had proudly listed her endorsement by the scrofulous Link Letter. Back to C-Bell for us!
Shortly thereafter we were glad-handed by one Dexter Handy, Democratic candidate for Precinct 3 county commissioner, a retired Air Force officer who introduced himself to us (and everyone else) as "honest, ethical and handy," something like that. This caused us to briefly consider asking him to accompany us back home to help fix our leaky kitchen faucet. Instead, we were so taken by the push-card picture of Mr. Handy, resplendent in his old uniform and sporting an impressive chestful of medals, that we cast our meager vote for him. (We have no problem with the incumbent, who we assume will be handily re-elected without our vote.) And for the Justice Missus Higley. And Chris Bell, redoubtable one-time office-holder searching for yet another office to hold. And many judicial candidates who were rank strangers to us.
You say we're superficial, and we say, yes, but that is an inalienable right with which we have been endowed by our Creator. We hope you have a wonderful Election Day and that you remain, as always, honest, ethical and handy.
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
He remains adamant that N.B.A. franchises must remain in the nation’s largest cities. He ticks them off: “Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Detroit, Chicago, Los Angeles. . . If I’ve forgotten one, I don’t mean to. The Top 10.”
Sunday, October 26, 2008
But we entertained our mother’s objections seriously. She voted for
We found her post-convention aversion to Obama odd, though, because she’s a Democrat who can count on her fingers the Republicans she’s voted for over the past 60 years. That includes Eisenhower, twice, and a school board candidate who was the son of a beloved and respected principal she worked for. (“He’s a very nice boy, and intelligent, but he’s a, y’know, Republican,” she explained after raising a yard sign for the boy.) There may have been a GOP candidate or two for governor of Louisiana in there somewhere, although she stuck with Democrat Edwin Edwards, one of the most corrupt politicians of post-World War II America, because he as promised had paid off his support from schoolteachers with nice retirement benefits. She has long been disdainful of the entire Bush clan. Back in 2000 she presciently dismissed the incoming president as a “drugstore cowboy,” and just two weeks after he launched his misadventure in Iraq she stood glaring at CNN and declared, through clenched teeth, “That SOB has a tiger by the tail, mark my word.”
So she’s pretty much a yellow dog Democrat, an affiliation that dates far back into
A distaste for Vietnam helped maintain the allegiance after LBJ departed, but she primarily remained a Democrat because, like many white Southerners, she found it impossible to deny the moral claims of Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights movement---impossible to square the supposed point of World War II and the ideas about liberty and freedom she was exposed to in college with the everyday brutal reality of enforced segregation in the Deep South. These people did not march or agitate but quietly resolved to acquiesce. They were not heroic, but they went against their raising. That’s hard to do.
Our mother grew up in deep
Some years later, in the early ’60s, long after my grandfather had died, I was party to at least two strange, overheated summer nights when relatives sat around the big oak table in the dining foyer of the House of Seven Gables-style manse my mother’s family had occupied for almost a century. Through a thick haze of cigarette smoke, they argued, argued, argued until late in the evening, voices rising loudly and falling as they debated the changes that were stirring even in their little nowhere town. The word “nigger” occasionally lit the air---these were not uneducated or even unrefined people, more like what they used to call small-town shabby genteel, but they were of their place and time---and the bitterness was as thick as the smoke. On one side, alone, was my mother, who had gone away to UT during the Homer Rainey years and never really returned home, and on the other was my aunt Rosalie and my grandmother and other relatives and dropper-bys. In the face of unanimous opposition from others around the table, my mother maintained that whether they liked it or not integration was coming and they best reconcile themselves to it. One or both of these evenings ended with her in tears (we believe our father, who did not enjoy confrontation or too much political discussion, must have retired to the big front porch to discuss SWC football with another non-combatant) and suggestions that she was a traitor---to her family, and a whole way of life.
We look back now and see our self on those nights as a Stuart Little figure, quiet and watchful in our PJs, absorbing it all while being violently transported a new kind of adult wakefulness by the vehemence of the discussion, the dropping of the masks. We recall rooting quietly for our mother and admiring her intellect and obstinacy, her unwillingness to back down.
Not that she’s a flaming liberal. She’s got no use for affirmative action or illegal immigration and little tolerance for the Al Sharptons or anyone else who hollers “racism” when the facts could just as easily suggest another interpretation. After Obama’s nomination she professed to be up in the air. “I don’t know what I’m going do,” she’d say when we’d inquire. “Oh, I know why you’re not going for Obama,” we teased. “You know I’m not like that,” she’d say, genuinely offended. “Yeah---we understand, believe me, we understand,” we’d say, reflecting our own dissatisfaction with the choices, but like the jerk we are we did wonder whether 1930s East Texas was just too deeply ingrained in her to let her vote for a black guy.
Then came Palin. “I guess I’m going with Obama,” she said without much enthusiasm. And the financial crisis. “Yeah, I’m with Obama,” she said with slightly more conviction. “He did pretty good in that debate, I thought.”
And there it is. She’s not voting for the guy because he’s black---that’d be the last thing she’d do. And she’s not voting for him because he’s a Democrat. She weighed the imperfect options before her and made her choice, reluctantly. And whatever happens on Nov. 4, we have to stand back in wonderment at how far our mother, now in her 9th decade, has traveled from home. If we told her as much, she would, to her credit, probably suggest that we are full of shit.
*Methodist Youth Fellowship, for you infidels.
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
Sunday, October 19, 2008
Gots to Get Our Rest, ’Cause Even If Monday’s Not a Mess, Tuesday is Sure to Leave Us in Deep Distress
First it was Gustav, which swung wide of Houston but ran right up through the Hub City, where we sat in the dark with our 81-year-old mother while winds howled (they actually did---like a goddamn dog at midnight) and we kept a weather eye on the towering, antediluvian oak in the back yard (which made it through, somehow). Gustav felicitously chose the Labor Day Weekend to come ashore, permitting us the leisure to spend 8.5 hours---we timed it---cleaning the mountains of leaves, branches and limbs it left in the yard. Afterward, we realized that we are old. There was no electricity that Monday night and we slept as soundly and for as long as we did back when we were a hirsute young man and gave nary a shit about anything. The electricity came back on early the next evening, by which time the city had cleared the surrounding streets of fallen trees and debris (they seem quicker on the uptake in the Hub City than in Houston---and this is Louisiana, my friends---but it’s probably just a matter of scale). We felt it was OK to leave our mother to her bridge and books and Turner Classic movies and beat a hasty retreat home.
Then came Ike, and we all have our Ike stories so we’ll bore you no further with ours except to report that the oak that once covered much of our front yard is gone, thanks mostly to our own spindly self and two guys named Jose who had a small tractor with a rusty claw that did not open but was useful as a battering ram. Jose No. 2, who, strangely for a Mexican, was the size of an NFL linebacker, rammed and rammed and rammed in a harrowing, hour-long round of attack and regroup … until, as promised, he and Jose No. 1 had nudged the stump, and half of our front yard, aboard a goose-neck trailer. We paid them the requested $300 in cash (most of the Americanos---white, brown and black---asked for at least three times that), shook their hands and bid them adieu, without inquiring as to their legal status.
Oh—we also must credit the contractors and subcontractors hired by the city to cart away the fallen timber. From what we’ve seen and heard in our neighborhood and other parts of town the haulers have done an expeditious and relatively thorough job (of course, the city’s under a FEMA deadline to receive federal reimbursement, but still … ). This is an example of government marshaling its resources and rising to the occasion, and for that we would like to thank whomever needs to be thanked.
But even this salutary development brings us no lasting joy, for the financial crisis that came ashore the day after Ike (as we in the locality will always remember it) still lurks overhead, casting a dark pall on what should be the cool, crisp, up-and-at-'em days of early autumn. This certainly was the most anticipated, most predicted and most written-about-in-advance “crisis” in recorded history. And the most-analyzed after the fact. In the past month we have read countless stories in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times and other publications positing this or that cause for the debacle. Each seems to be describing a different part of the elephant for the blind man, and all we feel is the pressure of the beast’s massive, wrinkly leg on our chest.
Then we stumbled across this piece by one Patrick J. Deneen, who writes the second-best-named blog in the
We inhabit a world which we have made obscure to ourselves. The height of our civilization has been to render the world unknown to us. The modern project seeking the conquest of nature has resulted in the imperative that we become ignorant. We know much, but little of substance or based in the reality of the existence we inhabit. We are distant from where, what, and who we are.We read this, heed the resonant bell of truth, and feel our burden lifted. We believe we can make it through without the false comfort afforded by modern pharmaceuticals. At least until Wednesday.
*Say what you will about James Kunstler, and we know he’s an acquired taste, but the man has been dead-on in predicting each stage of the implosion---save for the total collapse of the stock market, and it’s still early---and he was doing it two years out.
Thursday, October 16, 2008
If students use the Smiley face as a weapon and poke other students with it the students will be banned from the Smiley face project for a designated period of time based on [the teacher's] judgment.Banned from the Smiley face project. Next stop: the penitentiary.
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
Then we thought about what we'd be missing with our morning coffee---not just the predictable offerings of the paper's Teen Columnist and the meanderings of Rick "The Hurricane Was But a Mere Electrical Storm" Casey but the much-appreciated relationship advice of working girl "Whit" and the entire page of valuable newsprint the Chronicle devotes to TMI (a painfully tone-deaf gesture in this day and time, we'd say). Most of all, we'd miss the reportage of doughty society correspondent Shelby Hodge on the comings and goings and chowing-downs of the rich and fatuous. (Close readers with long memories will recall that the newspaper, in another strangely tone-deaf gesture, dispatched Mlle. Hodge to cover the big fund-raiser that compact socialite Rebecca Cason Thrash tossed for the Louvre in Paris some months ago. We believe this trip fell between rounds of layoffs and buyouts, so that was OK.)
If we had let our Chronicle subscription lapse we most likely would have missed out on Hodge's Tuesday column, which launched off with a chatty nod to reality
The economy might be tanking and most of us have given up on retirement,*** but some fortunate Houstonians are still eating high on the hog ...before interrupting regular programming to deliver this important pronouncement from everybody's favorite port commissioner from the 70019 zip code:
Speaking in medical terms,Elyse Lanier offered her analogy for the current economic climate. "Our country is in ventricular fibrillation," she said Friday night at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston Grand Gala Ball, which, by the way, brought in $1.3 million. "It needs a defibrillator to shock our system back into sinus rhythm."**** In layman's terms — a normal heartbeat.If we remember correctly, Elyse's husband, the former Mayor Bob, has himself been defibrillated, perhaps on more than one occasion, and used to be in the banking and S&L rackets, so we're confident that the port commissioner knows of which she speaks.
If only our president could be so articulate.
*We know---it's only paper losses.
**Oh, we're not really that naive.
***Except for her colleagues who were forced to take the buyouts, of course.
****Would a $250 billion semi-nationalization of the banks qualify?
Sunday, October 12, 2008
This man obviously missed the previous evening’s debate, which Comrade McCain opened by tossing out his $300 billion plan to buy up bad mortgages, a "plan" that at least had the small virtue of extending taxpayer largesse to the deadbeats of “Main Street”* in addition to those dashing “risk takers” of Wall Street. Yeah, socialism has come to America, but the Grumpy White Man slept right through it.
The next day’s McCain rally in Minnesota brought forth from the woodwork a woman who blurted out “he’s … an Arab!” when explaining to the candidate why she doesn’t “trust” Obama (his ethnicity a "fact" she claimed to have “read”). We presume she was about to cut loose with “he’s … a nigger!” but hastily settled on “Arab” as an acceptable substitute.
The addled and aimless lurking at the far fringes of McCain’s rallies are indeed scary, but what we found truly frightening last week was the fading specter of Ayn Rand acolyte Alan Greenspan, once hailed as “The Wizard” by Republican and Democrat alike but now reduced to having the veneer stripped from his reputation on the front page of Wednesday’s New York Times, wherein it was reported that …
Today, with the world caught in an economic tempest that Mr. Greenspan recently described as “the type of wrenching financial crisis that comes along only once in a century,” his faith in derivatives remains unshaken.Imagine that: people got greedy! That’s never happened before in the history of humankind! Look at Roark, in The Fountainhead, he was a man of such rectitude …
The problem is not that the contracts failed, he says. Rather, the people using them got greedy. A lack of integrity spawned the crisis, he argued in a speech a week ago at Georgetown University, intimating that those peddling derivatives were not as reliable as “the pharmacist who fills the prescription ordered by our physician.”
It’s days like these that we wish our father were still alive, just to talk to a bit, get his take on the events, maybe be bucked-up with some advice. Back in ’98 or ’99, we remember him poking his head up through the fog of the Alzheimer’s that was then slowly enveloping his mind to offer a cogent, lucid warning on the dangers of putting too much of our meager assets into tech stocks, and while we were already aware of the risks and had acted accordingly we as usual were comforted to have our instincts seconded by someone who had our interests at heart.
As far as we know our daddy never read Ayn Rand but he was always smart about money, pursuing a Buffett-style course of investing long before he or anyone else had heard of the Nebraskan. Late in his life he hung from the wall of the suburban home he built in 1962 for $15,000 a piece of wood on which was lacquered a letter from a small-town bank attesting to the good character of his father, our grandfather, who worked for many years in the lignite mines of East Texas before quitting to open a small grocery on the square of a town that even then would have rated the description “dying.” The banker said he could gladly recommend our grandfather as a man of his word who always made his payments on time, and that was the extent of it.
At the time we were puzzled by the wall hanging, as the letter was all of two sentences long, but now, as with most everything our father said or did, we understand.
*A street called home by a guy named "Joe Sixpack" and his wife "Hockey Mom."
Sunday, October 05, 2008
Friday, October 03, 2008
The post-debate consensus settled on Palin as the narrow winner, apparently because she defied expectations and was able to stand upright while delivering her canned blather in a suitably slick TV-friendly manner (New York Times tight end David Brooks, who probably should refrain from writing on deadline, sounded as if he'd been damn near aroused by Palin's performance), although the insta-polls showed a majority of respondents giving the call to Biden (forcing some head-scratching revision among the TV talkers in the cold light of morning).
For what it's worth, Biden did in fact "win," if only because he managed to get through the entire 90 minutes without telling at least one gigantic, bald-faced lie (apparently)**, or appearing overly smug and condescending by complimenting Palin for being so clean and articulate, and mostly for being able to shut down his verbal spigot when time demanded.
Our judgment may be colored, however. Biden, with his weirdly glowing teeth and feral smile, has always struck us as an amiable blowhard. But Palin's charms have escaped us. She flat gives us the willies (and the thought of her as president gives us an advanced case, which as medical science has discovered is marked by a pronounced numbness in the extremities). James Wolcott, a liberal pussy, has felicitously likened the Alaska governor to Jiminy Cricket, another cartoon character whose appeal has always puzzled us. Beneath the winking and darns and goshes and Joe Six-Packs we detect a vast aquifer of dorm-room snarkiness, and the incessant self-referencing of Hockey Mom-dom is just a form of reverse elitism (Michael Kinsley, another liberal pussy, says it means "I'm better than you ...")
We also found her explanation for the ongoing economic debacle to be wholly unsatisfying, as well as very un-Republican. It's the "predatory lenders," Palin said, "who tried to talk Americans into thinking that it was smart to buy a $300,000 house if we could only afford a $100,000 house."
Those wily predators. So much for personal responsibility. We's all just dim-witted rubes out here in Joe Six-Packland, easy prey for the fast-talkin' slicks.
**Runner-up was her avowal that "toxic waste from Main Street ... is affecting Wall Street." Maybe she needs a map, or this was a Freudian slip.
**Check out this hilarious example of Biden's penchant for unthruthiness, courtesy of Jeffrey Goldberg in Thursday's Times.
Wednesday, October 01, 2008
You may have missed it if you've been without electricity, but the Mincberg campaign is so proud of its desperately exploitative gambit that it's posted the ad on its Web site. You can check it out yourself if you're supremely bored and actually undecided about whom you're voting for next month, but let us take the liberty of boiling it down for you: After lauding the "neighbor helping neighbor" attitude that Mincberg says prevailed after the storm (a true and correct assertion, according to our patented truth test), he adds the obligatory darkening note:
But it's wrong that so many in the energy capital of the world were left in the dark, and now traffic's a mess.We don't immediately see the line connecting the dots of this being the energy capital and CenterPoint's inability to hit a switch and restore the power with something approaching alacrity, but we do know that Mincberg's phony promise to set "new standards in infrastructure to keep the lights on" would constitute an unprecedented expansion of the powers and purview of county government (... and he's a businessman, not a career politician ... ). The "traffic's a mess" declaration is also interesting---it's accompanied by a visual of a headline, or faux headline, reporting "It could be November before all traffic lights restored"---since the greater part of the stop-light outage persisted (persists) in the city of Houston, which we believe is run by Bill White, Mincberg's buddy (or maybe kinda-sorta buddy or even ex-buddy, since White wisely requested that Mincberg refraining from airing a commercial with White's visage).
You understand Mincberg's frustration: he's got some money and here everybody's telling him that Democrats have a chance to take back the county and so forth and suddenly the hurricane rolls ashore and County Judge Ed Emmett is on TV with White every 15 minutes, both looking steady and confident and getting much favorable free press, while the sweaty-palmed Mincberg (who?) is relegated to stewing on the far sidelines. For his next foray onto the airwaves we'd suggest this private citizen-businessman provide the public with extended footage of himself actually helping a neighbor. Maybe he cleaned the debris out of an old lady's yard down the street, who knows ...