Holiday Spirit

Hooray for Hollywood: Our mission to provide Houston with quotations for the paving stones found around downtown has been revived, thanks to the Martin Scorsese film The Aviator. Moviegoers all over the nation are getting to hear just what homeboy Howard Hughes thought about our favorite city: "The whole place is nothing but a pestilential swamp. Typhus, malaria, cholera, yellow fever, you name it; they got it."

Just in case the glow of the holiday spirit is starting to fade, we offer one last feel-good Christmas story to keep those cockles warmed. And to provide something to point to whenever someone bitches that we never print anything nice.

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. Thats 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 didnt 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.

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The elderly Chavez couple discovered they owed $20,000 in back taxes.

Word got out about the problem the Galveston County Daily News did a story, among other things 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, 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,, 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.

"First of all, New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Dallas all have two or sometimes even three sports-talk stations," he says. "We also knew that, you know, there's a lot of settling for the other guys -- that [KILT-AM] wasn't a great sports-talk radio station. We don't see them as insurmountable."

So 790 -- the "Sports Animal," no less -- has been created, affiliated with the ESPN radio network.

Charles admits that "if we try to do a sports show that only talks about goofy trade proposals and all of the fantasy football stuff, we're gonna die a really horrible, slow death."

Instead, the local show, hosted by Charlie Pallilo, will be "Sports Illustrated combined with GQ and People."

Right. Like one of those issues of GQ or People that constantly propose trading Jeff Bagwell for A-Rod.

Perhaps more incredibly, Charles insists Clear Channel looked at the possibility of creating a liberal talk-radio station instead of sports-talk.

But don't hold your breath: "There didn't seem to be a hole for a successful progressive talk station in Houston," he says.

Image Makers

The clever fellows at the PR company ttweak are continuing their push to tell people that despite a horde of problems, Houston is still Worth It. Theyre sending out postcards illustrated with icons of our notable woes, like large cockroaches, traffic cones and sweltering summer weather. We think they missed a few, though (see illustrations above). And were glad to help.

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