By Chris Lane
By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
Like -- you might be surprised to learn -- the Bolivar ferry.
The ferry goes from Galveston to the desolate mudflats of Bolivar Peninsula, passing nary a terrorist target along the way. (Unless the dolphins who sometimes frolic alongside it are armed with frickin' lasers!)
It is quite possible that no living human being has ever been on the ferry and thought, even for a fleeting second, that it is a possible terrorist target.
That hasn't stopped the government.
In what looks like the classic "spend that grant money or you'll lose it" routine, officials are now randomly searching vehicles -- including the use of those mirrors that look under the chassis for car bombs.
We sent a correspondent to brave this apparent Road of Terrorist Hell. He got pulled out of the line and searched twice, both coming and going. (Obviously a mid-'90s Nissan is the Official Truck of the Jihad.) He got the mirror treatment; they searched the glove box and under the hood, but not -- terrorists, take note -- under the seats.
The searching is done by a private security firm under contract to the Texas Department of Transportation. The guards are armed, but if they see anything they think requires a ticket or an arrest, they call over a police officer.
It's safe to say that a lot of local business owners see the increased security as just one more thing that will piss off potential customers.
"Everybody on the peninsula knows it's a joke," says one, who didn't want her name used.
"Is that a bunch of crock or what?" says Russell Standridge, owner of two Bolivar surf shops. He says his mother missed a cancer-treatment appointment because the guards took almost an hour searching her car. She told them, "While you're in there, go ahead and vacuum for me," he says.
He got pulled out of line himself recently. "I wanted to step out and do a 'Heil Hitler' to them so bad," he says.
Gripe away all you want, business owners. But as of our deadline, the program had been in effect four days and no terrorist attacks had taken place.
The Houston Press Club handed out its Lone Star Awards June 3, but what was supposed to be a banner event turned into something of a farce, at least for print publications.
Several years ago the HPC boldly announced it was expanding its contest to include papers from all over the state, not just Houston. This was intended to create a little competition in categories like "Breaking News, circulation over 100,000," which was pretty much limited to the Houston Chronicle. (Although no one will forget the 2000 contest, when the Chron took second and third place -- and no one was deemed worthy of a first-place award.)
The HPC's move to open up competition has hit some snags, due to both self-inflicted wounds and the apparently prevalent attitude that the Lone Star Awards are no big deal.
Only two large newspapers entered this year: the Houston Press and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. (The Bloomberg wire service also entered.) This may not be shocking to the average reader, but you've got to understand that journalism contests are an obsession to most media outlets. Having no one enter is like taking a bag of rocks to Cracktown and hearing "No thanks, I'm good."
You know a contest is poorly run if you can't get the hometown daily to enter.
"We didn't decide not to enter it," Chron managing editor John Wilburn says. "I have a vague recollection of someone saying, 'Oh, it's the deadline for the Houston Press Club,' and it was a busy day and we went, 'Oh, let's think about it later,' and it got away."
HPC president Debra Fraser -- who admittedly has a thankless job -- blames a computer glitch. Software that was supposed to send out reminders to potential entrants didn't work. "We just need to be more thorough with it next year," she says.
That wasn't the only mess-up. The judges who were evaluating entries for the papers with less than 100,000 circulation didn't give the HPC the results until shortly before the banquet, meaning finalists couldn't be notified. One award to the Press had the winner's name misspelled; another was simply lost and can't be found.
"Such is the case when you deal with volunteer organizations," Fraser says. "Everything works in mysterious ways."
Or doesn't work much at all, sometimes.
The Gods Have Spoken
The Gods Have Spoken
We don't really want to keep writing about the bottled-water situation at Houston Dynamo games, but duty compels us.
As their season opened at the non-air-conditioned Robertson Stadium on the University of Houston campus, the team announced that fans would be free to bring in a bottle or two of water to fight the heat.
Which made it a bit disconcerting when security guards started confiscating bottles at the entrance gates once the season began.