Friday, July 12, 2013

Hot Fogger Politics With a Twist of Texas

Is it hot where you are?

Or, should I say:  "izzit hot whar yore at?"

Summertime has definitely arrived here in north Texas, with the past two days seeing the mercury boil up past 100 degrees, and the breeze making you wonder if you're standin' behind a jet engine.  In this heat, who wants to sit down and read through a whole long essay about something I have to say on one big ol' topic?

I sure don't.

So, here are some short, breezy synopses of some headlines in the news that will hopefully be more refreshing - or at least, cooler - than an afternoon breeze in a Texas July.

First up is that stupendous explosion of the fertilizer-processing facility in the little town of West, just down the road apiece from us here in the Fort-Worth Dallas Metroplex.  Governor Rick Perry had sent a request to FEMA for government aid to help rebuild the town, but was turned down by the Obama administration, which figures the Lone Star State oughta have enough reserves someplace to pay the relatively paltry $17.5 million bill.

Today, a coalition of both Democratic and Republican representatives from Texas appealed FEMA's decision, pointing out that the West school district alone is about to get hit with a $55 million tab for rebuilding at least two campuses that were near the blast site.

But there's a bit of irony here, and it's twofold.  First, Perry has made a name for himself as a Tenth Amendment, states-rights firebrand, so having him mosey'n on up to DC with his hand out to the Feds seems a mite hypocritical, don't it?  'Specially for a paltry eighteen mil.  Shucks, he's just spent $12 million in taxpayer-funded incentives to convince oil giant Chevron to build another office tower in Houston for its corporate expansion, and despite that, the company is still keeping its headquarters in California.

Perry, already the longest-serving governor in our state's history, announced recently that he is not seeking another term as governor, which has prompted pundits to speculate on his likely run for another shot at being US President.  Now, Perry's two-stepping may be how politics is done here in Texas, and is likely a wimpy version of what they do up there in DC, but he's sure giving the media a lot to work with in the meantime.

And speaking of politics, did you hear that Eliot Spitzer, the disgraced former governor of New York State, stunned his detractors by collecting over 27,000 signatures to get on the primary ballot for New York City Comptroller yesterday?  He only needed 3,750, which proves that New Yorkers are suckers for people desperate for second chances. 

Of course, none of those 27,000 signatories have committed to actually voting for Spitzer, either in the primary, or the general election.  But they've officially gotten him into the game, which in terms of validation for a guy who resigned after being caught hiring prostitutes in DC, makes the race for an otherwise bland, accounting-type finance position suddenly a lot more interesting.  And at least one poll already has Spitzer ahead of the man who'd be his main rival, Scott Stringer.  So, do New Yorkers really trust somebody like Spitzer with their money?  Or with Antony Weiner, another porno politician on the redemption trail and already in the lead for Mayor, can the sleaze factor alone keep voters engaged until this fall?

You know the Yankee media up there is sure hoping so.  Here in Texas, it's the weather that gets hot.  In the Big Apple, all it takes is a couple TV stations, a tabloid, and some neighborhood blogs to make things sizzle.  Having something to actually sizzle over only makes it hotter.

But let's leave politics now, and staying in wonderful New York City, consider the freaky explosion that rocked an old five-story walk-up in Chinatown Thursday afternoon.  Nine people were injured, and 61 people have registered with the city's emergency services as being newly-homeless from the blast.

Now, let's crunch some numbers here.  This was a five-story building - well, I'm using the past-tense, because even though the entire structure did not collapse, it's been practically condemned due to extensive structural damage.  So, OK:  five floors, four of which were residential, with the ground floor being commercial.  Four floors of apartments, of which the building's owner, a New Jersey woman, says there were 18.  So, three or four apartments on every residential floor.  Not big, by New York standards.

But 61 residents?  In 18 apartments?  That's less than four people per apartment, which might be a normal number for suburban houses, but in New York City, where singles are the predominant resident, almost four people living in every apartment in the building is a lot.  Quite atypical.  And these 61 people are just the ones that have come forward as having noplace to live for the moment.  There may be others who have friends or relatives they can stay with.  And frankly, this being Chinatown, and the fact of the matter being that illegal immigrants can thrive their entire lives in the squalid tenements there, these 61 people likely represent the only residents whose legal status allows them to register their identity with a city agency.

Which begs the question:  how did all of these people fit into this building?

The answer, according to the Fire Department, is illegal partitions, followed by illegally installed plumbing, and illegally installed gas lines.  In other words, the building was a rat's warren of subdivided apartments, some of them likely no smaller than closets, with gerry-rigged utilities that put whomever lived there in great physical danger.

And what triggered the explosion in the first place?  Apparently, it was the detonation of ludicrous numbers of bug bombs.  You know:  the ordinarily harmless household extermination devices.  Turns out, one of the residents put out 24 of them - yes, 24, lined up against a load-bearing wall - to try and kill some bugs.  In the process of those 24 foggers detonating themselves, at least one of them, or maybe the combined chemical contagion from all 24 foggers, appears to have been ignited by a pilot light.  You can figure out the rest.

I've lived in a crummy Manhattan walk-up and I know how frustrating mice, roaches, and rats can be.  However, I can't say I was ever inspired to try and blow up a load-bearing wall in my apartment building with a job lot of foggers.

Hopefully everybody who got hurt will recover.  And the building's owners, who've been cited before for running their building so poorly, will finally understand the difference between renting real estate for revenue and being a slumlord.

Actually, there's probably some irony between being so desperate to get rid of creepy critters and having both Spitzer and Weiner running for office in the same city.  Does it tie with the irony here in Texas with funding West's recovery and Perry's boot-scooting?

Shucks, y'all:  it's Friday.  Or, as we say here in Texas, "frah-dae."  Getchaself a tall iced tea and wait for the breeze.

Any breeze.

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