Birthday Surprise

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Houston's idea of historical preservation has always been like Jerry Springer's idea of good taste: It's a noble concept, but it doesn't really help you get where you want to go.

Preservation groups have been fighting for years to get some sort of ordinance protecting historic buildings, without much success. So they were a little surprised July 12 to find out the city had prepared a proposed law and was rushing to get it passed.

If ever a situation called for an "on the one hand…" analysis by preservationists, it was this. On the one hand, the city was actually doing something about preservation. On the other hand…it was the city doing it, without any input from the people who care about this stuff.


Hair Balls

The proposed ordinance declares no building more than 20 years old shall be destroyed except under extraordinary circumstances, which are defined as: a) a developer wants to put up a strip mall anchored by a Blockbuster; or b) the developer pays a $20 fee.

Actually, it doesn't say that, but you can't blame preservationists for thinking it might.

City Councilwoman Pam Holm unveiled the proposed ordinance at a Quality of Life subcommittee meeting, much to the surprise of those present.

Jane Cahill, chair of the Old Sixth Ward Reinvestment Zone, says -- On the One Hand -- that she wants preservation done "faster rather than slower," but -- On the Other Hand -- "I can't say this loudly enough or strongly enough: The stakeholders affected should be included in this."

Holm said she understood the concerns, and preservationists can have their say as the proposal makes its way through the approval process.

Why the rush? Holm told the subcommittee the city was getting ready to celebrate its 190th birthday next year and needed something to add to its list of accomplishments. (What, Fattest City isn't good enough?)

Cahill said her group is still studying the proposed ordinance. "Hopefully, we'll find that it really does promote historic preservation and then, of course, we'll celebrate it with the rest of the city."

We don't see how there could possibly be any other outcome.

Get This Party Started

Hey, parents -- tired of kids' birthday parties with themes like Little Mermaid or Hello Kitty? Why not try the hot new theme making its way across Texas: the chicken pox party?

The idea is to find a kid infected with chicken pox and get him or her to spread it among the rest of the gang, giving them a mild dose of the virus as a way of inoculating them.

According to Mothering, The Magazine of Natural Family Living, you should ask your doctor to tip you off when one of his patients has chicken pox. Then it's party time!

The virus, the magazine says, "is easily communicated through saliva. Pass a whistle from the infected child to other children at the party." Sounds like fun.

For ten years now there's been a vaccine against chicken pox, but families holding these parties aren't trying to avoid paying for the shot, says Dr. Jan Drutz of Texas Children's Hospital. "Surprisingly, it happens among better-educated people, college-educated or beyond," he says. "There's a fear factor [about vaccinations] among younger people, in their twenties or thirties, who've never seen a highly contagious disease kill children."

These younger parents, he says, fear possible side effects of the shot. But taking "the natural route" to inoculation also presents problems, he says. If you're exposed to chicken pox, you open yourself up to secondary infections like the infamous flesh-eating bacteria, and as you get older, you'll lose some of your immunity and are more likely to develop conditions like shingles.

Forget that, though. We just want to know -- when you go to a chicken pox party, what's in the goodie bags?

Bad Credit

The New Kid-Care is the organization created after the barrage of bad publicity that hit the old Kid-Care.

The old Kid-Care was started by Carol Porter, who began feeding hungry kids in her neighborhood and eventually garnered awards and great publicity for her efforts. Channel 13's Wayne Dolcefino ran a lengthy series of reports in 2003 claiming shoddy bookkeeping and misspending by Porter and the group. The state attorney general filed suit but later dropped the case.

Porter resigned from Kid-Care and has been protesting her innocence ever since, and relations between her and the new organization have been bitter. She says she's been barred from the Kid-Care property.

So Porter was a little surprised to see the newsletter The New Kid-Care sent out to Houstonians recently, which included things like "For 20 years, The New Kid-Care has provided in-home meal service to hungry children" and mentions of "recognition from over 40 organizations including three presidents of the United States."

There's talk of "the founders" of the group in the main story, but neither Porter nor her husband, Hurt, is named.

"I find it hypocritical, I find it sad, I find it unfair," Porter says. "If Carol and Hurt Porter were so horrible like they've been claiming, why use their accomplishments to claim for yourself?"

Tina Leningham, executive director for The New Kid-Care, says, "I don't feel like we're taking advantage of the work Carol Porter did. We're just trying to feed hungry children."

Which the new group undeniably does, with volunteers generously giving their time. Apparently, though, that generosity doesn't extend to giving credit where it's due.

Messing with the Stars

When a Russian astrologer sued NASA over the Deep Impact mission -- which involved a space probe smashing into a comet -- the space agency haughtily refused to comment. Despite assurances to Hair Balls that a spokesperson would address the weighty issue of whether the collision threw off the Russian's astrological charts, NASA evidently decided to instead concentrate on an upcoming shuttle launch.

Maybe they shouldn't have been so dismissive. Marva Mason is an astrologer here in Houston, and her client list includes NASA employees.

"One is more of an engineer, who's pretty well into the program," Mason says. "But when they come to me for readings, it's really more on personal issues, and nothing really connected with NASA."

Maybe NASA engineers should ask Mason about their missions, though. (Hey, Nancy Reagan used astrology to schedule summit meetings.) Deep Impact hit the comet on Monday, July 4; here's the reading published for Capricorns that week: "Your current work project is attracting the flightiest people! On Monday it might be time to put your foot down and demand attentive participation from all involved parties."

Mason, by the way, says the Russian's suit is "totally absurd…[a comet] is not going to make a big difference in her chart. Maybe she might have a point if somebody busted into Pluto or Jupiter or the sun or earth." NASA officials did not return calls inquiring whether such missions were planned.

Mason says, "the whole premise of [the suit] is just absurd, that it would affect her…She's got to be nuts. I mean, that's my take on it. [Comets] do not create that much influence on our life, not like a planet does. So for her to be making that kind of assumption is just ludicrous."

Comets: ludicrous. Planets: not ludicrous. Are you listening, NASA?

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