Letters

Bill of Disappointments
Your article chronicling the efforts of Mr. Johnson ["Lenwood Johnson's Last Stand," by Brian Wallstin, December 14] was fascinating but heavily slanted in two ways that are disappointing, considering the clout you carry. The first disappointment is that you gave no coverage to the opposing (prevailing?) body of thought, in which:

*The historic district of Freedmen's Town didn't really include the Allen Parkway Village. In fact, when the project was built in the 1940s, it was sadly for white-only use, blocked off to deliberately prevent the possibility that nearby blacks could even walk on it.

*The idea that the architecture is noteworthy in a historic way is absurd. It was horrible even when it was new, with its seven-foot ceilings, rooms too small for humans and its "green spaces" really just landlocked gauntlets from packing more tenement rows without parking.

*APV's historic designation, "established" in recent years purely as a political tradeoff brokered by Mickey Leland, was not justified by any historic reality for the above reasons. Long after its racially segregated origin, it eventually became the worst type of slum tenement project, and why any black, white, brown, red or yellow person would want to hold this as a dear memory for "historic" sake is an absurdity your story pushes.

*The concept that able-bodied, working-age but non-working people should not only be able to live for many years on the government dole, but have some right to tell the government where they must be hosted, was not questioned or discussed in any way by you.

The second disappointment from your article has been expressed in past Press articles, too, in your frequent references to any inner-city real estate developer as a bad guy. We are not the bad guys; we are the good guys trying to keep the bad guys (from drug dealers down to simple litterers) from controlling the direction of the downtown area. We risk money that we worked hard for to try and bring beauty, renaissance, a sense of style and a new life to places some suburbanites are even afraid to drive through, and we could use a little good press from you now and then. If some developer is willing to do this in the historic Freedmen's Town area, may God bless them, even if it means the resulting housing costs will not be free or as low as before. What is wrong with the possibility that a new (employed) constituency could move in, spending money and exhibiting pride of ownership, or pride in a new apartment building? Must they be 100 percent indigent black people because the area once was? Surely you are aware that the area has long since become mixed, with many Hispanics and others.

I hope you'll start to cover the zillions of bureaucratic difficulties a developer faces when trying to plan a project in the inner city, which are extremely daunting. And nobody gives us a free place to live!

Richard Ehrlich
Main Street Investment Builders
Houston

From Norway: An Etymological
Reclamation of Idiocy
Michael Berryhill does not exaggerate in his report on the politics of U.S. Representative Tom DeLay ["The Exterminator," November 23]. The House majority whip really is as ignorant, extreme and just plain nutty as Berryhill portrays him. He supplies enough material for a stable full of H.L. Mencken, Will Rogers and Jay Leno wannabes. Underneath the humor, however, lies an unsettling question: how does such an idiot get to the top of our political system?

My experience as one of those non-major candidates whom DeLay defeated on his way to prominence provides an answer. The usual suspects, like big money and the press, may deserve some blame but are not the main culprits. Sure, it's tough to compete in the money game of packaged politics when you don't have favors to sell, but that's not the game we want, anyway. And, yes, the Chronicle and Post (when it was still alive) regularly endorsed DeLay's election despite his record.

The heart of the problem lies closer to home: idiots like DeLay get elected because of the idiocy of the voters. I need to resort to etymology to explain. We inherited our word "idiot" from the ancient Greek word idiotes. For the Greeks, meaningful individual life was defined by participation in community life. The idea of a predominantly "private" life didn't make sense to them. People choosing such a life were looked down upon as idiotes.

The good people of Brazoria, Fort Bend and southwest Harris counties are not stupid, and so of course they do not favor abolishing environmental regulations, workplace safety standards, the minimum wage and all forms of public health insurance, as their elected representative does. They're only guilty of "idiocy" in the Greek sense of the term. They, like lots of decent folks everywhere, don't take politics very seriously. Their reluctance to be actively involved in politics leaves the field open to real idiots like the bug man.

(For your information, I was the Democratic Party's candidate for the 22nd Congressional District seat in 1992. For the past couple of years I have been living in Norway, working on a book entitled Democracy, Idiocy, and Powder Milk Biscuits.)

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