It was a cri de coeur from a panicked, if sadly anonymous, Harris County librarian.
"Last week we were informed of one of our ‘other duties as assigned' which has everyone angry and afraid," the letter said.
What, dressing up as Harry Potter?
No. Rushing to the front lines of a chemical attack by terrorists.
"We were told that, in the event of a major medical emergency, we would be required to go to a place the county has set up and pass out information, medicine or whatever needs doing...We were told that we need to make emergency plans for our children and pets now because we would be required to work 12-hour shifts for a total of 48 hours and spend the night at the facility on cots," it continued. "If we refused to, we probably would be fired."
But hey, things weren't all bad: "We were also told that in the event of rioting, we would be allowed to leave and turn it over to the police."
So what are you bitching about? "I think," the letter said, "if we were under some kind of attack and people started rioting to get a vaccine or whatever, the police would not be able to do effective crowd control." Oh. Well, we guess you have a point.
Francisco Sanchez, the county judge's liaison to the Office of Emergency Management, says he doesn't think the librarian's letter is accurate. "If it was, I'm sure we'd be hearing from more librarians," he says.
But talk to Rita Obey of Harris County Public Health & Environmental Services and the whole thing doesn't seem so far-fetched.
She says her department has gone around to other county departments seeking help in providing assistance should a worst-case scenario occur.
"The response we get is, ‘If we can, we'd love to help.'ÉThere are some who are concerned, who are worried, and that's natural," she says.
Obey says librarians might be sent to county sites to help, but "we are not putting them in harm's way."
Really? The librarian was told the event might involve "anthrax, ricin, smallpox or any other number of biological agents that could be released." You think Harris County residents are going to calmly line up to get information from librarians and vaccines from medical people?
"You'd be very surprised at how calm the public is when they know exactly what's going on, what's to be expected," Obey says. "The message will go out continually that there is enough medication for everyone."
Obey says she only talks to department heads; she can't be sure if those heads told employees they were required under threat of being fired to do as they were told. There's no current county policy saying that, she says.
On the other hand, the relevant department head interim library system director Rhoda Goldberg didn't return phone calls.
So put down the books and get those hazmat suits ready, people!
No News Is Good News
Houston Chronicle society columnist Shelby Hodge was reliably agog July 30 at the latest swanky party.
"The Hand Center's founder Dr. Michael Brown, the fellow you see on the television ads with ‘little daughter Sophie,' enjoyed two 50th birthday celebrations," she breathlessly reported in the column's lead item.
There were many details of the two parties. "The surprise on this evening was the major bling Rachel gifted her husband with a platinum and diamond Rolex, a stunning addition to his collection of fine watches," Hodge wrote.
The big surprise to us, on the other hand, was that Hodge wrote all this without somehow mentioning that Brown is an apparent wife-beater, if the sworn testimony of two of his wives (including Rachel) can be believed. Also that the Texas Medical Board revoked his license in March 2006 when he tested positive for cocaine. The board considered that a no-no since they had put him on a ten-year probation in 2002.
You can see our articles, "The Good Doctor," January 24, 2002, or updates since then. Or you can read the Chron if you want glowing party coverage.
No Information Is
There's been some growing talk lately about abstinence programs in schools. Mainly about how, despite the millions the Bush administration tosses into them, abstinence programs don't seem to do a whole hell of a lot preventing kids from having sex.
There are also concerns that programs aren't evaluated to see if they're working effectively.
If ever there's a place ready to get on any Bush-education bandwagon, it's the Houston school district, proud purchaser of Neil Bush's harebrained Ignite! software programs. So how much money is HISD spending on abstinence education?
Good luck finding out.
"Centrally, HISD does not receive grant funds from state or federal government for abstinence programs," district spokesman Terry Abbott says by e-mail.
Ah-hah: "Centrally"? That must mean abstinence funds come in, but just not in a bulk payment, right?
"That's a school-by-school budget question," he replies. "You could make a TPIA [Texas Public Information Act] request to try to get any documents on that, but I don't have that information centrally."
(Judging from experience with HISD public-info requests, we're guessing the bill would be about $50,000, give or take.)
At any rate, district officials concerned as always with the physical and mental well-being of their students no doubt have done extensive research into whether the abstinence programs they do use are effective, correct?
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Not really. The state-mandated abstinence-related curriculum has been in effect since the '90s, but it's just now, Abbott says, that "The University of Texas Medical Center has two researchers working on pilot programs and gathering research in several of our middle schools."
We'll keep our fingers crossed that in Houston, as opposed to the rest of the country, abstinence education works like a charm. Even if we don't know how much we're spending on it.
Summer of Longhorn Discontent
The University of Texas football team has taken a few lumps imagewise this summer, with more appearances on the police blotter than the Dallas Crackboys in their Michael Irvin heyday. We who dont bow down daily in the direction of Memorial Stadium thought these kinds of problems were impossible because Mack Brown listens to rap on his iPod, but apparently not. For a wrap-up of the rap sheets, click here.