New On The Web! More Party Pics and Coverage of Rich People!

Heartbroken fans of Clifford Pugh, Shelby Hodge and Heather "Shopgirl" Staible take solace -- the trio of ex-Chron lifestyle scribes have a new home online at Culture Map Houston, which debuted a few hours ago.

"CultureMap, a new online magazine and "mapazine" -- the first of its kind -- headquartered in Houston, TX -- brings hyper-localized intelligence and insight to each city that it covers," trumpets the intro the little blurb on the "About Us" page. (Update: Staible continues to write for the Chron. Our apologies.)

So expect lots of gritty reporting on the seamy underbelly of this sprawling, brawling port city...the lives of sex slaves in near North Side cantinas, the shattered remnants of injured oil-refinery workers' dreams, heartwarming tales of human triumph out of the miserable Southwest Houston apartment-strewn dystopia, and explorations on the death of blue-collar America down around the Port of Houston. As Balzac was to Paris, Dickens to London, so Culture Map will be to Houston...

Or not. Here is how CultureMapHouston continues to explain its own raison d'etre:

CultureMap consists of a top-notch team of highly experienced editors, photo editors, writers, and insiders who have in-depth expertise on each local market and all that it offers, providing thought-provoking insights and opinions about the arts, fashion, music, events, society, and much, much more. By blending the highest-quality content via experts-in-the-field with on-demand, proprietary web technology, CultureMap is rewiring the book on how information is distributed in the 21st Century.

Basically, the site runs off a Google Map, focused on downtown and points to the west, not east. But you knew that already. You click on a sited number on the map and you get a location and a story.

Highlights from among the first 9 stories...Leading off, there's Shelby Hodge, being Shelby Hodge. She begins her new column with a modest touch:

The earth did not stand still, as some have rumored, on the day that I stepped down from the Houston Chronicle to join CultureMap. There may have been seismic tremors across the social landscape but Houston kept right on partying.

Hodge goes on to say that she wore out her Manolos getting the scoop you read here. Roger Clemens, Robert Duvall and U2 and Pervez Musharraf bring a mixed bag of actual fame to her usual coverage of Houston socialites. Hodge was also on the scene when "Halloween Craziness" -- people dressed as Liza Minnelli! -- erupted at downtown's postmodern bowling alley Lucky Strike Lanes.

For his part, Clifford Pugh lamented this country's poor economic health as reflected through his own preferred leading indicator: The shortage of outrageously expensive gifts in this year's Neiman-Marcus catalog.

Sure, the Neiman Marcus 2009 Christmas Book offers some glitzy gifts, like His & Her Icon A5 airplanes for $250,000 and a limited edition Jaguar XJL at $105,000. "All 50 of the available cars were sold within four hours," he writes.

But these fell short of the frivolity of past years, and Pugh seems more disturbed by the inclusion of tacky little bargains.

This year's edition also includes lots of "Fab Finds" for the budget minded and "Little Gems" (gifts under $100). A press release brags that half the gifts are under $200 and the least expensive gift--a tin of NM chocolate chip cookies--is only $24. Christmas sure ain't what it used to be.

Quel horreur! Whatever's next? A Neiman's "Everything's $119" store in a South Post Oak strip mall?.

And then there are a bunch of pictures of rich women in fancy dresses at various museums. So in short, this is a Web version of Gloss, 002, and all those other freebie rags that once clogged up street corners back at the height of the most recent economic bubble, albeit a version written by people who are very good at what they do.

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