WORST OF HOUSTON 2011
” The man of knowledge must be able not only to love his enemies but also to hate his friends.”
– Friedrich Nietzsche
They say sunlight is the best antiseptic. They also say a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. Why those are relevant, I don’t know. But we are proud to offer up our annual Worst of Houston list this year in our continuing efforts to make Houston a better place by exposing some of it’s worst components. We can’t vouch for factual accuracy, positive motivation, or anything else for that matter but we hope you use this list for the greater good. Feel free to let us know how you feel about these but do so ever so gently because we are only good at giving criticism and not receiving it. ENTRIES DO NOT CONSTITUTE OPINION OF FREE PRESS HOUSTON BUT RATHER OPINION OF THE AUTHOR. firstname.lastname@example.org
WORST HOLIDAY TRAFFIC JAM: Anything close to the Galleria, Rice Village, Highland Village, Heights, or Montrose
Yeah yeah Houston traffic is terrible, blah blah blah. Nothing original here, though I am still somehow amazed by the transformation that takes place every single year on our city’s streets during the weeks before Christmas. It’s like living in New Delhi; only replace rickshaws with cars driven by fat moms from the suburbs. Houston’s holiday traffic has officially supplanted my grandparents’ soft toilet seat as the thing on earth I find most disgusting. Who the fuck are you people? My work commute has gotten so bad I’m now listing Planned Parenthood as the sole beneficiary in my Last Will & Testament.
Side observation- I wonder if up north an actual reindeer has ever been caught humping a car with those fake little reindeer horns.
-Steve Thompson Jr. @stevethompsonjr
Judging by the content of its website and Twitterfeed, CultureMap wants to transform the city of Houston into the snobby whore of Dallas. Someone should check to make sure CultureMap isn’t on the Houstonian’s payroll because the only way a country club locker room robbery gets “breaking news” status is if the country club is paying for it. Also, when did Facebook status updates become the cornerstone to journalistic research? CultureMap, with all of its River Oaks money, could be force for good in this city but instead it’s a force for wealthy landowners. Shame on you Top2%Map.com. Shame on you.
WORST CITY PLANNING ACTION OF THE YEAR: More Parking Spaces for No Good Reason
Whether Houston just wants to remain an oversized suburb, the Planning Commission has been huffing nitrous or City Council is letting big corporations like Target and Pappas write their laws, the new off-street parking requirements proposed this year are detrimental to this city’s growth, entrepreneurship, and community cohesion. Increasing minimum parking standards will negatively impact the use of mass transit and urban density, exacerbate drainage problems and possibly increase DUI-related deaths.
Parking ratios are based on pseudo-science handed down from one community to another without any consideration for market-based solutions. The Greater Houston Restaurant Association (GHRA), which represents large restaurants and chains, supports the new requirements, while independent restaurant owners have formed their own group, Organized Koalition on Restaurant Affairs (OKRA) to combat the new regulations. Help support an urbanized Houston by showing up to random City Council meetings and shouting or emailing them repeatedly at houstontx.gov/council.
WORST TEXAS POLITICIAN: Rick Perry
This isn’t even a contest. In August Perry was the rising star of the GOP, his much ballyhooed prayer rally at Reliant Stadium attracted so many conservatives and media types that it felt like a Republican convention. Oh, to go back to the heady days of late summer when Perry was seen as the great white hope, a dyed in the wool conservative who could unite the base and the establishment. Ah, to remember when the GOP primary was seen as a race solely between Perry and Romney. Now flash forward just four months and no one seriously thinks Perry has a chance of winning any state besides Texas. The only thing that Perry’s continued collapse does is show exactly why he was smart not to debate Bill White in 2010; White would have eaten him alive. And now to make matters worse, word has come out that since Perry took early “retirement” he’s pulling down $200,000 a year. Apparently he gets to keep his governor’s salary and gets his pension while campaigning. And to make matters worse we’re stuck with him for at least another three years. Thanks Rick.
WORST IGNORING OF HOUSTON’S MUSIC COMMUNITY: Revisions to Houston’s Sound ordinance
So the Mayor and City Council got together and formed a committee to explore revising the already ambiguous and inefficient Sound Ordinance. City officials, restaurant and resident associations, and other were invited to participate in the dialogue. Yet City officials failed to invite one musician, music venue operator, or anyone even closely related to the music community. So what we got was an ordinance that ignores the science of sound, the concerns of the music community, and common logic.
WORST PUBLICITY FOR A GREAT PROGRAM: Gold Card
It is actually surprising how many people eligible for Harris County’s indigent care program have no idea that it exists or that they are eligible. For those unfamiliar Harris County actually has a single payer health insurance plan for people with little to no income that takes care of things like emergency room visits and going to the doctor. It’s easy and free to apply and because the County doesn’t plaster the program on billboards all across town few people know about it. All the information and application forms are a simple Google search away.
When Bin Laden was allegedly killed, we tweeted ‘One down, 40 million to go.’ Though we thought it was hilarious and were trying to shed light on the fact that US foreign policy was killing Arab men daily, folks did not quite seem to catch the sarcasm. They also did not know we are A-rab owned and operated. We caused quite the kerfuffle.
WORST USE OF FACEBOOK: Bragging About Your Bank Robbery
Yeah, we’ve prolly all done dumb stuff on Facebook–it’s kind of made for that. I know I have–we’ve had to dedicate whole FPH podcasts to address the stupid shit I’ve posted. But when a teller at a bank that had recently been robbed and her boyfriend/accomplice started bragging about being rich and wiping their teeth with hundreds, they brought down themselves and two other accomplices–including another teller at the same bank.
WORST FOOD VOID: Sandwiches
If it were as easy to get a good turkey and Swiss on rye as it is to grab a torta or a cheeseburger, I wouldn’t be writing this “Worst Of.” I don’t want to pay $8 for it, I don’t want to buy it from a chain. I don’t need fancy bread or twelve different meats. I just want it made fresh and close to home. I’m lazy. Quit making me do all the work.
WORST ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT IN HOUSTON: Annise Parker’s Attack on Small Businesses
Back in 2008, I viewed my opportunity to vote for Annise Parker in the Mayoral Election as a godsend. To me, voting for Annise Parker meant I was voting progressively. Now, I must admit that the fact that Annise Parker is gay played a huge role in my decision. Was that a narrow-minded view of her sexual orientation– probably; and you can bet I’ll never make the same mistake again. In her first term as mayor, Annise Parker brought the hammer of Thor down on small businesses with the fury of the entire GOP. She introduced a sound ordinance that serves mostly as fiendish money grab and empowered police officers beyond their stated responsibility. She introduced a parking ordinance that encourages drunk driving and forces bars & restaurants to increase parking spots while alleviating the same burden on strip centers. Clearly, her mission as mayor is to send Houston back a decade in time.
President of HEB Scott McClelland is listed as one of the campaign contributors to former candidate for city council David Robinson. Mr. Robinson happens to be the president of the super-neighborhood Neartown Association, which encompasses most of the neighborhoods in Montrose, including Lancaster Place, whose residents were appalled at his blatant advocacy for the new HEB despite his fellow neighbors’ protests. Robinson lost his run for the at large position, which is a win for Montrosians with a penchant for restoration, not gentrification.
WORST OUTFIT FOR A BANK ROBBER: Rub-a-Dub Robber
The lack of style and pride in their appearance displayed by many Houstonians is well known. You know what I’m talking about, and if you don’t, go to any Super Walmart after 10 pm, or any time of day for that matter, and count the number of people in sweatpants, house shoes, and spaghetti-stained puffy paint unicorn t-shirts. Go ahead, I dare you. So it’s no surprise, I suppose, that on October 27, a woman walked into Lonestar Bank wearing a purple shower cap and pajamas, brandishing a gun, and robbed the bank. Our bank robbers don’t even have any style. Think back now to the time of Pretty Boy Floyd, and Bonnie and Clyde. The latter couple was so frickin’ stylish that a flippin’ Frenchman–a man held up as a paragon of style by even snooty French standards, Serge Gainsbourg–immortalized them in a song.
WORST BEER & WINE SELECTION: Montrose HEB
As HEB waits for the beer and wine license for their new Montrose location, held up because of their proximity to the St. Stephens Episcopal Church and School, they have made good use of the shelf space they’d allotted for fun juice by filling it with their overstock of douche bags. Douche sales have been so brisk that they are considering making the change permanent, and are considering serving douche bags, exclusively, at their still unused in-store bar. For those who want the real stuff–check the cough syrup aisle…or walk across the street to the neighborhood Fiesta.
WORST AUSTIN CHAIN TO COME TO HOUSTON: Torchy’s Tacos
Torchy’s serves ‘anglo’ style tacos that are composed of way too many cutesy ingredients, have silly names like ‘The Dirty Sanchez’, and cost upwards of 4 bux a piece. Hipsters with tattoo sleeves peddle vogue tacos with mango compotes, fried avocado, and jerk chicken. All I need is a great tortilla, good cuts of meat, fresh cilantro, and a killer salsa verde. Torchy’s piles so many trendy foodie relishes on their tacos I can’t tell what I am eating. A tip for Torchy’s: less is more.
WORST HOUSTON NEWS SOURCE: Any of them on TV
Whether it’s Channel 2 identifying the intersection of Fannin and Tuam as “Southeast Houston”, Channel 11 describing the Texans playoff berth as “The Run to the Super Bowl” or Channel 26 deciding to turn its 5 and 9 p.m. newscasts into conservative debates about such important issues as “is TV too gay” and the “War on Christmas”, local TV news sucks. Even Channel 39’s NewsFix could be fixed; more actual reporting and less TMZ voiceovers would be a good place to start. For one day, just one day, I would like to see a TV news cast focus on issues that aren’t discussed on a regular basis–like the area’s water shortage–instead of reporting gun crimes and traffic accidents. And yes murders, bank robberies and fatal accidents are important but isn’t it also important to know when we’re going to have rolling blackouts and more broken water pipes next summer?
WORST BARS: Those that have more flavored vodkas than decent whiskey
Don’t look at me like I’m crazy when I ask you what Irish whiskey’s you carry besides Jameson’s or Bushmill’s. I don’t want your rainbow-puke inducing, eight-ingredient panty-droppers. Charge my ass more. It’s a one- pour drink, neat. If you shelve it, they will come.
If you think Rick Perry is the worst Texas has to offer, think again! While Perry is a fucking homophobic moron whose low IQ makes George Bush look good, it is easier to critique his ultra-conservative ass than the so-called progressive politicians in Houston. In fact, our very own Mayor is making Perry look good by working hard to make Houston the worst city not just in Texas, but in the entire United States. For starters, what the fuck was the deal with the huge creepy red tent with which the Houston Police covered the Occupy Houston protesters?! Hiding violence against the protesters behind creepy closed tents is perhaps something Parker has learned from her mentors in Israel.
Parker, the Israeli sympathizer, is using the exact method that the state of Israel has used for decades: covering up its violence against the Palestinians with lies about being “the only democracy in the Middle East.” Not too long ago, Parker led a delegation of U.S. mayors on their trip to Israel. The American Jewish Committee, an Israeli propaganda machine that takes policymakers to Israel for “intensive learning and travel”, sponsored her November 14th to 20th trip to Israel.
Parker, who is working on building partnerships with Israeli companies, has not only learned from the Israeli apartheid regime to “successfully” manage dissent, but is eager about the way that the Israeli state has exploited natural resources stolen from Palestinians. She is fascinated by Israel’s fucking “aggressive expansion of its desalination plants” that provide Israel with most of its water. What Parker calls “reclaimed seawater” is really stolen seawater. At the same time that you are stopped at the Galleria by annoying aggressive sales people (former Israeli soldiers who have completed their military stint and had likely been murdering Palestinians) who insist on selling you stolen salt from the Dead Sea, packaged as fucking expensive skin products, the desalinated water is used to quench Israel’s greed. This is when Palestinians in Gaza do not have drinking water. And when the Dead Sea is being destroyed by Israel’s exploitation – yes folks, Israel is even killing the Dead Sea.
To make matters worse, Parker proudly announces that the Jerusalem Mayor, Nir Barkat, “wants to increase tourism to Israel’s capital city by improving ease of access and by creating destination events, like the Jerusalem Marathon.” Parker is happy to send tourists to Israel with easy access, when Palestinians’ access to their homeland is blocked at the fucking checkpoints, and when the only marathon Palestinians know is to run from the fucking Israeli “Defense” Force.
In the City of Houston press release, Parker states, “This is an opportunity to learn how we might be able to apply Israel’s model back in Houston.”
Exactly what type of Israeli model is she bringing back to Houston? What makes her think we would want anything remotely Israel-ish in our city? Did she see how Palestinian citizens of Israel are treated as third class citizens in the so-called democratic state of Israel? Did she see Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank treated like animals, caged in by a massive apartheid wall, checkpoints and roadblocks? Did she see Palestinian homes demolished, olive trees uprooted, and land continuously grabbed by Israel? Never mind the thousands of Palestinians killed and injured by Israeli air strikes, the thousands more in Israeli dungeons (many held without charge), and the racist Israeli policies that prevent millions of Palestinian refugees from returning to their rightful homes and villages, all courtesy of our tax dollars.
Of course she did not see these things. She, like any other person who tours Israel, would see a version that censors Israel’s ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians. But we expected her to know better. As a progressive mayor in a city that embraces diversity and equal opportunities for all, rubbing elbows with Zionists (aka racists) in the State of Israel – the most belligerent state in the region – is an outrage.
Oh and get this: Mayor Parker refused to meet with concern Houstonians and the Palestinian community to hear our concerns. She is only willing to give her time (which is on our clock, she is our mayor, serving us) to Israel. How Shameful.
So, congratulations, Mayor Parker! You fucking win our vote for the worst of Houston! That is the only vote you will be getting from many Houstonians, Ms. Mayor!
-Sima Shakhsari, Ph.D and Hadeel Assali
In a year filled with boneheaded moves from HPD–from officers showing up to work tanked to the highly touted Blood Alcohol Content vans not working to covering up name tags and badge numbers at Occupy protests–perhaps the single stupidest move HPD could make was arresting a 71-year-old gay man. Arresting Ray Hill, one of the most outspoken and media savvy activists in Houston, on trumped up charges is a fast way to find yourself on the business end of a lawsuit. It seems like the arresting officer skipped the day at the academy when they mentioned that A: Security cameras are everywhere and B: Ray Hill is one stubborn SOB who has no problems fighting it out in court for years to come. So as a public service announcement I offer this word of advice to any of Houston’s finest: unless you see Ray Hill really breaking the law, and I mean like murdering someone, don’t try and arrest him it’s only going to blow up in your face.
WORST SON: You
Call your mother. She misses you. She cooked just for you. And now you let the food go bad and do not come to pick it up. Pick up the phone. Call your mother. Does she not have a son? Does she deserve this?
WORST ENEMY OF ‘SMALL BIZ’: City Permitting…
For the average out-of-pocket upstart business, it can take over a year of inspections and re-inspections and fees and trips back and forth from the permitting office before they get their doors open to start making money and hiring employees. The city is nose deep in our business, literally. Use the wrong kind of screw, lose that round of inspections, wait for the next round, pay for another visit from an inspector. Want to put up a sign to advertise your location, at your location? Bend over and say ‘ah’ because that’s what it feels like dealing with the petty bullshit doled out to those who are attempting to better our local economy.
WORST SOLIDARITY MOVEMENT: Palestine Solidarity Movement
Across the world, movements are winning important battles to condemn the apartheid policies of Israel, which has maintains a military occupation of the West Bank, Gaza, and Golan Heights, denies equal rights to Arab citizens of Israel, and denies the right for Palestinian refugees to return to their home in Israel. Houston is not one of these places where the Palestine Solidarity movement is winning much of anything. Twelve Texas House members have taken expenses paid trips to Israel including Gene Green (5 times), Sheila Jackson Lee (twice) and Pete Olson (twice), and Al Green (once). State Rep Debbie Riddle went to Israel and got a dog which she named after an elite Israel Defense Force infantry brigade. Annise Parker went to Israel and talked about how we can “apply Israel’s model in Houston.”
Even Radio for Peace Station KPFT gave a radio program to the Israeli consulate, and while a fight was made by many programmers, members, and community activists to get the station to condemn this decision and support the call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions made by Palestinian Civil Society, the majority of KPFT’s board chose to remain ‘neutral’ in time of great moral conflict. The Palestine Solidarity Movement in Houston was unable to get a radio station founded by pacifists and run by hippies to support Palestinian rights.
While there are commendable cultural activities related to Palestine, including the award winning Houston Palestine Film Festival, the movement to politically support Palestine in Houston of late, is primarily dedicated to protesting in front of the Galleria Starbucks.
– Rob Block
WORST FRIVOLOUS LAWSUIT BROUGHT AGAINST A CLUB OWNER: The Trial of Jim Pirtle
It doesn’t take a genius to realize that someone 10 feet away from a building didn’t fall out a second story window, but when Nathan Fischer’s lawyer presented her case in early December she thought jurors were really far from geniuses. I mean really, really far from geniuses. Donna Roth, Fischer’s attorney, tried to sue Pirtle for $12 million and 47 cents claiming that it was his fault her client ‘fell out of a window’ and, apparently, drifted all the way across the sidewalk. Roth didn’t even try and explain how this miracle of physics could have happened; instead she beat up on Pirtle and tried to build sympathy with the jury by playing up Fischer’s injuries. Perhaps the most egregious part of the lawsuit was the statement that nothing Fischer did or didn’t do contributed to him ‘falling out of a window,’ or more likely jumping off the roof. When he was brought in to the ER Fischer tested positive for cocaine and marijuana and had a blood alcohol content over three-times-the-legal-limit. In other words, he had enough to drink to be suffering severe motor impairment and a loss of consciousness and then decided to either go hang around a glassless third-floor window or go climb up on a roof, and Roth said it wasn’t his fault. That’s some mighty fine lawyer work. Fortunately, the jury thought the case was bullshit and dismissed it.
This guy shows up to Occupy Houston around 5 pm on a Monday, wearing a suit and waving a rifle, fires a couple shots into the air, fires a shot into the pond, waves the gun around at the hapless hippies occupying, points his gun at the cops who arrive on the scene, then points it at his own head before the cops take him down. He is expected to make a full recovery…in some local mental institution. (This one “Worst Of,” we are happy to award–it’s a good thing this fool didn’t have better aim.)
WORST CASE OF OVER-PROMOTION: Free Press Summer Fest
Trust me, you are not the only one who tires of our constant over-promotion of this festival ( www.freepresssummerfest.com). After 5 months of pushing this event online, handing out hundreds of thousands of flyers, hanging posters, and telling people on the streets, we can’t bear to look at our own materials. Our cars become mobile storage sheds for these materials and we often wake up in the middle of the night in cold sweats proclaiming the date and web url (www.freepresssummerfest.com). BTW, our next event is June 2nd and 3rd and is gonna be great. Get your passes now! (www.freepresssummerfest.com).
WORST UNION: Police officers union
I was told once that the difference between the police officers union and all other unions is that real unions tell their members; “We will support you in whatever you need as long as you don’t break the law” while police unions exist primarily to protect police members when they commit crimes and hurt people.
Most recently the police officers union has come out refusing to endorse republican District Attorney Pat Lykos, in opposition to her policy of bringing misdemeanor charges (instead of felony) in cases where there is less than 1/100 of a gram of drug residue. To quote the blog Grits for Breakfast; “In other words, they want more tax dollars spent on police and jail staff to arrest and house more people on penny-ante paraphernalia charges. Of course they do. They are police unions.”
This policy was changed from the days when Chuck Rosenthal was District Attorney, and the Harris County Jail was sanctioned for violating inmates’ constitutional rights due to overcrowding, and we were paying astronomical fees to send inmates to Louisiana jails. That’s the kind of justice system that the police union wants- unethical, unconstitutional, and fiscally irresponsible.
– Rob Block
We are glad that Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords continues to recover from her gunshot wound, and we are proud that local Houston doctors have been part of her remarkable recovery, but we hope she’ll come back and visit under more auspicious circumstances some time, too.
– Harbeer Sandhu
WORST RECYCLERS: You?
Drive down any Houston street on recycling day and you’ll see that maybe one out of five homes have utilized their green bins. Despite its downfalls of low frequency removal (twice a month doesn’t suffice for a family of four when you’re recycling correctly), low percentage of homes serviced, and refusal to pick up glass, all plastics, and Styrofoam, we’re lucky that our city provides this service. My old street once received a notice from the city threatening to have the recycling service revoked if more homes didn’t participate. Luckily people stepped up their game and no changes were made. One neighbor even puts a sign out ever other Monday to remind others that ‘Tuesday’ is recycling day.
Not to brag, but I have two green bins that are overflowing with recyclables bi-monthly, our main trash container is rarely more than halfway full. I plan to call 311 to ask for another. It’s that easy. Just call, give your address, and they’ll drop one off in a matter of days. I envy those streets that are part of the green polly-cart program, as I’d love to have one extra large container instead of dragging two or three smaller bins out to the street, spilling over with trash, but I called in to ask if the program was expanding and the answer at the time was ‘no.’
My new street has a dreadfully low participation rate in the recycling program. I plan on coming up with a creative way to encourage and inform my neighbors about taking advantage of this service. Maybe simply knowing others have noticed they aren’t recycling will prompt them to add it to their list of priorities. If they cared half as much about recycling as they do about not letting one damn stray leaf fall on their lawn, we’d be in business.
I understand that people are busy and if they aren’t accustomed to recycling, it’s simply too easy to forget. But it’s also easy if you try.
WORST ‘THERE GOES THE NEIGHBORHOOD’ MOMENT FOR SW MONTROSE: The impending demise of the Dunlavy Fiesta
The signage that recently appeared surrounding the shopping center containing Dunlavy Fiesta announcing that an exception was being sought to prevent the creation of cul-de-sacs at the current dead-ends of Sul Ross and Branard behind the shopping center. The same exception was required during the development of the bloated and quasi-suburban HEB that currently blights the property across the street, and this would seem to confirm recent rumors published on Swamplot.com that Fiesta will soon go the way of Wilshire village, to be replaced by a ‘mixed use development’ comparable to the combination of yuppie hives and generic boutiques that currently disfigure much of mid-town. Despite assurances from Fiesta store manager Barry Reichstein that the store lease extends well past the 2014 end date cited in the Swamplot piece, it seems that it is only a matter of time before most of Montrose is virtually indistinguishable from Kingwood, Pearland, or any other part of Houston’s cookie-cutter exurbs…
THE WORST PODCAST THAT I LOVE: Free Press Podcast
When on the road, I live on podcasts. The Free Press Houston podcast is a low-fi piece of shit, one-microphone in the middle of a room full of guys (well, mostly guys) talking over one another, often in silly, cynical, sarcastic tones podcast – AND I CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT IT! No place else can I stick a disc in my car, or hit a button on my computer, and hear more quality news, info, opinion and insight into my home town of Houston, Texas, USA – presented with the humor and irreverence I’ve come to expect from these homies.
WORST FRIEND: You
I left you a message. I texted you. I even tweeted. But you did not respond. Then I see you at Grand Prize hamming it up with everybody. I felt slighted. I tried my best to join in on the conversation but still felt inadequate. I bought everyone shots and you did not even say thank you. And then you ask for a ride home?
WORST LEGAL DOUBLESPEAK FROM A LAWYER: David Leebron
“Free Speech does not include the right to interfere with the expressions and ideas with which you disagree. You will be escorted away from this forum for not respecting the fundamental principle of free speech within the university.”
— Rice President David Leebron, on November 10th, 2011, when Occupy Houston ‘mic-checked’ House Majority Leader Eric Cantor
As a former law professor, Leebron should aspire to correctly explain legal concepts. Instead, addressing a room full of Rice students, he used an incorrect definition of the concept of freedom of speech to justify silencing people who came to speak out.
Yes, that’s the same guy who silenced KTRU on the FM dial.
Cantor had permission to speak because the university invited him. Knowing this, the protesters could do little more, non-violently, than to use their voices to delay his speech. They bravely did so, were escorted out, and some were arrested. The whole incident was edited out of the video provided by the University and subsequently used in the Houston Chronicle blog coverage.
Leebron asserted, as the president of the university that owns the room, the privilege of deciding which speakers do and don’t have rights there. This wasn’t about any right to freedom of speech; it was simply about property rights. However, “we own this school and get to decide who speaks here” would have seemed a bit crude, so instead, he opted for some eloquent doublespeak.
Legally, of course, Cantor and those who interrupted him, have the exact same rights to free speech. However, Rice’s President, with a police department, and a well-funded team of lawyers at his disposal, doesn’t have to worry about getting the law right. He has the power to ignore it, or even twist it around backwards if he likes.
Similarly, Eric Cantor doesn’t have to worry that his positions on Israel violate international law — the United States has the power to issue exemptions. Israel’s confirmed nuclear weapons won’t ever be discussed in the UN Security Council, but suspicions about Iran will. Perhaps Leebron’s definition of freedom of speech is being used there as well.
BEST/WORST PRE-PROTEST KICK-OFF: Butterfingers Bandit Robs Chase Bank
At 9:30 am on October 3, a woman walked into a Chase Bank branch with her hand in her purse, claimed she had a gun, and demanded money. The teller handed her some cash, which she then dropped as she turned to walk out, so she cursed, picked it up, and went on her merry way, earning herself the moniker “Butterfinger Bandit” from the FBI. Three days later, Occupy Houston kicked off with a polite, well-mannered, hapless demonstration outside the Chase Bank building downtown. All traffic laws were obeyed, the polite bunch kept to the sidewalk and refrained from using curse words.
Little Big’s, Five Guys, SmashBurger, Beck’s, Sparkle Burger, Itty Bitty Burger Barn, Bubba’s, Lucky Burger, Someburger … it goes on and on. Some of them reasonably priced and good and some of them overpriced over-hyped chains, but one thing is for sure, there is just a hell of a lot of them. Google a map of Hamburgers in Houston and it looks like a city with Chicken Pox. Honestly! I like a hamburger as much as anyone but do we really need that many places that serve ground beef on a bun? Are we really that uncreative?
WORST WASTE OF SCREEN REAL ESTATE ON A MOBILE APP: Rick Perry and Houston Chronicle
The extensive coverage on Houston Chronicle’s mobile app (and website) dedicated to the flawed and farcical vanity candidacy of governor Rick ‘Goodhair’ Perry for the GOP presidential nomination.
There are at least three good reasons why this is nothing more than a pointless piece of suck-uppery to the benighted Teabaggers that make up a significant percentage of the Chron’s readership–unfortunately, I can’t currently remember what they are…
– M. Martin
WORST TREND TO COME TO LIGHT: Houston restaurants not paying their staff
It seems like it’s been going on for years. Houston restaurant owners treat their waiters and kitchen staff like little-more-than slaves and the response has always been “if you don’t like it, leave.” The list of alleged perpetrators includes some of the biggest names in Houston food circles. The first to make the news was Bruce Molzan, owner of Ruggles, who had his entire staff walk out because he allegedly owed them about $15,000 in back pay. Then it was Bombay Pizza, Blue Water Seafood, Hunan Chef on FM 1960 and Brasserie 19 for failing to pay overtime. And now Houston food icon, and Iron Chef contestant, Bryan Caswell has been sued. The suit alleges that Caswell and his business partners failed to pay overtime, incorrectly calculated hours worked and forced employees to participate in an invalid tip pool.
We all know it’s hard being a small business owner. That making payroll is tough and you’d rather give a person some money instead of firing them, but the problem is if you’re paying them by the hour and you’ve legally employed them you have to pay them everything they’re supposed to get. We’ve heard it all before: waiters and bartenders work for tips, it doesn’t matter how many hours they put in they are primarily paid by the customer. Sorry it doesn’t work like that. Once they sign employment documents they are legally an employee, not an independent contractor. And when a non-salaried employee goes over 40 hours in a workweek they are supposed to get time-and-a-half. Why is it so hard for independent restaurant owners to understand such a simple concept: pay your employees for the time they work. Hell, McDonald’s understands it. And when McDonald’s makes you look bad it’s time to start fixing your shit.
WORST MISSED OPPORTUNITY BY GREEDY CRAP-BAG REAL ESTATE DEVELOPERS: Weingarten Realty
The decision by Weingarten Realty to fill in the old inclined floor and destroy the old theater fixtures in the former Bookstop and one-time Alabama Theater on S. Shepherd, after steadfastly refusing for months to even consider the possibility of leasing to Alamo Drafthouse or anyone else who might consider using the space for a film or theatrical venue.
Given the steady decline of venue-ready properties in inner city Houston and the evident glut of conventional retail space, there’s really nothing good that can be said about this. It was briefly rumored that the space might be taken over by a local installment of Pacific Northwest alt grocery institution Trader Joe’s, but it now seems that suburban moms in The Woodlands will have the opportunity to pick up a bottle of Two Buck Chuck (which now cost three bucks–I know) long before the far more deserving residents of the ‘Trose.
It’s already hard to try and get people in Houston to give up their cars and take the bus and it only becomes harder when the Chronicle runs a story that a recent study found riders on certain Metro bus routes–the Chron didn’t say which ones–were being exposed to tuberculosis, most likely from other bus riders. TB can lead to a month long hospital stay and the need for four pills a day for six months, and it doesn’t seem like Metro is going to absorb those costs. With all the talk about reducing air pollution and creating public spaces it’s worth remembering that with the public comes public health risks.
Moving towards vinyl made perfect sense. It is a format of high audio quality, folks still own record players, and suddenly artwork was big again. But cassettes have none of these qualities. The only thing they have is kitsch. I hate kitsch.
WORST PUBLIC REACTION TO WHAT WAS ACTUALLY A PRETTY GOOD THING: Tie- The sale of KTRU and the opening of Montrose HEB
OH MY GOD, apostasy! How dare you attack local and independent music in favor of secretive deals by unhip bureaucrats? How could you defend the decision to replace decades old affordable housing with a giant mega-lo mart? When KUHF switched over to an all NPR station and sent the classical over to KUHA it became something that Houston has needed for years: a reliable, non-biased news source that broadcasts verified, and verifiable, information to people stuck in traffic. And it’s become even more relevant since 740 KTRH, formerly the city’s flagship news radio station, decided to become solely right wing talk. Yes we lost a station that played alternative and underground music but we gained one that covers national and international issues without sounding like World Net Daily or a liberal version of Rush Limbaugh. Also the Wilshire Village Apartments that were torn down to make way for HEB may have been cheap but they certainly didn’t qualify as affordable housing primarily because they weren’t available. It’s hard to defend the destruction of a series of buildings that were in a constant state of disrepair and were being mismanaged by a man who clearly had psychological problems. Conversely, it’s pretty easy to support the opening of a grocery store that has already forced competitors to improve their selection and shopping experience and lower their prices. Competition benefits consumers; more choices equal low prices and laws of supply and demand win out over nostalgia and fetishization of familiarity.
There is a simple equation that explains why it is not safer to drive slowly: less time in car = less likely to be involved in a car accident. Inversely, more time spent inside car = more likely to be involved in a car accident. I don’t understand, in a city defined by sprawl, why all of you insist on driving under the posted speed limit on freeways (US 59, I-10, I-45, US 290, etc.) and on major city streets. WHY? Don’t you want to arrive at your destination? Isn’t that the point of driving in the first place? I don’t even need to be racist about this issue because every fucking one of you is super guilty of this. Bottom line: Just go.
WORST PLACE TO FIND OUT INFORMATION ABOUT MONTROSE: Ultimate Montrose
Needless to say it’s not surprising that the Chronicle doesn’t really get what’s important to Montrose and uses the Ultimate Montrose blog to report about how Yates High School basketball is doing. For the record, most Montrosians don’t care about high school sports and Yates is in Third Ward by TSU, not in Montrose.
It’s also no surprise that the Chronicle thinks people in Montrose care about marriage announcements, charity donations or where the League of Women Voters will be holding their holiday reception. Spend a few nights in Montrose and you’ll see what we care about, and it isn’t the society page bullshit that makes it on Ultimate Montrose. How about reporting which bars got raided by the TABC or when city crews will be out fixing broken pipes? How about letting us know when a job fair is going to be held or what scholarships are available to people over the age of 21? Hell, how about telling us where we can find a social worker to help us navigate the complex maze of government assistance so we can see a dentist and get a Lone Star card. You know, stuff that matters on the street.
WORST DEMISE OF A LOCAL BUSINESS: Sedition Books
Houston is a city that is fueled by individualism and entrepreneurial spirit. What this frequently means in practice is people not knowing or working with their neighbors, and an attitude that celebrates the rich and accomplished has no sympathy for the suffering of the poor.
A noble experiment, Sedition Books challenged this for a number of years in Houston. Sedition’s third and most successful location on Richmond Ave. near Montrose lasted for more than 3 years as a completely volunteer run bookstore and event space for anarchist and radical politics. They hosted films, speakers, and bands from across Houston, the country, and often other countries as well. Sedition advocated a different model of organizing society; horizontal instead of hierarchical, directly democratic and attempting to be inclusive. It was a place where many people were introduced to new ideas, and saw new typ
es of projects emerge, like the Anarchist Book Fair that took place at MECA in sixth ward in April of this year.
A variety of factors including high rent, and the lack of volunteers led to the closing of the Richmond location at the end of November. The lending library has migrated to the Dragon Valley Free School in Third Ward, and the Sedition crew continues to bring books to events and is looking for a new place.
WORST HYPOCRISY: City policy towards tents at Occupy Houston versus tents at Black Friday
Seriously, protestors can’t have shelter but people queuing up for a discounted Xbox can? That’s possibly the most egregious example of bullshit to come forward in at least the last two months. And before anyone jumps on the private property versus public property band wagon it’s worth pointing out that many of the parks in Houston were donated to the city with caveats, and in at least one case the land was placed in to a situation that basically amounts to a trust and the city is simply the executor of the trust. So there is an argument that could be made that the surviving members of the families that donated or entrusted the land to the city should be consulted before policies preventing tents are enacted. Oh sure there’s ‘public health concerns’, that could be easily addressed by allowing port-a-lets in the park, but somehow those concerns don’t come up when people are camped in front of a Best Buy for a week to score a cheap TV.
WORST FUTURE MOMENT IN A MAH JONG CIRCLE: Steve Thompson Jr.’s Aunt
I recently donated platelets for my aunt at MD Anderson. She is really sick and requires several blood transfusions a week. Luckily, she’s related to a virtual vital fluid Superman, as I learned when my platelets tested as a match for hers. According to the doctors, the viability of my platelets was “off the charts,” something I took to mean I possessed a sort of life saving super power, and not at all what they tell every donor so they’ll come back.
My only concern is what’s going to happen now that I am part of her! My cells are living and growing within her body! We are one and the same!
What’s going to happen when all she wants to talk about in her Mah Jong group are boobs and college football?
– Steve Thompson Jr.
WORST BUS ROUTE: 34 Crosstown
A friend of mine said that the 34, which runs along Montrose between the Heights and the Museum District, exists in no useful dimension. When you wait it never comes and when you walk it comes right away. The idiosyncrasies of Schrodinger’s bus aside, the 34 has the worst schedule of any bus route inside the loop. It only operates Monday-Friday until 7 p.m. and it doesn’t run on weekends. Metro seriously doesn’t think anyone in the Heights wants to come into or out of Montrose on a weeknight or that anyone in Montrose needs to go to the Heights on Saturday or Sunday? It’s a classic chicken and the egg problem: Metro says there isn’t enough ridership to warrant expanded hours but without expanded hours how can you estimate ridership? Hey Metro, I’m sure the cabbies running people from the Heights to Montrose and vice versa appreciate the business, it’s just a shame you don’t.
WORST OSTENTATIOUS SCARFACE VILLA / PRETENTIOUS WINE AND COFFEE BAR: BACCHUS
Have you ever wondered what it’s like to visit one of those ostentatious Montrose loft townhomes? Wonder no more! Now you can go to Bacchus and experience the “high life” for yourself! As if the imposing white exterior with primary color accents wasn’t enough to make it stick out in this neighborhood of traditionally humbler bungalows and cottages, if you miss the views of the sky that this monstrosity has choked out, step inside for a view of “Mediterranean” cloud frescoes that look like a third grader painted them. Treat yourself to some of the Illy brand coffee that they brag about on their website–I understand it’s the Nescafe of Europe. Word on the street is they’re about to sign a contract with a select winery that’s going to make them your only local connection for some of that fine fine Sutter Home vintage wine, too.
WORST SUMMER: Right here, 2011
Holy shit it was hot this past summer! I went though 5 bottles of medicated powder!
WORST RAIN DANCE: Rick Perry’s “The Response: A Call to Prayer for a Nation in Crisis”
While Rick Perry and his buddy’s from IHOP (no shit, they call themselves the International House of Prayer) led 30,000, yes, 30,000 clueless gun totin’ Bible thumpin’ diabetes patients in seven hours of fasting and prayer at the Reliant Stadium, praying for stuff like rain to help put out the wildfires that were swallowing swaths of central Texas where Perry had cut volunteer fire department budgets by 75%–at the same time that those measly 30,000 people were gathered for our collective deliverance (not counting Muslims, Jews, Sikhs, atheists, etc), no less than ONE HUNDRED THOUSAND people who’ve been shafted by the economy and school budget cuts showed up just a few miles away at the George R. Brown Convention Center for Houston Independent School District’s first annual Back to School Fest for free backpacks, school supplies, uniforms, haircut vouchers, immunizations and fresh produce. So many people showed up to the Back to School Fest that they ran out of supplies and had to send people away by 10 am, after having opened less than two hours before. Perry’s rain never came, and the drought and budget woes continue…
Mezban serves great food. This is no indictment of their food quality but rather an illustration of my over-indulgence. How much lamb curry, chicken korma, daal, and haleem can one man eat in a day? Only my colon knows.
WORST CORPORATE SPONSORSHIP: KBR Kids Day
This little-known event occurs at Buffalo Bayou Park every October and has, as it’s title sponsor, Kellogg, Brown & Root or KBR. Apparently no one at the Buffalo Bayou Partnership thinks letting a company with as questionable a history as KBR sponsor a day for kids is a bad idea. Sure the event looks like fun for the whole family, as long you don’t think about the Iraqi children who died so KBR could provide you and your kids a nice day in the park.
WORST COPY-EDITING: Free Press Houston
WE have been trying to get it right for a long time. But when a small staff is faced with editing literally hundreds of thousands of words in such a short time period, we fuck up. We fuck up often. Either way, we feel we sometimes have substance and thank you for your patience with our editing. We are considering hiring someone a sophomore in high school to help us get better.
WORST OF HOUSTON FEATURE STORY
WORST COMPLICITY IN HOUSTON’S WORST CRIME:
Houston Press aids and abets human sex trafficking
By Amanda Hart
EDITORS NOTE: This was obviously a hard decision to make as to whether or not to go ahead with publishing this story. First and foremost, it is hard to appear objective when writing about another newspaper that folks would perceive as a ‘competitor’. Secondly, I have many long-time friends who work over at Houston Press that I admire and respect and this article has no bearing on the great work they do. I am also a customer of Houston Press where I regularly advertise Fitz shows, Free Press Summer Fest, Houston Palestine Film Festival, etc. I can further illustrate my own hypocrisy by telling you that I have spent tens of thousands of dollars with them all the while having a moral qualm with the issue described here in the following article. Because in 100 years I am sure that when historians describe the worst of injustices that flourished in Houston Texas, human trafficking and its link to the sex trade will top the list. This story is the 500 pound gorilla in the room. And Houston Press and other media organizations complicity comprises but one component in this 3 dimensional clusterfuck. But we have no illusions that such complicity is based on some dark, malevolent plan orchestrated by the illuminati but rather a failure to examine the status quo for what it is. So I would ask that readers open their hearts and minds to the plight of these trafficked women.
For years now, I have ignored a rather disturbing reality that exists within our community. I, like most people, would pick up the Houston Press every Thursday and read up on what was going down that week. And every week I would do the same thing, reach a certain page in the paper and refuse to look any further for fear of having to face the reality that exist within the back pages of the Houston Press. It was as if my decision to refuse to flip any further somehow resolved me of any guilt or responsibility. So instead of browsing the pages that were lined with stock photos of women that are for sale, I would stop after I had reached the end of the music section. It was just easier this way. Then earlier this year, I attended a human trafficking education summit and was forced to analyze the ways in which my community and I perpetuate the trafficking and sale of women and their bodies. The Houston Press was brought up in the discussion and the wall I had created that separated me from reality was quickly dismantled. I went home that night and forced myself to begin the process of exploring human trafficking and how it is directly linked to Houston and specifically the Houston Press.
I started my research with the most obvious of offenses: massage parlors. Many of the women who are serving time in these facilities were brought from overseas here under false pretenses ( many from poverty-stricken South Asian countries like Vietnam and Thailand ) and are forced into prostitution through physical and mental abuse. Their families are threatened, their identities are stripped and they all lack vital resources that keep them perpetually held in this vicious cycle. The women accrue an inflated debt due to travel expenses and room and board that they proceed to pay off by working 12 to 24 hour days in the parlors. Their captors move them every few weeks (while adding to their debt for each move) to keep them disoriented with their surroundings and each other. After their debt is repaid and their time is served, they are “set free.” If you were one of these women and at 2 AM you were locked out with no money, a limited knowledge of the native language and not even the basic knowledge of what fucking city you are in, what would you do? One could hope that they find some help or, better yet, burn the building down. But that is not how the sex industry world works, and the reality is these women end up begging their captors to let them back in. These same women are being advertised every week in the backpages of the Houston Press. While I understand that times are tough and the Houston Press and their parent company, Village Voice Media, are doing what they have to do so they can get by, I have to ask them, and myself, “Is it worth it?”
It is no secret that Village Voice Media and the Houston Press make some serious cash through ad space bought by the sex industry. Village Voice Media owns and operates the website Backpage.com and since Craigslist closed their adult service section in September of 2010, Backpage.com has picked up where they left off. According to James Rainey of the LA Times, “A Village Voice executive, who asked not to be named for revealing confidential information, said that Backpage.com, where online escort ads and the like go for about $10 each, produces at least one-seventh of the company’s revenue.” This is a million dollar industry that is making its earning off the backs and twats of women. Village Voice has stated that they are protected under the first amendment and while they sort of acknowledge the terrible shit their ad space is used for, their stance is that they cannot be held accountable for it. In that same LA Times article. Steven Suskin, Village Voice’s Lawyer, is quoted as saying, “Criminals send drugs through Federal Express but we don’t eliminate FedEx just because a few criminals do that.” ( Eds note: This is a bullshit defense and parallel because FedEX does not knowingly accept packages with drugs in them whereas papers like HP are very well aware of the services offered at massage parlors and the conditions the women are in. ) Oh well Mr. Suskin, I totally see your logic in comparing mailing drugs through the mail and the sell of women and children on the internet. Thank you for clearing all the confusion up for me. You are safe in the eyes of the law but I have to ask, isn’t there some sense of morality that you seem to be lacking? If you know that the money you are taking from massage parlors is the same money that holds those women captive, wouldn’t your moral compass send a fucking bat signal telling you this is beyond fucked up? And massage parlors are just one aspect to this enigma. That does not include the “prostitutes” and “escorts” that are also being trafficked through your pages and let us not forget the underage girls that seem to be popping up periodically with accusations that you knowingly allowed their pimps to take out ads on them. And while I agree that the pimps and traffickers are really at fault for their disgusting behavior, you need to take responsibility for making money off of the sales. I mean, you can’t actually think that you in no way are a part of this whole underworld. You are the link between the supply and demand. And let’s just be honest with each other, you can claim you are protecting first amendment rights all you want but what it really comes down to is money. I understand that you are a business and you do need money to exist but I would hope that you would rather cease to exist than to make your millions off of ads that sell human beings.
Village Voice over the last year began their own human trafficking investigative series entitled “The Truth Behind Sex Trafficking,” in which multiple lengthy articles were printed in an attempt to debunk sex trafficking. Their main concern was the trafficking of minors and they went all FOX news on our ass and even created an interactive map. But, of course, this was all an attempt to shed light on sex trafficking and had absolutely nothing to do with the money they stand to make off of convincing people that sex trafficking is not really happening. It started with a ridiculous fight between Village Voice and Ashton Kutcher. Yep, you read that right. Village Voice posted a five page article directed at fucking Ashton Kutcher. I love that this was indeed their jumping off point in regards to such an intense subject. But either way, the article proceeded to debunk a claim that Kutcher made on CNN in July. “It’s between 100,000 and 300,000 child sex slaves in the United States today,” Kutcher said. The only problem with their attempt to debunk Kutchers claim is that they themselves used faulty “junk science” to do so. While I agree that the numbers that Kutcher touted were misconstrued, it does not mean that a good solution is to in turn do the exact same thing in an attempt to make a point. What VVM proceeded to do was spend a few months combing through arrest records in 37 cities looking for juvenile prostitution arrest. Once they pulled their own numbers (826 arrest per year) they then compared them to the numbers Kutcher claimed and from there attempted to downplay a very real problem that exist not just within the states but particularly in Houston. There are so many things wrong with this attempt to figure out the magnitude that is under age trafficking. For starters, VVM only looked at actual arrests. I can’t even begin to fathom why they would think that looking at arrests would somehow give them the magical number.
As if only people who are arrested and charged with marijuana possession are the only ones smoking weed. Come on now, you have to have a better schematic than that. Not only that, but one would also have to assume the underage girls that were processed in no way lied about their age. Because we all know that if a 16 year old is picked up by the police for fucking prostitution the first thing she is going to do is tell them her real name and age. Also, it is well known that in many cases these girls are not actually charged with prostitution but with something more along the lines of drug possession, running away or petty larceny, which means they were not entered into the system under the title of teen prostitute. There is also the factor that in some cases the girls are properly identified from the beginning and are never entered into the criminal system at all and are instead taken to a facility that will help locate their parents or find other sources of help for them. Once again, not ending in an arrest that could have been cataloged by the geniuses at VVM who came up with this ridiculous calculation. In the article VVM also makes the claim that police departments seem to have the issue under control. This is beyond laughable when you understand how the system really works. In Houston there are a handful (and by “handful” I mean 5) of officers who are dedicated to human trafficking. Not only does the city not have a handle on human trafficking, they don’t have the manpower or the money to even properly train officers on how to identify and handle such cases. The gist of the article claims that non profits are misleading people with these numbers (100,000 – 300,000) in an attempt to receive federal funding to keep their nonprofits going. It is interesting that the same company that stands to make millions off of this industry is calling out non profits for using misleading numbers in an attempt to gain financial security. What is that saying about a pot calling a kettle black?
I will say that I do believe that religious zealots are on a witch hunt and they want VVM dissected and on a platter. They are calling for VVM to close down the entirety of the adult advertisements. While I might have an issue with the massage parlors’ sale of minors and women who have been forced into prostitution being sold on their site, I do think there has to be a better way to solve the issue without closing the ad space completely. For starters, massage parlor ads have got to go. There is no debating that this shit is just fucked up. VVM has got to do more in regards to filtering through their ads and making sure to remove and pull all ads that are soliciting the sale of minors. If you are going to make the decision to profit from it you need to also invest in the proper precautions to keep the ad space as safe as possible. Writing articles about how human trafficking is really just a “boogey man” and not a real threat or reality is not only bad journalism but just makes you shitty human beings and this is why you are at the top of my Worst of Houston list.