Such Nice Kids
Want a concrete example of the old saying "caught between a rock and a hard place"? Look no further than the Houston school district.
The "rock" is the fact that the district is largely Hispanic -- nearly 60 percent of its 209,000 students, in fact. The "hard place" is the fact that the district is, obviously enough, in Houston. And Houston is also home to aggressive right-wing radio and blogs, the consumers of which are dedicated voters in things such as bond elections.
So when local kids decide to take part in protests against a proposed immigration bill that's hated by the Rock and loved by the Hard Place, what's a district to do?
If it's HISD, the answer is...be as patronizing as possible.
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On March 28, more than a thousand students marched through a drenching rain to protest the bill. HISD sent buses to get them back to school after the event. School officials would have been better off donning "Osama Lives!" T-shirts and denouncing the Great Satan. Radio stations erupted: KTRH/740 AM's Chris Baker's oft-repeated theme was "Immigration...or Conquest?"
And then, when the principal at Reagan High let some students talk him into raising the Mexican flag out front, things got worse.
So the district pulled out all the stops on March 30. It issued 67 citations to protesting students, and watched as HPD arrested 26 more. And then it called a blue-ribbon press conference, the theme of which seemed to be "You Kids Are So Darn Cute When You Get Mad."
Typifying things was Rick Torres of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce: "The message to the students from those of us in the business community is that we understand your concern and we understand your passion...[But] we're at the plate, speaking on your behalf." (Hey, kids, no need to protest; the fucking Chamber of Commerce has got your back!)
Also present were two students from Lamar High who, reporters were told several times, did things the Right Way: organizing a protest on campus, before the school day started.
"We want the media to have an example," 17-year-old Zelene Pineda said, "of what students are capable of: organizing, being effective, making an impression--"
"--without breaking rules and without breaking laws and working within the school system," added her partner, 17-year-old Tina Marie Sanchez, to great applause from the crowd.
Speaker after speaker raved about the "excitement" and the "energy" of the protesters, adding that it would, however, be soooo much better if protests were held quietly, according to the rules, and at the proper designated hours. (That's the ticket to media coverage!) Cesar Chavez would tell them the same thing, Constable Victor Trevino said.
HISD superintendent Abe Saavedra -- who actually noted, "I want to say 'thank you' to the over 200,000 students in HISD that did not walk out in the last few days" -- didn't exactly offer a great message on taking responsibility for your actions.
Asked if he would recommend that the arrested students pay the full $200 fine with which they could be hit (which would please those rabid voters, if not many HISD parents), Saavedra stood tall andÉpunted.
"We will not have any input into how HPD -- whatever penalty they assign, that's simply out of our jurisdiction," he said.
Hey, it's out of my hands! That's what Cesar Chavez would say, no doubt.
One thing you can bet HISD officials will be working on in the next few weeks is a carefully worded memo on school decorations. Why? Because Reagan High's flying of the Mexican flag has become a cause celebre, and Cinco de Mayo is coming up.
Expect a lot of talk in such a memo about how it's great to celebrate Mexican culture -- but don't fly no freaking flags, principals.
Why was flying the Mexican flag for a brief time so bad? HISD superintendent Abe Saavedra wasn't exactly eloquent on the subject.
"It had nothing to do with the fact it was Mexico," he said. "I simply feel that to allow that would allow an advocacy to another country."
Wouldn't want that. Whatever "that" is.
Who Says It's Tainted?
The leafy, exclusive Kinkaid School is never shy about hitting up its well-off constituency for funds, and honoring them when they fork over cash. So it's no surprise the "donor wall" in a main hallway lists people who've given more than $10,000 to the school.
Among the names displayed: The Fastow Family Foundation. As in Andrew Fastow, who has confessed to being neck-deep in the ugly muck of Enron, and wife Lea, who has done prison time for the same.
With the Ken Lay-Jeff Skilling trial (finally) under way, new questions are being asked by some students at Kinkaid, which has a zealously enforced zero-tolerance policy for, among more obvious things, unkempt uniforms.
"I asked my daughter what this dichotomy meant to her, and she replied, 'It's okay to be a crook if you dress well,' " said one parent who didn't want to be identified.
Talk to Kinkaid headmaster Don North and you'll learn that they would immediately give back Fastow's money -- if only they could be 100 percent positive that it came from his Enron wrongdoing. And not, we suppose, from his apparent part-time gig as an Amway distributor.
"I think what [keeping the money] says is, you know, the family had many sources of income," North says. "And some of them, in hindsight, were ill gotten. But perhaps some were not."
North says the donation -- of at least $10,000 -- was "not an enormously large gift." (The rich, they are different from you or me.) If it had been a bigger, more prominent gift, "you would be more likely to have that discussion" about removing it, North says.
So we guess it's a good thing for Kinkaid that there's no Fastow Library on campus. Officials might lose some sleep over the chance that maybe -- just maybe -- some of the money might have come from Enron.
Keeping It Positive
The Rockets' season is soon to be over, and not a moment too soon. Once again they're in the lottery, and Toyota Center continues to be a half-empty arena with desultory crowds. Most Rockets fans stay home.
And why not, when you consider the great sales job done by Jeff Van Gundy? Let's take a look back at the refreshingly blunt coach, as revealed in the Houston Chronicle archives, as he puts the word out that spending your bucks on Rockets tickets is a guaranteed way to get high-octane entertainment:
"It turns my stomach, frankly, to watch that tonight," he said February 8. "I mean, to play so uninspired...I so much want to have a team that's an everyday team that really, really wants to play every day, every night." ("Call 713-627-DUNK for ticket information!" he didn't add.)
"I'm tired of apologizing for the team's lackluster effort," he said March 2. "It rips my guts out that we're not a really, really, really committed, competitive team." ("Don't forget the Yao Six-Game Mini-Plan! It's a bargain!")
"At this point of the year," he said January 31, "the number of mistakes we make is embarrassing. It is to me unconscionable that we don't know our responsibilities better than we do at this point in the year. We're not good, OK?" ("For just $5,000, our 'All-Star Package' gets you two lower-level seats for 12 games and two suite nights!")
We're sure operators are standing by, and there are plenty of good seats available for the remaining home games against Minnesota, Memphis and San Antonio.
As Van Gundy -- who apparently has no involvement with getting players who care or making them do so -- would say, "Come enjoy the mediocrity!"
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