The Port of Houston, those folks who bring you splashy commercials telling you how wonderful they are -- because that's something you need to know, apparently -- are really crowing about themselves now.
They've just spent more than $120,000 on publishing 15,000 copies of their annual report, titled "Simply the Best."
The two-volume report comes in a custom-made envelope featuring, as does one of the two books within, a die-cut of the numeral one. In case that wasn't subtle enough, the intro says, "We at the Port of Houston were driven by that urge [for excellence] in 2005. We excelled on so many fronts that it is nearly impossible to isolate a single achievement as the standard bearer for success."
Port of Houston
Revenues are up, tonnage is up, everything is up, up, up in the world of the Port of Houston authority.
Still, the annual report doesn't cover everything.
For instance, that same intro mentions that "Commissioner Janiece Longoria and former commissioner Cheryl Thompson-Draper worked tirelessly to promote business contact opportunities for small firms throughout Houston."
It doesn't mention, though, that Thompson-Draper resigned her position after the board chairman announced she had referred to a black band playing at a May 2005 event as providing "jungle bunny music." (She denied making the slur, but others said they heard it as well.)
Also unmentioned in the orgy of self-congratulation: Hurricane Katrina. You'd think that an event that crippled the Port of New Orleans for months would have had some effect on Houston statistics, but you'd be wrong.
Chris Bonura, spokesman for the Port of New Orleans, says he knows ships that had been headed his way were diverted to other places after Katrina. But no one kept track of where. "We kind of had other issues to deal with than to find out who was getting the benefit of that," he says.
The Port of Houston also didn't keep track of whether any of its newfound business was New Orleans-related, says spokeswoman Felicia Griffin. But any such impact would have been "minimal," she says, saying only "a negligible amount of cargo" was diverted (but not tracked).
The two ports do tend to get different business, so the Port's great year is likely due to factors beyond Katrina. Still, you have to admire the way a Gulf-based business can produce any type of summary of the year 2005 and somehow not mention Hurricane Katrina.
Maybe they should have titled the report "Not Our Problem."
Help a Bruddah Out
The last we heard of presidential brother Neil Bush, apart from the local society pages, was when his mother, Barbara, opened up her pocketbook (and her heart!) by donating to Katrina victims.
Babs demanded that her donation be used to purchase programs from Neil's educational-software company Ignite! because she knew if there was one thing Katrina evacuees needed at that time in their lives, it was educational software.
Neil's company couldn't donate the stuff directly, Mrs. Bush said at the ceremony where the gift was announced, because "they're a little, small company." A little, small company that gets much of its financing, according to press reports, from small businessmen like Arab oil magnates and a Russian tycoon.
Ignite!'s software -- it's kind of like Schoolhouse Rock -- isn't exactly setting the educational world on fire (see "History for Dummies," February 26, 2004), but Houston has always been there to help. The school district at first balked at spending $230,000 for the software in 2003, but the Bush Rolodex of friends raised half the money and donated it to HISD.
Such charity is apparently a thing of the past.
Buried deep in the school board agenda on August 10 was an item calling for an approval to purchase $200,000 in Ignite! programs. No private donations this time, just a disbursement from what the agenda identified as "various school budgets." It passed.
"Schools are very pleased with the product," says HISD spokesman Terry Abbott.
And Neil, no doubt, is very pleased with HISD.
News of the Beard
Traveler's alert: Stay out of Jasper. And this time, the warning does not apply only to African-Americans not wishing to be dragged behind pickup trucks driven by rednecks.
No, this time Jasper is apparently in the midst of a crime wave fomented by what the Beaumont Enterprise has described as "gun-slinging females, some sporting fake beards." (In that section of the deep Piney Woods, one sometimes needs to point out that a female's beard is fake.)
A woman wearing sunglasses, a cowboy hat and "fake facial hair" robbed a gas station of $3,500 to start the spree in May. ("She was trying to look like a man," one detective astutely told the Enterprise.) Since then, two other similar robberies have occurred, the paper reported.
We decided to get to the bottom of this by calling Jasper police chief Todd Hunter. He ducked our calls for a while, which we thought odd. But when we finally did reach him, we understood just what paralyzing pressure he must be under.
He could not comment on the case, he told Hair Balls, because "it has inspired copycats" in the area.
So if you're in Jasper, don't walk around feeling safe just because you're white. That hairy guy over there with the oddly nice ass? Don't be afraid because he's awakening latent bisexual urges in you; be afraid because she's about to rob your hide.
Travis Leitko was a star defensive lineman at The Woodlands High School and landed a scholarship to Notre Dame in 2002. Things looked pretty damn bright, but first he ran into some trouble with grades (part of the cost of going to ND instead of, say, Oklahoma), and then things got really bad.
Both his mother and father were diagnosed with cancer. Leitko quit school and came home to take care of his parents, watching on TV in frustration as the Irish enjoyed a huge resurgence under new coach Charlie Weis.
Instead of pretty damn bright, it was pretty damn bleak. Both his parents underwent tough surgeries and almost died, his dad from prostate cancer and blood clots in the lungs, his mom from cervical cancer.
But now things are looking up for Leitko, in a big way. His parents have recovered. He's back in school, his grade problems having been diagnosed as stemming from a form of attention deficit disorder. And this week it became obvious that he has captured the eye of the demanding Weis and will likely be back contributing on the field.
Weis's post-practice press conferences are posted on the Web, and he went out of his way August 7 to praise Leitko.
"The one guy who actually stood out to me at practice was Travis Leitko," Weis told reporters. "Now he's like 15-20 pounds bigger...Because of his size he'll be a much more formidable defender inside than he was when he was here before."
Leitko will likely end up winning back the full scholarship he had. "The university said they would take him back, and I said ÔOK, you take care of your summer stuff,'" Weis says. "He needed to take two classes and get good grades and he got two A's. I told him if he did that, I'd let him walk on and earn a scholarship before school started. He's well on his way. The jury's still out -- I'm not awarding him one after one or two practices -- but he's moving a step closer every day."
The best part for Leitko? He told a local Indiana paper this week that his parents will be healthy enough to attend all the games in South Bend.
What a Wonderful World This Would Be
Metro is going around town conducting public hearings on the proposed new expansion of the light-rail system. Mostly this has involved explaining to angry residents why the system they voted for three years ago looks nothing like the system being proposed today.
Metro's new slogan seems to be "Hey, we never said we wouldn't put a train in your front yard."
As a way of "educating" residents, the public hearings -- and Metro's Web site -- include the usual utopian artist's sketches of what the new system will look like. And it does look great, especially if you look really close.
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