By Chris Lane
By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
But a group of parents and students at Westside High School had high hopes that reality TV would be their ticket to the big time, or at least Japan.
Thanks to some publicity in People magazine, the school's Inertia dance team attracted the attention of television producer Dennis Gelbaum. He proposed doing a show on the team, a show that would have funded trips to Japan for a competition and to New York and L.A. for meetings with choreographers like Twyla Tharp. (We're not sure if Tharp herself was quite aware of this plan.)
"Westside High, the dramatic reality show, would have helped elevate, in a positive way, the profile of Westside High, the teachers, the students, HISD, etc.," Gelbaum wrote in an e-mail to parents.
Sounds great. And if you can't trust a TV producer, who can you trust?
Unfortunately, the district doesn't see it that way. "The educators here are concerned about the extreme disruption to the academic work at Westside that would be caused by a reality show shooting inside classrooms for months," HISD spokesman Terry Abbott says.
Gelbaum related a slightly different reason to parents. One of the "main reasons for 'killing' the project as they were told to me was that the state of HISD was very fragile at the moment and this was not a good time to approve this type of (potentially negative and disruptive) venture," he wrote.
Parents are still fighting to keep the project alive, but are glum. "If there's no TV show, there's no Japan trip," says parent Dawn Marks.
Shoot. And now we're guessing that whole Student Wife Swap show is dead, too.
Was it Microsoft run amok, or was the Houston Chronicle getting all subliminal with its hatred of George Bush's foreign policy?
We don't know. All we know is that the lead editorial October 12, on the recent Afghanistan elections, contained this sentence: "Exit polling and international observers predicted that Interim President Hamid Crazy would win election with more than 51 percent of the vote."
Well, sure he's a winner -- he's got a great '80s-nostalgia theme song, from the Fine Young Cannibals: "He's Ha-mid Crazy -- whoop, whoop "
Critics have called Mayor Bill White's unusual plan to let developers hire their own building inspectors a sop to influential home builders, but those carpers have missed the point.
White's plan is opening new vistas for the city, allowing it to get into untapped markets that have been ignored until now. Like money laundering.
It turns out that it is -- not to put too fine a point on it -- utterly illegal for a builder to hire his own personal inspector. The Texas State Board of Plumbing Examiners mentioned this fact when Fort Worth tried a scheme similar to White's in 1998; then-attorney general John Cornyn agreed with the board. The law clearly stated that inspectors had to be employees of a political subdivision and not an independent contractor.
Home builders, ever eager to participate in the political process, got that law amended the next time the legislature met, so now they're allowed to contract out their inspecting work. "As long as the city pays the inspector directly, it's okay," says Robert Maxwell of the plumbing board.
So that means Houston, like Fort Worth, will get into the money-laundering game. Home builders will not pay inspectors directly, because Lord knows that might lead to some conflicts of interest, or attempts to force inspectors to ignore some delicate corner-cutting. And that would be wrong.
Instead, the home builder will write a check to the city, and the city will then write a check to the inspector. Therefore all possible problems are solved. Apparently.
Don't think for a second, though, that the city is not going to be oh-so-tough with these guys. White's plan calls for city employees to double-check up to 10 percent of inspections. Private inspectors who get caught missing more than a dozen "non-life-threatening" building violations will lose their certificates. Allowing more than two life-threatening errors results in the same penalty. Assuming, of course, they get caught.
So the first two deaths are on the house! (So to speak.) Home builders and developers everywhere are trembling, but we can't tell if it's from fear or just a severe case of derisive laughter.
Our roster of Houston's Unfortunately Named Companies has grown by one: BJ Services. A company that, according to its Web site, offers "pressure pumping" and "stimulation" and "coiled tubing services." Not to mention "downhole tool services."
Alas, we could not resist making the call:
Receptionist: BJ Services.
Hair Balls: I'm calling about a BJ.
Receptionist: You're calling in reference to what?
HB: I was just on your Web site and noticed you offer pressure pumping and stimulation. What's the price for that?
Receptionist: One moment for sales.
Sales: Good morning, BJ Services.
HB: I'm calling about a BJ. I notice you guys have pressure pumping and stimulation. What's the price on that?