News Hostage

As the Fourth of July weekend slowly unfolded, we sat back and patiently waited. We waited for yet another rematch in what has become one of the most long-standing — if lop-sided — rivalries in modern times.

All the elements were there: there were parades. There was rain. And there were reporters.

We weren't disappointed. Channel 11's Tonia Bendickson came through at noon on July 5, narrating a report on Friendswood's Independence Day parade. Bendickson perkily informed viewers that "the rain didn't dampen the spirits" of those in attendance.

Rain can be one of Mother Nature's most destructive forces. It can cause massive floods that ruin lives and property. It can unleash mudslides, it can capsize boats, it can cancel baseball games.

One thing it cannot do, according to the time-tested mandates of journalism, is dampen anyone's spirits.

Transcripts of local news broadcasts aren't available, but a quick on-line search of the Houston Chronicle archives shows that in the last ten months, rain has Failed to Dampen Spirits at the June 22 concert by "meringue star" Elvis Crespo at AstroWorld; the June 1 Fiesta Houston `99; the downtown New Year's Eve celebration; the October 1998 Virginia Slims Legends tennis tournament; the Texaco Grand Prix that same month; and the September 1998 Sky Power II spectacle downtown.

We could have gone back further, but by then we thought a pattern had been sufficiently established. Spirits 6, Rain 0 is pretty convincing evidence that the cutting-edge anti-dampening technology used to shield Houstonians' esprit is still far enough ahead of the curve to dominate in this competition.

But we know a rematch is coming soon.

Kids (Wearing Armani) Eat Free!!!

It certainly wasn't an unusual cover story for Inside Houston magazine: "Cheap Eats: Indulge Your Tastebuds Without Taking a Bite Out Of Your Budget."

Hold off on those 2-for-1 Happy Meal coupons, though: the magazine's idea of where to get "cheap eats" may be different than that of the vast majority of Houstonians.

Where should you go to pinch your pennies? According to Inside Houston, you should try such down-home joints as DeVille's at the Four Seasons Hotel, Tony's, and the Rotisserie for Beef and Bird — all places that are high on any family's list of fill-the-kids-up-cheap restaurants.

"Even Tony's, the granddaddy of Houston's fine restaurants, fills up diners without lightening their wallets," the magazine reported. (Just order appetizers or "nosh on the complimentary paté" at the bar, they advise.)

Next up: bargain real estate in River Oaks. If you're willing to scrimp a little on the size of the servants' quarters, you can really save a bundle.

Margin of Error

Channel 11, dinged here last week for its reporting on the Houston school district's TAAS scores, says it is satisfied with the numbers it used. Different analyses can yield different results, says producer David Raziq, and KHOU relied on numbers from the Texas Education Agency.

But, it seems, everyone's got their own version of the numbers. The drop in TAAS passing rates districtwide in fourth grade, for example, was 11 points according to Channel 11, eight points according to the Chronicle, and six points according to HISD (or eight points, according to a different method used in an HISD press release).

These aren't polls — there's a fixed number of students taking the test, and they either pass or fail. But there are subsets upon subsets of students, such as English-speaking only or those taking the test in Spanish or English. And the TEA can "refine" its numbers after the initial reports are issued.

There's little wonder that HISD would choose a method that makes them look good (and, in this case, makes KHOU look bad).

While we went too far in saying Channel11 "thoroughly fouled things up," apparently it's best to keep in mind that the pass-rate numbers used in the media may be more fluid than you think.

Legion of Decency

Houston Chronicle readers were treated July 4 to a long, long treatise by feature writer Melissa Fletcher Stoeltje on how sleazy and crude American culture has become.

"Everywhere you turn, it seems, there's nothing but sex, sex, sex. And flatulence. Sex jokes and poop jokes. Body-part jokes. More cleavage than you can shake an implant at.....We've come a long way since the days when Ricky and Lucy slept in separate beds," she wrote in a piece that took up much of the Lifestyle section cover.

Stoeltje might be gunning for the job of critic Ann Hodges, the resident Chron prude who still gets upset by the depravity of Three's Company.

Stoeltje, after all, once wrote a column bemoaning billboards advertising "gentlemen's clubs," a column that included these memorable lines: "Here's a secret for 'cabaret' patrons: Find a woman, convince her to fall in love with you, build a relationship based on trust and mutual respect and guess what? She'll show you her breasts for free! Lots of times!"

But we can't agree with her more about the prevalence of gutter humor, especially fart jokes. Why, just a few days before her latest piece, we picked up the Chron and were subjected to a front-page photo of a guy wearing a gimme cap that clearly said "Somebody's Baking Brownies."

We're sure every South Park fan enjoyed the chance to revel in that show's euphemism for breaking wind. But frankly, we were disgusted and offended. Oh, and appalled, too.

What would Ricky and Lucy think?

Feel like sharing? e-mail Richard Connelly at


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