If You’re So Smart – Why Are You In Dallas?

September 1, 2001 by  
Filed under Edit

In Your Face

If You’re So Smart – Why Are You In Dallas?

by Roger Gray

In the wake of my thoughtful and eminently fair comparison of Houston with that overrated collection of Gucci-wearin’, militia-lovin’ nutlogs to our north (June 2001), I found it interesting to read in their daily rag that the Mensa organization chose to hold their annual convention in little “d.” Mensa, for those of you who have enough self-esteem not to need an organization membership card to prove you’re smart, is dedicated to the high-IQ crowd. Having the self-proclaimed brainiac bunch choose Dallas as a convention site would seem to make the case for my critics who felt Dallas is simply superior in some Darwinian sense of natural selection. To the contrary, it fits perfectly. Where else to host a collection of effete, snotty elitists than ground-zero for such folks? Dallas and Mensa – put them together and you get – Densa.

Livin’ La Politica Loca –

Former Housing Secretary, San Antonio Mayor and full-time stud-muffin Henry Cisneros has announced a get-out-the-vote drive. Calling the campaign the “Every Texan Foundation,” the Ricky Martin of American politics says he wants to register up to a half-million of our fellow Texans to vote. While the San Antonio boy-toy says the effort is non-partisan, I don?t envision a lot of canvassing being done in River Oaks, unless Hank has the hots for Carolyn Farb. Now Rick Perry ought to be easy pickings for the Dems in 2002, but so far among the announced contenders are some star-child attorney from Houston named John Worldpeace (no kidding) and former UT quarterback Marty Akin, who claims to have single-handedly desegregated the Longhorns and had more face-time with LBJ than Ladybird. It would be enough to make Ralph Yarborough weep.

How Can We Say Goodbye When You Won’t Go?

It looks as though the Repubs will be the big winners in redistricting if the early plans we’ve seen are anything to go by. There will be some logrolling and favor-trading, but some Dems are being moved into distinctly hostile territory. One who appears to be in jeopardy is state Sen. John Whitmire, and my reaction is – it’s about time. This craven, cringing, spineless excuse for a civic leader was the one who most significantly caved to a loopy right-wing talk show host and his little fraternity of goose-stepping listeners a few years back and canned the smog check program for vehicles. Not only did it cost the state millions if not billions in already signed contracts, but it only delayed the inevitable EPA crackdown and even tougher regulations. For that act of irresponsibility alone, this walking wet-finger-in-the-wind deserves the boot.

Media Watch –

Although it is akin to calling a talk show, where you will not win the argument, I was moved recently to write a letter to the Chronicle. It was on the trite but traditional Republican whine about the “liberal media.” My point doesn’t really matter, but the editing, and yes I know they warn you there will be editing, was on the level of a spell-check program. Simply put, it was the most artless, pedantic editing job I have endured since writing for Ultra magazine. No wonder they had to buy the Post, they couldn’t out-write it.

Elsewhere, our buddies at the Houston Press ran a feature piece on a fighter for “transgender rights” named Phyllis Randolph Frye recently. Other than wondering what those rights are, other than flipping a coin for restroom decisions, and why this has any news value at all, I was struck by one part of the article. Phyllis describes herself as a “transgender lesbian,” in short, a man who became a woman to sleep with women. Just wondering here, but isn’t there an unnecessary step in that process?

Angelica Ximenes’ signature designs

September 1, 2001 by  
Filed under Edit

Houston’s Very Own Gem

by Todd Ramos

Angelica Ximenes’ signature designs and bright gems are livening up the Houston social scene. This Latin beauty has always had a sparkle in her eye for designing, from architecture to jewelry. Angelica cultivated her skills at the well-known Glassell School of Arts. This is where she was nurtured and encouraged by teacher Sandra Zilker. Angelica continued her education at the Gemological Institute of America, where she received her degree as a gemologist. Within the industry, Rene LaLique and Jean Schlumberger were designers that she admired most.

Angelica travels all over from Colombia to New York to Brazil for her precious natural gems. These unique pieces are so beautiful, exotic and elegant that every woman simply must have one. Ladies, if you love exquisite accessories, you must visit her boutique. Angelica customizes her jewelry for her clientele. Each piece is designed specifically with each client in mind. She designs bracelets, rings, pendants, earrings, broaches and many other beautiful pieces. Currently, she makes interchangeable jewelry, meaning, for example, that a pendant also can be worn as a broach. She uses only natural gems in her work, and you can tell that these are one-of-a-kind pieces with the finest quality and worth every cent. These are gems that will be passed on from generation to generation.

Californians were the first to enjoy Angelica’s talented designs. Her very first customers were the infamous Playboy magazine playmate sisters Sharon and Shannon Tweed. She has designed for Denise Quinones, Ms. Puerto Rico 2000 and reigning Ms. Universe. Other celebrity customers include: Linda Hamilton, Cher, Jon Bon Jovi, Richie Sambora, Olivia Newton-John, Demi Moore, Jane Seymour, Stevie Nicks and Sara Fleetwood. In 1994, Angelica decided to return home to Houston where her family lives. Since her return, Houston society – from the ASIA Society, Rain Forest Foundation, Houston Grand Opera, Carolyn Farb, Marilyn Chambers, Ann Chow, Kristy Benson and Cindi Rose – has discovered the gems of Angelica. “Angelica is a creative muse whose beautiful and innovative designs enhance each individuals own unique aura. Her jewelry reflects her inner beauty and spirit,” says Farb.

Her designs can be seen through trunk shows at Neiman Marcus at the Galleria and Town & Country, Venetto Collections in Uptown Park and Finishing Touch inside the Salon on Post Oak. Angelica’s designs will be available to view at a Neiman Marcus trunk show Sept. 5-6. You can visit her Web site at www.exadesigns.com.

Laura Recovery Center

September 1, 2001 by  
Filed under Edit

Where do you turn when a child is missing?

The story of the Laura Recovery Center

by Suzanne Boase

It was 9:15 a.m. on a quiet Thursday in April 1997, and Bob and Gay Smither wereworried. Their 12-year-old daughter, Laura, had gone for a run but hadn’t returned. Gay had just finished cooking Laura’s favorite breakfast – pancakes – and the couple knew Laura wouldn’t chance missing out on them.

“Knowing Laura, she would not be 10 minutes late. If she said she would be back, she would be,” says Bob.

The morning run alone was unusual. Laura, an avid ballerina, had just started reading a book on fitness and had decided running would boost her strength and stamina. Bob and Gay had felt very safe in allowing Laura to run alone in their quiet community of Friendswood, but now they were getting scared. Bob went out to search for Laura. After finding no sign of her, the family called the police and began combing the neighborhood.

“We knew. We knew something serious was wrong,” says Gay. Bob and Gay relive the most traumatic time of their lives as they sit together in a recovery center named for their daughter – a center founded to prevent other parents from experiencing the agony they endured that April four years ago.

The Friendswood police had called the news media asking their help in locating Laura, hoping the coverage would bring in some speedy leads. Laura was a straight-A student, shy and very close to her family. Authorities felt it had to be an abduction.

The news spread quickly in Friendswood and throughout Houston, and thousands of people responded, volunteering to help search for Laura as police continued to investigate. A remarkably organized command center, which would come to be known as the Laura Recovery Center, sprang into action, staffed by civilian volunteers, many of whom had never met the Smithers. But after a three-week search, checking neighborhoods, fields and bayous by foot, four-wheeler and even horseback, there came devastating news. Laura’s body had been found in a Pasadena retention pond. No one has ever been charged for her murder.

“I may never know, but I assume that she was literally grabbed,” says Bob, “grabbed off the street.”

“And fought tooth and nail to get away,” adds Gay.

“I assume she was probably dead five minutes after he grabbed her because she would have just gone ballistic. And I imagine that was his answer to somebody screaming,” says Bob.

Many families would have crumbled and disappeared into the landscape to grieve, but not the Smithers. Bob and Gay, along with a small core of committed volunteers and one full-time executive director, run the Laura Recovery Center Foundation, or LRCF. They work countless hours, sometimes all night, in a small office surrounded by books, phones and fliers. The faces of missing children, including Laura, stare down from the walls. The goal: preventing child abductions in the first place, and if the worst happens, helping to recover the missing child.

“Every child is worth that,” says Gay. “Every child deserves to be searched for.”

But the LRCF nearly didn?t happen. Immediately after Laura?s body was found, Bob and Gay retreated into a world of grief, anger and denial, trying simply to help themselves and their son David survive a nightmare. At the same time, the core group of volunteers began gathering to discuss and to try to deal with the tragic events surrounding Laura’s abduction and murder. They started to write a manual, information about how to mobilize a quick response when a child is abducted. It wasn’t long before Bob and Gay joined them. Then in August 1997, someone knocked at their door early on a Sunday with news of another kidnapping, that of 17-year-old Jessica Cain of Tiki Island.

“One of her neighbors was on our doorstep asking for help,” says Gay. “In that moment, in our brokenness, we knew that we’d learned things between April and August – what had been done right, and what had been done wrong. Here was the first call for help.”

Within a few hours, hundreds of volunteers, many of them the same people who had searched for Laura, gathered to search for Jessica. But to this date, she has not been found. Soon after, another missing child. And then another. In early 1998, the LRCF was born.

“Everyone reinvents the wheel every time this happens,” says Bob. “We can do better. The manual is a big step in that direction. We can suggest to people how they can get organized quickly – suggest they do it ahead of time.”

“Just like its really hard to rob a bank now, it’s really easy to abduct a child,” says Gay. “We have to make it where it’s just as hard to abduct a child as it is to rob a bank. That’s where our priorities should be.”

As many as 1.3 million children are reported missing in the United States every year, according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. That’s one every 40 seconds. Many are runaways, but one in every three cases is a stranger or family abduction. And Gay says the statistics show that girls between 11 and 17 are the most vulnerable. “I thought at almost 13, Laura was at an age that I could let her go down our street without us. And I couldn’t have been more wrong. And I will live to regret that every hour of every day of every week for the rest of my life.”

The LRCF is revolutionizing the way missing child cases are handled. The staff responds to dozens of cases every year, helping organize searches, printing fliers and providing support for the families. It has developed a concept called the triangle of trust to educate law enforcement, families and the community on how to effectively work together to recover missing children. The most critical factor: Time.

“We’ve found that you have three to six hours for a safe recovery if it’s a stranger abduction before it turns into a murder,” says Gay. “There are certain things that need to be done. If they’re not done, you can never make up that time, and you’ll be recovering a body. But if things are done and done well, the chances go up greatly. Not every child will be recovered alive, but some will. And if one child is recovered alive, that effort is worth it.”

Besides conducting searches, LRCF volunteers distribute the organization’s manual to area police departments, governments and anyone else who wants it, describing how to prepare for and respond to child abductions. They also educate families. They’ve conducted hundreds of seminars to thousands of school children, educating them about the “lures” a predator uses to entice kids, and have distributed numerous “Child ID” kits. Parents are taught that an abduction can happen to any family in any community at any time, and they are given information to protect their children. The most important tips: Always know where your children are, and never allow them to roam alone.

The Center also has begun teaching classes at area police academies and recently received TCLEOSE (Texas Commission on Law Enforcement Officers Standards and Education) certification for the course.

“What the center is doing is helping train the police from the civilian perspective as to what police need to do and do fast and right the first time,” says Bob Walcutt, LRCF executive director who helped search for Laura and was hired last year as the center’s first full-time employee.

Gay says many smaller police departments rarely deal with child abductions and don’t have procedures in place to respond quickly. “If you don’t have the policies and procedures in your police department, every time it happens, you’re going to be reliving what we lived.”

Bob and Gay hope to make future searches easier with a mobile command center – an RV outfitted with office equipment so they can drive to where a child has disappeared, start printing fliers and searching. Unfortunately, the funding has not yet come through. Adding to the financial challenges, the LRCF has had to leave its rent-free headquarters and move to a new rented location in Friendswood.

“April 1997 was the worst time in our life,” says Bob. “It was unimaginable, but it was also the only time that I’ve seen the face of God right here in this community and what (the people) did for Laura. it’s just amazing.

“There isn’t a moment I don’t think about her,” he says. “Getting over something like this, I don’t see it happening. She’s in my mind all the time.”

Every time the phone rings at the LRCF, Bob and Gay flash back to the frantic search for a daughter who would not be coming home.

“We were trying to rescue Laura. We’re still trying to rescue Laura,” says Gay. “We know now that’s not going to happen, but there are kids out there who can be rescued.”

The 10 o’clock news

September 1, 2001 by  
Filed under Blogs, Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

Ah, yes, the 10 o’clock news on our local television stations. Lots of bodies under bed sheets. If it bleeds, it leads. Nightly we view a staple of mayhem, murder and anguished next-of-kin, yellow police tape and rotating red lights. No wonder most Houstonians think violent crime is far worse than it actually is.

We like to blame the media for most of our self-inflicted problems, but in this case, our gripe is right – we are being misled and underserved, specifically by the local 10 o’clock news. For so many Houstonians, that is the only TV news we get because the evening networks’ news broadcasts, which are wonderful reports on international crime with more colorful bed sheets, go on the air in Houston at 5:30 p.m. when many of us are still at work or driving home. If you don’t believe me, look at any Houston freeway at that time. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

But what do we get at 10 p.m.? Mostly just local news, and it’s mostly bloody.

(Channel 39, the WB network’s 9 p.m. news, is an exception.) Crime, along with the occasional car wreck and silly fluff, are what our stations consider important. But note the lead item on your 10 o’clock news, and then see where it appears in the morning newspaper – if it appears at all – because the story is usually insignificant.

Meanwhile, the shenanigans at City Hall usually go untold because, “This just in – there has been a wreck, yes, a wreck on the West Loop.” For analyses, they go to the man-on-the-street interviews and quick polls, which are a waste of our time. ” – while 45 percent don’t know and 55 percent don’t care.”

In addition, some outside consultant came up with the idea of “happy talk” among the anchors.

“Is that a new tie?”
“Yes, my wife gave it to me.”
“Thanks. We’ll be back with late word on the White House bombing, but first, is your oven cleaner a killer?”

For this sorry mess we cannot blame the anchors or reporters. They read what they are told to read, even though some actually are competent video journalists who could even cut it as newspaper reporters. We might like to blame the news directors whose journalistic experiences often are more along the lines of P.T. Barnum than Edward R. Murrow or blame the station managers who simply want to keep their jobs and know that career security is totally dependent on ratings.

This brings us to the real culprit – the lowest common denominator, which is much of Houston. And just who are these people? TV stations constantly check their viewers’ tastes. Few business enterprises try so hard to be attuned to their customers. What these viewers say they want are “in-depth, penetrating reports on significant events.”

Total hypocrisy and Bevo chips.

I’ll give you an example. In Chicago the CBS affiliate, WBBM-TV, decided it could improve its last-place ratings by switching from the usual cops-and-body-bags clips to a serious presentation of the news given by a lone anchor. The TV world watched to see what would happen, for this could be the wave of the future. Guess what? Ratings dropped 20 percent, and within nine months the station was back to “news lite.”

While it would be easy to say that the 10 o’clock news is all blood and fluff, that’s not true. Some stations are getting better. Sports and weather are well done. The consumers’ helpers do a lot of good, and just because you have never been screwed personally by a used car salesman or door-to-door aluminum siding scam artist, rest assured that the presence of these TV crusaders keeps a lot of snake oil salesmen relatively honest and the restaurants you frequent probably much cleaner. But can’t at least one station pander to serious news?

H.L. Mencken wrote, “No one ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American public.” In Houston, it?s paying off mightily. “Meanwhile, in Channelview, the body of Snookums, a pet hampster -.”

“I really like that tie.” ih