Abstinence Education, (Not) Propaganda and Sugar Land

Trees Have Been Killed: The print edition of the blog debuts

In case you haven't been paying attention, or somehow don't have a Web-capable browser on your wristwatch or nose-ring, Hair Balls has been on the Internet, daily, for about two weeks.

You really need to click several times each day to keep up with your Minimum Daily Requirement of Hair Balls ­goodness.

But for those Luddites who like to hold a piece of paper in their hands as they relax over lunch or a beer, we'll be presenting each week some of what's gone up on the Web.

Enjoy. And then go to the blog and start clicking, dammit.

Abstinence Education Somehow Not Working

The state of Texas leads the nation in throwing money at sex-education programs that preach abstinence, the Austin American-Statesman has reported — $17 million in state funds and $3 million of your Texas tax dollars. (As we've noted before, HISD says it doesn't keep track "centrally" of how much it spends on abstinence programs; it's done only on a school-by-school basis that apparently is impossible to track. Or at least impossible to track when you'd rather not talk about the subject.)

Amazingly, Texas's policy of teaching only "DON'T DO IT!!!! EVER!!!" doesn't seem to be working.

A recent federal study showed that 53 percent of Texas high schoolers had had intercourse, compared to 48 percent nationally.

Teaching kids abstinence isn't working? Sounds impossible. (In Bizarro World, anyway.)

We've prepared a highly scientific chart on this page that explains the situation.

It's Not Big-Oil Propaganda. Really.

Chesapeake Energy has announced the creation of "an online news channel" devoted to the Barnett Shale, a potentially huge natural-gas find that lies under much of the area around Fort Worth.

Tracy Rowlett, a retiring Dallas anchorman who is to DFW what Ron Stone was to Houston, will be the managing editor. Olive Talley, a highly respected reporter who made her bones with the Houston Post and Chronicle before moving on to the Dallas Morning News and network-television producer gigs, will be executive editor.

Hmmm. Not to be blunt, Talley, but won't this job be, well...essentially energy-giant propaganda?

No way, she says.

"Chesapeake has given us assurances that they don't need any PR help; they already have PR people," she says. "They were not going to bring us onboard to do that, nor would we have been willing to come onboard to be PR shills, as we've been called."

Talley says Chesapeake is involved in a similar effort, cleanskies.tv, that she says has presented views across the political spectrum.

Chesapeake VP Julie Wilson "has told us she wants us to go out and do our jobs as journalists, and she's said it repeatedly," Talley says. "And I believe it. So I figure there's nothing to lose by going out and trying it. And if it doesn't work, it doesn't work. But I'm actually very confident it will work."

Talley says critics should simply watch what they put up on the (Internet) air when the Web site goes live this fall. Which, we believe, is what Leni Riefen­stahl said way back when.

Nah, just kidding. Talley and Rowlett are actually pretty big and impressive names. But it will be interesting to see just how far they're allowed to go.

Sugar Land — The New South Bronx?

It's become a widespread meme as the subprime crisis has exploded and the housing bubble has imploded — far-flung suburbs are going to become "the new slums."

Ever since Atlantic magazine wrote about it in March, communities and worried suburbanites have been wondering if they're going to wake up one day to find they're living next to a crack den. Or a lower-middle-income family without a Land Rover Range Rover.

The recipe goes like this: outrageously expensive SUV commutes cause some people to move closer to town; the shoddy, corner-cutting construction used during the housing boom means abandoned homes crumble faster; and, in Houston's case, many of these far-flung developments are barely patrolled by law enforcement unless local homeowners' associations pay up.

So how likely is it that the "new slum" phenomenon will hit Houston?

Depends who you ask.

Christopher B. Leinberger, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institute and the author of the Atlantic article, says it's not impossible.

"I can't help but think when you look at Houston, there could be those extremes — down by Rice, certainly inside the Loop and particularly on the westside, those homes are probably pretty stable in price. But if you go out beyond your third beltway, I can't help but think there will be fringe developments that will be beginning to hurt if they are not close to commercial ­developments."

The other oft-quoted expert on all this, L.A.'s Joel Kotkin, says Leinberger is full of it. (The Atlantic article, he says, "was a really stupid piece.")

Suburbs will adapt by attracting employment centers, restaurants and other amenities that will make moot the question of long commutes. He points to the Energy Corridor along Beltway 8, which is thriving with new restaurants and townhomes.

The Houston area is particularly suited to adapt to the problem, he says, with its lack of restrictive zoning policies. That will give developers freedom to build the kind of satellite employment areas that will save the burbs.

So, depending on who you believe, your Cinco Ranch home will either be the next ghetto or a wonderful investment.

Hey, people always say life in the suburbs needs a little spicing up.

 
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