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KTRK, License Plate Frames, City Council, Bun B and Google

If Channel 13 invites you to meet a potential blind date, do some research.

The world of dating can be tough these days. Sensing, somehow, that single Houstonians lacked anything like computers that had eHarmony or Craigslist, the folks at Channel 13 set up a "Morning Matchmaker" contest where guys and gals would get together on blind dates as the cameras rolled.

Sounds like fun!! Until they let in the admitted rapist.

We guess it's not only Houston singles who lack computers. Apparently the people at Channel 13 have yet to hear of Google.

KTRK broke the news of their ineptness themselves, which we guess counts for something. On the other hand, their report made the station and the people behind "Morning Matchmaker" seem to be hard-digging heroes.

"In a room full of people, could you spot an admitted rapist?" the report by Jessica Willey opened. (Strangely enough, the video accompanying this question showed 13 anchor Tom Koch chatting away with some people. We're sure Willey wasn't implying anything.)

Willey explained how the station invited one Dean Duff, along with 29 other folks, to the KTRK studios to be taped and interviewed in an attempt to become one of the Matchmaker finalists.

Duff, a pudgy guy with a cowboy hat, was shown saying he wanted to meet "a woman who likes to have fun."

Then, Willey reported, the station did a background check and found Duff on the Texas sex offenders' list. Not only that, but KTRK "dug deeper" and got the actual arrest report from the 1994 rape.

There was much entertaining footage of Willey confronting Duff, who tried desperately to block his face from the camera. "Did you think we would not check?" she said.

Well, yeah, we did, but actually we thought you might check before you invited the guy into the studio to chat up 15 women.

Willey's report said that once Duff's past was (eventually) discovered, "we felt ethically responsible to call all the women in his matchmaker group to let them know."

So how does Channel 13 explain how this all came about? They don't.

KTRK vice-president Tom Ash says the station will not comment on any aspect of the story.

Maybe we should send Wayne Dolcefino to stalk him with a camera in the parking lot to get some answers.

Framed

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals -- essentially the state supreme court for crime stuff -- just handed a huge, but little-noticed, victory to cops.

Drivers beware: If you, like most people, have one of those little frames around your license plate, advertising a car dealer or your alma mater, the police now have carte blanche to pull you over, search your car and arrest you.

Prior to the decision last month, police could give you a ticket for having a frame, but only if they pulled you over for something else. Now a frame is all the reason they need, and that means they can search your car once they do it.

It was an 81 decision, but three judges in the majority noted that the part of the Texas Transportation Code banning frames is "an uncommonly bad law." (An "uncommonly bad law" that they decided to uphold.)

Among other things, the law as written doesn't make clear who's at fault for the frame -- the car dealer who put it on, the owner of the car or the person driving it. But it doesn't matter; if the frame obscures any portion of the plate, you can be pulled over.

Criminal defense attorneys, cynics that they are, say the ruling only provides legal cover for what happens all the time now anyway.

"If they want to pull you over they'll claim you changed lanes without a turn signal or whatever, and it's your word against theirs," says lawyer Randy Schaffer. "I guess it's a good thing for the police in that they don't have to cross their fingers when they're testifying anymore."

But that doesn't mean you should ignore the ruling, he says. "You're going to have to take the frame off the plate. Especially if you're black," he says. "You damn sure need to do it if you're black. If being black is 'reasonable suspicion' anyway, you damn sure don't want to be black and have a frame on your plate."

Get out those screwdrivers, people.

Giving Back to the Community

The latest batch of campaign-finance reports from City Council contained some oddities: councilmembers giving back money.

Pam Holm refunded $5,000 to Larry Kellner, head of Continental Airlines. Michael Berry returned $1,000 to Astros owner Drayton McLane. Addie Wiseman handed back $1,500 to Texans head Bob McNair.

Gee, the last time we read about politicians actually taking their hands off their hard-earned campaign cash was when Republicans were frantically returning all the donations they had received from newly disgraced congressional-page creep Mark Foley.

Had the heads of some of Houston's most prominent businesses been caught in a juicy scandal that made their money no good anymore?

Alas, no.

The refunds are going out because some pesky reporter (damn you, mainstream media!) pointed out that the donations may have come during the time in 2005 when the council was considering renewing its annual contract with the Greater Houston Partnership. Kellner, McLane and McNair are GHP members, and city ordinances mandate a 30-day "blackout period" on donations from people with whom the council is considering awarding a contract.

"The perception was that it was during the blackout period, so I said, 'No questions, I'll return it,'" says council member Holm.

Kellner, McNair and McLane were not available to describe their shock at actually getting money back from politicians.

N, Please

Houston rap promoter Matt Sonzala was recently using his Gmail account to firm up some details about his clients Bun B and Pimp C appearing (as UGK) at South by Southwest.

The language in the e-mails was utterly tepid. It didn't even include the words "rap" or "hip-hop" or anything but some talk of which stage the guys would play.

So Sonzala was a little taken aback to see what ads Gmail generated to accompany his message.

"Nigga -- Great deals on Nigga. Shop on eBay and Save!" it said.

Clicking on the eBay link took you to a list of 63 CDs with "nigga" in the title, such as Daz Dillinger's Dat Nigga Daz.

"Man, I don't give a fuck if it's automated or not -- if I'm talking about Bun B or UGK [in my e-mail] you're going to come up with a search for 'nigga'?" says Sonzala. "If I would have said 'nigga' in the e-mail and it caught that word and triggered something, then okay, but 'Bun B'? 'UGK'? What word in that e-mail made that come up?"

Google doesn't know, but whatever happened shouldn't have happened, company spokesperson Courtney Hohne says. "Thanks so much for bringing this to our attention," she says. "We took those ads down."

Hohne says the automated system that creates the ads tries to find things that will be "useful and relevant" to the context of an e-mail.

So what was "useful and relevant" about the word "nigga" to people talking about Bun B? "It's deep in the computer's algorithms," she says. "I'm sure the team is doing a postmortem on it, because it's certainly not in our interest to be posting inappropriate material."

The system is constantly updated, she says, so a new inventory of ads, or new data about what makes some context relevant, may have caused the incident.

Sonzala isn't all that mollified. "Put a fucking filter on it, bro," he says. "I'm not a dude who's highly offended by stuff like that, but that really caught my eye -- like 'Great deals on nigga,' what the fuck does that even mean?"

He says he hasn't been able to tell Bun B about it all, but his promoter mind is already two steps ahead: "Should I call my lawyer?" he says. "Tell him my client is in the mental hospital now, sobbing uncontrollably. I think I need to sue them."

Make sure to notify them by Gmail -- we're sure you'll enjoy the accompanying ads for Richard Pryor's That Nigger's Crazy.


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