Thursday, December 31, 2009

Stein Watch: The Holiday Week in Stein

Shortly after launching our much-ballyhooed and universally applauded Bob Stein Watch we realized that we may have gnawed off more than our occasionally tetchy tummy is capable of digesting. It would take a battalion (or two) of researchers, working night and day, to keep abreast of the many Bartlett’s-ready quotations and public appearances/pronouncements of the noted Rice University political scientist. We are but a one-man, close-to-the-ground, volunteer operation and most likely will prove woefully inadequate for the task. But in for a dime, in for dollar, as the saying goes, so without further ado we present what we hope will be a full and complete Stein Watch for the week of 12-27-09 through 01-02-10 (barring any surprise guest commentaries by Bob Stein at half times of upcoming bowl games):

Dec. 29: The professor, identified as “Bob Stein, Channel 11 political expert,” makes a brief appearance––we’re talking all of 10 seconds––in the middle of a report on Kay Bailey Hutchison’s “new transportation plan.” Stein apparently was on hand for English-language translation, saying something close to this:
“I think that what Senator Hutchison was saying is that if you don't like transportation, blame TxDOT, and if you’re gonna blame TxDOT, blame the man who made all the appointments to that commission.”
(As Channel 11 reporter Lee McGuire noted, although not in these exact words, a major plank of the Hutchison plan is to stomp on the dessicated carcass of the Trans-Texas Corridor.)

Dec. 29: Outgoing Mayor Bill White announces a new commission to study the city’s term limit provisions, with appointees to include, among the other usual suspects, the husband of the mayor's agenda director, Robert M. Stein of Rice Univeristy. (Appointments to such august bodies apparently rate the formal “Robert,” while Channel 11 must prefer the folksier, TV-friendly "Bob" for its political commentary.)

Stein fans across the Standard Metropolitan Statistical Area were moved to wonder whether this appointment will pose a conflict that will prevent Our Man Bob from publicly declaiming on the term-limits issue.

Time, as always, will tell.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

One for the Home Team!

After reading the Dec. 22 dispatch in the Houston Chronicle by Bernardo Fallas, the reporter who covers the Houston Dynamo for the daily newspaper, our first thought was, “This Bernardo Fallas must have a sister who works for the Dynamo organization.”

No, no. We’re the ingenuous, naive sort, and such a connection wouldn’t naturally occur to us, at least during our waking hours. We just thought Fallas’s story was overly generous in detailing the arguments of the Dynamo management and Major League Soccer as to why “soccer-specific” stadiums and the necessity of the franchises “controlling revenue streams” are the keys to growing the domestic MLS to “compete with the best leagues in Europe and South America.” But that’s just our opinion, and opinions are like ... well, you know what they say.

The timing of the story also struck us as a bit suspicious, coming just 10 days after a mayoral election in which Dynamo president Oliver Luck and the team ownership, in the individual and corporate persons of California billionaire Philip Anshutz, Brener Sports and Entertainment of Beverly Hills and ex-boxing champ Oscar de la Hoya, put their money on the wrong pony. As Fallas himself put it:
...the Dynamo — whose move to Houston in late 2005 was due, in large part, to local government’s receptiveness to the idea of a public-private partnership for a soccer stadium in the Bayou City — wait for negotiations with the city of Houston and Harris County to resume after the recent mayoral election brought them to a standstill.
A cynical sort––not us, though––might believe that a little prodding in the daily paper would help move matters along.

As it turns out, of course, Fallas does have a sister who works for the Dynamo, a connection first brought to our attention by eagle-eyed Anne Linehan of blogHouston, who pointed to the similarity in the last names of the Chronicle reporter and Ana B. Fallas-Scarborough, listed as the Dynamo’s executive assistant/HR rep (true, not a high-level, policy-making position). Benardo Fallas confirmed the relationship for us, assured us it had no bearing on the story in question or his coverage in general, and told us it that “to insinuate otherwise would be both imprudent and an insult to my professionalism as a journalist.”

OK, imprudent is our middle name (actually, our middle initial is M. and our last name is Prudent, which is German, so heavy accent on the first syllable), but since Mr. Fallas promptly and graciously responded to our inquiry, thus freeing us to get on with the business of returning ill-fitting Christmas gifts, we’ll turn this space over to him for extended elaboration:
I informed my superiors the moment I learned my sister was being considered for a job with the team. Since the decision was to keep me on the beat, we have strived to maintain a healthy professional distance.

I sense you (or some of your readers)* may have an issue (and understandably so) with MLS' and the team's argument that teams need to control revenue streams in order to "make it."

The argument that MLS teams need to control revenue streams to become financially viable enterprises is one made time and again by teams and league (as well as teams in other pro leagues). It is the first answer you would get if you called Oliver Luck or Don Garber and asked them why an MLS team needs a stadium.

What I did is I presented that argument while noting that there's opposition to the idea of the Dynamo having public help in their pursuit of a stadium.

I was asked by my superiors to write about the emergence of MLS stadiums and how that relates to the Dynamo, and I think I did just that.
Mr. Fallas strikes us as an earnest and thoughtful young man trying to make his way in the world, but these unnamed superiors of his are doing him and their newspaper a disservice if they are aware of the sibling connection and are still assigning him to do a story on what essentially is a political issue that arouses considerable hostility on both sides. (As we noted to Fallas, even his reporting of games, team personnel moves and other non-political matters might come into question if he and the daily newspaper actually had any competition and there was another reporter from another organization assigned as a Dynamo beat reporter. Fallas later informed us that he doubles-up at the Chronicle as both a copy editor and soccer reporter; we’d caution him against over-excelling at either of these jobs, lest he wind up also shouldering the paper’s transportation beat while passing his off-evenings as a part-time society columnist.)

On a semi-related note, since the negotiations over the new soccer-specific stadium appear to hinge on Harris County’s agreement to participate in a Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone, the Chronicle reported on Wednesday that the outgoing City Council voted expand the Midtown TIRZ by 8 acres to include “the Asia House, the Buffalo Soldiers Museum and the Museum of African-American culture.” Kind of an interesting farewell of sorts, since we were under the impression that the departing mayor was not exactly a fan of the TIRZ mechanism (one of the good things about him, in our inconsequential book) and the incoming one most pointedly made an issue of not expending tax dollars, or too many tax dollars, on “museums” and “stadiums” and the like in this time of, um, fiscal austerity.

The version of the story in our damp home-delivered edition was all of 3 paragraphs and unbylined, but the online version included this seen-it-comin’-a-mile-away graf:
Councilman James Rodriguez, while supporting the changes, said he wanted to see plans for development of a Latino heritage museum within the same zone in Midtown.
We only hope that we can raise the money, and find a suitable and affordable location within the Midtown TIRZ, to get our planned Museum for the Study and Furtherance of Peckerwood Culture up and running in time to take advantage of the “$5 million in improvements to cultural and public facilities.”

By the way, possibly because of some apparent oversight neither this story nor Mr. Fallas's Dec. 22 work included a quote from Bob Stein.

*Mr. Fallas here makes the probably unsupportable supposition that we have readers, plural.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Beaumont: What Houston Should Aspire to Be

It may be some years before Beaumont elects a gay mayor. And while residents there can rightly take pride in the Babe Didrikson Zaharias* Park, they have no poopy-precious downtown development tool such as Discovery Green of which to boast. There appears to be but one standalone Starbucks in the entirety of Beaumont, and the city’s nightlife opportunities have been much diminished since the Red Carpet Inn burned down many years ago. Yet there is one place where Beaumont has it all over Houston. According to what is no doubt the handiwork of some internationally recognized advertising and marketing genius, Beaumont has the cleanest restrooms in Texas. That, anyway, is what a billboard somewhere west of Beaumont proclaims.

It is possible that this message has been greeting visitors for many months, if not years, and we had previously missed it. We usually keep our eyes on the road and our hands upon the wheel, but last week we were riding shotgun and happened to be wide awake as our jolly caravan approached Jefferson County. We were just sorry that we had no pressing need to avail our self of a public toilet at that particular point in our journey.

Our personal knowledge of Beaumont’s public facilities is scant and much dated––we’re better acquainted with those in Vidor––yet we have no reason at all to disbelieve the town’s haughty claim to superiority. It was, after all, on a billboard.

We ask: Can Houston offer the same assurances to the road-weary traveler?

*A real person of notable accomplishment––if you can't identify her and at least two of the sports at which she excelled, please pack your things and go back to whereever it is you came from ASAP.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

¿Dónde Está Bob?

Since hardly a day seems to go by when Bob Stein doesn’t show up in either the Houston Chronicle or on Channel 11 pontificating on some subject or another, we at Slampo’s Place are launching yet another invaluable public service by inaugurating our Bob Stein Watch so that fans of the Rice University political scientist can keep up with his many and varied utterances with a minimum of exertion. Our first installment finds Dr. Bob dispensing the conventional wisdom down in the middle of a Christmas Eve story by the Chronicle’s Stewart M. Powell, which relayed the startling news that one of our two Republican senators, John Cornyn, is turning into slightly less of a hypocrite because of his chairmanship of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. In this one, the regular-guy “Bob” is supplanted by the formal “Robert,” perhaps because the story was written out of Washington D.C. by a reporter who uses his middle initial in his byline or perhaps because a house style and uniform editing are two of the many fusty journalism traditions that have been jettisoned by the daily newspaper in this age of diminished resources and It Girl society columnists. Anyway, here’s Bob:
The senator is “caught in a terrible pickle,” says Rice University political scientist Robert Stein, co-author of Perpetuating the Pork Barrel. “Legislators’ support back home usually lies with their ability to take care of constituents. But Republicans’ anti-spending campaign puts that at risk.”
Ahh, that was so good we wanna play it again:
The senator is “caught in a terrible pickle,” says Rice University political scientist Robert Stein, co-author of Perpetuating the Pork Barrel. “Legislators’ support back home usually lies with their ability to take care of constituents. But Republicans’ anti-spending campaign puts that at risk.”
It is possible, even probable, that Doc Stein has made more recent appearances in the local media since Christmas Eve, but we have been in Louisiana for the past three days, well beyond the internationally recognized Bob Stein Zone.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas, Aloysius: The Newly Elected Houston City Councilman from Brazoria County Just Doesn't Want to Talk About It

Thanks to the able reportage of the Chronicle's Mike Snyder, we now have a fuller portrait of Houston councilman-elect Al Hoang, who, as noted in this space recently, did not legally meet the residency requirement to run for the District F seat he won on Dec. 12 and whose campaign finance reports don't exactly fulfill the legal requirements demanded of these disclosures. The picture ain't that pretty at all. (Up high and for the record: Snyder contacted us before publication of his story and we requested that this humble blog be left out of it, based mostly on the timeless "What's in it for us?" calculation but also not to detract from the serious nature of the enterprise.*)

What's truly amazing about Snyder's story––aside from the pathetic defense of Hoang offered by county Republican chairman Jared Woodfill, in yet another manifestation of the tiresome partisanship that now infests local municipal politics**––was Hoang's refusal to even discuss the residency issue with the reporter. First, he apparently issued a Gary Hart-like challenge to Snyder to "prove it," then hung up the phone when the reporter contacted him later after meeting the challenge. Think about that: A newly elected public official flat-out refuses to discuss legitimate issues of concern raised by the public record with the city's leading daily newspaper. We know the power of the printed press is much diminished, but this is not a real politic way to begin a career as an elected officeholder (hopefully, one of very short duration).

Instead of trying to come up with some half-assed explanation, Hoang resorted to the first refuge of the scoundrel, telling the newspaper, "You're trying to pick on me." We can only surmise that the unstated reasoning was "Because I'm Vietnamese." This is the sort of matter that inevitably ends up with one set of white people calling another set of white people racists. Watch.
So what is to be done? Oh, the new Houston City Council could actually do something about it, but won't, for at least five reasons we can think of, starting with, "We don't want to be bothered with this." Perhaps another elected official with subpoena power wouldn't feel as constrained by political sensitivities. Or perhaps she would. At the very least, Hoang should be subjected to unceasing public embarrassment, as well as a stiff fine from the Texas Ethics Commission for his campaign finance reports (which he, a lawyer, weirdly insisted to the Chronicle met the requirements of the law, which they clearly don't).

In the meantime, we extend our sincerest wishes to Aloysius Hoang and family for a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. We just hope Santa Claus can sort through the confusion and alight at the correct address, whether it's 2702 Sunfish Dr. in Pearland, or 10001 Westpark Dr., Apt. 83, in Houston City Council District G, or 4403 Bugle Dr in Houston City Council District F, or....

To be continued.

*More for the record: While we did vote for Mike Laster, Hoang's runoff opponent, we have had no contact whatsoever with Laster or anyone connected with him, and he wouldn't know us if he ran over us with a shopping cart at the Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market.
**Yes, Democrats have gotten much worse about this, but then again there are a lot more Democrats than Republicans in the city limits.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Hidden Houston: A City With A Long, Proud Though Heretofore Undocumented History of Electing Gay Mayors

Slampo’s Place interrupts its ongoing Al Hoang coverage to bring you this exclusive interview with Hampton Hardish, adjunct professor of history at South Dairy Ashford Community College and author of the possibly soon-to-be-published Houston: City of Gay Mayors. “We” in Houston have been convulsed in an orgy of self-congratulation in the past week over the election of a lesbian as mayor––a historic development that has proved, beyond a doubt, that Houston is not the dusty cow-town full of yahoos they still believe us to be In New York City and Paris, France but rather the cosmopolitan, urbane and broad-minded place “we” have always known it to be. Hardish, however, claims that Annise Parker won’t be Houston’s first gay mayor, and that in fact the city has had many gay mayors, going back many years. Slampo’s Place under-assistant managing editor and executive vice-president Hidalgo Hidalgo caught up with Hardish yesterday for an interview that began at the Starbucks on Wilcrest and Highway 59 and concluded many hours later at a southwest Houston sports bar. Sr. Hidalgo asked only that we confirm, for the record, that he himself is not gay. “That would not be so good in my community,” he explained.

HH: So, man, you claiming that this Parker lady ain’t gonna be the first gay person to be mayor of this city. Is that right?

HH: Yes sir, that is correct.

HH: So who was the first gay mayor here?

HH: Actually, it all started with with Houston’s first mayor, James Sanders Holman. Back then “gay” simply meant “light-hearted or happy,” and the clinical term “homosexual” had not been coined. Most did not think of themselves as having one “sexual orientation” or the other but kind of played it as it laid. Many were straight, many were gay, some swung both ways. The bayou ran slow and lazy, the fish and wildlife were abundant.

HH. Nah, man. Go on, get outa here.

HH: It's true ... One of my graduate research assistants unearthed the diary of a French visitor to Houston in 1837 who wrote: “One of the charms of this fetid, mosquito-infested hellhole (perhaps the only charm) is seeing the mayor strolling the streets arm-in-arm with a strapping young rustic whom he calls ‘Carl,’ and whose wispy beard he gently strokes as the two wade through the thick chimney smoke and ankle-deep mud.”

HH: The fu....

HH: Yes, there it is.

HH: Okay, what about this guy, whatshisname, Oscar Holcombe?

HH: Not only was he Houston’s longest-serving mayor but Houston’s longest-serving gay mayor. He wasn’t called “the Old Gray Fox” because of his cunning and political acumen, but rather because he was considered, well, foxy. Back then, the city had only a couple off off-the-beaten-track “nelly” bars, and OGF, as he was known, frequented both of them.

HH: Aww, man––how you know that?

HH: I have it on good authority from Ray Hill, who as you know is either the MLK or the Robin Hood of the local gay-rights movement, and has been the mentor to any gay person of accomplishment in Houston for the past 35 years.

HH: So, he knew this Holcombe dude?

HH: Perhaps not. But he says he knows that Jesse Jones and others were uneasy about what they called the mayor’s “misadventures,” although Holcombe always made time for his “boys,” especially around the holidays.

HH: No way! What about your more modern mayors?

HH: Well, Kathy Whitmire was caught in a hot tub with Lily Tomilin ....

HH: Whoa––I thought that was that Ann Richards lady ....

HH: Well, possibly, her too. But Whitmire was unmarried, a widow. Draw your own conclusion.

HH: Who else?

HH: Well, Fred Hofheinz liked to dress in women’s clothes, and Jim MConn was known to “shake his bottom down to the ground” after-hours at many of the city’s gay disco clubs of the late‘70s and early ‘80s. Lee Brown, historians have now determined, was the model for the cop in the Village People ... and, oh yes, when Louie Welch suggested that we “shoot the queers,” this was well-understood in the gay community as meaning, “I’ll be down at the corner of Westheimer and Taft around 11:30 tonight, and I'll be needing a ride.” After his death, it was discovered that he had amassed a large, secret collection of antique patterned draperies.

HH: Aw, man. Next thing you’re gonna tell me is Bob Lanier was gay!

HH: Yes, that appears to be the case.

HH: Naw, man, he was a hoss! You ever check out his wife, that Elsie lady?

HH: I know this will be hard for many people to accept.

HH: Okay, professor, tell me: Has Houston ever had a mayor who wasn’t gay?

HH: Well, of course, Bill White is not gay,* and next year he has a good shot at becoming Texas’ first non-gay governor since Sam Houston.

HH: Beauford Jester was gay, too? Man, all this politics talk is makin’ my head hurt. You got any money?

HH: Some, yes.

HH: I know this bar, Bongo’s, we can get some beers, 2-for-1 at happy hour. Watch the fútbol.

HH: Yes, I’d like that. I enjoy experiencing other cultures.

HH: Uh, yeah. Listen, just don’t mention it to anybody there that you’re gay, okay?

HH: But I’m not gay.

HH: Yeah, whatevs. Gimme your keys. I’m drivin’.

*In the interest of disclosure, Prof. Hardish notes that his wife, two of his three children, his mother-in-law, a second cousin, and an “elderly aunt” all work for White in some capacity.

Friday, December 18, 2009

All Hail Aloysuis, Chapter II: District F Councilman-Elect Al Hoang Is a Big-Time Campaign Finance Scofflaw (No Doubt About It)

More from the public record (with annotations) regarding the newly elected city councilman from District F (Alief-Sharpstown), who, as we pointed out in our previous installment of what we expect will be a long-running series, apparently did not meet the residency requirement to run in the district and may not live there as of this moment (or maybe he does––either way, we’ll find out, ’cause it’s the holiday season):

1. The four campaign finance reports Hoang filed with the city make a mockery of the notion of “disclosure” and hardly conform to the spirit of the law, much less the letter. Hoang does not list a single date for any contribution he received, nor does he list a single occupation of even one donor (his defeated runoff opponent, Mike Laster, appears to have been fairly meticulous in listing occupations when so required; other candidates for city offices, including one who ran for mayor, were of course not so scrupulous). The Texas Election Code requires that campaign finance reports include the full names of contributors who give more than $50 as well the dates of the contributions. Additionally, the city requires inclusion of the “occupation and employer of each person making one or more political contributions that in the aggregate exceed $500 in a reporting period.”

2. By law, campaign finance reports are to cover a specific time period. For instance, the report candidates were to file on Oct. 5 covered the July 1-Sept. 24 period, the Oct. 24 report was to cover Sept. 25 through Oct. 24, etc. Not one of Hoang’s reports specifies a time period for the reported contributions and expenses. We hesitate to try to explain or even make an educated guess on exactly what Hoang intended, because these documents are so far afield from what is required by law, but it appears he was reporting the same line-item donations and expenses on more than one report. Again, that’s a guess, because it’s difficult to reconcile Hoang’s figures. (On his Oct. 5 report, apparently the first he filed, Hoang reported raising $20,875, spending $8442 and having $8,572 on hand, but his line-item expenses amount to only about $3,450.) The other possibility is that Hoang and at least one of his contributors violated the city’s $5,000 ceiling on contributions from individuals, because Hoang listed the one $5K gift he reported, from a Dong (or Duong) Hai of the 77036 zip code, on his reports of Oct. 30, Nov. 14 and Dec. 8. We suppose the councilman-elect isn’t dopey enough to report $10,000 in illegal contributions, but we don’t know the man. He obviously isn’t smart enough to figure out the relatively simple legal requirements of campaign finance reporting.

3. Then there’s the somewhat unusual if apparently not unprecedented practice of inflating both sides of the disclosure ledger by reporting some contributions as expenditures, or vice-versa. For instance, Hoang’s Oct. 30 report lists a $9,910 contribution from Ocean Palace, a restaurant at 11215 Bellaire Blvd. (we presume he meant the owner, because businesses are prohibited from making direct contributions to candidates), along with the unusual notation “5K in food contributed by the owner, remainder collected in cash at the end if event, which paid for the rest of the food/event.” On the same report, Hoang lists $9,910 in expenditures to Ocean Palace, along with the same notation regarding “food contributed by owner.” Hoang did the same contribution/expenditure double-dip when listing his, ah, interactions with local media. (At the risk of exposing our self to charges of racism and bigotry from one of Hoang’s Caucasian campaign flunkies, we’ll note for the record that Hoang’s media expenses/contributions/whatever appear to have been almost exclusively with Vietnamese-language publications and radio. )

4. Hoang has no excuse for this. He’s a lawyer, and it wasn’t his first rodeo, as he’s previously run for an at-large council seat and a state district judgeship (resulting in at least one fine for a late campaign finance report to the Texas Ethics Commission, which apparently was waived). The mind boggles at two, four, six years of Al Hoang on the city council.

Photo, top right: "Throw your hands in the air like you just don't care ...."

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

All Hail Aloysuis: District F Residents Prepare to Welcome Their New Out-of-District Overlord

But first, a few points about the residency, or non-residency, of Councilman-elect Al Hoang:

1. Hoang did not become eligible to vote in District F until Oct. 16 of this year––less than three weeks before the Nov. 3 general election.

2. Hoang lists his address for voting registration purposes as 4403 Bugle, near Boone Road in Alief. According to appraisal district records, Hoang took ownership of the residence at 4403 Bugle on March 3 of this year and claims a homestead exemption on it. The previous owner was a Duyen K. Trinh.

3. According to voter registration records, four other people in addition to Hoang are registered to vote at 4403 Bugle, including previous owner-of-record Duyen K. Trinh. The others are Thanh Thi Hoang, Hoanganh Thi Trinh and Hoang’s wife, Hang Bich Nguyen.

4. Prior to becoming eligible to vote in District F on Oct. 16, Hoang listed his address for voting purposes as 10001 Westpark Dr, Apt 83. That address is in Council District G. That was where Hoang was registered to vote when he filed to run for the District F seat. According to appraisal district records, Hoang owns a condo at that address.

5. According to Brazoria County appraisal district records, Hoang’s wife, Hang B. Nguyen, is the owner of a house at 2702 Sunfish Drive in Pearland and claims a homestead exemption on it. The house was acquired by Hoang and his wife in August of 2002. The deed was transferred from Hoang to his wife in March 2008.

6. Article V, Section 4 of the city charter states: "To file for office as a District Council Member, a person must be a qualified voter of the City who has resided in the territory encompassed by the City Council District to be served for 12 months immediately preceding the election day."

7. The law is a joke. But you knew that.

Photo, top right: "Here it is!" Found on the Al Hoang for District F website and used without permission (none at all).

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Late Night-Early Morning Coffee-Fueled Post-Election Mash-Up

We’ll leave to others the predictable analysis and sentimentalizing about what it all means and just say that the best candidate won. As Parker herself noted, her victory was historic in overcoming the long-standing stigma that has prevented Rice graduates from ascending to the city’s highest office. Our newly elected mayor has a sense of humor––it can be wicked, we’ve heard––and we’d imagine that will come in handy.

Locke never struck us a bad person, and in fact had the most interesting personal story of the entire field, but as we tried to point out in this space on a number of occasions, in a number of ways, there wasn’t much rationale to his campaign. Combining all that union support and promise-making with backing from the likes of Ned Holmes and Bob Perry made for one ungainly effort and a very muddled message. The current demographic equilibrium in the municipal electorate necessitates artful coalition-building–– that’s a good thing!––but welding the monolithic black vote to whatever anti-gay sentiment there is to be stirred-up apparently is not the ticket. (Rumors that Hotze the Herb Doctor and Dave Wilson were spotted loading up U-Hauls late Saturday night apparently were false.)

Locke was gracious in defeat, as was Parker in victory, and as a concerned citizen we would ask that Locke perform one more public service before he returns to the rigors of $640-an-hour public-agency lawyering: MAKE SURE SOMEBODY TAKES DOWN ALL THOSE GODDAMN SIGNS YOUR CAMPAIGN TACKED UP ALL OVER THE CITY ON FRIDAY AND SATURDAY. Yeah, that was overkill. Bizarre overkill. We plied the hustings a bit on Election Day and thought we even spied one tied to a fence outside a cemetery. Very unsightly.

Elsewhere on the ballot, we were pleased to see that Stephen Costello prevailed in the at-large Position 1 council race. He struck us as thoughtful and low-key, attributes that will be in demand on a council to which Jolanda Jones will be returning. We had no horse in the controller’s race––statutorily, we believe the controller’s main job is to lay the ground work for a future mayoral campaign––so once in the voting booth (or cubicle, whatever you call it now) we shrugged and spun the dial for our outgoing councilman, M. J. Khan, ’cause we figured it would be cool to have a lesbian as mayor and a Muslim as controller. Nah, not really. We just never heard Ronald Green offer a specific, detailed explanation of his troubles with the IRS. Lord knows we’re sympathetic with anyone who has problems with the tax collector, but the liens against Green, and the total he owes to the agency, suggest that he has a long-standing problem getting his own fiscal shit together. But apparently there are enough Democrats in the city playing Democrats-versus-Republican in supposedly non-partisan municipal politics to hoist Green to higher office (that includes Chris Bell, our former congressman [recently elevated, or demoted, to state senator by the error-ridden daily newspaper], who left an urgent message on our machine on behalf of Green). Now that he’s obtained a better-paying post at the public trough, we hope Councilman Green will be able to satisfactorily resolve this dispute (you can bet we’ll never hear back form the media on this particular matter, because winning cancels all debts, at least spiritually).

Now for the distressing news: We were stunned––okay, very surprised––by the results in our own humble District F, where lawyer Aloysius Hoang beat lawyer Mike Laster. The latter, a former assistant city attorney, had a long record of civic involvement in Sharpstown and apparently has lived for a number of years in a downscale, unfashionable neighborhood in the area, in a house that’s even smaller than ours and carries an even lesser appraisal for tax purposes. In other words, Laster was committed to the district. Hoang, by contrast, appears to have taken an address in District F for voting purposes, becoming eligible to cast his ballot there just prior to the November first-round election, and his wife claims a homestead exemption on an abode in Brazoria County. Almost every cent he raised came from fellow Vietnamese-Americans, many of them from outside of the district. (There’s nothing wrong with that, per se––that's how immigrant groups traditionally have gotten a leg-up in electoral politics, but it doesn’t exactly reflect support from the wider “community” you’ll pretend to represent.) Some benighted representatives of the media and academia will, of course, hail the election of a Vietnamese immigrant as some splendiferous triumph of “diversity,” but the actual story is infinitely more complex and, if we may stoop to rank sentimentality, sadder. The turnout for Saturday’s runoffs in District F was pathetic: Hoang won by about 500 votes of the 8,860 or so total cast. Aloysius found a convenient jurisdiction in which to pursue his ambition of becoming a macher in Viet-Am circles. We hope that from here on out he can be found laying his head on a goddamn pillow every night in District F (F is for “forewarned is forearmed”).

Okay, we were stunned. More on this as developments warrant.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Blues in the Bottle, at Tater Diggin’ Time: A Dead Voice Gathered, Just Barely

Note: The following has nothing to do with politics or government ... or maybe it does.
–– Hidalgo Hidalgo, editor emeritus,
Slampo’s Place

Late, late t’other night, while piddling on the Internet (is there any controlled substance as capable of sending the user on extended, pointless, insidiously time-wasting jags?), our meanderings brought us to a site called, somewhat unimaginatively, Old Weird America, the phrase the author-critic Greil Marcus formulated to describe the ethnographic emanations from Harry Smith’s 1952 Anthology of American Folk Music, the Ur-text from which Dylan and hundreds of lesser mortals cribbed, and which was the real subject of Marcus’s book Invisible Republic (which ostensibly was about Dylan’s Basement Tapes). The site appears to be maintained by an obsessive, Middle Eastern-looking Frenchman who goes by the handle “Gadaya” and who, apparently as a selfless act of l-u-v, has devoted himself to profiling each and every musician or band who appeared on Smith’s anthology. It so happened that our eyes fell on the entry for Prince Albert Hunt’s Texas Ramblers, a Dallas-area "hot string" combo whose Wake Up Jacob appeared on the Smith anthology. Prince Albert––his full name was Archie Albert Hunt; apparently he assumed the royal title from the side of a tobacco tin––is believed to have recorded only eight songs for the storied Okeh recording company before a jealous husband drilled him in the heart with a .25 automatic as Hunt and his killer’s wife exited a joint called Confederate Hall in Dallas in 1931. Prince Albert’s best known contribution to the American songbook was Blues in the Bottle, a sprightly, careening number made known to future generations through the Lovin‘ Spoonful’s reworking on one of its mid-'60s LPs. (That version, as best we can remember, did not include the declaration by Hunt, a white man who performed in blackface at medicine shows, “This old black daddy, I can stand to see you die,” nor did it include that most sublime of extended metaphors regarding unresponsiveness: “Dig your taters/It’s tater diggin’ time, pretty mama ... [but] Ol’ Man Jack Frost/Done killed yo’ vine.”)

Any-a-ways, the Frenchman’s site linked us to and this absolutely fascinating (to us––you may be bored to tears) 29-minute film about Hunt that a guy named Ken Harrison made in 1974 for Dallas public TV station KERA, before going on to bigger and better things. Harrison undertook his project in the true nick of time, as he was able to interview a number of people who remembered––sort of––Hunt, including the fiddler’s son, P.A. Hunt (who had a startling resemblance to our late Uncle Lefty), assorted cousins (a couple of whom identify themselves as “double cousins”) and a fellow musician named Harmon Clem, who try their best to fill in the blanks on Prince Albert’s mere 31 years on earth (mostly in the greater Dallas-Fort Worth area).

The film doesn’t reveal a whole lot about Hunt. Forty three years after his death, memories were worn, sometimes contradictory: One ol’ boy (unfortunately, Harrison doesn’t identify his interviewees as they speak) recalls the younger Hunt as a “quiet” lad who liked to stick to himself; the other Stetson-wearing ol’ boy on the porch right next to him chimes in that Hunt was a “jolly” sort and a “comedian” who “always had somethin’ to say, doncha see?” Ah, yes.

But Harrison's film tells you a lot about what Texas, or at least a good part of it, was like in 1974––check out the shot-from-the-car-window footage of the rolling East Texas countryside, set to Prince Albert's Travelin' Man (was that farmer with the horse-drawn plow a set-up shot?)––which in turn suggests what Texas might have been like in 1931 and 1900, and, if you listen closely, something about why Texas is like it is today. If you’re of a certain age and station, the old-timers Harrison interviewed 35 years back seem intimately familiar. The two double cousins––both in cowboy hats, one with a plug in this cheek and the other with a butt hanging from his lip––are raw-boned tenders of a junkyard whose straightforward, unself–conscious presence before the camera hints at how much the race has diminished in the ensuing decades (although the dental care apparently is much improved). The fiddler Clem recalls how Dallas was when he first arrived there: “There was a bunch of poor people runnin’ up and down the street in 1928 up to ’33. And it was all gettin’ on relief so you couldn’t get a job for love or money. Well, we played them eating joints down in Deep Ellum, we were playing, making a little money in there.” And Hunt’s son, born in 1922, recalls how little his father was around when he was young––he doesn’t really have much good to say about his daddy––and how he and his family would often awake in a house with nothing to eat (which sounds like real hunger, as opposed to “food insecurity”).

Born in Terrell, east of Dallas, in 1900, son of a “full-blood” Irishman and “near-full-blood” Cherokee woman, Hunt apparently grew to be the rounder and rambler that Jimmie Rodgers only sang about. The subject of his assumed (or wished-for) negritude is touched on just briefly in Harrison’s film, when the wizened Clem relates, “He’d get that black on him, and there wadn’t a nigger that could imitate him at all, hardly.” The Inimitable White Man Who Sang Like a Black Man But Could Not in Turn Be Imitated by a Black Man! Ain't that America? In any case, Prince Albert seems to be the missing link between Bob Wills and Blind Lemon Jefferson, whose picture Harrison flashes briefly in his film, without explanation or identification.

Hunt’s story seems similar, save for its abrupt ending on the Dallas sidewalk, to that of Emmett Miller, a blackface singer-comedian of the same vintage whose elusive biographical particulars the writer Nick Tosches spent many years chasing until they effloresced into his brilliant Where Dead Voices Gather. Maybe Harrisons’s film, dressed up by modern editing techniques and supplemented with up-to-date research and documentation, could do for Prince Albert what Tosches did for Miller. Or maybe not. Meantime, you can download Hunt’s Blues in the Bottle, as well as other stuff from the Smith anthology and elsewhere, for free here. Hunt also cut a tune called Houston Slide, which (we think) can be had for nothing here.

Correction: In the original of this posting, whatever you call it, we erroneously referred to the maker of the film on Hunt as "Ken Hammond," which we believe to be the result of a devilish transposition of the names of a former local newspaper editor and the late producer John Hammond. Although we much prefer "Ken Hammond," the filmmaker's actual name is Ken Harrison. We regret the error.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

What Your Global Corporate Masters Were Up To While You Slept, Possibly Under the Influence of Ambien

From a story in Saturday's New York Times on "Ottomania," the widespread and growing nostalgia for the Ottoman Empire that's all the rage in Turkey, supposedly that most secularized and Western-leaning of Muslim countries, which the Times suggests has something to do with the European Union's reluctance to accept Turkey as a full-fledged member:
During Ramadan, Burger King offered a special sultan menu featuring dishes popular in the Ottoman years. In the television commercial promoting the meal, a turbaned Janissary — a member of an elite group of Ottoman soldiers — exhorts viewers not to “leave any burgers standing.”

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Mayoral Candidate Takes Bold Stand, Declares "Race" Is Off the Table

We see that Gene Locke, sporting very pimpalicious Stetson-like headgear he may have borrowed from the Bill White Collection (since both seem to have relatively large heads, and we mean this in a purely physical sense), has gone far, far out on a limb to declare that he will not be making an issue of race or sexuality in the coming days before his runoff with Annise Parker.

We were relieved to learn, and maybe you were too, that Locke has boldly deemed "race" to be a hands-off topic, because, y'know, it hasn't exactly been coming up a lot previously and because, y'know, at least a bare majority of the Houston electorate is still of the Caucasian persuasion (as am we). As for making an issue of sexuality (we believe he meant homosexuality) ... well, apparently he's leaving that to others.

By the way, we have to say that Jack Christie's rejection of the Hotze endorsement causes us to look with some renewed favor on the man. We have no idea what that move was all about, but it seems that Christie could probably use however many votes Hotze commands (we'd bet it's a lot [lot] fewer than the number of mailings he sends out) in his runoff with at-large council incumbent Jolanda Jones. (Although Jones' apparently insatiable need for attention and/or validation still gives us the skeevies, we found our self warming to her a bit after watching the municipal-access broadcast of the council meeting at which she went after the mayor's expensive BARC consultant*––particularly when she expressed mock incredulity at the fellow's charging the city for two hours of his time to speak with her, an elected rep of the people, which Jones suggested was in any event a gross miscounting of the minutes he actually "consulted" with her. )

So we may be throwing our vote Christie's way, if he can satisfy us that he, or somebody, has cleaned the algae from that pool at the in-town apartment he rented last time he ran for a council seat (scummy swimming pools being a serious liability for office-holders).

*An issue we otherwise care absolutely nothing about.