Archive for December, 2008

Feliz Navidad From Pancho Claus

December 24, 2008
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San Antonio's Pancho Claus

Today’s paper has the story, video, and images of Pancho Claus, the Tex-Mex incarnation of Santa Claus who visits us every year.  Unfortunately, the Chronicle’s video does not let me embed it here.  Watch the video, and don’t forget to check out the image gallery.

It’s a wonderful story, and it has a lot of nostalgia for me.  I remember every year after I grew up and moved away up North and then to California, Mom would tell me about seeing the River Parade on TV and Pancho Claus coming down the Paseo del Rio on the barge.  It was a holiday tradition.

Now back in Texas but in Houston instead, I find Pancho’s more contemporary incarnation: Instead of the genuine poncho, he sports a red zoot suit and arrives with eight low-riders in train.  After all, you can’t have reindeer running around a big city like this.

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Pearland Still Booming: Waterlights and Presidents

December 21, 2008

Last February I posted about the Presidential Park that is coming to my neighborhood, including the enormous busts of the Presidents’ heads.

The project is moving forward now, with the ground cleared and excavation begun on the “grand canal.” Groundbreaking for the first “mixed-use” building will be in 2009, to be followed by two hotels and an office building.  All this in spite of the recession and credit-crunch: The developers are starting with all-cash financing obtained through private investors.

With the prime “location, location, location” next to two expressways and not too far from the Texas Medical Center and downtown Houston, they have confidence in their prospects.  The Chronicle quotes developer Richard Browne, who has worked on developments in Indonesia, Mexico, and the U.S.: “In all that time, none of those sites match the opportunity we have in Pearland.”

Winter Coming In

December 20, 2008

Tomorrow is the official start of Winter, but we’ve already had some early frosts here in suburban Houston. My “mystery plant” that usually blooms in January has already started its seasonal display.

My Mystery Plant In Bloom

My Mystery Plant In Bloom

It’s some sort of bromeliad, I think.  The leaves are very sharp.  It was left at my old home in San Diego by the former owners.  When we moved to Galveston in 2002, I brought some of it with us and planted it in the ground.  It multiplied, I divided it, it multiplied again.  I dug up some of it and brought it with us to Pearland when we moved up here last year.

Inauguration Thoughts: LBJ, Graham, BHO, Warren

December 19, 2008

Now that it’s been announced that anti-gay pastor Rick Warren will give the invocation at Barack Obama’s Inauguration, the activists are in an uproar and the blogosphere is in flames.  Many GLBT people are feeling personally offended and slighted by the decision, and they are expressing outrage in their usual hyperbole.

I have a different view: I’m not ready to get mad yet.

Last night I was reading about LBJ’s 1965 Inauguration.  At the time, the marches from Selma to Montgomery were going on and people were being beaten and killed.  Segregationists were actively standing against equality in the courts and in the streets, by words and by violence.

LBJ gave his speech in front of all of Congress — Strom Thurmond, John Stennis, and the rest — and he demanded the passage of the Voting Rights Act.  He used his considerable and Machiavellian political skills on behalf of civil rights.  I don’t know if Obama is as skilled as LBJ, but he just might be.  I’m willing to judge Obama by what he actually says and does, and if he fails to come through on ENDA, DADT, DOMA, and his other promises on civil rights, then I’ll hold his feet to the fire.

As for Rick Warren, he’s now being called the new Billy Graham.  Graham was an ardent anti-segregationist.  He preached with Martin Luther King at a 16-week revival in 1957, and they were close friends.  Yet, even Graham was known to have made anti-Semitic remarks.  Warren, known for combining attention to progressive issues such as global warming, poverty, and HIV, has spoken at the United Nations, the World Economic Forum in Davos, the African Union, the Council on Foreign Relations, Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, TED, and Time’s Global Health Summit.  He is a man of stature and influence, not just another Jimmy Swaggart or Oral Roberts.

Warren has said that his opposition to same-sex marriage is “non-negotiable” and has compared gays to pedophiles and polygamists.  This is by no means unusual for an Evangelical preacher, and I do not defend his position.  It’s offensive and wrong.  He’s also said his positions on abortion and other “hot button” issues are “non-negotiable”.

Yet, Warren has invited Obama to speak at his church in the past.  Unlike the more hard-line Evangelicals, Warren is willing and able to talk and share a platform with people he disagrees with.  “Non-negotiable” he may be, but he says this in the context of detente, not the endless culture war that has stymied progress so long.

For Obama, who has repeatedly pledged to bridge the cultural divide and bring people together, and who has said that he would even meet foreign anti-American leaders “without precondition,” bringing a moderate Evangelical like Warren onto his platform seems like a natural step.

These divides are huge, but they can be bridged.  It will require a leap of faith and yes, some trust, from all sides.  In the meantime, I hope that the rest of the Religious Right could step back and think about what Billy Graham said when he refused to join the Moral Majority:

I’m for morality, but morality goes beyond sex to human freedom and social justice. We as clergy know so very little to speak with authority on the Panama Canal or superiority of armaments. Evangelists cannot be closely identified with any particular party or person. We have to stand in the middle in order to preach to all people, right and left. I haven’t been faithful to my own advice in the past. I will be in the future.

Of course, I’m not an Evangelist, at least not in any religious sense.

I don’t even call myself a Christian.

But I stand in the middle, too.

Texas-Sized Grocery War

December 14, 2008

A new Kroger Signature opens today in our neighborhood.  At 100,000 square feet, it’s advertised as the largest Kroger in Texas.  The Kroger is in direct competition with a nearby HEB-Plus that opened last year shortly before Thanksgiving.

About fifty percent largest than the Kroger, the HEB’s wide array of electronics, houseware, and even furniture carries it into the market space of the nearby WalMart Supercenter and SuperTarget.  Or vice-versa: I can’t quite get my mind wrapped around the idea of buying groceries at Target, much less buying a bed in HEB.

Also in the mix, directly across the street from WalMart we have Safeway Incognito (they call it Randall’s), a more conventional but beautiful upscale supermarket.

Last month, Channel 11 and Channel 2 did both did stories ranking local grocery store prices.  The results are pretty much what you would expect: WalMart is the least expensive, Randall’s is the most expensive, and HEB and Kroger are pretty close, depending on your particular grocery choices.

I have no reservations about shopping at WalMart, although I get frustrated that many of the things I buy are out of stock more often there than at the other stores.  I tend to find Target a little pricey for foods, though Channel 2 did not.  Maybe that’s because my market-basket concentrates on store-brands, and Kroger and HEB have more choices among both “value-oriented” and “quality” store-brand options.  And Randall’s?  Nice place to visit, but I can’t afford to shop there.

Retail is still expanding here in Pearland, even as it stalls and shrinks across the country.  We have pent-up demand from our rapid suburban population growth.  Kroger, in particular, started planning this store over a year ago, knowing that they were losing customers to their competition by not having a presence close by:  Why drive five miles to Kroger if you pass four other grocers on the way?  Even though gas is down to $1.35/gallon and falling, why waste it idling in traffic?

This week we’re ground zero in the Texas-sized grocery war.  Who’s going to win?

Hopefully, consumers.

Finally, Mobile Homes

December 12, 2008

FEMA will be installing some 1,000 mobile homes in  Galveston County by January, the Daily News reports today.  This will be coming more than three months after Hurricane Ike struck.  Since no trailers were provided this go-round because of health and safety concerns, and since many rental properties were also rendered uninhabitable by the storm, a good number of coastal residents have been waiting through this time crammed in with family and friends, commuting from rentals miles away, or even sleeping in tents.

With the freezing temperatures and snowfall this week, I’m sure the tent-dwellers are happy to know that homes are on the way.

It’s easy — too easy — to blame this delay on FEMA.  In truth, there’s plenty of blame to go around, and state, county, and city authorities all should step up and take their share.

But let’s forget about blame now.  Blame is a losing game.  What is really needed is improvement, better planning and a faster response, for the next storm, and the one after that.

And in this holiday season, let’s just be grateful that finally, these people will be getting homes.

Don’t Tell Me Who To Love

December 10, 2008

The latest from Ray Boltz, a hit-making and award-winning Gospel artist who came out in 2004.

The video is presented by Soulforce, an organization which challenges and confronts anti-GLBT religious bigotry.

I hope that he is better received than Marsha Stevens, famous for the seminal 1970’s contemporary/folk hymn “Come To The Water (For Those Tears I Died).”  Stevens was renounced and condemned by most Evangelicals after she came out as a lesbian, but she and her partner continue to work and minister with the Metropolitan Community Church and with concerts and appearances at other open and affirming congregations.

I remember Stevens’ song  as one of my favorites that I learned to play on the guitar and sing when I was a teenager, though it wasn’t one we used in our Catholic parish when I was in the choir.  It didn’t make it into our Dignity/Washington repertoire, either, although we did happily adopt “Lover Of Us All” by Dan Schutte of the St. Louis Jesuits.  I don’t know if Schutte ever officially came out, but I remember him introducing the song at the Dignity National Convention.

Every Single Day Must Have A Gay

December 9, 2008

Tomorrow has been announced to be a “Day Without A Gay.” From their web site:

The worldwide media attention surrounding our massive grassweb efforts for gay rights has been tremendous. Join the Impact was a HUGE success and will continue to thrive because of our efforts.

We’ve reacted to anti-gay ballot initiatives in California, Arizona Florida, and Arkansas with anger, with resolve, and with courage. NOW, it’s time to show America and the world how we love.

Gay people and our allies are compassionate, sensitive, caring, mobilized, and programmed for success. A day without gays would be tragic because it would be a day without love.

On December 10, 2008 the gay community will take a historic stance against hatred by donating love to a variety of different causes.

On December 10, you are encouraged not to call in sick to work. You are encouraged to call in “gay”–and donate your time to service!

I understand that the organizers of the event were inspired in part by the “Day Without Immigrants” protest on May 1, 2006. Judging by the state of immigration reform efforts since then, I would say that the 2006 “Day Without,” while gaining attention, ultimately failed to accomplish meaningful change.

I know that many, many people are frustrated and angry about last month’s passage of California’s Proposition 8. The “Day Without” web site also mentions the ballot measures that passed in Arizona, Florida, and Arkansas, but clearly the focus of attention is California. No such movement arose after the 2004 ballot measures in Ohio, Texas, and numerous other states. Somehow, right now, the energy and anger are coming to a head because of California, and many people need for an outlet. They want to “do something” and “make a difference.”  People want to act.

I cannot believe these good intentions and this energy will go to waste. However, in the same manner as the 2006 “Day Without,” I expect that the “Day Without A Gay” will not ultimately effect change. So much more than this is required, every single day.

On this particular day, those who are not already out will probably not “call in gay.” Those who are “out” and who have gay-supportive workplaces may actually hurt their allies by doing this, unless they are encouraged to work with their employers in advance to use scheduled time off. And of course, those of of us who self-employed like me, or who work in gay-owned businesses, are simply shooting ourselves in the pocketbook.

What troubles me most, though, about the concept is the very title. I can almost hear the homophobes hearing about the slogan and cheering: “A Day Without A Gay” is what they want to have every single day.

We cannot give them that satisfaction.

Speaking for myself as a gay man who has been out of the closet for a quarter century, I would rather see gays every single day.

I would rather see gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, transgendered persons, and other members of sexual minorities claim their freedom to be honest about about their identities every single day.

I would rather see people perform acts of charity, mercy, and service every single day.

And I certainly do not wish to participate in a “tragedy.” Every day in my life is a day with love, and I try to bring that love in ways big and small to everyone I meet.

Every single day.

Do you want to help the effort in ways other than opting out or “calling in gay?” The “Day Without A Gay” web site has alternative suggestions.

I would add that the single most important thing is simply to be out.

Be yourself, with everyone.

Every single day.

“Overwhelmingly Bad” Federal, State, and Local Response to Ike

December 8, 2008

Michael A. Smith writes in The Galveston County Daily News that although we like to blame FEMA for a slow and insufficient response after Hurricane Ike, there’s plenty of blame to go around:

  • The Texas Workforce Commission mailed unemployment checks to people without addresses.
  • The Governor’s taskforce on short-term housing was formed two months after Ike displaced people from their homes.
  • Local governments have repeatedly set roadblocks to the placement of mobile homes on the most easily used sites.
  • Local bureaucracy has at times irrationally stood in the way of business recovery.

Add to that the overly-stringent rules which required Galveston residents to get building permits to replace drywall in their own homes, even though inspectors were only planning to do “spot-check” a comparative handful of houses.  Add to that Texas City, La Marque, and other towns prevented or delayed people from having FEMA-provided trailers on their own property.

Not to be overly bleak: Yes, many people are starting to move back into their homes while rebuilding, and others are starting to move into trailers.  Yes, businesses are reopening, especially on the Seawall, and they’re starting to come back downtown.  On the other hand, public housing residents must appeal to a neighboring Congresswoman to be their voice, while their own Representative is AWOL.  Renters face an uncertain future.  Thousands have just been laid off from UTMB, the Island’s largest employer, following what appears to have been an illegal closed-door meeting by the UT Board of Regents.

The red tape and small-mindedness is reflects a business-as-usual mindset, when an emergency-oriented response is still called for.  Some people are sleeping in tents, and nighttime temperatures down into the 30s.  Others are crammed a dozen or two dozen into the homes of friends or relatives.  No one thinks this is an acceptable situation.  Yet, somehow the combination of decisions made and actions taken (or not) by persons at all levels of government create a situation that no one wants.

If only we could clone Houston Mayor Bill White and Harris County Judge Ed Emmett.  Judging by their performance in and after the crisis, an army of White’s and Emmett’s could shake things up and cut through the crap enough to do what has to be done.