HISD Stonewalling

Muzzle time: I am appalled by the way Terry Abbott muzzles the Houston Independent School District principals and controls the access of the media to HISD administrators ["Speak No Evil," by Richard Connelly, September 4.].

Abbott's comments about The New York Times are outrageous. He said the Times is trying to hurt President Bush by attacking HISD, where Rod Paige came from.

Abbott should be fired and replaced with someone who allows complete and open access of the media to all HISD personnel. The public has a right to know what is going on in our tax- supported schools.

Superintendent Kaye Stripling should be accessible to the media on a weekly if not daily basis.

Jimmy Dunne

Old tricks: Having been the recipient of stonewalling and spin from Rod Paige during several years as an HISD volunteer, I had high hopes that Kaye Stripling would establish an open administration accountable to the public. I believed she would view the simultaneous departure of Terry Abbott with Paige as a boost for the credibility of her administration. Sadly, with Abbott's rehire and his unchanged disregard for the public's right to information, it appears that HISD is back to its same old tricks.

John T. King

Inviting litigation: Mr. Abbott needs to be reminded that all government employees are servants of their masters. The citizens, represented by the media, are the masters! Mr. Abbott is inviting litigation when he sets rules and policies that are his own and not supported, approved and put in writing by the governing board of HISD. Several years ago, HISD spent thousands upon thousands of dollars defending its position for not wanting to release public information about employees with degrees, certification, salaries, transcripts and grades. The local newspaper that initiated the litigation won its case for transparency by a decision rendered by the Texas Supreme Court. From a practical standpoint, it is better to talk and deny or clarify as opposed to writing. In writing, if you wrote half-truths or half-lies, the proof is in black and white and oftentimes undeniable. Writing back and forth is time-consuming and, legally, more compromising!

Nicolas R. Quezada

Poor Terry: In reference to your recent attack on poor, maligned Terry Abbott, HISD employees were warned last year (while Terry was serving the great god Paige in Washington) not to communicate with any news outlet without permission of the principal or the media department. However, Mr. Abbott's statement that we may not respond to media questions brings up a point. As private citizens (who are still protected by the U.S. Constitution), we may contact any media outlet -- the Houston Press, Houston Chronicle or Wayne Dolcefino -- face to face, or via fax, phone or e-mail. (Don't use your HISD laptop, fool. Big Brother is watching.) That's all I can say about this subject at this time.

Candace Reuss

Bicycle Freeways

Design harmony: As long as Houston's Bikeway Program continues to design its federally funded hike-and-bike trails to meet guidelines that the Texas Department of Transportation has decreed as the final word on trail design, the city is facing a number of more Memorial Park-like "bicycle freeways" ["Chop Talk," by Wendy Grossman, September 4.] Hopefully, with continued input from various community and user groups, the city and TXDOT will come around to realize that the much-needed and -wanted trail systems have to be designed in ways that are in harmony with the parks, bayous and neighborhoods they will serve.

As a personal aside, I appreciate that the bikeway is in place at Memorial Park, as I can now safely access the park on bike during the afternoon rush hour without having to go handlebar-to-fender with motorists on Memorial Drive. The south side of the park is better connected and easier to get around. What could be more environmentally friendly than being able to ride a bike to the arboretum? This makes me look forward to the day when the park will have a fully comprehensive and hopefully soft surface trail system. And with a little good fortune, the "bicycle freeway" design folks won't be involved.

Jim Mackey

Slow going: It took the Texas Department of Transportation "only" ten years to get around to creating bike trails in Memorial Park. Must have been the same team that's supervising the construction work on the 610 West Loop. The pyramids could have been built faster, without the equipment available today.

Eli Bensky

Anyone for a Duel?

So, not a fan: There are so many errors in Robb Walsh's recent article ["Mexico City Tex-Mex," September 3] that I can best refute them by quoting him:

Walsh: "[Mariani] faults Tex-Mex restaurants for serving Americanized stuff like burritos, chimichangas and refried beans." What I wrote: "What's not to love about burritos, chimichangas, chile rellenos, and refried beans? It's good grub, but, let's face it, the menus at 99 percent of the so-called Mexican restaurants in this country (which are really derivatives of those venerable, beloved Tex-Mex eateries that set the mold decades ago) list pretty predictable stuff."

Walsh: "The East, on the other hand, has the best Mexican food in the country, Mariani says." What I wrote: "Indeed, some [my italics] of the best, most innovative Mexican restaurants are east of the Mississippi, especially in New York."

Walsh: "Patricia Quintana and John Mariani are elitists with little use for what they call 'peasant food.'" Not one word of what I have ever written anywhere about Mexican food has ever denigrated "peasant food," which I find to be one part of the vast food culture of Mexico -- which is not to say that a lot of it can be pretty dreadful stuff. Walsh seems to think anything above the "peasant" level is not part of Mexican food culture. As I quoted from Patricia Quintana, author of the authoritative Feasts of Life and chef-owner of Izote de Patricia Quintana restaurant in Mexico City: "We have thirty-two regional cuisines that are the result of the ethnic people who settled there. Our native people have a long culinary history, with strong influences from Spain, Italy, even China and India. Cooking techniques vary enormously."

Walsh: "Based on my recent experiences, the average Mexican eatery in Manhattan is owned and operated by Koreans and the food is horrific." This is truly a slap in the face to the thousands of Mexicans who run all kinds of Mexican restaurants in New York and other American cities. I don't know a single Mexican restaurant in NYC owned by Koreans. There may well be some. But such an absurd statement makes one wonder what kind of rube Walsh is to eat where he did -- none of which he names.

Walsh: "And while we're at it, let's lay the blame for such bastardized 'Yank-Ital' crap as Pizza Hut's Stuffed Crust Pizza and frozen Red Baron Pepperoni Pouches where they belong, on the front door of Mariani and his Italian-American friends. It makes as much sense as denigrating Mexican-Americans for Tex-Mex." Aside from the snideness of his remark (my "Italian-American friends"?), it shows Walsh's ignorance that I, with my wife, Galina, authored the award-winning Italian-American Cookbook (Harvard Common Press), which states repeatedly that Italian-American food is, like Tex-Mex, Jewish-American and Chinese-American food, its own genre, with both very good and very bad dishes not found anywhere in Italy, and that what he calls "'Yank-Ital' crap" are prime examples of bad Italian-American food, just as Taco Bell is an example of bad Tex-Mex food.

Last but not least, I would challenge Walsh to ask any number of Mexican food authorities -- Diana Kennedy comes to mind -- from either side of the Rio Grande their opinion of how Mexican food differs from Tex-Mex food. I suspect it's not what he'd want to hear.

John Mariani
Tuckahoe, New York


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