By Chris Lane
By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
Manuel and Margarita Chavez have lived in a small home in West Kemah for more than 20 years, paying cash monthly on a contract for deed. Thatís an agreement, often used in border colonias, where the title to a house is not transferred until the balance is paid in full.
Everything was going along swimmingly until about two years ago. The Chavez family had paid off the property but never received a deed. The seller had died without transferring title.
That didnít stop property tax bills from coming, naturally; the trouble was the bills were being sent to the dead owner, who displayed the kind of nonchalance toward taxes that only the recently deceased can really pull off.
The elderly Chavez couple discovered they owed $20,000 in back taxes.
Word got out about the problem ó the Galveston County Daily News did a story, among other things ó and a bunch of people decided to help. Lawyers pitched in with transferring the title properly and expediting a probate hearing; appraisal district officials helped the couple get all the exemptions they could.
As a result, the tax bill was lowered to about $8,000. Still a hefty price for the couple. And so Kemah mayor Bill King organized a fund-raising drive. Dozens of people contributed, giving anywhere from a couple of bucks to thousands of dollars.
On Christmas Eve, King brought to the Chavez home the receipts showing the tax bill had been paid, and a court order declaring they were now owners of the house.
It's a Festivus Miracle!
The Chavez couple aren't fluent in English, but King says the fund-raising effort, with small amounts coming from people who couldn't necessarily spare it easily, reminded him of the Bible story where Jesus praised an impoverished widow for giving two coins to the church.
"After 2,000 years, things have not changed so much," he says.
If your cockles aren't properly warmed by now, there's no hope for you. Or your cockles.
A Bullet Dodged
If you're reading this, it probably means an atom bomb hasn't gone off in Houston.
Which isn't as far-fetched as you might think, according to recent Internet speculation that seems as reliable as any Internet speculation could be.
Someone claiming to be a member of the German version of the CIA posted anonymously on a Web site that terrorists were planning to explode an atomic bomb in Houston on December 27. The site said the terrorists were rogue members of the U.S. government who were going to blame the whole thing on Al Qaeda. But there's no need to get bogged down in details.
This much we know about the tip: "U.S. intelligence experts confirm that the [Internet] postings originate from Germany, were authored by a native German speaker, and show not only a special intelligence lingo no outsider may use but also betray a non-imitable insider knowledge," said the Web site www.acpendragon.com, in an analysis that also reads like it was written by a native German speaker.
As far as we could determine by deadline, Houston was not blown up December 27, although you couldn't tell it by looking at the perpetually under-construction downtown streets.
But the lack of a mushroom cloud may be due to, according to a second Web site, the fact that publicizing the tip "could have averted [the] catastrophe. We may never know." Or the plan may simply have been delayed.
That second site, www.savethemales.ca, is operated by Webmaster Henry Makow, Ph.D. "I can't know for sure whether this fellow is legitimate, but he sounds credible to me," Makow said in an interview. "Everyone has to make up their own mind." By way of establishing credentials, Makow noted that he invented the board game Scruples. Neither the claim -- nor its relevance to nuclear holocaust -- could be checked by press time.
But just remember, if Houston gets obliterated, you heard it here first. If you're still around to care.
Let Them All Talk
Houston has a new all-sports talk-radio station. To some folks, this is like saying, "Great, now I have another boil on my ass."
But those people aren't sports-talk lovers, so forget them. The trouble is, even people who like jock radio have to wonder if the talent pool in Houston isn't going to be spread a little thin.
Not among the hosts; they're okay. But the callers -- for the love of Ditka, if there's a lamer city of sports-talk callers, we've yet to find it.
People, please. No one wants to hear your Juwan Howard-for-Kobe trade proposal. Or your constant whining that Houston gets no respect. Or your deep desire to know just where that platooning offensive guard from A&M will go in next year's draft.
Ken Charles, however, disagrees. He thinks Houston is full of sharp-witted fans who can easily provide enough juice for a second all-sports station. And since he's regional VP of programming for Clear Channel of Houston, his opinion counts.