Hey, PAL: Get Lost

Budget cutbacks threaten one city program that works

There are going to be plenty of cutbacks in the proposed budget Mayor Bill White is expected to deliver sometime around May 20. One thing the city won't likely be stinting on, though: the creation of future gang members.

The Police Activities League, a well-respected 22-year-old organization that keeps about 3,000 kids off the streets after school each day, is facing extinction.

It's already a shell of its former self -- just last September, 14 officers and three HPD civilian employees were assigned full-time to PAL; now it's only seven officers and no civilians. Several of those remaining officers are considering early retirement because of the ongoing pension mess; it's doubtful they'll be replaced.

You can't spell "It's snazzy!" without N-A-Z-I. Bullwhip 
sold separately.
You can't spell "It's snazzy!" without N-A-Z-I. Bullwhip sold separately.
New water park: The posh Post Oak Little 
League famously compromised last year with the T.H. 
Rogers K-8 school, earning the right to keep using 
HISD fields in exchange for upgrading school property. 
After last week's rains, however, it's clear the luxurious 
baseball fields still have a place to drain to: the Rogers 
playground.
Daniel Kramer
New water park: The posh Post Oak Little League famously compromised last year with the T.H. Rogers K-8 school, earning the right to keep using HISD fields in exchange for upgrading school property. After last week's rains, however, it's clear the luxurious baseball fields still have a place to drain to: the Rogers playground.

"We are going to have to be a lot -- a lot -- more clever in delivering our programs in the future, or we are going to be losing a lot of kids to the environment around them," says PAL board president Charles Lutz. He says cutting PAL is "a false economy" because the city will be forking over big bucks in the future to deal with kids who turn to gangs because of a lack of alternatives.

In some ways PAL is in great shape -- everything but the HPD salaries comes from private donors, including a new $100,000 learning center near the municipal courts and about $130,000 in donations each year, mostly for food. PAL also has athletic, educational and cultural offerings for kids.

"But if we are unable to provide the programs because of [HPD personnel] cutbacks, we'll have to return the money," Lutz says.

HPD Chief Harold Hurtt says -- through spokeswoman Silvia Trevino -- that the future of PAL isn't necessarily set. "The budget cuts are recommendations only, and nothing is decided."

Which sounds like there are actually recommended cutbacks on the table -- as in specific numbers, right?

Not in HPD. Both Trevino and chief department spokesman Robert Hurst say there are no specific proposals yet.

So technically the program's not dead yet. But things are looking grim.

Unless, of course, you're a recruiter for one of the city's gangs -- in which case your quota worries are over, dude.

Price of Education

One city program that's not facing extinction is the "corporate university" known as the E.B. Cape Center. Started eight years ago under Lee Brown, the 27,000-square-foot facility offers continuing education programs to city employees and a few outsiders.

Which means city employees huddling fearfully in their cubicles, waiting to see if they'll have jobs in the next budget, are treated to e-mails encouraging them to take courses such as "Advancing Your Administrative Career," "Managing Anger" and -- of course -- that talisman of bureaucratic mumbo-jumbo that's infected Houston governmental bureaucracies for years, "Model-Netics."

The city has spent more than $7 million in the last five years for salaries of Cape Center employees. "To spend a million dollars in salaries [annually] to teach courses that could be taken over the Internet -- or are not necessary for us to do our jobs -- is a waste of money," grumbles one city staffer.

A waste? What about the course "Political Awareness & Savvy," which promises to "work to change anger, backstabbing, deception, dishonesty, gossip, intimidation, jealousy and revenge into honesty, trust, dignity, teamwork, integrity, communication and respect for yourself and others"? (All in three and a half hours.)

Center spokesman Gary Norman says he doesn't know of other cities using the "corporate campus" concept, but he doesn't know how they can resist.

"It's actually cheaper than going outside for training…Who's questioning this, anyway?" he asks Hair Balls.

Just the people in favor of backstabbing, dishonesty and gossip, we guess.

Hitler -- With Style!

When you think of Nazis, you think of fashion.

Well, first you think of genocide, frothing hatred and world domination, but eventually you think of fashion. At least you do if you're Irene Guenther, a Houston Community College professor and author of the new book Nazi Chic?, from the academic-press company Berg Publishers. Noted holocaust scholar David Cesarani calls it "a serious and deeply researched study of a subject that is too often dismissed as frivolous and shallow," so we guess we shouldn't say the subject seems somehow frivolous and shallow.

At any rate, Guenther says there's lots to consider:

Q. What made you think of Nazis in terms of fashion?

A. What astounded me was even through the Nazi years, those [German] fashion magazines were just exquisitely stylish…[The propaganda posters showed] dresses and puffy sleeves and fat women who had lots of kids, but boy, there's a whole different face to the Nazis that they allowed in those fashion magazines.

Q.What did you find?

A.In some of these secret morale reports that I uncovered, they're discussing should we or should we not shut beauty parlors, should we ban hair permanents because the chemicals are needed for the war. And they decide not to -- it's unbelievable. In 1944, the bombs are falling and they're still letting the beauty parlors stay open.

Q. You'd think they'd have something more pressing to debate.

A. In fact, as Eva Braun is doing her wedding vows and then commits suicide with Hitler, she's wearing designer Italian shoes, for heaven's sake.

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