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Keeping Score

Chris Bell goes for a triple play of loserdom.

Undaunted by bad publicity, Metro light-rail trains continue to barge recklessly into cars and pedestrians. Equally undaunted, some cars and pedestrians continue to barge into the trains.

But just how many collisions have occurred? There is some dispute.

Metro's count, as of August 4, is 99. In its world, Houston is waiting breathlessly for that historic 100th crash. For a lot of Metro-crash aficionados, though, that momentous entry into triple digits is old news.

John Gaver, an IT guy who runs the conservative Webzine Action America, has kept an exacting eye on the number of Metro incidents, and he has the count at 105. No. 100, a noninjury incident at Greenbriar and OST, occurred July 19.

Why the discrepancy? Gaver says everything on his list is backed up by a media story or a Metro summary report. He started the list as a joke, when there had been just a few crashes, showing a clicker that counted along the number of incidents. For grins, he put room for three digits on the clicker.

"I'm totally flabbergasted it's gotten to the point where we're using that third digit and the public is not up in arms about it," he says.

Metro spokesman Ken Connaughton says his agency's count of 99 includes only incidents where police have been called out, which would include any collision between a train and either a car or a pedestrian. Gaver's count includes "minor derailments in rail yards," Connaughton says, which affect nobody but must be reported to federal authorities. Those incidents then end up on the Metro summary reports Gaver uses.

Is it a big deal? For some people, yes. Gaver says his Metro-crash site got 50,000 hits in July as the magic 100 approached.

Why? Betting pools. "I had people calling to say they were in pools that had grown over $1,000, picking the day of the 100th crash," Gaver says. Some pools got so busy as the total hit the upper 90s that organizers made participants pick the morning or the afternoon of the given day.

So, with Metro's count still at 99, how big is the pool getting at Metro's offices?

"We don't have a pool," Connaughton says firmly. "Although I hear other offices in the city do."

In This Corner, From Houston

The Texas political world is eagerly awaiting Chris Bell's official announcement August 14 that he will run for governor. Well, at least that part of the Texas political world that wants to see if Bell can pull off an impressive triple play -- losing elections at the local, federal and state level.

To be fair, he's won along the way -- two City Council races and a single congressional race. But still, after losing a mayoral run in 2001, after being beaten for his redistricted congressional seat in 2004, does Bell think the way to reverse the losing streak is by running for governor as a Democrat in Texas?

Yes, apparently.

"It's a difficult way to learn lessons," he says, "but you always learn more from the races you lose than the ones you win…You win and you think you did everything right, and you lose and you go back and figure out everything you did wrong."

Armed with such knowledge, Bell will be, it appears, Houston's lone representative in the gubernatorial race.

"This is a big step, and I'm swinging for the fence," he says. "But that's the way political careers are made. Sometimes the ball clears, and sometimes you…have to sit on the bench. I'm on the bench right now."

Bell -- who says he'll be a "fresh face" for the rest of the state -- will no doubt once again struggle to overcome an image of stolid earnestness.

Like when he announced August 3 that he'd be formally announcing August 14. "Not to get too terribly deep," he told an Austin crowd, "but something I've been telling folks for months is that I wasn't interested in running for governor because I lost my seat in Congress but because we've all lost our seat -- at the table."

Hey -- no worries about that "too terribly deep" thing, dude.

The Future Will Have Computers!

Because the state legislature continues to deal with the school-funding issue by means of a deeply technical process formally known as "dicking around," school districts here and around the state have not been able to buy new textbooks for the coming school year.

This year the texts scheduled to be bought included books on fine arts, which have a longer replacement cycle than history or science books.

The Houston school district provided us with the middle-school fine arts book it'll be using until the money comes through to buy new ones. And a wondrous world of art it is, according to the 13-year-old Inside Art.

Of course, much of art is timeless, and the facts of perspective, shape, form and balance are somewhat unchanging. But the memo on multiculture apparently hadn't been circulated yet when Inside Art was written. Each of the book's 20 chapters includes a mini-profile on a prominent artist; 17 are white, and 15 of those are males.

And when all those middle-schoolers put away their iPods, their cell-phone cameras and their Sony PSPs, this is what they'll learn about the modern age: "What does the future hold for art equipment, materials and techniques?…A perfect example is one of the newest and most exciting art forms -- computer graphics…Who would have dreamed that computers, designed to organize and retrieve giant amounts of information, would become 'paint brushes'?"

Yeah, who'da thunk it?

But there's more to dazzle and stir those young imaginations: "What does the distant future hold for art? No one knows. But if the past is any indication, it should be filled with amazing things. Already artists are starting to think about the expressive potential of lasers and holographs."

We can see the classroom now: "Billy, you put down that Madden 2006 right this instant and learn about how computers may one day be used for art!"

Mellow Old Age

When we asked members of the national pro-pot group Grammas for Ganja for the head of their Texas chapter, they gave us the name of Cindy McCool, 59, of Stephenville.

McCool says she's not technically a member of GFG, but things can get hazy, as we learned when she finally picked up the phone after some technical difficulties.

Q. There was a little confusion there on the phone.

A. Yeah, there was. [Laughing.]

Q. Are you guys smoking right now?

A. No. [Laughs.]

Q. That's strictly for after hours?

A. [Dead silence.] Uhh…well…

Q. No comment?

A. No comment…

Q. Is it different, like, when grammas get together and smoke up? Do you guys maybe put on big-band music or something like that?

A. I'm into classic rock.

Q. Do you like the long jam kind of stuff, like Pink Floyd or the Allman Brothers?

A. I like…Steve Miller and Orbison. Roy Orbison.

Q. I've never listened to Roy Orbison high. Does "Pretty Woman" take on a whole new--

A. No! [Laughs.]

Q. One thing I noticed on your Web site…it's rare that you meet someone who's as much into Jesus as ganja.

A. I'm so against the Christian stompers…That's what being Christian, to me, is about: free choice.

Q. How long have you been partaking of the herb?

A. Since the '70s…

Q. Have you ever reached into your stocking on Christmas Day and pulled out a big sack of kind bud?

A. A big sack of what?

Q. Kind bud.

A. "Kind bud"? Oh -- you mean some marijuana out of a Christmas stocking? No!

McCool not only wants marijuana to be decriminalized, she wants all drugs to be legal, with treatment and education for addicts. To which we can only say, lots of luck with that. And keep the Roy-O freak flag flying.


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