Setting New Standards in Stupid: The 2014 Turkeys of the Year

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John Ueland
Albert Einstein once said that the only difference between genius and stupidity is that genius has its limits. Obviously Einstein didn't factor the Turkey of the Year, a creature with a seemingly infinite capacity for senseless, ludicrous and ill-advised decisions, into the equation.

This has been a remarkable year for turkeyism and we had to make some truly tough choices in determining which turkeys had outrun, outflapped and out-dumbed all the competition. It was the best of times -- because there were so many turkeys to choose from -- and it was the worst of times -- because seriously, there were so many viable befeathered options.

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Selling Homes, Ruining Lives: Getting Rich in Real Estate the Scott Wizig Way

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Forget those late-night infomercials -- here's how you get rich in real estate:

First, find a city with a large population of vulnerable consumers. We're talking first-time home buyers, undocumented immigrants, people with no credit or with credit shot to hell. Houston will work perfectly -- these folks are on their own here.

Next, get thee to the Secretary of State and incorporate a boatload of limited partnerships. Go crazy. When it comes to LPs and LLCs, there's no such thing as "too much." Now, pluck one of these shell corporations at random and go down to the courthouse on the first Tuesday of the month, and buy whatever dilapidated properties you can. No windows? No problem. You aren't going to live there.

Now go around the city and illegally slap your ugly and un-ignorable bandit signs all over the place. Between those suckers and your Greensheet ads, you're going to get a ton of traffic. That's why you'll want a smooth-talking sales force. Mind you, these people don't need licenses, because they're selling your property on your behalf. That way, they're out of the reach of the Texas Real Estate Commission, which has jurisdiction only over licensed personnel.

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Fountain of Youth: The Low T Industry Cashes in on Some Dubious Science

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Joshua Carr is 54 and in solid shape, with a healthy weight and average build. He'd been feeling a bit tired in the days before he got his blood drawn for his yearly physical, but he didn't volunteer that to his family doctor because he didn't have illusions about his age. He didn't eat as much or work out as hard, but that was just the years adding up.

The doctor told Carr his blood work was fine, but by the way they needed to talk about something. There's a gravity in his voice that gave Carr pause. "You have low T," the doctor said, showing him a chart with corresponding age and testosterone levels. "See, you're at this number, and it should be in this range. Go see a urologist."

Carr, who asked that we not use his real name, was surprised at the diagnosis. Low T. He'd never heard of it before, but there it was, a chart showing that men his age ideally have a total testosterone level of about 600 ng/dl -- nanograms per deciliter -- of blood. His levels were about half that, although, considering that 400 to 800 ng/dl is an acceptable range for the average man, he was only borderline low.

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The San Jacinto River Waste Pits Unleashed Toxins Into the River and, Residents Say, Their Bodies

Categories: Cover Story

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Image by Andrew Nilsen
After a series of storms in March 2012, John Bonta is sorting through the wreckage on his Highlands ranch, 20 miles east of Houston. He's just gotten home from work when his wife, Pam, asks him to help her pick up a portion of the fence that had fallen during the night. He doesn't wait for her, thinking he can get it done more quickly on his own. As he strains to fit a heavy beam back in place, the post suddenly snaps. John jolts forward and there's a second snap -- his back. He goes down. In the distance, Pam is calling his name as she runs out to him.

Pam half-carries, half-drags John into the house, where he lies down in a daze, insisting he doesn't need an ambulance. The family already has substantial medical expenses, and he doesn't want to make something out of nothing.

The days pass, and the pain worsens. Early one morning as Pam sleeps, John collapses on his way to use the bathroom. There's no arguing the second time. They check him into the ER, where doctors run a series of tests confirming he has fractured his spine. They also tell him he has multiple myeloma -- a rare blood cancer that starts in the bones and affects about .02 percent of Americans, according to the National Cancer Institute. He already has it in more than 80 percent of his body.

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With Riverside Hospital Shut Down, Patients Scramble for a Place in Houston's Recovery Care System

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Photo by Daniel Kramer
It's a late morning in August as Verenice Lopez leans against the passenger seat window of her boyfriend's pickup truck, watching the leafy residential streets of Houston's Fifth Ward speed by. They're on their way to Riverside General Hospital's drug treatment center on Lyons Avenue, which had been Verenice's home for the past three months. She isn't talking much, so her boyfriend cranks up the radio to Country Legends 97.1.

Verenice's mind is on the certificate waiting for her at the hospital, proof of all the work she's put into an intensive 30-hour-a-week drug treatment program to kick her crack addiction. She's proud of that, but she's also worried about where to go next. What she needs is just a little more help, this time to find a halfway house that will ease her into living alone.

A part of her is afraid that if she returns home to old friends and falls back into an old grind, she'll want to use again. Detox and rehabilitation were only the first steps on the road to recovery. It's like what a tech told her when she graduated from Riverside just the day before: "Get ready for your new life to be uncomfortable."

The recovery campus looms up around the corner, a four-story, 100,000-square-foot facility tucked behind a metal wire fence that runs the length of the block. As they pull into the parking lot, maneuvering around potholes cratering the gravel, Verenice sits up. There's a thin cluster of patients gathered outside, arms full of their personal things.

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The Girl on the Torture Board: Rhonda Williams Opens Up About Being Attacked by Dean Corll

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She wakes up to a sharp pain in her side -- someone kicking her, telling her to wake up, bitch.

For a moment, she thinks it's her dad. Then she opens her eyes and sees it's Dean Corll, the electrician who's renting this house in Pasadena. She looks over and sees her friend Wayne Henley handcuffed, his feet bound, his mouth duct-taped. She looks to the other side, and there's the boy Tim she hadn't met until the night before, when she escaped from her father's home in the Heights. He's tied and taped, too.

Dean's still berating her when she looks down at her own body and realizes she's also been tied. Dean never liked her -- never liked any girls -- but this is unexpected. Dean had disappeared before she passed out; retreated to his bedroom, saying something about having to work in the morning. The three plopped down on the living-room carpet and got to feeling good. Wayne and Tim were huffing acrylic paint from a bag; all three shared shots of Wayne's dad's moonshine. She had taken a puff of a joint that one of them passed her way, and then it was lights out.

Dean walks over to Wayne, slips his arms under the teenager's shoulders and carries him to the kitchen. Dean must've taken the tape off Wayne's mouth, because now she hears two voices.


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Medical Marijuana Refugees Are Fleeing Texas to Help Their Loved Ones

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Graphic by Brian Stauffer
Sitting cross-legged on the floor in her apartment outside of Houston, Faith's mother looks over at the toddler repeatedly as she talks. There are no physical indicators that signal the start of a seizure, but Faith's mother can tell one is on its way.

Everything about raising Faith involves watching and waiting, and today is no different.

Suddenly, Faith's mom jumps up, her words stalling mid-sentence, and makes her way to the mat where the chocolate-haired child is lying. She plops down next to her daughter, gives her moon face and chubby-cherub limbs a once-over, and places a hand across her tiny chest, feeling for any sign of what's to come.

It's an unnerving ritual, the watching and waiting, but Faith's mom can feel what is happening in her own bones. She knows that Faith is about to seize.

Slowly, the toddler's eyes begin to flicker. The gut-wrenching convulsions quickly follow, working their way up her tiny body, while the anxiety that has worn premature lines across her mom's forehead works its way into sheer terror.

Fear fills the room, and she yells out to no one in particular.

"It's a seizure," she says. "Faith is having a seizure."

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Bad Blood: Chikungunya Kills and It's Coming to a Mosquito Near You

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It started in mid-April with a fever, as if her body were trying to burn itself up. Then 39-year-old Belkys Jimenez developed a pounding headache and pain in her muscles and joints. Her feet and ankles ballooned, and even taking a step became difficult. Jimenez had dealt with hypertension for years, but this was something new.

Over the next two weeks, her symptoms came and went. Several times, she visited a doctor in her hometown of Bajos de Haina, in the Dominican Republic. He provided acetaminophen for the pain and swelling and promptly dismissed her. The night of April 30, a Wednesday, Jimenez was feeling better. Before going to bed, she told her mother she would wake up early to go to the market.

But the following morning, Jimenez didn't get out of bed. Her worried mother found her daughter cold to the touch, without a pulse. "One day she was fine; the next day she was bad," Jimenez's mother told the Dominican television network Tele Noticias. "She never got better from this."

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When a Lesson Took a Dangerous Turn, a Room Full of Firefighters Couldn't Save Neal Smith

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Photo by Daniel Kramer
Penny Smith says she didn't know the full story behind her husband's death until the state and federal investigations.
Firefighter Neal Smith was almost out of the second floor of the six-story training tower when he became disoriented and fell to his knees.

Smith had excelled through the first day's exercises, and he was doing fine on day two. He was one of a few to clear a bunker with air left in his tank; others quickly depleted their supply as instructors, perched above the rafters, threw firecrackers and lassoed the trainees' air tanks with bungee cords. And now he was making his way through four floors of the tower until he reached the room where the mission was a right-hand victim search: Trainees had to slide beneath a plywood plank screwed to the entryway 30 inches above the floor and conduct a counter-clockwise sweep of the room while keeping their right hands on a wall. Visibility was impaired by a fog machine and by a web of fire hoses and landscaping timbers hanging above a floor littered with golf balls and marbles.

Weighed down by 75 pounds worth of gear that included an air tank, mask, coat and trousers still saturated with sweat from the previous day's exercises, trainees had to navigate their way through pallets, tires, metal pipes and burned-out box springs to reach a 2-by-10 wooden box with one end propped upon a barrel. The men had to crawl through the box, which spilled out into a floored elevator shaft, and then crawl back through to continue the sweep.

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Trench Life: Chris Myers and Duane Brown Are Crucial to the Texans' Success, on and off the Field

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Photo by Max Burkhalter
Ask any NFL player about training camp, especially players whose teams toil in the sweltering, 9,000,000,000 percent humidity of Houston, and ultimately he will circle around to one word. You can set your watch to it.

Grind. The NFL preseason is a grind.

To be truthful, the preseason is actually more of a sub-grind to the master grind that the players' NFL calendar has become -- off-season workouts in the spring, organized team activities and mandatory mini camps in June, training camp in the summer, and the regular season from September through January. All this physical pounding, somewhat ironically, for the privilege of playing even more football in January and, hopefully, February.

Texans center Chris Myers is on his tenth grind.

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