It's Art!

Seller's Market: Check out our chart comparing this season's two high-ticket items, the PlayStation 3 and Carlos Lee. Click Here.

The fall semester is over, and UH art student Joel Bender can breathe easy. Apparently he will get credit, and not jail time, for his latest installation.

Bender is an artist, so communicating directly with him is not necessarily an easy thing to do. So details are somewhat vague.

But this fall he decided to produce a -- what? An objet d'art, we guess -- that included some fake bombs. Call it a searing indictment of American foreign policy, call it a desperate cry for attention, call it whatever you want. The UH police department called it trouble.


Joel Bender

A UH police department officer "was conducting a building inspection of the South Park annex and saw what appeared to be three pipe bombs inside one of the rooms," a police statement says. "The building was evacuated and the HPD bomb squad was called out. It was determined that the 'pipe bombs' were non-working and had been constructed as part of an art project a student was working on."

The bomb squad "confiscated the art project," the statement says, with nary a word on whether its aggressive use of space served as a bitter commentary on the nihilism of the modern age.

No criminal charges were filed over the September incident, but Bender only now is breathing easy. "I haven't woken up in Guantnamo yet, so I guess it's cool," he says.

Still, it wasn't pleasant.

"After they were satisfied that I was not going to blow anything up they chewed my ass for an hour and left," he says. "Some officials with UH that I ended up talking to over this deal told me that it should never have happened in the first place, the fire marshal could have just talked to my professor, who was very aware of my activities."

After that initial communication with Hair Balls, Bender went underground, so we don't know whether he ever got his piece back from HPD, or what grade he got on it.

Or, most important of all, if his bold artistic statement had succeeded in ending violence in the world today.

Phone Home

Metro's Park & Ride lots have had their troubles with security. The transit agency formed a Task Force to study the problem at one point, so you know they're serious.

And a few weeks ago they put out a press release (another sign of a problem being taken very, very seriously) that solemnly declared: "Safety at Metro's Park & Ride lots is taking a quantum leap forward with the ongoing installation of the agency's new high-tech security system."

The "high-tech" system consists of...cameras. Which sounds high-tech for the 1840s. But that wasn't all: "The multifaceted system also features call boxes for patrons who have an emergency or who spot suspicious activities, a public address system, and entrance gates that can be closed at a moment's notice." Space-age entrance gates that can be closed!! The Computer Age has arrived!!

Sadly, not everything's going so well. Metro announced it has a new crime problem at the lots: criminals are stealing the pay phones.

Three such phones were stolen in October, and subsequent investigations revealed eight others have been taken, says Ray Wathen, a Crime Stoppers spokesman.

Wathen, at Metro's request, put out a statement that noted, "the phones are valued at $900 each, and can hold up to $200 in coins."

Gee, isn't that kind of info likely to encourage copycats?

"I know," says Wathen. "Is what you're putting out going to stimulate more business? It's hard to know sometimes. But that's [the info] they wanted us to put out."

In case you're thinking of getting into the phone-stealing business, Metro investigator Andy Lynn says the figures are a little misleading. The replacement cost to Metro is $900, but you won't get that for a hacked-away phone. And $200 is the maximum the phones will hold, not the average.

"Some of them might just have a couple of dollars," he says.

Say What?

Like all Harris County homeowners, one Hair Balls correspondent recently received a notice from county tax assessor-collector Paul Bettencourt. Unlike most of those who got the mailing, he almost had a heart attack.

"Pay this amount" a stark arrow pointed to a figure of several thousand dollars. The amount was due by January 31, and the check was to be made payable to Bettencourt.

Nowhere on the notice, not even in the teeniest fine print, was there any indication that, as with almost every homeowner out there, the bill would be paid by his or her mortgage company. There was no need to suddenly scramble to come up with an extra four figures in cash.

Is the notoriously antitax Bettencourt, who's mulling a Congressional run, trying to scare residents and let them know just how much taxes they're paying?

No, he says. The Hair Balls correspondent was simply one of a small percentage of people who received a "full bill" instead of a "duplicate bill." The duplicate bill most people get clearly states that the homeowner's mortgage company will be sending the check, not the homeowner.

Still, "tens of thousands" of Harris County homeowners got the full bill, mostly because a title company had requested a procedural change that caused the mess-up. Postcards will be sent to those who got the eye-popping notice.

"And anyone who sends me a check," Bettencourt reassures us, "will get a full refund."

He's not paying for any heart-attack treatment, though.

Seller's Market

This Christmas shopping season has seen two buying frenzies over less-than-stellar products: first, the wildly hyped PlayStation 3, second, the rather average outfielder for the Texas Rangers, and now the newest Astro, Carlos Lee. PS3 is the latest in a long line of tech products that geeks must have now; similarly, Lee became the flavor of the month in the free-agent market simply because no one very good was a free agent this year. To check out the comparisons, Click Here.

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