By Chris Lane
By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
Members of the Alabama-Coushatta tribe are hoping to convince Texas legislators to let them open a casino on their East Texas reservation. They're probably also hoping they have better luck fleecing gullible gamblers than they did getting fleeced themselves.
The tribe is suing over a scam in which it lost more than $200,000 under the promise of an almost sure thing.
One of the tribe's investment funds took a chance four years ago on Phoenix Telecom and ETS Payphones. The pitch was right out of one of those TV ads showing gleeful casino players, as opposed to all those pale chain-smoking losers who fill the buses these days on the long, broke ride back from Louisiana.
The tribe would simply lease phone-booth locations, at $7,000 a shot, and watch the money roll in. A 14 percent return was guaranteed; if it didn't happen, ETS and Phoenix would buy back the locations at no loss, says Andrew Mytelka, the tribe's Galveston lawyer.
Everyone's a winnah! Except well "It was nothing but a Ponzi scheme," Mytelka says.
Dang. The next thing you know, we'll find out that most people who go to casinos actually don't come out ahead.
Unfortunately for the tribe, the two phone firms declared bankruptcy in the midst of a tidal wave of fraud suits across America. So with no money available from them, Alabama-Coushatta is going after Grant Thornton, a giant accounting company that had the two firms as clients. (The phrase "deep pockets" is learned early in law school.)
Mytelka says Grant Thornton "aided and abetted" the scheme; Cristina Rodriguez, attorney for Grant Thornton, says the firm "performed very limited work" for ETS, and that the suit "is without merit."
We hope the courtroom battle doesn't distract the tribe from its earnest efforts to transform itself from suckers to suckees.
And we're sure the tribe will put signs over all its "loose, loose, loose!" slot machines informing customers of the hard-won wisdom about things that sound too good to be true.
God Is Taking Requests
Barring some unlikely late-season storm, it appears Texas has been spared this hurricane season. And according to Houston's leading hurricane expert, Channel 11's Neil Frank, the explanation is simple: We must have prayed harder than those atheists in Florida.
Frank gave an interview recently to the Web site Spirit Daily, which looks like the Drudge Report but deals with religious matters. The headline on the piece: "Foremost Hurricane Scientist Says That in Prayer, Huge Storms Can Be Stopped."
"I accept that a storm can be stopped," Frank is quoted as saying. "I've known people who had incidents where you can say, yeah, this is very strange, where the weather changed just in time."
Reporter Michael H. Brown writes, "While Frank says that, after speaking about it with one of the evangelicals, Pat Robertson, he has no problem believing that [Betsy] had been prayed away from Virginia, that leaves the question of those who suffered in the places where the hurricane then did hit."
Yeah, it does kind of leave that question. But there's an answer! (Of sorts.) "How God operates, says Frank, is a mystery," Brown wrote.
Frank didn't return calls seeking to find out if he was misquoted or his comments were taken out of context, which could have happened, seeing how God moves in mysterious ways and all. The folks at Spirit Daily are equally mysterious, ignoring e-mail messages seeking Truth.
God, it turns out, not only listens to prayers about where to send killer storms, he also has time to dabble in real estate.
The Spirit Daily article notes that developers have been putting up condos on barrier islands, meaning more property damage in storms.
Wrote Brown: "Building on such islands may not be in God's Will, notes Frank -- and therefore if and when a hurricane hits, praying to halt damage may not be as effective." (We assume this is God's "Offer void where prohibited" clause.)
Private Family Matters
Legendary Texas company Southwestern Bell has become the space-age-monikered SBC, but that doesn't mean it has forgotten its traditional, monopolistic ways of treating customers like dirt. Exploitable dirt.
"In order to better serve our customers," the company announced, member information collected by SBC Yahoo! "can now be shared within the SBC family of companies."
One of the reasons it can be shared, according to a company FAQ, is to provide "marketing efforts designed to help keep customers informed" about great, terrific, wonderful services offered by the SBC family.
That "family" includes long-distance service and wireless phones -- two industries that would never bother customers with spam or unsolicited calls, right?
"I feel so 'cared for,' " one customer told Hair Balls.
Not to fear; SBC spokeswoman Jessica Nunez says customers can opt out of the info-sharing. If they bother to read the fine print and follow a link to a Web page, fill out a form and submit it.
Hey, what are families for?
The Heights of Hurling
For more than 30 years, NASA's version of a Boeing 707 has been lovingly dubbed the Vomit Comet for its ability to induce sickness as it takes passengers up on a wild ride that temporarily makes them weightless. Now the plane -- officially a KC-135; it's one of two that have been used through the years -- is being retired, to be replaced by a smaller, more efficient DC-9.
John Yaniec is the test director for the project and has flown thousands of missions in the back of the plane, overseeing safety. A "mission" includes flying up to 60 arcing parabolas that each provide up to 25 seconds of weightlessness. Astronauts and researchers generally do okay, but since 1996 college students have been going up with experiments, and the walls can get splattered.
Q.How did the Vomit Comet get its nickname?
A. That, we have to thank the media. The media gave it that nickname.
Q. Is that just a myth?
A.Yeah, well yeah, it is. Everybody thinks that everybody that flies on this aircraft gets sick, and that's not true.
Q. Is it a pretty rare event?
A. I wouldn't say rare, but of rookies one will get mildly sick, one will get a little more sick, and then the [other] person doesn't get sick at all.
Q. Do you guys ever, like, take bets or something?
A. No [laughs]. Let's put it this way: We're the ones that have to take care of you when you're up there, so it's to our benefit to do everything we can to ensure that everybody who flies does not get sick. We've had, I think, in the history of the [college student] program, ten or 11 "no-kill" flights.
Q. What's a no-kill flight?
A.Nobody gets sick And for the students, it was a rarity. And it still is.
Q. Have you ever thrown up?
A.No. I've never been sick -- and I've done it 30,564 times.
An important deadline has passed in the quixotic search to tell the world how George W. Bush protected Texas and (allegedly) Alabama from the Viet Cong.
Glenn W. Smith, an Austin-based political consultant, author and former Houston Post reporter who now heads the group Texans for Truth, has had a prize of $50,000 ready for the first person who can come forward proving Bush reported for duty as required at the Alabama air base to which he transferred from Houston.
The deadline for winning the prize was September 30. Smith thought he might lure someone by offering five times what Garry Trudeau of Doonesbury offered, but piercing the tight-lipped stoicism of the Air National Guard makes breaking the thin blue line of police brotherhood look easy.
"Nobody has come forward," Smith says.
No one? For 50 grand, you'd think somebody would take a stab at it. Forging documents might be one way to go, now that we're a nation of experts on early-'70s typewriter technology.
It's not like Smith got no response, though. "In the first several days," he says, the Web site did get some mail through the online form. "My tech fellow described them as full of obscenities," Smith says.
But were they obscenities with proof? Sadly, no. "Nobody has new information," Smith says, mournfully.
Raise it to $100K or $150K, dammit. The truth must be told.