The State Board of Education has once again lurched through its annual textbook-approval process, a yearly rite known informally by some Texans as Laughingstock Time.
This was the year for health textbooks, which tend to deal with such nasty things as sex.
The highlight of the November vote, at least in terms of getting the most media coverage, was this gem of advice on how teens could avoid premarital sex: "Get plenty of rest." (And gals, turn on Britney Spears's "Touch of My Hand." Stat!)
" 'Get plenty of rest' -- what kind of advice is that?" says Dan Quinn of the Texas Freedom Network, which fights the conservatives each year. "I know lots of guys who got plenty of rest in college -- they'd sleep till noon -- and it didn't stop them from having sex."
The "plenty of rest" tip came from Holt, Rinehart and Winston's Lifetime Health textbook for middle-schoolers. That book also included this discussion starter: "You and your best friend, Carl, are making plans for this weekend. Carl says that he's a bit worried lately. He tells you that it's painful when he urinates and that he's noticed a strange discharge He says that it's probably a fall he took in practice the other day and that it will clear up on its own."
Yeah, good luck with that, Carl.
As always, the Houston area's own SBOE all-star, Terri Leo, did herself proud. Not only did she propose that any reference to "marriage partners" be changed to "husbands and wives," so kids wouldn't be recruited into becoming Will & Grace fans, she also proposed -- in vain -- two other changes:
A sixth-grade health book had a teacher's guide that said, "If you discuss the issue of homosexuality in class, discuss it respectfully." Leo wanted that changed to say, "Texas law rejects homosexual 'marriage.' Students can therefore maintain that homosexuality and heterosexuality are not moral equivalents, without being charged with 'hate speech.' "
The same book included this: "Surveys indicate that three to 10 percent of the population is gay. No one knows for sure why some people are straight, some are bisexual and others are gay." Leo wanted the passage to read: "Opinions vary on why homosexuals, lesbians and bisexuals as a group are more prone to self-destructive behaviors like depression, illegal drug use and suicide."
Just some light editing, really.
Equal Opportunity Employer
Thanks to aggressive reporting from the Houston Chronicle, it's become clear just how much of a sham the Houston school district performed before anointing interim superintendent Abe Saavedra as permanent boss.
Names of other candidates were kept secret, and HISD officials went through cloak-and-dagger silliness to sneak candidates into and out of interviews at district headquarters. But the three non-Saavedra names leaked out, and they were definitely on the "under" side of whelming.
One was forced into early retirement by his last school board; the other two were told their contracts would not be renewed, all thanks to things like low employee morale, closing neighborhood schools and squabbling with their school boards.
This was the best they could do? Given that HISD promised an extensive and exhaustive search, we're wondering how they possibly missed these other candidates:
John Wood, the former head of the Beaumont, California, school district, is available. Just as soon as he clears up some paperwork for his March 2004 arrest for possession of methamphetamine and drug paraphernalia.
Stu Yager's looking for work. After being arrested on suspicion of drunken driving, the former superintendent of Pueblo, Colorado's schools pleaded guilty to vehicular assault and reckless endangerment because two young girls riding in the bed of his pickup hit the pavement. But hey, he was spending time with kids.
Nebraska seems like a winning place to look -- Milford superintendent Doug Eicher is free after getting arrested for indecent exposure in a public park, and the résumé of Red Cloud's former head Jon Broadbent includes using school computers to disseminate sexually explicit material and using profanity during board meetings.
There's a Long Island guy charged with embezzling $1 million, a Connecticut supe facing counts of disturbing the peace, criminal trespass and resisting arrest, and an assistant superintendent in Indiana, Jeffrey Roach, who drove a school van to a public park for his own indecent exposure arrest.
Geez. And HISD claims it did a thorough search.
All This Useless Beauty
Art is alive and well where Midtown and Montrose meet, judging by this piece of art from under a highway overpass. There are rumors it might be from some Canadian-based art collective, but who knows?
And more important, what does it mean? We asked Kerry Inman, owner of the prestigious Inman Gallery.
Her first offer -- "No idea what it means. That even deer have good tits?" -- obviously did not take things to the aesthetic level we were looking for. So we pushed on:
Q. No, really. What's it mean?
A. To be honest, I wasn't even being that flippant with you because, you know, artists often employ -- what would you call it? -- sort of opaque means to get something across [And] it's, ummm, so I really, I have no idea. But, and that's okay And it would mean something different if it were hanging in a museum than where it's been put. So, and that's something important.
Q. Okay, so location-wise, it's in the Midtown area, which carries the context of gentrification--
A. But what does a deer wearing a tank top have to do with gentrification?
Q. I have no idea. When I saw it, I thought maybe it was the love child of Stanley Kowalski and the Jägermeister logo.
A. Well, then, so you're doing better than me. I think the issue is that the neatest thing about art is that there's no right answer for how to look at the piece [It's] raw and it's about the urban experience as well, just regardless of what it is. But you know, hell, like I said -- deer can wear tank tops, I don't know. It's like, "Have fun with it."
Pasadena movers and shakers were ecstatic with the recent groundbreaking of a new industrial plant by a company called Kaneka Texas. That's because this plant, unlike just about every other industrial site in that august city, will actually not be producing chemical- or petroleum-based products.
The mayor declared Kaneka Texas Day. The company also got a huge tax abatement for picking Pasadena, but we're sure they won't treasure that as much as they do the mayor's proclamation.
"There isn't another site that produces like this There's nothing like this in the region," enthused Paul Chavez of the Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership.
The plant will make a dietary supplement called Coenzyme Q10, which certainly sounds delicious. The process is completely organic, Kaneka Texas spokesman Scott Steinford says. "It's going to be a very environmentally friendly facility," he says, "compared with the chemical plants and stuff over there."
Hey, way to diss the city that gave you a nice proclamation, Scott.
All this eco-friendly fawning may be a bit misplaced, though, if you ask the people in Oslo, Norway. Citizens of that city are demanding that three companies, including a division of Kaneka, pony up seven million euros to clean the city's fjord. A group called Friends of the Earth Norway says the companies introduced PCBs into the water while they were sandblasting and painting ships.
A Pasadena city official was unaware of Oslo's complaints.
And Kaneka Texas spokesman Steinford managed to say he knew nothing about the incident without getting in another dig at Pasadena, so maybe he's learning.
No Bikes Here
Peter Wang is a Copperfield resident, way out in the fast-growing boonies where roads like FM 529 are getting taxed to the limit by traffic. He's also an avid bike rider.
So he took notice when he happened to peruse plans to expand FM 529. It was while he was attending a planning meeting of the Houston-Galveston Area Council, making the perusal (slightly) less geeky than it would have been if it were just casual weekend reading.
The FM 529 plans, included in an application for federal funding, showed an estimate for "bicycle/pedestrian traffic." And the estimate was zero.
"I was astonished," Wang said in a letter to his congressman. "FM 529 is used by many bicyclists on a year-round basis for recreational use on weekends, and by some bicyclists during the week who use it to ride to and from work."
Not to mention that each April, during the MS 150 charity ride, about 11,000 bicyclists pedal down the road.
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The inclusion of a bike component can increase a project's chances to get federal funds, so it's a little strange that officials wouldn't even casually mention the 11,000 or so bikers. It'd be like a heart surgeon walking into a singles bar and not casually mentioning he's a heart surgeon within the first five minutes of every conversation.
Dan Raine, HGAC's pedestrian/bicycle coordinator, admits the ball was somehow dropped here. The people who put the proposal together for HGAC just didn't include the info. He's hoping to increase awareness of the issue, letting people know that bike figures are good things.
"If we put in the process and get all the info out there, then hopefully we can work with the project sponsors and get something done," he says. "And I say 'hopefully' because this is the first time we have ever done it. And I'm the new guy."
Until then, drivers should just be careful each spring to avoid the 11,000 bikes that aren't there.