What Happened?

We were promised killer hurricanes!

Houstonians curled into a fetal position on June 1 of this year, waiting all a-tremble for one after another in a series of deadly Category 5 storms that were all but assured of hitting us (see "Holy Sh--!" June 1).

So now, amid all the unused plywood, the closets full of batteries and gallon water jugs, we're left asking: What the hell happened?

Usually at least one storm threatens to hit Texas each year, even if it eventually misses. This year -- the Year of Hurricane Armageddon, we were led to believe -- we got bupkis. Chris made some noise for a couple of days, and ten-day forecasts of Ernesto briefly looked ominous, but if you're so obsessed with hurricanes that you're actually paying attention to ten-day forecasts, you expect a bit more action than that.

Blame high pressure over the East Coast and low pressure over Cuba, says Accuweather.com meteorologist Alan Reppert.

"Most of the storms have been well off the eastern coastline," says Reppert. "The high pressure has been further east than we thought it would be. That's the reason a lot of these storms have been crossing the Atlantic but not really threatening the East Coast."

Instead of doomsday, we've endured a pretty typical hurricane season, Reppert says.

And though you'd never guess it from the horror-inducing advertisements for the local TV stations, it looks pretty much certain that the season is over for Texas. Last year's Rita was a notable exception (so much of 2005 was a "noticeable exception"), but hurricanes in late September or October rarely hit us.

So put away the plywood for another year. And, as Reppert says, one season's events don't presage anything about the next season, so expect the hype machine to crank back up next year.

To the Barricades!

Let's first make clear three things: One, we love the River Oaks Theatre. We support it when it runs movies we don't want to see, we go to it when it shows movies we do want to see, we would hate for it to be torn down to make room for yet another "upscale" strip mall.

Two, we endorse efforts to save the theater from that fate.

Three, we admit socialite Carolyn Farb does a lot of worthy charitable fund-raising, sometimes -- but not often -- even without getting her name in the paper for doing so.

With those three things stipulated, we have to admit we cringed when we heard that Farb was leading the fight to save the River Oaks and would be at the forefront of a symbolic protest in front of the facility.

The idea of Carolyn Farb as protester hit a jarring note -- granted, the protest would involve cameras taking her picture, so the idea wasn't that far-fetched -- but nothing prepared us for the horror of the ensuing photograph in the Houston Chronicle (see box at click here left).

Farb, her face gleaming with righteous indignation -- at just the right angle for the cameras -- lifting courageously her candelaria-like box of popcorn, ready to fight to the last full measure of devotion against the closing of a theater. "Save Our Shrines," her T-shirt read, in case the sanctity of the cause was somehow too subtle.

It turns out we underestimated Farb and her Armies of the Night. As the accompanying photos show, she has been fearless in her efforts to right the world's wrongs through the power of nonviolent protest.

To the Voting Booths!

It was a spring of discontent for Hispanics and Houston and across the country. Massive protests over proposed immigration legislation brought throngs to the streets. Heartened by the response, community leaders vowed to transfer the newly aroused political passion to the voting booth in time for the 2006 elections.

And so far...nothing much has happened.

Joe Stinebaker, spokesman for the voter registrar's office, says there's been no great increase in registered voters. "We're not only not seeing an uptick in relation to the immigration protests, we're not seeing any uptick, period," he says. "We're doing more community events now than in any nonpresidential year, and it's not making much of a difference. We're doing things like we took out a big ad in the newspaper -- we got 30 responses."

Yeah, but print's a dying medium, man. You should advertise on blogs! Or podcasts!

The number of registered voters in the county remains at about 1.9 million, says Stinebaker, despite Katrina evacuees, despite immigration protests.

Hispanic political guru Marc Campos says he's aware of registration drives going on, but new registrations haven't reached "spike level."

He says it's partly because Hispanic voters have figured out that the immigration issue is a hot potato no one's going to touch for a while.

"There hasn't been a whole lot of people showing up at the last round of rallies over the past couple of weeks, and there hasn't been folks on the other side either showing up at those rallies," he says. "I think people understand...what everyone's saying is there's not going to be anything done on immigration so the sense of urgency isn't there."

It'll take a big entity like the Democratic Party committing substantial resources to get a big increase in Hispanic voters, he says.

On the other hand, the election of a lot of anti-immigrant fanatics might do the job, too -- but just a bit too late.

 
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