Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

Society and cultcha

Mayor Parker to get married?

According to CultureMap, the answer is Yes.

Mayor Annise Parker

Mayor Annise Parker

Although Mayor Annise Parker has vowed that she and her longtime partner, Kathy Hubbard, will not wed until gay marriage is legal in Texas, in recent interviews the mayor has softened her stance.

“The world is changing so fast, maybe I won’t wait that long,” Parker said last week in a year-end interview with CultureMap when asked when she would marry. “I’m no longer worried that (gay marriage in Texas) is not going to happen in my lifetime. After the Supreme Court ruling and the number of states that now have equal marriage, it’s coming.”

Since then CultureMap has learned that Parker and Hubbard are making wedding plans. Several sources close to the couple said they hope to marry in mid-January in a low-key ceremony and are strongly considering Palm Springs, Calif., for the nuptials.

California is one of 18 states that currently recognize gay marriage. Couples who wed in a state that allows gay marriage are treated as a married couple for federal tax purposes, including income and gift and estate taxes, no matter where they reside, and also receive the same rights for immigration purposes. The policy on Social Security and other federal benefits has not been determined.

The couple would also be eligible for city of Houston health and life insurance benefits. In November, Parker announced that same-sex couples who have legally wed in a state that recognizes such marriages and work for the city of Houston can receive the same health care and life insurance benefits as straight couples. Harris County Republicans are challenging the ruling in court.

As we know, there’s now another lawsuit in this matter. One hopes the injunction will get lifted after the hearing on the sixth. The Chron adds a couple of details.

Parker, recently elected to her third and final term as Houston mayor, long has pledged that she and Hubbard would not marry until Texas legalized same-sex marriage.

In recent public statements, though, the mayor has suggested she might reconsider her position. She said developments such as the Supreme Court’s striking down of the federal Defense of Marriage Act have prompted her to consider the message her inaction might be sending to the couple’s two adopted children.

[…]

Mayoral spokeswoman Jessica Michan said in a statement via email: “The mayor very much appreciates the interest in the 23-year relationship she has shared with her life partner, First Lady Kathy Hubbard. However, marriage is a private matter and she has no announcements she wishes to make at this time. If that changes, we will let you know.”

With the recent ruling in Utah and the injunction hearing coming up in Texas, it’s not out of the question that the Mayor could have her wish to get married in Texas as soon as February. I understand the desire for a bit more certainty, and Lord knows there’s nothing wrong with a destination wedding. I don’t know who CultureMap’s source is, but if this information is accurate I wish Mayor Parker and Kathy Hubbard all the best. Mazel tov, y’all.

Texas Monthly on transgender marriage in Texas

It’s way more complicated than it needs to be.

Nikki Araguz and William Loyd

Here’s a stumper: Is it legal for a transgender person—say, someone whose original birth certificate says “male,” but who identifies as a woman—to get married to a man who identifies as a man?

The law in Texas is unclear in ways that have been a nightmare for Nikki Araguz, a transgender Houston woman whose husband, Thomas Araguz, died in 2010 while serving as a volunteer firefighter in Wharton County. Araguz has been fighting in court since her husband’s death for survivor’s benefits, and [recently], her case was heard by the 13th Court of Appeals.

Why is the law unclear?

In 2005, Proposition 2 passed in Texas. That constitutional amendment said that “marriage in this state shall consist only of the union of one man and one woman.” Some folks, including 329th District Judge Randy Clapp (using precedent established by the 1999 Texas Court of Appeals decision in Littleton v. Prange, look at Nikki Araguz and see a man; thus, the marriage for which she seeks benefits as her husband’s widow was a same-sex marriage that is not recognized in Texas.

This is complicated, though, by legislation authored by State Rep. Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham). That legislation, which passed in 2009, allowed that a court order establishing a change in sex was an acceptable document when presenting identification to obtain a marriage license. If proof of gender reassignment surgery is sufficient to grant one a marriage license, then it stands to reason that the marriage of Nikki and Thomas Araguz is legal in Texas.

[…]

The hearing on that appeal happened last week, but the ruling has no timetable yet. And in the meantime, confusion continues to reign. In 2010, Sabrina Hill, a woman who was born intersex (that is, with both male and female genitalia) and declared male on her birth certificate though she identifies as female, applied for a marriage license to marry her girlfriend. A judge’s order, following gender-reassignment surgery, recognized Hill as a woman, but when applying for the license, Therese Bur, the El Paso clerk couldn’t determine whether to use Hill’s birth certificate and issue a license as a heterosexual marriage, or to use the court order and deny it as a same-sex marriage. The clerk turned to Attorney General Greg Abbott for direction, and Abbott declined to weigh in. (Hill and Bur instead went to San Antonio,where they were granted a license.)

It’s probably for the best that they did—if they’d waited for a final decision on Nikki Araguz’s case to settle things (she’s on her second appeal, having lost once in 2012), the now 63-year-old Hill would have no end in sight, regarding how long she’d be waiting.

The article in question is from a few weeks back; I had it in my queue but never got around to publishing my post. I’ve written about this subject before. As the story notes, Rep. Kolkhorst has made two attempts to amend her 2009 bill in a way that would essentially forbid transgendered folks from getting married. To me, it’s very simple: If two adults love each other and one or the other is not engaging in fraudulent behavior, they should be allowed to get married. That would clear up this confusion once and for all. Until that enlightened day arrives, I fully support any couple that wants to take advantage of the situation as it now stands. Congratulations, Nikki and William. May the courts and the Legislature not rain on your happiness.

Bishop Gene Robinson coming to Houston

From the Inbox:

Bishop Gene Robinson

For Immediate Release
September 20, 2013

Contact:
Houston Americans United
Toni Medellin
832.868.4586

FIRST OPENLY GAY EPISCOPAL BISHOP TO ADDRESS HOUSTON CHAPTER OF AMERICANS UNITED 

Bishop Gene Robinson Will Weigh In On Religious Liberty, Tolerance At Meeting of Church-State Watchdog Group

Retired Bishop Gene Robinson, the first openly gay bishop consecrated by the Episcopal Church in the United States, will speak next month at a meeting of the Houston Chapter of Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

The event, “My Country ‘Tis of Thee: Religious Liberty in a Religiously Zealous Society,” will be held at 7:30pm on Oct. 3 at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Houston.

Robinson, a vocal supporter of church-state separation, will discuss the idea of religious freedom in America and explain how the Religious Right misconstrues that concept.

Tickets for the main event are $10 for students, $20 for Americans United members, $35 for non-members and $40 for a special package that includes a ticket and a one-year AU membership.

Robinson will also be available for a special ticketed reception at 6:15pm.

To purchase tickets, please visit: http://robinson.eventzilla.net/. For more information, contact Toni Medellin.

Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.

See here for more, and here for an interview in the current issue of OutSmart that includes a brief preview of what to expect from his talk.

Remember, drowning doesn’t look like drowning

I’ve posted about this before, but as summer is now upon us, it seems like a good time to go over it again. Former Coast Guard rescue swimmer Mario Vittone’s iconic article about how to recognize the signs of drowning has been reprinted in Slate, and you need to read it again if you haven’t already read it.

The Instinctive Drowning Response—so named by Francesco A. Pia, Ph.D., is what people do to avoid actual or perceived suffocation in the water. And it does not look like most people expect. There is very little splashing, no waving, and no yelling or calls for help of any kind. To get an idea of just how quiet and undramatic from the surface drowning can be, consider this: It is the No. 2 cause of accidental death in children, ages 15 and under (just behind vehicle accidents)—of the approximately 750 children who will drown next year, about 375 of them will do so within 25 yards of a parent or other adult. In some of those drownings, the adult will actually watch the child do it, having no idea it is happening. Drowning does not look like drowning—Dr. Pia, in an article in the Coast Guard’s On Scene magazine, described the Instinctive Drowning Response like this:

  1. “Except in rare circumstances, drowning people are physiologically unable to call out for help. The respiratory system was designed for breathing. Speech is the secondary or overlaid function. Breathing must be fulfilled before speech occurs.
  2. Drowning people’s mouths alternately sink below and reappear above the surface of the water. The mouths of drowning people are not above the surface of the water long enough for them to exhale, inhale, and call out for help. When the drowning people’s mouths are above the surface, they exhale and inhale quickly as their mouths start to sink below the surface of the water.
  3. Drowning people cannot wave for help. Nature instinctively forces them to extend their arms laterally and press down on the water’s surface. Pressing down on the surface of the water permits drowning people to leverage their bodies so they can lift their mouths out of the water to breathe.
  4. Throughout the Instinctive Drowning Response, drowning people cannot voluntarily control their arm movements. Physiologically, drowning people who are struggling on the surface of the water cannot stop drowning and perform voluntary movements such as waving for help, moving toward a rescuer, or reaching out for a piece of rescue equipment.
  5. From beginning to end of the Instinctive Drowning Response people’s bodies remain upright in the water, with no evidence of a supporting kick. Unless rescued by a trained lifeguard, these drowning people can only struggle on the surface of the water from 20 to 60 seconds before submersion occurs.”

This doesn’t mean that a person that is yelling for help and thrashing isn’t in real trouble—they are experiencing aquatic distress. Not always present before the Instinctive Drowning Response, aquatic distress doesn’t last long—but unlike true drowning, these victims can still assist in their own rescue. They can grab lifelines, throw rings, etc.

Go read the whole thing, and then watch the video. See also this clip from the Today show. Now let’s be careful out there.

Suburban poverty

Just as the Houston area has seen a population boom in recent years, so has it seen a large increase in poverty, to the point where there are more people in poverty in Houston’s suburbs than in the city.

The number of poor people in Houston’s suburbs doubled between 2000 and 2011, surpassing the number in its urban area, researchers reported Monday.

Suburban poverty in the 10-county Houston metro area grew at almost three times the rate of urban poverty between 2000 and 2011, mirroring a national trend, according to “Confronting Suburban Poverty,” a book by two Brookings Institution researchers.

By 2011, 540,000 poor people lived in Houston’s suburbs, compared to 504,000 in the city, according to the researchers, who applaud the Houston area’s strategies for dealing with the problem.

“Suburbs are home to the largest and fastest-growing poor population in the country,” said Elizabeth Kneebone, who authored the book with Alan Berube. “Poverty is touching more people and places than before, challenging outdated notions of where poverty is and who it affects.”

Nationwide the number of suburban poor surged by 3 million people – a 64 percent increase over the last decade, the researchers found. The trend clashes with the traditional idea that poverty is concentrated in urban and rural areas.

The rapid growth in suburban poverty is complicating efforts to fight the problem, partly because traditional anti-poverty programs are geared toward urban and rural areas, according to the book.

Suburbs often lack the assistance typically available in urban and many rural areas, researchers say. In addition, narrowly tailored assistance programs often target poverty concentrations rather than the dispersed poverty of the suburbs, making cooperation difficult among nonprofit agencies across regions.

Learn more about the book here. I don’t know if it’s covered in the book or not, but at least in Texas a lot of suburban counties don’t even acknowledge the issue in their localities. The Press had a cover story on homeless youth in Fort Bend a few years ago that made this clear, and we’ve known for a long time how places like Collin County deal with the indigent sick. Fighting the problem where it is now is going to take more than just rethinking traditional strategies and marshaling charitable resources in new places. At some level it’s a political problem as well, and if it isn’t approached as such it’s going to make mitigation a lot more difficult and less efficient than it should be. The Statesman has a similar story about Austin, and there’s a lot of national coverage, too.

Boy Scouts go half gay

There are compromises that actually resolve disputes, and there are compromises that exacerbate them. The Boy Scouts gay compromise is an example of the latter.

The Boy Scouts of America on Thursday ended its longstanding policy of forbidding openly gay youths to participate in its activities, a step its chief executive called “compassionate, caring and kind.”

The decision, which came after years of resistance and wrenching internal debate, was widely seen as a milestone for the Boy Scouts, a symbol of traditional America. More than 1,400 volunteer leaders from across the country voted, with more than 60 percent approving a measure that said no youth may be denied membership “on the basis of sexual orientation or preference alone.”

The top national leaders of the Boy Scouts, who pledge fealty to God and country, had urged the change in the face of vehement opposition from conservative parents and volunteers, some of whom said they would quit the organization. But the vote put the Scouts more in line with the swift rise in public acceptance of homosexuality, especially among younger parents who are essential to the future of an institution that has been losing members for decades.

The policy change, effective January 2014, is unlikely to bring peace to the Boy Scouts as they struggle to keep a foothold in a swirling cultural landscape, with renewed lobbying and debate already starting Thursday evening.

The Scouts did not consider the even more divisive question of whether to allow openly gay adults and leaders. This drew criticism from advocates for gay rights, who called the decision a breakthrough but vowed to continue pressing the Scouts to allow gay members of all ages.

Some conservative churches and parents said the Scouts were violating their oath to be “morally straight” and said they would drop out.

This AP story goes into the fallout from both sides.

Dismayed conservatives are already looking at alternative youth groups as they predict a mass exodus from the BSA. Gay-rights supporters vowed Friday to maintain pressure on the Scouts to end the still-in-place ban on gay adults serving as leaders.

“They’re not on our good list yet,” said Paul Guequierre of the Human Rights Campaign, a national gay-rights group. He said the HRC, in its annual rankings of corporate policies on workplace fairness, would deduct points from companies that donate to the Boy Scouts until the ban on gay adults is lifted.

In California, gay-rights leaders said they would continue urging passage of a bill pending in the Legislature that would make the BSA ineligible for nonprofit tax breaks because of the remaining ban.

[…]

“Frankly, I can’t imagine a Southern Baptist pastor who would continue to allow his church to sponsor a Boy Scout troop under these new rules,” Richard Land, a senior Southern Baptist Conference official, told the SBC’s news agency, Baptist Press.

Land advised Southern Baptist churches to withdraw their support of Scout troops and consider affiliating instead with the Royal Ambassadors, an existing SBC youth program for boys that combines religious ministry with Scouting-style activities.

Baptist churches sponsor Scout units serving more than 100,000 of the BSA’s 2.6 million youth members.

The Assemblies of God, which oversees units serving more than 2,000 Scouts, said it could no longer support such units and suggested its own Royal Rangers youth group as a “positive alternative.”

John Stemberger, a conservative activist and former Scout from Florida who led a group opposing the policy change, said he and his allies would convene a meeting next month in Louisville, Ky., to discuss creation of a “new character development organization for boys.”

“We grieve today, not because we are faced with leaving Scouting, but because the Boy Scouts of America has left us,” Stemberger said. “Its leadership has turned its back on 103 years of abiding by a mission to prepare young people to make ethical and moral choices.”

There is a template for forming a conservative alternative to a major national youth organization. American Heritage Girls was formed in 1995 as a Christian-oriented option to the Girl Scouts of the USA, and it now claims more than 20,000 members.

For the record, the Girl Scouts claim 3.2 million members, counting both girls (2.3 m.illion) and adult volunteers, so it’s hardly the case that this separatist group – which I for one had never heard of before now – has had a negative effect on them. I have a hard time feeling much sympathy for the Boy Scouts for the simple reason that if they had dealt with this in a forthright manner twenty years ago as the Girl Scouts did, they wouldn’t be in this situation today. The more they resisted the inevitable and the longer they took to get to this unsatisfying midpoint, the more tumultuous and divisive it all was. All that for a policy that still doesn’t resolve the real issue, too. I don’t know how long it will take them to revisit their revision and go the rest of the way, but my advice would be sooner rather than later. The biggest homophobes are likely to have turned tail and run by then, so it shouldn’t be as big a deal. They may as well get the full benefit of their decision.

If it is the case that all the homophobes leave the BSA and form their own organization where they’re free to continue wallowing in fear and ignorance, that will be unfortunate for them. We’ve seen repeatedly that the best antidote to homophobia is exposure to actual gay people, especially gay people with whom you have an established relationship. San Francisco Giants pitcher Jeremy Affeldt showed how that happens in his well-timed book that explores among other things his recovery from homophobia. I find Affeldt’s description of homophobia as something he had rather than something he was to be instructive. It’s a lot easier to get rid of an affliction, or disease, or habit, than to change who you are. Maybe that’s a better way to view homophobia.

Of course, being regularly exposed to ordinary, everyday gay people is no guarantee that you will come to see them as ordinary, everyday people, full stop. I’m quite certain that Rick Perry knows plenty of gay people, but that hasn’t helped him to not be ignorant and intolerant. But just because exposure isn’t a panacea doesn’t mean that it isn’t optimal. The ultimate endgame in all this is not just for individuals like Jeremy Affeldt to realize that they’re wrong, but for religious institutions to realize it as well. Needless to day, that is a much longer term project. For now, even half-steps in the right direction help. Take the rest of that step sooner and not later, Boy Scouts. You’ll be better off if you do. BOR has more.

No gay Scouts for Houston

Despite a proposed change at the national level, if you’re gay the Boy Scouts in Houston still don’t want you.

On Monday, Sam Houston Area Council members said they would continue the current national policy of the Irving-based Boy Scouts of America.

Like the military’s former “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy about gay troops, the Boy Scouts don’t ask about the sexual orientation of a prospective member or adult volunteer but won’t grant membership to openly gay people or those who engage in behavior that would “become a distraction’ to their mission, the Sam Houston Council said in a statement.

A recent survey of parents, volunteers and backers in the Sam Houston Council showed strong support for keeping the policy as it is, officials said.

They said 75 percent of respondents to the survey were against changing the current national membership policy.

The Boy Scouts of America recently proposed to change its policy to allow scouts who are gay, but not scout leaders. Apparently, that was too inclusive for the Sam Houston Area Council. I haven’t had a positive view of the Boy Scouts for a long time because of their retrograde policies, so stuff like this doesn’t surprise me. I don’t know what to say, so I’ll just post this:

Of course, the BSA hasn’t voted on that inclusion for some but not for all policy yet. If the Sam Houston Area Council is any indication, even that small step forward may not happen.

Techies and the city

The reason why tech companies are eschewing suburban campuses for urban office locations.

For as long as many of us can remember, high-tech industries have flourished in the suburban office parks that are so ubiquitous in Silicon Valley, North Carolina’s Research Triangle and other “nerdistans.” But in recent years, high-tech has been taking a decidedly urban turn.

Silicon Valley remains the world’s pre-eminent center of high-tech industry, of course. But even in the Valley, denser, more mixed-use and walkable places, like downtown Palo Alto, are becoming the preferred locations for start-ups and smaller firms. And many other start-ups—Pinterest, Zynga, Yelp, Square and Salesforce.com, to name just a notable few—are taking up residence in downtown San Francisco.

[…]

Venture capital icon Paul Graham notes that, for all its advantages and power, Silicon Valley has a great weakness. The high-tech “paradise” created in the 1950s and 1960s “is now one giant parking lot,” he writes. “San Francisco and Berkeley are great, but they’re 40 miles away. Silicon Valley proper is soul-crushing suburban sprawl. It has fabulous weather, which makes it significantly better than the soul-crushing sprawl of most other American cities. But a competitor that managed to avoid sprawl would have real leverage.”

Still, escaping sprawl is only part of the explanation. There are also the distinct lifestyle advantages of setting up shop in the hurly-burly of real urban districts. Compared with previous generations, today’s younger techies are less interested in owning cars and big houses. They prefer to live in central locations, where they can rent an apartment and use transit or walk or bike to work, and where there are plenty of nearby options for socializing during nonwork hours.

“It’s not that young people wanted to live in Mountain View in the past,” Mr. Suster blogged. “In fact, so many did not that companies like Google & Yahoo had free buses with Wi-Fi from San Francisco to their Palo Alto and Sunnyvale headquarters.”

Or, as one high-tech entrepreneur told the authors of the Centre for London report: “We moved here out of pressure from the [software] developers to move somewhere better. And by better, I think they mean somewhere which has lots of bars and lots of places you can eat.”

This is a Richard Florida article, so if you’re familiar with his body of work then none of this will surprise you. I gather that workers in the energy industry do not have the same prevalent preferences, or at least not enough of them do to discourage this sort of thing. We’re cool, but we’re not quite that cool.

NOH8 comes to Houston

Very cool.

The NOH8 “photographic silent protest” comes to town Oct. 18 at the University of Houston. The shoot is hosted by the UH Council of Ethnic Organizations, from 4-7 p.m. in the University Center.

NOH8 was created by celebrity photographer Adam Bouska and partner Jeff Parshley in response to Proposition 8 in California, which amended the state Constitution to ban same-sex marriage.

Photos feature subjects with duct tape over their mouths, symbolizing their voices being silenced by Prop 8 and similar legislation around the world, with “NOH8” painted on one cheek in protest. Bouska will take 5-10 frames of each person and retouch the final selection.

The event is first come, first served. You’ll sign a release, receive a NOH8 temporary tattoo and listen for your number. The tattoo will be applied to your face, along with silver duct tape across your mouth.

Solo portraits are $40. Couple and group portraits are $25 per person. And please wear a white shirt. Photos will be available in about eight weeks via www.NOH8Campaign.com.

Funds raised by NOH8 will be used to promote and raise awareness for marriage equality and anti-discrimination through NOH8’s interactive media campaign. This includes bringing the campaign to other cities around the country, as well as compiling the images for a large-scale media campaign.

October 18 is a Thursday. Let’s have a good, strong showing for Houston. Put it on your calendar and be there if you can.

Chick-fil-A

So there’s been protests and counter-protests and editorials and clever menu ideas, and that’s only in the past week. I don’t think the Chick-fil-A saga is going to come to a resolution any time soon, so let’s remember what it’s all about in the first place. It isn’t that Dan Cathy opposes marriage equality or that he publicly said so. This isn’t news, it’s been well known for a long time. What was news, and what got people up in arms, was that Chick-fil-A was financially supporting the hate group the Family Research Council. Fred puts it better than I can:

The Family Research Council hates LGBT people. It hates them and it works hard to hurt them at every turn. The Family Research Council is a far, far bigger threat to the LGBT community than Chick-fil-A will ever be.

FRC’s crimes against its neighbors include telling hateful lies about LGBT people every day, 24/7, in every media outlet and every media platform it can find. It tells those lies to promote hate — to stir up anti-gay sentiment and spread it as widely as possible so that they can solicit funds from anti-gay donors and so that they can use those funds, in turn, to influence legislation. The legislation FRC supports denies civil rights and legal protections to LGBT people. It hurts them. It changes the law so that the law will hurt them. That makes the Family Research Council a much worse enemy of LGBT people than Chick-fil-A. So let’s put the focus on them. Let’s go upstream and use this boycott opportunity to make the corner boys roll over on the bosses.

More here. This isn’t about what Dan Cathy said or believes, it’s about what his company does. That’s something we can and should work towards changing. Towards that end, Business Week has some advice for Cathy and his company as well. As someone who used to patronize Chick-fil-A and whose kids love going there for ice cream and the play area, I hope they figure it out before they do more damage to their brand.

More on Latinos and marriage equality

From the inbox:

Twenty-one of the nation’s leading Hispanic organizations announced today their endorsement of a first-of-its kind, comprehensive public-education campaign called Familia es Familia aimed at strengthening Latino voices to build support within the Latino community for acceptance of LGBT family members.

Public opinion polls show that Latinos really do lead the way when it comes to attitudes toward lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people. Several recent studies by the Pew Hispanic Center, Bendixen & Amandi International, 2012 Opportunity Agenda and SSRS found strong support among Hispanics for a number of LGBT issues.

Familia es Familia will be a bilingual campaign providing resources and information that are culturally appropriate to empower voices within and from Latino families and communities. In addition, the campaign will provide training, technical assistance, and support to the 21 Hispanic organizations and will spearhead a national effort to educate the public through a range of viral components including: an interactive bilingual website rich with videos, resources, and publications; social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube; promoting stories and voices in the media; and an organizing campaign to engage the community through their mobile devices.

“The polling shows that many in the Latino community already understand that there is one struggle for equality, a struggle that benefits from appreciating common mission. Familia es Familia is a campaign that will help to deepen the understanding that a discriminatory deprivation of rights on any basis is a cause of concern for all. Together, we can overcome all of the irrational biases that adversely affect any member
of the Latino community,” said Thomas A. Saenz, President and General Counsel, MALDEF.

“NCLR is deeply committed to the civil rights of all Americans, including our friends and family in the LGBT community. We are very proud that this ground-breaking public education campaign, ‘Familia es Familia’, is being launched at our Annual Conference this year in Las Vegas,” said Janet Murguia, President and CEO, NCLR.

Brent Wilkes, Executive Director of LULAC, the nation’s oldest Latino civil rights organization said, “Since its inception, LULAC has fought for the equality of minorities. All individuals regardless of their race, ethnicity, country of origin or sexual orientation, deserve equal rights.”

“A growing majority of Latinos in this country know that every gay or lesbian person is part of someone’s family – a son or daughter, a brother or sister, a loved one – and the more conversations we have, family member to family member, the more support for the freedom to marry grows,” said Evan Wolfson, founder and President of Freedom to Marry, the campaign to win marriage nationwide. “Latino gay couples seek the freedom to marry to affirm and strengthen their love, their commitment, and their ability to take care of each other and their families; government should not be putting barriers in their way. Freedom to Marry is proud to be supporting the Familia es Familia campaign to lift up Hispanic voices and stories as together we make the case for ending the exclusion from marriage.”

Freedom to Marry provided the seed funding and serves as fiscal sponsor for Familia es Familia. The Gill Foundation has also committed to providing additional resources.

“Given the breadth and depth of this first-of-its-kind campaign, this effort is so vital for our community, and we hope that it will help to change the dialogue and hearts and minds about our Latino LGBT family and community Members,” said Ingrid Duran, Laura Esquivel and Catherine Pino, the D&P Creative Strategies team, the lead firm working with Freedom to Marry to create and manage the campaign.

For more information, please visit www.familiaesfamilia.org.

See here for more. A list of sponsoring organizations for this is beneath the fold. One thing I want to add to this is that there’s no question this is a direct result of President Obama’s endorsement of marriage equality from several weeks ago. Over the past year or so I’ve read numerous national writers, Ezra Klein chief among them, write about how generally speaking presidents can’t move public opinion by making a speech on something. There’s a lot of polling data to back that up, and I know Klein has harped on this subject as a pushback against the media’s fetishization of presidential powers of persuasion. Clearly, though, this is an exception. It’s not that the organizations that have been following the President’s lead had previously opposed marriage equality, it’s that they’ve taken the opportunity to raise the priority on the issue, and to present a united front that stands as a strong signal to people who are otherwise in tune with them but who needed a bit of a push on this. It’s really been remarkable to watch, and has been a shining beacon of hope in some otherwise dark times. We could use a lot more like this.

(more…)

Rey Guerra: Latinos in Houston 2012

The following is from a series of guest posts that I will be presenting over the next few weeks.

Rey Guerra

White, Black, Asian, or other, if you live in Houston, you’ve more than likely adopted aspects of Latino culture into your own, it’s inevitable.

In statistically the most diverse city in the United States, Latinos are 44% of the population.

You personally probably know how to say a couple of words in Spanish. You have a couple of friends who are ‘Hispanic.’ At the very least, you love Mexican food.

Most clubs have Latin night, clientele at salsa dance studios all over the city are of non-Latino origin, the Dynamo just built a new stadium, fajitas were invented by Mama Ninfa right here in Houston, and even the fabled Texas Cowboy hat has its origins in Latin America.

Latinos, their customs, their language, and their food, very much influence the social culture of Houston. Latinos, however, have not had nearly the influence on Houston’s civic/political culture…until recently.

Remarkably Underrepresented
Latinos are 44% of the population of the City of Houston, yet currently 0 of 4 County Commissioners (0%), 0 of 5 surrounding US Congresspersons (0%), 2 of 9 HISD School Board Members (22%), and only 2 of 16 Houston City Council Members (12.5%) are Latino.

Latinos in Houston are as underrepresented as they have ever been and recent elections are no cause for optimism. Former Commissioner Sylvia Garcia lost a close re-election race in historically Latino Precinct 2 in 2010. An extremely qualified Bolivar Fraga lost in his bid to win an At-Large City Council seat in 2011. In fact, Latinos have been the largest ethnic group in Houston since 2000, but have not won a city-wide race since the 90’s.

Anti-Latino Policy
Despite the overwhelming population growth in Texas, all indications are that anti-Latino rhetoric and sentiment in Texas is intensifying. At the beginning of the 2011 Texas Legislative Session, over 70 anti-Latino bills were introduced–on the first day alone.

Despite not being able to fund education or balance the budget, Rick Perry put two anti-Latino bills at the top of his Legislative Agenda. Not content, minutes after the Supreme Court gutted Arizona’s SB1070, the Governor announced his intention to pursue the “show me your papers” provision of the law in the upcoming Legislative Session.

Anti-Latino policy is prevalent here locally as well. Harris County Commissioners Court is in the middle of a court battle in their attempt to eliminate the only Latino opportunity commissioner’s precinct via redistricting.

Despite community outrage and without much notice or stated reason, HISD recently shutdown Kaleidoscope Middle School, a Texas Exemplary Status school
serving recent immigrants, low-income, and Spanish-speaking residents.

Harris County even went so far as to ban piñatas at nearly 3 dozen of its parks.

Reason for Hope
There is evidence, however, that things are changing.

Communities are organizing. Dozens of Latino and non-Latino organizations and small businesses joined together in advocating for and winning two new Latino-opportunity districts (A and J) during the City of Houston redistricting process.

Houston’s Mayor is an advocate. Mayor Annise Parker has been extremely inclusive of all communities in Houston, and her willingness to listen to the voices of her constituent communities has led to her presiding over some great victories for the Latino community, including COH redistricting, Harrisburg’s METRO underpass, and the designation of Rufus Cage Elementary in the East End as a protected historical landmark.

Candidates are targeting Latinos. Both Mayor Parker and Council Member Mike Laster looked to emerging Latino leaders to be treasurers of their campaigns. Non-Latino candidates Gene Wu and Erica Lee have been overt about their advocacy for Latinos and Latino issues.

Candidates continue to run. Silvia Mintz, Mary Ann Perez, Julia Maldonado, and Cindy Vara-Leija are a few of the names of Latinas currently on the ballot. All are extremely qualified and would represent all communities well.

There’s even evidence of increased voter turnout. A group of civically minded individuals and organizations recently hosted a Tacos and Votes event that drew the 2nd highest turnout of any precinct in Harris County during the Saturday of early voting (and the event was broadcast globally by NPR); Impressive considering that the area in which it was held has historically been one of the lowest turnout locations for Latinos in the County.

Moving Forward
It’s been said that the Latino community in Houston today has more energy and more momentum than it’s had in over 30 years; since the days of Ben Reyes, Leonel Castillo, and the murder of Joe Campos Torres.

What’s been most impressive to me is that energy and momentum exhibited by today’s Latino community isn’t necessarily in coalescing around a candidate or a specific issue. It seems to be happening organically, out of a sense that is at times anger, at times hope, and at other times a need for simple fairness.

Throughout history no community, including the oppressing community, has benefited when such a large percentage of its population has been the target of such harsh repressive behavior.

The tide seems to be turning. More and more leaders in Houston and across the country are targeting the Latino community. President Obama’s recent memo
providing relief to undocumented youth has galvanized thousands of Houstonians. Houston’s diverse communities are more and more working together to resolve common issues.

The Latino community in Houston, for its part, is responding. Given the demographics of Houston and the current anti-Latino climate in Texas and across
the country, there has never been a more important time for Latinos in this City.

Dr. Rey Guerra is an engineer in the renewable energy field and is the Chair of the Greater Houston Civic Coalition, a group dedicated to resolving social, economic, and civic issues through education, training, and advocacy.

Fourth of July video break: We the People

You can tell how old someone is by whether or not they can recite the preamble to the Constitution without singing it. All together now!

Happy Fourth, y’all. I may have another video later.

Latinos and marriage equality

You’ve probably seen some coverage by now of how African American views of marriage equality have shifted in its favor in the wake of President Obama’s announcement that he now supports it. But what about Latinos and their views?

On the right side of history

The recent news coverage and analysis of this issue has focused almost exclusively on comparing the marriage views of African Americans with whites, with an occasional nod to a broader group of “people of color.” This analysis inadvertently masks the views of Latinos, the nation’s largest and fastest-growing minority group. In fact, among the media’s coverage of new polls conducted and released following President Obama’s support of marriage equality, very few (if any) broke out the results based on Latino or Hispanic ethnicity.

Despite the absence of media coverage on Latinos and marriage equality, numerous surveys tell us that Latinos are by and large supportive of laws that extend the rights and responsibilities of marriage to same-sex couples. A 2011 survey of Latinos found that even then 54 percent supported full marriage equality, compared to about 53 percent of the general public at the time. This same survey found that Latinos who identify as Catholic support marriage equality at a slightly higher rate of 57 percent. Like the rest of the U.S. population, support for marriage equality was higher among Hispanic women than Hispanic men, and was lower for those Latinos who identified as members of the Republican Party.

Further, a 2010 survey by the Associated Press and Univision found stark generational divides among Latinos, just as in the general population. Specifically, younger-generation Latinos voice much higher support for marriage equality than older Latinos do.

But overall Latino support for equality extends far beyond marriage. One case in point: Latinos are very supportive of laws that protect against other forms of antigay* discrimination (note that these surveys didn’t ask questions specific to transgender rights). The aforementioned 2011 survey found that:

  • Eighty-six percent of Latinos support workplace discrimination laws that protect gay people
  • Eighty-six percent support housing discrimination laws that protect gay people
  • Eighty-three percent support hate crimes laws that protect gay people
  • Eighty-three percent support equal health care and pension benefits for same-sex couples
  • Seventy-eight percent support open military service

Further, the survey found that 67 percent of Latinos believe that gay people face either some or a lot of discrimination in the United States. At the same time, 65 percent of Latinos said that Hispanics themselves face similar rates of discrimination; 55 percent said the same for African Americans; and 47 percent for women. Also, 65 percent of Latinos said that gay people face some or a lot of discrimination from the Hispanic population itself—52 percent said that African Americans face similar levels of discrimination from the Latino population, and 48 percent said women did as well.

In addition to obscuring Latino support for marriage equality, the recent media focus on African Americans and marriage equality also ignores the fact that African Americans believe gay people face high rates of discrimination overall in America. In fact, African Americans largely understand that gay Americans face pervasive discrimination and are strongly supportive of laws and policies to end that discrimination—and they were supportive even when their opposition to marriage equality was significantly high.

A 2009 report and related polling from the Arcus Foundation, for example, found that 67 percent of African Americans opposed marriage equality at that time. But the same survey and polls found that 76 percent of African Americans thought that gay people overall face either a lot or some discrimination in America. Further:

  • Eighty-five percent of African Americans polled said that hate crimes are a problem for gay people
  • Eighty-three percent said school bullying is a problem for gay youth
  • Seventy-four percent said access to health care and pension benefits is a problem for same-sex couples
  • Seventy-four percent said job discrimination is a problem for gay employees and job seekers
  • Sixty-nine percent said housing discrimination is a problem for the gay population

If that’s not enough for you, the National Council of La Raza has endorsed marriage equality as well.

Eric Rodriguez, vice president of public policy for the National Council of La Raza, confirmed to the Blade that the vote took place on June 9 during a previously scheduled board meeting. NCLR did not provide a copy of the resolution, but Rodriguez stressed that there was little opposition to it.

“There was discussion for that period of time, but everyone really strongly that supporting what we had already put out there in terms of our statement was the right thing to do,” he said.

Former NCLR Board Chair Danny Ortega, a Phoenix lawyer whose term ended after the vote, provided broad details of the conversations that he said took place among the 25 board members before the vote.

“We had a discussion about this and clearly some people had more questions than others, but at the end of the discussion it was unanimous,” he said.

The resolution passed less than a month after the National Association for the Advancement of Colored Persons’ Board of Directors endorsed marriage rights for same-sex couples.

[…]

The Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund President Thomas A. Saenz has backed same-sex marriage. His organization has not only represented people with HIV in discrimination cases, but filed amicus briefs in support of lawsuits that challenge California’s Proposition 8 and other states’ prohibitions on nuptials for gays and lesbians.

The Texas chapter of the League of United Latin American Citizens earlier this month also passed a same-sex marriage resolution during their annual convention. LULAC National President Margaret Moran joined Murguía, Saenz and other civil rights leaders who applauded Obama’s public support of nuptials for gays and lesbians.

Remember when marriage equality was going to be the wedge that fractured the Democratic coalition? So much for that. Sure, there is at least one prominent African American who has been unhappy with the President’s announcement, but I rather doubt that the bottom feeders at NOM will be adopting him as a spokesperson. American Progress link via NewsTaco, Blade link via Runnin’ Scared. Freedom to Marry has more.

Why gay marriage is inevitable

Professor Stephen Klineberg – you know, the fancy movie star – looks at 30 years worth of Houston Area Survey data and sees the future.

The findings from the 31st year of the Kinder Houston Area Survey (1982-2012) will be released this month. The three-decade span of these annual studies offers a rare opportunity to determine the significance of the age differences revealed in the surveys.

When younger and older respondents give different answers in any one year, it is difficult to know if the discrepancies are due to real and lasting contrasts between older and younger perspectives – the generational divides that will shape the future – or whether they reflect instead differences that will fade as the younger folks move further along in their life-cycle trajectory. Were the 20-year-olds who were interviewed in 1992 expressing attitudes and beliefs that are closer to the views of today’s 40-year-olds? Or were they more similar to the 20-year-olds who were interviewed in this year’s study? The 30 years of Houston surveys can answer this question.

[…]

Younger adults in Houston have come of age in a city that is far more ethnically diverse and more supportive of gay rights than it was 20 years or 40 years ago. Have they internalized more tolerant views on these issues in ways that are likely to last into the future? The surveys strongly suggest that the answer is “yes.”

[…]

Half of the respondents born between 1971 and 1990, regardless of their age at the time of the surveys, said that homosexual marriages should be given the same legal status as heterosexual marriages. This was also true for almost half of those born between 1951 and 1970, but for only a third of the respondents born between 1931 and 1950, and just 16 percent of those born before 1930. Support for gay rights has been growing steadily across the years of the surveys, and the generational differences clearly suggest that the trend will continue into the future.

The survey found similar results for a question about whether more immigration would be desirable, which is equally encouraging. The polling numbers are consistent with what we see elsewhere in the country, and it’s good to know that it isn’t just a matter of young versus old but of one generation versus its ancestors. A change is gonna come, y’all. Which is why it was so important for the forces opposing that change to get the Double Secret Illegal Anti-Gay Marriage Amendment added to the state constitution back in 2005, even though gay marriage was already illegal in Texas. Repealing a law just takes a majority. Repealing a constitutional amendment takes a super-majority that may never materialize. As such, I strongly suspect the way that this change comes is via the federal courts, and ultimately the Supreme Court. (Yeah, I know it’s hard to feel optimistic about anything related to this Supreme Court, but change will come to them too, sooner or later.) How long that will take I don’t know, but some day we will all look back on this and wonder what the opponents of marriage equality were thinking.

Stimulate the economy with marriage equality

​If New York can do it

Helping cities grow their economies since 2011

New York City made quite a bit of money on gay marriage — 200,000 bucks, in fact.

Cash flow into the city’s marriage bureau shot up since August, when same-sex nups got enacted, according to the New York Post.

The office took in $2.26 million — up from $2 million during that same period in 2010, the newspaper reports.

From July 24, 2010 to Feb. 22, 2011 — the city clerk’s measurement period — New York issued 36,913 marriage licenses.

From July 24, 2011 to Feb. 22, 2012, however, the city gave out 41,967.

The five leaders of the Mayors for the Freedom to Marry movement mention the economic argument among other reasons as they make their case in a Chron op-ed.

In Boston, where gay and lesbian couples have been free to marry for more than seven years, it has been an important benefit to the city’s economy. According to a study by the Williams Institute at UCLA, the freedom to marry has encouraged same-sex couples to move to the city, in particular young, highly educated individuals – members of what has been called the “creative class” – who are vital to economic development in a post-industrial economy.

In New York, where same-sex couples have only been able to marry for a short time, we have already seen the benefits. Welcoming committed gay couples to the rights and responsibilities of marriage is resulting in an even more diverse, dynamic and forward-looking city.

In San Diego and Los Angeles, our gay and lesbian citizens had the opportunity to marry for four-and-a-half months in 2008 before the passage of Proposition 8, the initiative that amended the California Constitution and banned same-sex marriage. During that brief time, 18,000 couples married in California.

The four cities mentioned happen to be Mayored by four of those five aforementioned leaders. The fifth, of course, is Mayor Parker, who unfortunately cannot make any such boasts about her fair city. Not today, anyway. Five of the other Texas pro-marriage equality Mayors came to Parker’s defense with a press release that I’ve included below, and it’s a positive sign that all of the letters to the editor that the Chron printed about the Riggle crusade were in defense of Mayor Parker, but needless to say there’s a long, long way to go.

Anyway. It shouldn’t come as a surprise to learn that by making marriage available to a wider population, more people got married. All those extra marriage licenses added up to a nice little bit of extra revenue for the city. I’m sure a few of those happy couples came from other states, including Texas, to take advantage of what was not an option for them at home. New York appreciates your business, y’all. Someone should ask Pastor Riggle and Jared Woodfill why they favor exporting all these weddings to other states instead of keeping them here in Texas where they belong.

(more…)

Even the Mayor is allowed to have her own opinion

Despite what some people might think.

On the right side of history

The pastor of one of Houston’s megachurches is asking Mayor Annise Parker to resign if she will not cease promoting the legalization of same-sex marriage.

“Respectfully, if you cannot uphold the Texas constitution, then you should do the honorable thing and step down,” Pastor Steve Riggle of Grace Community Church wrote in an email to Parker on Friday.

In Riggle’s view, Parker is failing to uphold the state constitution, which includes a voter-approved amendment banning same-sex marriage, by advocating for equal marriage rights for gays and lesbians.

In January, Parker joined 77 of her colleagues at the U.S. Conference of Mayors in Washington, D.C., in calling for legalization of same-sex marriage.

Her participation in the event, weeks after her swearing in for a second term in January, amounted to what Riggle described in the email as a “call for action regarding marriage that would violate the very constitution you were swearing to uphold.”

When asked about Riggle’s message, Parker said Monday, “I do my duty to uphold the state Constitution and the U.S. Constitution. I swore an oath to that. I take that oath very seriously, but I have my First Amendment rights to free speech.

“We all have the right to do that and I’m sorry that they (Riggle and his supporters) don’t understand the Constitution,” Parker said.

Unless Pastor Riggle believes Mayor Parker is going to take over the County Clerk’s office and give out marriage licenses as she sees fit, and also take over the Attorney General’s office to prevent any consequences for that, I’m puzzled as to what exactly he thinks she is doing that is wrong. Well, except for the fact that he thinks being gay is icky, because it forces him to spend so much time thinking about what gay people do so he can always be in a state of disapproval about it. You really should be more considerate to the gay-obsessed pastors of the world, Mayor Parker.

By the way, the number of Mayors who have joined the Mayors for the Freedom to Marry brigade is now 175, which is more than double what they started out with. You can see the list, which will undoubtedly continue to grow, here. Among them are other Mayors of Texas cities:

Julian Castro – San Antonio, TX
Joe Jaworski – Galveston TX
Lucy Johnson – Kyle, TX
Lee Leffingwell – Austin, TX
A. David Marne – Shavano Park, TX
Bruce Smiley-Kalff – Castle Hills, TX

There’s also a petition to get Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings on board. You can create your own petition to get your Mayor’s support if he or she isn’t already there. There’s a whole lot more Texas cities that need to be heard from. Will Pastor Riggle call on all of them to resign, too? Admittedly, none of them are his Mayor, but then this is bigger than that for him, isn’t it? Then again, maybe he just wants the gay Mayors to resign, so he won’t be forced to think about icky gay Mayor things.

Nonetheless, Mayor Parker reminds Pastor Riggle that she is in fact severely gay in a conversation with Michaelangelo Signorile in the HuffPo.

Speaking on my SiriusXM radio program, Parker, who was elected to her first term in 2009 and won re-election in November of last year, said she’s happy to have won reelection without a runoff against five opponents (getting just over 50 percent of the vote) but that she had to “work harder” than she believes she should have had to in order to win.

“While it’s been a tough time to be an incumbent at any level of government, there’s definitely a hard-core group here that is just mortally offended that there is a lesbian mayor, and one of my opponents ran specifically because of that issue and raised it at every opportunity,” she said.

And Parker described how she’s often held to a different standard because she is a lesbian.

“It’s been interesting to me, she said. “I recently joined 90 other mayors as part of the Freedom to Marry initiative. Local headlines–there was a backlash around that. And sometimes I sort of scratch my head. Okay, I’m an out lesbian. They know that. I’m in a long-term relationship. And yes, I want the ability to marry my spouse. And here I am, one of 90 mayors from around the country, and somehow it provoked this wave of hate mail.

And the funny thing is that this initiative, it actually came from my mayoral colleagues in the big cities. This was Antonio Villaraigosa from Los Angeles. It was Mayor Bloomberg. It’s Mayor Menino in Boston. Nutter in Philadelphia. Emmanuel in Chicago. They had it worked out and then they invited me to join. This is not an initiative from the GLBT community. But because I’m a part of that, it’s like, somehow in people’s eyes down here, I’ve changed from my role as mayor of Houston into lesbian activist. Well, I’m the mayor of Houston first, but I’m still a lesbian. And I care.”

Mayor Parker has of course regularly played down her sexual orientation on the grounds that she wants to be the Mayor of Houston, not the gay Mayor of Houston, despite what Pastor Riggle would prefer. I’m glad to see her join this movement. For sure, it would have been weird for her not to do so, but still. Even with public opinion improving, it’s going to be a long fight, and winning it requires everyone’s help.

One more thing, from that Chron story:

Grace has 15,000 members, according to Riggle, making it one of the largest churches in Houston and in the nation. It is also where the Harris County Republican Party plans to have its convention in April.

Can someone explain to me why hosting the convention of a political party would not put Grace’s tax exempt status with the IRS in jeopardy? Unless of course what they have is a meeting space that is available to the general public for rental. In which case, I suggest Mayor Parker make a reservation there to host the next national meeting of Mayors for the Freedom to Marry. Consider that an extension of the “Run Everywhere” principle.

Who uses the white pages these days?

I’m an old fogey. I read the dead tree version of the newspaper. I’ve installed no apps on my cellphone. I drive a minivan. Yet even I couldn’t tell you the last time I used a phone book.

When was the last time you used the white pages? Be honest now. I, for one, can’t remember the last time I used the phone book for anything but propping open a door. And apparently I’m not alone: see these two articles and this comment string for more examples of white-pages fatigue than you can shake a stick at.

[…]

[M]ost states still mandate universal white pages delivery.  But the good news is that the tide is turning. The city of Seattle recently allowed residents to opt out of both white pages and yellow pages delivery. And sixteen enlightened states already allow phone companies to spare their customers the annual ritual of discarding an unneeded phone book: Alabama, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia, Wisconsin, and most recently, California. And as that mix of states suggests, the appeal of ending mandatory white pages delivery crosses partisan lines; phone book laws make even the conservative Heartland Institute sound like a bunch of tree-huggers.

Did you know that you could opt out of phone book delivery in Texas? I didn’t. I asked Tiffany, who said she remembered seeing some news coverage about it, but didn’t know where to go to actually do it. I’ve tried googling multiple variations on “Texas” “phone book” “white pages” “opt out” “delivery” and so forth with no luck. Anybody have more info about this?

Anyway. Kevin Drum thinks the reason for the decline in white page usage is related to “ubiquitous auto dialers, email, and social media”. I suspect cell phones, which can store a bunch of numbers and which can be synched with one’s email contacts, are a big part of it. Whatever the reason, the environmental case for doing away with white pages is clear: “The EPA reports that only 37 percent of phone directories (by weight) are recycled. The rest are simply landfilled.” People aren’t using them. Let them tell the phone company not to deliver them.

When monkeys are outlawed, only outlaws will have monkeys

Or something like that.

Cebus capucinus

Even in their Texas hideout, Jim and Donita Clark are terrified that wildlife agents from their home state of Louisiana will descend on their motorhome and seize the four Capuchin monkeys they’ve reared for 10 years.

Four months ago, the couple fled before authorities showed up at their house for an inspection, and ever since they’ve been hiding out with their monkeys — all of them cooped up in the recreational vehicle.

Exotic animal owners like them say wildlife agents have been cracking down in Louisiana and around the country after high-profile cases of exotic animals getting loose or attacking people. At least six states have also banned the ownership of wild animals since 2005, and Congress is also mulling tighter restrictions.

The couple fears the monkeys will be confiscated and sent to a zoo if they return home to DeRidder, La.

“It’s not what I fought for … to be treated like this,” said Jim Clark, a 60-year-old disabled Vietnam veteran, as tears streaked his face. “It’s not right to think they can come into your house and do this to you with or without a warrant.”

[…]

Crackdowns in Louisiana and elsewhere have gained momentum since a man in Ohio released his personal zoo of lions, tigers, zebras, bears and monkeys before killing himself. The 2009 face-mauling of a Connecticut woman by a chimpanzee also highlighted the dangers of keeping wild animals in residential neighborhoods.

“It was a wakeup call to the nation that we should no longer tolerate the reckless decision-making by a small number of people,” said Wayne Pacelle, the head of the Humane Society of the United States.

Veterinarians and primate experts generally agree that monkeys — like all wild animals — shouldn’t be adopted as pets.

“They are not animated toys. They’re so intelligent they’re difficult to keep in a stimulated environment long term,” said Dr. Patricia V. Turner, the president of the Association of Primate Veterinarians.

She said monkeys kept in homes often end up obese and suffering from emotional stress that takes the form of self-biting. Monkeys are garrulous social creatures and need to be around their own kind, she said.

With all due respect to the Clarks, I agree with the experts. Monkeys and other wild animals should not be kept as pets. It’s dangerous, it’s bad for the animals, it’s often bad for the local ecology, and it’s just not right. I support efforts to tighten restrictions on who can buy, sell, or possess exotic animals. TM Daily Post has more, and the Trib has a related article about the Humane Society pushing for a ban on “exotic” pets.

Komen outrage

I’m speechless.

In a shocking move Tuesday afternoon, Susan G. Komen for the Cure, the country’s most famous breast cancer charity, pulled its grants for breast-cancer screenings from Planned Parenthood. Komen claims that their reason is that Planned Parenthood is under investigation from Congress, but as it’s well-understood on both the left and the right that the investigation, headed by Rep. Cliff Stearns, is a nuisance investigation that will almost surely turn up nothing, this excuse sounds lame indeed. The likelier explanation is the one offered by Planned Parenthood, that Komen caved under relentless pressure from anti-choice activists who oppose Planned Parenthood for offering abortions as well as low-cost contraception and STD prevention and treatment. In addition, Komen has a history of not playing nice with other women’s health organizations. Planned Parenthood has created an emergency fund to replace the Komen grants, to keep the breast-cancer screening service from being interrupted.

State Rep. Carol Alvarado is a lot nicer to them about this than I would have been. Far as I’m concerned, it’ll be a long time before I even think about giving another dime to them. Jezebel, TBogg, and Kos, among many others, have more.

Happy birthday, Jacob!

Meet the newest most popular boy’s name in Texas.

For the first time in more than a decade of dueling to become the most popular baby boy name in Texas, if infant Jacobs could talk, they’d have said “No way, Jose!” in 2010.

Since 1996, Jose has been the top name for baby boys in the Lone Star state, according to Social Security Administration popular baby names database. Those little guys have edged out the longtime second-place Jacobs for the top slot since 1998.

However, Jacob joined Isabella atop the list of the most popular names for newborns in Texas and in Houston in 2010. Jose landed at No. 2 statewide.

The story notes the “Twilight” connection, about which the less said, the better. As for me, I remember seeing a production at the now-defunct Radio Music Theater back in the 90s, in which the father of the house addresses his teenage daughter’s boyfriend as “Michael”. When the boy asks him how he knew his name was Michael, the father says “Well, aren’t most boys your age named Michael?” Clearly, not any more they’re not – “Michael” wasn’t even in the top ten for Houston.

The Houston list also turned out some originals on the pink side from Aabida to Zyrianna and Aa’den to Z’yun on the blue side.

One girl each received these names: Amazing-Grace, A’Miracle, Apple, Babygirl, Beyonce, Dae’Gorgeous, Elektra, Forever, Gorgeousg’zaiya, Myranique, Paisley-Ann, Passion, Praisegod and Radiance.

Some of the more creative boy names appeared inspired by faith: Divinefavour, Ezra-Nehemiah, Godswill, Goodness, JesusNazaret and King-David. Other little guys were dubbed Baby Boy, Clever, Handsome, Sir Genius, Memphiz and Tuff. In true Texas flair, one boy was named Stetson and another’s first name: Dallas Cowboys.

I got nothing. Talk amongst yourselves.

Another story about plastic bags

No news on the bag-banning front, though officials in the D/FW area quoted in this Star-Telegram story seem open to the idea, but what interested me was the numbers mentioned:

Estimates show that each person now uses about 130 plastic bags per year. Worldwide, billions of these bags — perhaps as many as 1 trillion — are used to help consumers carry home their purchases, according to the California-based Earth Resource Foundation.

Hilex Poly Co. Llc. is the largest U.S. producer of these plastic bags and has nine manufacturing facilities, including sites in Farmers Branch, Carrollton and Garland that employ about 2,600 Texans, said Phil Rozenski, director of marketing for Hilex.

He said much work goes into keeping the bags out of the environment, as officials promote reducing the number of bags used, reusing them and recycling them.

The bags can be used for many things, such as lining trash cans, carrying wet clothes or collecting animal waste. And he said more than 30,000 collection bins are set up nationwide, such as those at Kroger grocery stores. Hilex collects the bags from the bins and ships them to an Indiana recycling center, where they are used to make more plastic bags, Rozenski said.

Rozenski says that plastic bags are cleaner than reusable bags, which if not cleaned could carry bacteria, and that they take up less space than paper bags in landfills — if that’s where they end up.

Kroger officials tout their recycling efforts, saying they have recycled 26 million pounds of plastic since 2007. Between the store’s “bagging techniques” and reusable bags, officials estimate that they have prevented more than 150 million plastic bags from being distributed, according to a Kroger Co. sustainability report.

So many big numbers, so little context. Is that “130 plastic bags per year” estimate for every person in the world? If so, then given that the world population is approaching seven billion, then we’re talking about 900 billion bags per year, which is a hell of a lot. I wish I could tell you how many bags there are in 26 million pounds’ worth, but I can’t. If I were to take a wild guess and say there’s a thousand bags in a pound, then that’s 26 billion bags. Which sure ain’t nothing, but it’s only 2.6% of that trillion-a-year total, and that’s for four years’ worth of recycling. In other words, we’ve still got a long way to go. The good news is that there seems to be some momentum for municipalities banning the bags, and so far at least there doesn’t seem to be much organized resistance to the idea, though that may just be because Congressional Republicans are too distracted by their defense of incandescent light bulbs to have taken notice. Give them a chance, they can only do one thing at a time

Party Like A Rock Star 2011

Looking for something to do this Saturday? Here’s an idea:

I am sadly unable to make it this year, but I can attest from past experience that it’s a fine event, and this is definitely now-more-than-ever time. So click the picture, buy a ticket, and have fun. You know you want to.

We’re #12!

The twelfth most obese state in the country, that is.

They say everything’s bigger in Texas — and apparently, that includes the people. Texas ranks as the 12th most obese state in the U.S., according to a new study by Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

The study found that — not surprisingly — obesity rates are skyrocketing. In 2007, only one state had an obesity rate above 30 percent, but in 2011 more than 12 states, including Texas, have obesity rates above 30 percent. More than 20 percent of adolescents (ages 10-17) are considered obese.

In Texas 38.5 percent of blacks and 36 percent of Latinos are considered obese. Rich Hamburg, deputy director for Trust for America’s Health, said Texas’ obesity rates are directly linked to poverty, which unfortunately correlates with race.

Somewhere, the editor of Men’s Health magazine is nodding his head and saying “I told you so”. The report can be found on the Trib’s story page, or you can go to the source for more info. Needless to say, there’s a direct link between this problem and the rising costs of health care. Good luck getting that message through to our Republican leadership.

“The information in this report should spur us all – individuals and policymakers alike – to redouble our efforts to reverse this debilitating and costly epidemic,” said Dr. Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. “Changing policies is an important way to provide children and families with vital resources and opportunities to make healthier choices easier in their day-to-day lives.”

I laugh the bitter laugh of a man who knows that his Governor will be seen wearing an “I {Heart} Socialism” T-shirt at a gay pride rally in San Francisco before he lifts a finger to do anything about this.

More cork recycling

I’m always interested in recycling stories.

The [Oregon-based nonprofit Cork Forest Conservation Alliance], whose donors include vineyards, want to remind oenophiles that cork products are made from the bark of the cork tree, which regenerates and is harvested every nine years, director Patrick Spencer said.

With no severe shortage of corks, he said, there is no reason to eschew cork corks for plastic corks.

The corks will eventually be taken to Whole Foods, a partner of the alliance. From there they’re trucked to Missouri, where they’re recycled into cork flooring and other products for sale. The company that recycles and sells the material is an alliance donor, Spencer said.

Globally, 13 billion wine corks are produced each year, the majority in Portugal, Spencer said. The alliance has recycled 35 tons of cork since 2008, mostly through 290 participating members in the United States, he said.

You can read more about the alliance and Cork ReHarvest at the Whole Foods blog. All Whole Foods markets are drop off locations for your used wine corks, which was not yet the case at the time I last blogged about this. And if you happen to buy wine that has a synthetic cork, that’s basically plastic and should be recycled as well.

Green weddings

Sure, why not?

Enter Brandi Dunagan, the owner of Country Sugar Events in San Antonio, a certified green wedding planner with a list of vendors who can line up local produce for the reception, find locally grown flowers, design invitations that use paper made from seeds and perform a variety of other services that will make the wedding more environmentally sensitive.

[…]

Kate Harrison, founder of the online resource for eco-friendly weddings, the Green Bride Guide, said interest in green weddings has grown over the past four years to a point now where almost half of the brides expect to include at least one, environmentally sensitive activity in their event.

She estimates that environmentally sensitive weddings are a $2 billion industry that should grow as 20-year-olds who have been surrounded by environmental concerns their whole lives move into prime marrying age.

The Wedding Report, a service that analyzes the wedding industry, said in a 2009 survey said that more than 36 percent of the couples it surveyed purchased products and services from vendors that were considered “green” or “earth friendly.”

Flowers, invitations, gifts and decorations were the most popular categories for green purchases, while wedding dresses, rings, photography and entertainment were the least popular.

Dunagan said her green events concentrate on buying local produce to keep both the impact and costs of shipping down but can include other features – such as sending save-the-date notices out electronically rather than by mail, finding one venue for the ceremony and reception rather than two, and buying vintage dresses rather than having them newly made.

The cost is not necessarily higher than a traditional wedding, Dunagan said.

“We’re going to do what they want,” said Dunagan, who was certified as a green wedding planner by Longevity Inc.’s Wedding Planning Institute. “You can have one for under $10,000.”

Speaking as someone who is thankfully not in the market for anything wedding-related (and hopefully won’t be for another 20 years or more), what struck me about this story was the lack of anything quantitative. There’s not a single example of how much a “green” option will save or cost you. For many of the items mentioned, it’s not even really clear to me why they’re considered “green”; sending “save the date” notices electronically is the main exception. I’m all about doing stuff in a more environmentally-friendly fashion, but I’m somewhat skeptical of this because the wedding industry – and its close cousin, the baby industry – is a ginormous racket, famous for creating needs where they previously did not exist, and charging for them accordingly. As such, any article about a new trend in wedding planning is automatically suspect to me. I hope I’m wrong this time, but it’ll take more than a puff piece to convince me.

Saturday video break: It’s OK to be Takei

Ladies and gentlemen, George Takei:

I suppose now is as good a time as any to show you this:

George Takei and me, 1994

That was taken at the Houston premier of a slightly bizarre, very cheesy, and mostly fun sci-fi western called Oblivion, at a now long-gone theater on Post Oak near San Felipe. The movie’s director, writer (Peter David, for my fellow geeks), and most of the stars including Takei and Julie Newmar, were there for a post-screening Q&A and autograph-signing. I was with my buddy Matt and a couple other people, but in those ancient pre-cellphone days none of us had a camera. I was standing near Takei when some random dude in the crowd who did have a camera offered to take a picture of me with him. I gave the guy my address, and sure enough, a few days later there it was in the mail.

Anyway, we have a scanner now, so that was the first of what should be many embarrassing old photos that I hope to digitize in my copious spare time. Who’s the most famous person you’ve ever been photographed with? Feel free to include a link to the picture if you have one.

Do people really still not understand the concept of “work” email?

I marveled at this story from last week, which could easily have been from a 1996 archive.

An administrator at St. Philip’s College resigned after an internal investigation found she violated the school’s email policy by sending hundreds of nonwork-related message to co-workers, many of them deemed sexually explicit and racially offensive.

Donna Laird, the now former radiography program director, resigned May 18, according to documents obtained by the San Antonio Express-News through open-records laws.

Laird, who could not be reached for comment, told investigators that she sent the email to “alleviate stress at work.”

Many of the notes included pictures of pets, patriotic slogans and motivational sayings, but others featured semi-nude women, animals having sex or masturbating, foul language, and jokes stereotyping men, women, rednecks and people of all races.

In sending those messages to a group of colleagues, Laird showed “gross disregard” for proper use of her work email account, investigators found.

Seriously? There are still people out there who send that stuff out from their work email address to their coworkers? Didn’t every organization in existence adopt workplace rules that tell employees not to do that back during the Clinton administration? How is it that anyone might think that sending these emails is a good idea in the year 2011?

Yes, yes, Chuck Rosenthal proved that such people still existed as of four years ago. There probably are more like these two still out there. Thankfully, they haven’t worked in my office in a long time. But maybe I’m the one that’s living in the bubble, and this is the way it really is. You tell me: Does your office have a Donna Laird or Chuck Rosenthal in it? I include people who persist in sending innocuous but lame and annoying emails – the “pets, patriotic slogans and motivational sayings” genre – in this classification. Sending from their personal email account to other personal accounts doesn’t count – I’m looking for workplace offenders. If this describes your workplace, leave a comment and let us know.

“Don’t call me, I won’t call you”

Does anybody use the phone any more?

In the last five years, full-fledged adults have seemingly given up the telephone — land line, mobile, voice mail and all. According to Nielsen Media, even on cellphones, voice spending has been trending downward, with text spending expected to surpass it within three years.

“I literally never use the phone,” Jonathan Adler, the interior designer, told me. (Alas, by phone, but it had to be.) “Sometimes I call my mother on the way to work because she’ll be happy to chitty chat. But I just can’t think of anyone else who’d want to talk to me.” Then again, he doesn’t want to be called, either. “I’ve learned not to press ‘ignore’ on my cellphone because then people know that you’re there.”

“I remember when I was growing up, the rule was, ‘Don’t call anyone after 10 p.m.,’ ” Mr. Adler said. “Now the rule is, ‘Don’t call anyone. Ever.’ ”

Phone calls are rude. Intrusive. Awkward. “Thank you for noticing something that millions of people have failed to notice since the invention of the telephone until just now,” Judith Martin, a k a Miss Manners, said by way of opening our phone conversation. “I’ve been hammering away at this for decades. The telephone has a very rude propensity to interrupt people.”

Though the beast has been somewhat tamed by voice mail and caller ID, the phone caller still insists, Ms. Martin explained, “that we should drop whatever we’re doing and listen to me.”

Even at work, where people once managed to look busy by wearing a headset or constantly parrying calls back and forth via a harried assistant, the offices are silent. The reasons are multifold. Nobody has assistants anymore to handle telecommunications. And in today’s nearly door-free workplaces, unless everyone is on the phone, calls are disruptive and, in a tight warren of cubicles, distressingly public. Does anyone want to hear me detail to the dentist the havoc six-year molars have wreaked on my daughter?

“When I walk around the office, nobody is on the phone,” said Jonathan Burnham, senior vice president and publisher at HarperCollins. The nature of the rare business call has also changed. “Phone calls used to be everything: serious, light, heavy, funny,” Mr. Burnham said. “But now they tend to be things that are very focused. And almost everyone e-mails first and asks, ‘Is it O.K. if I call?’ ”

I do about 90% of my business via email at work. I will admit that I encourage people to email me – I tell them I always have my BlackBerry on me, so they’ll reach me when I’m not at my desk – and generally try to get off the phone when possible. That said, for some things I prefer it. I do a lot of customer troubleshooting, and you just can’t diagnose a problem many times without being able to ask a lot of questions and make clarifications. That’s a lot easier and faster to do on the phone. At home, forget it. The phone is almost never for me, which is fine by me. People who call for me usually call me on my cell nowadays. If you’d asked me five years ago if this is how it would turn out, I wouldn’t have expected it. But there you have it. How much do you use your phone for actual talking these days?

It’s going to be a misogynistic year

It already has been, unfortunately. Here’s Gail Collins on the recent efforts by some right wing activists who are targeting Planned Parenthood:

The people trying to put Planned Parenthood out of business do not seem concerned about what would happen to the 1.85 million low-income women who get family-planning help and medical care at the clinics each year. It just doesn’t come up. There’s not even a vague contingency plan.

“I haven’t seen that they want to propose an alternative,” said [Planned Parenthood president Cecile] Richards.

There are tens of millions Americans who oppose abortion because of deeply held moral principles. But they’re attached to a political movement that sometimes seems to have come unmoored from any concern for life after birth.

There is no comparable organization to Planned Parenthood, providing the same kind of services on a national basis. If there were, most of the women eligible for Medicaid-financed family-planning assistance wouldn’t have to go without it.

That’s because the people doing this and the legislators who enable them don’t care about that. The hostility they have towards women is shocking. Kaili Joy Grey summarizes some of that hostility:

[A]s Republicans have gained greater control of elected offices at the federal and state levels, we are witnessing the concerted effort to undo the very legislation intended to protect women’s health, lives, and livelihood. Even as Republicans offer empty platitudes about equality and feminism, their agenda to legislate women into second-class citizenship has never been clearer.

One of the major battles for Republicans is equal pay. Last year, Senate Republicans voted to blockthe Paycheck Fairness Act, which would have expanded and improved the protections of the 45-year-old Equal Pay Act. Republicans made clear at the time that they were far more concerned with protecting employers from costly litigation than with ensuring that employers are not allowed to discriminate against women.

Now, Republicans in Minnesota are taking this argument one step further, by proposing legislation to repeal existing laws to enforce equal pay for women because it’s just too expensive for small businesses and local governments to ensure that women are paid equally. And besides, they argue, such enforcement is no longer necessary because the pay gap has been all but eradicated.

It’s a lie, of course. The pay gap still exists. In Minnesota, for example, in both the private and public sectors, the gap between men and women’s pay ranges from 24 to 49 percent.

Critics of equity laws argue that the pay gap isn’t real because women choose lower-paying jobs. That too is a lie. Even within the same professions, the pay gap between men and women is real and significant. An extensive new study found that in the medical field, female doctors earn nearly $17,000 less than their male counterparts. To compare, the pay gap for doctors in 1999 was $3,600. That pay gap is real, and it is getting worse.

[…]

What has received far less attention this week is a new bill introduced by State Representative Bobby Franklin in the Georgia State Legislature:

To amend Titles 16 and 17 of the Official Code of Georgia Annotated, relating to criminal law and criminal procedure, respectively, so as to change the term “victim” to the term “accuser” in the context of a number of statutes making reference to circumstances where there has not yet been a criminal conviction; to provide for related matters; to repeal conflicting laws; and for other purposes.

The law would apply to victims of stalking, rape, and domestic violence, crimes in which the vast majority of victims are women and the perpetrators are men. As the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee explained:

Burglary victims are still victims. Assault victims are still victims. Fraud victims are still victims. But if you have the misfortune to suffer a rape, or if you are beaten by a domestic partner, or if you are stalked, Rep. Franklin doesn’t think you’ve been victimized. He says you’re an accuser until the courts have determined otherwise.

To diminish a victim’s ordeal by branding him/her an accuser essentially questions whether the crime committed against the victim is a crime at all. Robbery, assault, and fraud are all real crimes with real victims, the Republican asserts with this bill.

Republicans have, for years, attempted to redefine what constitutes “real” rape and not-really rape, or as Kristen Schall on the Daily Show called it, rape-ish. In 2006, South Dakota State Senator Bill Napoli made news when he described what he considered a legitimate exception to the sweeping new abortion bill that would not permit exceptions even for rape or incest:

A real-life description to me would be a rape victim, brutally raped, savaged. The girl was a virgin. She was religious. She planned on saving her virginity until she was married. She was brutalized and raped, sodomized as bad as you can possibly make it, and is impregnated. I mean, that girl could be so messed up, physically and psychologically, that carrying that child could very well threaten her life.

Brutal rape. Forcible rape. Rape of a religious virgin who intends to save herself for marriage. These are the rape victims accusers deemed valid by the Republican ideology that presumes rape victims are guilty until proven innocent. While such proposed legislation has not yet become the law of the land, the idea that rape victims accusers are responsible for their own assault has taken firm root in our discourse about violence against women.

This is in addition to another bill, HR 358, which would allow hospitals to refuse treatment to a woman who might need a pregnancy terminated, even if doing so could result in the woman’s death. Think it could never come to that? The state of Idaho has already refused to sanction a pharmacist who refused to fill an emergency prescription because the requester didn’t give in to his demand to know if the woman who needed the prescription had had an abortion.

I have always found stuff like this to be shocking, repugnant, and deeply puzzling, but it takes on a new urgency for me these days as a father of two little girls. How am I supposed to protect them from that? I can’t, of course. But I can teach them to fight back against it, and that’s very much what I intend to do.

By the way, those jokers who did that undercover videotaping of the Planned Parenthood employees? They altered the audio on their tape to make the employee look worse. This is not the first time these folks have done that, either. Why is it that they are granted any credibility by mainstream news outlets?

And finally, the Senate this week takes up the Governor’s “emergency” sonogram legislation, which is designed primarily to make women who are having an abortion feel bad about it. The thing to watch is whether the Senate Democrats refuse to vote to suspend the rules to let the bill come to the floor. There are nine sure votes against bringing it up; the Senators I’m uncertain about are Carlos Uresti, Eddie Lucio, and Judith Zaffirini. If two of them vote against suspending the rules, the bill will be stopped. That doesn’t mean it couldn’t be attached to some other bill later as an amendment, of course. But keep an eye on the voting for this one, it’s by no means guaranteed to pass.

RIP, RSVP?

I’m always amused by stories like this.

From casual get-togethers to catered affairs, the once-common act of replying to invitations has become an often lost and much lamented cause.

Parenting and bridal blogs seethe with tales of tracking down invitees like festive fugitives. Electronic invitation systems try to streamline head counting but sometimes just turn into a public display of ambivalence (Yes: 2. No: 15. Maybe: 147). Newspaper columns have bewailed the death of the R.S.V.P., and a popular gauge of generational shifts has declared that today’s college students don’t even know what the phrase means.

As the holiday party season swings into gear, it’s time to be merry, at least until you have to decide whether to make deviled eggs for four dozen or four.

[…]

While there don’t appear to be solid statistics on a decline of R.S.V.P.ing (who’d respond to a survey about not responding?), here’s a signpost: Last year’s Beloit College Mindset List included R.S.V.P. among cultural touchstones turned fossils from a freshman’s perspective.

The list, compiled anecdotally by Beloit English professor Tom McBride and retired college spokesman Ron Nief, proclaimed that the class of 2013 has “never understood the meaning of R.S.V.P.,” though some students say otherwise.

R.S.V.P. rates have become enough of a sore point to engender op-ed grousing in newspapers including the New York Times, where novelist Rand Richards Cooper in March described trying to lasso responses for a book reading that entailed food service at a restaurant. He got some sympathy from online commenters, but “the overall sentiment was: ‘You’re just going to have to adjust your expectations,’ ” says Cooper, 50, who lives in Hartford, Conn.

I’m too young to be a Baby Boomer and too old to be one of Those Damn Kids, so I don’t know how applicable my experiences are to the generational spectrum. For what it’s worth, we got a very solid head count for our wedding in 1998, with only a few people needing to be prodded for a response; in most of those cases. More recent experiences – my 40th birthday party in 2006, and birthday parties for the girls – have been similar. Maybe we’re just lucky, I don’t know.

I will say this: When we use Evite, we don’t get more than a handful of “Maybe” responses. The biggest group is invariably those who have not yet responded. As a general rule, I count on the people who don’t respond to not attend, and that is almost always the case. I’m rather surprised that the article didn’t mention the fact that to a lot of people, “RSVP” seems to mean “only reply if the answer is Yes”, and that that seems to apply to many folks in the over-50 crowd, too. You can gnash your teeth and write heartfelt letters to Miss Manners about that if you want, but I think the better advice is to adjust your expectations as noted, and plan accordingly. If that doesn’t work out – if your guest list includes too many people whose attendance doesn’t correlate to their response or lack thereof – then the standard Miss Manners solution of adjusting your guest list for future events is still your best strategy.

Saturday video break: We Three Kings are totally on Twitter

If the Christmas story were happening today, this is how it might go down:

Thanks to Harold for finding this.

No more White Pages

This is long overdue.

You won’t be getting the residential White Pages in February, and if recent evidence is any guide, you won’t miss the annual thud on the doorstep.

AT&T, the nation’s largest distributor of the telephone directories, has added Houston to the growing list of cities where customers will receive a printed phone book only if they ask for one. The company will continue to provide directory assistance online or by phone.

Officials aren’t bracing for a backlash. When AT&T ceased automatic delivery in Austin two years ago, a mere 2 percent of customers asked for one, said spokesman Kerry Hibbs. In Atlanta the same year, only 1 percent did.

“That saves a lot on paper and landfill,” Hibbs said Friday. “It’s good for the environment.

“It’s going to free up a lot of kitchen-cabinet space in Houston.”

I’m actually kind of old school, in that my first inclination when I need to find a residential phone number is to reach for the phone book. But that doesn’t happen much any more – I keep most of the numbers I need but may not recall offhand on my cellphone these days – and I totally agree about the boon for the environment. So bravo, AT&T, for taking this step.

When do you get a cell phone for your kid?

From the Department Of Things We’ll Be Dealing With Sooner Than We Think, Whether We’re Ready For Them Or Not, the “when should we get our kids a cellphone?” question.

S. Craig Watkins, author of The Young and the Digital (Beacon Press, $26.95), says deciding to get a child a mobile phone is family specific. However he has noticed that in the past five years the question has evolved from “Should I get my child a cell phone?” to “When should I get my child a cell phone?”

In 2009, 20 percent of children ages 6-11 owned cell phones, up from 11.9 percent in 2005, according to an American Kids Study by Mediamark Research & Intelligence. The MRI breakdown of cell phone ownership by ages shows: ages 6-7, 6.5 percent in 2009, an increase from 4.9 percent in 2005; ages 8-9, 17.7 percent in 2009, 10.6 percent in 2005; and ages 10-11, 36.1 percent in 2009 and 20 percent in 2005.

Within a relatively short period, our norms for kids and technology, and kids and cell phones in particular, have shifted, said Watkins, a University of Texas at Austin professor of radio, television and film.

“Kids are requesting cell phones at a younger age, so it really challenges parents, teachers and others to grapple with a whole series of situations as a result,” said Watkins.

Olivia has not brought the subject up herself, which I strongly suspect means that none of her friends have cellphones yet. I figure we have a year, maybe two, before that changes. I suppose for me the main point will be whether or not we think Olivia will be able to keep track of it – like her daddy, she can be absent-minded at times, and at least last year would often forget to bring things home from school. That hasn’t been an issue so far this year, however, so perhaps it’s not so much of a concern any more. We’ll see how much longer it is before she asks. What’s your household’s policy on the matter?