Hell on Earth

Who needs other cities red carpet when
Scientists tell us Mars is making its closest pass to Earth in 60,000 years. Most of America's just now finding out what Houstonians have known all along -- there's a Red Planet that's been winking at us for ages. But Space City's got something you just can't find most other places, especially when it comes to searching the heavens for colored orbs. The Bayou City's been blessed with Special Mars Observation Glaze (known locally as SMOG) that can keep that planet gleaming with the prettiest scarlet this side of Tara. In fact, at its best, this area asset can make anything -- sun, moon, stars or security lights, or even just your eyes -- look red as well.

Thanks to the EPA's regular SMOG alerts, we never miss out on the best viewing times. So visit Houston's Oh!zone for a day, or stay a lifetime.* You'll never feel closer to Mars. -- George Flynn

For the love of Christ, does Houston really need to jump on the religious-courthouses bandwagon?

Few things in life are more tedious than cable-network shoutfests over such things as displaying the Ten Commandments in a public building. The smug self-righteousness on both sides -- coupled with the take-no-prisoners ferocity over whether removing a Jesus-in-the-manger Christmas display represents upholding the original intent of the founding fathers or yet another step to a terrible Judgment Day -- would test the patience of Buddha, Allah or Jesus His Own Self.

But CNN and Fox News devoted hours and hours of coverage to the brouhaha in Alabama. Appalled at all the publicity going elsewhere, local ACLU lawyer Randall Kallinen is fighting to get a Bible display removed from in front of the Harris County Civil Courthouse. Shocked that such a thing might happen without the chance to be seen ostentatiously praying on television, local religious groups have protested.

Instead of Marx's "first time as tragedy, second time as farce," this utterly predictable localizing of the story is First Time As Farce, Second Time As Should-Be-Ignored Stunt.

The small pedestal holding a glass-encased Bible has been in front of the courthouse for almost 50 years. Prior to now, the only time it's received any attention whatsoever is when someone puts a Coke on it.

"My client feels it's a very serious matter," Kallinen says. "It's another example of people being hostile to non-Christians."

Oy. Let's pray this ginned-up controversy goes away, so the cable networks can return to covering the really important issues of the day, like the Laci Peterson case. -- Richard Connelly

Kids Say the Darnedest Things

Hair Balls couldn't hear exactly what a Pasadena ISD teacher told her fifth-graders last year when she gave the class an assignment to write to Austin about proposed education cuts. The letters, however, help out some. Their plaintive pleadings range from the very ten-year-old-like ("keep P.E., it's fun" and "better lunches") to the suspiciously mature and concrete ("If a teacher is sick for more than twenty days then they can get fired. What if they have cancer, pneumonia, or a heart attack?" and "The teachers need there [sic] health insurance.")

What allegedly led to teacher Vicki Williams's forced resignation was the letters' personal attacks on state Representative Kent Grusendorf of Arlington, chair of the House committee on public education, and references to his deceased son, a suicide victim years ago. ("Just because of what happened to your son it doesn't mean you have to punish us." "My first question is why are you doing all of this is it for revenge or is it for torcher [sic]…")

Williams's attorney, Kevin Lungwitz, did not say whether class warfare could have played a role in the ouster. ("Kent Grusendorf wants to kick out public schools and make parents pay to send their kids to private schools," one letter said. "That means the rich people get an education and the poor people won't get an education.") But as Lungwitz noted, "When the most powerful man in education in Texas gets the ball rolling with respect to a teacher, everybody feels a need to fall in line." -- Michael Serazio

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