Saturday, August 28, 2010

Vigorous Exercises of Free Speech, and So Forth

How come an act of "censorship" (broadly defined) by the Humble Independent School District rates a page-one story in the Houston Chronicle, but a singular act of censorship (narrowly defined) by the Houston Chronicle rates ... no mention at all in the very same paper (at least that we can find)?

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Five Years After, Part I

After viewing Spike Lee’s two-part follow-up to his justifiably acclaimed documentary When the Levees Broke, we must conclude that Lee is a very talented filmmaker. How else to explain the fact that we were again moved, on several different levels (including, yeah, intellectually) by Lee’s handiwork, despite the cartoonish lack of subtlety in his politics –– similar to what the filmmaker would doubtless impute to Tea Partiers –– and the occasional teeth-grinding bzzzzzz of his polemics. Not that Lee makes any pretense to two-sides-to-the-story objectivity (Correction: Apparently he does!). He’s a storyteller, not a reporter. Still, the first season of David Simon’s Treme, a fictional account of post-Katrina New Orleans, demonstrated a greater journalistic scrupulousness than Lee’s non-fictional If God Is Willing and Da Creek Don’t Rise, even though Simon surely shares Lee’s somewhat unfocused and widely diffused anger ––and, hey, we must be angry, all goddamn day long ––- at what happened to New Orleans.

Houston, we should note, comes off pretty good in Lee’s latest, although the segment on the city launches off in unpromising fashion with pictures of the rodeo parade and a sign for the annual big gun show at the Brown center. The music and hue of the film both darken at that point –– to suggest, we guess, that “These peckerwoods are liable to string me and any other person of color up in the middle of the night,” but we suspect, hope, that Lee, who’s got a pretty good sense of humor, offered up these rodeo week vignettes as sly juxtaposition to what follows (if not, then he’s a big dummy).* A couple of pastors –– a black preacher who relocated from New Orleans and now leads a church in South Houston, a white guy (not Ed Young) from Second Baptist –– recall those hectic post-Katrina weeks when Houston took in who-knows-how-many hurricane refugees and, in what was surely one of this nation’s recent great moments of charity and forbearance, worked like hell to get them settled. Our alcaldesa appears in an interview on the steps of City Hall, looking like a spunky cowgirl in her Go Texan Day attire (is her name, we idly wondered, hand-tooled on the back of that belt with the gigantic buckle?) and, or so it seemed to us, slightly inflating her role in the resettlement effort (she does mention that she was called into action by the then “present mayor” or “mayor at the time,” something like that, although Bill White remains anonymous and unseen throughout the short Houston segment of Lee’s film). The mayor notes that while many New Orleanians have returned home from Houston, plenty of them, who knows how many, decided to drop anchor and have blended into the city. Lee interviews three of them in what, to us, was the most arresting part of the film’s first installment, as their comments neatly illustrated the differences between the two cities, for better or worse. One of the evacuees, a Calvin Green, or Greene, formerly of Treme, tells Lee that once he landed in Houston he decided to find him a wife, the first prerequisite being that she own a house. Next to him is home-owning now-wife, a nurse he first ran into at the Reliant Center in the days after Katrina and later re-hooked-up with, somehow. Green says his second criterion for a suitable mate was that she have good feet –– “I have a foot fetish,” he helpfully explains –– and Lee obligingly gives us a brief shot of Mrs. Green’s nicely pedicured and painted toes. I’m sorry, but Houston needs more people like Calvin Green, or Greene.

Listing more toward deeply ambivalent are Colvina “Rita” McCoy and Catherine Montana Gordon, mother and sister, respectively, of Phyllis Montana LeBlanc, who was such an engaging presence in When the Levees Broke, later landed a prominent role in Simon’s Treme (nobody, not even that “Susie” character from Curb Your Enthusiasm, does cuss-fueled spousal anger like Mrs. LeBlanc,), and opens Creek Don’t Rise stridently declaiming some Bad Poetry while wearing a Saints‘ jersey. Mses. McCoy and Gordon are living in what appears to be a very nice and comfortable brick home in Humble, and Ms. Gordon goes on at length extolling the virtues of the local school district, where, apparently for the first time, her special-needs son was able to access widely available services that apparently were not provided in New Orleans. (“Life Skills,” she says, enunciating the name of the routinely available class for special-education students. “I had never heard of Life Skills!”) Still, Ms. Gordon wishes aloud that “we could take what we have here and move it all [to NOLA],” while her moms, in a moment sure to endear her to the local chamber of commerce, avows, “I hate Humble.” This sounds churlish and ungrateful, and probably is, but we forgive:** Humble isn’t New Orleans (Humble isn’t even Houston), and Houston’s not New Orleans, and what Houston obviously lacks in NOLA’s je ne sais qoui and joie de vive*** and [insert overworked French phrase of your choice here] it makes up for in an ability to put people to work and make the trains run on time, or at least in offering Life Skills classes.

*We personally don't care about how the media "portray" Houston, but we know that many locals do, so let us note the obvious: What Spike Lee says about Houston is exponentially more influential than, say, what the Greater Houston Partnership says about Houston.
**Actually, we wouldn't want to live in Humble, either, unless somebody gave us a free house there (even then ....).
***That, at least, is the outside perception, but not, as we long-timers know, the reality. We believe it was the late philosopher manque Juke Boy Bonner (Christian name: "Weldon") who proclaimed that
Houston Is an Action Town ("We got womenfolk in the street flagging the menfolk down" ... and, as Mr. Bonner might have added, we got menfolk flagging menfolk down, etc.). As we've often noted in the past, recent and distant, you can find just about anything you want here, if you look hard enough.

We wrote it down so we wouldn’t forget: Past postings on Katrina.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Dumb Justice

Hate to be presumptuous, but we presume we’re not the only semi-regular reader of the Houston Chronicle left a tad nonplussed last Friday by the vehemence of sports hack (a redundancy, we know) Richard Justice’s full-throated, half-hysterical page-one denunciation of Roger Clemens, who, according to Justice’s weasely arms-length formulation, is destined to be “remembered as a liar and a cheat.” (Not that Justice’s calling him either.....) That, of course, is because Clemens, simply by virtue of having been indicted by a federal grand jury for denying to to some congresspeople with nothing better to do that he used steroids, is stone guilty of what his accuser, ex-cop Brian McNamee, says Clemens did. Justice rushed to judgment with no hesitation: "Even an acquittal won't get his good name back. There’s too much doubt.” Clemens' mortal sin, according to Justice, is not having himself hit in the tush with a proscribed substance but rather his lack of "contrition," his unwillingness to bow down to sports-world ayatollahs like Lil' Richard and acknowledge regret for doing something he's denied doing, repeatedly and adamantly.

We find it interesting that at the Chronicle the presumption of innocence until proven guilty extends only to Death Row inmates, long after they’ve been convicted by a jury (except for this unrepentant scuzzbucket, whose crime was so heinous and guilt so clear that he didn't rate the usual boo-hoo treatment the paper accords capital murderers), but a rich white guy like Clemens is automatically guilty by indictment. (Perhaps Justice has some empirical evidence of Clemens' guilt: Perhaps McNamee called him over and showed him the bloody gauze he purported to have saved after allegedly bangin' Clemens in the butt with steroids and HGH; perhaps Justice even witnessed the bangin' himself!) Adding to the pile-on nature of the Chronicle's coverage was this Sunday editorial wherein the writer gamely allowed that "maybe [Clemens] didn't" take steroids before quickly adding: "But plenty of people who know more about it than we do think he did." And who might this "plenty" be? Why none other than the all-knowing Richard Justice, whose "liar and a cheat" pronouncement is quoted in the editorial as if it had been inscribed on a stone and trundled down from The Mount. Apparently no other in-the-know types were handy for citation.

We are not, as we’ve noted several times in the past, a big fan or much of an admirer of Clemens (he’s no Stan the Man, is he, but who today is?), but we have no idea, no evidence at all, whether he took illegal performance-enhancing drugs or didn't (and, as we've also noted, we find the phony hand-ringing over steroid use to be not only silly but hypocritical in this, our drug-besotted society –– and we’re not talking about just the illegal ones). However, we are now rooting for his acquittal and awaiting the page-one column by Richard Justice that will follow, surely as night follows day, celebrating Roger Clemens' grit and determination and refusal to give in to his persecutors.

Here's some past postings on Clemens, et. al. They're all good: What We All Knew, and When Did We Know It?, They'll Hunt Me Down and Hang Me For My Crimes, When I Tell About My Dirty Life and Times, Precious Keepsakes of Our Fleeting Time Together, No Time for Vegans.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Be TRU to Your School, Like You Would to Your Girl (If You, Like, Had a Girl)

NOTE: Despite an almost unanimous lack of public interest in his return to the “blogosphere,” if that’s what it’s still called, Sr. Slampo has reluctantly agreed to take a temporary “hiatus” from his extended hiatus to clamber up on his wheelchair-accessible soapbox and bloviate on an issue that has pitted brother against sister and is rending the very fabric of the city: the proposed purchase of Rice University’s KTRU radio (or its frequency and transmitter, whatever) by the University of Houston. In addition to his overweening need to dictate public policy to his fellow citizens, Slampo says he hopes this exercise in what he quaintly calls “typewriting” will help expunge the chorus of the Bar-Kays’ 1967 smash hit Soulfinger from his head, where it has been in more or less continuous rotation since a chance hearing on 6-23-10. He promises an imminent return to radio silence. -- Hidalgo Hidalgo, editor emeritus and under-assistant West Coast promotion man, Slampo’s Place

We see that the University of Houston’s regents, without bothering to consult us, have voted to proceed with UH’s planned purchase of Rice University’s KTRU, thus angering tens if not dozens of 30ish and 40ish Houstonians who fondly remember Marilyn Mock’s (was that her name?) “S&M Show” on the student-run station’s heyday back in the ‘80s (or whenever). We’re busy and we know you are, too, so we’ll get right to it: This ill-advised bit of empire-building and mission creep by UH is bad. It’s bad for the city, it’s bad for both schools, and, most importantly, it’s bad for us –– that is, me, myself and moi.

Oh, we’re not exactly a regular listener –– we don’t much “listen” to anything on a regular basis, ’cept for the sound of the gently falling rain –– but 91.7 is locked into rotation on our car radio’s digital scan, after KUHF (we do listen to the NPR news shows, and the classical music for its generally calming effect, but never the tiresome Car Talk or that noisome Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me [unless Paula Poundstone gonna be on!], KPFT (where we rarely stop anymore, the wall-to-wall self-righteousness usually giving us a reflexive ear-gag), KTSU ( for the music, especially Myron), and before the couple of stations our 16 year old routinely tortures us with. We couldn’t name a show or a DJ –– OK, it appears that we once immortalized The Soul and Funk Hour in this space –– but we know we can always find something reliably interesting on KTRU, even if it’s that show in the morning (do they still have it?) where somebody reads the Chronicle for the blind (or lazy). We alight on KTRU in the hope that we will hear some obscure blues, jazz or country music or even some screamin’ punk medley to get our blood pressure up in the pre-hypertension zone, and only occasionally are we disappointed. (Yes, we know this is not to everybody’s taste, but that’s because not everybody has taste, ya dig?). So, as Ken Hoffman would put it, here’s five reasons this sale is a bad idea (although we may run out of reasons well in advance of No. 5):

1. We didn’t look this up in Wikipedia, yet, but isn’t the purpose of a college radio station (like that of a college newspaper, or college mahjong club), to teach, to give youngsters hands-on training, “real-world” type experience in running the boards or punching the right buttons or whatever labor is required at a radio station these days? Yes, we believe it is. At Rice, of course, the student deejays get the added benefit of being able to show off their deep and hard-won knowledge of, say, pre-1965 Jamaican proto-ska while routinely mangling the pronunciations of various song titles and artistes (but that’s cool, ’cause, as the Rice motto holds –– or perhaps it’s that of DeVry Business School –– Vita est pro eruditio, meaning, roughly, “It’s Good to Fuck Up Now Because Not Only Is It Humbling But That’s How You Learn.”) We do not detect much of the hand of the student, the amateur, in the production of UH's KUHF.

2. We don’t see this as doing much for Rice-UH relations (the state of which we have absolutely no knowledge of).* Perhaps the mayor, a Rice alum, will be weighing in shortly (but we hope not).

3. Why in the name of Allah and/or Sweet Jesus does UH need two frickin’ radio stations? Will that somehow elevate the school to that coveted Tier 1 status? Perhaps UH’s assembling of a veritable chain of stations –– a broadcast empire! –– will do it. Does HBU have a station, and is it for sale?

4. According to the Chronicle
KUHF CEO John Proffitt said the present station, at 88.7 FM, will switch to an all-news format and the new station, to be named KUHC (91.7), will offer classical music and arts coverage. Both stations will be affiliated with National Public Radio.
Based on the dreary local “news and talk” products pushed by KUHF and sister TV outlet Channel 8, we assume this means the addition of another snooze-inducing, irrelevant outlet to today’s challenging media local landscape, and .... more Car Talk! (sheesh).

5. We’re all out of reasons, but the previous four amount to an unassailable case that should force both institutions to see the error of their way and JUST LEAVE THINGS THE HELL ALONE (which, even here in Houston, is often times the best policy).

*With apologies to Brian Wilson and whoever else of the Beach Boys is still alive.
**Although by inclination we are more of UH person, we have no horse in this race at all. In the interest of disclosure: We were once asked to leave the grounds of Rice by a campus cop or security guard while visiting there back in ’76 or ’77, which left us sore, but later we took a couple of continuing education courses there (one of which, taught by an instructor from St. Thomas, either the high school or college, was pretty good). We did teach as an adjunct prof for a couple of years in the late’90s at UH, our last semester there being highlighted by our single-handed apprehension of four –– count ’em ––plagiarists out of the 15 or so students total. The thefts were so blatant and pathetic that we almost felt like teaching the guilty a lesson in how to be a successful sneak, instead of giving them gentlemen’s ‘C’ that the ol’ boy who ran the department suggested. Whenever Rice is pitted against UH in an athletic contest, our neutral policy dictates that we cheer for whoever’s ahead.

Monday, April 26, 2010

On Hiatus

Due to the demands of "real life," whatever that may mean, we must temporarily suspend operations here at Slampo's Place. We hope to return soon to continue our self-appointed mission of smiting the wicked, exalting the righteous and improving the mediocre.

Meantime, as always, the window of the Official Clearinghouse for Al Hoang News & Infotainment remains open at the email address to your immediate right.

Thanks for your patronage.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Man in a Hurry

In what simply may have been a case of the natural phenomenon scientists call "a blind squirrel rolling up on a nut," the Chronicle's Teen Columnist recently had a pretty all reet examination of the situational complexities at Lee High School in southwest Houston, which has lost two well-respected principals –– one to firing, the other to getting-out-while-the-getting's-good –– under the new Houston schools superintendent. The columnist noted that the new super –– who initially impressed us as a smile-and-shoeshine sort of fellow (although judging from what we've seen of him on TV that probably should be amended to snarl-and-a-shoeshine) –– had never set foot on the Lee campus, despite overseeing the rending of the school's somewhat delicate fabric. (Lee, as you may have seen and read, has been in the news a bit this school year.) In a follow-up posting last week on her blog, Ms. Falkenberg reported that in the wake of her column* the super was preparing to head down the freeway and actually plant his feet on the campus, and, in response to her email asking him why he was doing so, he had emailed her back that:
Frankly, I have not been able to visit our schools as often as I would like.
Tomorrow, I am visiting Lee and Cashmere (SIC)--two of the schools that the state has labeled as 'failing.' Next week, I plan to visit Jones and several of our other 'failing' or low performing schools.
Obviously the super meant "Kashmere," another HISD school that has been in the news a lot this year. Other than the insertion of the parenthetical "(SIC)" –– that's Latin for "you big dummy" –– Ms. Falkenberg correctly passed on making any ado of the miscue, although some of her online commentators couldn't resist the opportunity.

Our first, admittedly knee-jerk, reaction was: Gee, that's terrible –– the superintendent of schools misspelling the name of an old Houston school that's been all over the newspaper lately and was even the subject of a lengthy investigative report the district ordered up. It certainly did not reflect a reassuring grasp of detail. Upon more sober reflection, though, we realized that the city's top public educator shouldn't be expected to spell the name of one of his schools correctly, especially in an email to a journalist, because, as lots of kids today know, spelling is just so passé.

And anyhow, he spelled L-E-E correctly.

*Unfortunately, Ms. Falkenberg thought it necessary to puff out her chest and aver that she had "called out" the superintendent, thus precluding her immediate promotion to "Young Adult" columnist.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Bill White’s Big Dropout Problem

It has come to our attention, and perhaps to yours, too, that Bill White is under the misimpression that Texas’s “dropout problem,” as he undoubtedly has phrased it somewhere along the line, is the hobby horse he’ll be able to flay straight into the under-repair Governor’s Mansion. It also appears that White is blaming Rick Perry for the problem, or at the very least suggesting that Perry hasn’t done anywhere near enough to keep those hard-working, knowledge-starved kids in school. (We must shrug and stipulate into the record here that, as best we can recall, we have never voted for Perry for any office, and we’re unlikely to do so this year, although, as with all things in heaven and on earth, we’re open to the possibility, in the unlikely event that Perry says or does something that impresses us.) The issue flared last week when, according to this story in the local newspaper, White and Perry argued over the extent of the, um, problem, with White proclaiming that “nearly 1 million Texas students have failed to graduate or get a GED on time” during the nine years Perry has been governor and Perry riposting that “the [number] that Mr. White uses is taking the number of kids starting their freshmen year and then the ones that graduate in four years the following May or June. If a child dies, they count that as a dropout. I think that's a little harsh.”

Now this particular debate over numbers strikes as being almost as meaningless as the semantic one over whether Houston is a “sanctuary” city ('tis what it is, y’know), although we have to give Perry comedy points for his baldly risible assertion that child mortality is is a factor in whatever the actual dropout numbers are. On the larger issue that White has been raising, however, we must rise again, all by our lonesome it seems, to point out what no other member of the Mainstream News and Infotainment Media has the wit, or the stick, to point out, and that is this: Bill White doesn’t have any more of a clue than Rick Perry about how to fix the “dropout problem” (we’re using quotes here because we are not fully convinced that the self-selecting clearing-out of the schools by teenagers who don’t want to be there is an entirely bad thing, but that’s pretty much beside the point we’re driving at, so let us keep our eyes on the road and our hands upon the wheel).

So far White has a little better than nothing, zilch, but clownish and ill-advised catchphrases and gusts of hot air, such as, “The governor is more interested in his own future than the future of Texans.” Yeah, that’s probably 'cause Rick Perry hates kids and wants them to be failures. You can see it in his eyes. And we all remember his wildly successful “Drop Out of School Right Now, Ninos” campaign. The Chronicle story kinda-sorta pointed out White’s nearly empty basket:
White, the son of public school educators, conceded there is no single or easy answer to the problem.

“You need to start early with early childhood education,” he said. “You need to offset summer learning loss (programs) for those elementary school kids who do not have access to books and computers at home during the summer. You need to have more flexible programs that accommodate and support those students in their attempt to graduate who must work when they are in high school.”
Oh, it’s not like anybody ever thought of that before, or tried it. Scouring White’s campaign Web site last week, we saw the first item under the heading “reducing the dropout rate” was this classic example of Bill White’s full-court noblesse:
When a student drops out of school, it must be treated as an emergency, not just another statistic. In Houston we launched Expectation Graduation to cut the dropout rate. For example, each fall, my wife Andrea and I led thousands of volunteers to go to the homes of high school students who have not returned to school. Approximately 8,800 students have returned to school as a result, and this initiative has been replicated in communities across Texas.
Yes, that’ll do it: A statewide version of the PR stunt that HISD and now other school districts pull every summer whereby teachers, administrators and concerned-citizen types go to the houses of dropouts to try and talk them back into school. (We are skeptical in the extreme of this 8,000 number and would suggest that some bored journalist –– a journalist, not a publicist –– track, say, 20 of these kids who answer the door when Bill White and Co. come a’knockin’ this summer to see how many of them actually make it back to school, and how many eventually graduate. Ah, but that would be real work and take lots of time and in any case would probably be a downer, so never mind.) There’s was one decent and very modest idea that White appears to have made, which we can't do justice to at this moment because the "issues" link on his site isn't loading, but it had something to do forging closer links between schools and businesses that employ students in after-school jobs.

If White were serious about the dropout problem and not just trying to warp reality by blaming Perry, he'd buck up and demonstrate some of the intestinal fortitude his successor as mayor seems to possess by doing the following:

1. Call for the immediate end of "bilingual" classes in Texas public schools in favor of strict and unrelenting English immersion for all students. This is one of our frequent hobby horses, so we’ll just direct your attention to this Heather McDonald article exploring how, as the author put is, the “curtailment of California’s bilingual-education industry” and its “counterintuitive linguistic claims” have led to slightly higher test scores for Hispanic students in that state. The “dropout problem" is not, of course, exclusively a Hispanic problem, but in large urban school districts it is a disproportionately Hispanic one, and anyone who thinks the early-grades barrio-izing of non-English-speaking Spanish speakers doesn’t contribute, directly, to the “dropout problem” down the road is a fool. White won't do this, of course, because he's already demonstrated a pronounced disinclination to break with Democratic Party orthodoxy, and the fear of course is that such a stand would alienate Hispanic voters, although we'd expect the blowback would be a lot less than you'd imagine among Mexican-Americans who actually vote (and speak English). But White needs to do this, not just because it's the right thing (always reason enough), but because he requires his own "Sister Souljah" moment ––and this, unlike Clinton's, would be a moment on something that actually matters–– if he wants to avoid having “Lost to Rick '39 Percent' Perry in First Bid for Statewide Office” as his next resume entry. This is a no-brainer when it comes to sound public policy. Maybe that's why we can't recall Rick Perry ever having anything to say on the subject, either.

2. Call for an immediate end to the requirement that students must complete four years of math, four years of science, four years of English, etc., to graduate high school. This, too, would skirt the boundaries of bipartisan heresy –– that no man's land where Bill White has rarely ventured –– because it would implicitly acknowledge the cold fact, verifiable by 4,000 years of human experience, that not all kids are cut out to master Algebra II. What you could do instead is retain the 4-year requirements for a college-bound track of study but offer an alternative for kids who’d rather learn some vocational skills and who probably aren't going to get a whole out of reading, say, Love in the Time of Cholera. Beginning with or just after 9th grade, the bewitching hour for most dropouts, the non-college track would consist of three hours in the morning of intense instruction and/or remediation in math and language arts, with three more hours after lunch devoted to the teaching of skills (plural) that will come in handy in the workplace. The choice of tracks would up to the student and his parents. This, too is no-brainer, but come to think of it we can't recall Rick Perry saying much on the subject (maybe he has and we missed it).

3. Start addressing the nettlesome and unpleasant cultural factors that are the main contributor to the “dropout problem.” Take to the bully pulpit and emphasize that it’s not a good idea for 12-year-old “shorties” to be having more shorties. Suggest to parents that it’s an equally bad idea to pull their kids out of school for a month in the middle of the semester to go back to Mexico. Explain why it’s not a sound parenting practice for mamas to drop their kindergartners off at school in the morning with the godawful rap music with its “motherfucker this” and “motherfucker that” blaring out of the windows. In other words, start putting the onus where it belongs: on the parents. Because no halfway sensible person is going to look at the "dropout problem" and think Rick Perry's the daddy.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

More Chicks Than You Could Stuff Inside a Pullman Car (If They Still Made Pullmans)

Yep, we know: when you're trying to beat the rap in Texas it probably helps to be a semi-renown musical legend, and it certainly can't hurt to be able to afford Dick DeGuerin as your Bar-accredited courtroom mouthpiece. We'd imagine that being white is still an advantage, too, although maybe not as much as that accident of birth once was. Still, we must confess to having swelled just a bit with a Bullock-ian sense of Texas pride when we read of this exchange Friday during a courtroom proceeding up in McLennan County, which resulted in a jury's acquittal of old five-and-dimer (and illegally pistol-packing barroom patron) Billy Joe Shaver of aggravated assault for shooting and wounding an obnoxious, liquored-up gentleman outside a bar two years ago*:
[Lady prosecutor] suggested that [Shaver] could have just left the bar if he had felt so intimidated.

That would have been "chicken shit," Shaver replied.

[Lady prosecutor] asked whether Shaver was jealous that [the victim] at the time was talking to Shaver's wife, Wanda.

"I get more women than a passenger train can haul. I'm not jealous," Shaver said.
For readers unfamiliar with Mr. Shaver and his oeuvre, we must point out that he is not a 23-year-old hip-hop artiste of the Southern school but rather a 70-year-old Caucasian who could pass for 80 and many years ago lost parts of a couple of fingers while working in a lumber mill. We needn't add that they don't make 'em like Billy Joe Shaver anymore, although we're not entirely certain how we feel about that.

*Brought to our attention by the omnivorous and erudite Banjo Jones.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

For Real (So Far)

After catching the public speakers’ portion of the 3-30-10 Houston City Council meet-up on the access channel,* we were moved to wonder why the mayor’s unilateral move to increase the insurance payments of under-65 municipal retirees hasn’t occasioned more comment and commentary, especially from Our Town’s legions of conservative bloggers and the other vociferous gum-beaters of the blogosphere,** for whom public employees and public-employee unions are generally bête noire, generally speaking. (We, of course, expected absolutely nothing from the likes of the Sexiest Blogger in Houston,*** or Most Influential-est and Boring-est Block-Quoter in the Western Hemisphere, whatever, and we have not been disappointed, although this wily old vato, who was briefly in the employ of the mayor's runoff opponent last year, did weigh-in from the port side with an appreciative acknowledgement of the mayor's bulls-by-the-horn approach. We know it's early, but we expect to see at least one and possibly more pro-Parker op-ed pieces by erstwhile mayoral would-be Bill King (checking his Web site, we see ... nada, but as we said it's still early).

We are not saying here that he mayor was absolutely 100-percent right in this move (and how could such an unpalatable action be "right"?), 'cause we don't have enough information to issue such a snap judgment, especially on the, um, complex political ramifications, not to mention the financial ones. We must admit that we did blanch a bit, in sympathy, as several under-65 and able-bodied (or at least able-bodied enough to get to the microphone in council chambers) ex-city workers bewailed the extremely large increases they'll be forced to bear in their monthly payments –– one guy said his were in the neighborhood of $700+ –– but then the il’ dude inside us who hut-huts along like either John Calvin or Edmund Burke (he dresses like a city employee –– a cop!) came a'strolling, twirling his nightstick and wondering, "Who but a public employee could afford to retire well before 65 in this day and age?"**** and "How many dependents are you carrying there on your policy?" Council members Clarence Bradford and Wanda Adams, especially the former, raised concerns about the mayor's action, which, if we can interpret their meanings within the broad confines of necessary council collegiality, seemed to imply that the mayor had been high-handed and not sharing information with them. The mayor, we noticed, did not flinch.

So we have some predictions here: No. 1.) Expect the public bonhomie and good feeling and general unanimity of the White Era City Council to be a thing of the past, a development that will be the direct result of No. 2.), and that is: This mayor apparently came into office prepared to actually do stuff.

*In case you were wondering, we heard District F Councilman Al Hoang say nothing stupid or needlessly insulting during the part of the meeting we saw –– in fact we could not tell whether Hoang was actually present and accounted for.

**We would also paint local conservative talk radio with this possibly unwarranted broad brush, except that we rarely listen to any of it.

***Who was see is actually encouraging people –– or a person, to be exact –– to move away from Houston, but presumably only after he's returned his Census form.

***The aggrieved retirees we saw all looked to be of our vintage, mid-range Baby Boomers. One, who seemed to be a friend of the mayor, spent an unusually large portion of his allotted minutes congratulating her and the council for various unspecified fiscal accomplishments.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Aloysius Chronicles, Continued: The Hoang Way Leaves 'Em Scratching Their Heads at Alief Super Neighborhood Council Meeting

A correspondent, who wishes to be known only as “a correspondent,” sent along the following eyewitness account of the Tuesday, March 23 meeting of the Alief Super Neighborhood Council, which included an apparently impromptu appearance by Pearland and District F’s own representative on the Houston City Council, Aloysius “One-Term Al” Hoang. Not having been anywhere in the vicinity of the meeting site, we cannot vouch for the particulars of our correspondent’s account; however, this especially detailed and well-written report comports with another we’ve been privy to regarding the councilman’s demeanor in a public setting. We present the report in full, without elaboration (because it speaks for itself):
The councilman arrived, unannounced (not that he needed one, but this is the first meeting he ever attended) after the meeting started and sat in the back of the room. Two of the officers gave a report of the District F CIP meeting along with their observations of the District G meeting (they attended that earlier meeting in order observe the process). The report by the chair and vice-chair included data about how F compared to G in the number of projects that are currently on the CIP (39 for G and 6 for F) and the number of new CIP requests (including District G’s request to purchase a 100-acre tract of land near Beltway 8 and Westheimer for a city park and their thanks to the city for completing the $8 million Kindle library). The Alief SN board wanted to illustrate with facts what is generally known anyway –– F has been under served. M.J. Khan, the former District F council member, often said that F was the “Forgotten District,” and that phase was used in the comparison by the officers. Their entire report was about what happened in the past, with no mention of the current and new councilman ... period.

Toward the end of the meeting, the council member’s aide asked if the CM could address the group for a few minutes. He was recognized and took the floor with his young daughter clinging to his leg. The councilman got up and began, in a loud voice, what could only be described as a scolding of the members of the Alief SN council in general, and the chair in particular, over the CIP requests. “District F is not the forgotten district, he shouted, “it’s the future district.” Now, we don’t want to sound like a bunch of bigots, but the English of Mr. I-have-many-addresses is not the easiest thing to understand. As he continued his harangue, people were looking at each other trying to guess what the hell he was actually talking about and why he was speaking in such a belligerent tone, especially when he kept referring to the chair (or at least we think that’s who he was referencing) as “her” or “she,” probably because he had never taken the time or effort to learn anyone’s name.

"You want something you have to write it down," they were told several times. (The three Alief CIP requests had been input online as instructed by the CM’s office before his CIP meeting and were presented on camera at the District F CIP meeting). "You ask for things, it takes time, it takes a long time." Somewhere in his bullying Al mentioned that if he couldn’t get something done, he would pay for it, and that he needed help because his family took up a lot of his time. We're not sure what he was going to pay for since by then not only were the Alief residents in disarray, a lady, who had been one of the speakers earlier in the meeting, had taken Al's child out into the hallway because she felt the little girl was reacting to her father's raised voice, and the CM's aide was crying openly.

After the meeting, attendees were talking in the hallway and parking lot about being stunned by his bizarre behavior. In fact, one of the guest speakers for the night suggested reporting his conduct to the Mayor. We here in Alief have rarely experienced such a strange performance by an elected official. What on earth was he trying to gain by scolding his constituents?
Whew! Our correspondent also sent along an a copy of an official missive from the councilman’s office regarding an upcoming District F Clean-Up, which, as our correspondent noted, included a rather odd, not to mention grammatically tortuous, salutation as well as a glaring typo that seems to calls the hygiene of District F residents into question. We'll turn it back over to our correspondent in the field:
Besides the grammar thing about the singular "resident" and plural "supporters", what in the world is the word "supporters" doing on an official email from a councilman to his constituents? Maybe Pearland Al doesn’t know how to transition from campaign mode to actual governing. We know that things are done differently in Alief, but this must be a one-of-a-kind clean-up because the second sentence reads "This annual clean us.” Ok, then. Do we bring bath towels or rakes?
Meanwhile, another member of the growing Al Hoang Fan Club recently informed us that the councilman and his wife had acquired yet another property, this one at 6865 Turtlewood Dr. in a gated community off Bellaire near Wilcrest, giving Hoang a grand total of two domiciles in District F. Neither the newly acquired property nor the one at 4403 Bugle that Hoang is listed as having purchased in March 2009 carries a homestead exemption for the current tax year, according to Harris County Appraisal District records, but Brazoria County Appraisal District records show the tax exemption is still being retained on the Hoang house at 2702 Sunfish in Pearland, which Hoang's wife is listed as owning by herself. This is the same house that Hoang was listed as co-owning with his wife, and upon which he was claiming a homestead exemption, when he made unsuccessful runs for an at-large Houston council seat in 2003 and a Harris County judgeship in 2008 (he transferred full ownership to his wife after that defeat).

Despite the acquisition of the new digs, we notice that Hoang, his Brazoria County homestead-exemption-claiming wife and three other adults are still listed for voter registration purposes as residing at 4403 Bugle. We presume the councilman, between alienating new constituents and fulfilling family obligations, has just been too busy to take care of such mundane details as keeping his stories straight.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Three Dollars and Twenty-Four Cents Per Month of Stupid

We returned home late Thursday afternoon to discover that CenterPoint Energy, the self-described "electric delivery company" that endeared itself to so many Houstonians in the wake of Hurricane Ike, had finally installed one of those "smart meters" on our electric box. We were vaguely aware that the smart meter was out there and possibly headed our way, but we had not paid much attention to the particulars––that is, the fine print––of their impending placement, other than the odiferous fact that we had already been paying for the thing through an "advanced meter surcharge" tucked into the line items on our monthly bill.

It just so happened that much earlier that day we had read a story in the Houston Chronicle by Purva Patel reporting that information on customers' power usage available from a Web site CenterPoint unveiled with much fanfare was, as the faintly clever headline phrased it, "not so current." According to Patel, CenterPoint initially claimed that "the site would give consumers with smart meters information about their power usage in 15-minute intervals so they could make better choices about how much power they use." Turns out, though the "15-minute incremental information can take as long as 48 hours to hit the Web site," although a CenterPoint mouthpiece promised that "eventually" electricity users (and abusers, presumably) will be able to access "real-time electric consumption information directly from their smart meters using in-home monitors."

So right now, for instance, say it's Tuesday afternoon in mid-summer and you've got the thermostat set to 65 and the A/C cranked, all the lamps and overhead lights are on 'cause you're finishing Madame Bovary while watching that 70-inch flat-screen plasma TV and straightening your curly locks with a CHI Flat Iron, and the kids are upstairs "sexting" or whatever it is they do from their PCs ... but you'll have to wait until Thursday to find out from the CenterPoint Web site that YOU'RE A MORON WHO'S USING TOO DAMN MUCH ELECTRICITY.

We've had our own "smart meter" for years, and it's the voice in our head that sounds very much like our old man, who used to get extremely agitated if we'd stand too long in front of what he quaintly called the "icebox" with the door open while we contemplated the bountiful late-20th century selection of foodstuffs therein, which would invariably result in a brief lecture on how much electricity we were wasting due to the fact that we were an irremediable dumbass (or so we inferred). This happened approximately a million times, not including the many similar lectures that attended our waiting too long to get in the shower or our accidentally forgetting to turn off a sole light in our room, etc. We used to write this off to the fact that he grew up in a series of "labor camps" next to the lignite mines of East Texas, where electrical service was intermittent, when available, and indoor plumbing non-existent, but after having children we found our self channeling the old boy's very voice when we'd pleadingly ask our kids why, upon leaving the house, they had to leave on EVERY FRICKIN' LIGHT or why they had to let the shower "warm up" for a full 5 minutes before climbing in, etc.

It was in that spirit that we perused the door hanger that CenterPoint left touting the swell new "energy future" the smart meter is ushering in. Among the supposed benefits are "remote meter reading ... virtually eliminating the need to come to your house to read the meter" [as well as the jobs of the guys who used to do that, it apparently goes without saying], "energy efficiency and savings" by allowing consumers to "see your electric usage history* to better manage your energy costs by making small changes such as adjusting your thermostat" [can't they just do that by remote-control from headquarters?], "environmental benefits" resulting from more efficient consumer management of electric usage, and, of course, the always looming "new products and services" peddled by customers' retail electric providers, that is, the companies that actually bill you for the juice (REPs––got it?). Now we're definitely all for saving our nickels and dimes and helping to throttle back on electricity production, at least that generated by burning coal, but the only alleged benefit that really impressed us was the promised "automatic outage notification" of CenterPoint when our electricity is on the blink, and that's because anyone who's tried to call and report an outage knows what an infuriating, nerve-mangling time suck that can turn out to be.

We had to open up the foldable door-hanger to get to what we were looking for, the very last section, which CenterPoint had thoughtfully headlined "What will this cost me?" (¿Cuanto me costará este servicio?) Answer: $3.24 per month for two years starting in February 2009 (a full year before we got our digital doo-hickey) and $3.05 per month for an unspecified "thereafter." The curious and the pissed-off were instructed to call their REPs to learn more. We called ours, which does business under the handle of TXU, and a nice lady told us that this smart-meter charge, which of course is a pass-along from CenterPoint, would be costing the specified amount(s) for 10 years, meaning we'll be able to draw on our Social Security to pay off our smart meter. We later calculated the cost to be in the vicinity of $375 or so, for something we'll probably never use but apparently had no choice but to accept. We told the TXU lady that we didn't really need a smart meter and in fact were already missing our old dumb meter, whose spinning gauges it took us several years to learn to read in the correct order. She replied with some canned ham regarding the savings the smart meter will help us realize, which we politely interrupted to ask, "So have y'all been getting a lot of angry calls about this?" The nice lady hesitated––wary, perhaps, that we might be, say, Purva Patel––then replied with an emphatic "Yes." Seeking further confirmation, we asked again, "So lots of people are mad about this? "Uh ... yes," she replied, again without elaboration but with the clear implication that she was damn well tired of hearing from 'em. Well, said we politely, put us down as another PO'ed smart-meter owner-leasee.

And this was before we learned of today's announcement that CenterPoint Houston has reached agreement with the DOE to receive $200 million in stimulus money for its "advanced metering system and intelligent grid projects." So, we're thinking now, can we get the $3.24 back, or at least the amount we paid before our meter got so smart?

*"HPH007," a commentator on the above-mentioned Chronicle story, handily dismissed that supposed benefit: "What am I going to learn? I already know that I use more electrical energy during the summer when I run my air conditioner and that I use more electricity at night when I have lights on. I use less during the winter when I do not run my ac and I use less in the middle of the night when I am asleep and all the lights are off. I do not need a smart meter to tell me that. I have been managing my energy consumption quit nicely on my own for almost 40 years, thank you."

Monday, March 15, 2010

Mark Lanier for (Sophomore) Class President!

It was unfortunate, perhaps, that on the very day that the much-circulated story of the runaway Prius was being called into question, Texas Tombstone pile-driver plaintiffs' lawyer Mark Lanier was quoted in the Wall Street Journal drawing an especially apt analogy for his and perhaps countless other litigators' jockeying to be chosen as lead attorneys in the expected consolidated mass tort against Toyota. (The Wall Street Journal has some funny idea that you should pay for its content, so we can't link to Monday's story, or even cut-and-paste the relevant verbiage, and in fact will have to type-in what follows by hand.):
All the positioning has the air of a high-school election, according to several attorneys involved.

"If it's not a high-school election then it's at least like being voted most popular," said Mark Lanier, a Houston attorney whose firm has filed numerous suits against Toyota.

Mr. Lanier, who led litigation against Vioxx maker Merck & Co. ... isn't shy about his desire to play a lead role in the Toyota suits. "Pick me, pick me," he said. "Vote for me for class president."
As previously noted, Mr. Lanier already has cornered the crucial Vietnamese vote.

Friday, March 12, 2010

They’re Getting Downright PISSy at the Houston Chronicle

We’ve noticed a lot of piss in our daily newspaper lately. Not the literal kind––what self-respecting pooch would even bother to lift a leg over The Good Life?––but the figure-of-speech kind. By that we mean variations on the verb form of “piss” that mean mad or angry, as in pissed and pissed-off. Here’s one from the March 7 column by Austin bureau columnizer/reporter Peggy Fikac:
[Former Texas Medical Association lobbyist Kim] Ross acknowledged his ouster didn't much register with the public: “At the end of the day, the general public neither knows nor cares about someone in the lobby who's put to sleep by a pissed-off governor. My parents were upset.”*
Whoa daddy! And here’s another one from an entry in a March 3 story plumping staff members’ picks for "best movie" Oscar, by our old pal Andy Olin:
It portrays Jews not as self-deprecating and neurotic, a la Woody Allen, but as empowered, fearless and pissed off.
Wait, lookee here--a Chronicle deployment of piss in the literal scene, from a super-lame column on 2-16-10 by Norman Chad For the Chronicle (may not be his real name) on the Westminster Dog Show (or something---we can’t read the whole thing):
My Uncle Scruffy loves to tell the story about the time his dog-obedience class took a field trip to Washington, D.C., and he pissed on the White House lawn.
That’s a whole lot of pissin’ going on, Jerry Lee, and that’s just dating back less than a month. We stuck the word pissed into the Chronicle search engine and it returned 137 hits, but in a few of the more recent stories on the list we could find no piss, or even pissed-off-edness, so maybe the pissing (and moaning, too) was in the readers’ comments affixed to the online versions; prior to this year most of the pissing appeared to be confined to the billion-and-one Pulitzer-quality Chronicle blogs (not the tasteful, adult ones we read, though).

[According to our 1981 abridged edition of Slang and Euphemism by Northwestern University linguistics professor Richard A. Spears, which includes a full page and a half of piss-related entries, including the fantabulous piss-Willy (“an insignificant person”), piss itself is from Vulgar Latin and is onomatopoetic––makes sense––and “in some parts of the English-speaking world can be used in polite conversation without giving offense.” Well all right! as Mick Jagger used to say.]

We must admit that when we first noticed the phenomenon––or perhaps trend is the better word––were somewhat taken aback, although not shocked (in either the literal or over-used ironic sense of the word). Back in the day when we toiled at 801 Texas Avenue we’re pretty sure no piss would find its way into the Chronicle, because the Baylor alums who ran the editorial side were squeamish about the (public) use of even such mildly scatological terms, and, mostly, because they didn’t relish having to deal with complaints from pissed-off deacons among the readership who would’ve phoned into complain that Jesse Jones never, ever printed piss in the Chronicle. We remember some years ago––this was after we vacated the premises––the word “shit” somehow slipped into a story in the features section, resulting in all manner of h-e-double hockey-sticks to pay. Now we fear the day may be coming when “shit” will appear in the Chronicle on a piss-level frequency, perhaps even a f--k or two. We feel deeply ambivalent about this, like when the pre-Safeway Randall’s started selling booze.

[Our own policy on bad words is ... we don’t have one. We just go with the flow, do what we’re feelin’. And sometimes we feel like bustin’ loose with a piss or shit or even a f--k, although mostly we use dashes with the latter because we’re old and it even offends us. We use these terms not to épater le bourgeois but because we have a severely stunted imagination. (Also because, as we once heard someone say––it was the very Yoga Lady of whom we’ve written––”I’m from Louisiana so I cuss a lot.”)]

Just like the executive editor of the Chronicle, we don’t read the paper that closely, so as a control for our experiment we entered the term “shit” into the paper’s search engine and got 11 returns, all appearing to be found in comments affixed to blogs. Alas, the word “fuck” brought forth no returns from the newspaper itself, but it did yield “sponsored links” for “Want to Fuck” (no question mark––where's the copyeditor?) and “Free Fuck Videos.”

It’s a good thing Jesse Jones is dead.

Excellent line, former TMA lobbyist!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Vietnamese-American and His (Or Her) Toyota: A Story of L-U-V Gone Wrong (Very Wrong)

On Monday the Houston Chronicle's Mary Flood reported on the media-abetted* client-recruitment efforts of Houston plaintiffs' lawyer Mark Lanier, who, like many members of the legal profession, is damn near salivating over the big payday he sees up around the bend in the accelerator problems afflicting Toyota products. "This is a mass tort," proclaimed Lanier, with dollar signs almost literally spinning in his eyeballs. "Toyota is in for billions of dollars and a number of years."

Lanier's non-corporeal presence has always left an oleaginous smudge, at least in our eyes, similar to the one we always detected after viewings of the now-disgraced boy evangelist, that phony hambone populist with the $400 haircut who once actually made us feel sympathetic toward Dick Cheney.** The nature of the Lanier enterprise was summed up, perhaps unconsciously but most likely not, by the Chronicle scribe's use of such skepticism-tinged phraseology as "called a press conference largely to mark his legal turf" (like a peein' hound dog--get it?) and "lawyers in Texas and around the country have smelled Toyota's corporate blood in the water and mustered" (like certain sea creatures whose teeth are pearly white--check it out!).

Although we are a founding member of the Weekley YMCA in southwest Houston, our purpose here today is not to prattle on about product liability, mass torts, smilin' plaintiffs' lawyers with expensive hair-dos, negligent corporate entities or the whole host of phenomena that surely will attend the upcoming legal disemboweling of the Toyota Corp. (which can only be good for the American auto industry, right?). No, what caught our eye in Flood's story was the following:
Lanier, a nationally known plaintiff's lawyer, stood on the courthouse steps with lawyer Tammy Tran, who supplied 300 possible cases from the local Vietnamese community.

Though they had boxes of files and Lainer's firm is one of those with priority advertising on Google, Lanier and Tran have filed only one lawsuit against Toyota so far over unspecified injuries by an undergraduate student whose Camry hit a parked car.
Three hundred possible cases from the local Vietnamese community? Dang, we're thinking, does every Vietnamese in Houston drive a Toyota (with or without a malfunctioning accelerator )? Well, apparently so,*** at least according to this report by Fox 26's Isiah Carey, who relates that the afore-mentioned Tran told him:
"When Vietnamese come to America there's three things they want: No. 1, a good job; No. 2, a house, and No. 3, a Toyota ... and they're very disappointed in the automaker."
Ms. Tran added:
"Each Vietnamese family owns two Toyota [sic]. Toyota is the dream of every Vietnamese."
(Carey reported that the driver of the afore-mentioned Camry is "in medical school" and was "seriously injured" and that her family is "the first of at least 300 Vietnamese families in Houston to file a lawsuit against Toyota, claiming acceleration problems." As a news consumer you sorta wish the media could get their story lines straight.)

It's stories like these that make us think back, fondly, on our late father, the obstinate son of an immigrant who after World War II resolutely refused to buy any product––car, radio, lawn mower, etc.––made in either Germany or Japan,*** not only because he had spent four or five months in continental Europe getting his ass shot at by Nazis on a semi-regular basis but also because so many of his college classmates (A&M, '41) fell and never got up at the hands of Hitler's and Tojo's minions, apparently to ensure that future generations of Vietnamese-Americans could fulfill their American dream by stocking up on Japanese-made automobiles. (You're in America now, so buy American, por favor.)

By the way, we noticed on her Web site that the afore-mentioned lawyer Tran is, like her litigation lord and overseer Lanier, a big-time Bible thumper ("Leading with Faith, Winning with Experience"). When we lay us down to sleep this evening we will ask our Lord Jesus to please shield us, not only from defective accelerators in Japanese-made automobiles but from smug, sanctimonious Bible thumpers, and Koran thumpers, too––especially smug, sanctimonious Bible thumpers, or Koran thumpers, with Bar cards.

*But as Tony Soprano often shrugged, "What are ya gonna do?"
**By the way, did you see that the National Enquirer is being considered for a Pulitzer for its eviscerating of the boy evangelist? Yeah--and it deserves the prize as a frontal rebuke to the prissy Mainstream News and Infotainment Media (M-NIM).
***Come to think of it, though, we know at least a few Vietnamese who do not drive Toyotas but instead chug around town in Hondas––perhaps we just know the wrong sort of Vietnamese.
****We, of course, are made of flimsier stuff and once owned a Volkswagen, although we have since stuck with American-made vehicles.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Aloysius Update: Too Many Siddiquis for One Dummy to Behold

Early Saturday morning, about the time the rooster was crowing and the buckwheat cake was in our mouth, we caught a TV rebroadcast of the March 2 Houston City Council meeting, or at least most of the public comments portion of that convocation, which featured several speakers associated with the ISGH Mosque on Old Galveston Road in southeast Houston. They had come before the council to complain about a false report of a hostage-taking allegedly phoned in to HPD by two Muslim gentlemen who, if we caught the speakers' drift, are also somehow associated with facility and one of whose name is "Siddiqui."

It was difficult to discern exactly what was the nature of the mosque-goers' complaint(s)––one seemed irked that HPD had responded to the call with (according to him) guns drawn, while another, a hijab-clad lady who for upcoming Census purposes most likely will check off "non-Hispanic white," seemed to be complaining that no criminal charges had been filed in the incident, although, thanks to deft questioning by the mayor and some council members, it apparently* was established that no one had bothered to file a formal complaint about what was described several times as a "prank." (We suspect that such "pranks" aren't commonly used to settle disputes or get attention at, say, Second Baptist Church, but we could be wrong, as usual.)

The mayor and several council members lobbed forth some queries in an effort to suss-out the murky episode, then the wheel of misfortune spun 'round to our very own non-resident council member from District F, the less-than-honorable Aloysius D. Hoang, who, while addressing the above-mentioned hijab-clad complainant, veered off into a little vocal jag we can only accurately describe as "bizarre." As best we could tell, Al D. appeared to be suggesting that this "Siddiqui" was a cop or some kind of city employee who had done a lot of good for the community, the city, whatever, by translating documents to or from Urdu as well as some other stuff and that the hijab-clad complainant ought to balance and take into account all the good that Siddiqui had done against this one apparently isolated incident, or something exactly like that. We began paying very close attention at that moment, for it appeared that not only had Al Hoang revealed that someone stupid enough to phone-in a false report of a hostage-taking to the police was in the employ of Houston taxpayers but that this person was deserving of some kind of preferential treatment. (When Aloysuis D. is indicted on some criminal charge or another, don't say you weren't warned.) The mayor, seeming to sense that the episode had entered new territory, told the complainant that she needed to take the matter up with so-and-so at the back of the council chambers, apparently because an open council meeting was not the proper venue to discuss such an allegation against a city employee.

At that point, Council member Clarence Bradford, who's been impressing us with his crisp, Joe Friday-approach to council discourse, interjected, "Mayor, I believe this is a different Siddiqui."

"Well," laughed the mayor, looking relieved, "as we know, there are a lot of Siddiquis."

We interpreted this as a factual (there are indeed a lot of Siddiquis) and diplomatic stab at bringing the proceedings back to Earth from Planet Hoang. We, however, have no use for diplomacy in our line of work (truth-telling), so let us unequivocally state what everyone around the council cul-de-sac was thinking at the moment: "My God but AL HOANG IS ONE COLOSSAL DUMBASS."

*We must employ such weasel words because this entire mosque incident was very poorly explained by the complainants, although it sounds as if it'd be a fascinating subject for some credentialed member of the Mainstream News and Infotainment Media (MNIM) to explore at length.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Rick Perry: Unheralded Savant of Texas Politics ...

Or Lucky Doofus Who Fell Off the Back of a Pick-Up and Landed on a Mattress Lying in the Middle of the Freeway?

Time will tell. It has occurred to us, though, that Perry might be an age-defying phenomenon similar to the Rumble-in-the-Jungle era Ali, employing his version of the rope-a-dope to lay back on the ropes and suck up the gut punches and bide his time until his adversary is exhausted and then step right to it--BAM! Yeah, they saw that 39 percent and thought he was done, spent, washed-up, a goner, but....

On the other hand, we are reminded that Perry first obtained his office by constitutional succession and has held it since by first dispatching the colorless, odorless Tony Sanchez and then the tag-team duo of Chris Bell and Grandma Whazzhername, and that Bill White, if we may extend the boxing metaphor into hazily obscure territory, is no Jürgen Blin.

Like Perry, White did what he needed to do on Tuesday. What he needs to do from here on out is pay close attention to the deeply encoded instructions we will be issuing in this space (the anagram spells “V-I-C-T-O-R-Y”). Our first bit of advice, which as usual we are providing free of charge as a selfless act of civic-mindedness, is to STAY AS FAR AWAY AS POSSIBLE from all other Democratic nominees for statewide office, and never, ever, speak of the “Democratic ticket.” If you should accidently run into one of these people at, say, the airport terminal in Junction,* ACT LIKE YOU DON’T KNOW THEM, in case a weekly newspaper reporter or Republican operative obtains photographic evidence of you in flagrante (in the legal sense) with, say, Barbara Ann Radnofsky. In fact, and we know this will probably be impossible to do, instruct your scheduler to make sure that you’re never any closer than 50 miles to any other Democratic statewide officer-seeker.

Also: Go negative right away. Ali’s off the ropes.

*Did we ever tell ya about the time we were flying ‘round the Lone Star State at nighttime with some humble office-seeker or another and they were trying to land the plane in Junction, but the pilot couldn’t spot the airport and finally he had to raise the sheriff’s department on the horn to get somebody over to the facility to turn on the runway lights? The candidate was going to lose anyway and if we'd died in a crash that night we might not even have made the last paragraph of the obit.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Late-Breaking Pre-Primary Non-News (With Hyphens!)

Non-news from nowhere, and points in between:
  • We recently went on at length regarding the re-rematch between state Rep. Al Edwards and challenger Borris Miles and noted that should we shrug our spindly shoulders and participate in the Democratic primary––as a nominal Democrat/committed independent it will depend solely on how we feel upon awakening tomorrow, most likely at 5:30 or thereabouts*––we would probably cast our lot with our new Facebook pal, Rep.-for-Life Edwards. Since that writing, we have moved–––or, more passively, been moved––from the “leaning somewhat” to Rep. Al to the “leaning strongly” to Rep. Al column. This oh-so-subtle shift occurred after we realized that almost everybody who’s anybody is against the Rev. Al (or, more positively, for his opponent, Borris the Third Ward Insurance Magnate). And when we say "everybody" we mean everybody from Mayor Annise Parker to the Houston Chronicle editorial board to what appears to be the entire labor-liberal Democratic Party establishment to a veritable host of Borris-believing lions and lionesses of Judah who've lent their names and faces to the pro-Borris propaganda (it's all phony,* BTW, as some Jewish bard from northern Minnesota once sang) that's been cluttering our mailbox (under the apparent and possibly proven assumption that a goodly number of white Democratic primary voters in District 146 are/will be Jews, although an endorsement by the publisher of the Jewish Herald Voice means bupkis to us, and we doubt it means a while lot to the two Jewish households on our block, but whadda we know). Yeah, we're sticking with Rep.-Rev. Al DESPITE the franked mailing we received from his legislative office last week touting a $5.7 million grant to the city from Rick Perry's Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs to help Houston's homeless "transition" to rental housing and "access services designed to enhance self-sufficiency ..." (In fairness to the Rev.-Rep. Al, he has sent us previous mailings from his legislative office, although these were mostly end-of-the-legislative-session wrap-ups that we found generally informative.)
  • On Sunday we received a warm and engaging personal call from Anthony Hall, the former city councilman, Metro chairman, city attorney and mayoral assistant, on behalf of his daughter, Ursula Hall, who's pursuing the Democratic nomination for a civil-court judgeship in the party primary. Hall's delivery was so slow and precisely enunciated that for a moment we thought he might be live on our telephone machine, but after we interjected an "Anthony?" and a "Hey, Anthony, are you there?" we deduced that the call was recorded, or else Hall has become extremely hard of hearing. In either case, there's nothing like an endorsement from your father to sway voters (and it probably will in the Democratic primary, given the elder Hall's party credentials). Ursula Hall's legal experience––or lack thereof––was the subject of a pretty decent recent offering from the Chronicle's Teen Columnist, who followed up with an equally interesting piece on the primary endorsements of inexperienced district criminal-court contenders by the lordly Coalition of Harris County Elected Democrats (perhaps motherhood has had a maturing effect on the young columnist, although, possibly because the subjects of her explorations were Democrats, she couldn't fully bring the hammer down to squarely nail it, y'understand). We're not wholly convinced that a criminal court judge needs past experience in the criminal courts any more than we believe that a daily newspaper columnist needs past experience as a daily newspaper columnist, but we suppose it couldn't hurt in either profession.
  • So do we have any predictions on Tuesday's primaries? Nah––all the polls and predictions seem about right to us, most especially this one from Prof 13, aka the Bob Lanier Professor of Public Policy at the University Houston, who based on the early-voting turnout for the GOP primary has the intra-party gubernatorial race a little tighter than other pollster/forecasters/all-knowing seers, with Mofo Perry at 44 percent, K.B. "Maybe You Like Us Both" Hutchison at 37 and D. "I Transcend All Attempts at Semi-Clever Nickname-ry" Medina at 19. On the D side, he guesstimates it as 65 percent for White, 18 for Shami and "others"--there are five such no-names––at 17 percent. Let us be the first, or possibly the 301st, to say that if somehow White gets below 60 percent and/or Shami cracks 25 percent, White loses. (God forbid he's forced into a runoff.) White needs to run up the score, like the Yates High basketball team. We think either of these possibilities is unlikely, but that's why we hold elections (in addition to picking our elected officials, etc.).

  • *If it's dark, rainy and gloomy outside we may give into our Burkean impulses and vote in the GOP election.
    **And we don't mean just the Borris Miles propaganda.

    Wednesday, February 24, 2010

    The Metro Shelter on Beechnut Just East of Hillcroft Was Smashed to Smithereens Late Tuesday or Early Wednesday by an Unknown Assailant (Updated)

    ... And now there will be no refuge from the elements for riders of the No. 4 inbound. The Metro guy who appeared to be waiting for the clean-up crew told us the shelter was minding its own business either "late last night or early this morning" when a person or persons unknown plowed their vehicle (or vehicles) into the taxpayer-funded facility. This must have been quite a fearsome impact (there's one of those concrete-lined garbage containers somewhere in there under the former shelter's roof). These scenes were captured early in the a.m. and by late in the afternoon all the detritus had been removed and there was no visible trace of the shelter. (Who says the transit agency's not efficient?) This happened before, about 10 years ago, to the shelter around the corner on the southbound side of Hillcroft, although the results were not as visually arresting. Metro never replaced that shelter.
    Update: As of late Thursday afternoon the shelter had been replaced, rebuilt or somehow miraculously restored to its former grandeur. So one-and-a-half cheers for Metro! Now if it could just get the transparency and accountability thing straight.

    Tuesday, February 23, 2010

    Blood and Smooches, Spo-dee-o-dee (Updated)

    We enjoy a blood feud as much as the next guy (or gal). We’ve been embroiled in a few our self, some dating back to elementary school. They’re clarifying and cleansing of the soul, especially if you’re capable of nursing a grudge for going on 5 decades. But we really, truly and mostly enjoy a long-running vendetta in which other people are involved and no expenditure of blood, bile or other bodily humors is required on our part. Which is why we’re hoping the Al Edwards-Borris Miles Democratic primary rematch becomes a (possibly WWE-sanctioned) biennial affair, one that we’ll be able to savor every other spring well into our dotage, when we’ll care even less than we do now who our state representative is, or at least until our precinct is mapped out of Texas House District 146.

    Channel 11’s Leigh Frillici on Monday brought us an update on the latest Al-vs.-Borris set-to, which Democratic voters will settle in their party’s March 3 party primary (WARNING: FRILLICI’S REPORT INCLUDES GRATUITOUS "EXPERT" COMMENTARY FROM RICE UNIVERSITY'S BOB “ROBERT” STEIN). Apparently there’s not been a whole lot of note and newsworthiness going on in the race, at least since Miles took a drug test live on KCOH radio a couple of weeks back. Frillici’s report included the standard file footage of a (strangely, all white) cheerleading squad throwing down some semi-suggestive moves, to illustrate the immortal “booty bill” that Edwards sponsored a few legislative sessions back, the piece of attempted law-making that landed him his one and only appearance on Jon Stewart’s Daily Show and will surely follow him to his grave. (While we wholeheartedly agree with critics that this was not a “problem” deserving of government action, at the time it occurred to us that much of the booty-bill derision aimed at Rep. Al emanated from white sophisticates––or would-be sophisticates––who don’t have a clue––not even an iota of a shred of a clue––about what actually transpires at the public schools where the great majority of Edwards’ child-bearing constituents send their kids. Al, of course, has spent so much of his adult life at the public trough that he just reflexively looks for a government "solution" to any ol' "problem" that comes down the pike.)

    The Channel 11 report also included the obligatory balancing mention of criminal charges lodged against then-Rep. Miles after he was alleged to have “kissed a married woman and brandished a gun at a Christmas party,” as Frillici put it. Borris the Third Ward Insurance Man was acquitted of those charges, which he apparently took as a green light to pursue the seat he won in 2006 against Edwards and then almost immediately turned around and lost to Edwards two years ago (because of the gun-brandishing, married lady-smooching “scandal” he says was a result of a conspiracy among Edwards and his “Republican friends”). It also included this startling new information: Despite his run-in with the law, Miles ain’t gonna stop kissing the ladies! It is, according to what he told Frillici, “part of his upbringing as gentleman.” He even planted one on the comely reporter when she arrived to interview District 146's Gangsta of Love.

    “How did I greet you?” Miles asked Frillici, in a manner we construed as rhetorical. “I gave you a kiss on the cheek and a hug, did I not? I have not changed. I’m gonna continue to do that.” (In the interest of inclusion and diversity, would he not greet, say, Channel 11’s Jeremy Desel in the same manner? Just askin’.) For some reason, Frillicci did not recap the earlier episode when Borris made his bones as a bona fide deep-red Texan by employing a pistol to drill an alleged burglar who was stealing stuff from the insurance man’s then-under construction Third Ward mansion, an act whose commission we personally had no problem with at all.

    Thus far neither campaign has sent us a direct-mail piece anywhere near as sublime as the one Edwards mailed out in 2008, which featured pictures of .38-caliber handgun, spent cartridges and a puddle of what appeared to be blood (or ketchup) spilled from an overturned bottle of wine––all, apparently, elements of some Platonically ideal bad-hangover night with Borris Miles. Al, however, has been calling and writing us every other day, leaving messages on our machine that say something to the effect of, “Let’s not go through the shame and embarrassment again,” meaning (and we’re taking a wild guess here) the shame and embarrassment of being represented in the Texas House by Borris Miles. (This argument does not sway us in the least, most likely because we’re not the sort of citizen who’d suffer shame or embarrassment because of who represents us in the Texas House, unless it was, you know, Hitler.)

    Although the district is predominantly African-American, it also includes a sizable white and heavily-voting populace on its west side, where it takes in a sliver of Meyerland and a good chunk of Westbury, home to many––but not all!––of Houston’s Jewish voters. And Representative-for-Life Al is leaving no demographic stone unturned, as evidenced by the mailing we got that featured a picture of him with a white guy who was identified as--regrettably, we tossed the flier in the recycling sack and can’t be sure of our accuracy--either the Israeli ambassador to the U.S. or maybe just an Israeli consul (possibly consul to Meyerland!). According to the caption--and this we recall with precision---Al and the diplomat were “discussing the similarities between Texas and Israel.” (Let’s see, both have some Jews and Arabs, Israel more than Texas, and both have protective barriers or parts of protective barriers on their borders, of varying effectiveness ... )

    It probably goes without mentioning (WARNING: HERE COMES THE “SERIOUS,” SERMONIZING PART OF TODAY’S ENTRY), that there is no Republican running in District 146 and that the winner of the two-way Democratic primary will be the holder of the seat come January 2011, and it further goes without saying that there’s no way in hell a Republican could ever win the seat, even if Borris and Al were to engage in a shoot-out on South Post Oak at high noon, because the district--like almost all legislative jurisdictions in these United States, state or federal––has been drawn to ensure maintenance of “communities of interest” and one-party dominance and thus no actual competitive, substantive debate and ... you get what you pay for. (Personally, if we do vote in the Democratic primary we’ll probably go with Rep.-for-Life Al, because he occasionally shows a streak of independence and is safe and comforting––like a big side of mashed potatoes ’n’ gravy.)

    UPDATE: Just today we received a mailing touting a veritable all-star line-up of Caucasians who "believe in Borris Miles," including Houston's new alcaldesa, Annise Parker (who appears to be the only Gentile of the four pictured Borris-believers––is it possible, we idly wonder, to take the pandering thing too far?). Now we like the mayor and know she's a proud Democrat, etc., but when it comes partisan politics we prefer the arms-length approach of Bill White (and every other mayor we can think of, come to think of it), unless there is some pressing municipal need to get involved, and whether Borris Miles or Al Edwards represents District 146 just doesn't rise to that standard. Besides, we'd think the mayor would want to have as many friends as possible in the Legislature, or at least no dire enemies ... in case, y'know, Al Edwards is re-elected.

    Thursday, February 18, 2010

    Wait, Wait ... Please Tell Us!

    The Autobiography of an Execution, the new book by University of Houston law professor David Dow, received a light going-over by Dahlia Lithwick in last Sunday’s New York Times Book Review. It was an odd review. Lithwick, who reports on the Supreme Court and legal issues for Slate, appears to share Dow’s anti-death penalty views. And she seems to like Dow himself, at least at a critical remove, especially what she deems to be his regular-guyness. Not only, reports Lithwick (a graduate of Yale and Stanford Law), is Dow “a far cry from a shouting lunatic,” he’s also
    ... the farthest thing from a bleeding-heart abolitionist. He has a pickup truck, a taste for bourbon and a dog.
    He’s got a dog? Damn, he’s a regular redneck!

    You’ll find Dow at least three stops past the Clint Eastwood mile marker on the Flinty Guy Highway. He is so bare-bones he won’t even use quotation marks.
    Lithwick also seems to like Dow’s book, or the idea of Dow’s book, but there’s something about it that left her obviously uneasy, a matter to which she devoted the lower one-third of her review. Other reviews also have mentioned this rather large problem, although we’ve seen none that addressed it with anything near Lithwick’s intellectual honesty, so we’ll quote her at length here, despite the lapse in taste and tone at the conclusion of the passage:
    Nobody but Dow could have told Dow’s story. The problem is, he cannot fully tell it either. As he explains in an author’s note at the start of the book, the demands of ­attorney-client confidentiality have forced him to use pseudonyms, attribute procedural details of certain cases to other cases, and alter the timing of some events, though he insists that the “basic chronology” is correct — and that he never changed the facts of the crimes. His publisher appends a letter explaining why this was done and a memorandum from an ethics professor explaining the legal basis for this choice. Whatever the legal issues, the result is a book that is less an autobiography of an execution than a powerful collage of the life of a death penalty lawyer.

    In describing the fraught relationship between law and truth, Dow laments the fact that when it comes to the law, “the facts matter, but the story matters more.” But having created a brilliant, heart-rending book that can’t be properly fact-checked, Dow almost seems to have joined the ranks of people who will privilege emotion over detail, and narrative over precision.

    For those who already oppose the death penalty, Dow’s book provides searing confirmation of what they already know to be true: the capital system is biased, reckless and inhuman. But had a prosecutor written a book arguing that the machinery of death is fantastic, just trust him, Dow himself would weep for strict adherence to facts, however ungainly. We’ve seen too many books lately suggesting that facts and sourcing matter little. It isn’t a trend to which lawyers should contribute.

    Perhaps Dow just doesn’t care. He describes the impotence of witnessing the last breath of an innocent client: “I stood there. I was idle. I was a man making phone calls, a wordsmith, a debater, an analyst.” His book — not quite fact but not quite fiction — may be another lifeline back from a kind of helplessness that is its own death chamber.*
    Hmm. Not quite fact but not quite fiction. "Faction," perhaps? This refusal to actually name names, as they used to say in the newspaper business, strikes us as a very peculiar conceit coming from a vigorous anti-death penalty advocate, even one who eschews quotation marks, since one of the objections raised to executions and by the defense bar in general is the elusiveness of witnesses’ memory and the (yes, proven) sometimes unreliability of eyewitness testimony. Not to mention the roundhouse accusation that politically pressed prosecutors ignore inconvenient facts and construct false narratives to assign guilt to a seemingly randomly selected capital defendants. (We’re not saying that’s outside the realm of possibility.)

    You would presume that Dow has written his book to influence, or at least be considered in, the never-receding debate over capital punishment, despite the portion––and Lithwick suggests it’s a too-sizable one––the author devotes to chronicling T-ball with his 6-year-old son and recording how much bourbon and steak and how many cigars he's consumed. (We haven’t read the book, so we’re relying on Lithwick here.) But if there’s no possibility of fact-checking by an opponent, or even a reviewer, or any third party, what’s the point in the first place, other than the pursuit of self-glorification on the Flinty Guy Highway?

    So readers must take The Autobiography of an Execution on faith. They should be cautioned, however, that at least a few of Dow’s “facts,” when tested in an adversarial proceeding by a much more seasoned and equally vigorous advocate, did not fully hold up.


    Monday, February 15, 2010

    Mardi Gras 1976

    Recently we've gone on a Facebook bender, belatedly (we're a late adopter, adapter, whatever), and primarily to reconnect with people we haven't seen, or not so much, in 20, 30, even 35 (!) years (as opposed to people we haven't seen in 5, 10 years––we always figure we'll run across them at Wal-Mart, or Whole Foods, or a Metro stop). We're naturally wary of anything as mind-habituating as Facebook, and very shortly we may be seeking out a 12-step program to cure us of this new enthusiasm, our latest in a long line of attention-deflecting addictions. The Facebooking, as we were warned it would, sent us stumbling down Memory Lane and into our "archives," a sturdy hatbox we've lugged with us for 30+ years and into which we've stuffed old photos, letters, unserved arrest warrants and such, and where we came upon the photo accompanying these words.

    It shows a street scene during Mardi Gras, 1976, captured in the Hub City by our pal R-b, an avocational photographer who grew his own at home---that is, shot and "developed" his photos with chemicals and trays an so forth in makeshift closet-darkrooms. (How ... old-fashioned.) About 10 years ago we were visiting R-b at his southwest Houston home and remarked on how much we dug the photo, and he asked---or, to be accurate, demanded––that we take it off his hands and never return it. We said, "Sure,"* because this picture speaks to us on many different levels and draws forth a wealth of associations--most all of them blue-sky happy, in their way.

    We're not 100-percent positive of the photo's vintage, but the movie advertised on the marquee was released in 1976, according to various authoritative Internet sources (and starred Elliot Gould and Diane Keaton––we never saw it and don't even wanna know what it's about). It's obviously from some time in the '70s, as you can tell from the gent in the foreground with the shades and form-fitting denim and the extremely boss hat (all of which he may have purchased down the street at an establishment called Right On Fashions, which last we looked was still extant, with a somewhat updated and hip-hop-ized selection of couture). It was for-sure taken at Mardi Gras––R-b confirmed this for us––and froze a typical instance of street-dragging on Shrove Tuesday, possibly between parades (there was the big "white" one in the a.m. and a "black" one at 1 p.m.). The street is Jefferson and the theater likewise was the Jefferson. (For recently arrived immigrants or students who failed their 8th grade U.S. history TAKS exam, this "Jefferson" was un presidente de Los Estados Unidos who swung the steal of the century [19th] when he "purchased" a broad swath of the North American continent, then called "Louisiana," at a fire-sale price from this dude Napoleon, who was kinda like the mack-daddy or whatever you call it these days of this country called France, which is in Europe, thus doubling the size of los Estados Unidos and priming future generations of Yankee Traders to [thank God] steal most of the rest of the continent from Mexico.)

    The movie title, of course, speaks to us across the years of the fleetingness, the ephemerality, of time and desire. The theater is long-gone, razed at least two decades back. It was where, we believe, our father took us to see The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance--why, we have no idea, as it was the only time we remember him taking us to a picture show, although he took us lots of other places. Some years later, right out front there, we had a non-Mardi Gras Epiphany or revelation of sorts, after our mother had dropped us and some other goofballs off to catch a Saturday afternoon matinee of an Elvis movie (which one we can't recall––they were pretty much all the same after Kid Creole, and all good). While standing in line we noticed something we had never noticed before, although it may have been there all along, right in front of us, and that was the presence of a second line of youngsters at a smallish ticket window off to the side. The kids in the other line, we noticed, were all directed by the manager up the side stairs to the balcony. We took our seat, unwisely, on the floor just in front of the balcony's edge, and sometime during the movie a shower of popcorn and ice rained down on first-floor customers, causing considerable commotion as the ushers hoofed it upstairs to police the antisocial behavior. Although at the time we did not enjoy that uncomfortable, sticky sensation, if we ever meet a black man or woman our age who was in the balcony that day to watch Elvis we'll ask them if they threw ice or popcorn on us, and if he or she says "No" we'll ask "Why not?"

    But mostly this picture makes us think of Mardi Gras, and all the great fun we had, from the time we were a little kid until late adolescence and early adulthood, running wild and free and mostly unsupervised with boon companions through the downtown streets of the Hub City. How we discovered those hidden spots--like the bleak, urine-stained pedestrian passageway that ran alongside the underpass beneath the train tracks, and still may--and how we found you could traverse a good portion of the downtown by going roof-to-roof atop the adjacent storefronts. How blue the sky looked, and how there seemed to be no boundary between that blue sky and our mind, on the Mardi Gras Day when we experienced a bit of heightened consciousness and stood staring upward, transfixed, right there on Jefferson Street. How at 11 or 12 we threw up after gorging our self on junk at the street carnival that was always staked at the foot of Jefferson, and how we subsequently spent what seemed like two long, queasy hours searching for a usable pay phone so we could could call our parents to come and get us. How, going back to when we were 5 or 6, before we were running wild and free, we were forced to costume-up in a "Confederate general's" uniform--with epaulets!--that our Granny, bless her, had lovingly sewn for us. And much later on, how we'd unhesitatingly hook up with––in the dated sense of the term, meaning hang out with--people we didn't know and would never see again after that Tuesday.

    We learned some other stuff at Mardi Gras, too, like what Hemingway (or we think it was Hemingway) meant when he said that one of the educational advantages of growing up in a small town is that you come to realize why the man with the big cigar has the big cigar. In our case, it was realizing why the man on the float in the crown, robe and fake beard was on the float, while we were down on the street with the jostling throngs waving our hands and begging him to toss us some plastic junque.

    And it was, truly, all good.

    We don't know anybody in the picture, but we know everybody ... the little fellow with his dad, walking purposefully off to the right ... the pig-tailed girl in the back, turning to look down at something on the street, maybe something she stepped on, or in ... the little girl in the foreground, gazing up pleadingly at her father, with the look of distress, maybe ... her father in the boss hat, waking tall and proud with his shoulders back and the pretty-good-lookin' woman with the popcorn at his side ... Everybody happy, or sad, or happy-sad ... stunned, expectant, searching, hungry ... dragging the street ... throw me something, mister ... in the moment we call "now" that's always passing.

    *Dialogue guaranteed verbatim.