June 14, 2009
Does Adam McManus have a pet gerbil?
Julián Castro didn’t wait long to show some cojones. Just a week after taking
office, he came under vicious attack by San Antonio’s most rabid radio
loudmouth and a few score of his minuscule band of followers. Castro’s
offense? Agreeing to be the first San Antonio mayor to serve as grand
marshal of a Gay Pride Parade -- it’s scheduled for July 4 -- and then
refusing to go back on his word.
Gee, you’d think he’d done something really disreputable, like, I don’t
know, graduating from Harvard or something.
Leading the charge against Castro was KSLR shock jock Adam McManus, who
calls himself a Christian conservative.
I’ve listened to McManus on occasion over the years, usually when he
was making mischief about the arts. A few yars ago, or example, he
slandered Margaret Atwood’s novel “The Handmaid’s Tale” as “an attack
on the Christian religion” and came perilously close to getting it
removed from a Judson High School reading list.
I have yet to detect any evidence that McManus is either Christian
or conservative, but he does claim to stand for biblical values,
and he quotes Leviticus a lot.
Hearing McManus, I figured Leviticus must be all about forbidden sex,
sort of like “Tropic of Cancer” except with a bunch of thees and thous.
Naturally I had to check it out. Turns out there’s a lot more to it
than sex. I guess McManus just read the good parts.
In a lot of ways, the biblical values in Leviticus are pretty far to
the left. For example, if you hire someone to work for you, God says
you can’t hold his wages overnight. You have to pay him at the end of
every work day for that day’s work. But I’ve never heard McManus demand
an end to the scourge of biweekly paychecks.
In Leviticus, God also says you can’t charge poor people interest on a
loan, or sell them food for your own profit. But I’ve never heard
McManus rail against payday loan companies, which exploit the poor and
are rife in San Antonio, or against supermarkets and convenience stores
that profit from selling to the poor. Maybe I just wasn’t listening
What about private property? Well, in Leviticus, God says you can’t buy
land outright. You’re only allowed to buy the right to work it until
the next jubilee, which comes every 50 years. Then the property must
revert to its original owner. I’ve never heard McManus decry the common
practice of buying and selling land outright. In fact, if some
state legislator were to introduce a bill enshrining God's real estate
law in the Texas Property Code, I guarantee McManus would condemn it as
God has some strong views about immigration reform, too. In Leviticus,
he says you have to treat aliens the same as citizens. “The foreigners
residing among you must be treated as your native born.” But McManus
has equally strong views. He thinks foreigners without proper
documentation should be deported, and if God wants to say otherwise
he’ll just have to get his own damned talk show.
It is true that God is not altogether consistent regarding treatment of
foreigners. He also says it’s OK to buy slaves from across the border,
or to buy temporary residents of your own country, and make them your
property for life. I haven’t heard McManus take issue with God on
slavery policy, so maybe that’s an area where he and God see eye to eye.
In a television interview, McManus castigated Castro and the Gay Pride
Parade by saying, “There's nothing to be proud of when you participate
in behavior that God described as an abomination."
McManus himself has publicly and unrepentantly boasted of his own
participation in behavior that God described as an abomination.
God says you have to drain all the blood out of an animal before you
cook and eat it. But McManus often brags about going to a fancy
steakhouse with his so-called “wife” and ordering a glass of milk with
his steak -- so you know it wasn’t a Kosher steakhouse. As far as God
is concerned, that’s like bragging about having sex with your pet
gerbil. (I'm speaking hypothetically. I don't even know if McManus has
a pet gerbil.)
I can’t really blame McManus for flouting that particular law. (I mean
the one about the meat, not the one about the gerbil.) I’ve eaten
God-approved bloodless meat a few times, and I can tell you that God
don’t know squat about good eating. God also says its an abomination to
eat the meat of pigs. I think it’s OK, and if you’ve ever seen McManus
you know he’s not one to let Leviticus stand between him and a good
Oh, now here’s something interesting in Leviticus: “Do not go about
spreading slander among your people.”
Liberals and conservatives alike ought to be able to endorse that one,
but I’m pretty sure McManus doesn’t. After all, the guy’s gotta make a
May 16, 2009
Leader of family-values party opposes marriage
Michael Steele, chairman of the Republican National Committee, opposes
marriage as a costly burden on small business.
When an employee gets married, Steele told Georgia Republicans on May
16, "Now all of a sudden I've got someone who wasn't a spouse before,
that I had no responsibility for, who is now getting claimed as a
spouse that I now have financial responsibility for. So how do I pay
for that? Who pays for that? You just cost me money."
Steele was speaking specifically of same-sex marriage, but his argument
applies equally to opposite-sex marriage. If a business is unduly
burdened by having to provide spousal benefits to the one employee in
25 who is gay, then that business must a fortiori (as conservative icon
William F. Buckley might have said) be unduly burdened by having to
provide the same benefits to the other 24 employees who are straight.
Steele also made news a few months ago when he apologized for calling
the incendiary, ugly radio entertainer Rush Limbaugh an incendiary,
ugly radio entertainer.
Steele also underscored his firm belief that grits ain’t groceries,
eggs ain’t poultry, and Mona Lisa must-a-been a man whose marriage
created a terrible financial a burden for his husband’s employer.
April 17, 2009
Purty Perry flunks Texas history
There's a perfectly understandable reason why Gov. Rick Perry hinted to
an Associated Press reporter on April 15 that Texas might want to pull
out of the Union. The reason is that Perry is an idiot.
By way of historical prologue, Perry said, "Texas is a unique place.
When we came into the Union in 1845 one of the issues was that we would
be able to leave if we decided to do that."
Perry has his head up his pants. As every Texas schoolboy knows, the
1845 annexation resolution did not give Texas the right to leave the
United States if things didn't work out -- "we" tried that in 1861,
with less than satisfactory results -- but only to divide its territory
into as many as five states, with each of the additional states being
entitled to admission to the Union.
Non-Texans just need to realize that Perry wasn't elected for his
smarts, but for his chiseled jaw and hair. Lots of Texas voters --
mainly, white heterosexual frat boys -- find him irresistibly
purty. And to that same portion of the electorate it is the opposite of
blameworthy that, throughout his required semester of Texas history,
Perry battled boredom by throwing spitballs.
And you thought Congress spends too much?
Perry spoke on the occasion of a nationwide wave of "tea parties,"
vaguely populist affairs the point of which was to condemn, among other
evils, excessive government spending.
The San Antonio Tea Party drew about 5,000 people and cost the
organizers more than $110,000 -- about $22 per person -- for a
two-and-a-half-hour event. Extrapolating from those numbers, the tea
party cost an astronomical $77,088 per person on an annualized basis.
Total federal outlays for fiscal year 2009 amounted to a meagre,
penny-pinching $8,833.33 per capita. And federal spending pays for some
goods and services that are actually useful, unlike the Tea Party,
whose organizers spent money like drunken sailors only to pay for an
outpouring of bluster and bilge.
A Christian nation?
Speaking of bluster and bilge, a great deal of each has been expended
over President Obama's recent statement, in Turkey, regarding America's
religious status. Obama said, "We do not consider ourselves a Christian
nation or a Jewish nation or a Muslim nation; we consider ourselves a
nation of citizens who are bound by ideals and a set of values."
Obama has been saying much the same thing for at least three years, and
one need only read the Constitution to confirm that his view is
correct. Christian jihadists on talk radio and the blogosphere,
however, have seized on this latest formulation to manufacture
controversy. They insist that the United States is indeed a Christian
nation and that Obama's statement proves he's a cryptoMuslim socialist
bent on destroying America.
Salon.com has provided a thorough refutation
of the claim that America is a Christian nation except in the
statistical sense that three-quarters of Americans profess to be
Christians. Not least of the refutations is the Treaty of Tripoli,
unanimously ratified by the US Senate in 1797, one of whose clauses
begins, "As the Government of the United States of America is not, in
any sense, founded on the Christian religion; ..."
I'll add only these points:
One of the reasons the United States isn't a Christian nation is
that the United States isn't a nation at all, in the traditional sense,
but an anti-nation. When the United States was born, nations were
essentially big tribes, or extended families, each with its peculiar
language, customs -- and religion. The United States, formed on the
ideals of the Enlightenment, was intended to be a new kind of nation,
bound together not by tribal loyalties but by abstract ideas about
justice, liberty, diversity, reason and self-government. It was to be a
place where people of many nations could live together in peace. These
people of many nations would not be required to abandon their
native cultures and religions, but they would be admonished to put
their tribal loyalties in brackets, so to speak, in order to allow the
common enterprise to flourish.
Americans have not always been true to American principles, of course.
But the principles remain worthy.
Regarding America's statistical Christianity, even that is suspect. A
recent Barna poll found that more than one in five American
self-identified Christian don't believe "that the Bible is
accurate in all of the principles it teaches." About a quarter do not
believe in a personal god. And most do not believe that Satan and the
Holy Spirit are real. In other words, most of the Americans who
identify as Christians don't meet the Christian jihadists' narrow
definition of Christians. Indeed, Christian jihadi talk radio --
afternoon drive time on KSLR-AM, for example -- is awash with
anti-Christian and anti-American bile. Rather than blaming Obama for
telling the truth, they ought to be pointing their bony fingers at
John McCain calls you a dirty, rotten Marxist
October 29, 2008
Don’t look at that shady reprobate lurking in the corner. McCain means
Let’s say you’re a hard-working machinist or truck driver or nurse, and
you live in a school district that doesn’t have a lot of expensive real
estate to tax. Back in the days when Texas school districts had to
depend solely on local property tax revenues to foot the bills, your
kid’s high school couldn’t afford the laboratory equipment, music
programs and foreign language classes that were available to kids in
property-rich school districts. If you demanded a change in the
school-funding system so your kid could have the same educational
opportunities that rich kids had, you are a Marxist, according to
Or let’s say you're a rich Republican who built a $3 million house in
the Hill Country. A bunch of other rich Republicans built $3 million
houses all around you, and suddenly the old rural two-lane blacktops
can’t handle the traffic. You demand more and wider roads in your area.
You are a rich Republican Marxist. That’s what John McCain says.
Or maybe you’re somewhere in the middle of the income pack. You have a
bunch of Christmas cards to send to friends and family scattered in
towns and cities all over the country. You could pay FedEx five or fix
bucks apiece to deliver them. That’s what you’d do if you were a
patriotic, God-fearing, free-enterprise-loving, true-blue American. But
noooo. You want government bureaucrats to deliver your Ho-Ho-Hos for
just 14 cents a Ho. You, sir, are a Marxist. John McCain says so, and
he wouldn’t lie.
McCain and his propagandists have made much of comments Barack Obama
made in 2001 during an hour-long public radio panel discussion on the
US Supreme Court and the civil rights movement. About four minutes’
worth of excerpts, carefully edited to hide their context and meaning,
have been posted on YouTube.
During those four minutes Obama says, for example, “One of the quote
tragedies of the civil rights movement is that it didn’t bring about
redistributive change.” Seizing on that comment, McCain has taken to
saying that Obama wants to be the “redistributionist in chief.”
If you listen to the entire broadcast, which is available here, you’ll learn what
Obama meant by “redistributive change.” He meant dangerous ideas
like giving the kids of poor people the same access to science labs,
arts programs and language classes that the kids of rich people get.
In the radio broadcast, Obama first broached the subject of
redistribution in relation to public schools: “After Brown v Board of
Education a major issue ends up being redistribution: How do we get
more money into the schools, and how do we actually create equal
schools and equal educational opportunities?”
Obama made the historical observation that, although the US Supreme
Court declined to require equal access to public benefits that cost
money, state supreme courts stepped in to fill the vacuum.
In particular, Obama cited the US Supreme Court’s 1973 decision in San
Antonio ISD v Rodriguez. A group of parents in the Edgewood Independent
School District, contending that a school finance system based on the
property tax violated the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th
Amendment, sued seven other local school districts and the state of
Texas. The US District Court for the Western District of Texas agreed
with the Edgewood group that education is a fundamental right, that
residents of school districts with low property values were a “suspect
classification” eligible for protection under the Equal
Protection clause, and that the state and its wealthier school
districts had failed to demonstrate a reasonable or rational basis for
the school financing system. The US Supreme Court overturned the
District Court decision. But later the Edgewood School District filed
suit in the state court system. In 1989 the Texas Supreme Court agreed
with Edgewood that funding the schools with local property taxes
favored wealthy school districts over poorer districts and violated
requirements in the Texas constitution for “a general diffusion of
knowledge” and “an efficient system of free schools.”
McCain might be surprised to learn that the justices of the Texas
Supreme Court were not appointed by Leonid Brezhnev, but elected by the
voters of Texas.
McCain also has not yet learned, after only 28 years in the US Senate,
that virtually everything government does has a redistributive aspect.
That is what government of the people and by the people is for. Public
schools, public libraries, public parks, public transportation, public
police and fire departments, public
hospitals, public postal service, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid,
every tax and every tax deduction -- all redistribute wealth in the
form of public goods.
Even the military redistributes wealth: When the armed forces defend
our country from foreign attack, they defend rich and poor
equally. We do not have a system in which a few super-rich
freebooters hire their own private armies, and everyone who can't
afford to hire a private army is left vulnerable, as would be the case
in a non-redistributionist regime. So, according to John McCain, the
United States Navy is a Marxist-Leninist pinko commie redistributionist
scheme. Well, he should know.
Let’s consider one more example of a Marxist, this one uncovered by the
famous red-baiter Keith Olbermann on MSNBC. Suppose you’re the governor
of a state that’s rich in natural resources such as, say, oil. You
think it’s nifty that all the people of your state own those resources
collectively, just as Karl Marx advocated. You confiscate hundreds of
millions of dollars from the evil capitalists who inveted their money
to develop those resources, and you turn around and give $1,200 checks
to every man, woman and child in your people’s republic, including a
lot of folks who don’t work for a living.
You, Madam, are a Marxist. But John McCain doesn’t say so. I wonder why.
What about Comrade Ike?
If Barack Obama is a socialist for wanting to raise the top tax rate
from 36 percent to 39 percent, what do you call Republican Pres. Dwight
Eisenhower? During his administration, in the period that conservatives
regard as a golden age, the top tax rate was 90 percent.
When gasoline is $10 a gallon, you'll love this idea
June 9, 2008
Here's an idea to give the local Sultans
of Sprawl a well-deserved case of indigestion, to say nothing of
acne, athlete's foot and gout: Maybe San Antonio should require all new
subdivisions (above some small minimum size) to meet the standards of
the LEED-ND (neighborhood developments) rating system.
LEED refers to Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, a U.S.
Green Building Council rating system for energy efficiency, use of
recycled materials, etc., in new buildings. LEED-ND, hatched jointly
with the Congress for the New Urbanism and the Natural Resources
Defense Council, extends green thinking beyond individual buildings and
lots to the design of whole new neighborhoods. For good reason: No
matter how green a house might be, it's still degrading the
environment, wasting natural resources and contributing to global
warming if the only way to go from there to work, school, shopping or
recreation is to drive, or if substantial new public
infrastructure has to be built to service it, or if the development
it's a part of threatens water resources or agricultural land. In
general, LEED-ND encourages compact, walkable, transit-friendly,
mixed-use, mixed-income development.
In the recently concluded pilot program, LEED-ND prerequisites relating
to location included a range
of options, but sprawl as we know it was not one of them. Gated
subivisions were verboten. (Hallelujah!) The post-pilot standards are
expected to be released next year.
You can learn all about LEED-ND
on the U.S. Green Building Council's web site.
Would a LEED-ND requirement be possible in San Antonio? A year ago, no
way. Today, with gasoline closing in on $4 a gallon, the idea could
start to gain significant support. And a year from now, when gasoline
is $6 a gallon? Or $10 a gallon? Those who like the culture of sprawl
-- a lot of folks do -- might realize they can't afford it. And even
the Sultans of Sprawl might realize that they'll go broke if they keep
regurgitating their development plans from 1970.
Before long -- probably within five years -- something like LEED-ND
standards are going to be mandated by the federal government in order
to address critical energy shortages and climate change. It'll be a
matter of national survival. The cities that will be in the best
position to cope with -- maybe even profit from -- that seismic shift
are the one that adapt early. Shouldn't San Antonio be in that group?
In a rut in Main Plaza
May 1, 2008
This being San Antonio, city officials staged the
dedication and ain't-it-grand opening for the renovated Main Plaza back
on April 13, even though the project was then -- and is still --
several weeks from completion. Thus a full and fair evaluation of the
design and its execution isn't possible yet.
One thing is clear, however: The new Main Plaza is not friendly to
people in wheelchairs. The space has been equipped with lots of movable
chairs and tables, but they've all been placed on areas of crushed
stone. Yesterday afternoon I observed an elderly gentleman trying to
drive his motorized wheelchair on the soft surface so he and two
friends could sit and chat in the shade. His wheels just made a deeper
and deeper rut, and he finally gave up. His companions had to stand.
Unlike the $5 million worth of "interactive" fountains that turned out
to be inactive, this problem is easily solved. Someone with the
city just needs to have enough sense to move some of the chairs and
tables to the edge of the crushed-stone area, where it meets solid
stone paving. That way, a wheelchair could pull up to a table on
one side. (Probably five or six tables would have to be moved, to
make sure that at least two of them are in shade at any time of day.)
I pointed that out to one of three Centro San Antonio "Amigos" who were
languidly picking up litter around the plaza. He told me the men
were welcome to move chairs themselves. That was awfully kind of him.
The tables, he noted, take two people to move. They're very heavy, to
prevent theft. It did not occur to him to grab one of his colleagues
and offer to arrange appropriate seating for the three men, despite my
strong hint and even though none of the "Amigos" appeared to be
overworked. Maybe our "Amigos" need to learn something about hospitalidad.
Oh, by the way, the man in charge of the "Amigos" for the
Downtown Alliance is Bernie Cantu. If you spend much time
downtown, you're likely to see him. In his wheelchair.
Tempest over River North
April 18, 2008
To give credit where due, the leaders of the newly organized San
Antonio River North Improvement Assn. have
not claimed that the River North Master Plan will cause cancer or
poison the milk of little children. But one can't predict what might be
said at the next meeting.
A sizable gathering of property owners stood among the Cadillacs
in the Cavender showroom on Broadway on April 17 and heard a
litany of complaints against the plan and the process that produced it.
A few points were well taken, but much of what was said by the
organizers was disinformation, sometimes slopping over into egregious
fear-mongering. One fellow, a full-of-himself attorney who ought to
have known better, asserted that if the owner of an existing business,
of a kind not allowed by the plan, so much as "puts up a new ceiling
panel," he will be "deemed non-compliant." What rubbish. (An
exasperated Beth Bender Wells, president of a design firm in River
North and one of several people at the meeting who demanded some
honesty from the organizers, corrected him on the facts of
Several organizers lodged the bizarre complaint that the master plan's
proposed form-based code and regulating plan would reduce the
development potential, and thus the financial value, of River North
property. The opposite is the case. Most River North property now is
zoned industrial, with much tighter restrictions than those
contemplated by the River North Master Plan. It turned out what the
organizers meant was that the master plan wouldn't raise the value of
their property as much as the nearly-anything-goes Downtown zoning
designation would, if City Council would be stupid enough to grant it.
In other words, if you give me $10 out of the blue, you're harming me
because you didn't give me $20.
To judge from comments made by attendees, the most common concern of
property owners has to do with the plan's height limits. I'll give
partial support to their position. As I wrote in response to a
question from one River North property owner -- not associated with the
River North Improvement Assn. -- I believe that the most
important urban design consideration is what happens at street level
and one or two stories above. If the sidewalks on all four sides of a
block are animated with visible retail, restaurants, offices,
galleries, light industry and other productive human activity,
and if there's a good rhythm of facade articulation, preferably
including balconies, then I don't much care about vertical scale,
except in certain specific contexts. One such context is the area that
includes a number of 19th-century Irish Flats buildings, some restored,
some not. Tall buildings should not be allowed to crowd those historic
resources. But I don't think Broadway would be harmed by a few tall
towers, if their street frontages are properly designed -- that's part
of what a form-based code is meant to guarantee -- and if
transportation needs can be met without overloading the area with
urbanistically inert parking garages. (That second "if" is a big one.)
One of the stranger complaints by the new group's organizers is that
the planning process should have been initiated and managed by the
city, and thus fully open to public participation, rather than by the
private non-profit Downtown Community Development Corp., a creature of
the Downtown Alliance. The group is right to want greater access to the
process, but it has taken aim at the wrong target.
As managed by the CDC, the design charrette that produced the initial
draft of the plan was entirely open to public view and participation.
The consultant team, led by Moule & Polyzoides of Pasadena, Calif.,
was highly responsive to ideas and criticism from all comers, though
not all were satisfied with the results. In contrast, the subsequent
process of city staff review and redrafting has been mostly opaque --
as is nearly always the case with the city's
internal reviews of planning documents. A few changes from the January
draft have been posted on the city's Web site, but without explanation
of how and why those changes came to be. One such change is highly
troubling: The section setting forth objectives for affordable housing
and policies to achieve it has been eliminated. That's a very bad
The city needs to find a way to
let the public watch as the sausage is made, and no part of the plan
should be adopted without a round of serious public hearings, with real
opportunities to effect further change.
Feast from the Food Bank
March 30, 2008
I mean no disrespect to the expert speakers at the
Transportation Choices Forum on March 28, but the best part of the
event was lunch -- catered by the Culinary Arts Program of the San
Antonio Food Bank. The barbecued brisket was outstanding, but even more
impressive were the intelligently seasoned potato salad and beans, both
of which rose far above the generic norm. Great work!
Paris and Vienna?
March 20, 2008
An Austin American-Statesman reader, Ricardo Acevedo, posted the
following comment on statesman.com, March 19:
On Friday evening, the 21st at The
Vicotry Grill and Sunday
afternoon, the 23rd at the Hyde Park Theatre, Spike Galespie and a
troupe of mostly women will perform “THE DICK MONOLOUGES”
Why “Dick” and not “P***s” as like
I see this as retro-feminist
sexism… I thought we’d moved past this
crap people… I find this simular to subtle racism. A rising tide should
raise all ships. Progressive modern people should be past oppressing
someone else for their own empowerment.
I mean hell, there weren’t any guys
doing the “V****a Monologues” I
mean what do guys really know about “Vaginas”…? They don’t have one!
And pardon my assumption, this
being 2008 and all, but I’m guessing none of these women have a
But Ric, we'll always have P***s ....
March 6, 2008
I'll suspend judgment of "Luminaria," Mayor Phil
Hardberger's March 15 showcase of local visual and performing arts,
until it happens.
I can't, however, suspend judgment on the botched syntax, barbaric
style and hick-town grandiloquence of the language its organizers use
to promote it. From the Luminaria Web site:
"Luminaria is the first annual
all day and evening celebration of San
Antonio premiere artists and art organizations giving citizens of the
community a chance to experience the city’s diverse cultures through
observing and participating in our world-class artistic heritage.
Through visual, performing, multi-media, theatre, dance, music and
other artistic forms, audiences will be engaged throughout San Antonio
in a free, world-class celebration of the arts."
Apart from the gangly clunkiness of the writing, you will note that
"world-class" makes two appearances in this introductory paragraph. I
will concede the likelihood that some small fraction of the talent to
be exhibited during "Luminaria" has earned favorable notice far beyond
the borders of Bexar County, or is worthy of being so noticed. But to
describe our whole "artistic heritage" as "world-class" is patent
nonsense, and whether the celebration will be "world-class" is yet to
be determined. Anyway, only podunk cities call themselves
I have a hypothesis about the use of "world-class" by city officials.
If we're already "world-class," we don't need to invest the time,
effort, thought and money it takes to get that way.
Then again, maybe "world-class" is sort of like "large olives." By that
reasoning, if San Antonio is world-class, then Austin must be
supernova-class. Houston is galaxy-class. And New York is
billions-and-billions-of-galaxies-class. The Luminaria self-promotion
"Luminaria is intended to be a
cohesive celebration of the arts
through a creative atmosphere showcasing San Antonio’s diverse artistic
"An artist-driven celebration of
the arts, Luminaria is an
unprecedented collaboration of over 40 non-profit organizations that
will come together for 1 day to celebrate the dynamic vitality of San
Antonio’s creative spirit."
The "world-class" quota having been met in the first
paragraph, the writer dives into the "creative" quota. Never mind that
"creative atmosphere showcasing" is gibberish, and "dynamic vitality of
etc." is fatuous, and "artist-driven" is arguably contrary to fact. But
wait! There's more!
"Based on the success of other
international celebrations such as Nuit Blanche in Paris
Blanca in Madrid,
no other city in Texas has attempted to coordinate continuous artistic,
educational and innovative programming for a city-wide arts
celebration. To further highlight the name of this event, the
traditional role of the luminaria is a clever small light that conjures
up creative ideas which inspires waves of innovation."
Aha! The third "creative" shoe drops. The first sentence is
syntactically challenged, and the second a complete mess. Was it
translated by Google from the Latvian? But why just garden-variety
"waves of innovation"? Shouldn't they be "waves of world-class
The language we use to describe things is a map of the way we
think about those things. A random grunting of gee-whiz adjectives does
not indicate thought. Even if San Antonio's arts product is not
altogether "world-class," it deserves better than this.
January 22, 2008
Remember that big New York bank's "Live richly" ad campaign from a few
years ago? The ad agency Fallon Worldwide launched the campaign for
Citigroup's Global Consumer Group in January 2001. The simple all-text
messages, ubiquitous for several years on the streets of New York and
other major Citi markets, elaborated on the unbankerly theme that money
Cynics may have suspected that, at the same time, Citi execs
overlooking Park Avenue were singing "The Best Things in Life Are
Fees," but the messages on the ground did seem to contribute to the
general wave of caring and friendliness that swept New York for a year
or two after Sept. 11, 2001.
Last May, Citi changed course with a new theme, "Let's get it done." As
in "You can stick a fork in it," apparently. Last week Citi reported it
had taken an $18.1 billion write-down in the fourth quarter of 2007,
thanks mostly to sub-prime mortgage exposure. And the stock market's
plunge suggests that investors would have been wise to interpret some
of the old "Live richly" sentiments literally. Like, "The best blue
chips to buy are the ones you dip in salsa."
January 13, 2008
Americans who think have been wringing their hands of late
over the extinction of public intellectuals, the shallowness of public
discourse and assorted other signs of a culture that is increasingly
inhospitable to reason, inquiry and cogency. Now comes bigthink.com claiming to remedy the
situation, but falling flat on its face.
At the core of the site is a library of talking-head video interviews
with "experts," who supposedly say thoughtful things about
important subjects, semi-organized by "meta" and "physical" categories.
(Get it?) The site's users are invited to respond, or to submit their
own ideas and questions for discussion. Users also are invited to
"rate" ideas, so that the most popular ones rise to the top. Just like
on "American Idol."
The whole thing is a disaster. The "experts" -- a potentially promising
roster that includes the likes of Anna Deavere Smith, Calvin Trillin
and Stephen Breyer -- might have something interesting to say. Alas,
they don't say it on bigthink.com, probably because the interviewers
haven't asked interesting questions. (The questions are generally
excised from the videos.)
The site is poorly designed, ill-focused both graphically and
conceptually. To judge from the paucity of responses, users are few.
The site's creators, Victoria R.M. Brown and Peter Hopkin, have
evidently put a great deal of passion, time and effort into
bigthink.com, and probably a lot of money. A little thought would have
Urban parks: A lot, or not?
During a Jan. 8 public
presentation of the latest version of
North master plan, chief planner Stefanos Polyzoides said that
San Antonio has "more urban parks in your downtown than any other city
I can think of." The comment drew a murmur -- perhaps a groan -- of
protest from the locals filling the Providence High School cafeteria.
Polyzoides might have overstated the case, but the fact remains that
River North and its environs are exceptionally well equipped with urban
park space. Much of it is the legacy of a spate of park acquisitions
and donations between 1870 (the block-square Travis Park) and 1881 (the
block-square Maverick Park). In between came the twin-block greens of
Crockett Park (a few blocks north of River North) and Madison
Square. At downtown's western edge, a former Catholic cemetery was
designated Milam Park in 1883. Add the plazas from the Spanish Colonial
period, modern additions such as HemisFair Park and Columbus Park, the
River Walk and river improvements now under construction to the north
and south, and almost any location in the downtown core and River North
is within an easy stroll of a public urban oasis.
Why, then, the perception of inadequacy? I can think of three reasons:
• Urban parks gain their
sense of purpose from surrounding urban development. But the blocks
surrounding most of the 19th-century parks are not sufficiently
occupied, and they're especially lacking in high-density housing.
blocks around Maverick Park (shown at left), Madison Square and
Crockett Park are particularly gap-toothed, providing too few users for
these parks and an inadequate sense of place. Even Travis Park, at the
very center of downtown, has a parking lot filling most of the
block-front to its east. The Vistana apartments, a high-rise
block-front now under construction immediately east of Milam Park,
serves as a model for what ought to be happening around the other
• Some of the parks are not well designed or cared for. Maverick
Park is depressing despite its rather nice rustic pavilion. Milam Park
has too much
furniture. Crockett Park and Madison Square have seen improvement in
recent years, but both still function more as places to pass through
than as places that welcome an extended visit.
• The low scale and the outright gaps in the urban fabric between the
parks on the north end (Crockett, Maverick and Madison) make them seem
farther apart than they really are. I haven't seen research to support
this claim, but my personal experience suggests that perceptual walking
distance is reduced by a continuous building line with active uses and
substantial vertical scale (more than two stories) along the sidewalk.
In San Antonio's hot climate, street trees help, too. A shady
quarter-mile walk past storefronts and apartment buildings is a stroll;
a quarter-mile walk in the blazing sun past parking lots and loading
docks is a schlep.
If the River North master plan works as intended, the gaps will
eventually fill in, the scale will rise, and activity will increase on
the sidewalks -- and the richness of downtown's 19th-century parks
legacy should become more apparent.