Tuesday, September 29, 2009

A Fug-Ugly Monstrosity, As Observed by a Stranger to Our Town

On Sunday the Times Book Review favorably eyeballed David Byrne’s Bicycle Diaries, a book composed of journal entires the ex-Talking Head and cha-cha enthusiast made while touring various metropolises of the globe with his musical combo. A dedicated bicyclist in his hometown of NYC, Byrne totes a foldable bike on tour so he can get out and about and take in the local sight-age. As the Times reviewer put it, the book is “partly about cycling but also about whatever Byrne happens to have on his mind at the time.”

We assume (but we’re not spending $25.95 to find out for sure) that the book does not include what Byrne had on his mind regarding Houston, where he stopped for a concert this past summer at Jones Hall (whose sound quality he pronounced “possibly the best of any hall we’ve played in”––hey, that’s something if you’re keeping score), most probably after his book had gone to press. Just as well, because Byrne’s take on Houston––brought to our attention a few months ago by the infrequently active but excellently named Amnesia Houston blog––is painfully mundane. It’s the sort of routine surface-y observations an out-of-towner would commit to memory while pedaling around the downtown area for a couple of hours and then Googling around for another 20 minutes: Enron, no zoning, the lack of pedestrians on the streets, the proximity of old-black-guys-on-the-front-porch 4th Ward to the skyscrapers (complete with cliched photo of said from 4th Ward vantage, nowhere as striking as 25-30 years ago, what with the newish development in the far background), rumination on Jones Hall namesake Jesse, blah wheeze and so on. Byrne does, however, offer a ripe description of one off Our Town’s true monstrosities, one that certainly bears repeating:
A block or so past the run-down shacks — this is Houston where there is NO zoning — is the new Federal Reserve Bank. It’s a weird, almost surreal post-modern edifice.

The mind turns to Alan Greenspan, former head of the Fed, who helped via deregulation to get us into the mess we’re in today — the whole Goddamn world is fucked, Alan! This very out of place structure somehow lingers, like a fart left by someone no longer in an elevator. Alan was recently quoted as saying “I made a mistake.”
Perhaps this snooty New Yorker was unaware that the cheesy, Lego-like structure was designed by none other than internationally renowned architect Michael Graves, notable for also designing “a line of household goods” for Target and more recently was in partnership with [yellow tail] wines. Perhaps Sr. Byrne did not recognize the true genius of Graves' design as a “playful” metaphor for the Target-like facade of our increasingly abstract post-post modern economy. Perhaps the globetrotting bicyclist didn’t “read” it the way we read it as we hurtle past, on our way to purchase Chinese-made goods at the "River Oaks" Target: as a rebuke, and a warning that we should get busy converting our remaining assets into hard metals and burying the hoard as deep in the backyard as the occasionally permeable clay will allow.

Here’s an interesting critique of the building, prompted by the same Byrne journal entry.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Diversity=An Ever-Widening Variety of Ethnic Restaurants at which White People Like Me Can Dine

We can't let the week pass without calling attention to the almost too-perfect distillation of the mindless, happy-ass embrace of "diversity" for mere diversity's sake that was found in Chronicle columnist Lisa Falkenberg's offering of this past Tuesday. The column was pegged to the news ... well, it wasn't really "news" ... a less-than-newsy Census update showing (again) that the white percentage of both Houston and Harris County's populations continues to decline. Here's how the Teen Columnist* found yet another way to let readers know what an all-around fine and sensitivie person she is:
Although the trend has been building for some time, it's easy for today's Houston, tomorrow's America, to have sneaked up on some folks.

But many of us experience the richness of Houston's diversity every day, at work, at Hermann Park, at the Galleria, and embrace it.

That's a mighty tepid embrace by the "many of us." We don't go to the Galleria too often, but we feel comfortable in pointing out that the overwhelming majority of the cell phone-mesmerized zombies gliding up and down its walkways are white, maybe seven out of 10 you'd corral at random. Not a place where an upscale shopper such as Falkenberg would be discomfited by a general lack of whiteness. Perhaps she meant to type "Sharpstown Mall," but then that's really no place to wrap diversity in a heartfelt abrazo, since white shoppers there are almost as hard to find as a black or Hispanic editorial writer at the Chronicle.

As for "at work," we also feel comfortable in pointing out that the particular workplace where the Teen Columnist slaps together her schizz also is overwhelming white, almost as white as the ice rink at the Galleria, and the higher you go in the hieirarchy the whiter it gets. Not only does the paper boast (maybe it doesn't really boast) a downsized all-white editorial board, but the particular racket in which Falkenberg is engaged is so damn white it's funny: of the 20 personages listed as columnists for the paper, 18 appear to be as white as Falkenberg. That's 90 percent. The other two are African American. Not a Hispanic in view, in a city where, as Falkneberg "reported" with a touch of undisguised glee, Hispanics constitute a plurality of almost 43 percent. Not a one--nada.

This can mean only one of two things: either the Chronicle is one racist institution, nowhere near as willing as its Teen Columnist to embrace diversity, or the newspaper hires and promotes based on merit (and who you know, of course), not on race/ethnicity. Falkenberg could partly remedy this imbalance by voluntarily stepping aide for a Hispanic Metro columnist. Maybe the paper could find one who's a conservative ideologue AND knows something about the city, thus correcting three imbalances with one wild shotgun blast. Falkenberg could then go work the paper's police beat for at least a few months to get a somewhat deeper perspective on the city than can be obtained dining at the Cheesecake Factory.

We will grant that Hermann Park, the third venue where Falkenberg and the "many of us" embrace diversity, does attract a fairly mixed crowd, but outside of the golf course there's really not much of an entry requirement at the park.

*We noticed in her subsequent column Falkenberg seemed to indicate that she is with child. Of this we know no more, not having read past the second paragraph, but we do offer a heartfelt "Congratulations" and wish her the best of luck in finagling the magnet school thing.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Is Houston Ready for a "Gay" Mayor?

Since we asked: Sure, certainly, why not, etc.––with qualification. [Editor’s note: This posting does not advance too far beyond the previous sentence, so if you’ve got something in the oven or need to walk the dog by all means attend to those matters and don’t fritter away any more time here.]

By “qualification” we mean that if the leading candidate for mayor were a gay man, we suspect the issue/non-issue of the candidate’s homosexuality would have surfaced more prominently in the “public conversation” by now, although it’s unlikely it would have been raised there by any of our hypothetical gay-male mayoral candidate’s hypothetical opponents, because that would not only be tacky but most likely a vote-loser in the current climate. (In the interest of disclosure and so on we’ll note that we are leaning toward voting for the non-hypothetical gay female candidate, which certainly doesn’t give us pause in offering the following customary trenchant analysis that you’ll find only here and nowhere else.)

That’s just the way it is: At this stage of Western Civilization, the public is more accepting of lesbianism than it is of male homosexuality, at least when it comes to the sexual orientation of public figures. And while we’ve met many a lesbian in our day to whom we wouldn’t issue any smart lip, or even wish to face as a batter in a fast-pitch softball game, the public at large––males in particular but other women, too––is exponentially less threatened by gay females, especially the cute ’n’ cuddly type. Take MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, whose earnest, approachable, fresh-faced regular-gal-ness makes her rabid partisanship almost sugary-sweet. Or Ellen, who of course wouldn’t be the worldwide entertainment phenomenon she is if she were named Eddie ... or Elvis, whatever (particularly considering that Ellen’s not really funny).* Beyond mere temporal issues, Annise Parker has that Ellen-like appeal: wholesome good looks, not overbearing, doesn’t take herself too too seriously, etc. She’s the good daughter, and as a societal archetype the good daughter type has vast and still-virtually-untapped electoral appeal, no matter sexual orientation. It’s associated with “trustworthiness.” (Check it out.)

Some people won’t vote for Parker because she’s gay––”Su homosexulidad podria afectar al voto conservador,” as the Houston Chronicle’s "La Voz de Houston" insert recently put it––but it’s not like they’d vote for her anyway, either because she’s a woman, or is perceived to be too liberal (because she’s woman, although at bottom and on top too Parker’s probably the most conservative of the three money candidates) or, most especially in the present arrangement, because she’s not black. And, of course, some people will vote for her just because she’s gay (these would be mostly other gay people, and why wouldn’t they?). Certainly there are evangelical white voters and others in the city whose minds will be privately (most likely) set against Parker because of who she is, but the probable concentrations of opposition, perhaps vocal, are more likely to be found in the smaller black churches whose congregants already have Gene Locke signs in their yards and who consider homosexuality an abomination, except for the homosexuality of the choir director who can supply his own keyboard instrumentation. You’ll remember that the outpouring of black and Hispanic voters for Obama was credited with helping sink California’s gay-marriage referendum. Life’s funny that way.

It’s possible that Parker’s lesbianism could become an under-buzz issue, of sorts, or already is, particularly given the lack of any real staggering bright-line differences between the candidates. But it’s not like that’s going to swing many if any votes in a first-round election or a runoff, and most likely would lose votes for the opponent who publicly brings it up (or, in a more probable scenario, doesn’t or can’t stop his supporters from bringing it up). We’ll see. Parker’s won six citywide elections so you'd assume that anyone who’s going to bother to vote in November knows she’s gay, but we still get the sense that she and the others are relatively unknown quantities to people who don’t play politics or keep a close eye on City Hall. It’s interesting, though, that the race has gone this far without some nasty public eruption or another (and it’d be splendid if it stayed that way), considering that 25 years ago the Houston municipal election seemed to be about nothing but homosexuality––or gay-baiting, to be precise––with the “Straight Slate” of council candidates and Louie Welch’s “shoot the queers” quip** and Steve Hotze’s Il Duce impersonation and ... wasn’t there some half-baked proposal to make restaurant waiters wear plastic gloves, something like that, to prevent them from infecting a diner’s salad with HIV? That amounted to nothing but sound and fury, but my was it loud.

*Our personal opinion, not verifiable.
**He must have thought it was funny.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Another Question for the Mayoral Candidates (A Continuing Series)

Q.: More than two years ago a “solid waste task force” co-chaired by Controller Annise Parker recommended to Mayor White that the city impose fees of $42 annually for residential garbage pick-up, which is now paid for out of general fund revenue. Other large cities already charge a higher rate for home-garbage retrieval. Although some changes in sold waste pick-up have been implemented, the residential garbage fee was never adopted. It still lurks, however, as a possible future source of revenue. Which of the following comes closet to your position?
  • I favor imposition of a monthly fee for single-family home garbage pick-up.
  • I favor imposition of a monthly fee for single-family home garbage pick-up, and any other revenue enhancement proposal that's brought to my attention. You got any?
  • I favor imposition of a garbage fee if it can be coupled with a corresponding reduction in property taxes.
  • I oppose--with no ifs, ands or buts--a garbage fee, and in fact you’ll see my own corpse mouldering in the landfill before the city implements one.
  • I think it's best to wait until after the election to say much of anything about this one.
  • Why would I want to address something as mundane as garbage pick-up when my consultants and advisers have crafted all these nifty PLANS and PROPOSALS and BLUEPRINTS to CREATE JOBS and IMPROVE EDUCATION and do all this ... stuff. Jesus!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Trippy Whacked-Out Cactus Flower, With Flies

A few years back a friend gave up some cuttings from a non-spine-bearing cactus and told us that every once in a while they'd drop these bulbous pods that would explode into really interesting looking flowers. Only thing is, he cautioned, the flowers emitted a strong "dead meat" smell and would attract lots of flies. We've never been able to detect the putrid odor, but it must be there because the flies just can't keep their their nasty little shit-stained feet off 'em. In addition to being "hairy" the flowers have a rough, leathery texture, and we're thinking that when times get really tough we can string together a dozen or so and fashion a snug little codpiece.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Alone at Last, In the Cold Bunkhouse of Time

Banjo Jones, Brazoria County’s strongest and handsomest blogger, has brought to our attention the news that Dennis Kucinich, in what appears to be an oblique attack on the Obama administration for not pushing hard enough on a public health-care option, has invoked the memory of long-dead cowboy star Roy Rogers and his faithful long-stuffed ride, Trigger (perhaps he’s metaphorically equating O to a dead horse, it’s hard to tell, although that would suggest a heretofore unseen level of wit on the congressman’s part).* Banjo, whose upbringing apparently was similar to ours, confesses that as a very small person RR was his hero--perhaps second only to Jesus in the pantheon?--and that he was so eaten up with the man that he demanded to be called “Roy” and wore a cowboy hat nearly ’round the clock.

We, too, were besotted with Roy, we presume through repeated exposure to the Roy Rogers Show, which we must have been consciously viewing even before it was in the rerun cycle. Roy looms large in one of our earliest childhood memories/traumas: We were vacationing with our family in Galveston--the Jack Tar Inn being the preferred vacation destination until the rising affluence of the 1960s swept us to more exotic locales, such as Destin, Fla.--and playing on the beach with a set of small plastic figures (We called them “Little Men,” as in, “We’re gonna make these Little Men the Japs and these Little Men over here are gonna kill ’em all.”) that included representations of Roy and Trigger and possibly second bananas such as wife Dale Evans and TV sidekick Pat Brady. We had positioned Roy and Trigger, who must have been our prized possessions, atop a sand castle when an unexpected wave broke over the beach and swept Roy and his plastic steed out to sea. Forever. We have a faint Kodochromatic visual memory of searching frantically in the waves for the disappeared Roy while a sub-set of older relatives, sunning their flaccid and pasty skin on the beach, chuckled at the spectacle. We positively recall crying inconsolably over our loss. When our kids were younger and hung up on some piece of molded plastic from Wal-Mart our parents delighted in telling them the story of Roy’s disappearance at sea, an incident which of course we have now transubstantiated into a Grand Metaphor of Loss of Innocence, or sump’in. Jimi Hendrix wrote a song about it.

Looking back, we can’t fathom Roy’s widespread appeal, except for the fact that he always kicked the bad guys’ arses. From this vantage point, he looks to be just a square-jawed puffball of puddin' and virtue, nothing much to distinguish him, except from certain angles now his face definitely projects an Asiatic quality (seriously--check it out!). He lacked any semblance of edge, as compared to, say, Gene Autry, who as a younger man aspired to Sing Like a Negro and performed passably well at it, and who in the episodes of his TV show we catch on the all-Western cable channel looks more distracted than earnest, like he’s got business elsewhere and needs to walk through the scene as quickly as possible so he can get on with becoming an incredibly rich guy/baseball magnate. Our late ‘50s worship of Roy soon gave way to maniacal adulation of Mickey Mantle (a damnable by-product of which was a devotion to reading the sports page, which we trace to the Mantle-Maris home race of the summer of ’61), which then gave way to sublimated man-love of Bob Cousey, allegiance to whom we eventually shifted to another Bob, Dylan, who soon had to make way for Faulkner, William ... which was about our last stop for the hero worship route.

Then there was the always touchy question of Roy’s relationship with his ineffectual comic sidekicks, that hoary literary trope dating to Sancho Panza and beyond. On TV that role was filled by the aforementioned Brady, who never had a chick (or gal, as they were sometimes called) and instead spent his days riding an old jeep he called Nelly Belle, which often wouldn’t start or sometimes broke down when the bad guys were on his tail, while Roy consorted with Dale and never failed to shoot off his 6-gun. Hmm ... (To this day we cannot hear the Stones’ Start Me Up on a commercial for credit cards or an erectile-dysfunction medicine, whatever they’re using it to sell, without a picture of Pat Brady, struggling to fire Nelly Belle’s ignition, passing through our mind.)

Earlier, in the movies, Roy’s sidekick was played by the wispy-bearded George “Gabby” Hayes, perhaps the quintessential sidekick, a true exemplar of the Olde Weird America, much more fly-specked and funkier and easier to imitate than the smooth-shaven and TV-ready Brady. Gabby apparently was quite promiscuous in his sidekick duties, performing them under not only Roy and Autry but also Hopalong Cassady as well as John Wayne and Randolph Scott. That boy got around! We were never clear on on the true nature of Gabby’s relationships with these Alpha types, but check out the potential Brokeback scenario in this video segment, wherein Gabby and Roy are bivouacked in a room by their lonesomes while just outside some non-gay callebreros and their ladies jounce on the dance floor. The song these two sequestered cowpokes are singing? It’s called We’re Not Comin‘ Out Tonight ...

*Say what you will about Kucinich, but he far and away has the best-looking wife of any perennial presidential candidate, perhaps in our nation’s history, and that would include the late Mrs. Harold Stassen.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Is (Or Was) There a "Houston Accent"?

We’re moved to pose this question after listening to the almost 60-year-old taped radio broadcasts of then-roving crime reporter Marvin Zindler posted by the Chronicle’s “Bayou City History” blogger, J.R. Gonzales (this stuff is absolutely fascinating, by the way). Gonzales and several of his commentators noted the datedness of the soft, deeply Southern drawls of the crime victims (and perpetrators) in whose faces Zindler stuck his roving microphone. The kind of accent that you don’t hear that often these days, unless its from the mouth of a really, really old person. One “jb” wrote in response to the Zindler tapes
On the accents, Houston was a lot more Southern in character back then. Today you're hard-pressed to even find a native Houstonian among the mass of transplants who comprise the majority of the city's populace. Definitely a different era ...
Commentator “Don” added:
Love the accents. You still hear that out in Montgomery County, but even out here the transplants are wiping it out now. Another thing wiping out the beautiful, soft, distinctive Houston accent is pop-culture. Kids are raised on such a large volume of TV that the kids all sound the same from coast to coast.

Having been raised in deep south Texas farm country, our accent is very similar to that of the Houstonians on the tapes, but it is disappearing. Just listening to these people talk makes me dearly miss my grandparents, who had that gentle, soft cadence to their voices.
But is/was that really a distinctive Houston accent? (This isn’t a rhetorical question-- we’re curious.) What we mean is, were the pronunciations, inflections and cadences peculiar to Houston, in a way that if you were in New York or Boston and heard them you could ask the speaker “You’re from Houston, right?” and be assured of an affirmative answer, as opposed to the broader and more obvious “You’re from Texas, right?” or the even broader and more obvious “You’re from the South ...?” The way we can always immediately peg a native New Orleanian, white or black, even the ones with Ivy League educations like the writers Walter Isaacson or Nick Lemann. The way Ted Kennedy’s “Mannah of Speaking,” as the Times put it last weekend, marked him as the quintessential Boston-Irish pol (albiet one with prep school and Harvard educations).

We’ve never been able to hear a distinct “Houston” accent because there apparently isn’t one: The speakers on these tapes, and the old-timers we run across now and then with obvious rural roots (fewer and fewer as the years go), sound Southern in a generic sense, as if they could just as well be from Georgia, Tennessee, Virginia or South Carolina, the states origin of most of the distant forebears of our East Texas grandparents’ generation. Houston and the rest of East Texas are generally grouped under the sub-regional “Gulf” or “Gulf Southern” variant of “Southern American English,” which as far as we can tell really doesn’t have much to distinguish it from the other Southern sub-groupings (save, obviously, for Cajun French/English and New Orleans’ German/Irish inflected port accent, often described as “Brooklynese” [how come Brooklyn accents aren’t described as “New Olreanese”?]). So, if there is a “Houston accent,” it’s really more of an “East Texas accent,” maybe dressed up a little for the big city with the correct pronunciation of “bayou” thrown in as lagniappe. (It’s interesting on the Zindler tapes how the black and white voices--and Houston was pretty much a black-and-white town back then, with a touch of brown--are immediately identifiable by race but quickly blur together, another indication of how close in station the redneck and the descendent of slaves, the people who built this town out of the mire, used to be. The one really distinctive accent we hear on the tapes belongs to the interviewee who was involved in the "domestic dispute, 1900 block of Bell" and as Zindler reported was "bleeding from the back of his head" after being whapped with a shoe by his wife during an argument over whether to send their 6-year-old daughter--whom the woman weirdly refers to as "it"--away to a children's home. The man sounds Tex-Mexican--he tells Zindler he's been in an "arga-ment" with his wife--but it's hard to tell if his shoe-wielding assailant is Mexican-American, PWT or a combination thereof. (Such incidents of petty social disorder, by the way, were one reason the middle class was primed to move to the suburbs about this time; did we mention that this stuff is fascinating on several different levels?)

Still, we’ve strained to detect something unique in the way people talk around here. Many years ago we found our self at a large gathering of people from the North Shore in east Harris County and thought we heard something distinct, maybe a a seam or underlay of something like New Orleanese, which would make sense given the proximity of the port. Then again, we had had a few beers at the time. There’s definitely a “Tex-Mex” variant of Southern American English, as spoken by Mexican-American native speakers of English and distinguished by, among other characteristics, the swallowing-up of the “ing” in verb participles and gerunds (“go-an” for “going,” for example). There may even be a “Hou-Mex” sub-variant, or perhaps there’s one a’bornin’ here as we sleep. Sometimes we’ve thought we’ve even picked up on a “Jew-Tex” accent, which we couldn’t begin to describe.

Whatever the case, the Southern accent that Gonzalez’s posters eulogize is going the way of all regional dialects and accents, although it still abides in a somewhat denatured form and will survive, for a while, because of the enduring assimilative properties of Southern American English. We always get a kick out of meeting some middle-aged or older Chinese-American lady who grew up in Houston or somewhere in the South and speaks in the same slow, “gracious” manner as our mother. Perhaps the most oft-heard Southern speaker in the city is our mayor, who grew up in San Antonio and whose painstakingly deliberate and wending style masks a quick and calculating mind. (It also allows him to get away with making cutting and dismissive remarks, then turn around and deny that he meant what he obviously meant--a talent we personally admire, but we have no political skills whatsoever.)

The most interesting voice on the Zindler tapes belongs to Marvin himself, especially the studied, deep-throated and correctly enunciated “announcer” voice he affects in the opening segment of these broadcasts (which, right down to the swelling music, seems to have been modeled on the intro to the old Superman radio/TV serials). It’s clear that while Marvin never attended J-school he might have taken a home-study course in "How To Talk Like a Radio Announcer" in a vain effort to shed his East Texas way of talkin'--here his is the voice of a thousand Ted Baxters and faux-Cronkites to come. (Like the blown-dry male reporter for Channel 11 or 13, we can’t remember, who a few days ago pronounced the name of the Aggie mascot as “re-VEL,” and apparently still has his job.) During the heat of his on-the-scene reporting, though, Zindler slips more comfortably into a restrained version of what would become his signature Jew-Tex/cracker style of speaking, or bellowing. After one hillbilly-singer cop tells Marvin he hasn't been able to determine whether that poor gal laid out in the 1700 block of Sawyer is dead or just passed out from imbibing too much "intoxicatin' liquor,"* Marvin, reporting live from the foyer at Jeff Davis Hospital, pronounces it "intoxicating liquor," something he'd never do 30 years later, after he'd fully let his wig down. (Did we mention that these tapes are not only fascinatin' but downright intoxicatin'?)

*Turns out she was dead, but, as the admissions clerk at the hospital informs Marvin, was known to have had an "alky-hall problem."

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Houston Chronicle Flexes Previously Untapped Powers to Mold Public Policy, Turns Mayor Into Its Willing Stooge (Well, That’s One Opinion)

In our wildest imaginings we couldn’t conceive of any rational person with at least pretensions to objectivity claiming that the Houston Chronicle is fomenting hatred against illegal immigrants. But what do we know. It’s true that the paper’s coverage has, ah, stiffened somewhat over the past few years, dating, we believe, to the killing of Houston police officer Rodney Johnson by previously deported illegal and convicted child molester Juan Quintero back in 2006 and primarily through the reporting of Susan Carroll and James Pinkerton. At the very least, the paper has pretty much shucked its sentimentalized, anecdotal approach for a harder, more balanced examination (although there’s a lot more to the issue than simply cruising the corner, the admittedly narrow corner, where crime and illegal immigration intersect). The paper’s editorial stance, however, is still one of open-borders advocacy, although we’re sure whoever’s in charge of editorial positions would reject the label. But it is what it is: any effort at enforcing existing law, from a border wall to workplace raids to full implementation of the 287g program by the city (which even the Obama administration supposedly wants to expand is greeted with at least an arched editorial eyebrow or a full-on tsk-tsking, while implementation of some pathway to citizenship or another is pushed as paramount and downright urgent (as if there's some 5-alarm necessity in legalizing people who shouldn’t have been here in the first place). Then there’s the periodic moral instruction provided the paper’s morally flawed readers by the Teen Columnist, whose knowledge of what actually transpires on the streets of Houston on a day-to-day basis is about equal to a newborn’s (an anchor baby’s, if you will).

So we were somewhat surprised to open the September-October edition of the Houston Catholic Worker (don’t ask us why), a publication of the Casa Juan Diego House of Hospitality, and find a full-bore rant (unavailable on-line) against the Chronicle. Seems the Casa Juan Diego House of Hospitality blames the newspaper for the city’s participation the 287g program, under which the federal government essentially pays local agencies to enforce immigration law in jails, and for generally riling a supposedly previously unriled populace:
The decision of Mayor White of Houston to implement this program can be traced to the pressure from the Houston Chronicle, which has campaigned for months to create an anti-immigrant milieu in Houston, where it had not existed before.

Day after day, month after month, on the front page of issue after issue of the paper, the Chronicle has found a way to demonize immigrants, implying that they are all criminals.

As in any large city, there are murders and robberies in Houston. The Chronicle has not featured the ethnic background [something entirely different than citizenship--wonder how many of those illegal Fujianese busboys who’re all over southwest Houston are served by Casa Juan Diego?] of these robbers and murderers or featured their crimes on the front page with large color pictures and headlines except in a few cases involving immigrants. [Yes, killing a cop, or a prominent doctor from Methodist Hospital, will bring you out of the shadows and on to the front page.]
The editorial was written by Mark and Louise Zwick, who run Casa Juan Diego and have been accorded favorable treatment by the Chronicle in the past (we personally have no problem with the Zwicks and in fact admire their work ministering to immigrants--it’s the political activism and press criticsim we find bothersome). It may have had an effect: The illegal status of the two brothers arrested in the Bellville slaying of Dr. Jorge Mario Gonzalez last month was relegated to the bottom paragraph of the paper’s initial story on the killing. In a less-than-shocking development, one of los hermanos had been previously arrested for having sex with a 14 year old but was still stinkin' up the streets of Olde Sharpstown.

We do see a way out here for Mayor White, whose efforts to defy gravity and use the mayorship of Houston as a springboard to high statewide office appear to have been at least temporarily discombobulated by Dem party activists' ire over his seemingly half-hearted support of 287g: He could just blame it on the newspaper! The powerful, rabble-rousing Chronicle left him no choice! (These “Latino activists” who supposedly are put out with White over the issue should sober up, look around and recognize who actually votes in Texas and who gets elected to statewide office. If winning an election is, like, their thing.)

Friday, September 04, 2009

Reuse, Recycle, Reduce ... Foreclose

The New York Times’ most recent “Home” section--scanning it for decorating tips is truly one of the high points of our Thursday evenings--offered a profile, with very nice color pictures, of Dan Phillips. the jack-of-all-trades who uses trash as building material to construct low-income housing up in Huntsville (he’s built 14 such houses so far). Mr. Phillips strikes us as an interesting character pursuing a worthy endeavor, so we were distressed to learn from the Times’ story that the market for homes built with cast-off studs and scavenged wine corks (for flooring) apparently is very similar to the market for McMansions built with lumberyard timber and purchased by subprime buyers:
While the homes are intended for low-income individuals, some of the original buyers could not hold on to them. To Mr. Phillips’s disappointment, half of the homes he has built have been lost to foreclosure — the payments ranged from $99 to $300 a month.
Some of those people simply disappeared, leaving the properties distressingly dirty and in disrepair. “You can put someone in a new home but you can’t give them a new mindset,” Mr. Phillips said.
The good news, though, is that Mr. Phillips’s houses apparently have acquired some cachet and, according to the Times, have “resold quickly to more-affluent buyers.”

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

A Question for the Mayoral Candidates (First in A Continuing Series)

RE: That possible city-county “TIRZ package” for construction of a new soccer stadium, jail and redevelopment of the Astrodome (with gondola rides, we hope!): In light of the city’s ongoing budget shortfall (or decline in revenue funds, if you prefer), and in light of the fact that, if we heard right, the incumbent mayor has said that 10 percent of the city’s tax base is already covered by tax increment reinvestment zones, and in light of the general lack of accountability of the TIRZ authorities, do you