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The Dallas Morning News Again Tackles the Root of All Evil: Car Washes

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Today on The Dallas Morning News op-ed page we find a piece by Ethnic Tidying Kompaniechef Tod Robberson demanding that the Bulldozers of Compassion take down a car wash in southern Dallas, putting some poor son of a bitch out of business. And that would be why?

The business needs to be destroyed, Robberson reports, because there's a lot of crime and drug traffic going on around it. He reports: "Expand a search of police files by a mere half-block radius, and you'll find 542 separate crimes since 2005 involving a wide assortment of assaults, adult rape, child rape, robbery and drug activity. One report, from two weeks ago, involved unspecified child endangerment and drugs."

Wait, do what? You say expand the search by a half-block radius and you'll find all this terrible crap going on? Well, yeah. Doesn't that mean the whole area is a crack-whore, crime-ridden nightmare?

So, tell me again: You think people become crack whores, crack heads, crack dealers, killers and child-rapists because of car washes?

Robberson goes on about how the owner of the self-serve car wash isn't on-site all the time like owners of nearby stores and other businesses. Well, you know, no shit, Sherlock. That's kind of assumed in the whole concept of a self-serve car wash, is it not? Does Robberson want to see a self-serve car wash where the owner is standing out on the curb with a gun telling bad-looking people they can't wash their cars there?

And by the way, what have the shop-owners who are at their places of business all day been able to accomplish in the war on zombies? Doesn't sound like much. If we feed the car wash to the Bulldozers of Compassion, will the bulldozers be satisfied? When the miserable conditions persist, won't the 'dozers want to eat all the other businesses too?

What Robberson wants is no self-serve car-wash, right here, right now, because The News says so. He's running out of patience: "After 51 straight months of our listing it as a trouble spot, isn't someone, somewhere out there getting the message?"

What message? His message is clear. Just make it go away, rub it out. It offends the eye of The Dallas Morning News editorial board.

The Morning News, in its "Ten Holes in the Bucket" editorial campaign to pretty-up the ghetto, has taken the "Broken Windows" theory of crime and turned it on its head to justify old-fashioned slum-clearance.

Broken Windows was the name of an article in The Atlantic published in 1982 expounding the views of two academics, George L. Kelling and James Q. Wilson. They said taking care of small things in a neighborhood -- a kind of zero tolerance for minor offenses -- creates an atmosphere that is inhospitable to criminals. The bad guys just don't like it, so they go away.

It's sort of like playing classical music on the public address. system outside the downtown McDonald's to drive off the homeless. That actually works, and Kelling and Wilson summoned solid research and scientific findings to buttress their theory.

But like any good theory, you can take it to extremes. It works in neighborhoods that still have a tipping point. The area Robberson is talking about won't have a tipping point until somebody does something about the hordes of crack-addicted zombies who infest it.

The zombies are not the fault of the car wash owner. Blaming a guy who's just trying to do business at the low end of the market traipses dangerously close to a long tradition of guilt by association and paranoid scapegoating in Dallas. One is reminded of the dearly held belief still current in a lot of South Dallas that poverty, crappy housing and alcohol addiction are the inventions of Jewish landlords and liquor-store owners.

Oh, sorry, I'm behind the times. I should have said Korean landlords and store-owners. The point is, it's always somebody. But it never seems to be the drunks, the layabouts, the whores, the thieves or the crack-heads themselves.

If we expand our search of southern Dallas way bigger than the half a block around the car wash and look at it as a whole, we see that poor black people in Southern Dallas have been figuring out this problem and coming up with their own brilliant solution for decades. They're moving out. And they're moving up. In a phenomenon the News' headline writers once denigrated as "black flight," tough, smart, determined, upwardly mobile black families have been doing exactly what white immigrants always did in this country as fast as they could -- moving the hell out of the ghetto.

For a family with kids, a young person with ambition, somebody who has overcome a dependency problem, that's what you do. The best thing to happen to southern Dallas is depopulation.

The thing I hate about The News's Ten Holes campaign is that it never touches the fundamental underlying issues of the self-destructive moral culture that produces the situation Robberson describes. It's not the car washes. It's the morality, stupid.

New York Times columnist David Brooks has a column on the op-ed page of today's Times that is at least tangentially relevant. He says, "As the Victorians understood (and the folks at Alcoholics Anonymous understand), if you want to change your life, don't just look for a clever trigger. Commit to some larger global belief."

In other words, if you're a drug zombie, bulldozing the car wash is not the thing that will turn you around. It's for you to find a reason to be a different person.

In the meantime, what are we supposed to do about the process of dismal distillation going on in a few concentrated hotspots in southern Dallas, where everybody who has the personal wherewithal gets out and all you have left is the zombies?

There are many people trying to do something, mainly in the churches. Churches, after all, are in the morals business, more than government or newspapers. If you want a really stirring experience, whether you are religious or not, attend a service at one of the big African-American churches at the southern end of the county these days. You will see a wonderful army of people on the march to a better life.

But what to do about the people who don't want a better life, who only want to do crack and stay where they are? All that takes is a bit of patience. A tad. Count to 10. Then tell the lads over at the cemetery to fire up the back-hoes.

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