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In July 2001, the Allstars taemm of the North Houston American Little Leaguedefeated Huffman to win the District Championship. Pictured are (bottom row, right to left): Laryssa Adame, Amanda Cano, Melady Neva, Debra Kelly, Amiee Montiel, Melissa Guerrero, Jessica Del Bosque, (top row, right to left) Coach Michael Kelly, Amber Bigle, Erica Monterrey, Andi Ruiz, Cristal Chavez, Mgr. Martin Adame, Cecily Gomes, Estee Adame, Sarah Perales, and Coach David Neva.

Beware of phony charities

Q: I received an e-mail requesting a donation to a fund for the widows and orphans of the fire-fighters who died in the attacks on the World Trade Center. I want to help, but I also want to make sure my money actually gets sent to the people it is supposed to. Can you tell me if this solicitation is legitimate?

A: It seems that the most terrible of times bring out the best in people. Relief organizations around the country have been overwhelmed by the generous donations that have been pouring in from concerned Americans. This is why it is especially troubling that some less-than-honorable people will use American generosity to fill their own pockets.
The Consumer Protection Division of my office has received manyinquiries from Texans who have received e-mail solicitations for charities that are supposed to benefit the victims of the terrorist attacks in New York City, Pennsylvania, and Washington, D.C.

Most charities in Texas are not required to register with the state. A few, however, such as public safety organizations, which would include firefighters, are required to register with the Secretary of State. You may want to contact that office to see if the organization has registered. While this office cannot attest to the legitimacy of any charity or business, here are some tips to help you avoid falling victim to a potential e-mail scam:

• If you aren’t familiar with the name of the organization or the person who sent the solicitation, it’s probably a fraud. Big, national charities don’t send mass e-mails soliciting funds. However, if you have donated to a charity in the past, you may be on their e-mail list.

• If you click on a link to donate, look at the URL in your browser. If the domain name of the URL is hidden, unfamiliar or different than the link’s text, the request is probably a scam.

• Verify the charity’s identity by phone before donating. Many phony charities imitate the name and style of a well-known organization to con people. If the charity refuses to answer your questions when you call, don’t donate.

• The e-mail extension “.org” doesn’t necessarily mean that the organization is a real charity. This type of extension is easy enough to register.

• Don’t assume that because the e-mail mentions “disaster relief,” the money will actually go to the victims of the attacks. Ask how the money will be used. The scams involved in these e-mails take several forms. Some e-mails are sent by spammers to a huge mailing list of e-mail addresses. The body of the e-mail contains links to real charities.

However, when you click on a link, the spammer gets notice that your e-mail address is an active one. This gets you on more spam mailings lists, which means you get more unwanted e-mail.

In another twist, the e-mail will point you to a Web page covered with banner ads and links to real charities. The owner of the Web page gets money each time a visitor clicks on one of the banner ads. While this type of scam doesn’t cost you anything directly, someone else profits from your willingness to donate.

The most troubling scams are those that involve outright fraud. The links in the e-mails point you to sites that look legitimate. But when you donate, your money and your credit card information go right into the pocket of a thief. Even worse, the people who truly need the money don’t see a dime of it.

Your best bet is to donate to well-known, well-established charities. These organizations will ensure that your money will go to the people who truly need it.

If you have received an e-mail solicitation that seems suspect, forward it to our office. You can send it by e-mail to consumerprotection@oag.state.tx.us. You can also forward it by US mail to Office of the Attorney General, P.O. Box 12548, Austin, Texas 78711.

For more information on consumer protection services offered by my office, visit our Web site at www.oag.state.tx.us.

Migratory birds highlight programs at Jones Park

A large number of people have developed an avid interest in bird watching, and the Gulf Coast area is an excellent place to take part in this relaxing pastime.

Excellent opportunities to see the natural world are available at Jesse H. Jones Park & Nature Center, when the park offers several pontoon boat trips along Spring Creek and a migratory bird program Saturday. October 13 And the Second Sunday Pickers take center stage Sunday, October 14.

For those individuals that yearn to see more of the bird life that migrates through our area each fall, now is the time. Jones Park offers four pontoon trips throughout the day Saturday that should provide excellent birding and wildlife viewing opportunities. Participants ages eight and older can take advantage of the mild weather for a Birders’ Tour at 8 a.m., Natural History Tours at 10 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. or a Dusk Tour at 4:30 p.m. Reservations are required for respective times.

The day’s birding activities don’t stop there. The coast of Texas is a definite hot spot to see a wide variety of birds as they travel to warmer winter destinations. At 10 a.m., meet Houston Audubon Society Education Coordinator Mary Anne Weber for a fun program discussing the amazing journey that migratory birds undertake. Ms. Weber also brings some of her feathered friends to give participants an unrivaled look at these magnificent creatures.
Sunday, October 14 from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.. the Second Sunday Pickers take center stage in the nature center for a lively informal concert played on a variety of old-fashioned instruments, featuring folk music of ages past. Visitors can just sit back and enjoy the music, or bring your own instrument and join in.

Jesse H. Jones Park & Nature Center, a Harris County Precinct 4 facility, is located at 20634 Kenswick Drive in Humble. All programs are free of charge and open to the public.

Memories of My Father

Some people you meet in the course of life are such immutable and vibrant personalities that it seems they will live forever. People felt this way when John Wayne died, when George Burns died, when Frank Sinatra died. They all were such lasting presences that, to this day, people still say, “I can’t believe he’s dead.” It simply does not compute to us that someone so vigorous and lively could ever stop, even just for a minute, much less forever.

My father was such a man. To me, he seemed like a big, boisterous giant who imposed his personality and idiosyncrasies on everyone. And he certainly wasn’t mortal. And he certainly wouldn’t die.

But, this past Tuesday, October 2, 2001, my dad did die. My mother found him in his usual position, sitting in his recliner, television on, apparently asleep. Well, Dad was asleep. He was asleep forever. I have to say that even now, a full week later, it still is completely a dream. There is absolutely NO WAY that this is real. My dad, I am convinced, is somewhere laughing at us all because he got us good this time. He is slapping his knee and rejoicing in how brilliant he is. He fooled us all, and soon, he’ll come out and make us all laugh at how silly we were. “Oh, God, that’s a good one, Dad! You really had us going there! As if you could ever die…” I guess you could say that out of the seven stages of grief, I am stuck firmly in denial.

Two parts of me are attempting to accept this reality. My adult side is speaking to me saying, “Dad lived a long life. We all loved him. He passed in his sleep. He was very peaceful. He’s in a better place now.” The other side is the remnant of the little girl, who Dad called Boomer, and she is saying, “My daddy is dead. What am I going to do? Why did this happen to MY daddy? Why did this happen to me? Who will protect me now?” The only strategy that has worked to comfort me this past week is reminiscence. Memories of my father are now all I have left, and so I have been indulging in them.

My best memories of my father are not sweet, gooey “happy family” memories. The best ones are when Dad made us laugh. For example, when I was about eight or nine years old, Dad decided that he would try his hand at magic.

He went to a magic shop and bought himself a couple of shimmering green and orange silk handkerchiefs, a couple of red, foam rubber balls and a plastic, flesh-colored thumb that fit over his thumb. Dad read the instructions and learned how to perform his trick very well. So, he gathered all us snaggletoothed, scrape-kneed, gangly children around him – my older sister, my younger brother, and me. He sat on the edge of his bed and said, “Look! See the handkerchief! I will now make it disappear!” He would have us kids stick the handkerchief down into his cupped hand. He would sprinkle some “magic dust” over his hand and say something like “ala-kazam” or “abracadabra” – but it was Dad, so he probably said, “Az-kalabra!” or something – and then open his palm. “Voila!” he would scream. The handkerchief was gone. We kids were amazed, and applauded. As we got older, he still performed the same trick, despite the fact that we eventually learned how he did it. We would say, “Dad, c’mon…You put it in the fake thumb.” Dad would stand there, the consummate salesman, and shout, “What fake thumb?”

Dad had no new jokes. He had no new stories. He revamped them from time to time. But basically, we knew them all by heart and would roll our eyes when he told them.

“Does your face hurt? (The person would reply, “no.”) Well, it’s killin’ me!”

“If you ever grow up to fit your mouth, you’ll be ten feet tall.”

“You know, you’ve got a Roman nose. It’s roamin’ all over your face!”

“You were built upside down. Your nose runs and your feet smell.”

We always wished Dad would get new jokes. Or tell new stories. Now, I think all the old ones are just fine. I would listen to a hundred chance run-ins with John Wayne, or a thousand stories starting with “I was the keynote speaker…” or “There was a radio station in Wilmington, North Carolina…”, or a million “A guy walks into a bar…” jokes – if only I could have my father back.

I know that this column does him NO justice – and my attempts to put my feelings into words right now are sophomoric and trite, but for once in my life, I am left speechless. Dad is gone and an entire family of conversational vigilantes is silent. Somehow, I know, I will get the words back. And when I do – I will speak not only for myself, but also for my departed father and I will never forget, or LET ANY OF YOU forget, him. So get ready. I’ve got a few jokes to tell.

Mobile Health Unit to visit local sites

The scheduled sites that the Ronald McDonald Mobile Unit will be visiting in the near future are as follows (hours at all sites are 9am to 2pm):

Tuesday, Oct. 2
Burrus Elementary School
701 E. 33rd. St.

Saturday, Oct. 6
St. Leo The Great Parish
2131 Lauder Rd.

Tuesday, Oct 9
A.B. Anderson Elementary
7401 Wheatley St.

The services provided on the unit are:

Immunizations
Vision Screening
Hearing Screening
Well child exams performed by a Registered Nurse
Distribution of Health Education Information
Eligibility Screening for the Harris County Hospital District Gold Card

All services provided on the unit are free. Parents will need to accompany children under the age of 18 in order to provide parental consent for the screenings.

For children that need immunizations, parents should bring a copy of their child’s shot records. Eligibility screening is provided so that children may be referred to the Harris County Hospital District Community Health Program once they are determined to be eligible for HCHD services.

Stephens Elementary begins “BOX TOP$” program

(L-R) Yesenia Campos, Johnny Chavira, Abigail Rodriguez, and Isaac Gonzales along with Stephanie Hernandez and Brick Estrada check out the General Mills/Betty Crocker “BOX TOP$ for Education” project recently initiated by the Stephens Elementary PTO. A collection box is located in the front hallway of Stephens Elementary at 2402 Aldine Mail Route.

Aldine students enjoy performance by Ballet Folklórico de Mexico

Nearly 8000 students from eight school districts and several private schools in Houston attended a free performance by the world-renowned Ballet Folklórico de Mexico de Amalia Hernández at The Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion on September 27. The free performance was part of the dance company’s educational series created 13 years ago by the late founder Amalia Hernández and Columba Bush.

Mrs. Bush, a native of Leon, Guanajuato, Mexico, is the wife of Florida Governor Jeb Bush. She has worked to help raise funds for and promote Ballet Folklórico de Mexico’s educational series since its inception. As a direct result of her efforts, the company has performed for free for more than 325,000 school-aged children throughout the United States. During this year’s tour, more than 25,000 children will be treated to a complimentary performance, including students from 10 AISD elementary and intermediate schools.

Ballet Folklórico de Mexico is a celebration of life in movement, music and color Its many dances encompass pre-Hispanic rituals, dramatic events from Mexico’s past, and colorful depictions of Mexico’s diverse culture and folklore.

What manner of Muslims are Afghanistan’s ruling Taliban?

By KATHY GANNON and RICHARD N. OSTLING
Associated Press Writers

What sort of government is harboring suspected terrorist leader Osama bin Laden?

A religious regime that has demolished grand Buddhist artworks, ended schooling for girls past the age of 8, decreed that Hindus must wear identification patches and imprisoned eight western aid workers for allegedly preaching their Christian faith.

According to the zealous Taliban, who have ruled in Afghanistan since 1996, fidelity to Islam requires unprecedented harshness.

Their practices have been disparaged by many Muslims outside Afghanistan, but the bin Laden case could prove to be one instance in which some Muslim support emerges for Taliban policy based on religious grounds.

Traditionalists may sympathize with Taliban contentions that, under strict religious law, bin Laden’s responsibility for terrorism can only be determined after trial before a court of fellow Muslims. And some may feel Afghanistan is justified in preparing for a holy war of self-defense against the United States.

On other matters, however, many Muslims _ particularly moderates and scholars _ have said the Taliban are mistaken about what Islam requires.
The Muslim world has largely spurned the Taliban up to now. The Organization of the Islamic Conference refused to admit the regime and only three of the 56 member nations (Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates) have granted it full diplomatic recognition.

Even neighboring Iran, whose 1979 revolution energized militant Muslims worldwide, rejects the Taliban, although that hostility stems from alleged Taliban persecution of fellow Shiite Muslims. Islam’s larger Sunni branch dominates in Afghanistan.

While bin Laden is suspected of directing a terrorist network aimed at the West from Afghanistan, the nation has also become a haven for thousands of activists believed to be preparing to overthrow more moderate Muslim regimes in Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and the Islamic states of nearby Central Asia that were part of the former Soviet Union.

One notable incident this year caused worldwide outrage. The Taliban’s reclusive leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar, on Feb. 26 ordered demolition of two monumental mountain carvings of the Buddha on grounds that they violated Islam’s ban on idol worship.

Egypt’s highest Muslim authority, Grand Mufti Nasr Farid Wasel, joined a noted scholar from Qatar, Sheik Youssef al-Qaradawi, and others in a fruitless emergency mission urging the regime not to destroy the Buddhas.

“Such behavior comes to undermine the image of Islam,” former Egyptian diplomat Hussein Ahmed Amin wrote at the time.

An Afghan scholar in the United States, Amin Tarzi, charged that his homeland’s rulers feed off the peoples’ “illiteracy and lack of knowledge of traditional Islamic teachings.”

The Taliban have employed Pashtun tribal traditions along with religion “to legitimize their rule based on a terror system,” said Tarzi, of the Monterey (Calif.) Institute of International Studies. (The Pashtun are Afghanistan’s largest ethnic group.)
Others are baffled by the regime. “I personally don’t have any idea where they get some of their ideas,” said Professor Anis Ahmed of Pakistan’s Islamic University.

Some tenets come from literal interpretation of the Quran, the Muslim scripture, Ahmed explained, but “if you take things literally that will lead to extremism.” He said the Quran must be read in light of its context and application in the Sunnah, the authoritative sayings and practices of the Prophet Muhammad.

The Taliban emerged in 1994, promising peace to the war-ravaged land of 21 million and rebelling against Islamic factions whose conflicts had killed 50,000 people.

They are led by Omar, the self-declared “king of the Muslims,” and a circle of eight to 10 colleagues from Kandahar in the deeply tribal southeast, near the Pakistan border.

Omar described his followers in a movement magazine as “a simple band of dedicated youths… determined to establish the laws of God on earth, and prepared to sacrifice everything in the pursuit of that goal.”

Taliban means “students,” and indeed many followers attended conservative Muslim schools in Pakistan as refugees during the 1979-89 Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. One important training ground was Dar-ul Uloom Haqqani in Akora Khattak, one of Pakistan’s largest Muslim campuses.

It was the academic source of the Taliban gender policies. “It is biologically, religiously and prophetically proven that men are superior to women,” said a spokesman at the seminary, Maulana Adil Siddiqu.

Yet Tarzi noted that the Quran (7:189; 16:97; 33:35) mandates religious equality and training for men and women alike.

As for the Buddha-smashing, Muhammad cleared Arabia of idols when he inaugurated the religion, and pious artists consequently do not depict the human form. But Muslims did not destroy pre-Islamic statuary in lands they conquered soon after Muhammad’s lifetime.

In January, Omar decreed that anyone who converts from Islam to another religion will be killed, although the Taliban have not said what the penalty could be for the aid workers accused of preaching Christianity.

Other Taliban rules follow fundamentalist Islamic or Pashtun traditions that most believers do not see as faith requirements.

The only allowable music for Muslims is religious song, unaccompanied by instruments. Television, movies and videos are banned. So is kite-flying, seen as a distraction from a life of prayer.
The Taliban rules are meticulously enforced by religious police patrols from the omnipresent Ministry of Virtue and Vice. The “virtue” squads coordinate Islamic education, while “vice” squads stamp out forbidden evils and enforce the movement’s conception of “pure” Islam.

The Hindu identity patches were necessary, the Taliban said, so that the religious police would not force them to follow Islamic rules. But so far, the Taliban are not enforcing the order.

The ministry wields almost unlimited power in the 95 percent of Afghanistan controlled by the Taliban. Those who know the country say its grip is only strengthened by tensions with the outside world.

Overall, said Tarzi, the Taliban are creating a variant that Islam has never before seen. In his view it extends far beyond the Wahhabi movement, the puritanical Islamic reform imposed in Saudi Arabia beginning in the 19th century that is bin Laden’s inspiration.

“This is absolutely new,” Tarzi said. “No other Islamic country comes close.”

Terrorism and Mental Health

No one in America remains untouched by the recent acts of terrorism upon New York, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania. And the facts are:

There are two types of disaster trauma—individual and community. September 11, 2001 was both.

•“Stress and grief reactions are normal responses to an abnormal situation,” says Betsy Schwartz, executive director of the Mental Health Association (MHA) of Greater Houston.

•People generally tend to pull together and function during and after a disaster.
From history we learn that characteristic reactions to such trauma are such things as:
•Depression
•Fears, anxieties, irritability
•Confusion, crying, scream ing
•Fear of crowds and/or reluc tance to leave home
•Problems going to sleep
•Sensitivity to loud noises
•Alcohol and other drug use
•Fear of darkness or animals
•Disobedience, behavioral problems and poor school performance in children

We can help each other deal with the mental health aspects of terrorism by doing several things, she says:

•Provide lots of reassurance to help kids through trauma
•Answer their questions honestly but briefly.
•Try to maintain-or re-establish-a normal household.
•Resume regular social and recreational activities when appropriate
•Acknowledge that you may have reactions to the natural disaster and take appropriate steps to foster your own emotional and physical healing.

When should you refer a person for mental health services?

•If a person is disoriented-dazed, has memory loss, can’t remember events or understand what is happening
•If a person hears voices or sees visions, has delusional thinking or pressured speech
•If a person is unable to care for self such as taking a bath, eating, changing clothes
•If the person has suicidal or homicidal thoughts or plans
•Domestic violence, child or elder abuse
•Alcohol or drug abuse

The Mental Health Association of Greater Houston (MHA Houston), affiliated with the Mental Health Association in Texas and the National Mental Health Association, is a non-profit, united Way agency devoted to promoting mental health, improving mental health services and eliminating the stigma of mental illness. For information and referral call 713-522-5161 or log on to www.mhahouston.org.

See Nature from a different perspective at Jones Park

Many area residents are fortunate enough to be able to view native plants arid animals in their own yard or neighborhood. Similar opportunities to see the natural world are available at Jesse H. Jones Park & Nature Center, when the park offers two canoe trips along Spring Creek Saturday, October 6 and a wildflower planting program Sunday, October 7.

For those individuals that enjoy quiet moments in forests or fields watching nature at its best, Jones Park offers a pair of canoe trips that should provide excellent wildlife viewing opportunities.
Participants ages 16 and older can take a tour of Cypress and Spring Creeks Saturday, October 6 at 9 am.

For those with little or no canoeing experience, a shorter excursion from Jones Park to the San Jacinto River bridge – great for beginners -takes place Saturday evening at 5:30 p.m. Reservations are required.

The thought of a yard or open field full of colorful wildflowers is sure to bring out the nature lover in many people. And what better way to bring this idea to fruition than planting your own wildflowers?

With a minimum of advance knowledge anyone can transform a barren expanse of the yard into their own version of something right out of Martha Stewart’s Living magazine. Sunday, October 7 at 2 p.m., join staff horticulturist Darlene Conley for a hands-on look at methods used to turn an empty patch of land into a colorful spring wildflower garden.

Jesse H. Jones Park & Nature Center, a Harris County Precinct 4 facility, is located at 20634 Kenswick Dive in Humble. All programs are free of charge and open to the public.

Harris County Precinct 4 programs serve people of all ages regardless of socioeconomic level, race, color, sex, religion, national origin or disability.

For more information on the park or any of its programs, call (281) 446-8588.

Teal Provide the action on trip to Eagle Lake Hunting Lodge

Although one was not really necessary, it seemed to be a perfectly logical excuse to plan a hunting trip.

My Sigma Chi fraternity alumni members are in the planning stages of their big annual fundraiser and wild game dinner. The group is in need of donated birds and wild game to feed a flock of several hundred members. Also, one of the members, Tim Kelley, recently took over the Eagle Lake Hunting Lodge to headquarter his Waterfowl Outfitters Unlimited, Guide Service (281-461-3460 or 1-888-TX-LODGE).

Eagle Lake is a short drive southwest of Houston and is the self-proclaimed “goose hunting capital of the world.” Tim has over 10,000 acres of rice fields, soybeans, rye grass fields, and flooded wetlands, all prime hunting habitat for ducks and geese. Waterfowl Outfitters also offers hunts for sandhill crane, wild hogs, dove and other upland birds such as ring-necked pheasant and chukar.

It only took a few phone calls to round up a small group of more than willing participants to sacrifice themselves for the cause.

The plan was set. We scheduled the hunt during the brief early teal duck season to coincide with the opening day of the South Zone dove season. Our planned combination teal and dove hunt also included a session of skeet shooting to hone our shotgunning skills.

Kelley welcomed me to the hunting lodge that afternoon and gave me a quick tour. The restored lodge is almost 100 years old and is nestled in a grove of huge, ancient oak trees. Inside, it is roomy with typical high ceilings and has an oversize fireplace. It does have a touch of modern conveniences with a full service kitchen, microwave, and a big screen TV. The lodge has comfortable sleeping quarters for 14 guests and a guest cottage that will sleep 4 additional hunters.

After the rest of our group arrived, we spent some time renewing old friendships and meeting our guides for the next day. With steaks sizzling on the outside grill, we enjoyed the telling of slightly embellished hunting and fishing stories.
The next morning, the irritating alarm clock rang much too early. Early morning conversations were mostly unintelligible. Hunters sipped on emergency doses of black coffee while we tugged on camo and wading gear for the morning hunt.

“Let’s roll, guys,” announced our guide Mike McCutcheon as he walked into the lodge. “It’s a perfect morning out there. Those teal are going to be flying early,”

We followed Guide Mike to a large, flooded grass marsh between Eagle Lake and Columbus. Our group waded the half-mile or so across the flat to a comfortable, 6-man blind in the middle of the pond while Mike set out a formation of decoys. As soon as we settled into the blind, we could see dark shapes zipping over our decoys in the pre-dawn darkness.

Just after shooting time, a small cluster of about six teal came buzzing across our decoy spread at blinding speed. With the signal to “take ‘em!” shotguns blazed. When the shooting was over, two bluewing teal lay floating among the decoys. The morning hunt was off to a good start.

For the next couple of hours, our group got in some hot shooting, not to be confused with hot hitting, on small flocks and single birds decoying into our spread. Near the end of the hunt, one lone teal slipped in on silent wings just above his fake friends. By the time he realized his mistake, he was gaining speed as well as altitude. I got my Model 1100 shouldered and swung out in front of the fast flying little teal. A load of steel cleanly dropped the diminutive duck in the edge of the marsh grass. Mike’s black lab retriever Angel exploded with nervous energy as she bounded across the shallow pond to retrieve my duck.

We did manage to hit enough of the quick little bluewings to slosh out of the marsh only one bird shy of a four-man limit.

After a BBQ lunch in town, we tried our hand at shattering some of the clay targets at the skeet shooting range set up across from the hunting lodge. I must admit that hunting those little straight flying clay birds is easier than hitting those darting, flaring, and dipping little teal.
The only ones that didn’t buy into our hunting scheme were the dove. Dove are a fickle bunch. We hunted a field that afternoon which had been “loaded up” with dove the day before. For reasons known only to the dove, they had moved on to parts unknown to us.

Despite the lack of cooperation from the dove, we all left the Eagle Lake Hunting Lodge with a lot of memories and enough ducks to donate to the Wild Game Dinner.