Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Nativist

As a senior though uncredentialed member of the Mainstream News and Infotainment Media (that's MNIM, pronounced mmm-nim, for short), we must again bound far ahead of the baying pack to boldly point out that the spectre of nativism has reared its somewhat uncomely head* in the Texas gubernatorial race. Given that this year marks the first time that a Palestinian-American Muslim (or ex-Muslim, depending on audience and day of the week) ex-hairdresser-turned-hair-care-products-manufacturer has sought the seat once held by such worthies as "Ma" Ferguson and G.W. Bush, perhaps it was to be expected that some candidate would rise up to declare that he is more of an "American" than the others. Perhaps not as expected, that candidate is not Deborah Medina (she's just like you, FYI) but is none other than Farouk Shami, the Palestinian-American Muslim (or ex-Muslim, depending on etc.) ex-hairdresser-turned-hair-care-products-manufacturer himself.

We first learned of this semi-revoltin' development from the Jan. 15, 2009 edition of the Indo American News [sic, no apparent hyphen], which we procure on a weekly basis while on culinary business in Our Town's newly designated Mahatma Ghandi District. According to the News' extensive page one coverage, Sr. Shami wrapped himself all up in red, white and blue back on Jan. 8, when he declared, "I am more American than others [and added] It is 'old thinking' versus 'new thinking,' and now is the time to make a difference" [punctuation corrected] while speaking to what the publication described as a "small group of influential Asian leasers--many South Asian––and media." The News did not elaborate on the Shami Man's claim, but fortunately Peggy Fikac of the Chronicle picked up the news-and-infotainment baton on Jan, 24 and reported with a straight face that that El Shami
reaches into his business background to discuss his current quest, including when he speaks against the notion that “one person is more … American than the other” based on whether the person was born here.

I would judge it by who pays more taxes, me or Rick Perry? Me or Bill White? Every year, I pay more than they ever made in their life. … And since I'm paying taxes, I'll be careful spending people's taxes.”
So that's it! Well, step to the front of line, Mr. Alleged Inventor of Amonia-Free Hair Lightener and of course the world-famous CHI Flat Iron. Perhaps only Bill Gates and Warren Buffet outrank the Faroukster when it comes to being a red-blooded American, although it's likely they have better tax accountants. (We should point out that as far as we know, no other gubernatorial candidate has raised the Fikac-ian "notion" that "one person is more ... American than the other," including Shami's fellow Democrat, Bill White––most certainly not Bill White. We also call your attention to the fact that Shami is actually running a seriously nasty slash-and-burn campaign against White [although not on the scale or with the interest-generation of the Hutchsion-vs.-Perry doings, of course], including, according to this straight-faced report from the Dallas Morning News, Shami's in-so-many-words accusation that White is a racist. Now we find it humorously ironic when white Democrats are hoisted on their own affirmative-action and identity-politics petards––ask Chris Bell, D-Houston, about his two rough hoistings––but this allegation is just patently ridiculous, undocumented BS, if you'll pardon our language.)

The unhyphenated Indo American News went on to report that while speaking to these influential Asians (we did not see Aloysius D. Hoang among their photographed number, in case you were wondering) and South Asians, Shami also
... reprimanded Governor Rick Perry for being out of touch with common people, citing his $12 million ranch and his son's lavish wedding in Las Vegas.
His son's lavish wedding in Las Vegas** ... yes, we must conclude that Farouk Shami is a real American boy, as acclimated to the soil as any 6th-generation Texas taxpayer, a regular William Jennings Bryan with a CHI Flat Iron.

*As regular and even semi-regular visitors to this place know, we are not of the opinion that "nativism" is an entirely bad thing, and at any rate consider it a poorly understood and badly misused term, facilely employed by agenda-bearing gum-beaters and fund-raising hacks to discredit those who might simply believe that English should be the sole language of instruction in the public schools––it's an assimilatin' thing––or that immigration is fine and even necessary so long as it's legal and accrues some benefit to those of us already here; said gum-beaters' prejudices having been conditioned by passing and superficial understanding of over-simplified and somewhat discredited Hofstadter-ian notions of American history.

**Which speaks to nothing more than Perry's taste, or lack thereof.

Photo above: Shami Does Brooklyn; photo lifted from some Web site about hair care in Brooklyn and used without permission (so sue me).

Friday, January 29, 2010

Just One Book, But a "Huge Upwelling" (Updated)

We were primed to throw down a hasty appreciation of J.D. Salinger but felt inadequate to the task after reading the insight from Tony Hoagland of the UH writing program that someone from the Houston Chronicle artfully inserted into its pick-up of the L.A. Times' obituary of Salinger (Hoagland, by the way, is a fearsomely good poet whose "Lucky" can break your heart, if you have one):

"Salinger broke through so many walls. He articulated the internal life, with all
its moods and contradictions and ironies. When Holden is seeking refuge in his
teacher's apartment and suddenly the teacher is rubbing his head and that feels
strange to Holden, the moment is real. … The book was a huge upwelling of: ‘This
is life that has not been described before but that we all recognize.' You feel
the generosity Salinger has towards human nature and you really feel included in
To that we can only add that the other genius of Catcher in the Rye is the way it speaks so directly to the sensitive or at least half-sensitive 15 year old (of all ages), which we suppose is the reason they assign it in the high schools these days. Our own 15 year old informed us of Salinger's passing and expressed wonder at the eerie "coincidence" of his death, the coincidence being that her English class had just started reading Catcher.

We mentioned that she's 15, right?

Update: We initially found a truncated version of the above-mentioned story on the Chronicle's Web site late Friday afternoon in the "Celebrity Buzz" section. We can't channel the dead, just yet, but we're pretty sure this isn't where Salinger pictured himself, post-mortem. Meanwhile, our 20-year-old, who tells us that, surprisingly, he's never read Catcher in the Rye but seems to have a deep and learned knowledge of Nine Stories and Raise High the Roof Beam, which we drew on to refresh our faded memories of those tales, informed us of a too-perfect headline he saw (from The Onion, it appears): "Bunch of Phonies Mourn J.D. Salinger."

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Aloysius Chronicles, Part V: In Which We Catch the Doofus Houston Councilman from Pearland in Another String of, Um, Fabrications, All Documented.

Please read closely, for context and meaning, in case the State Board of Education one day mandates that Texas schoolchildren study the inspiring story of Aloysius D. Hoang:

More from the public record regarding the new city councilman from District F, Al Hoang, a man of many names and many addresses, who, as reported here back on Dec. 13, was not even eligible to vote in the district he now “represents” until Oct. 16, less than three weeks before the Nov. 3 general election, in which Hoang advanced to a runoff that he won on Dec. 12. Here’s how Hoang, who now claims to reside in a dwelling at 4403 Bugle in District F (which he acquired in March 2009 from a person who was listed as a campaign staffer) tried to explain away this nagging fact to the Houston Chronicle in a story published on Dec. 28:
In his e-mail [to the Chronicle] Monday, [Hoang] said he sent the Harris County voter registrar a form with his new address in May 2008 and went to the office in person to change it after learning his prior address, in Council District G, was still listed as his voting address.
“Maybe it got lost in the mail,” Hoang said.
Maybe it got lost in the mail. That appears to be the Hoang M.O.––blame somebody else when you get ensnared in your own tangled web of deceit. In this case, Hoang would be blaming either the U.S. Postal Service--a screw-up by that entity is certainly not out of the realm of possibility––or, should the mail service have come through, the office of the Harris County tax assessor-collector, which we believe is rated much higher in competence and customer satisfaction than the post office.

But neither is actually to blame, because on this matter Al Hoang is lying, if we could be so blunt. Hoang did indeed apply to change his voter-registration address in May 2008, but the application did not get lost in the mail. As you can see here, records of the Harris County Tax Office show that in May 2008 Hoang switched his registration address to 10001 Westpark, Apt. 83, in city council District G, where he remained registered to vote until he finally got around to changing it to 4403 Bugle, deep into his campaign and just before the election. Prior to this 2008 switch, Hoang’s voting-purpose address was 9527 Almeda Bent Ct. in Houston. At the time he was registered to vote there, he also was a homestead-exmeption-claiming owner of record of a home at 2702 Sunfish in Pearland in Brazoria County. The switch in voter-registration address in May 2008 came after Hoang lost a March 4 Republican primary race for a Harris County district judgeship* (at a time he was a homestead-exemption-claiming homeowner in Brazoria County, etc.). Hoang transferred full ownership of the Pearland home to his wife on March 5, 2008.

Hoang was also a homestead-exemption-claiming Brazoria County homeowner of record when he ran for and lost a race for an at-large Houston City Council position in 2003. On his campaign finance reports for that effort––which, curiously, did list dates for his contributions and expenditures, unlike his 2009 reports––he claimed an address of 1900 North Loop West #500, a businesss address of Hoang’s.**

So how did Hoang “learn” that he was still registered in District G when he was running for the Distrct F seat? We can’t say definitively, but he question of Hoang’s residency was already being raised when he applied for the change on Sept. 16, 2009. In fact, on Sept. 28 another candidate in the District F race, Robert Kane, filed a complaint with the city’s Chapter 18 Ethics Committee (not the council’s Ethics Committee) challenging the residency bona fides of Hoang, Hoang’s fellow campaign-finance scofflaw Khalid Khan, and another candidate, Joe Chow (whom Kane later removed from his complaint after Chow made a correction in appraisal district property records). As shown here, the Ethics Committee did not rule on the merits of Kane’s complaint but concluded on Oct. 29 that it was "without jurisdiction” to consider his claims and that “the City Council shall be the judge of the elections and qualifications of council members.”

We're pretty confident that neither of the city's ethics committees would be moved to do much about Hoang should someone complain at this late date (after all, the voters in District F--the people, yes!--have spoken, few as they were). However, as noted on the applications we all must complete and sign to take part in the democratic process, it is perjruy under both federal and state law to procure voter registration by giving false information. So if some eager young assistant district attorney or assistant U.S. attorney is looking for the easily-removable scalp of an elected official, we’d say: Look no further than City Councilman Aloysius D. Hoang!

*Not only did Hoang illegally seek this position, he also got in trouble with the Texas Ethics Commission for failing to file timely campaign finance reports. He was assessed a $500 fine for missing the report due Feb. 4, 2008, although the commission staff recommended waiver of that penalty, and another $1,500 for missing the report due on Feb. 25, a penalty reduced to $600 by recommendation of the oh-so-tough staff.

**In between making his illegal bids for Houston city council and a state district judgeship, Hoang dug into is pocket to
to contribute $220 to the Republican National Committee on Jan. 26, 2006––using the Pearland address where he actually lived/lives. Despite this show of loyalty to the Republican Party, Hoang did not bother to vote for John McCain in the 2008 general election, or anybody else, according to the sign-in book of Precinct 566, after he went to the trouble of changing his voting address to the condo he owns in City Council District G.

Photo above: Hoang does Sinatra: “Yes, there were times/I’m sure you knew/When I bit off more than I could chew.” Photo ripped off from somewhere on the Internet and used without permission.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Things We Never Knew about ... Catholicism

Although we spent our formative years in one of the most (if not the most) heavily Catholic regions in the United States, we have managed to remain blissfully ignorant of many of the rituals and much of the dogma of the Holy Roman Church. What little knowledge we have acquired was usually through the deeply cynical filters of wise-guys and wise-gals who as youths were subjected to instruction in the Catechism and would later best describe their Catholicism as “lapsed.”

It was not too long ago, for instance, that we learned, via the New York Times, that the Church, as it was known in the Middle Ages, is back to dispensing indulgences, the selling of which once so torqued the German theologian and noted anti-Semite Martin Luther that he launched a revolution that altered the religious predilection of much of Northern Europe. More recently we were apprised by someone whom we believe is in a position to know that there still are priests, even some in Houston, who are licensed or credentialed (we’re sure neither is the appropriate term) to perform exorcisms. (We have no names and phone numbers, so please don’t contact us if you feel in need of a casting-out, unless your name used to be Aloysius Gonzaga Hoang, in which case we’ll try to arrange an exorcism by the Texas Ethics Commission.)

And our knowledge of the Catholic Church continues to expand, once again thanks to the New York Times (some newspapers remain your best education value), which on Saturday, Jan. 24, reported on the Saints fever gripping New Orleans and how that damaged city was hoping, even praying, for municipal-salvation-through-Super-Bowl-victory:
Peggy Scott Laborde, a producer and host for the local public television station, said: “I’m Catholic. We live in a very saintly town.”

She has in her office a statue of St. Clare of Assisi, the patron saint of television. Laborde said that the city’s NFL franchise was awarded on All Saints’ Day in 1966 and that the team’s nickname was not approved until the archbishop declared it was not sacrilegious.
Yes, it’s true, as confirmed by many authoritative sources on the Web––the redoubtable Claire is indeed the patron saint of television (what a thankless saint-task), so designated by none other than Pope Pius XII, a/k/a Eugenio Pacelli, better known for his Reichskonkordat with Nazi Germany and general lingering silence on Hitler's atrocities. Fortunately, Pius XII went to his reward in 1958, many years before the debut of Jersey Shore and its exploration of the mores, manners and mating habits of young Italian-American Catholics.

A patron saint of television! What a religion!

All we can say is: Geaux Saints!

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Kay Bailey Hutchison and the Twilight of the Dinosaurs

It’s been pathetic––even poignant, if you’re the sensitive sort––watching Kay Bailey Hutchison trundle out her endorsements by these antediluvian, establishmentarian Republicans––Bush Senior (now sadly looking his age), James Baker, and, most curiously, at least to us, Dick Cheney. Surely Brent Scowcroft also has thrown one her way and we missed it.

The elder Bush put his button finger right on Hutchison’s current dilemma, most certainly unwittingly, when he observed that the state’s senior U.S. senator was “a Lone Star Republican before it was cool to be a Republican." Yes, those were the days, my friend, back when “country club Republican” was not a dismissive pejorative but instead summed-up the essence of Texas Republicanism, when Tory Democrats, even after the McGovern debacle, still rode tall though perhaps not-so-securely in the saddle and Republican strength, such as it was outside of John Tower’s reliable re-elections, was confined mostly to places like Highland Park and Midland and River Oaks-Tanglewood-Memorial, domain of Bush Senior. Back then, an ambitious young single gal from LaMarque who secured her public profile as a reporter for Channel 2 could run as a Republican and win a state legislative seat representing West University Place and environs without sacrificing her principles (or many of them).

Now, of course, it is cool, even chic, to be a Republican in Texas. Everybody’s doing it. A couple of weeks ago, up in the East Texas county where our mother and father were raised and all of our known kin are buried, the weekly newspaper reported that several Republicans were vying for the top county jobs in their party’s March primary, among a long list of GOP hopefuls. Just two lonely Democrats were on their party’s ballot for district offices, both unopposed. This in what was once one of the most reliably Democratic-voting regions in the nation, outside, perhaps, of precincts in Berkeley, Calif. and parts of Chicago, Ill.

Yes, times and fashions change, and in this day of Tea Parties and Palin a GOP trailblazer such as Hutchison gets repaid by running second in the polls to a guy who up until 20 years ago was a Democrat and who won re-election with a just a little over a third of the vote. Like a River Oaks dowager who tries to run with the younger ponies by tarting herself up with Botox and Collagen, Hutchison has tried to make herself over to keep up with the times, but the results have been similarly unappetizing. This most painfully manifested itself during the first televised debate among the GOP gubernatorial candidates when Hutchison, pressed by an inquisitor as to whether she favors maintaining Roe v. Wade, offered up a novel reason for not overturning that Supreme Court decision, if we can take the liberty of interpreting her: Should Roe v. Wade be deemed unconstitutional, decisions on abortion would revert to state legislatures––which, in our humble opinion, would be one of the more salutary recent developments for Democrats, even in Texas––and, according to Hutchison, that would result in some states––here she’s probably thinking, or pretending to think, of Massachusetts, New York, Hawaii, etc,––would move to allow the wholesale yanking of full-term fetuses from their mothers’ wombs. That’s one way to look at it, and it certainly beats saying what’s no longer cool to say in the Texas Republican Party, “I believe a woman should have the right to choose an abortion,” ... because times and fashions change. (We would never presume to speak for the dead, but after Hutchison had concluded her tortured and dodgy explanation that evening we thought we heard a faint, ghostly cry of “M-----f---k!” off in the ether, followed by the hard snapping of a kitchen match being lit. Surely that was Jane Ely, once a pal and supporter of such disparate personages as Slampo and Kay Bailey Hutchison, issuing a damning judgment from the beyond.)

Now Hutchison is reduced to touting her support from the ancients of the Texas GOP––would even half of potential Republican primary voters be able to accurately identify James Baker, if forced to do so at gunpoint?––while her opponent prepares for his big endorsement by the GOP’s slightly tarnished but still almost-shiny-new although occasionally near-comatose Flamin‘ Creature of the Month.

As for the Cheney endorsement: We’re sure that the Hutchison campaign wouldn’t be airing that commercial with the picture of her and the skulking ex-vice president together if there wasn’t a poll somewhere that showed Cheney is still popular in Texas, at least among likely GOP primary voters, which puzzles us no end, given that about all Cheney has done for Texas is 1.) accidentally shoot a man in the face and 2.) help nearly run a once-sound oilfield-services company into the ground before floating off to high office in his Golden ’Chute,* both testaments to the man's gross incompetence.

*Disclosure: Our father was a Halliburton retiree who before his death held Cheney in about the same regard as he did Hitler and Tojo when he was freezing his behind off in the Ardennes back in ’45.

Friday, January 22, 2010

You Big Dummy

A couple of weeks back, while on the Upper East Side of Texas,* we were leaving the largest and finest Wal-Mart in Wood County just as an intense-looking, muscled-up 30ish black man was heading into the store, pushing an empty shopping cart. As we drew closer, we noticed the guy, who had a faint resemblance to the actor Tim Reid in his younger days, was wearing only a T-shirt (in addition to pants and shoes, of course, and possibly socks), even though it was, literally, 23 degrees F outside. Then his T-shirt registered: On it was emblazoned a picture of Red Foxx-as-Fred Sanford, and underneath Red/Fred’s familiar mug was one of Fred G.’s signature epithets/catchphrases, either “Dummy” or “You Dummy” or “You Big Dummy” (we forgot our notebook and memory subsequently has failed us). We drew down on our storehouse of stereotypes––it is quicker, as George Clooney said in that movie––and a couple of quick orienting thoughts sped through our mind: “This guy must spend all his free time pumping weight––he’s gotta be a fireman,” and, ““This guy’s too young to remember seeing Sanford and Son, except in reruns.” As we passed into the man’s proximate space, the sheer frontal absurdity and classical timeliness of the message caused us to smile a friendly smile and let loose with an audible snort of a laugh, but the guy just shifted his eyes ever so slightly and shot us a look that we interpreted, probably wrongly, to say, “Not up for any BS today, my man” or, “I’d just as soon stab you in the heart as contemplate your continued existence.”**

We doubtless were way off-base, and it’s possible, even likely, that this hardy dude wasn’t aware of our presence and was actually looking off into space, yet the cognitive dissonance brought on by the guy’s hard look and the fun-stering T-shirt message caused us to immediately abandon plans to politely inquire about what we were dying to know: “Where can we get a shirt like that?”***

Instead, we kept on pushing out into the cold, bearing our White Man's Burden.

*A coinage we have ripped off, wholesale, from County Line Magazine.

**Come to think of it, Foxx’s schtick-in-trade, before TV rounded off his rough edges and transformed him into the lovable but irascible junkman, was full-frontal hostility, as we learned from brief but sustained exposure to his pre-
Sanford “party records” while in high school. These were then deemed “adult” or “off-color,” although they more aptly were referred to as “dirty” and might even still be “dirty” by today’s lapsed standards. It’s unlikely, though, that Foxx’s Sanford banter with the comedienne La Wanda Page would be permitted these days, since it was premised on dark-skinned and extremely unattractive Page’s Aunt Esther being hectored and insulted (“You belong in the zoo!”) by Foxx, who of course was light enough to be known as “Red.” Who says humankind has made no progress?

***As we suspected, it is available
on the Internet. Where else?

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Aloysius Chronicles, Part IV: Carpetbagging Houston Councilman from Pearland Finally Updates His Bad-Joke Campaign Finance Reports

WARNING: The following is more extreme hyper-local, finely graded whatsis of limited reader interest. More to come.

We continue our ongoing exploration of the public record regrading our new city councilman from Houston’s District F, Aloysius Dayhung Hoang. As regular readers of longish attention spans will recall, Hoang had––and perhaps still has––only the sketchiest residential connection to the district he now represents, and the campaign finance reports he filed with the city during his campaign made, as we put it in a turn of phrase so felicitous we’ll pompuously repeat it here, a “mockery of the notion of ‘disclosure’ and hardly conform[ed] to the spirit of the law, much less the letter.”* Even before taking office Hoang made news, and not the good kind, when it was discovered his biography posted on the city of Houston Web site web contained this declaration of belief:
"While some of his opponents might advocate for gays and liberals rights, Al is defending Christian and family values."
As we noted back on Jan. 2, that is the same somewhat non-sequiturious declaration of belief that Hoang kept posted for several months on his campaign Web site––which, like the above-referenced biography, is ALL GONE, DISAPPEARED, VAMOOSED from the Web. (The city Web sites says Hoang’s page there is “under construction.”) This statement struck as especially hypocritical coming from Hoang, since the public record suggests that he himself practices what one of his minions derisively called an “alternative lifestyle” and not the “traditional family values” he purports to “defend.” In what appears to be the typical Al Hoang blame-someone-else reaction, the councilman’s mouthpiece told Channel 11
the biography was unauthorized and no one in Hoang's office gave the city's Webmaster permission to publish it. [Mouthpiece] said he didn't know where the text came from but an archived copy of Hoang's campaign Web site showed the same language in a biography published there...
Gay activists rightly took offense to this show of bigotry on a taxpayer-supported Web site, and some of Our Town’s liberal blogger types of course threw up their hands in mock chagrin. For our part, we think it’s always good for the public to have an idea of where elected officials are actually coming from, although Hoang’s miscue betrays his total lack of political skills and suggests that he, as we heard one of our uncles once say of a neighbor, is dumber than a telephone poll. (Hoang or any of his minions are as always welcome to rebut this or any other assertion made here.) It also suggests that Al Hoang is having difficulty transitioning from being a Big Man in the local Vietnamese community, where the internecine politics seem to still revolve around who hates Ho Chin Minh more, to representing a very diverse and very urban-suburban district.

To the record:

On Jan. 12, one moth after his election, Hoang posted what appears to be an updated campaign finance report covering his entire campaign. As we reported earlier, the previous four 1.) did not include a single date for a single expense or contribution, as required by law, and 2) did not confine themselves to expenses and contributions in the specific reporting periods preceding the filings , as required by law, and 3.) did not include the occupations of donors of more than $500 in a single reporting period, as required by law, and 4.) were a general mucked-up mess that, as we noted a few weeks back––stop us if you’ve heard this one before–– “made a mockery of the notion of ‘disclosure’ and hardly conform[ed] to the spirit of the law, much less the letter.”**

When these violations came to the attention of the Houston Chronicle, Hoang, a lawyer and graduate of UH and the TSU law school, maintained to the newspaper on two occasions that there was nothing at all wrong with his reports (the telephone-pole factor at work). But Hoang's latest report, which dates back to the earliest contributions he claims on Oct. 1 and continues through Jan. 7, includes dates of the contributions as well as the occupations of donors who gave more than $500. Thus far, AL HOANG HAS NOT WRITTEN, CALLED, EMAILED OR POSTED A COMMENT HERE TO THANK US FOR BRINGING THESE MATTERS TO HIS ATTENTION. (Actually, the only thank-you we need is acknowledgment of a job well done.)

We are happy to report that our own quick-check shows the line-item campaign expenses Hoang listed actually approximately add up to the $106,000 in total that he reported (this being a volunteer operation, we don't have time to do the contributions side of the ledger). We are saddened to report, however, that many problems persist with Al Hoang’s ideas of "disclosure,” including:
A.) Many, many contributions––too many to count––with no address or even a zip code for I.D. purposes

B.) A $200 contribution from the mysteriously one-named “Son” of Sugar Land, on 10-20-09 (full names are required by law).

C.) A $4,400 contribution from equally one-named “Pete” of Fort Bend Mechanical, which according to its web site does heavy-duty electrical service and repair work. (Hmmm....)

D.) “Exchanges of value”––we know of no other term to use here––with local businesses, mostly Vietnamese-language media, that Hoang listed as both contributions and expenditures. (Can they legally be both?) For instance, there was an old favorite of ours from his previous reports, a $9,910 something-or-other from the Ocean Place restaurant on Bellaire, which as both donation and expense was accompanied by the notation “5K in food, contributed by owner, remainder collected in cash at the event for the rest of the food/event” That’s clear as mud. (Under the Texas Election Code, it is, by the way, illegal to accept more than $100 in cash from any single donor, on the off-chance that restriction might apply here.) Similar contributions/expenses were reported from Ma Khanh-Little Saigon Radio and Saigon Houston 900 AM for $5,000 each, among others.

E.) A listing of a payment to Thai Spice restaurant on Dec. 14 of no dollar amount (that is, none listed).
You can accuse us of nitpicking here, but these laws exist for a reason, a good reason, and failure to follow them reveals both incompetence and contempt for the public.

As we previously noted, almost all of Hoang's donors were fellow Vietnamese-Americans (we could find but two names that weren't Vietnamese among his 100 or so pages of contributors), which suggests that Hoang's victory wasn't exactly the triumph of diversity that some of Our Town's Leading Diversicrats might be inclined to view it as (it was the opposite, obviously). And Hoang, at least as of mid-month, hadn't much broadened his funding base. So far, the late-train spigot for Hoang looks to be about as frozen as our water pipes were recently, result of a Hoang-like ommission when we forgot to wrap 'em or leave the water running and fell alseep on the couch. Hoang did report three early-January contributions from the usual non-Vietnamese suspects: $5,000 from the Houston Police Officer’s [sic] Union PAC, $1,000 from the Continental Airlines Fund, and another $1,000 from James Dannebaum, the engineer and UT regent who famously, or infamously, helped bankroll the anti-gay mailer from Hotze the Herb Doctor's organization targeting Annise Parker (Hoang was one of two Hotze-backed candidates who won election).

We’re glad the new mayor isn’t the vindictive sort. :)

*We understand that it's OK, even encouraged, to quote yourself in the grove of academia, but in the outside world it's just lame, right?

Monday, January 18, 2010

Portrait of Hunger, With Bluetooth

Last week an undersecretary in the Department of Agriculture came to Texas and declared that the state has, according to a report in the Jan. 13 Houston Chronicle, “the worst performing food stamp program in the nation.” What he meant, basically, was that Texas should eliminate its requirements that food-stamp applicants undergo fingerprinting and fill out what the newspaper described as a “time consuming and complicated assets test” so that applications can be processed faster and more people can be eligible for government-subsidized victuals. “If I were a native son sitting down here, I would be very upset that my state was not the leader it is capable of being,” said the undersecretary, who obviously is not a native son sitting down here.

Upon reading this our first thought was, “This undersecretary must be an undercover operative for Rick Perry’s re-election campaign.” Our second thought was, “If I were a Republican, and I’m not, I’d make sure this undersecretary’s statement was stapled to the behinds of Bill White (or, maybe, Farouk Shami) and Ronnie Earle (or, maybe, whoever) to see how far they can run with it.” (By the way, does White have a position on this? We searched high and low on his Web site and even his Facebook page and can find none. Perhaps his position is too, too nuanced and complicated to be explained in a coherent and logical fashion––like Kay Bailey Hutchison’s position on maintaining Roe v. Wade.* Personally, we have no problem with expanding food-stamp availability, temporarily and if necessary, although we see nothing whatsoever wrong with requiring applicants to undergo some semi-foolproof methods of identification confirmation and means-testing.)

Sure as the hack tunesmiths of Tin Pan Alley were once moved to reflexively rhyme “moon” with “June” came the Whole Foods shoppers-cum-hunger artists (or artiste), of the Chronicle editorial page, who on Sunday past once again ascended to that Upper West Side of the mind to look down their long, thin noses at Texas and declare “Shame on us: Texas is the worst state in the nation providing food assistance to the hungry.” The hungry? Since when is not being able to immediately acquire food stamps synonymous with “hunger”? (That groaning noise was Orwell, rolling over in his grave while trying to light a cigarette.) The editorial predictably called for doing away with the fingerprinting and means-testing procedures, requirements designed to hold down, if not fully eliminate fraud. “To have so many Texans going hungry should be unacceptable in this proud and walthy state of ours,” harrumphed the editorial, which for some reason did not include the usual routine mention of Children at Risk, the Bob Stein of local social-service lobbyist organizations.

But some Chronicle readers reside in the real world, having no doubt stood in line at the grocery check-out behind overweight shoppers who used their Lone Star cards to buy all manner of unhealthy edibles and then whipped out a wad of cash to pay for the beer, cigarettes and lottery tickets. (It happens, although we personally have never seen it at Whole Foods or Central Market). Next to the Sunday editorial the newspaper published a letter from one of those readers, a Sarah Gonzales, who, when it came to insight, logic and pith, had it all over the writer of the editorial:
I would like to suggest that if the Chronicle was attempting to garner sympathy for those who are facing challenges receiving food stamps, perhaps a better picture could have been chosen to accompany the story. Of the three people pictured standing in line to receive food stamps, two of them are wearing Bluetooth devices. If I was having difficulty feeding my family or myself, the latest in cell phone technology would not be a priority for my discretionary income.
We went back to examine the picture Ms. Gonzales cited, and, sure enough, two of the three (that’s 66 percent) visible would-be food-stamp applicants had those noisome little phone devices in their ears. Perhaps Ms. Gonzales was too polite to mention it, but we’re not: None of the three looked to have missed too many meals lately. You could, in fact, politely describe them as overfed.

On the same day the paper ran its editorial its front page carried a striking Associated Press picture from Haiti that illustrated what real hunger looks like. It did not look like fat people standing leisurely in line while chatting on their Bluetooths (or Blueteeth?).

So tell us: Where should the “shame” really lie?

*In the interest of disclosure, we, like Hutchison, favor maintaining Roe v. Wade and a woman's right to an abortion. We also favor maintaining the death penalty. You might say that we are, in the currently degraded political parlance, pro-death.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Shami Time! (Updated With the Latest)

Like most Texans––you could safely round the percent up to 99.9––we have devoted little of our short span of attention to the gubernatorial candidacy of Farouk Shami. But everything changes, as the venerable Shunryu Suzuki once observed, and so it was that last week, during a pilgrimage of several days to the unusually frigid ancestral hunting grounds in deep East Texas, we were forced to consider, at least in passing, the man who as of this moment could be the best-known Democratic candidate for governor from Houston. From Woodville far north to the near-Arcitc climes of Wood County, from whence we were forced to flee after being apprised of the mercury’s impending drop to 11 degrees F or thereabouts, Shami’s radio commercials––or commercial, as it seemed to be the same one, over and over––were in heavy rotation. As we punched the dial (or whatever it is you do with a digital radio) to and fro, searching for a tune to set our toes a tappin’ and slap a happy-ass smile on our sour and cold-benumbed puss, there seemed to be no escape from that friendly announcer’s voice touting the wonders of the Palestinian hairdresser-turned-manufacturer-of-hair-care-products––even on one of our favorite radio stations in the whole of Texas, which plays nothing but country music, mostly from the 1970s, that originally appealed to white men of our approximate age. Pushing north, heater roaring and radio blasting, singing loudly along to Kiss an Angel Good Morning or some other classic, we rode with Shami. (We usually ride with Jesus, but he had informed us it was too cold for him to make the journey.)

After the 5th or 6th hearing of his commercial, one small matter about the wonders of Shami began to bug us, a little, and that was his claim to have “brought,” past tense, 1,200 jobs to Texas by moving “his factories here from China.” Which naturally gives rise to several questions, at least in our mind: Why were these jobs in China in the first place, Sr. Shami? And have all of these alleged 1,200 jobs actually been filled with paycheck-drawing Texans, as of, say, last week? Does he actually have "thousands" of Texans on his payroll? And does Farouk Systems Inc. still have overseas manufacturing locations, and if so could Shami also bring those back to Texas? These are about the only questions we would have for Shami, should we ever be in a position to interrogate him, because the job-creation bit seems to be the end-all and be-all of his campaign––that and the success one can achieve smoothing-down even the unruliest of locks with the CHI Flat Iron.

Now we know these questions may never be plumbed or even asked, since the Texas political press, such as it is these days, most likely considers Shami a trifling annoyance, a fool and his money rapidly being departed, a mere sideshow to the big Perry-Hutchison Preliminary and the much-anticipated showdown between Bill White and The Winner of Perry-Hutchison Preliminary. That’s understandable. We don’t have to ring up Rice University’s Bob Stein to state the obvious: At the present time, Texans are not disposed to electing a Palestinian-American Muslim ex-hairdresser named Farouk as their governor, even if he promises each and every one of them a lifetime $40,000-a-year job with full benefits manufacturing CHI Keratin Hair Mist. As Shunryu Suzuki might observe, were he alive, things are changing, even in small-town Texas, where the jovial Middle Eastern owner-operator of the gas station-convenience store is now a stock figure, even a beloved character, on the social-commercial landscape. But they’re not changing that fast. Some day Texans may be ready to choose as their governor a Palestinian hair-care products manufacturer, even a gay Palestinian hair-care products manufacturer. But not this day.

However, since Shami is spending so much of his CHI-derived wealth on TV and radio commercials, money that might otherwise be invested in refining new hair-care products or upping the pay and benefits of his supposed 1,200 Texas-based employees, we believe the political press has the obligation to pursue these matters of public interest. At the very least, answers to these questions would provide fodder for Wayne Slater of the Dallas Morning News to lob an incendiary "gotcha” inquiry at Shami should he, Shami that is, be allowed access to the public airwaves for a debate with the other Democratic gubernatorial candidate from Houston and whoever else is on the primary ballot.

We also hope someone in the political press will clear up a recently arisen question regrading the pronunciation of the candidate’s last name. On his commercials and elsewhere we’ve only heard it pronounced to rhyme with “Mammy!”, as in the Shamwow! Super Shammy® (made in Germany--they make good stuff in Germany!). The other night, though, we saw a Channel 11 report on some big money-back guarantee Shami is about to offer voters (WARNING: REPORT INCLUDES BRIEF APPEARANCE BY RICE UNIVERSITY’S BOB STEIN) and heard Shern-Min Chow, whom we think is a graduate of Yale or some other Ivy League institution, repeatedly pronounce it sha-ME. Now “SHAM-me” is a name Texans can relate to, since so many take a shammy to their pick-ups after a good Turtle-Waxing, but sha-ME sounds too effeminate, even Frenchified, for a Texas governor.

It may be too late for this, but Shami should follow the lead of another Palestinian-Texan trailblazer, perriennial Houston office-seeker Sam Fayed, who changed his name to (something like) “Texas Sam Houston Fayed” for ballot purposes. We like the sound of Farouk “Sam Houston Lamar Tom Landry Earl Campbell Jose Texas” Shami. That should do it.

UPDATE: We learn from today's column by the Chronicle's Rick Casey that Shami has forsaken Islam to embrace all religions, or most all religions, or no religion. Shami has issued a statement. Stand by for further developments.

Monday, January 11, 2010

on facebook, no one can hear you scream ('specially if you’re running for governor)

Due to personal circumstance entailing potential conflict and so forth, we have kept our lip buttoned regarding Yates High School’s 170-35 victory over the Lee High School basketball team, despite the almost overwhelming temptation to weigh in with some predictable het-up outrage. (And besides: Who cares what we think about it? Or what you think about it, for that matter.) However, as Houston’s handsomest and strongest blogger (so voted 4 years running in the annual Slampo’s Place “Best Of Houston” competition), we are duty-bound to call your attention to some recent postings on the Facebook page of our own ex-alcalde and gubernatorial hopeful-turned-U.S. Senate candidate-turned-back-to-gubernatorial candidate. (Why Bill White is wasting time on Facebook when he should be out getting on TV while clearing brush with a chainsaw is a question we shall not address here; however, we must acknowledge that White’s online noodlings are mildly interesting––in one he relates that he’s reading state budget papers while watching a Band of Brothers rerun on HBO*, a perhaps too-honest admission of an attention deficit–– and are not something you’d catch many other, if any, candidates for high statewide office doing, if only because they appear to have been written in a spirit of spontaneity, or at least as much in the spirit of spontanety as the public expression of a politician’s normally tightly edited thoughts can get.**)

The posting to which we direct your attention went up on Saturday afternoon, when White, who must fancy himself as a sort of grey eminence or mayor emeritus or some such for Houston, wrote:
Much talk re Yates/Lee basketball score, 170-35. Some students work hard in Yates' great BB program. Lee's a champ on another scoreboard: college entrance up, 25% to over 40% in 5 yrs.; city's fastest growing AP program; "school within a school" with flexible hours, for those who must work; 100 plus mentors; a health clinic; and much more, for a big school with students who speak over 40 languages at home.
Now that’s a nice sentiment, expressed without great drama or fanfare as a keep-your-chin-up pat-on-the-back for Lee (and one we understand was much appreciated in the school’s community). Not the sort of thing you’d imagine anyone objecting to, or that would create any controversy at all. But in politics, there apparently is no such thing as an innocuous statement, no matter how mild and/or heartfelt, and so not long after White’s shout-out to Lee came one Jeanine Robertson, who responded:
Not understanding how someone running for office can only highlight Yates BB program and overshadow their success by praising Lee. This school is located in a poor area of town, therefore, my question is why can't these kids have the option of a flexible schedule so that they can work and assist their families as well? Instead of putting Yates down because they won a game against Lee, how about making all Texas schools equal so that all kids in the state have the same opportunities. The staff at Yates is doing an awesome job with what they have available.
A Nathan Jones added his two cents:
This statement is dumb and coming from someone who put his face between Dr.King and President Obama you didnt leave a mark in history in no way Im a proud Yates grad and we offer more than athletics ..we learned common sense and how to be successful people in this world!!! So u lost my vote and support!!
... as did David Anthony Wakat:
Yates is a great bb program let them boys play.
Then came Nia Billy, addressing Nathan Jones and sticking up for White by rewriting the ex-mayor's personal history***:
Nathan ... I think you took the comment the wrong way. I think that Bill White is a little biased because he went to Lee. Hopefully you won't truly support the other candidates cuz they TRULLY mean harm!
The unexpected blowback set off a string of faintly hilarious name-dropping rejoinders by White, seeking understanding and/or exculpation:
My comment wasn't against Yates, which has made strides academically. I know two of Yates senior players and they will be productive citizens. I've also attended ceremonies recognizing Yates' many honor students. My point: innovative academic programs should be a source of renown and pride. I was last at Lee with Bill and Melinda Gates, who wanted to see a model high school. That is worth a highlight film.
To one commenter below, I don't choose sides between these schools. I have been on Yates campus many times for many reasons, including basketball. Can't we acknowledge Lee without criticizing Yates?
I encourage readers to go to my post earlier today about Lee. Those are facts worth knowing. To some who think praising Lee shows lack of respect for Yates and its team: I logged many hours in the stands. My son started on the same Houston Hoops team with some Yates players. When I took Dkembe to the Yates gym a few years ago to watch, he told the players: keep your eye on the academics.
That was it for Saturday, but White was back at it again early Sunday, at 5:21 a.m. to be exact (up and at ‘em!), wading even deeper into controversy with a declarative sentence that’s sure to catch the attention of GOP opposition researchers:
It is nice to be reading the paper by a fire this cold Sunday am.

Addendum: Things Bill White Has Learned Thus Far from His Facebook Page, Although He Probably Already Knew Them:

1 Many Texans have difficulty with basic reading comprehension.
2. Some Texans have difficulty spelling words such as “truly.”
3. Some Texans have difficulty with proper subject-verb agreement.
4. No good deed goes unpunished.

*Personally, we'd go with Band of Brothers.
**For instance, we're pretty sure that merely drawing breath is not a spontaneous act for Kay Bailey Hutchison.
***White grew up in San Antonio, where he may have attended a school called "Robert E. Lee," if there is one so named in San Antonio––we believe there are Lee High Schools about every 100 or so miles in Texas––but the one in Houston would have required him to undertake a very long daily commute.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Problema Grande, SoluciĆ³n Obvia

The Sunday, January 10 edition of the Houston Chronicle brought front-page, banner-headline news of a “problem” in Our Town. (For some reason we don't care to know, we could find no evidence of this story anywhere on or in the paper's online edition as of 12:30 p..m. Sunday.) As with most “problems” “exposed” by formulaic journalism (that’s the set-‘em-up, knock-‘em-down kind that doesn’t tell you anything new or revealing about particular people with real names and addresses), this problem apparently can only be remedied by greater effort, and increased expenditures of taxpayers’ money, on the part of government.

This particular problem––the problem de jour, if you will––rests on the shocking “news” that many people in Houston, far too many people in fact, do not speak English. This state of affairs “adds burdens to police and public,” as the ungainly banner headline screeched, in a “city of global dialects.” (Dialects? Do they still use dictionaries at newspapers, or is that another archaic tradition that’s fallen victim to budget cuts?) That apparently results in situations in which officers who speak only English rely on “wrecker drivers, bystanders or victims’ children to act as translators if bilingual [read: Spanish-speaking] officers are not available.” This despite a Houston Police Department program that "pays $1.9 million annually in extra pay to 1,046 bilingual-certified officers,” among whose number are “904 officers certified as fluent in Spanish” and an unspecified (by the Chronicle) lot “who can speak Vietnamese, two dialects of Chinese and Korean.” (We’d hazard a guesstimate that the number of the latter two rounds up to about 3 or 4.)

To illustrate the pressing nature of this problem, the Chronicle notes that the Houston school district “has identified about 100 languages spoken in students’ home.” What that means, we suppose, is that the ideal HPD officer would be able to investigate and thwart crime in, oh, about 50 different tongues, although such skills would probably price an applicant far out of the police academy. But such deft linguists certainly would be an improvement over all these dumbass native-English-speaking officers who obviously aren’t cut out for police work due to their monolingualism. Their ineptitude contributes to the following tear-extracting vignettes, and “often,” supposedly:
The lack of bilingual officers often forces victims to recount intimate details of a sexual attack to a neighbor acting as translator for an officer, said one veteran HPD investigator....
Not to sound unfeeling or unsympathetic to crime victims, but isn’t the obvious and most cost-effective “solution” to this “problem” to have people who come to this country, legally or illegally but in either case out of their own free will, get cracking and LEARN SOME GODDAMN ENGLISH?

We suppose that would just be too much to ask.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Small Town, Global Village

From "Mineola Police Report," the Mineola Monitor, Jan. 6 edition:
Dec. 23 - A person reported that they bought an Ipod off the internet and sent their money to China and received some shoes in return. The matter was turned over to the FBI.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

The Aloysius Chronicles, Part III: Does the Incoming Houston Councilman from Pearland Practice an “Alternative Lifestyle,” and If So What Sort?

More from the public record regarding Al Hoang (a/k/a Hoang Duy Hung), who’s to be sworn-in Monday as the new Houston councilman from District F, thus continuing what apparently has become a tradition of the district being represented by people who don’t live there:

1. Hoang, after first refusing to speak with the Houston Chronicle about residency issues raised by the public record, and in fact after hanging up the phone on reporter Mike Snyder (an auspicious start in media relations for a rookie officeholder), on Dec. 28 emailed the Chronicle informing it that the homestead exemption claimed on his property at 4403 Bugle in District F was carried over from the previous owner in Harris County Appraisal District records. This was confirmed by HCAD. This bit of late-breaking information eliminated “any concern that Hoang and his wife had wrongly claimed exemptions on separate properties,” as the Chronicle cautiously parsed it in story posted on Dec. 28. But it did not, as we’ll incautiously add, eliminate concern that DISTRICT F WILL AGAIN BE REPRESENTED BY A CARPETBAGGER WHO DIDN’T MEET THE RESIDENCY REQUIREMENT TO RUN FOR THE OFFICE (either the legal requirement or the non-legal requirement––that is, the real-world one in which decent, honorable people know and generally agree on what words such as “residency” mean). And while it appears to be technically wrong to report, as we did, that Hoang “claimed” the exemption, he didn’t exactly disclaim it, either, and according to what HCAD told the Chronicle he can still benefit from the break on his tax bill due Jan. 31, even though he’s been listed as owning the house for most of last year.

2. This late-breaking information does not eliminate the fact that Hoang’s wife, or his wife-of-record, claims a homestead exemption on a house at 2702 Sunfish Dr. in Pearland in Brazoria County (that’s far out of District F, for the record). The deed on the house was transferred from Hoang to his wife in March 2008, according to Brazoria County Appraisal District records. But his homestead exemption-claiming wife, or maybe it’s just someone with a name identical to hers, is registered to vote at 4403 Bugle in District F (that’s far outside of Pearland, for the record), along with Al Hoang and three other full-size adults (that’s 5 in total). So his wife lives in Pearland––Texas law allows the homestead exemption only on the owner’s “primary place of residence”––but is registered to vote in District F in Houston.

3. One of the five adults listing their voter-registration address as 4403 Bugle is a Duyen K. Trinh. A Duyen Kim Trinh is listed on Hoang’s campaign Web site as having been on Hoang’s campaign staff in some unspecified “voter outreach” capacity. According to Harris County appraisal district records, Hoang took ownership of the residence at 4403 Bugle on March 3 of this year from a Duyen K. Trinh. Of course, residency does not mean “home ownership,” so it’s possible that Hoang was bunking down at 4403 Bugle prior to acquiring the property. Perhaps his wife and the the three young children they appear to have (judging by the photos on his Web site) were also bunking there, along with the three other adults registered there to vote. It’s possible, as the structure encloses about 1,900 square feet and contains 3 bedrooms, according to HCAD, but it’d be a tight fit for all.

4. In his exchange with the Chronicle of Dec. 28 Hoang also “provided a Texas Department of Public Safety document showing the Bugle address was applied to his driver's license in May 2008,” according to the paper, a fact that was confirmed by the DPS. As one astute comment affixed to the Chronicle story noted, this came shortly after Hoang’s candidacy for a Harris County district judgeship in the March 4, 2008 Republican primary (he finished third in a field of three). The following day, Hoang was recorded as deeding the Pearland property to his wife, meaning he was a Brazoria County homeowner when he ran for a Harris County judgeship.

5. While the driver’s license change-of-address suggests that Hoang at least was crossing his legal i’s in preparation for running in District F, he did not cross his t’s, because, as the Chronicle previously reported, Al Hoang was listed at the 2702 Sunfish address in Pearland for 2009 taxing purposes on property he owns in Galveston County. He's also still listed as having a residential phone at 2702 Sunfish, in addition to one at 4403 Bugle.

6. From the available public record, and in lieu of some explanation from Al Hoang (supplied by doing something apparently totally out of character, like speaking by phone or in-person to a reporter or other interested party), one can only conclude that Al Hoang is involved in one of those “alternative lifestyles” that one of his supporters sniggeringly mentioned in a comment left on this blog after the Dec. 12 runoff election. Now we don’t really care what alternative lifestyle Al Hoang may be pursuing––we’re fairly libertarian in these matters and it’s OK by us whichever way he may swing, as long as it’s with a two-legged adult(s) somewhere above the age of consent––but Al Hoang claims to care a great deal about such personal proclivities, as evidenced by this statement on his Web site:
“While some of his opponents might advocate for gays and liberals’ rights, Al is defending Christian and family values.”*
Yes, Mr. Family Values Who Claims Not to Live With His Wife, let’s not be concerned with the rights of gay people, especially those of the new mayor and veteran at-large councilwoman you’ll supposedly be working with to secure those infrastructure improvements you’ve promised to District F.

7. We’ll not belabor this point at present, but Hoang, at least as of Dec. 31, had made no move to amend the bad-joke campaign finance reports he filed, which are devoid of dates of even one contribution or expense and or otherwise so messed-up we wouldn’t even begin to try to describe them. We suspect that even an entity with subpoena power, such as the district attorney or the Texas Ethics Commission, would have a hard time getting to the bottom of Al Hoang’s campaign finances, but we do hope someone gives it a shot.

8. Al Hoang as councilman promises great City Hall entertainment for the coming two years. We just wish he wasn’t going to be our councilman (in a democracy, of course, one gets the government one deserves).

*Hoang seems to have had an interesting life, if the bio posted on his campaign Web site is anywhere near the truth (and we certainly wouldn’t take it at face value): After graduating from high school “Al became a Christian religious brother spending his 4 years in fasting, prayers, and meditations,” it says. This explains the “Aloysius”––a fine Irish-Catholic name, redolent of fish sticks on Friday and stiff-necked Jesuits stalking the hallways with yardsticks––and may also explain Al’s rather unyielding Augustinian/Manichaean worldview: “A Vote for Conservative vs. Liberal is a Vote for Right vs. Wrong.” Hoang ‘s site also says that after he graduated from UH he “came back to Vietnam voicing for human rights and freedom. In 1992, the Communist Regime imprisoned him 15 months in solitary confinement for his belief in Democracy. The U.S Department of States intervened and he was released back to the U.S in 1993.” OK, that would also explain the Manichaean worldview (if true).

To be continued (sorry) as developments warrant.