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.