Raking It In
You may have noticed it around town lately -- a half-dozen or so cop cars at some intersection, pulling over motorists in order to give the cars a good inspection and find something to ticket.
We've seen at least two of the operations recently, and it looked like HPD was either stopping every car to find a desperate serial killer or checking for green cards in an illegal-immigrant crackdown. Instead it appears they're just trying to make up for lost revenue.
From July to September of this year, the municipal courts raked in about $1.2 million monthly in traffic fines. In October that figure fell to $950,000.
That's quite a slip. And no one in the city bureaucracy is eager to talk about it, or whether HPD is under the gun to get more cash flow to replace the loss.
Municipal courts director Richard Lewis -- or, to be precise, a "very busy" Richard Lewis, as he described himself when he finally deigned to answer questions -- said he couldn't offer any reason for the dip and suggested we call HPD. The police department said it was a municipal courts matter.
Two court staffers told us that Lewis had been more forthcoming with them -- he had blamed the dip on the fact that police were working overtime responding to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
There's no question the city's revenue figures took a dip. What's less certain is whether the cops have stepped up their traffic-enforcement operations as a result. At a time when the department's getting heat for a manpower shortage and lengthy response times to citizen calls, you'd hate to think they'd be devoting a lot of effort to finding niggling things to ticket (especially if you're someone who got a ticket).
Hans Marticiuc, head of the city's biggest police union, says he doesn't know of any particular operation -- like, say, a federally funded program cracking down on seat belts or drunk driving -- that would be causing increased traffic enforcement.
And the department itself has been unresponsive. But if we had to guess, we'd predict the monthly revenues will be zooming past the million-dollar mark again. And a lot of unlucky schlubs will be paying dearly for broken brake lights.
Thomas Jackson is a senior at the University of Texas at San Antonio and president of a group called Atheist Agenda, which promotes godlessness.
Taking an idea from an Austin comedy group, he and his group began a campus campaign in which they offered students pornography in return for Bibles. About 15 took them up on it, and there's a chance the movement will spread to Houston.
Q. How'd people react?
A. Most Christians we ran into didn't really care. Some of them were mildly upset It was the Women and Gender Studies professor who was the most outraged.
Q. Was her problem with the porn itself, the subjugation of women?
A. If she would've stayed around for just a moment, we could've showed her how much worse the Bible commodifies all humanity.
Q. On that note, we found some relevant passages from the Bible. In the Song of Solomon it says, "Thy two breasts are like two young roes that are twins, which feed among the lilies."
A. Is that the one with "Your stomach is like a goblet"?
Q. How about in Genesis, where Lot's daughters get him drunk so he'll impregnate them?
A. Yeah, baby!
Q. And in Judges, there's snuff-film porn: "When he reached home, he took a knife and cut up his concubine, limb by limb, into twelve parts and sent them into all the areas of Israel."
A. In Judges, one of the first things that happens is some woman makes friends with this guy and kills him with a tent spike.
Q. So how'd you choose the porn?
A. Everybody agreed to donate from their stashes, which actually wasn't as much as we expected. So we went to, I think it was, Half Price Books.
Q. What Would Jesus Jerk Off To?
A. Um, I really don't know gay porn that well.
The Holiday Spirit
If you're the chief executive of a privately held corporation whose business plan focuses heavily on panhandling at busy street corners, Christmas is a big time of year for you.
Not only is traffic stacked up at the intersections near shopping malls, greatly increasing your captive audience, but the holiday season ups the guilt quotient to record levels, forcing previously immune drivers to reluctantly dig into their pockets for a bill or two.
Which is why these businessmen are up in arms about the City Council passing some anti-panhandling ordinances just in time for Christmas.
All the intersection regulars -- from the lone-wolf types toting cardboard signs to the dance-squad kids trolling for support -- will no longer be able to stand on medians or walk among the idling cars looking for dough. Instead they'll be forced to stay on the sidewalk, get a permit and wear "high-visibility vests," which would seem to discriminate against the lone-wolf types. (There are no provisions, for instance, to allow for replacing "high-visibility vests" with "high-body-odor vests.")
Taking the part of the Grinch is mayoral spokesman Frank Michel: "I think the ordinance that passed has to do with people stepping out into the streets," he says. "It doesn't say they can't solicit donations What the mayor has said repeatedly is that when you give money to a person on the street, you often enable them in some destructive behavior."
The city's effort comes just as FEMA is forcing Katrina evacuees out of their hotel rooms, but Michel doesn't see any connection.
"It's a huge leap to assume that there's going to be 100,000 people out on the street and becoming homeless," he says.
But if any of them take that leap, they better get some vests.
Any Family Will Do
Last year Texas governor Rick Perry, who was in the middle of a mini-storm of rumors about his marriage, sent out a Christmas card that featured him and his wife looking about as happy and contented as Al-Qaeda hostages in a grainy video (see Hair Balls, December 23, 2004).
This year they decided not to pose for the cameras. Instead there's a lovely painting of the First Couple standing lovingly by a festive tree in the Governor's Mansion as their two kids frolic nearby.
But hey -- the two kids in the picture are very young girls; the Perrys have a 20-year-old son and an 18-year-old daughter. That can't be the Perrys, can it? Don't tell us Rick and Anita had to grab a painting of whatever family scene came closest to theirs in order to put a happy face on the holidays.
"We've gotten so many questions about that," says Rachael Novier, the governor's deputy press secretary.
The painting was apparently not picked simply to confuse casual perusers into thinking it was the Perrys. "It's an artist's representation of family happiness at Christmas. It's a lovely card," Novier says.
And if you're keeping score, you right-wingers convinced the secular army is attacking religion in this country, the card does not include the word "Christmas." (It does include an Old Testament verse.)
Novier doesn't want to tackle the subject of Perry rejecting the Lord Our Savior. "It's just a card spreading joy," she says.
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