What He Said

Houston's new top cop may bring his own language barrier

Incoming Houston police chief Harold Hurtt brings with him a slew of good reviews from Phoenix, where he was chief for four years.

Observers there say he's smart, effective and willing to trust his lieutenants. One thing he isn't, however, is eloquent. Or even glib. Or pretty much able to formulate a sentence that makes sense much of the time.

Officers in Phoenix call it the King's English. Dealing with the tortured syntax can take some getting used to, a skill eager-beaver underlings here would be well advised to start acquiring. (For those seeking potential translators, the Phoenix PD's number is 602-262-7626.)

It's not only bureaucrats and officers who find themselves clawing their way through Hurtt's dense verbiage in desperate search of what the hell he's just said. Reporters will be groping their way to enlightenment, too.

"You just can't understand what he's saying," says Patti Epler, managing editor at Phoenix New Times, our sister paper, who's written extensively about the Phoenix police. "He says things wrong, or backward." One 60-minute interview with Hurtt on police shootings yielded exactly one usable quote -- of just five words. (Beyond the communication problems, though, Epler generally gives Hurtt good marks.)

Hurtt, who wouldn't return calls to the Houston Press, did sit for an interview with the Houston Chronicle, where he was quoted extensively, in full, coherent sentences. So maybe he's taking lessons, or maybe he was ready with sound bites.

Of course, even when he's being very clear, the new chief always reserves the right to change his mind. He told The Arizona Republic in late December that he had turned down an offer to be San Jose's police chief. "I'm going to stay here," he told the paper, which then paraphrased him as saying he planned to stay at least through the 2008 Super Bowl. (Readers, get used to reporters paraphrasing and using partial quotes.)

Two months later, he was Houston-bound. Must've been some miscommunication.

Jesus Christ, What a Pitcher

Mel Gibson's S&M epic The Passion of the Christ has opened amid a great debate over whether it's anti-Semitic, just because it shows bloodthirsty Jews eagerly demanding the torture and death of Jesus.

Jewish leaders around Houston have expressed concern that the film might encourage verbal or physical attacks on Jews or make Christians redouble their efforts to convert God's Chosen People to the glories of the New Testament.

So some of them were a little taken aback to learn that Houston Astros owner Drayton McLane had rented a theater at spring training so that players and team officials could see the movie. It was all "voluntary," of course, especially for those nonstars struggling to make the team or move up in the front office. Those folks were absolutely free to tell Uncle Drayton, "No thanks, I think your god sucks," or words to that effect.

"I'm not sure what the movie has to do with baseball," says Martin Cominsky, southwest regional director of the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith. "I worry that it not become coercive, that people are forced to see the movie, because that's one of our concerns -- that Christians will become more aggressive in proselytizing Jews."

Astros team spokesman Jimmy Stanton said the team would have "no comment" on the screening, not to mention the "Round Up a Jew for Jesus!" competition that (didn't) follow the film.

Maybe Drayton wanted to show his aging stars that even though Jesus was 33 when he was crucified, he spent only three days on the DL before returning to the lineup.

Non-Killing Fields

Want to write for Texas Parks & Wildlife magazine? Learn those euphemisms!

An online guide to prospective freelance writers includes some gems. "While dealing honestly and matter-of-factly with the fact that game is harvested, [stories] should take care to avoid emphasizing body count and killing," the guidelines read. (Let us envision the pastoral image of "harvesting," as done by a 30-30 slug to a doe's brain.)

The magazine offers specific examples as dos and don'ts:

"No: 'Among the five of us, we had 50 dead geese piled up on the ground.' Yes: 'Each of us took our limit of geese.'

"No: 'On the way to my blind, I killed a rattlesnake.' Yes: 'On the way to my blind, I was startled by a rattlesnake.'"

Michael Berryhill, TP&W's editorial director, says the magazine "tries to stay away from the killing of wildlife, certainly nongame wildlife." He continues: "We explain to potential writers that we're in the conservation business."

Still, he says he'll be rewriting the tips when he gets a chance.

Now pardon us while we pack up the shootin' iron and "startle" some pintail ducks.

No Malfunctions Here

The world has gotten the vapors ever since Janet Jackson's "wardrobe malfunction" here, with GOP moralists warning ominously about the decline of society.

Houston's next chance to be shocked apparently will come when Britney Spears hits town July 31 at the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion. The New York Times reviewed the opening show of her Onyx Hotel Tour March 4 and reported the recent divorcée (or is it annullée?) cavorted in a nude bodysuit in a see-through shower stall while "men and women in beds mimed performance sex with one another." Spears then came out in pink bra and panties and rolled around in bed with some dancers.

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